Music and Editing in A Brief History of John Baldessari

The obvious point of “A Brief History of John Baldessari” is to provide audiences with insights into the life of famed artist John Baldessari. To that end, I thought the piece combined audio and visual cues subtly to indicate some of Baldessari’s own interests, specifically the American West. The main theme of the video is the final section of the William Tell Overture – a famous piece in its own right, but often remembered as the main theme song for the Lone Ranger T.V. series. Within the interviews, Baldessari asks about Clint Eastwood’s height and reveals that he has a large collection of still photographs many of which involve cowboys on horses and American Indians.

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Archival photographs also show one of a small child – assumed to be Baldessari – dressed as a cowboy and riding a horse.

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As the piece transitions to Baldessari’s more famous work, we see one of his famous dot pictures with a cowboy as a subject.

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What impresses me, is that so much of this video focuses on showing audiences Baldessari’s work that the makers could easily skip over the artist’s own personal interests. However, they chose a main musical theme in combination with their interviews, archival photographs, and Baldessari’s famous work to indicate the artist’s personal interests. This provides a much better look into who the artist is as a person.

With Baldessari’s hobbies in the background, the short film creates the affect of his work through fast pacing and editing in combination with the audio. Similar to DJ Spooky, the artist’s work has strong connections to remixing – his most influential pieces combine famous and stock photographs with various original touches, particularly his dots, to form witty, surreal takes on modern art. Likewise, the film employs the public domain William Tell Overture, known for it’s fast paced musical score, along with images owned by the artist both world renowned and obscure. Layered in with that are the interviews with Baldessari that the filmmakers shot themselves and the voice over narration from Tom Waits – a famous voice that they had to write scripts for. All of these elements of collage and montage cohere in the fast-paced editing that marks the short film. Often with the William Tell Overture comes a colorful barrage of artwork. The exciting, slightly disorienting manner in which the filmmakers mix together famous and obscure images against the audio mirrors the affect of Baldessari’s work. Audiences gain a much better perspective on the life of the artist this way as opposed to filmmakers who might create a slideshow of his best or most expensive pieces.

Question: Aside from the William Tell Overture, the short film also uses samples from the Carmen Suite No. 2. How does this slower, more subdued music impact the affect of the film? How can contrasting music cues improve our own projects?

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