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Harry Gamboa Jr.: Early Video Art

2004
Distributed by UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center, 193 Haines Hall, Los Angeles, CA 90095
Produced by Harry Gamboa Jr.
Directed by Harry Gamboa Jr.
DVD, color and b&, 113 min.
College - Adult
Art, Multicultural Studies, Media Studies, Film Studies


Reviewed by Brian Falato, University of South Florida Tampa Campus Library

Recommended   
 
Date Entered: 4/21/2006

Harry Gamboa Jr. is a Latino writer and multimedia artist who has worked with video since the 1980s. His early works were made using the community access facilities of a California cable television company and are collected for the first time on this video, issued as part of UCLA’s Chicano Cinema and Media Art Series.

These short videos (running between 4 and 34 minutes) each have a narrative of sorts, although not well-developed ones. Imperfecto, the earliest (from 1982) and longest in the collection, is also the most interesting. A man constantly saying, “The truth!” is turned out of the hospital by an uncaring staff and roams the streets, asking of all he encounters, “Can you help me find the truth?” Responses range from, “The truth is irrelevant. What matters are games.” and “You’ll never get the truth by asking for it. You must take it.” to “How much are you willing to pay for it?” and “I found it and I don’t want it.” At the end, the man is covered in newspapers and wrapped in red tape.

Gamboa enjoys taking a serious situation and pumping it up into melodrama and absurdity. Baby Kake and No Supper are two examples in this collection. They take the idea of a dysfunctional Latino family to extremes, with Baby Kake featuring a man dressed as Marie Antoinette commenting on a mother who resents losing her freedom by having to care for a baby and a father who only comes around once a month.

Continuing the theme of dysfunctional relationships are Blanx, the only video in the collection shot in black and white, and Vaporz. Both involve couples who don’t speak to each other, but only express their feelings in voiceovers, and both end with a death.

The least successful videos are Insultan, which at 24 minutes runs way too long in its series of encounters finally ending in violence, and Agent Ex, an apparent spy spoof that is only 4 minutes and 47 seconds, but seems pointless.

All of the videos suffer from technical and performance problems. The quality of the videography, especially in the earliest works, is lacking, and the sound recording is sometimes so poor that lines can barely be understood. Some of the performers, which include members of Gamboa’s family, stumble over their lines or are irritatingly over-the top. Certainly, Gamboa was working under time and budget constraints, and maybe he felt these glitches were not as important as in getting his work out to be seen, but they proved distracting to this viewer.

The construction of the DVD also leaves something to be desired. The videos are arranged in chronological order, but cannot be viewed consecutively. At the end of each video, the menu comes back on the screen, with the first title highlighted. The viewer must use the down arrow on the remote to navigate to the next title to be viewed, a process that can take five clicks to get to the last ones. There is also no extra information or footage of any kind on the DVD.

Gamboa’s Early Video Art is recommended for libraries that collect intensively in the areas of Latino artists or video art. The other volume of his work released by the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center, Harry Gamboa Jr.: 1990s Video Art, is more accomplished visually and offers more interesting content.