It sounds like a wrestling move, or an outré sex act. But the local underground-art mini-phenomenon known as Negative Douglas began with relative innocence: As a banal circa-1970s grade-school class photo, swiped off the Internet and e-mailed to a friend.
The sender, Lloyd Canada, labeled the image "Douglas" and shipped it to an officemate. In Keith Tassick's documentary short "Negative Douglas," the recipient, Paul R. Weisel, recalls his first sight of the cheesily grinning, bowl-cut boy: "I thought to myself, 'This kid's got potential.'" Weisel immediately created a negative of the color photo and e'd it back to Canada with the caption "Negative Douglas."
The video by Tassick, telling how the mystery boy became first sticker art, then a display at Downtown's Skinny Building and more, premieres Tue., Jan. 10 at the Film Kitchen screening series, along with two other shorts by Tassick and new video by Zoje Stage.
Tassick has a history of offbeat video work. A previous collaboration with Weisel and others was the short-lived but often inspired tele-magazine parody The Art of News, which aired on PCTV. At Film Kitchen Tassick will show more recent work including "Faces and Noises," an hysterical three-minute montage of rubbery and goggle-eyed faces pulled by his friend Doug Staas, who contributes the soundtrack of guttural murmurings and disturbing yelps.
"He makes strange faces because he has a strange face," says Tassick, while the noises grow from Staas' dislike of uncomfortable silences. Tassick had spent years unsuccessfully trying to convince Staas to turn his talents into art. Finally he decided to do it himself.
Last summer, as he edited the footage from a mugging session with Staas, Tassick was distracted by potty-mouthed kids screaming and playing football in the street outside his home in Lawrenceville. Tassick shot and miked them through a curtained window. "I didn't want the kids to see some weird 30-year-old looking through the window at them," he says. Eventually Tassick created "Big Dick Pussy," whose three minutes suggest an idle afternoon spent with an unusually droll shut-in.
The Negative Douglas project, in which Tassick was a conspirator, began in 2001 and grew to include not only the once-ubiquitous stickers and the Skinny Building show but also a band and a popsicle-stick-style mask. "Negative Douglas" also explores how the virally replicated and compulsively reworked image both parodies and partakes of commercial and political propoganda.
Tassick, who complements his daytime office job with freelance video work, shot the documentary after it became clear that the Douglas crew had tired of the project. "It was this idea that could have gone really far," says Tassick. But the execution was "intentionally half-assed, and unapologetically that way."
Zoje Stage likes planning things. "I am a very very organized person by nature," says the writer and moviemaker. But she realizes planning isn't the only way, especially when it comes to art. Inspired by Dogma 95, Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier's credo of no-frills cinema, Stage conceived of a story idea one day and shot it, scriptless, the next. She gave her actresses a premise -- one's dealing with a death in the family, one with divorce, and both are on the road -- and shot their improvised encounter on the fly.
The Pittsburgh native, who moved to Rochester, N.Y., in 2004, did the rest in the editing room. "I wanted a sense of more of their quiet space and their not knowing each other very well," says Stage. "Mt. Hope," whose creation Stage likens to "writing with images," was also influenced by Elephant and Last Days, recent Gus Van Sant films with an improvised quality and ambiguous meanings. "The audience has to participate in those kinds of movies," she says. "I really like how reality can be explored in that way."
Conversely, planning can be fun, too. Stage's short, creepy drama "Against Her Skin" required her longest pre-production ever. It was shot in Pittsburgh, at the shadowy old Point Breeze home of friends she stays with when she visits. "I really wanted to make a film that had a mood to it," says Stage. "That house begged to have some kind of haunted-house story."