pictured above: Dancing Death Monsters (1981) by Dale Hoyt
Program presented in Association with The Lab
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Admission: $15 General/$10 Cinematheque Members and Members of The Lab
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(NOTE: Member discount link will be provided by email; Cinematheque Members can also contact us for this information.)
SCREENING: Your World Dies Screaming (1981); Dancing Death Monsters (1981); Ringo Zappruder (1981/82); Over My Dead Body (1983); The Complete Anne Frank (1985); Braille (1986); Transgenic Hairshirt (2001); Don’t Be Cruel (2004); Because (2006). All works by Dale Hoyt.
Dale is Dead
by Steve Seid
Dale Hoyt (1961–2022)
Dale is Dead. Dale Hoyt who at age 19 was already showing his irascible works to perplexed audiences. Dale who five years in made a remarkable, sui generis video, The Complete Anne Frank, that still holds its own. Dale who, it was rumored, slept on the roof of the SFAI when his money got thin. Dale whose uncompromising ways never found welcome from grants panels of his supposed peers. Dale who left briefly to run the video program at New York’s The Kitchen, but faithfully returned. Dale who in later years haunted the Tenderloin like a sage and wily guy. Dale who left behind a chill absence where his vital life had once warmly sounded.
But let me tell you about Dale Hoyt’s body of videowork that streamed forth for a decade, then vanished for a time, only to return in his waning years. Dale came-of-rage in a fruitful moment, the late-70s/early-80s. From the scrap heap of punk culture, he snatched an aesthetic that was low-rent, appropriative and bratty. Video art had moved on from the performative documentation of the ‘70s to cut-and-paste storytelling from the likes of Tony Labat, the Yonemotos, Ilene Segalove, Tony Oursler and others. Dale deployed shreds of narrative, shrewd iconoclasm, and cut-and-paste tech, then coerced his artist-pals into enacting their own angst. The never-faltering early works, like Your World Dies Screaming (1981), Dancing Death Monsters (1981) and Ringo Zappruder (1981/82), drilled into the frontal lobe of juvenile yearning, marshaling pop icons, cascading pills, viscous props and grotesque wallowing as the stuff of post-pubescent misery. Atop this heap, Dale added a miasma of sound bites, pop song lifts, and plaintive dialogue to amass an unnerving swamp of sonorities.
Over My Dead Body (1983) takes Dale’s dyspeptic Theater of the Perturbed to the suburbs. Inventing a bizarre homicide in which a husband awakes one day to “ritualistically execute” his family, Hoyt has a fake news crew ask real inhabitants of the town of “Lilydale” if they’d heard of this cruel slaughter. Woven around this disruption of domesticated space is a kind of skewed soap opera in which off-putting gossip, haunting sirens and hysterical actions ruin the allegedly placid suburbs. Over My Dead Body becomes a summation of Hoyt’s earliest works in its recognition that paradise (or personal tranquility) is nowhere to be found.
Two years later, Hoyt issued his most startling and irreverent work, The Complete Anne Frank (1985), a libidinous retelling of Frank’s Holocaust story as it unfolded in WWII Netherlands. Here, the notorious Jewish hiding place in an Amsterdam flat becomes a claustrophobic cell stuffed with bickering adults and craving teens. Anne’s diaristic excerpts are read by four different actresses, each with botched make-up and differing emotive styles. Delirious camerawork captures Hoyt’s tiny set as a disorienting, airless space, incapable of containing the pent-up needs of its inhabitants. Outside—an imaginary place constructed through appropriated footage as wide-ranging as Nazi demonstrations, CBS’s Crazy Guggenheim and the swarming crows of Hitchcock’s The Birds—terror just piles up. Cameos by John Martin, of Martin-Weber gallery fame, and Jules Backus, a sorely missed member of Optic Nerve, add a perfected stiffness to the acting. But it is Winston Tong, lead singer from the eighties art band Tuxedo Moon, who brings in the frost with his chilling Gestapo monologue. In its sardonic denouement, Hoyt returns us to Anne Frank’s voice-over, tempered by syrupy Hawaiian guitar, in which she finally declares, “I believe people are good at heart.” It’s right about then that your own ticker gives out.
Soon after, Hoyt released Braille (1986), a strangely contained biopic, highlighting his father who spent his professional life working for Muzak, a distributor of background music. Illustrated with generic paintings, Xerox machines and vintage footage of recording labs, Hoyt presents his father’s clinical description of non-disruptive elevator music with a kind of dry amazement. Braille comes off like an origin story for Dale himself—his painful flight from the oppressive homogeny of home to the punky pandemonium of his artful pursuits.
After an inexplicable silence of many years, Dale Hoyt reappears with Transgenic Hairshirt (2001), a quirky paean to species melding. Around this time, Dale had become co-founder of the Coalition of Artists and Life Forms (CALF), a group that surfaced as cloning and GMOs were dominating the scientific discourse. Transgenic Hairshirt splices his lifelong love of cats, in particular a hairless Siamese named Carmine, to a cute but cautionary performance—Dale has his head shaved, while singing, in voice-over, Kurt Weill’s “Don’t Be Afraid.” His discarded pelt is then fashioned into the titular hairshirt for cross-species drag.
In a lachrymose prologue to Don’t Be Cruel (2004), Dale weeps at the account of a deer savagely slaughtered. What quickly follows is “Animals on Parade,” a parodic rendition of the elementary school song, now hosting cats and dogs in costume. But Hoyt soon wanders off only to be tranquilized, then bagged and tagged, by unseen wildlife wardens. It’s apparent that interspecies concerns will only be met by systemic barbarity. And the artist is left screaming, alone, in the night.
If film theorist Laura Mulvey, who formulated the “male gaze,” had been a stand-up comic, she would have made The Male Glaze (2008), but it took Hoyt and his deconstructive slapstick to do the dirty. What at first appears to be a folly of disfigured gestures—several artists (Jordan Biren et al.) in close-up, mimicking an off-camera soundtrack that seems Looney Tunes-like—emerges as a sly critique of the sixties pop feature, Lord Love a Duck (1966, George Axelrod dir.). What! In that camp satire, the flirtatious Tuesday Weld amasses maximum coed coquettishness while middle-aged Howard Green looks on in full-drool—his gaze projecting unadulterated libido. The Male Glaze is a real ocular uppercut.
Because (2006) is a fitting close. What begins as a wry return to roots—a Muzak-adjacent rendition of The Beatles’ “Because” playing over primary color fields—soon turns sweet to sour. A series of verité portraits follows, displaying the worn inhabitants of a South of Market residence hotel. This seems to poetically summarize Dale Hoyt and his artistic enterprise—the feisty and farcical always in the service of some all-embracing humanity.
“Because the sky is blue… It makes me cry”
(Not included in this screening is Dale Hoyt’s final rip-roaring 3-D yarn, you got it, 3-D yarn, Farm (2016), produced by David Lawrence and starring many of Dale’s pals: Winston Tong, Monet Clark, Annie Sprinkle, Cliff Hengst, Fred Rinne, Helios Creed and others. Not to be missed.)
Special Thanks to Steve Polta, David Lawrence and Stephen Agetstein.
(Program Notes by Steve Seid)
RELATED ONLINE SCREENING (January 12–31): Chaos Theory: Dale Hoyt and His Circle
How would you describe a gathering group of unruly artists? A fortuitous anarchism, or just trouble on the way? This online streaming accompaniment to Dale is Dead—also curated by Steve Seid—presents performance/video work from the turbulent Bay Area ‘80s, a selective sampler pack of works informing and informed Hoyt’s iconoclastic work. Artists include: Marshall Weber, Leslie Singer, Cecilia Dougherty, Andrew Huestis, Paula Levine, Ivar Smedstad, Azian Nurudin, Emjay Wilson and more from Hoyt himself. Details and complete program here.