My Dad made me haul equipment to help him make his films when I was growing up. In the beginning, 1962, we went to Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, to film the fall and rise of John Brown. I got out of school to go. So from the get-go, the camera was a way to see the world, and to get out of school. The camera is still about seeing and hearing things others don’t.
LABOR OF LOVE
She’s pregnant as a pistachio.
About to burst at last,
her legs grow wide as wings.
She opens her mouth, and
we hear cries that are not hers.
Come out, come out!
Whoever you are and will be,
into the light we want to see.
My favorite thing about media making is the before and the after. I love to zoom in on the thing itself. There’s also a rapture to sharing things when they are done. The work in between of hustling, transcribing, editing, negotiating, raising and spending money, selling, promoting, and so on can be incredibly boring, is always too expensive, and finally remains plainly and painfully hard.
THE OLD TIMER
“What’s it all about?” howls the old timer across the street.
“You can’t win. Your ticket is writ. All you can do is like it.
When I die, I want my ashes placed in hourglasses and egg timers.
To run on and on, turning over in my grave. What’s it all about?”
When I started making videos because I wanted to, struggling to record good signals with those fragile old portapaks, there was a marvelous spirit abroad in our land. Today, some ridicule the Sixties, which were really the Seventies too, as a time of dippy hippies. You had to be there to appreciate how cold the media landscape is now.
The worms have been up all night writing long lines
of crazy, unintelligible poetry in the street.
Drunk on spring, they dry out in the sun.
I make videos about things I love. I love poetry and people and going places I have never been. To take only one example, I made a movie with Jim Northrup because I asked him to perform a poem for a project I was doing on peace during the first war on Iraq. It was so good I said Jeez we should talk and he said talk? come spear fishing with me. I did because he also had a good poem about spearing fish, I had never seen spear fishing Ojibwe style, and he asked me to. I kept going on what turned out to be a six year project because I kept learning about Ojibwe culture in general and the Vietnam War in particular. Jim’s a vet and that became part of our movie.
These Vietnam vets reunite on Veterans Day every year like grim pilgrims.
The ritual is righteous: Meet at Blackies in D.C. to eat a blackened steak.
Start to drink, toast survival, smoke pot, then march to the Wall in the dark.
Fight off crisp flashbacks of human skin on fire, the odor of singed hair.
Then get really drunk, until you black out and fall down, immortally wounded.
Get up like a mortal Marine. Notice your ghost patrolling the Wall’s mirror.
Run and grab a cab to Arlington Cemetery. Find a new grave in the black earth.
Wonder why you’re still walking point in this total eclipse of peace and war.
Lay yourself out in a black hole, the latest in the line of dead white stones.
Look up through the veins of trees at the sun; hear the taps of the bugler.
Close your eyes and sense the zipped up blackness of the inside of a body bag.
Open your eyes. Smell the fall air. Payback is a motherfucker, forever.
So walk, thru the Wall; the farther you walk, the farther it is to your grave.
I make these movies because it makes my life more interesting, in spite of the fact I get paid very little for them. The Northrup show, With Reservations, cost about $35,000 to produce, of which I was paid about $3,000, which I ended up paying back to the project to pay the last bills. I received a net sum of zero cash for six years of work, although all my expenses were covered. The intellectual and spiritual equity, however, is beyond ebay.
I will make media until I die because I feel dead when I don’t.
(Guide Note: This article was originally published with ten links to a collection of Media Mike’s videos and the work of his students, streaming on various websites. Unfortunately, many of those streams have been taken down. These are the only ones that remain live on the Web in 2011.
- With Reservations: Jim Northrup
- At the Crossroads, with David Bengtson
- Mr. Respect: Tiger Jack
- Genius, with Robert Fones
- Sorrow Song, with Reta Nagurski
- Ha-Ku, with Jackie Herrlin
Mike Hazard, aka Media Mike, is an artist who earns a living teaching people of all ages how to make lively videos and makes videos with lovely people of all ages. His current media monster in the making is Radical Equals, a film study with octogenarian George Stoney.