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PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art 27.1 (2005) 108-110

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Speak Memory

Reflections on the Doppelgängertrilogy

Ian Curtis, whom I discovered post-suicide in 1987 (I was five when he died in 1980), had already become a cult icon through the ascension of New Order into the mainstream. His public persona was largely based on a couple of dark, moody photographs taken by Kevin Cummings and Anton Corbijn, and a little-known and -circulated Factory Records video "Here are the Young Men." Joy Division's recorded sound was impeccable, due to the genius production of Martin Hannett. Its album covers and posters were sparsely and sublimely designed by Peter Saville. But it fell into a sort of technological black hole in terms of video, and hardly any performance footage exists. I attribute this to the crossover period where tube video cameras (recognizable by the ghost images they tend to produce) replaced super-8 film as the public's (or the fan's) means for transmitting images. It appears (or more accurately disappears) that there was a technological lag, gap, and stutter before the audience learned how to speak memory. Factory Archives was created to fill this void. The beta still at the beginning of the video announces it as a fragment from the Factory vault. Simultaneously attempting to blend the look of super-8 and tube videos, it supposes the existence of their unreleased archives, the type of "extra" that is so willfully committed to DVDs these days.

In some ways, the original form of Factory Archives did desire the fate of the DVD extra. In 2000, my close friend, Michael Stock, optioned Debbie Curtis's (Ian's widow) 1996 memoir Touching from a Distance and wrote a script based on it, Transmission. Stock's excitement rubbed off on me and consequently the Doppelgänger, Benjamin Brock, whom I had just met. Once I had turned him onto Joy Division, Ben became obsessed with playing Ian in Transmission. He self-recorded an audition tape using my Hi-8 camera in his basement in Ohio, blacking out all the windows, walls, and light with garbage bags, and precisely reenacted Curtis's "crazed chicken" dance. To this day, four years later, Stock is still negotiating with producers and Debbie Curtis in a project that can only be gently described as a nightmare. In 2001, a year and a half after he made it, I found Ben's audition tape in a box in my closet. I re-watched the tape, touched again by its charm and fantasy. A relic of failure, I altered it vastly and degraded it further until there was almost nothing left, nothing visible, except for a ghostly "Ian" slowly dancing through Decades.1 [End Page 108]

While Factory Archives is an attempt to fantasize the terrain of a defunct record label's vaults, Phantom Release navigates the virtual landscape of an über-fan's website: Like ghosts, phantom releases are thought to exist, yet their existence is unproven. When Nirvana broke, home (VHS-c type) camcorders were blossoming on the market. As a result, there is a ton of amateur footage. Since Nirvana erupted right when I turned sixteen and became a catalyst for my burgeoning teen angst, I decided to portray the band (in script, cinematography, and editing) as I experienced it as a teenager—with images and performances culled and homogenized from my memories of MTV, concert documentaries, magazine covers, Saturday Night Live, and three concerts I had seen in San Francisco.

Nirvana was actually strangely boring and underwhelming on stage. They didn't move around much, Kurt never spoke to the audience, and the only remarkable event I remember was Kurt climbing onto a stack of p.a.'s and jumping into the drumset at the end of a show. I decided against recreating a specific, cathartic moment. Instead I focused on what I thought was most remarkable: the music, and the energy it created within its adoring fans. You didn't go...


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