Film Review and Commentary: CONCRETE T.V. (directed by Ron Rocheleau)

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by Jason Rohrer on December 16, 2013

in CD-DVD,Film


If ordinary movies and television make you wish for more and less at the same time, New York artist Ron Rocheleau has a Christmas present for your inner savage intellectual.  His ongoing collage series Concrete T.V., a cult favorite broadcast on New York’s Channel 67 since 1993, is now available in two DVD collections unlike any other entertainment you can name.

Video Still from LORD HUMONGOUSOne sequence begins with Mary Tyler Moore, in Movie of the Week mode, announcing to some children that “it’s time for things to get ugly.”  She might be responding to the images of buttocks from gay and straight porn that preceded her onscreen; Rocheleau next cuts together a minute of over-the-top Hollywood gunfight moments – from James Cameron movies and Sylvester Stallone movies and many, many others I can’t identify – and caps it with 15 seconds of panties-being-pulled-down clips straight out of porn.   He follows more porn foreplay imagery in a slow-build via ad animation of a car engine revving.  Once the clutch pops, 26 clips in 20 seconds follow, extreme TV- and low-budget-movie violence: multiple gunshot wounds, cars crashing, heads blowing up.  At the orgy’s climax, the young, sex-symbol-version Elvis complains of exhaustion.  It’s all seamlessly edited for picture and sound, with a rock soundtrack of samples from Audioslave and Tori Amos, interspersed and overlaid with ironic commentary lifted from afterschool specials, radio announcements, and yet other movies.

ConcreteTVlogo2That’s a randomly chosen couple of minutes from Episode 8 (of 18) in The Humongous Collection, a three DVD set comprising Rocheleau’s output from 1993 through 2007, almost ten hours of meticulously cut cinematic exploration.  (A second set, The Ultra-Badass Collection, features six episodes produced between 2008 and 2011.)  This particular half-hour episode includes a drug-trip sequence, lots of men undressing and women getting spanked, Saturday morning cartoons, Japanese commercials for hip-hop compilations, hundreds of motor vehicle collisions, and a heroically well-edited segment incorporating eleven helicopter explosions.  It’s thrilling, funny, guilty-as-hell entertainment.  If that’s all it was, the all-killer, no-filler, short-attention-span-theater montage format might be too hedonistic to contemplate.

RonRocheleausConcreteTVBut “Never Hard Enough” is Concrete T.V.’s motto, and it says something about America that’s never been more true than today: violence is our favorite aphrodisiac. This truth is not a uniquely American problem; sure, we export our ideals, but sex and violence have always been playmates.  It’s dangerous to pretend that thousands of years’ social evolution has removed our animal natures.  Curbing our appetites is a delicate psychological balance for all of us, and popular culture isn’t interested in keeping us sane.  To explore this problem through visual and auditory stimuli may be the most immediately cathartic approach possible, and hey, Americans like their culture quick and dirty.

Video still from the 1971 movie Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Credit:  Paramount Pictures/HandoutIt’s clear that Rocheleau has an interest in rap and hip-hop, which makes sense because his work similarly borrows from existing media and repurposes it in an exploration of form and content; also because a commentary on bravado underlies his entire oeuvre.  He has worked largely outside the academic mainstream of collage and found-footage artists; his stuff is just too much fun for some folks to take it seriously.  He’s been building this project for twenty years, and his investment is further proven by the fact that he works in an obsolete medium.  He likes (gasp) VHS; he converts all media to tape before cutting it.  It’d be a lot easier for him to work digitally, with software editing programs like Pro Tools, but that would defeat the purpose of the exercise, or at least diminish its relevance.

Still from Elvis Presley "Spinout" 1966The physical properties of the media inform his choice of subject, the immediate-orgasm nature of 1980s obsessions.  His DVD transfers have all the charm and aesthetic quirks of VHS, the original home video format, warts and all.  It’s part of the joke.  He’s interested in the relationship between gratification and the next stimulus, a worm’s-eye-view Dadaist political philosopher working in the media of ephemera.  It’s extremely personal work, and thereby as inclusive as any honesty.  Spending time in Rocheleau’s world is like getting caught coveting someone else’s reflection, or discovering your worst enemy’s fetish and finding yourself kind of turned on.

Concrete T.V. is powerful stuff; twenty or thirty minutes at a time is the most one should invest.  That means you get a lifetime supply in one set of discs.  I use mine as a headspace changer when I have to switch gears between activities, and with practice one can surf an episode to a particular point-of-view of choice like a mood organ.

Footsucker clip from CONCRETE T.V.I also just enjoy having miracles of clarity burst from a free-association whirligig: Gene Wilder can announce that there will be “surprises around every corner but nothing dangerous” (Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, 1969), to which Jonathan Pryce can respond, “I’m afraid, sir, that you have rather a weak grasp of reality” (The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, 1988), to which Cameron Mitchell answers, “Is this real enough for you?” (some 70s b-movie) as an intro to a pornographic close-up of a beautiful woman sucking the toes of another.  After a second you notice that one of the toes has a big corn on it from walking in whore heels.

Where else you gonna get that?

Video Still from THE TERMINATOR

Concrete T.V.
written, edited and directed by Ron Rocheleau
Humongous Collection and Ultra-Badass Collection DVD sets
distributed online at

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