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“Serial Metaphysics”: A fever dream of pure Americana as seen thru early 70s TV commercials
Filmmaker Wheeler Winston Dixon’s Serial Metaphysics (1984-1986) — a twenty-minute experimental 16mm film which has been described as “an examination of the American commercial lifestyle, recut entirely from existing television advertisements” — was edited by Dixon himself, on a single night, New Year’s Eve 1972, culled down from 72 hours of American TV commercials.
The film is a fever dream as seen through our existing television advertisements, foreshadowing for hopeful future generations a promised futurelife of happiness and security in the land of plenty. These two clips, found on Youtube, obviously show signs of color fading: the cyan, magenta and yellow dyes that form the image in color back then take on an even more surreal look now, adding to the feverish quality, along with the semi-psychedelic soundtrack that Dixon created, on a reel-to-reel recorder, a week later, with some help from his friends Jeff Travers and Phil Cohen (collectively, the Mix Group).
Dixon — a film instructor at Rutger’s Livingston College in Piscataway, New Jersey at the time — has said he edited film together in one night using a silent film view called a Moviscope, which was available to him in the school’s film studies department, where he was teaching students how to make their first 16mm films with optical soundtracks, using spring-wound Bolex cameras.
The Whitney Museum of American Art began screening the film after Dixon, a professor at Livingston College at the time, first offered it to them in 1973, and then screened it again the following year. The film was also shown at the Oberhausen Film Festival and several other film festivals.
In 2003, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York, acquired all of Dixon’s experimental films — which include the following: Quick Constant and Solid Instant (1969) Madagascar, or, Caroline Kennedy’s Sinful Life in London (1976) — for a career retrospective, “The Films Of Wheeler Winston Dixon.”
A Village Voice review, written by Ed Halter in 2003, said: “loopy Americana remix Serial Metaphysics (1984-86) grooves to an increasingly trippy reverb.”
Dixon was once a member of New York’s underground film scene from the late 1960s, while also working as a writer for Life magazine and Andy Warhol’s Interview. He’s probably best known today as a film scholar — Halter again: “His 1997 book The Exploding Eye provides a who’s who of 1960s experimentalists.”
Dixon — who has previously taught English at Rutgers University (1974-1984), and was a visiting professor in Film Studies at The New School for Social Research in New York (one semester in 1983) — is currently the James P. Ryan endowed professor of film studies at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, where he coordinates the Film Studies Program. He is a highly-respected author of many books and essays about film.