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“Why I Got Into TV & Other Stories”: Ilene Segalove’s short film about childhood was showcased on Night Flight in 1987
In this episode of Night Flight’s Short Film Showcase — originally airing on May 30, 1987, and now streaming on our Night Flight Plus channel — independent filmmaker Ilene Segalove’s 1983 short film, “Why I Got Into TV and Other Stories,” takes a self-analytical, introspective look at her own childhood, heightened with a sense of irony, anxiety and confusion over personal identity, and considers how her vision of the future in the 70s compared to the then-present day.
Segalove’s short film — a series of six autobiographical tales, collectively just over ten minutes long — explores Segalove’s Beverly Hills childhood as though she were starring in her own TV show (years before “reality TV” and Youtube), as though experiences from her pre-pubescent teen years were episodic fodder for some kind of 1960s or early 70s-era situation comedy or droll family drama (a more appropriate comparison).
Each segment is voiced over, deadpan-style, by Segalove, as though she’s re-living it again, detached from it and talking over the images (shot with a PortaPak video camera) in a benign, somewhat emotionally vacant way.
She narrates personal anecdotes and historical tales as an awkward teenage girl, using humor and female teenage angst while showing us images of her hometown and her home life (none of the characters’ heads or faces are ever seen, only torsos, arms and legs; the only faces shown are those of the people she sees in photographs or on TV).
The film ends up becoming a behind-the-scenes tour of a community that represents the epitome of the celebrity lifestyle, and Segalove uses sentimentality and satire to showcase both the excessiveness of status symbols and social expectations in Beverly Hills, while also debunking the conventions of commercial television, and knocking art off its pedestal of high seriousness.
In one segment, we begin with Segalove’s memory about a solemn dinner with members of her immediate family (her mom, dad and sister), then she begins recalling the time she watched her father, crying, while he stared at the TV, hypnotized by televised news coverage of JFK’s funeral procession, at which point she realized that she wanted her father to give her the same kind of undivided attention, the same emotionally-rich response:
“I remember coming home the day of Kennedy’s funeral. My father was in the living room, watching TV and crying. The TV funeral touched him more deeply that anything else I’d ever seen. I stared at him and at the TV and at the Kleenex box and realized it was the first time I ever saw my father cry. I decided then and there to get into TV. It seemed like a good way to get his attention.”
In another, she recalls the time she had a bout of mononucleosis and didn’t go to school, watching “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” on TV, and in another, she remembers the time she saw her parents passionately kissing while she was watching “Dragnet.”
In yet another, a rumpled TV repairman becomes the young Segalove’s “remote control lover.” “When the TV went haywire and I needed some romance,” she says, “the TV repairman could always bring me and the TV back to life.”
She also remembers the summer that exterior scenes from Mike Nichols’ The Graduate were being filmed across the street from her family home, where she recalls sitting in her front yard and watching, and also having a bit of a crush on Dustin Hoffman’s stand-in (this segment was actually included as a bonus feature in the 1987 Criterion laserdisc release of the film).
Conceptual artists like Segalove — a Baby Boomer, born in 1950, coming of age in the mid-1960s — were among the first to use a PortaPak, a two-piece battery-powered camera system (camera and VTR, or video tape recorder, required to play back the videotape later) that were portable enough to carry around to record on video tape outside a studio set-up.
Amateur videographers began using the PortaPak cameras (like Sony’s DV-2400, first introduced to the home video market in 1967), guerilla-style, and doing so developed a freedom-rich style of video art that often veered into activist politics, capturing on camera what was happening at college protests, for instance, and those tapes were later turned into performance art pieces and video installations playing on monitors at all types of museums and galleries during the 60s and 70s.
Segalove was born in Los Angeles, and grew up in Beverly Hills, a topic in many of her works. She received a B.A. in fine arts from the University of California in Santa Barbara in 1972. After graduating, she bought a PortaPak video camera and started making such videos as “The Mom Tapes,” starring her own mother, a consummate consumer who in one segment advises her daughter on where to buy a Toastmaster, an area rug and meat for dinner.
Segalove then earned her M.A. in communication arts from Loyola Marymount University in 1975, and spent a couple of years auditing classes at CalArts with conceptual art master John Baldessari, even working as his assistant (her personal style is, it must be noted, evocative of Baldessari’s own deadpan media-based conceptualist art).
As a member of the group Telethon with Billy Adler and John Margolis (both instructors at UC Santa Barbara) and Van Scley, Segalove developed a critical sense of television’s powerful role as a sort of collective home movie for a media-driven society.
Her work — video works, photographic mixed-media and audio pieces, audio programs — has been consistently included in major group exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Whitney through out her career. She’s won several from the National Endowment for the Arts), awards and exhibitions. Segalove has also produced audio programs for National Public Radio (NPR).
The Laguna Arts Museum hosted a retrospective of her work, “Why I Got Into TV and Other Stories: The Art of Ilene Segalove,” which spanned the period from 1972 to 1990 and included 33 videos, 17 audio pieces and 38 photographic works. It was organized by Charles Desmarais, who became the museum’s director in the fall of 1988, and a traveling solo exhibition of the retrospective hit the road in 1990.
More recently she has had two solo exhibitions with Tom Jancar Gallery, Los Angeles (2009 and 2010).
Her work can be found in the public collections of the Getty Museum of Art, LA; the Hammer Museum, LA; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, LA; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the Jewish Museum, NY, among others.
Ilene Segalove today lives and works in Santa Barbara, California.