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Tony Flackett

     Think back to your childhood, to some tedious auto trip with your parents, and you and your brother/sister are caught in the sweaty back seat, and you don't give a damn about the scenery or the greenery, so you pass the time by getting sillier and sillier, by making goony faces and crossing your eyes and sticking out your tongues like spastics, and you talk together in animal sounds, oinks and squeaks, and you giggle and guffaw, and turn happily into 2-year-olds, until your freaked-out mom and dad shout STOP!!!!

     That's the essence of the wonderfully comical, unapologetically regressive, world view of Tony Flackett, an Allston, Massachusetts-based video artist. His videos are revels in infantilism, displays of an advanced aesthetic of arrested development. Flackett is the rubber-faced, stupid-acting star of his own videos, and my is he funny! He's part of a boyish, childish, classic comic tradition: Stan Laurel, Harpo Marx, Harry Langdon, Lou Costello, Jerry Lewis, sometimes Robin Williams, all stay-after-elementary school cutups.

     His work: "Sound Bites" (1994-1996), 18 minutes. These are exuberant sight-and-sound montages of syncopated nitwit gags, kids leaping about and stomping their feet, also Tony kicking up his heels in one-second Gene Kelly moves, also Tony mugging, his simpleton's face squashed against the camera. For both the soundtrack and the editing of visuals, the influences here are rap, hip-hop, and sampling.

     "Rebel Edges' (1992), 18 minutes, Tony on a journey, starting with a rhythmic rise-and-shine collage (frying eggs, whistling teapot, sizzling bacon, brushing of teeth, etc.), then going somewhere for a job interview? a mental test?, running away into the woods, meeting a strange man there who has shut himself up in a (Plato's?) Cave. They have a Guy Maddin-like philosophical dialogue. Some funny moments, some pensive moments, but this piece seems a bit unresolved.

     "Tony in London" (1991). 30 minutes. An in-camera edited diary video of Flackett's five-month stay in England at the beginning of the Gulf War. This one's a lovely mix of the intimate and the political, of goofy sight gags and touching, subtle humor. Outside, Tony's video camera catches quintessential Hyde Park crazies, also quixotic peace marchers singing "Kumbaya" and brandishing candles. Inside, lying in bed with a fever, Tony dreams a hilarious discourse with a Spanish-accented Buddha figure, also himself crawling across the floor as a US Army infantryman in an undesignated war.

     There's infantilism, of course: he and his London-based sister, Rachel, babbling at each other in increasingly incoherent, stiff-jawed Jeeves-talk.

     Jolly good stuff! What I think is that Tony Flackett is a bit of a genius, spewing out creativity like a happy baby dribbling everywhere his Gerber's lunch.

Boston Phoenix, October, 1999


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