VoyEx8 minutes 30 seconds  ©1999
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This experimental short subject explores the voyeur/exhibitionist relationship. The piece follows three brief stories: a voyeur; an exhibitionist; and a voyeur who gives in to exhibitionism. Striking, explicit images are layered one upon the next to form a richly textured backdrop to these frank and revealing stories. Topped off by a haunting original soundtrack by Justin Crosby, this piece leaves a lasting impression.
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Film Festival Screenings
1999Nov13 MIX NYC Gay/Lesbian Experimental Film/Video Festival
2000Mar31
2000Apr9
London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival
2000Apr?? MIX Mexico Gay/Lesbian Experimental Film/Video Festival
2000Apr14 Miami Gay & Lesbian Film Festival
2000May23 Toronto Gay & Lesbian Film Festival
2000Sep24 Image & Nation: Montréal Gay & Lesbian Film Festival
2000Oct07 Tampa International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival
2000Oct09 Image Out: Rochester Gay & Lesbian Film Festival
2000Nov11 Reeling: Chicago Gay & Lesbian Film Festival
2000Aug16 Vancouver Queer Film & Video Festival
Reviews:
"Using repeated, heavily-manipulated images of his own naked body, VoyEx director Christopher Westfall explores the power of sex without touching or speaking."
2001Sep09 New York Independent Film Video Festival
Back Story

Warning - may contain spoilers

After the unexpected success of G*I*J*O, I had the unenviable task of creating a follow-up. I had been to the MIX festival twice now, and was getting a broader exposure to what was considered "experimental" video. My work to date, while well-received, wasn't particularly what I though experimental was supposed to mean. I decided to put forth an effort to produce a properly experimental video.

I had taken the Public Access training with this guy from work named Mike. When it came to the control board, he was a savant. All a control board really is is a way to manage a number of video and audio inputs, and mix them together into one output that gets recorded and/or broadcast. What Mike did was get all Dr. Frankenstein on it. He would loop the outputs back upon the inputs and create feedback loops. Audio feedback is hard on the ears, but video feedback creates some amazing psychedelic visual effects. By tweaking the rate of delay and other variables, he could create an amazing variety of rich and dense visual effects. He cold also work magic with the "green screen" technology. He would create layer upon layer, and inverse the positive and negative spaces, and really blow your mind.

Everything Mike did, interesting as it was, was utterly abstract. While I found his effects to be mesmerizing, his productions could never capture my attention for more than a couple minutes. I thought that if we collaborated, and I applied his visual techniques to something more representational, that it could be something really cool. One takeaway I had from the G*I*L*O success was that showing my dick got me noticed. I thought it would help my chances if I did another dick-themed piece.

At that same time in my life, with my web site continuing to take off, I was doing a lot of thinking about exhibitionism, voyeurism, and the relationship between voyeurs and exhibitionists. My original concept was to interview people about their experiences on whichever side, and use that as an audio backdrop to the psychedelic images of me and my dick. There was a regional gay/lesbian picnic coming up, and I could use that opportunity to conduct the interviews.

Well when the day came I found myself really more interested in enjoying a relaxing picnic than conducting a lot of interviews, and I was learning about myself that I really didn't like to approach strangers with a camera or microphone, but after returning from the picnic I figured I probably wouldn't have gotten much good out of that crowd anyway. So I decided to just concoct some stories from whole cloth. I came up with a story from the voyeur's perspective, one from the exhibitionist's, and a third that spanned the gap.

Mike had a collaborator of his own named Justin, who helped him come up with the psychedelic soundtrack to his abstract videos. He seemed interested in doing something for me. We started by recording me reciting the stories. He changed the tape speed so that they all wouldn't sound like me. I then sent him off to do his thing and put the stories to haunting, creepy sounds.

In the meantime, I had to shoot the video. I decided that, for whatever reason, it would be good if I shaved every hair on my body from my scalp down to my toe knuckles, and everything between except for the eyebrows and a whispy pubic triangle. I was then going to just shot images of me stripping naked, posing naked, and touching and feeling my own naked presence. We would shoot it right in the Public Access studio so that Mike could have access to the board while the images were being captured, and so that we could do the green screen stuff.

I was going to have two guys on camera and one guy in the control booth. Unfortunately one of the camera guys, the guy Ithaca College undergrad who had given me feedback on G*I*J*O the previous year, canceled on me at the last minute. I'm still bitter about that to this day. I was always as supportive as I could be to him and his artistic endeavors, and the one time I really need him he ditched me to hang out with some new friends he'd just made. Not only did that mean that Mike had to do double-duty, but Mike's eye as an abstract artist didn't translate into the representational world. The other reason I was so pissed at the guy who ditched me was because he was really good with a camera, and would be able to attain the vision that I wanted. Mike did what he could. I had to live with it. At least the other guy that I got on camera really knew what he was doing. We were able to get some good stuff.

The only other matter of recording the images, other than having to lock the studio door with a "Closed Set" sign on it, was that I had to perform in a phallic capacity. These images were supposed to be about me and my fat schlong. I had abstained from ejaculating for a couple days prior, but all the stress of trying to arrange the shoot, coupled with performance anxiety of having to get it up when all the cameras and lights were on, I found that I was underperforming. Like the camerawork, it was enough to get usable images, but it was a struggle.

By the time I had some tape in the can, Justin got back to me with the audio. I was a little concerned, because the music he did for Mike's abstract work was itself what I would call abstract music. I liked his haunting, audiophilic style, but needed his music to be listenable. Well he really hit the nail on the head. What he came up with was really, really good exactly as he presented it to me. The variations in tape speed made the voices sound like they were being obscured to protect anonymity, which added to the creepiness of Justin's haunting acoustic strains. It was perfect.

Now I had to sit with Mike at the control board and direct him in his magic techniques. We had done some stuff when we captured the video, but a lot of what he did had to be done in post-production. The problem was that I wasn't really sure how to direct him because I didn't really know what he did. I understood the concepts behind it, but in terms of manipulating controls to achieve these effects, I didn't understand the pallet I had to work with.

What I did was just let Mike putter and see what I liked. Right away he came up with good stuff. The problem was that he kept wanting to twiddle with the controls non-stop. Whenever I would want to record what he had, he'd say, "Wait, let me try just this one more thing." What I wound up doing was when I liked how he had things looking, I'd force him to pause while I captured a few seconds of it. Then I'd give him free reign to putter again, until I found something else that was good.

What I was doing with Mike was to making lots and lots of building blocks. I'd pick and choose from the stuff we did together, and make a video pastiche over Justin's soundtrack. The trick was making sense of all the myriad building blocks that I had, and figuring out how to put it all together. The images fell into three categories of mild, medium, or heavy effects. Some images were common across the three categories, but some images were unique to just one category. I decided that since there were three stories, each with a beginning, middle, and end, that I would use the common images to reprise the same basic visual flow three times, with increasing level of video effect each time. That was able to give me a direction to take, and I felt it would bring cohesion to the three individual stories. And because each category had footage unique to itself, there was still a lot of variety across the three repeats. In particular for the third story there were some segments that really fit well as metaphoric cumshots. The cascading images corresponded to the cascading waves of ecstasy that one feels during orgasm.

Once I went down this path, things came together pretty quickly. The only thing bugging me was the editing booths at this facility couldn't do a cross-dissolve. You could do that in the control room, but not in the editing rigs. And this look was screaming for cross-dissolves. For a couple of key spots, like the segues between stories, I went back into the control room to create some new source footage with the cross-dissolves, and then brought that into the editing booth to stitch in.

After only a few hours of editing, I had a finished product. I wrapped it up and sent it off to MIX. I was already way behind schedule, but they agreed to give me an extension. But there was also the local screening. Because I had used Public Access resources to produce this piece, I was obligated to air it a minimum of 3 times. G*I*J*O got out of that because I shot it at home, and there was no editing involved. But I had to brace myself for a public backlash if there were angry parents out there who didn't want their kids seeing some guy's junk all over their TV screen. The way Public Access works is that I as producer need to take responsibility for my own content, and indemnify the Public Access studio or cable company from any liability. So Public Access would field the calls, but I would have to answer for the content. I think there may have been one or two complaints. But nothing compared to what would blindside me when I was preparing my Gong Show submission that same year.

I called the piece VoyEx, for the voyeur/exhibitionist theme. It was accepted by MIX, and I went to the festival again. I was extremely excited to build upon my experience the previous year. But I was also drinking alcoholicly at the time. I got super trashed at the after party the first night I was there, and I made a gigantic spectacle of myself. I don't know if I realized at the time how much this crowd appreciated a good spectacle, but the next morning I was embarrassed for my behavior. On top of being chronically hungover. I mean this was one of those bionic hangovers that lasts for days. I barely left my hotel room, and I missed most of the rest of the festival.

Of course I was able to make it to my screening, though. I'd had a couple days to recover, and while I wasn't feeling particularly chipper, I could make it through a festival program. At the time, MIX screened at the Anthology Film Archives. The previous year G*I*J*O had been upstairs in the big theater late at night to a huge crowd. But VoyEx was being shown in the smaller theater downstairs, early in the evening, and there weren't a lot of people there. The theme of the program included a lot of abstract work. I only remember on of them. It was a purely abstract piece, not unlike what my collaborator Mike did, but there was no sound. I don't know if the guys in the projection room fucked up, or if the artist intended for us to stare at these abstract images with nothing to listen to. And this thing went on and on and on and on and on. I think it as like 12 minutes or more of this. The one thing I knew from the get go was to keep my shorts short. Pace is the most important factor for success. You gotta grab them in the opening seconds, and keep their attention going without dropping it once, and then get right back out before you overstay your welcome. But not everyone in experimental film shares that aesthetic. But my work got stuck right in the thick of it in this program.

Despite a disappointing sophomore year at MIX, VoyEx enjoyed festival exposure equal to or maybe even a little greater than G*I*J*O. But it was still a huge hassle to prepare all these submissions. I would wait until the last possible second before I would dub that tape, fill that form, sign that check, and stuff that envelope. Sometimes I just couldn't bring myself to do it. I'm sure I would have screened at even more festivals if I had completed more submissions.

VoyEx has one other distinction, though. It was the only time any of my work has ever been shown at a heterosexual festival. I was contacted by the New York International Independent Film and Video Festival. I knew it was a scam right away, because their submission fee was ten times higher than the norm. I also knew it was legit because they were soliciting me for my work. Except for Toronto, where a festival director had seen a specific work, you just send in your tape, hope for the best, but know they'll probably turn it down. But in this case they were pleading me to submit. I knew they were just after my submission fee, but the caller was so good at buttering me up that I fell for her bullshit even though I knew she was playing me like a fiddle. She also tried to get me to pay extra for being on the poster, or getting a table at the opening night reception. I wouldn't bite, of course. I was able to get my picture on the poster for free, though. The caller wouldn't take no for an answer, but I would't say yes, so we left it open. Unbeknownst to me, she put it on the poster hoping I'd say yes, and it was too late to take it off when I refused to cough up the dough.

I went to attend this festival, since it was just down in NYC. It was awful. There was some stuff on their screens that was crap by Public Access standards. Really lame stuff. There was one exception though. It was a bromantic tale of a guy and his band of buddies in the days leading up to his wedding. It was shot well, within the bounds of amateur production values, and it was nothing special, but it was actually very well written, and for a DIY production it really captured the interest and flowed nicely all the way through. It was even touching at times. All this done by some straight guys in Chicago with some video equipment. But it was lost in a sea of tripe. I don't think anyone else at this festival noticed it.

My screening was even more dreadful than I feared. The quality of the work was just as bad as what I'd been seeing. There was some wannabe documentary that took up most of the program, and after it was over half the audience got up and left. I couldn't fucking believe it. For all the experimental festivals I've been to, for all the programs of esoteric, abstract, indecipherable alternative art videos I've suffered through, once I set down in a theater I know I have to stay there until the program is over. To do any less would be inconceivably rude. But not by the standards of this festival. By the time VoyEx finally came on, the theater was practically empty. And it didn't fit at all. It made no sense in this program. No one even clapped when it was done.

After I left the theater I tried to make my way back up to Harlem where I was staying with a FWB. It was a huge hike to the subway station. By now it was wicked late at night. I couldn't find my way around the station to the uptown train I wanted. It was like something out of Jacob's Ladder. I was walking around in circles in the station, and my train was nowhere to be found. Finally I said fuck it and went back up to the surface to catch a cab.

That was a Saturday night. I was supposed to stick around for another screening Sunday evening and go home the following Monday, but if it was going to be anything like that one, then forget it. I got in the car and drove home a day early. It's a good thing I did, because the next morning on my drive into work to surprise everyone for coming into work when I should be on vacation, I learned that two airplanes hit the World Trade Center. If I hadn't left when I did, I would have been stuck there.

Despite that ignominious conclusion to its festival exposure, VoyEx was ultimately seen by more theatergoers than anything else I've done. I think it stands up well, and as a follow-up to G*I*J*O, I'm happy with it.

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