Nam June Paik: Moon Is the Oldest TV 2023 Movie Review
I don’t need Steve Yuen’s dulcet tones to elucidate the genius that was Nam June Paik. I don’t really see how the latter had an impact on the former. This is just a tool to make a somewhat mercurial subject more digestible for the masses, which is quite reductive honestly speaking. There was barely any exposition to really get at the heart of what made NJP so great. This is the kind of introductory course that spends 2hrs insisting “NJP is great! NJP is so great,” but barely attempts to explain why he was great, and I suppose that is the strength of relying purely on archives. Moreover, the documentary telegraphs everything by following the conventions of chronological narration.
Beginning with his early life in war-torn Korea, to his restless irreverent youth, to his maximal, big-scale mid-life period, to his very sad decline. I understand that for an audience who knows nothing about NJP, chronology is an easy form of exposition, however, this barely scratches the surface of his radicalism and complete rejection of art world greed.
Unfortunately, decades after his death, his art has been desecrated into some form of commodity, which is the last thing he would have wanted. This is of no fault of the filmmaker, but rather the disgusting nature of art world auction houses and foundations.
What is mostly omitted from this narrative is Kubota’s participation in the work they did together (her image appears briefly only when Fluxus is mentioned in the NY timeline and later by interview, but the interview is edited in an odd way), and her own radicalism to the medium.
Too often when we speak about a radical male artist, there seems to be erasure of the woman who stood by that artist and made work that was equally irreverent. To be fair, Shigeko jokes in her own words, “I was a groupie. They say Koreans are marathon runners, but I was fast too,” however, her contributions are largely cut down here. In 2023, I was hoping that we wouldn’t have to deal with this double standard. I suppose this is not any fault on the filmmaker per se, but perhaps the estate.
At least not all of his female collaborators were erased since we do get a healthy amount of Charlotte Moorman. But oddly enough there is no mention of his highly influential period in Tokyo (circa 1961-1963), not to mention his early education at Tokyo University (1953) which he clearly threw out the window. The only mention of Nam June in Japan is his return to Japan later on when he contacted Shuya Abe and asked him to help build the first video synthesizer. All in all, it is watchable but underwhelming.