I'm not sure you're all that interested to know this, but I was a judge of one of the very first home video contests ever. Actually, no, I wasn't a judge, now that I think of it. I was the guy who logged in the entries, pre-screened them with a couple of other staff members, and set up the equipment for the viewing session for the actual judges, who were, if memory serves accurately, Andrew Sarris (yea!), Molly Haskell (yea!), Jeffrey Lyons (ugh), Neil Gabler (yea!), maybe Michael Medved (who had not yet gone insane) and...that's all I can think of. The era: late 80s, 1988 and/or 89. The contest: the rather unfortunately titled Great "Video Review" Shoot-Off, sponsored by Video Review, the print magazine (remember those?) by whom I was employed at the time.
There were, if I recall correctly, thousands of entries, and the great majority of them looked...well, frankly, they looked like Harmony Korine's current project, Trash Humpers. In fact, I wish I had one or two of the cassettes, I'd be certain to get a subsidy from agnès b. or something. But never mind that. The project was a success for the mag. One of the early winners still brags about it. Vin diBona and his crew raided our entries and used a bunch of them to start America's Funniest Home Videos, and none of us who helped the guy got so much as an autographed picture of Bob Saget.
The reason I bring all this up is to establish my bonafides in terms of video contests. Criterion's current Jeanne Dielman Cooking Video Contest, inspired of course by Chantal Akerman's real-time depictions of the title character of her monumental 1975 film preparing various dinners, started out as something of a joke idea. But then, demonstrating that, contrary to popular misconception, art film aficionados do have a sense of humor, the company sponsored a for-real competition, with prizes of a Playstation 3 or a $100 gift certificate. The challenge being merely to make a video of yourself or someone else cooking meatloaf, cutlets or potatoes.
Damn. I've made stew twice in the space of a week and I never worked up the gumption to shoot myself peeling potatoes. But then again, I already have a Playstation 3. And a $50 gift certificate. From Macy's. But I digress. The contest has yielded well over 50 videos, and the first thing I notice about them is how great most of them look. Technology's come a long way. But methodology sometimes remains the same. As in this stop-motion animation opus, The Meatloaf Makes Itself:
Then there's OOOO! Meatless Loaf, a cleverly self-reflexive piece. Warning: do not adjust your YouTube settings. What you at first think is out of sync is in fact absolutely in sync. Such is the whole point!
The cool and creepy POV of Potato provides not only fascinating perspective but more cinematic allusion (note the tattoo on the knuckles). I still can't figure out how the videomaker got the boiling shots.
The very simply-titled Meat Loaf is an almost underground-filmish exploration of the deep ickiness of food preparation. Warning: It may put you off your own food.
And this one, Amy Elizabeth, 23 Commerce Street, is just plain weird. But funny.
What's interesting, and scintillating, is that the best of the responses not only display native wit and quick thinking, but genuine cinematic instinct/talent. You can browse through them yourself here. The Criterion staff will be voting on the Grand Prize winner soon, but you can vote for the gift-certificate Viewer's Award at the YouTube spot linked above. We will update soon.