Wednesday, March 01, 2006



Concrete Movies by Nico Vassilakis
(Ordering Information: $8 postage and handling included to: Nico Vassilakis, 3046 61st Ave. SW, Seattle WA 98116

[First published printed in The Wandering Hermit Review, Issue #1, Summer/Fall 2005.]

Watching these -- let’s coin a phrase shall we? -- liquid concrete poems by Nico Vassilakis got me thinking about William S. Burroughs and Marcel Duchamp. I was reminded of Burrroughs’ claim that language is a virus and that we are its host organisms, of his insistence that we need to find out what language is, how it operates, how it uses us.

I was reminded how peculiar language is, how strange letters are, how fantastic it is that we view symbols, translate them into sounds, manufacture meanings we can share with one another. I tried to recall how it was to see and hear as a child before having been inducted into the conspiracy of language.

By decontextualizing language, by dissociating letters from one another, dissociating them from their function, isolating individual letters, or arranging
them for visual impact rather than their usual function as visual symbols of phonetic functions strung together to convey meaning, Vassilakis challenges us to see them anew, in much the same way that Duchamp’s ready-mades reminded viewers how much of our physical surroundings we take for granted and no longer really see.

I’ve included below some brief impressions of moments from each piece in the collection. For a more in-depthanalysis that places them within the broader context
of moving visual poetry -- filmpoems, videopoems, digital poems -- by a reviewer with a stronger background in that tradition, have a look at Geof Huth’s review online at

1) Black & White: A strip of grayish white with black text drifting on it wiggling wavily on a field of black --- sections of dictionary pages flashing on screen --- three lines of white text on smudgy black background then white with smeared black text --- black numbers are rising through honeycombish bubbles on a white field like Lotto balls in the Lotto popcorn popper thing on TV (as we wait for the lucky number balls to pop up the tube and be selected by the lovely, smiling model) seen through the eyes of a fly --- a blurry background of black and white which could be from a slowly turning camera filming clouds and treetops over which individual letters and words and short phrases are rising like God’s good Christians while the rest of us are left behind to burn but now we have what looks almost like sections from architectural drawings or a fancy fence and are these patterns composed of letters I wonder but cannot quite tell and then some blue so we’ve entered...

2) Color: Blurred bluish letters with green outlines on orange background an almost tie dye effect --- blue green purple with dots and suddenly music, someone Theloniously Monkeying with a piano most beautifully accompanied by some submariney whistling, gonging, thrumming strings --- images from a map up close
portions of words the names of towns, the word river, the word sea --- background colors bleeding into letter colors which bleed into the background colors --- and then as suddenly and randomly as it begins the music stops, making the silence that precedes and follows it something more than the absence of sound. Cagey... a wise choice resisting the urge to add a soundtrack. These picture poems, though moving, are closer kin to abstract painting and/or collage than movie movies with their inherent linearity. (A video art collector couple in a recent New York Times article said there were several works they rarely had ‘on’ because they’re quite noisy.) --- The visuals become more psychedelic, letter shapes arise, their colors and the background colors bleed into and out of one another, blue to green to purple to red --- colorful words sway across the scene revealing themselves a little at a time, ear moves to the right and the p to its left is revealed, pear drifts to the right and we see another p then an a and appear appears.

3) Writone to Written: A black pen scrawls a wavy line across a gray background. The neologism “writone” appears onscreen. Shortly thereafter its definition appears below it, “to written.” As the words fade, the image of the pen moving across the page goes psychedelic -- like you’re staring at your friend’s tie dye when the acid kicks in and it starts dancing along to the music the Dead are playing down there on stage. No wait, I’m showing my years. Ahem, Phish are playing down there on stage. Yellow pen tip scrawling black letters surrounded by red then blue on a lime green, lemon yellow page. And then lots more happens involving “2” and variations on “two” and we get into “three” for awhile and Roman numeral “V” and other stuff.

This is the longest of the selections clocking in at 21 minutes 8 seconds. It’d be great on a big flat screen TV, like a constantly changing painting. Just keep it playing and have a look now and then to see what it’s up to at the moment. My 13” TV/VCR combo, inherited from an old cabbie who died while a tenant at a low income building I used to manage (“don’t let my no-good brother or junkie nephew get any of my stuff when I’m dead,” he asked by phone from the hospital) does not do it justice. In fact it occurs to me that non-narrative moving picture works like this, and the hand painted films of Harry Smith and later era Brakhage, may have found their true medium with the coming of the flat screen TV and DVD player.

4) STAMPOLOGUE: Geof Huth’s favorite, my least favorite. Closest to “writing” of any of them but with, to my eyes, the least visual appeal.

5) Collide-o-scope: two minutes of sepia tone kaleidoscope imagery brings the disk to an end.


Steve Potter's writing has appeared recently in publications such as Arson, Big Toe Review, Blue Collar Review, Drunken Boat, Freefall, Knock, Pindeldyboz and 3rd Bed. He lives in Seattle where he edits and publishes The Wandering Hermit Review.


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