McLuhan’s Minion


GERRY FIALKA IS A LOVABLY WACKY ARTIST WITH A COTTAGE STUDIO IN VENICE STACKED TO ITS SKYLIGHT with such obscure 20th century treasures as a mannequin named Sophia, Salvador Dali videos and broken dolls reconstructed as a “doll garden.” But to a scavenger artist/media ecologist such as this longhaired pixie, those creations represent an opportunity to create again.

“Scavenger art enables people to see discarded things with new eyes,” he explains.

Consider the PXL 2000, a $100 toy camcorder introduced and discontinued in the space of two years by Fisher-Price Inc. While the tweenage target market didn’t buy the PXL 2000 the way Fisher-Price hoped it would in 1987-’89, guess who stepped to the front of the line at Toys ‘R’ Us? It was people like Fialka--experimental, underground avant-gardistas who dug the camera’s funky, low-tech “nouveau-Gothic” images, thus turning a failed toy into a cheapo art tool.

Which leads us to Fialka’s latest local curation: his 10th annual PXL THIS Festival, held Friday at Vidiots in Santa Monica. Move over, Sundance. Make room for Gerry’s kids.


Fialka’s “No admission price, no awards, no brochure, no sponsors, no Ticketmaster access” showcase presents only pixellator creations. Many of them have the grainy quality of Ingmar Bergman black-and-white films, which were the inspiration for James Wickstead, one of the PXL 2000 inventors, in his creation of the camcorder. Today similar effects are seen on MTV, the Internet and security cameras.

“Marshall McLuhan said TV is tactile,” says Fialka, who counts among his other influences Captain Beefheart and “Finnegans Wake.” “Tactile is exactly the chunky look the PXL 2000 illustrates. You can practically touch the roundness of the dots, all 2,000 of them.” (By contrast, a typical TV screen contains about 200,000 dots of light, or pixels.)

Writer-director Michael Almereyda, who used one of the toycams in shooting “Hamlet,” calls Fialka a “pixelvision evangelist.”

“This is a magic toy that adolescent auteurs somehow overlooked,” Fialka continues. “What a utensil for creativity! It reeks of humanity in a town where everything Hollywood believes in is spectacle.”

When Fialka was growing up in Michigan, he checked out of the library French filmmaker Georges Melies’ 1902 “Trip to the Moon,” showing it over and over on his father’s Super 8mm projector. “You could run things fast, slow and backward,” Fialka recalls. “That was my favorite toy. The projector became an instrument of seeing film in different ways. Home movies of my sister Janice, just tapping her foot, we’d be in tears laughing.”

Fialka later helped run the Ann Arbor Film Festival, which claims to be the country’s oldest independent and experimental film festival. Then he worked for another experimenter, Frank Zappa, as an archivist. “He always promoted independent thinking,” Fialka says. “Frank said, ‘Don’t necessarily listen to what I’m saying, go out and find out for yourself.’ ”


At 47, Fialka seems lit with that Zappa-whizz-bang “outsider artist” passion. Every other month he curates a festival of experimental and documentary films at Midnight Special Bookstore in Santa Monica. And his “Media Ecology Super Sessions” there feature guest artists discussing the consumer culture’s information overload. While his monthly “Marshall McLuhan-Finnegans Wake Reading Club” at the Venice branch library is like a paleographer’s party for the wit-addicted.

Fialka quotes musician George Clinton when asked why he’s so generous with his time and expertise: “Think. It ain’t illegal yet.”