A highlight of the Mill Valley Film Festival's video program was "Fast Forward," an evening-long retrospective of work by John Sanborn, who's been pioneering video-art techniques for almost 20 years.
Assembled by Sanborn himself, the show drew on a wide variety of pieces to illustrate central themes running through his career: a fascination with rhythm and the manipulation of time, a mischievous disdain for the boundaries between reality and illusion, and a desire to blend real-world content with formal structures bordering on abstraction.
These are weighty interests, but the videos they give birth to are often as entertaining as they are provocative. Boosting their amusement value further is Sanborn's penchant for working with engaging collaborators, from dancers like Bill T. Jones and Mikhail Baryshnikov to musicians like Philip Glass and the King Crimson rock group.
His productions made during the 1980s constitute a veritable catalog of cutting-edge expressions, with avant-garde percussionist David Van Tieghem tapping his drumsticks on brick walls and sidewalks, composer Robert Ashley chanting a spoken-word opera over a free-form image flow, and choreographer Molissa Fenley dancing in a desert videotaped by a camera on an 80-foot crane.
Sanborn's interests continue to evolve, and recently he has turned to the possibilities offered by CD-ROM computer technology. His interactive thriller "Psychic Detective" will soon travel from the festival circuit to software stores everywhere, and more is sure to flow from the desktop setup that's now his primary artistic studio.