Digital prospector: Sonicsgate, MOCAtv, Heather Hart's Western Oracle

Critic Rustin Thompson unearthing the very best - and worst - in online video.
Critic Rustin Thompson unearthing the very best - and worst - in online video.

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Now seems like the appropriate time to revisit this 2009 documentary recounting the theft of the Seattle SuperSonics by a black-hatted sports rustler from Oklahoma City. Directed by Jason Reid and other passionate Sonics fans, "Sonicsgate" (a 2012 Webby Award winner) is not the bitter screed you may expect. It is a thorough and convincingly damning report on the backroom deals, secret handshakes and greedy hypocrites who lied to fans and looted the city of its beloved basketball team (and an eventual championship caliber line-up led by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook). Among the coven of evildoers are Starbucks czar Howard Schultz, NBA commissioner David Stern, former mayor Greg Nickels and that backstabbing urban cowboy himself, Clay Bennett. Imagine how Sacramento would have reacted if our own hardwood savior, Chris Hansen, had successfully pickpocketed the Kings, only to be revealed later as just another manipulative cheat. (And given recent reports, perhaps he is.)

An epistolary ode to our Sonics-less city, a short film called Love Seattle, is one of the more accomplished offerings to be found on PIE, Channel 9’s energetic attempt to reel in the hipsters who avoid the station like they would a Thomas Kinkade paint-a-thon. Hosted by the peripatetic Bill Radke (stand-up comic, former NPR host, podcaster, writer), the weekly program is mostly a repackaging of previously aired material, much of it featuring usual KCTS suspects. Pixie-haired Ken Burns, restaurateur Tom Douglas and ganja friendly travel guru Rick Steves share space with brief (and wholly unmemorable) features on quirky corners of the city. Live music segments (one gem is a performance by 93-year old local pianist and blues singer Ruby Bishop) rub shoulders with short films like the above-mentioned "Love Seattle," a chiaroscuro tone poem of iconic city vistas underscored by the pleading lament of a man missing his Sonics. The KCTS website describes "PIE" as a show that “reflects and responds to life and culture in the Pacific Northwest”, but so far it appears to be offering an extremely paltry slice.

Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art, long an oasis in one of the city’s more arid quadrants, also has a well-curated YouTube channel. A recent exhibition of artists influenced by the destructiveness of World War II, titled Destroy the Picture: Painting the Void, 1949-1962, is thoughtfully documented in an online gallery tour packaged as a 30-minute documentary, and short films and music videos are also on the online menu, such as this typically bizarre video for a Björk ditty called "Mutual Core" (she has apparently not heeded her doctor’s advice to go easy on the ‘shrooms). There’s something for everyone on MOCAtv, although it can be a little freaky to be greeted by an online ad starring a 150-year old Pat Boone hawking safe-step walk-in tubs.

Heather Hart's Western Oracle
The Seattle Art Museum’s own YouTube channel is in desperate need of curatorial guidance, as you can see in this time-lapse video of artist Heather Hart’s temporary sculpture — basically, an unfinished house — being constructed next to Calder’s imposing red Eagle in the middle of the Olympic Sculpture Park. The full title of this dubious piece is "The Western Oracle: We Will Tear the Roof Off the Mother." It is “an amalgam of distorted traditions and symbols, bequeathed and mashed up to fit a cultural need,” or so the typically indecipherable, high-minded artistic statement asks us to believe. Actually, it’s just a house, with exposed plywood and framing, half-buried in the earth, which invites kids to scamper on it. “This work is meant for the public to interact with (e.g. climb on, go inside, contribute to "the heart of the oracle," etc.),” Hart explains. The video, however — nine interminable minutes long — defeats any mystery Hart could have hoped to concoct.

Death Grips
Shake off the airless pretensions of the oracle with this 43-minute NPR concert spotlighting the incendiary group known as Death Grips. Stefan "MC Ride" Burnett delivers an apocalyptic aural assault of nearly unintelligible hip hop rants while his lone accompanist, drummer Zach Hill, flails away with an hallucinatory abandon, his face obscured by a torment of hair. Andy "Flatlander" Morin is somewhere on stage managing the verbal echoes and polliwog bleeps emitted from a bank of computers, their screens ablaze with images of fire and sparks. The non-stop strobe lights may induce vomiting, or seizures, but the music sears with an incantatory rage. 

For more nuggets from the Digital Prospector, go here.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Rustin Thompson

Rustin Thompson

Rustin Thompson is a filmmaker, film critic and indie radio deejay. He enjoys strong coffee, red wine, IPAs and his wife and grown children. He is comfortable with the fact he will never be rich, but grows petulant if he thinks too much about it.