[…] The whole amounts to an amazed celebration of the silly and the banal, the odd and the awkward, not without a touch of animality in the erotic obsessions of this voyeuristic TV, and also with some pathetic anti-system revolutionary values.
[…] In looking at «VHYes», one discovers that there is a secret TV connection between the Eighties and the teenagers, as if the Eighties could be perfectly embodied by this mixture of fun and boredom of “home” adolescents…
When the son of Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins makes a home movie, should it automatically be a cinema movie? Not really. Even if Jack Henry Robbins was born in 1989, he explores the Eighties through the TV-philia, or the epoch of VHS recording from TV and home camcorders. This was the golden age of mass manipulation of the image: recording, extracting, cutting, and composing had become a pastime accessible to all. The moving images, such as in the epoch of the beginnings of cinema, regain the status of objects of manipulation – viewership rediscovers the hands – but with the advantage of an impressive democratisation of this sort of post-production film-making. Through zapping and recording viewer and film-maker coincide, distraction becomes a modality of random creativity. Classical narration breaks; almost surrealist associations serve as basis for allusive narrations made of fragile threads.
Now Robbins grabs this aesthetic with both hands, so that VHYes works as a paradigmatic experience for this creative deconstructing, but he does not take on the method of making that is making a collage of TV-archive footage. He accurately re-enacts both legendary and trivial TV-programmes, giving himself some room for caricaturing them – even if this is a quite difficult job, as they are already fully clichéd and fraught with exaggerations. VHYes reveals more a passion for theatre, or simply for the children’s game of imitating the world out there.
Probably due to Robbins not having experienced the Eighties directly, this fake archive footage collage turns out to be an astonishingly fresh journey into the American Eighties. I was there, as an Italian child in front of a TV dominated by American programmes, and I can appreciate how just, precise, and clever this collection of sketches is, so skilfully composed by the editor Avner Shiloah. The whole amounts to an amazed celebration of the silly and the banal, the odd and the awkward, not without a touch of animality in the erotic obsessions of this voyeuristic TV, and also with some pathetic anti-system revolutionary values. The popular manifests itself in its brute reality, without any pop projection, and in doing so refers to us viewers as necessarily dumb recipients of the images – which can entertain, or relax, but also unsettle us with moments of true nihilism.
Home nihilism: this would be the stronger thread of VHYes. Behind the patina of fun, the familiar boredom of teenagers emerges. Literally “familiar”, for it is bound to this nervous dissatisfaction of teenagers towards their families, whose resigned “home” version takes shape with the TV as the ideal object of escapism, which both diverts and makes sink further into boredom. In looking at VHYes, one discovers that there is a secret TV connection between the Eighties and the teenagers, as if the Eighties could be perfectly embodied by this mixture of fun and boredom of “home” adolescents… A sort of regression in comparison with the young adults and their political commitments in the Seventies, which is also the regression of a society that folds itself in the private sphere. In this regard, the interesting aspect of the societal folding in the Eighties is that, at least through the TV excerpts of a (astonishingly re-enactment) film like VHYes, the private sphere seems to still not be completely organised or standardised. Here we can gain access to it in its raw pureness.
Text: Giuseppe Di Salvatore
First published: July 14, 2020
VHYes | Film | Jack Henry Robbins | USA 2019 | 72’ | NIFFF 2020