Nam June Paik: Moon Is the Oldest TV
Nam June Paik is, in many ways, the archetypal image of an avant-garde artist. He was a bold visionary with an eccentric personality who was perpetually broke. He was also the person responsible for turning the medium of television into an art form. First-time feature filmmaker Amanda Kim explores the life and work of Paik in documentary Nam June Paik: Moon Is the Oldest TV to create an in-depth portrait of the titular artist, which underscores the significance of his place in the art world.
Initially moving to Munich to study as a composer, Paik became involved in the avant-garde scene after seeing John Cage perform. The pair would become fast friends, with Paik’s career taking off in the 60s when he began to experiment with television and video, collaborating closely with cellist Charlotte Moorman. From mesmerising video installations to taboo-breaking performances, and even a remote-controlled robot, Paik’s creations were as strange and beautiful as they were ambitious – especially when he began experimenting with live broadcasting.
Talking heads of former contemporaries and art historians outline in bite-sized soundbites how Paik’s approach to the medium was able to transform the familiar into the unfamiliar and turn the passive act of watching television into a more active process. It’s some truly fascinating stuff, though the documentary’s discussion of the theory behind the art doesn’t go much deeper than a general overview.
Neither is there much time to spend strolling down avenues of academic theory when there’s so much ground to cover in the artist’s career. Rather, Kim’s documentary spends the bulk of its time painting Paik as an inspirational and endlessly determined individual who’s just as compelling as his creations. Oscar-nominated actor Steven Yeun reads Paik’s words to illustrate his wit and intellect as viewers are whisked through a cinematic gallery of what he accomplished before his death in 2006.
Essentially predicting what YouTube would look like in his experimental 1973 broadcast Global Grove, Paik was decades ahead of his time. Although it’s far from being a comprehensive dissection of avant-garde television, Kim nevertheless highlights why Paik is regarded as the father of video art.
Nam June Paik: Moon Is the Oldest TV is released in select cinemas on 19th May 2023.
Watch the trailer for Nam June Paik: Moon Is the Oldest TV here: