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I knew that trying to create beauty out of ugliness was a utopian effort, in both senses of the word; it was born out of hope for something much better, and I knew I'd fail. But what I was really hoping for was a useful failure, from the process of making the film: I wanted to highlight some of the edge where meaning dominates and then gives way.




With MEAN, right away Conn thought of shooting film off a TV screen, and about the funny/sad nature of hockey fights.

The film was a commission from Toronto's L.I.F.T. film co-op to celebrate their 25th anniversary. They paid him $400 to make a short film on the theme: Film Is Dead! Long Live Film! The co-op's anniversary project was partly inspired by a famous short sentence written by a well-known video artist in a magazine: Fuck film.

The pun in Conn’s title came from how people would fight for meaning, or for seemingly absurd reasons. How they'd bring life-or-death seriousness to things like their country, religion, or favourite sports team.


In the left frame: Conn filmed brutal hockey fight footage off a TV screen to create one side of MEAN's twinned Super 8 film frames. For him the result wasn't film or video, it was a new medium: grain + noise.

The original footage came from low-grade, VHS hockey fight tapes that he bought on eBay. It turned out there was a whole subculture of fans who argued about their favourite clips in chat rooms. There were two kinds of fights. The more common was between worker-fighters, which could be very violent but were often ritualistic and routine. The other kind, by far the favourite on the web, was where 100% domination was the desired result, demanding the complete humiliation and psychological disintegration of the loser. These were the special fights that were talked about and re-played for years.

In MEAN, Conn wanted to dissolve and reconstitute this corrosive culture into a kind of uglybeauty by focusing mostly on the movement + colour.


In the right frame: Conn filmed tree leaves beside Toronto's Don Valley Parkway. He used Kodak's new Super 8 negative film stock which was controversial at the time, in the small gauge filmmaker’s world he was part of. He’d read about its merits and flaws in the indie film on-line forum he subscribed to. Kodak had released it to replace the much-loved Kodachrome stock that they'd all used for many years. He was upset like the rest of them, but tried to use the new film with an open mind.

But while shooting, he was mainly thinking about the sky between the branches as negative space, of the leaves shifting in the wind, and his own movements covering and uncovering the sun. He didn't notice they were diseased maple leaves until months after he'd finished the film.

The music was by Conn's friend Oscar, who lived in Holland. They exchanged audio and video files by email for months, and they talked about: trying to edit a film as if you were writing music; how to watch a film as if you were listening to music; and how to resist seeing or hearing habitually. They talked about the weather too, about their families, cities, and neighbourhoods and occasionally about money, sports or politics. Occasionally they argued about how to finish the film, and they also talked about the meaning of the word utopia. Was it still possible to improve? Were people right to have given up?




MEAN is part of U BEND.




Photobooklet  .pdf, colour diptych image series, 8.6 MB