Sunday, July 19, 2009

Some YoYo Stuff: An observation of the observations of Don Van Vliet by Anton Corbijn.

"...this short black-&-white film made in 1993 is an unique opportunity to see & hear Don van Vliet, alias "Captain Beefheart", one of the most influential, misunderstood, talked about, admired, copied, treasured, loved & quoted musicians & yet he is still an obscure & mysterious artist. The film is approximately 13 minutes long, directed & photographed in black & white..."

SUNDAY, JULY 19, 2009

Some YoYo Stuff: An observation of the observations of Don Van Vliet by Anton Corbijn. 1993

Don van Vliet, alias "Captain Beefheart", is one of the most influential, misunderstood, talked about, admired, copied, treasured, loved and quoted musicians and yet he is still an obscure and mysterious artist. His quite abrupt artistic transformation from working with a microphone to a paintbrush in 1982 and his consequent move from the desert to the ocean meant even less direct contact with the outside world than before. Subsequently there is very little information about Don from this time onwards and this short black-and-white film made in 1993 is an unique opportunity to see and hear this unique man. The film is approximately 13 minutes long, directed and photographed in black and white by Anton and is available on VHS in PAL or NTSC.


Don Van Vliet, the subject of Anton Corbijn's short film profile, is probably better known to pop culture fans as Captain Beefheart, leader of the Magic Band and Frank Zappa cohort. Captain Beefheart listeners will expect musician-turned-artist Van Vliet's voice to be gruff, but they may be suprised at the croaking and grasping heard here as his comments are combined with near-static pictures of him in the corner of the screen to underline the artsy-craftsy aspect of this black-and-white outing. A video art/documentary hybrid, Some YoYo Stuff is stylistically of a piece with the artist's body of work, whether music or paintings (ie considerably off the beaten path). The chapter 'Flying Fish Head' works particularily well as footage shot from a moving car with a fish head held in front of the camera accompanies Van Vliet's various disquisitions relating to the passing desert landscape. Ever the tease, Van Vliet's terse treatment of the chapter titled 'Frank Zappa' is sure to annoy those hoping for some insider insights on the late Zappa (of course, provocation has been a theme in Beefheart's music going back to, well, his time with Frank). A curio that will appeal to an admittedly narrow audience, this is recommended for larger music and popular culture collections. - M Tribby - Video Library

This is Anton Corbijn's short (13 minute) black-and-white film from 1993. It is a personal and revealing look at the former master of Dadaist rock. Through the cryptic answers and strange metaphors, the man sounds so broken and old-beyond-his-years that it can be difficult to take in, as if this were too personal and revealing to be enjoyed from a film. Still, it is one of the few windows (if even only a keyhole) allowed into the life of Don Van Vliet since his 1982 retirement from music. Don's mother introduces the film and filmmaker David Lynch makes a running appearance as the questioner - Tom Schulte

There aren't too many films around that are worth almost a dollar a minute - but if you're a fan of dada-blues icon Captain Beefheart, Some YoYo Stuff will justify that price. Shot in 1993, a decade after the singer born Don Van Vliet gave up music for painting, this 13 minute black-and-white short juxtaposes shots of Van Vliet's art, clips of his mother and director David Lynch, and a few audio remniscences from the Captain himself, speaking in a craggy voice that quivers with age but hasn't lost its magnetism. If you're a Beefheart completist (and is there any other kind of Beefheart fan ?), it's essential at any price - Darryl Sterdan - Winnipeg Sun

This 13-minute short film offers music fans a rare glimpse of the media-shy musician and painter Captain Beefheart a.k.a. Don Van Vliet. Part interview, part artistic statement, the black-and-white footage mixes comments from the Captain with images prominent in his work, along with appearances from the artist's mother and David Lynch. Van Vliet appears on camera partially obscured in shadow and cigar smoke, glasses with white-painted lenses, or his open, raised hand. This seems likely to be the last interview given by one so averse to publicity. Some YoYo Stuff is tastefully done, respectful of its subject and is a fitting public appearance by an enigmatic figure many consider one of the country's greatest living artists. - Will McNaull - Rockpile

Anton Corbijn's luminous tribute to Don Van Vliet aka Captain Beefheart ("an observation of his observations") is a decade old and at 13 minutes running time, still worth a shelf full of subsequent sedulous biographical research. Its opening shot sees the subject's mother plant a little cut-out Don in the desert, as if to suggest that the 'retired', retiring ex-Captain is both a flatly iconic simulacrum of his former self and a very real presence rooted in the Mojave: a desert-visionary painter and (on the svelte evidence here) gnomically hilarious raconteur. Corbijn frames Van Vliet's fragile stillness with ravishing desertscapes and two Captain Beefheart tracks ("What Are We Gonna Do With You ?" and "Evening Bell"), but it's his speaking voice that lingers. Illness may have grounded the flighty Captain's whoops and hollers, but his halting delivery still swerves into gravelled, lucid insistence on a single syllable : "the fish i used on the cover of Trout Mask Replica stank so bad.....Humans are so mean !" He's also a pure joy to watch : puffing on his cigar or suddenly executing one of those splayed, sweeping arm gestures that were the essence of his stage presence. Which is not to say that Some YoYo Stuff is a mere wake for pre-1982 Beefheart, evidence of some spectral half-life lived out after the fact. Here too is Van Vliet the artist and desert prophet, formulating 'naive' aphorisms ("when you sculpt little things, it makes your fingers feel delightful") and obliquely generous tributes to his peers ("he was the only Frank Zappa i knew"). His desert retreat may be legendary, but this is an artist still with an eye and ear outside his own myth "I'd like to tell you people watching and listening.....BOO!" - Brian Dillon - The Wire

from ubuweb

captain beefheart electricity

(an observation of the observations of) don van vliet
england 1993

contains original van vliet compositions
1969 EVENING BELL piano demo 0:57 ice cream for crow 1982
early80s WHAT ARE WE GONNA DO WITH YOU? a capella 0:58 unreleased


since don van vliet retired from music and became a happy painter he had little time for other artistic outings. the one and only public release is the cd-single of some poetry, part of his limited art book 'stand up to be discontinued' from late 1993. but earlier that year beefheart's personal photographer anton corbijn had paid him a visit and they put together a short film called 'some yo yo stuff'. the next year it was meant to be part of a planned special for the bbc tv program 'late show'. however, the ill-fate which so often pursued don struck again: the show simply vanished and the film was doomed to be lost forever....! fortunately the driving force behind the portrait wasn't satisfied with that, and anton began showing it at a few cultural festivals in england and holland in 1995. as he found out that the audiences mainly came for other stars, he used an unexpected chance to give the film an official release - on dutch tv! i witnessed it... and if this was a yellow press page with a fond for sensational news i would have made the following report:

beefheart fans delighted - a few out of control
captain beefheart fans from holland will always remember sunday august 4th 1996 as a historical day. that evening the camera wizard anton corbijn was the hero in the television program 'zomergasten' [summerguests], a series of monthly talk-shows broadcast by the v.p.r.o.. special interest had been aroused by the announcement that he was gonna show don van vliet's 'some yo yo stuff' film. although many a viewer stayed sceptic because beefheart projects usually have a curse on them, anton's 'observation of his observations' indeed closed off the program towards midnight. after this memorable climax some fans couldn't sleep all night, but the majority slept with its face wrinkled up real warm. several weeks later the showing still was a topic for music lovers and an important source of discussion among the beefheart spotters.


it was a hard beef to wait almost three hours and a half for the great moment, as the live broadcast passed off disquiet. the host was nervous, often interrupted and mainly wanted to find out corbyn's motives to be(come) a pop music photographer. but anton stayed relaxed and adequately got round the questions. most of the time he even wore cool sunglasses due to a sudden attack of hay-fever. about his relationship with the former captain he told: 'don lives in total isolation in the north of california since he started full-time painting about fifteen years ago. one way or another i still have a close bond and i call him up by time and while, or i pay him a visit.'

to the film he explained: 'i got very irritated by the fact that record, book or video shops don't have anything on him except for his music, while there is an enormous amount of literature about similar artists like zappa for example. i always hoped to 'do something together' but had never dared to ask - until the b.b.c. came up with the same idea. however, what i didn't want was a kind of interview in which someone chats about his life - a bit like i do now -: only attracting people who are interested already. and as beefheart didn't have such a broad audience - and i think that what he did and still is saying is refreshing, very special - i'd like to make him better-known.'


educated captain beefheart fans who have read the fanzine:
'steal softly thru snow' or the magazine q #100:
knew a little about the content, but they too were delighted to finally see the black & white video in real. after short intro-ductions in the mojave desert by his mother sue and anton, don van vliet makes jokes (surrounded by darkness he wonders: 'what's that noise?'; it turns out to be his raised hand) and delivers some inimitable statements:
* i have an expert memory. it's just not decorated properly.
* i enjoy the environment when there are no people around. yeah, give me lack of people...
* painting is so much fun: if you don't like something, you paint it out.
* mondriaan made a painting called 'broadway boogie', my favourite painting: you can hear the horns honk!
* van gogh made work, so good that upon walking out of the museum i said : 'the sun disappoints me so...'
* i hate to talk about art. what can it be when somebody says: 'i love the way you paint', and i say: 'i'm just combing my hair.'?
* the ocean is very similar to the desert. it's just that the ocean is wet - and the desert is dried-up ocean.
* ravens and buzzards are nice, they clean up the mistakes on the highway done by human beings.
* hopefully animals are smart enough to stay away from humans.
* zappa? he's the only frank zappa i knew.
* message. i like to tell you people watching and listening...: boo!


between the acts two songs from his archives emerge: a 1969 (!) piano demo of the '82 instrumental 'evening bell' (with a fish-gliding-through-the-desert-landscape clip) and the unknown song 'what are we gonna do with you?' from the early eighties. like many van vliet works the 12-minutes video is quite unusual: it's mainly his head filmed in front of a screen on which questions, animals, paintings and desert images are projected full of dark/light effects in a strange cut-up frame. alternating normal and white-blinded spectacles he remains silent, smokes or makes a gesture; the text actually is spoken in a toilsome voice-over. the reason for the last fact is the affection of his throat, which has been evident since his 1993 'stand up to be discontinued' poetry cd. unfortunately closer examinations reveal more unpleasant details that he is in bad health; although his cigar smoking is stainless and the film smuggles it he is slightly trembling ... and sitting in a wheelchair. while don was as young as 53 during the shooting, experts fear captain beefheart isn't so extraterrestrial after all and has multiple sclerosis.


many a thousand satisfied dutch viewers have seen the amazing broadcast or recorded it, or did both. of course some disputes occurred in families divided about the spending of that sunday, but there are no reports of serious beatings, nor of negative injuries to the mind of close watchers; so the addict from purmerend who plays the tape over and over and doesn't want to leave his house is the ultimate exception. but when the news of the 'official release' will reach the british isles something really dirty can happen. for the fans there surely ain't gonna take it anymore the bbc promises them the 'late show' documentary for over a year and a half now but refuses to keep word. the company will be stormed by letters with shit, phone calls at mad cow disease level and questions in the parliament; and attacked in the back with boycotts of the cricket programs. there even is a possibility the beefheart hooligans who already are persuading john peel to lead them invading and taking over the tv studios, might get a worse idea and cross the northsea to obtain some copies by force....

© august 1996 theo tieman



from world art #19 011098 usa

don van vliet is an elusive artist, both geographically and intellectually. the short film piece i have done on him doesn't tell you where he lives or give away too much about the 'whys', but it does draw you closer to him and his world, without ever invading or losing a certain mystery and respect. we are all too obsessed with the capital 'why' in this world and expect answers for everything, which is a great thing where it involves companies, governments and so on messing with people's lives, but not when we deal with beauty. the subtitle for 'some yo yo stuff' is 'don van vliet - an observation of his observations'.

I love don. i knew very little about him when we first met in 1980, but after our meeting and subsequent photo shoot i went back home and started listening to his music, and soon started looking at his drawings and paintings. my respect for him grew as the years went by; we kept in touch, and i visited him and his wife jan a couple of times. these visits and the death of frank zappa were essential for me in terms of thinking about making some sort of film piece on don.

for shortly after zappa died, i was in a bookshop and realized how many books and bits of writing existed on him, and when i then went looking for anything similar on don i left the shop empty-handed. i felt that he deserved everyone's attention and as i am not a writer, i figured i could maybe put something on film with him. it took me a while, but i did finally manage to say: 'if you ever want me to make any sort of record or film about you, just let me know 'cause i would love to do that'. he said: 'yes, please', and apparently had been waiting for years for me to ask, turning away others.

it was a simple affair to make the film: his mother sue opens the movie with the photograph that i took when don and i first met, saying: 'this is don, my son', and, apart from david lynch (famous film maker - t.t.) asking him a few questions via projected film, it is all don's thoughts on various matters. some funny, some serious, but all sharp, poetic and beautiful. you really want to hear every single word he says - whether it's about paint, miles davis, an ear ('nice sculpture') or the desert.

i recorded his words separately. and then filmed him sitting in front of a film projection i had made in and around the desert and edited it all together in a way that i hoped was in keeping with his world. he supplied me with two never-used bits of music (anton doesn't seem to have checked the credits - teejo), one of which is an instrumental that i made into a one-minute music-video without don, using a mackerel instead. this was the first bit of the film i showed him, and he was rolling around with laughter, and it was after that i dared let him see the rest.

apart from showing the world at large what a unique man and artist don is, i really wanted to make it great for hím, as he is also a warm and funny guy and i do think the film brings that across.


outtake from
ANTON CORBIJN if i could be a camera
q #100 010195 england

(interviewer mark ellen:) what did you think of the movie?
it's like a horror picture, a horror movie! anton is awfully good. i think he's the best i've ever seen. the fish looks cute. it's incredible. he got the timing with the expressions on the different mackerel's faces.

how did he do that?

smart! (laughs) he's réal smart!


* as mentioned, my report dates from august 1996 - when the 'late show' still seemed to be living...
* the video stills in these pages have been taken from the 011098 magazine 'world art'
* the film also includes a picture with two young donnies


on august 19th 1997 the 2nd channel of the british broadcast company showed the 'some yo yo stuff' film in / after the really stunning documentary the artist formerly known as captain beefheart.


england 2000 pal video state ltd state 482 'waving hand' picture on back
england 2000 ntsc video state ltd state 482 'waving hand' picture on back

nobody knows why it lasted so long, but in february 2000 this film finally was released as an official VIDEO! 'state video' made two versions: for the pal system (most of europe, and australia among others), and the ntsc players (north-america). the box in which it comes is the same for both of the releases and features two pictures of don van vliet by anton corbijn.

canada 2003 ntsc veedee region 1 state ltd / mvd dr 4354 deformed front picture 'in front of painting' picture on back picture plate
england 2003 pal veedee region 2 state ltd / mvd dr 4354 deformed front picture 'in front of painting' picture on back picture plate

three years after the vhs releases, new technologies had created an alternate sound and image carrier: the VIDEO DISC (dvd). so the film was brought out again for people who never had video players. but as if we hadn't gone mad about the three 'old' video formats that existed, the manufacturers decided to create more confusion by producing the 'movie ceedee' for séven different regions!

which means that the (ntsc) veedee which was made in canada and brought out in spring 2002 is for region 1, and the one made in england in summer is meant for region 2 (pal)....

usa 2004 ntsc veedee region 1 rhino handmade artist ink editions (no in design case part of art set don van vliet * riding some kind of unusual skull sleigh limited numbered edition 1500 copies not sold separately manufactured in italy

when rhino handmade re-released the veedee in 2004 as a part of the riding some kind of unusual skull sleigh art set:
the company also showed an e-clip:
of this film (the link is on the right hand bottom)

england / usa 2005 dvd anton corbijn * (the work of director) anton corbijn with book with pictures and hand-written notes bonus material includes excerpt
see complete discography:

in september 2005 a mixed bag about corbijn and his art was brought out, which mainly is a compilation of the music clips he made as well as all sorts of background information. the bonus material contains an excerpt from the 'some yoyo stuff' film. the cut and paste version lasts four and a half minute and includes the piano demo and a part of the a capella piece, the three 'dialogues' with david lynch and a few short fragments (and the complete credits!). as an extra service people looking at the region 2 veedee can activate subtitles chosen from six languages....
[updated 170108]

if i could be a camera

from Q #100 010195 england
by mark ellen
is end 1994 telephone interview

note: part of an interview with / article about don's later personal photographer


the longest and most inscrutable of all his relationships is with don van vliet, the artist formerly known as captain beefheart, several of whose paintings hang in the sitting room of anton's west london pile.
sightings of the good captain these days are rare. he lives with his wife jan overlooking the ocean up on the oregon border, funded by a brisk trade in his canvases. one of the few visitors he entertains is the fellow dutchman (? - teejo) he met in the mojave desert fourteen years ago and whose world-view he so profoundly adjusted. last time he called, they spent the day listening to blues records and watching beefheart's taped appearance on the 'david letterman show' and a john huston film called 'treasure of the sierra madre', all through a dense fog of davidoff cigar smoke.

picture by anton corbijn

anton corbijn: when i lived in los angeles, he'd ring me up in the middle of the night and say: 'listen to this!', and he'd play something on the cassette, miles davis, howlin' wolf, and ten minutes later he would go: 'whaddabouddat!'. i met his mother this year and she says he does the same to her. when the phone goes at two in the morning it's don, playing her favourite music.

he recently cut together a lavishly surreal twelve-minute profile of the great man, currently awaiting a nighttime screening on bbc 2 (ah, that must be some yo yo stuff - teejo). shot in stark, industrial, almost 'eraserhead' black-and-white, it begins with his octogenarian mum approaching the camera, nursing a familiar cardboard cut-out: 'this is my son, don!', which she leaves half-buried in the sand. there's a 75-second beefheart piano composition illustrated with high-speed footage of a forest of joshua trees and - strapped to the outside of the car, apparently lip-synching - something that is unmistakably a mackerel. and there's an interview with the captain conducted by david lynch, who's projected on to a screen beside him.

beefheart has some ailment that neither he nor those close to him will acknowledge, so he talks - as he's about to down the phone - in a voice that's painfully slow, strangely over-emphatic and, if this is imaginable, even more bass and sand-blasted than the one which once brought us 'gimme dat harp boy' and 'dachau blues'. this is him now.

what did you think of the movie?

it's like a horror picture, a horror movie! anton is awfully good. i think he's the... best i've ever seen. the fish looks cute. it's incredible. he got the timing with the expressions on the... different mackerel's faces.

how did he do that?

smart! (laughs) he's réal smart!

did you meet david lynch?

(lynch impression) hey don! daaaahhn! what do you hear nów?! he's cute. in the movie he was definitely there. i talked to him but i never met him in person. he said that he'd liked this song from 'trout mask replica', 'the dust blows forward 'n' the dust blows back'. (sings) there's old gray with 'er dove-winged hat / there's old green with her sewing-machine / where's the bobbin at? totin' old grain in uh printed sack / the dust blows forward 'n' the dust blows back... (laughs)

i love that mojave desert picture. you look like a sort of 19th-century itinerant pastor.

thank you! tell him, thank you too. i told him...: 'just shoot the meat!'. haha. yes! i like it because it's so honest. i think he's taken the best pictures of me that anybody has ever taken.

why are they the best?

because he made them that way!

what did he bring out in you?

he brought out... my love of animals.


because he got the real me, the real stuff.

people's image of you seemed to change after those photos.

probably. he got parts of me i didn't even know i had. the complete proof. right there. scary!.

that picture seems to resonate.

yes! you can hear the twang. ter-wangggg! (laughs)

bono (from the popgroup u2 - teejo) thinks his pictures can give you a substance you might not have but were working towards. did they give yóu a substance you didn't have?

yeah. he made me feel like an older man... - immediately. i grew up looking at that picture.

he makes people look like isolated souls in torment.

i think i am that way to begin with. but i think he ingratiates it.

and exaggerates it.

sure! anton shoots the edges and occasionally... even the bent parts!

beyond that?

there isn't anything beyond that.

some people can't see the humour in his pictures.

(laughs) i think they've had too much to think! they have humour because they're... so real!


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