Gerry Fialka calls himself a “paramedia ecologist.”
“I want to study media above, below, sideways, underneath — all forms — and uncover everything,” he says. He follows the percepts of the great media master, Marshall McLuhan, who believed that questions are more important than answers.
An earlier influence on Gerry was musician and composer Frank Zappa, with whom he worked as an archivist and production assistant.
“Growing up,” Gerry says, “I found Frank to be a symbol of something I aspired to, in that he said, ‘Don’t believe me, go find out for yourself.’ He was a remarkable character in promoting independent thinking.”
It was Zappa who coined the term “brain police.”
“Are the brain police some corporate bad guys who control us or are the brain police something in us — our conscious — or are the brain police the hidden effects of the things we invent,” asks Gerry. “What is the force that controls what questions we come up with? How do we come up with new questions unless we keep questioning questions?”
In 1995, when the Abbot Kinney Memorial Venice Branch Library opened, Gerry proposed to head librarian Lucille Cappas that he start a Finnegans Wake reading club. According to Gerry, there are currently 52 such clubs in the world. However, his was to be a little different from the others. Its name is actually the Marshall McLuhan ñ Finnegans Wake Reading Club (www.venice wake.org/).
For those of you unfamiliar with James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, one of the lines in the 628 page book is, “O, begor, I want no expert nursis symaphy from yours broons quadroons and I can psoakoonaloose myself any time I want (the fog follow you all) without your interferences or any other pigeonstealer.”
McLuhan was quoted as saying the book was difficult to read, but worth it, as he felt it was “the greatest guide to the media ever devised and is a tremendous study of the action of all media upon the human psyche and sensorium.”
The Marshall McLuhan ñ Finnegans Wake Reading Club meets on the first Monday of the month from 6 to 8 p.m. It’s divided into two parts.
The first hour is spent on McLuhan’s four laws, called the Tetrad, framed as questions, to discuss technology (he called media technology) as a new tool for looking at our culture.
The second hour is spent reading two pages of Finnegans Wake.
The four questions, the basis of Gerry’s quest in studying the media, provide an understanding of the hidden effects of new technology with suspended judgment and, therefore, with no point of view (McLuhan said understanding is having no point of view).
An easy-to-comprehend example is the car. What does it extend? It extends the foot of the human body. What does it make obsolete? It makes walking unnecessary. What is retrieved? It enables us to get places faster. What does it reverse if overextended? Most people won’t walk if they can ride in a car. They will miss out on the exercise which would make them healthier. Also, more cars cause more pollution.
It’s uncovering these hidden effects which is Gerry’s emphasis in the events he puts on. To him, the actual event is secondary. It is the discussion afterwards that is most important. It is this associative thinking in action that retains the spirit of McLuhan.
“I try to pull back the reins and just ask a question,” he says.
In addition to being a media ecologist where he focuses on its interrelations and how we are affected, Gerry is also a film curator, writer and lecturer.
A degree in modern art and film history at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor got him involved in the experimental film scene at the Ann Arbor Film Festival, which, in existence for almost 46 years, is considered the oldest film festival in the world.
“It was a breeding ground, teaching what experimental film and exhibition of experimental film was all about,” he says.
Twenty-seven years ago Gerry followed college friends to Venice. He first worked for Filmex, a major Los Angeles film festival, which later became American Cinematheque, and then came his ten-year stint with Zappa.
Since then, Gerry has been focusing on public events that have free admission. For eight years he showed experimental films at the Midnight Special bookstore in Santa Monica, mixed in with documentaries.
“I called the series Documental,” he says. “I would lure people in with the documentary and then show experimental films.” The Documental film series is now held at the Unurban Coffeehouse in Santa Monica.
For the last five years, Sponto Gallery, at 7 Dudley Ave. in Venice, has been the base for dialogue on film, art, culture and politics, plus other events that have sprouted from participant interests such as the Jazz Funk Fest, a comedy series and a poetry series.
“It’s an amazing thing that this was the Venice West CafÈ from ’55 to ’66 and spawned Kerouac and Ginsberg and the home of the Beats, and that we can return it to its sacred roots,” says Gerry.
An event that Gerry is most proud of is the Dumpster Diving Fashion Show where, yes, clothes found in Venice dumpsters were modeled. Afterwards he showed Gleaners and I, a documentary which depicts collecting leftover crops from farmers’ fields in France.
“It is the same thing — recycling the things that are left behind,” he says, referring to the Dumpster Diving Fashion Show.
Then there was a Miss Beatnik contest.
“Beatniks were people like Maynard G. Krebs” (from the television show Dobie Gillis), says Gerry. “Jack Kerouac was a beat. Now the two terms have merged.”
The late Philomene Long helped Gerry recognize that the event was a parody of a parody.
“Philomene understood that my approach was sort of a parody of a beauty contest or a parody of a contest because I never do contests,” he says. “She pulled something out of me that I wasn’t recognizing. You can’t always see what’s inside of you.”
Another parody that has been a huge success is the PXL This Film Festival, which started in 1991 and has been featured on NPR (National Public Radio) and PBS (Public Broadcasting System).
The films shown in the festival are made with a Fisher-Price PXL-2000 toy camera.
“It’s a genuine fake film festival,” says Gerry. “How can you have a film festival with a failed kids’ toy? It’s like how do you uncover the effects of a film that you can hardly see?”
Gerry has been called an independent media hero, eloquent critic, cinema treasure and multi-media Renaissance man. His events have been called one multivalent conversation, socially conscious, counter-current, off-beat, weird and wild.
At 6 p.m. Tuesday, September 18th, at the Sponto Gallery, Happy Trailers HD and Breakthrough Distribution will present the Venice Beach Free World Film Festival Two, celebrating independent filmmaking, at which time Gerry will be honored with the Lizard King Indie Filmmaking Award. The guest of honor will be Francesco Quinn, star of the film The Tonto Woman, based on Elmore Leonard’s short story, which will kick off the event.
Gerry shares his award with Sponto, the audience, filmmakers, poets, artists and musicians.
He says, “Let’s continue to reinvent questions in the ‘three Cs’ and beyond: Communication, Community, and the third is a sea of sees — Courage to risk, Conflict resolution, Consciousness, Change, Creativity, Convergence, Compassion, Chaos… the possibilities are endless.”
Currently Gerry is questioning if people have changed a law with a movie or a song.
An example he cites is photographer Lewis Hine, who exposed the plight of child labor and as a backlash of his pictures, states started to pass laws restricting the age at which children could work.
Another example is author Upton Sinclair, whose novel The Jungle, which dealt with conditions in the U.S. meat packing industry and caused a public uproar that partly contributed to the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Federal Meat Inspection Act of 1906.
“Can art really change laws or is it just part of a huge Zeitgeist?” he wonders.
Think about it.
Information, www.myspace .com/sevendudleycinema/.