The Evolution Will Be Televised

Man becomes a diapered monkey. College art rock becomes an MTV sensation. And Chuck Statler becomes the rock video director who started it all.

As Statler's audience will discover this week at Sound Unseen, this is a bit of an understatement. Beginning with his early Devo films and progressing through his '90s work--which includes a piece by Latino Elvis impersonator El Vez and the last filmed appearance by Tiny Tim--Statler's career retrospective is nearly two straight hours of comical surrealist whimsy. The years, it appears, did little to temper his affinity for the margins. Or, as he puts it, "There's no expiration date on weirdness."

The first half of Chuck Statler: A Retrospective 1976-2003, focuses primarily on Statler's early Devo work: The Truth About De-evolution, live footage from a concert at Kent, and the "Satisfaction" video--an early MTV hit that featured a baby-masked Mothersbaugh jamming a butter knife into a toaster. These clips established Statler's bizarro style, an aesthetic born out of his collaboration with Casale, Devo's principal image-maker and director of the band's later videos. Statler's ensuing film work abandoned many of Devo's trademark tropes--conformist futurism, natal regression, monkey masks--but he retained from them a visual vocabulary that's evident throughout his retrospective. Dadaist characters, nonsensical sets, playful scenes of bands dancing through streets, mansions, and junkyards--all are Statlerisms that pop up throughout the evening in videos by Elvis Costello, the Time, Pere Ubu, Madness, and others.

Still, Statler's aesthetic has progressed beyond the baby-sticking-knife-into-toaster imagery of early Devo. When pressed to comment on the evolution of his style, he raises a single eyebrow and smiles, denying any claim that he's gotten better over the years.

Monkey business: Chuck Statler launched his music video career with odes to primate rock
Sean Smuda
Monkey business: Chuck Statler launched his music video career with odes to primate rock

"Evolution?" he asks with a smirk. "Nah. De-evolution."

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