RELEASING TENSIONS: When one considers what our largely indiscriminate public swallows whole and undigested in the name of entertainment, it's truly amazing that independent film and video makers continue to ply their trade--often low-budget, labor-intensive and time-consuming projects with unpopular (or at least unpopularized) viewpoints--to their consistently sparse audiences.

Media Mix But for seven years running, the UA Media Arts program has pulled together a summer showcase of video work that's like a smaller, more local version of PBS' annual Point of View series. It's called VideoTENSIONS, and it closes what may be its final year with the annual "VideoLOCAL" spotlight on works by area artists.

At least three works will be shown, all made by women and dealing with social issues: subject matter ranges from the individual in society to the privations of urban society itself. (For titles and brief descriptions of Thursday's screenings, see this week's City Week calendar.)

While the series has always had its ups and downs, our hats are off to those who've made it a continued (and growing) success. The rumor that VideoTENSIONS is in its last year of funding is unconfirmed, and we hope untrue. The works presented here--for free, no less--have always tackled timely issues, often from that documentarian perspective that proves real life really is stranger (and often more interesting) than fiction.

Local audiences have been introduced, both on-screen and in post-screening discussions, to national figures in the still-experimental medium of video; and the evolution in the quality of the "VideoLOCAL" showcase is hard evidence that Tucson artists have been nurtured by the exposure and the program.

Show time is 7:30 p.m. Thursday, August 13, in the UA Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering Building auditorium, on the northeast corner of Speedway and Mountain Avenue. Call 621-7352 for information.

VideoTENSIONS owes much of its success and longevity to the efforts of one graduate student, Vikki Dempsey, who's spearheaded the annual effort since its inception. Dempsey celebrates the culmination of her own studies this week with Marked for Happiness, her MFA thesis exhibition, featuring three video installations dealing with the complexities of mother-daughter relationships. A closing reception gathers from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, August 18, in the Joseph Gross Gallery, located in the UA Fine Arts Complex, south end of the pedestrian underpass on Speedway, east of Park Avenue. Exhibit hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Wednesday, August 19.

HOW DIM IS YOUR BULB? It all started with a conversation about genius, which seems all the more apropos in retrospect. In particular, it started in the car on Saturday morning, August 8, as we were listening to Weekend Edition with Scott Simon. Simon was interviewing American writer/journalist Norman Mailer, who recently published a new anthology, The Time of Our Time (Random House, $39.50).

As the two were discussing his life's work, Mailer lamented that Simon didn't count Ancient Evenings among his best books (kudos instead went to The Executioner's Song).

"I hope you get to it some time," Mailer said.

"To be perfectly frank," Simon responded after some prodding, "I tried to read Ancient Evenings and couldn't get through it." Mailer's counter was that yes, it was difficult, but then again so was Joyce's Ulysses, which was certainly well worth the effort.

"Not that I compare myself to Joyce," said Mailer, "who was a genius."

That's where the genius part came in. Asked by his interviewer if he did not consider himself a genius, or at least to have some purchase on genius, Mailer (who can admittedly come across as a notch above pompous at times) went on to say no; at best, perhaps he might be considered "a great American writer." Moreover, he said, those who claimed to have some purchase on genius seemed even less likely of actually achieving it.

Inspired words, given the general emphasis so misguidedly placed in this country on becoming lazy over-achievers: the inflated grade scales now endemic to academia, the waves of pop culture cresting those of traditional "high culture," even access to a World Wide Web that can make any moron sound like an expert if he downloads the right files (more on that later).

It was a strange comfort to hear this man, who perhaps by some accident of history but certainly also by virtue of sacrifice to discipline, education and craft, look back on a body of work that many might label brilliant and say, "Let's not make more of it than it is. It's the best I could do, yes. But isn't it the pathos of life that we're never able to achieve quite as much as we hoped, or as we thought we might?"

Mailer's take on genius is that even if the capacity for it resides within us, in order to achieve it so many other external and internal factors have to be in place. "What are the chances," he said, "that you'll be ready when your moment comes? How many times in a lifetime (if any) are all the factors in place that would enable you to achieve your utmost potential?" That is genius--and that is why it's rare and precious, and not to be doled out lightly (or to be accepted even when offered). If we can all be geniuses within our lifetime, what's left to inspire us to try harder?

We hope we've done his comments justice, paraphrased as many of them are. We'd hoped to quote him directly by crawling around the National Public Radio website until we found a transcript of the program (

In fact, you can order a transcript for $15.95 (fine for those not on deadline), or have the instant gratification of listening to it "real time" (for free) by clicking on "Listen to archived programs." (It's the last line item, NORMAN MAILER, under the first half of the Weekend Edition August 8 program.)

That is, you can listen to it if you have all the appropriate bells and whistles with your web browser software. After some hours of trying, we reached the conclusion (for the umpteenth time) that we're no geniuses around here, and memory and hand-scrawled notes taken in the parking lot at Target would have to suffice.

After all he'd said, even down to the fact that he still writes longhand (God help his editors), we felt sure Mr. Mailer would understand if unseen forces conspired against us this time around.

INDEPENDENTS' DAY: In case you thought all the grumbling about chain stores was just sour grapes, you might want to keep an eye on the unprecedented legal action heating up between the American Booksellers Association (ABA) and the nation's two largest bookselling chains, Barnes & Noble and Borders Books and Music.

The ABA and 20 individual bookstore members (spanning 17 states, including Changing Hands bookstore in Tempe) filed the case in U.S. District Court in Northern California. The case alleges that the chains' "market saturation strategies are being fueled in significant part by secret and illegal terms...(including) a pattern and practice of soliciting, inducing and receiving discriminatory terms from publishers and distributors."

The suit alleges such activities are a violation of the Robinson-Patman Act, as well as the California Unfair Trade Practices Act and the California Unfair Competition Law. Barnes & Noble alone (including B. Dalton and Walden Books) represents approximately $5 billion in sales annually.

According to the August 4 Bookflash Bulletin online, (, Barnes & Noble and Borders have responded by denying the allegations. Although both chains admitted receiving cash discounts from Penguin, they claim the publisher offered the deals. The bulletin quotes ABA as saying such responses were expected, and the lawsuit will continue to its next phase.

This current suit follows ABA's previous litigation (also under the Robinson-Patman Act, in May 1994) against six publishers, culminating last fall with settlement payments of $25 million, as well as $2 million in reimbursements for legal fees. Penguin was named in that case as well. For more on the history and details of the case, log on to TW

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