I recently did an interview, after getting an email out of the blue, with a Boston University journalism student who is doing a piece on our pal artist/writer/filmmaker D.L. Polonsky and Boston’s “underground art” scene. He contacted me about being involved in D.L.’s film and co-hosting with him at the film fests myself and Lawrence Hollie did with him. After speaking to me in person and getting clued to our “underderground art” scene, in cable access and indie video work – which is finally getting recognized as its own scene in our press, thank god – he is expanding his coverage to include more of our work and my philosophy. After talking to him, I need follow-up via sending him a block of text on email. I don’t know how much of this will be used in the final, piece – I hear he has plently to work with – but I don’t think major media is glued to my blog – so I figured I will post what I wrote, in my own words here for posterity’s sake. I might get into trouble when D.L. goes and Googles his name and reads this, but hey, I’m a rebel. I mean no harm – my opinions on his headspace as a person inform his work as an artist, and that is what the writer originally asked me to talk about. Stay tuned for Nick, the student’s actual piece:

“Hi Nick,
I know you probably have plently of material to work with on you plate,
but I am a writer too and kind of anal about getting all my idea out
there, so just humor me with this email. I wrote some further thoughts
on D.L., and some considerations on your genral questions about the
underground art scene.

Brief bio thing on me:

Michael Phelan O’Toole is a videographer, actor, writer, and spoken
word artist, who performs
at Cambridge’s ImprovBoston theatre, and has been an
advocate of collaborative media, and a purveyor of unique video art,
since 2001. He appears on Lawrence Hollie’s experimental variety show
“Random Acts,” and has lent his talents as an actor on two underground films by
Allston filmmaker D.L. Polonsky, including the latest, “Murder, Money
and A Dog.” In addition, he is noted for having co-founded the
multi-artist alternative film showcase series “Experimentally
ILL,” with Lawrence Hollie, which has been warmly received by Boston
press and audiences alike. For this series, O’Toole is co-emcee with
community TV legend, former WBCN radio personality, and host of
Brookline’s “Golden Sounds” rock concert series, Quincy Brisco.
Most recently, Mike Phelan O’Toole has sat in the director’s chair
for the acclaimed Boston punk rock music TV show “Sonic Lobotomy,”
created and produced by local punk champion T.J. Welch.

Both O’Toole and Hollie have been recipients of
separate awards from The
ACM for their creative productions in the last decade, including “Most
Innovative.” They now share the Second Place Award in the Profile Talk
Show – Professional category, for “Solipsist’s Dispatch.”

D.L. and underground art thoughts:

Some stuff I forgot mention is, D.L. having made a super 8 film at age
13, called “Ersatz” – very strange and a true experimental film, about
a pulp novel writer who carries around her dead fathers head. D.L.’s
newer digital films works are a bit quirky, and yes it has been
gradual, him using the computer to edit.
DL’s issue with technology, at the heart of it, is the idea that, in
the case of the internet and call phones/voicemail, it is a way for
people to further alienate him or one another – a way to avoid real,
one on one, and face to face communication. Of course, he is
interested in using a computer for editing his movies, and a cell
phone to contact folks regarding such projects, but that is one of his
contradictions. At times, he does not look at the bigger picture.
However, D.L. is extremely intelligent, and at times seems simply
above the comings and goings of everyday life, if not exhausted by it.
His favorite TV show is “Married With Children,” and D.L. has
remarked, “Sometimes I wonder if my curse is like Al’s curse.” – Al
being the main charactor of the show, who always gets the short end of
the stick in some way. D.L., as well as myself and the folks we do
projects with, have been through rough stuff in our lives, and perhaps
our art is our therapy or way to reach out and feel like we are being
heard or making a mark, where others have denied us our voice. With
that, we all maintain both a dark and a light side – we all have a
great sense of humor, and D.L. is really funny at times, very into
wordplay and puns. With that though, D.L.’s general view of people is
on the negative side, sure – a quote of his is “I dont think people
have a dark side, I think they have a dark center” – this is depicted
in some of his artwork, in the way he illustrates a less than
accepting society, when it comes to differences. In his personal
artwork, the depiction of those who are different looking or holding
of different views being outcasted is evident.
In his films, D.L. often shows others being unjustly treated cruely
through language, and he puts an emphasis on miscommunication between
people. He believes people use words to munipulate one another.
Ironically, in his personal, he is sort of worried about being
misunderstood by people – I think it is a chore for him to go through
the motion of social activity sometimes.

What we would like to see happen with our “underground art,” is for it
to get slicker, and have a chance at garnering a larger audience,
without changing the content largely. Sometimes stuff is made to be
strange on purpose, and other times it is a matter of simply having to
compete with bigger budgeted projects, or the marketing/ad campaigns.
I wish it was easier to reach more open minded people.
The web helps, as I mentioned – there is a site called
Lemmingtrail.com where info about underground happenings is posted –
D.L. posts stuff there sometimes, and occasionally gets teased for
things, such as not being completely knowledgable about computers, or
maybe they take issue with his art or films – that is upsetting. It
reminds of what Hemmingway said about critics, that “critics watch a
battle from a high place, and then come down to shoot the survivors.”
D.L. works so hard and then he is teased by message board posters who
do little but attend shows to rip on them.

I think, in terms of our scene, which grew out of utilizing the
resources of community media/cable access, and the artistic/eccentric
types we have met there, it would be great to see it keep growing, to
where we are able to break even in what it costs us to book the
theatres for the film festivals, and have it turn into something like
a touring multi-media event, with video being shown, and performers
doing their thing onstage, and us generally being able to reach people
on our own like that. We started doing “Experimentally ILL’ and D.L.’s
film fests, to get us out of the boundries of cable access – to show
our stuff in a real, live setting where we could directly meet and
have a conversation with whoever was curious, or brave enough, to show
up and give it a chance. At the heart of it, it is about creating art
to communicate a personal message and express something – not about
money or press – but I would like to keep going in doing stuff, and
with that, be able to get more articles, so that more people may take
notice, and we could have a shot at building something of a cult
audience. One of my favorite known filmmakers, Kevin Smith, having
built a huge cult audience, was able to finance his latest film,”Red
State,” through private investors, and then take it on a road show
tour, stopping at each theatre to show it individual audiences and
then talk about it onstage. Though we don’t have his recognition, it
is an awesome model. At the same time too, we are looking to the
future, and, at least as far as my co-producer/partner Lawrence Hollie
and I go, are not adverse to doing more mainstream stuff, and looking
at New York or LA as possibilities for work. But our weird, artistic
sensibilities remain! We, and D.L. Polonsky, will persist, I have no
doubt. We will always be beckoned to create something that says
somethng about the way we feel, about ourselves or what is around us,
and thusly will find a way to get it in front of some kind of
audience. In D.L.’s case, posting artwork in public places has worked,
when trying to get it in mainstream papers has not. Now we are looking
at getting the videos and film shorts we work on, into mainstream
festivals – and as an actor, I am auditioning for commercial stuff
that is around here. When that is not steady though, this underground
community we have going, through stuff like the Golden Sounds rock
show, and my spoken word show, and other projects, are there for us
and remain. We are like a family. And as for the overall underground
art scene of Boston, that will always remain. There will always be a
group of funky artists who band together, to just don’t consider doing
commercial stuff, to show or tell their own story. There are a lot of
young people doing stuff outside of commercial art, but the older
generation remains as well. Perhaps they are not as visible online,
but they are there – like the old time hippies and beat poets like our
friend Mick Cusimano and others who show up at the Squawk coffeehouse
he runs.

As for the overall underground art scene, and what I would like to see
change, that would have to be the sometimes elitist and pretenious
attitudes and atmosphere that you somtimes run into. I think people
can take themselves far too seriously, and pass judgement on artists
not doing what is popular WITHIN the underground scene. D.L. is
completely his own person, though he is cautious in his interactions
with people – oftentimes you will see a supposedly openminded, usually
younger artist, or band memeber or something, not know how to handle
D.L.’s quirkiness, or not be accepting of his different view points.
We have all run into a degree of this in some way, wether it is at the
cable access station, galleries or comedy clubs – where a place
professing to be open or accepting of different, creative things, does
not truly welcome that on closer inspection. This being said, when you
do find cool people and places, you are that much more thankful. Andy
Macbain, our buddy from BATV, and a musician in the underground band
TUNNEL OF LOVE, and who I acted with in D.L.’s last film, books the
GOLDEN SOUNDS shows – with the help of Dan Shea, who also runs Bodies
of Water Arts and Crafts and puts out a newsletter about underground
arts events called The Boston Counter Cultural Compass, has been
totally encouraging of us. I’ll be doing some spoken word on the rock
show at the station eventually.

Regarding how D.L. looks at the underground art scene, I dont know if
he really considers it – though other than posting up artwork, he is
considering doing with his films, what local rappers do with their
mixtapes and CDs, and that is, simply putting them out on the street
for people to check them out. Other than that, D.L. knows about
smaller local venues like Out Of The Blue Art Gallery of course, and
The Democracy Center, and enjoys talking to other filmmakers at our
shows and such.

Be in touch,