CULTURE6 November 2018
DOWNTOWN WITH THE VIDEO VAMPIRE
Nelson Sullivan: a legendary New York vlogger was decades ahead of his time. By day he was a part-time music consultant at a classical music store but by night he was the "Video Vampire".
Using affordable, first generation home video cameras, Nelson expertly captured gritty 80's New York - the streets, the people, the culture. His garrulous nature and deft touch with the bulky equipment make strangely fascinating viewing, even of mundane sounding titles such as Sunday Afternoon in Central Park or Train Ride to Coney Island (the most popular on the channel with almost 3 million views).
His camera accompanied him everywhere and he filmed everyone and everything. Some of his videos have a clear purpose, such as documenting a club or theatre performance, but many are just him and his VHS traversing the neighbourhoods, bars and clubs of downtown Manhattan and catching up with his colourful collection of friends.
Many were emerging artists, musicians and performers, especially drag queens such as RuPaul who with the help of Nelson's films hit the big time. Some were just wannabees desperate for any attention, other had already made it by now - Andy Warhol and Quentin Crisp among the most notable appearances.
His gonzo style of movie making coupled with his amiable demeanour not to mention this pre-internet age before instant broadcast, consumption and criticism, allow for the readiness of people to chat naturally despite the shoe-box sized camera sitting atop his shoulder or being effortlessly twirled around them.
His go-with-the-flow attitude is clearly shown in the video documenting preparations for an important BBC interview, where just minutes beforehand he is ruminating on what to talk about.
In the event, his interview is a natural flow combining life story and New York history as if it had been perfectly scripted and rigorously rehearsed. Just like all of his films.
After suffering a heart attack at 41, he died just days before a cable TV deal would have given him the widespread exposure he deserved.
Until now, those hundreds of hours of videotape archived at New York University's Fales Library (fittingly located in the area where most were filmed), have only been shown at film festivals although a Channel 4 programme "Nelson Sullivan's World of Wonder" was produced a year after his death.
Careful preservation of these fragile tapes has allowed the full splendour of probably the world's first regular vlogger to be recognised and enjoyed via the YouTube channel, 5 Ninth Avenue Project (named after the address of Nelson's house in the Meat Packing district).
Here are some links to compare and contrast Nelson's output with that of today's jump-cut laden wittering of "Primark Hauls" and endless make-up tutorials.