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Nam June Paik: Moon is the Oldest TV

  • Film
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Nam June Paik - Moon is the Oldest TV
Photograph: Sundance Institute

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

This spirited doc celebrates the pioneering video artist in probing and affectionate style

In the opening moments of this spirited documentary about pioneering American-Korean artist Nam June Paik, the former director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, The Whitney, and ICA Boston, David A Ross, recalls: ‘Until I learned how to listen to him, it was hard to hear him.’ 

Ross is talking affectionately about his early struggle to communicate with Paik. According to several other talking-head interviewees in the film, the artist – who died in 2006 – had a broken grasp of several languages. But the quote also speaks to how the mainstream art establishment often failed to understand the importance of his groundbreaking way of presenting the world through a technological canvas.  

Thankfully for Amanda Kim’s wide-reaching, kinetic and vibrant documentary, Paik’s canvas was bountiful in rich visual images, thanks to his early adoption of television sets and video cameras. He was the OG video artist, after all, and works such as ‘Magnet TV’, ‘TV Buddha’, ‘Global Groove’ and ‘Electronic Superhighway’ provide a dynamic road map for an evolving avant-garde career that took him from Seoul to Berlin and ultimately to the status of New York stalwart.

Editor Taryn Gould intersperses a breadth of archive footage, insightful interviews with artists, curators and collaborators, such as Marina Abramović, Ulysses Jenkins, and Paik’s artist-wife Shigeko Kubota, to bolster the story. Minari actor Steven Yeun delivers warm narration of Paik’s written thoughts.

This is a wide-reaching, kinetic and vibrant documentary

Nam June Paik: Moon Is the Oldest TV is not simply a chronological excavation of the man’s life. At times, the film steps back to his origins as a Seoul-born Korean who lived under Japanese occupation in order to contextualise his motivations as an artist who moved to Germany in the 1950s and witnessed the Berlin Wall going up a decade later. The film also grapples with the Western lens through which music and art had for so long been dictated, the plight of the impoverished artist whose work isn’t an easy sell and Paik’s forward-thinking that inspired a new medium of creativity.

‘My problem is how to communicate better,’ Paik notes and this documentary might have dug a little deeper to communicate who this endearing man was beyond his artistic legacy. Still, it does an impressive job of showing why Nam June Paik was a brilliant artist who remains worth listening to.

In UK cinemas May 19. On PVOD in the US Jun 13.

Hanna Flint
Written by
Hanna Flint

Cast and crew

  • Director:Amanda Kim
  • Cast:
    • Steven Yeun
    • Nam June Paik
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