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Reel Life: local kid makes vids 

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Eight-inch-tall Kiss dolls, whose platform shoes make up at least an inch of that height, are dancing on Dion Labriola's dining-room table. Or at least that's what the young film and video maker tries to imagine as he positions and repositions the figures of the glam-rock band, propping them up, leaning them against each other, and then stepping back to click the shutter on his Bolex 16-millimeter motion-picture camera.

He's been at this for about 45 minutes. So far, calculating from a film speed of 24 frames per second and from the standard animation procedure of shooting three frames for each separate movement (to make sure one of them is good), he's shot about three seconds of film. That's 216 different minuscule repositionings of the dolls. Local band Rights of the Accused has commissioned the video for its cover of an old Kiss tune, "Do You Love Me?" and this session will be the last shoot before he starts editing what he's got.

Labriola, who also shot live action for this video at the Smart Bar, where he had some lighting and crowd problems, says he loves animating: "I like the control I have over it and the fact that I can do it in my own house. It's also very economical; there's very little wasted footage."

Labriola's skill as an animator was apparent in the first video he produced: "Kooler Than Jesus," for another Chicago band, My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult. It features kitschy religious images, such as psychedelic saints blessing the world as they spin on a turntable or Christ's head bobbing on Elvis's gyrating body, all whirling around in the video mix like penitents in an ecstatic frenzy. Most of it was animated on a drafting table on which Labriola mounted his homemade animation stand: a framework that allows the camera to be positioned at various distances from the paper cutouts and three-dimensional objects that he manipulates on the surface of the drafting table.

Labriola's persistent self-promotion was largely responsible for the collaboration between himself, an Art Institute-trained film and video maker, and one of Chicago's best industrial dance bands. Labriola was turned on by a first pressing of the song, to which he had early access as a DJ at the now-defunct U-Bahn, where the Thrill Kill Kult sometimes hung out. Inspired by the song's divine visions and reluctant to let someone else interpret a song he liked, he decided to approach the band. He collected some religious imagery, shot a test roll on Super-8, and then showed his ideas to them. "What I presented them with was also basically what they had in mind themselves," says Labriola. "The band contributed a lot and many of the images were theirs too, so it was just luck really that we happened to think alike."

Labriola taught himself filmmaking. "My training and background at the Cleveland Institute of Art was painting; at the Art Institute [of Chicago] I concentrated on video. All the motion-picture skills, including animation, I learned as I went along." His first try at music-video making was "Love Shack" by the B-52's. Labriola knocked off that video, which features puppets and backdrops he designed and constructed himself, just for fun. Though he presented a copy of the video to the B-52's the last time they were in town, he has yet to get any response from them.

Well-known among local bands, Labriola is about to get some national exposure as well. Rockamerica, a company that compiles videos for clubs and other outlets, has picked up "Kooler Than Jesus" and made it the lead video on one of their tapes, which Labriola says is "encouraging." Though they're interested in "Do You Love Me?" its release will probably be stalled because of copyright problems with Kiss's record company.

Labriola has achieved the wild look of his images at relatively little expense. "A lot of the money that goes into music videos is for special effects. I didn't spend any money on that kind of stuff"--everything was done by manipulating the animated objects or by manipulating the film--changing colors and so on--when it was transferred to video later. "And slick is definitely not a word I'd use to describe my style anyway," says Labriola.

Handling the production tasks with the help of only one assistant not only kept costs down but forced Labriola to move quickly and economically. Ever resourceful, he found a cheap windup Bolex at a used-camera store at Pulaski and Armitage. "I would've spent as much money renting a camera," he says, "so I figured--that is, I hoped I would have to use it again."

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Loren Santow.

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