The video documentary A Brief History of John Baledessari was effective because it was lively, witty, and fast-paced. One of the ways in which it accomplished this was through its use of music. Having The William Tell Overture playing at the beginning is smart for a number of reasons. For one thing, it’s fast. This immediately gives the video a sense of energy. For another, it goes with the more playful tone that the documentary is going for. The William Tell Overture has a certain vaguely pompous quality about it that has almost made it the victim of parody, perhaps in part because of its association with The Lone Ranger. In spite of that, or perhaps because of it, there’s also a certain degree of majesty about the piece. This makes the subject of the documentary seem important and interesting, but with a musical wink to the audience.
The music also allows for the editing and narration of the video to be very fast. The frequent cuts almost intersect directly with the beats of the music in near perfect synchronization with each other. The narration of Tom Waits–which is extremely fast–does its best to keep up, almost as if he is singing along with the music. The accelerated editing not only gives the documentary a jolt of energy, but also keeps the viewer very “awake” while watching it. It’s almost as if the music and the editing are working together like a shot of strong coffee, hitting the audience full force and keeping them alert and entertained. More importantly, perhaps, is that it makes the subject of the documentary not only seem fascinating, but also like a fun guy who doesn’t take himself overly seriously despite all of the awards we are informed that he’s won. He’s willing to make fun of himself. And so is the documentary.