Thursday, May 23, 2013

Transgressive Cinema Part 1; You Killed Me First

I'm not an writer because I've got nothing better to do, or I thought it would be a good career choice. I'm a writer because I can do absolutely nothing else. I write or I die-or at least I might as well die, because I'd be totally useless. I grew up in a broken home, moving around a lot in low rent housing and trailer parks. I never ever fit in with my family or neighbors. I was called 'faggot' so much I deserve honorary membership in the club. Having the psychological, psychic, verbal, emotional, and physical abuse heaped on me shaped me into the artist I became, for good and ill. It guided me towards the music I need to get through the day and the movies and books I escape into.
And in all that I'm, thankfully, not alone.
This is a cruel and twisted world for many of us; the odd, the broken, the marginalized. We have no voice in government or popular media, so we build our own societies and movements outside the mainstream. Every artistic or political or social realm has an outsider antithesis. Whether it was the Dadaists or the Beats or the punks.
In film, there has been censor-baiting mavericks almost since the beginning. In 1929, Luis Bunel and Salvador Dali dragged a razor blade across a woman's eye in Un Chien Andalou. Howard Hughes made Jane Russell's  breasts a character in '43's The Outlaw. In '72 John Waters filmed his famous leading lady, Divine, eating dog shit. Just to name a few.
New York City in the 1970's was a hot bed of creativity. Andy Warhol was certainly a catalyst for many amazing things happening; the way he branched out into music with the Velvet Underground and Nico, theatre and film with Paul Morrissey after turning heads with his pop art paintings.  Film followed suit with desperate rebels armed with 8mm cameras and little to nothing to lose.
Cinema of Transgression sprung from the No Wave Cinema movement of the late 70's, which had a lot of crossover with the No Wave music scene. Underground Film Journal has a great review of CoT plus Nick Zedd's manifesto and links to several films on Ubuweb.
My exposure to Cinema of Transgression came from searching for Lydia Lunch videos at the great and sadly gone Garage Video in Allston MA (in the Allston Mall, where GG Allin supposedly did a spoken word show where he put his head through one of the windows). I knew Lunch had made films called Fingered and Right Side of My Brain, what I didn't know was they were both directed by Richard Kern and found on the same two volume VHS collection (Hardcore Collection; The Films of Richard Kern). Will, the owner of Garage Video sent me home with both volumes, Nick Zedd's Geek Maggot Bingo, and Lunch's the Gun is Loaded.
These films defined the spirit of punk rock better than many punk bands I listened to. The raw desperation bled all over the place. These were protest films that didn't protest with signs or slogans, rather their whole physical and philosophical being, from the content on screen to the actual VHS tape. Every minute was a fuck you, because frankly these documents of sex, drugs, violence, and society on the brink shouldn't exist in a safe sane world. Kern's You Killed Me First sums up all these things.
Lung Leg in You Killed Me First created more unease in me than Jason Vorhees ever did, because I was forced to actually question my own values. I want to side with her character as a heroine, but the extreme and cartoonishly oppressive world she and her family exist in don't leave a ton of room for sympathy/empathy and you wonder why doesn't she just run away or better, why can't everyone just listen to each other, because you're a family and that's what you do? Preposterous, I know. I certainly didn't grow up in a household where you were 'listened' to. Often you were talked AT or yelled AT, but never listened TO.
Lung Leg's dialogue is pure punk rock, you can put music to her dinner speech. But she's also scary and psychotic, presumably driven that way by family, but the way we're dropped into the film at an arbitrary point in her life we have little context for her anger or theirs. Which came first, what has happened, is this usual teen vs. parent drama or has something darker came before? Maybe it's irrelevant. After all, if you don't already relate to Leg's character on gut level you probably would avoid a film like this anyway.
Kern assaults the viewer; the camera angles are seemingly irrelevant. The dialogue and it's delivery almost parodies 50's/60's sitcoms, like some existential/alternate dimension Leave It To Beaver. He makes the dinner of a mid-American family as desolate and hopeless as any dystopian science fiction.
You Killed Me First is a good Litmus test for the uninitiated. It may not be as strong a film as Right Side of My Brain, but like Kern's other films and those of his peers, it demands more from the viewer than the viewer can demand of it. Kern is making a statement not trying to entertain you.


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