Aug 30, 2015

The Bogus Man

If there has ever been a sort of NYC underground equivalent to Edward D. Wood Jr., it is unequivocally trash auteur Nick Zedd (They Eat Scum, War is Menstrual Envy), though I would argue that the (in)famous Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) director made more genuine and passionate work that more reflected his intention to fully express himself and his curious affinity for sporting women's panties than to merely offend people with overtly juvenile punk dilettantism. Indeed, there is probably more internal pain and embarrassing self-reflection in Wood’s semi-autobiographic quasi-docudrama Glen or Glenda (1953) than in Zedd’s entire oeuvre, though his ironically titled work The Wild World of Lydia Lunch (1983) is admittedly quite pathetic as a work where an audio breakup letter read by the eponymous gutter skank makes the Cinema of Transgression anti-messiah seem like a sad little cuck who is desperate to make a quick buck off his ex-girlfriend's disposing of him. While I have been familiar with Zedd for no less than over a decade, I could never bring myself to watch one of his films in its entirely until somewhat recently as I could not stomach even watch ten minutes of his second feature Geek Maggot Bingo or The Freak from Suckweasel Mountain (1983) when I attempted to watch it about ten years ago, yet I have been feeling rather masochistic recently and decided to delve into the filmmaker’s entire oeuvre, thus leading me to consider that the 11-minute short The Bogus Man (1980) is indubitably the filmmaker’s most immaculate, idiosyncratic, and sophisticated work to date. A sort of intentionally grotesque allegorical agitprop piece involving kitschy bodily dismemberment, cheap Jimmy Carter masks, pulsating vagina chairs, eccentric Dr. Strangelove-esque German-Jewish mad scientists, and morbidly obese unclad monster ladies with bald heads, Zedd’s short is, at best, a thankfully short and more bitter than sweet exercise in intricately bad taste that delights in debasing the viewer with its ostensibly insane imagery and asinine anarchistic politics. Like Geek Maggot Bingo, I originally attempted to watch The Bogus Man a number of years ago and found myself terribly bored to death by it and turned it off after only a couple minutes, but I decided to brave through the entire short somewhat recently upon watching a VHS tape of The Wild World of Lydia Lunch that featured it as a sort of bonus film to remind what kind of filmmaker Zedd really is (indeed, Zedd’s ‘experimental’ Lunch doc seems like a rip-off of a Vivienne Dick flick, which is somewhat ironic considering the filmmaker once stated in an interview featured in the book Deathtripping: The Extreme Underground (2008) by Jack Sargeant, “The reason I made that was because I had seen films that Lydia was in, by Vivienne Dick, which were horrible – they were just so boring and stupid and they had received these glowing reviews [from] the film critics at the Village Voice. And I knew I could do something better than that.”).  I guess I should have probably watched more than a couple minutes of Zedd's short when I first attempted to view it about a decade ago, as I recently discovered that I missed out on the crazy cunt chair and grotesquely obese unclad female monster doing a distinctly debasing striptease, among other forms of gutter grade celluloid (anti)poetry of the perniciously playfully psychotronic sort that epitomize The Bogus Man.

Like the sadomasochistic para-punk (meta)politics of Beth B and Scott B (the former of whom Zedd used to bang after she divorced the latter, or so Richard Kern reveals in the doc Blank City (2010) directed by Celine Danhier) meets the viscerally grotesque post-holocaust psychosexual special effects of Jörg Buttgereit, Zedd’s obnoxiously obscene short is notable for being one of the few films by the anti-auteur that does not seem outrageously outmoded nowadays in an age where senseless trash like so-called ‘torture porn’ has become mainstream, not to mention the fact that The Bogus Man seems far too slick and ‘professional’ to have been directed by the perennial punk poser. Of course, as a work that wallows in ugliness and insipid shock value for shock value’s shake, the short is undoubtedly pure Zedd in the most positive and ‘complimentary’ sort of way, thus making it a great introductory work for novices. Whereas Zedd’s first and arguably greatest feature They Eat Scum (1979) resembles a sort of hysterical punk sci-fi home movie and his second feature Geek Maggot Bingo seems like what happened if a more misanthropic Mike Kuchar attempted to direct an epic Ed Wood homage while high on both speed and acid, The Bogus Man actually has something resembling a carefully and tightly constructed avant-garde mise-en-scène as a sometimes foreboding yet equally campy chiaroscuro piece that is probably the director’s least politically infantile yet simultaneously most experimental work to date.  In short, the film is Zedd at his most overtly  ‘cinematic.’  Part cynical parody of spy movies, part excessive exploitation trash, and part malicious criticism of both pussy President Carter and the American political system in general, the film depicts a world where the U.S. commander-in-chief has been replaced by various eponymous clones. Of course, the real appeal of The Bogus Man is that it is a nihilistically nightmarish piece of celluloid that demonstrates that, not unlike the title and some of the content of War Is Menstrual Envy (1992), Zedd seems to have a sexually schizophrenic belief that the pussy is mightier than the penis, among other things.

The Bogus Man opens mysteriously enough in a nearly pitch black room where a mystery man sporting a ski-mask states, while sounding like a sort of perverted newscaster, “No, I am not a terrorist. I am an undercover agent for the Central Intelligence Agency. My identity must remain a secret, for I am about to reveal to you for the first time privileged information concerning the most diabolical scheme ever hatched:  To subvert our democratic system, C.I.A. complicity in the government’s plot to clone the President of the United States. This will be the first in a series of reports in which I shall present hard evidence in the form of filmed interviews with witnesses and participants in the government’s project, which resulted in the successful replacement of our President by several clone duplicates. In these reports, I shall establish beyond any shadow of doubt the validity of my assertion that our President is not, in fact, the man you voted for, but is, in reality, the Bogus Man.” From there, the dead serious yet ultimately unwittingly quite silly masked man in the shadows describes certain footage that was “forwarded to the director of the Central Intelligence Agency for his consideration” and how “When the director amassed enough evidence from our reports, the agency blackmailed the government into increasing their own power. America is now in danger of becoming a police state.” The footage in question features an interview with a certain Teutonic tongued mad scientist (American photographer David McDermott of James Nares Rome ’78 (1978) and Anders Grafrstrom’s The Long Island Four (1980)) with missing teeth who conducted, “the original cloning deception in the winter of 76.” Upon the secret footage being shown, the scientist declares with a heavy German accent, “The Bogus Man wants to be elected. You must not vote for him” and then declares “I am in terrible danger. I can say no more.” Unfortunately for the German-speaking scientist, his sinisterly brilliant mind has been taken over by the same supposed “sinister forces” that coerced him into cloning cuckold President Jimmy Carter. When asked if he feels guilty for his role in the cloning, the scientist becomes vaguely enraged and replies in an agitated fashion, “Guilty? Guilty? We have created a myth. It is a myth of passion…A reality of virtue of being a spore…A source of courage. Our myth is the nation. The greatness of the nation…This grandeur, we subordinate all the rest.” When the scientist is revealed to have literal blood on his hands and then asked if he feels guilt for his involvement in the murder of Mr. Carter, he panics, babbles about a bunch of bullshit in German, and then nonsensically blows his brains out with a handgun in a somewhat tragicomedic scene that is quite typical of the morally dubious humor that is oftentimes associated with the films of the Cinema of Transgression movement.

When the nameless/faceless CIA agent with the ski mask appears again, he sullenly declares regarding the footage of the exceedingly eccentric German scientist, “I know how you feel. When I first saw this footage, all I could say to myself was: ‘Why did my eyes have to see this? Why?’ You’re probably asking yourself the same question…right now.” From there, poorly shot footage of a morbidly naked unclad she-beast (portrayed by tragic tranny artist Greer Lankton in a genuinely disturbing fat-suit that s/he created herself) dancing next to the American flag is juxtaposed with what the man in the ski mask just said. Indeed, when the man says “Why did my eyes have to see this? Why?,” it is also clear that he speaking for the filmgoer while they are watching the fiercely fat naked quasi-female freak, which is apparently one of the “Bogus Man” clones. As the CIA agent with the ski mask also reveals, each finger of Jimmy Carter, who is now quarantined as a result of contracting leprosy, was used to create clones and “one of the clone presidents is now running our country and he is a Bogus Man.” Apparently, a group called the SLA was involved in a series of successful assassination attempts against Bogus Man clones, but each time they were killed they were immediately replaced with another imposter and no one knows about this because, “The media has imposed a blackout on any of these events.” As the man in the masked CIA agent proudly states regarding himself and the SLA, they have been “patriotically attempting to destroy all clones in order to snuff this hideously diabolical scheme to undermine the sanctity of our executive office. Nick Zodiac and I have risked grave hazards in order to bring these frightening facts to your attention. Now that you know this, it is your patriotic duty to do everything in your power to see to it that this man is not reelected president.” In the end, the ‘real’ Jimmy Carter (aka a man in a fairly cheap Carter mask) is portrayed having his fingers hacked off while he is tied to a pulsating vagina chair. In the very the last scene, the mensch with the ski mask is depicted merely smoking a cigarette in the shadows, as if telling the Bogus Man story gave him a mighty orgasm or something.

Notably, in his article Notes on the Work of Nick Zedd, legendary Lithuanian-American avant-garde filmmaker and underground gatekeeper Jonas Mekas wrote, “I discern a great sadness in Zedd’s work. Frustration and sadness. All those penises, shaking breasts, all those sad, bedraggled protagonists, the dregs or the glories of that world which populate his films, they all exude sadness. There is no ecstasy in those shaking breasts and penises, no joy. Nothing but frustration, sadness. Yes, I would even go as far as to say that they exude a longing for love, compassion: Longing for a lost paradise. A pretty hopeless passion, I presume, the world being as it is.”  Of course, it seems Zedd sees things quite differently, or as the filmmaker once stated himself, “Genocide is brutal.  In comparison, my movies are not at all brutal.  They're entertaining,” thus revealing that the auteur sees himself as a sort of harmless exploitation director.  While I certainly agree with Mekas in that Zedd’s films are plagued with a certain fierce juvenile frustration, I think the filmmaker is more disgruntled than melancholic and is simply an uncultivated nihilist of the sexually dysfunctional sort who worships ugliness and actually genuinely believes that his films contain idiosyncratic fantasy utopias where people like himself feel free and at peace. As the sort of anti-messiah of 1980s America's most prominent underground film movement who grew up in the relatively safe bourgeois realm of suburban Maryland, Zedd ultimately reflects the aesthetic and intellectual impoverishment of American culture in general, not to mention the fact that he is a true prodigal son of the American dream and thus dwells in a sort of nefarious nightmare of his own self-prideful making, which is arguably apparent in The Bogus Man via the mere visuals alone. Indeed, I would argue that Zedd is the true bogus man, as a sort of jovial executioner of art and beauty who has taken on the role of being an uncompromising ‘artiste,’ yet has done everything in his power to defile the fullest and most eclectic of all artistic mediums: cinema. As reflected in his remark, “I think everything is politics, life is politics, I see my films as entertainment not political tracts….I don’t know, it’s such a loaded term, ‘politics’,” Zedd also represents the nadir of cinematic agitprop as a man that is too hopelessly stupid and passive-aggressive to have any real message aside from advocating for destruction for destruction’s sake and nothing more. Still, I cannot completely loathe a filmmaker who apparently had a major influence on Christoph Schlingensief (in fact, during a Schlingensief retrospect at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC, three of Zedd’s films were also screened, demonstrating his imperative influence on the truly iconoclastic Teutonic auteur).  Of course, as much as I think that Zedd is a pathetically perennially posturing dork, I can respect The Bogus Man and the filmmaker's sentiments regarding the film that it is, “about how all the presidents of the U.S. have been puppets of the military-industrial complex. . . . it's about how all these public figures who we're supposed to admire are really clones of dead ideas which should be obliterated.”

-Ty E

Aug 29, 2015

Kidnapped (1978)

Out of all the film remakes I have ever seen, Kidnapped (1978) directed by French-born No Wave auteur Eric Mitchell (The Way it Is or Eurydice in the Avenues, A Matter of Facts) has to be the most patently pointless and uniquely unbelievable, as a work that is not much more than an equally static Super-8 color reworking of Andy Warhol’s black-and-white S&M-oriented Anthony Burgess adaptation Vinyl (1965) starring pretentious drug-addled homo poets Gerard Malanga and Ondine and all-too-tragic heiress Edie Sedgwick in one of her very first underground film roles (although oftentimes credited as her first film role, the emotionally damaged Factory diva previously appeared in the Ronald Tavel penned Warhol feature Horse (1965)). While Warhol’s adaptation is at least notable for predating Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 film as an adaptation of Burgess’ dystopian novella A Clockwork Orange (1962) and somehow even managed to earn an entry in the popular film reference book 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die (2003) due to its somewhat revolutionary meta-barebones approach to filmmaking, Mitchell’s debut feature is only really notable for demonstrating how much various No Wave filmmakers merely copied off the absurdly amateurish Factory brand of filmmaking. Indeed, as described in the classic text Midnight Movies (1983) co-written by rare fellow Hollywood-hating Hebrews J. Hoberman and Jonathan Rosenbaum, “Mitchell’s first film, KIDNAPPED, consisted of fifteen unedited super-eight rolls spiced end to end in a poverty-row rehash of the Warhol Factory’s assembly-line method. (The film was even blandly billed as “A 1960s underground movie happening today.”) A few jittery extroverts stimulated by drugs, Mitchell’s on-screen direction, the cue sheets bluntly taped to the wall, and the new-wave music blaring from a plastic phonograph on the floor jostle each other and the ever-panning camera within the cramped, harshly lit confines of the filmmaker’s barren Lower East Side living room. When not trading insults, the cast vaguely pretends to have abducted a wealthy industrialist (Mudd Club owner Steve Mass) and are halfheartedly beginning to torture Mass as the camera runs out of film in midsentence.”  Like Vinyl, Kidnapped is the sad and pathetic yet nonetheless sometimes engaging result of a considerably lazy and technically inept artist merely placing his decidedly dopey dope fiend friends in front of a camera and getting them to reveal how superlatively stupid and passively nihilistic they are, among other things.  In short, Mitchell's film is a shockingly grating and preposterously prosaic 62-minute celluloid endurance test that ultimately rewards the viewer with nothing aside from the opportunity to mock neo-bohemians and obnoxious art fags from the rotten Big Apple.

 Like the pre-Morrissey Warhol films, Mitchell’s proudly lackluster Super-8 abortion is mostly comprised of a couple high-as-a-kite hipster dullards posturing for the camera like mind-numbingly obnoxious narcissistic toddlers and mumbling about absolutely nothing of value while trying in vain to seem glamorous, sophisticated, and covertly chic, thereupon making for an occasionally unintentionally marginally entertaining sad joke at the expense of the hopelessly inept filmmaker and especially the would-be-superstars, who are so hopelessly bored with life that they cannot even bother to fuck or be passively fucked, especially the male ‘characters.’ Somewhat interestingly, Kidnapped was shot by No Wave filmmaker turned painter James Nares (Rome 78’, No Japs at My Funeral), who also came from the Warhol/Morrissey school of filmmaking and stated of his work as the sort of ‘anti-cinematographer’ in the documentary Blank City (2010) directed by Celine Danhier, “Eric asked me to shoot his film KIDNAPPED. It had a beautiful structure. It was just like rolls of Super-8 and we shot one roll, shot the next, and then shot the next and cut them together and that was the movie.”  Nares would also go on to shoot degenerate avant-garde jazz saxophonist John Lurie's No Wave anti-sci-fi flick Men in Orbit (1979), which features both the director and Mitchell tripping on acid while pretending to be astronauts in outerspace in a work that was actually shot in the former's dilapidated apartment.  Indubitably, Mitchell’s homemade anti-anti-terrorist feature is even more amateurish seeming than Nares describes it, as a sort of post-Warholian celluloid wart that is hidden somewhere on the ass of NYC underground filmmaking and thankfully will only be remembered by those individuals masochistic enough to wade neck-deep through a sea of celluloid shit. Of course, as a work where some East Asian hipster bitch who seems terribly sexually repressed accuses a bunch of No Wave figures, including of auteur Mitchell, of being closested fags, Kidnapped is not a total waste of life, especially if you like it when sickeningly self-conscious posturing scenster fags attempt to create ‘ironic’ art and unwittingly create something that makes a total mockery of them and their rather remarkably rotten work. 

 The first film in a loose trilogy preceding Red Italy (1978) and Underground U.S.A. (1980), Kidnapped was described by Mitchell himself as being highly derivative, or as the auteur once stated himself, “My first approach was to make a comment on what was around me at the time. That’s why I made KIDNAPPED. I began by trying to figure out a definite style. The style was a rip-off, but I was very interested in making the reference. I liked it a lot at the time; I was completely nuts about it.” While fundamentally being more or less the same in terms of style, structure, and amateurishness, Mitchell’s film is slightly different from Warhol’s Vinyl in that it was shot on color Super-8 film as opposed to black-and-white 16mm, as well as inspired by the half-cracked kraut rock star revolutionaries of the Baader-Meinhof Gang as opposed to being adapted from a Burgess novel.  A work that was shot in one day and was never edited, Mitchell described the film in Blank City as, “It was like punks-on-speed and terrorists-on-valium,” yet it would probably better be described as poofs-with-hissy-fits and hopelessly horny fag hags on PMS. In other words, Kidnapped features a couple posturing hipsters incessantly babbling about things they know nothing about like sex and revolutionary politics, yet ultimately saying nothing, at least nothing of any intrinsic value, thus making the work a perfect example of a true landmark ‘No Wave’ flick, as a playfully plodding piece of pseudo-arthouse ‘high schlock’ with no production values, no real actors, no plot/script/storyline, and of course no discernible point. 

 Like an aesthetically autistic punk take on Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope (1948) in terms of giving the illusion of being much longer than it actually is due to seemingly being all shot in one take in a claustrophobic apartment inhabited by morally retarded young hipsters sporting mostly goofy clothes, Kidnapped begins with horrendous pan shots of the flat juxtaposed with a grating art-punk-jazz song that gives the viewer a good idea of the antisocial essence of the film. For a good portion of the film, especially during the beginning, the character’s heads are cut out of the frame in a fairly annoying way that makes it seem like cinematographer James Nares fell asleep at the camera. At the beginning of the film, Chinese-American cunt Anya Phillips (who was the one-time girlfriend of No Wave saxophonist James Chance) says to No Wave diva Patti Astor (of Amos Poe’s The Foreigner (1978) and Anders Grafstrom’s The Long Island Four (1980)), “You know, you should come by my flat sometime. We can talk about politics or something.” Since Astor does not seem too interested in dyking out with a cunty chink as demonstrated by her remark “I am a one-man woman,” Phillips complains, “What do you think I’m going to do, jump on a big dildo?” and continues to bitch in an insufferable fashion. Eventually, Astor gets annoyed and complains to Phillips that she does not want to go to her “slimy apartment” or have her sticking her face in her “twat.” Indeed, as she bitches, Astor does not feel like a “cheap dyke” and will certainly not allow a slant-eyed Chinese carpet-muncher to dine on her gristle-gripper. When auteur Eric Mitchell also attempts to hit on Astor by saying patently preposterous things to her like, “I think you’re really gorgeous…I think you’re really beautiful…I think you’re really magnificent…I think you’re magnificent […] You’re so fabulous,” she is less than impressed. In a pathetic attempt to use his dubious reputation as a novice filmmaker, Mitchell also attempts to swoon Astor into bed by proclaiming, “Every inch of your body stinks of celluloid” and “It really reeks of celluloid,” but she puts him in his pathetic place by retorting, “I don’t give a shit about your image because I don’t have an image.

 When flagrant fag Gordon Stevenson (who directed the somewhat unconventional No Wave flick Ecstatic Stigmatic (1980) before dying of AIDS not long after) goes on a clichéd quasi-commie rant where he self-righteously declares that rich people are uncultivated pigs that cannot dress and like sporting vulgar blue jeans, Phillips becomes extremely agitated and hatefully states to him, “I think that’s a bunch of reactionary crap. I mean, I have never seen anybody so reactionary as you. You know, people like you should be shot dead…Run over and shot dead. Anyway, as far as I’m concerned.” After Stevenson retorts, “Just frustrated, just really frustrated,” Phillips accuses him of being a hypocrite and states, “If you don’t like these rich pigs, just blow them off. Nobody is going to stop you…You’re just too scared, too scared to do anything.” After her prosaic pseudo-political rant, Phillips gets somewhat flirty with Stevenson and gives him a backhanded compliment of sorts when she declares, “In some ways, you’re kind of cute…But you’re probably just another fag and I’m sick of hanging around fags.” Since Monsieur Mitchell does not like cunty chicks accusing his homeboys of being homos, he defends Stevenson by telling Phillips that she is an “asshole” and “phony,” among other childish things that make him seem like a toddler suffering from an intolerable case of the terrible twos. At this point, Phillips completely loses her cool, states to both men, “You’re all fags. Every one of you,” and recommends that they both get out of the closet because, as she less than eloquently states, “It couldn’t hurt…that much.” 

 Totally oblivious to the fact that Phillips is just acting like a bitch because she is in dire need of some dick and maybe a little cunt, Mitchell goes on a girly man rant while smoking a fat joint where he verbally vomits on her, “You really think you’re some kind of revolutionary, huh? I’ll tell you, you’re really a phony one, a phony revolutionary because I haven’t seen you do anything yet. You haven’t done shit. Alls you’ve done is talked about it…You haven’t done anything yet […] Have you put any bombs anywhere? Have you kidnapped anybody?” After Mitchell gets down verbally reaming Philips, Stevenson goes on a similarly aimless rant where he thankfully decries the “liberal humanist lie.” Out of nowhere, everyone eventually begins dancing to the Rolling Stones cover of “Satisfaction” by Devo that is playing on a record player in the room and Mitchell eventually gets in a girly fight with a wuss in a leather-jacket in the process. After the dance, Stevenson begins hitting on Mitchell and apologizes to him in regard to an assumed botch sex session by stating, “I couldn’t get it up for you […] I couldn’t get it up for anyone at the moment, sorry.” Seeming to have the sexual habits of a psychopath, Mitchell replies to Stevenson, “I can do the same job myself. Anyway, I think it’s a lot better afterwards…because you don’t have any hassle. See, I don’t like sex very much at all. I don’t like anything that much.” When Astor attempts to sleep with sod Stevenson and even offers him $30, he rudely begins laughing and replies, “There’s just something about you I don’t like. Too fucking bourgeois or something.” In a rather valiant attempt to prove Phillips wrong in regard to her claims that they are nothing but whiny armchair revolutionaries, the raging revolutionary queers kidnap a young businessman (played by real-life business man Steve Mass, who owned the Mudd Club) and spend the last ten minutes of the film ‘torturing’ him in a lackluster fashion while he is blindfolded and tied to a chair. Since the victim is “capitalist swine” and all, Mitchell forces him to oink like a pig. In the end, the victim softly states “kill me,” so Phillips fulfills his wish by shooting him in the head, though naturally the gun fails to make a ‘bang’ sound. 

 Without a doubt, Kidnapped is one of the most absurdly amateurish and incredibly pointless and meandering films that I have ever seen and I say that as someone who is somewhat familiar with both Troma and the so-called Mumblecore movement, yet I'd watch it any day over the latest Michael Bay or Steven Spielberg blockbuster because it at least has some character, charm, and a sense of humor, not to mention the fact that it mocks the dilettante guerilla politics of far-left terrorists, namely rock star commies like Andreas Baader and Gudrun Ensslin.  In that sense, Mitchell’s film anticipates the self-critical left-wing art-porn flicks of Canadian cocksucker Bruce LaBruce, especially The Raspberry Reich (2004) aka The Revolution Is My Boyfriend. Somewhat curiously, aside from Warhol’s Vinyl, Kidnapped seems to most resemble the classic homo hardcore porn flick Boy 'Napped (1975) aka Boy-napped! starring Jamie Gillis and mustached dick-stabber/disco singer/AIDS victim Wade Nichols (aka Dennis Posa) and directed by German-American exploitation auteur turned gay pornographer David E. Durston (The Love Statue, I Drink Your Blood). Indeed, if Mitchell’s film featured a sex scene or two, it might be considered a classic porn chic era fuck flick as opposed to a forgotten No Wave classic. Despite the minimalistic art-trash aesthetic of Kidnapped, Mitchell has more cultivated cinematic influences than one might assume, or as he stated in the doc Blank City, “I really liked Warhol for the concept, Fassbinder for the ensemble of actors, Pasolini for his integrity, and Melville for his hat and sunglasses.” Speaking of Fassbinder, compared to films where the New German Cinema alpha-auteur satirizs the senseless behavior of self-stylized commie revolutionaries like Die Niklashauser Fahrt (1970) aka The Niklashausen Journey, Mutter Küsters Fahrt zum Himmel (1975) aka Mother Küsters' Trip to Heaven and Die dritte Generation (1979) aka The Third Generation, Kidnapped seems like a botched attempt at a hipster philistine circle jerk.  For better or worse, Mitchell's film would have a somewhat notable influence on both No Wave cinema and the Cinema of Transgression movement, especially the oeuvre of husband-wife team Beth B and Scott B (Black Box, Vortex).  Somewhat surprisingly, Mitchell eventually became a remarkably more cultivated filmmaker as demonstrated by his ‘magnum opus’ Underground U.S.A. (1980), which demonstrates eclectic influences ranging from Josef von Sternberg to Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard (1950) to Paul Morrissey’s Heat (1972). Additionally, Mitchell's feature The Way it Is or Eurydice in the Avenues (1985)—a work where a chick portraying Eurydice in an adaptation of Jean Cocteau's Orphée (1950) aka Orpheus is found dead in Tompkins Square Park and where the East Village is portrayed as a sort of Cocteauian underworld—is notable for featuring both Steve Buscemi and Vincent Gallo in early pre-fame acting roles. While indubitably Mitchell's most eclectically mediocre work, I personally somewhat appreciate Kidnapped to some marginal degree because it demonstrates that NYC art fags are just as stupid, lazy, and dirty as ghetto crackheads. 

-Ty E

Aug 26, 2015

The Summer House (2014)

Ever since at least the period when Rainer Werner Fassbinder and various other auteur filmmakers of New German Cinema started dominating the international arthouse realm during the late-1960s and early-1970s, the Teutons have been the foremost producers of the darkest, most morbid, and even grotesque (melo)dramas in the world, which is certainly no surprise considering the nation's singularly horrendous recent history, which included the country being literally completely reduced to rubble as depicted in Roberto Rossellini's Germany Year Zero (1948) and losing about seven million people as a result of the Second World War, not to mention the incessant guilt-tripping its citizenry has been brainwashed with by the Allied Powers since then, which Hollywood has shown no sign of stopping as indicated by somewhat recent redundantly Teutonophobic films ranging from Paolo Sorrentino's sad pseudo-arthouse joke This Must Be the Place (2011) to David Ayer's mythmaking piece of preposterous patriotard celluloid idiocy Fury (2014). Indeed, even with the death of Fassbinder in 1982 and, in turn, New German Cinema and German cinema in general, the krauts still have managed to produce some of the most perturbing and dejecting dramas around the world as demonstrated by not only arthouse works like Fred Kelemen’s Frost (1997), Oskar Roehler’s Die Unberührbare (2000) aka No Place to Go, Kai S. Pieck’s Ein Leben lang kurze Hosen tragen (2002) aka The Child I Never Was, Matthias Glasner’s radical ‘rape epic’ Der Freie Wille (2006) aka The Free Will, Hans W. Geissendörfer’s Schneeland (2005) aka Snowland, Michael Haneke’s German-Austrian-French-Italian (anti)Heimat flick Das weiße Band - Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte (2009) aka The White Ribbon, and Katrin Gebbe’s Tore tanzt (2013) aka Nothing Bad Can Happen but also big mainstream productions like Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s Das Leben der Anderen (2006) aka The Lives of Others, Max Färberböck’s Anonyma - Eine Frau in Berlin (2008) aka A Woman in Berlin, and David Wnendt’s scatological coming-of-age tragicomedy Feuchtgebiete (2013) aka Wetlands, among countless other examples that demonstrate that the flames of the Dresden and Hamburg firebombings still burn deep in the German collective unconscious. Indeed, it seems that even despite the overall sorry state of contemporary Teutonic cinema—be it arthouse or otherwise—there is always some aberrant Aryan that feels the undying need to bleed their forlorn soul onto the silverscreen, even if they have little to no resources to work with. While Romanian by blood and birth, Berlin-based auteur Curtis Burz (Gib mir noch ein Jahr aka Give Me Another Year, Nora) has certainly followed in the Teutonic tradition of distinctly disturbing dramas that send the viewer into a taboo realm where they probably do not want to go, especially in regarding to his latest feature Das Sommerhaus (2014) aka The Summer House, which depicts interfamilial sexuality in a way that even puts Fassbinder to shame in terms of figuratively setting the bourgeois home on fire. The film is a sort of minimalistic arthouse melodrama with elements of the suspense-thriller sub-genre and tells the rather revolting yet nonetheless engulfing story of a fairly wealthy family man of the crypto-homo sort who begins falling in love with his friend’s preteen son, only for said preteen son to decide to blackmail the latent pederast to save his father from bankruptcy. Naturally, the family man has a sexually repressed wife which, in turn, has a negative effect on their preteen daughter.  Overall, The Summer House is one fiercely fucked yet strangely dignified filmic family affair that demonstrates that you can create a groundbreaking arthouse work for the price of a cheap weekend vacation.

 One particularly intriguing aspect of The Summer House is that it was directed by a professional psychologist who merely makes films in his free time (though he did study acting and directing at the Bremen Theatre Institute). Naturally, Burz’s experiences with patients informed his mental ‘script.’ Indeed, another interesting aspect of the auteur is that he managed to shoot the 100-minute feature on a almost nonexistent budget of 700 Euro without even completing a full script (the actors were only given a general synopsis and a general storyline to work with), yet The Summer House hardly resembles some sort of pretentious third rate Dogme 95 junk, even if it was shot on digital video. Ultimately, Burz’s utilized his own intuition in regard to the chemistry of the actors and their performances while constructing a cohesive body and storyline for the film. In fact, Burz did not even come up with an ending for the film until the very end of shooting, or as the director stated in an interview included with the Artsploitation Films DVD/Blu-ray release of the film, “And the finale simply presented itself during the process. So we didn’t know from the beginning or in the middle where the film would lead us, what the finale would be…We simply trusted our instincts. Whether it works for everyone who sees it, time will only tell.” Indeed, a slow-burning psychosexual family melodrama with virtually nil discernible moral compass that absolutely demands that the viewer do their own thinking, The Summer House is like Michael Haneke with a soul meets a reluctantly suburban German Hitchcock on a shockingly minuscule budget that puts most third world fuck flicks to shame. 

 If Burz has anything in common with Fassbinder aside from his relentless yet hardly moralistic critique of the bourgeoisie, tendency to utilize the same actors, and theatric background, it is that, at least in his film The Summer House, he refuses to portray any single one character as being completely innocent, including children, though some of them are certainly more innocent than others.  In that regard, Burz's latest feature makes for a great double feature with The Merchant of Four Seasons (1971).  While ostensibly the story of a middle-aged man living in suburban pandemonium with the soul of an Ancient Greek sod and the conniving Teutonic Justin Bieber lookalike that wants to take advantage of his highly deleterious weakness for virginal preteen flesh, The Summer House is really a passive ‘apolitical’ (translation: non-Marxist) critique of the upper-middleclass way of life and how such a hopelessly contrived, spiritually vacant, unnatural and largely materialist lifestyle causes the repression of certain instincts and impulses that eventually rise to the surface and break through with a completely catastrophic vengeance. Indeed, the film ultimately confirms many things I have observed from personal experience in regard to the unhappiness that the bourgeois dream sires, especially when it comes to people marrying unfit partners for monetary reasons who they inevitably grow to deeply resent due to a sheer and utter lack of common ground and sexual chemistry. Likewise, as the film also validates, these corrosive mismarriages also produce whacked out children who will go on to have toxic and oftentimes parasitic relationships when they grow up. In Burz’s film, a motherless 12-year-old boy takes it upon himself to convince a middle-aged man that he loves him while said middle-aged man’s 12-year-old daughter considers being a lesbian as an assumed result of all the misery she has encountered as a child via her parent’s miserable sham marriage. On top of everything else, the latent pederast protagonist does not mind if his best friend bangs his wife right in front of him, so long as he can get away with secretly blowing and being blown by young twinks. In other words, The Summer House is one majorly morbid and morose yet surprisingly beauteous family melodrama that is rather unfortunately totally relevant in our increasingly deracinated cosmopolitan times of pathologically prosaic ‘plastic’ bourgeois living, but it is directed in such a lavish and even sanitized way that one might mistake it for a TV commercial for a new upscale suburban neighborhood or PSA on the merits on upper-middleclass living if they were only to give it a superficial glance, thus making it quite Sirkin in many regards, albeit with the sometimes off-putting proto-liberal moralistic tone. 

 At the beginning of the film, successful architect Markus Larsen (Burz regular Sten Jacobs) takes various banal generic photos at the site of his latest construction project on his cellphone. After finishing snapping pictures, Markus flips through the pics on his phone, thus revealing an erotic pose of a young blond twink named Oliver (Tobias Frieben) and thereupon letting the viewer know that the protagonist is a homo with a perverse predilection for much younger men. As the viewer will soon discover, Markus is a full-blown ‘closest queen’ who is not only married to a woman that he deeply resents, but also has an emotionally confused preteen daughter who cannot stand the fact that her parents have a nightmarish relationship where love and affection are nowhere to be found. At the beginning of the film, Markus receives a phone-call from his handsome friend/business partner Christopher Degenhardt (Swiss-born actor Stephan Bürgi) urging him to come by his house, so the protagonist obliges and discovers that his comrade has “a fucking problem” that involves having to pay back taxes that he neglected to pay previously in a timely fashion or else he and his company will go completely bankrupt. While Markus agrees to loan him an unspecified fraction of the money, Christopher is still in serious trouble and he has not idea what to do. After Markus leaves, Christopher tells his 12-year-old son Johannes (Jaspar Fuld) that “I’ve really messed up” and that he needs to “make friends” with the protagonist’s daughter Elisabeth (Nina Splettstößer), who also happens to be the boy's classmate. Realizing his daddy is in deep shit, Johannes naturally agrees to help, though he has no idea at this point what particularly perverse lengths he will go to spare his father the mighty shame and burden of total financial disgrace and ruin. Meanwhile, Markus drives to a random house and tells his daughter he “could be a few minutes” while she waits in the car because he has to get something from a “coworker.” Of course, the coworker is the twink Oliver whose erotic picture he was previously looking at on his cellphone and Markus has come by the blond blowboy's house to simply cum in his mouth. While Elisabeth seems to sense that her father is acting somewhat dubiously, she has no clue to the true degree of his erratic extramarital depravity. 

 When little Johannes comes by the protagonist’s house to “make friends” with Elisabeth, he curiously immediately interrogates the girl about her father’s daily habits. As for Elisabeth, she seems to have a small crush on Johannes and decides to put on some makeup to impress him. While his daughter is getting all dolled up in the bathroom for her preteen gentleman caller, Markus takes the opportunity to invite Johannes to go “grilling” with him and his family at their summer house, which the young man somewhat reluctantly agrees to. Before the cookout, Markus has Chris and his Guidette-like girlfriend Anne Lass (casting assistant Natascha Zimmermann) come by for a seemingly stereotypical suburban get-together that ultimately evolves into a quick bourgeois orgy of sorts. Indeed, out of nowhere Chris and Anne begin making out and then the two eventually encourage Markus’ wife Christine (Burz regular Anna Altmann) to get up and join them while the protagonist remains at the dinner table with a discernible look of abject contempt on his face. Within literally less than a minute of the fully clothed threesome, Chris manages to make Markus' wife orgasm via cunnilingus, thus exposing the fact that Christine was in desperate need of having her main vein manhandled by a real man who, unlike her homo hubby, actually craves cunt. While Markus agrees to penetrate Christine doggy style afterwards, he has a look of decided disgust on his face and pushes his wife away and tells her to “cut if off” when she attempts to embrace him after he hatefully blows his load. Naturally, Christine is deeply hurt by the hate-fucking and subsequently tells her daughter to do her the favor of leaving Markus alone for a while because she believes that he is “angry…about us.” When Elisabeth asks her mother, “What if I become a lesbian?,” she laughs and replies “you won’t” because she is “absolutely sure” there is no way she will grow up to be a ladylicker, even though her emotionally negligent upbringing is already causing her to have a low opinion of both men and heterosexual relationships. 

 When Markus eventually takes Johannes grilling, the boy seems fairly concerned after the protagonist comes up with some obviously phony accuse as to why the rest of his family will conveniently not be joining them. Among other things, Markus’ cookout session with Johannes inspires him to ask his secret fuckbody Oliver if he can bring “someone young” the next day they hangout. As is quite apparent at this point in the film, not only is Markus a crypto-cocksucker, but now he is beginning to develop a sort of hellish spiritual Priapism for preteen boys that no quick knob-job from a gawky 20-year-old twink can cure. As an assumed result of his growing sexual repression, Markus begins to act all the more cruel with his daughter and wife and even goes so far as to ban them from conversing in English together. Indeed, as a sort of symbolic act in regard to their bond together as a mother and daughter who are the only ones that understand the oppressive environment they live in as the virtual slaves of an internally distant and exceedingly evasive patriarch, Christine and Elisabeth only communicate to one another in English, thus making it all the more brutal that Markus would attempt to deny them of their solacing ‘secret language.’ Meanwhile, Markus takes Johannes out to another grilling excursion and asks the boy to do him the “favor” of taking his shirt off. Somewhat curiously, when Markus asks him to drop his top, Johannes asks him “What do I get for it?,” thus hinting that the little lad is fully aware that he is using his NAMBLA sex appeal to manipulate the middle-aged man. While Markus does not touch the boy, he does masturbate while fantasizing about him on the day of his wedding anniversary while he thinks his wife is asleep. Needless to say, Markus and Christine do not have anniversary sex, even though their daughter attempts to get them in the spirit by throwing them a small celebration of sorts. After all, as an aberrosexual mensch that only has a small boy in his mind, Markus cannot be bothered with frivolous things like fucking his wife on the day of their anniversary. 

 When Markus dares to kiss Johannes on the top of his head during one of their secret grilling excursions, the boy asks in a somewhat startled fashion, “What’re you doing?,” yet he does not dare runaway or tell anyone about the particularly perverse gesture as he has big plans that involve serious blackmail. Naturally, Elisabeth eventually asks her father if he plans to divorce her mother because, “She’s weird sometimes,” but the protagonist denies it and even attempts to calm his daughter’s fears by replying, “You don’t need to be afraid of your Mother. She loves you more than anything. She’ll never do anything to you” and then adds, “You’re going to be a really pretty, beautiful woman.” As a result of her assumed misguided belief that it is her mother’s fault that her parents have a miserable loveless marriage, Elisabeth uses lipstick to write “whore” in English on Christine’s mirror. Of course, Christine is feeling increasingly emotionally isolated and is not too happy with both her husband and daughter’s behavior, so she perversely decides to fasten a noose to hang herself with from the second floor of the family house while Elisabeth is in her company. When Elisabeth asks about the noose, her mother disturbingly replies, “Just playing a game, honey” and then waits for Markus to get home. When Markus finally gets home and sees his wife with a rope around her neck, he simply walks back out the house, as he is merely annoyed by his wifey and does not want to deal with her insufferable cry for help. At this point, the viewer thinks that Christine might really kill herself, but she does not, as she probably feels it would be a huge waste to off herself for the benefit of an absurdly apathetic man that does not even care if she lives or dies. Meanwhile, Markus confides to Johannes, “You can always come to me…even if it’s money.” Of course, Johannes wants way more money than Markus would be freely willing to offer him, so he does not act on the protagonist's ostensibly generous offer. In fact, preteen cocktease Johannes soon begins hinting to Markus’ family members that he is carrying on an indecent relationship with the family man. When Johannes randomly goes by Markus’ house and asks Elisabeth where he is and she replies “What is it to you?,” the conniving little brat has the gall to reply, “A whole lot.” At this point, it is obvious that Elisabeth no longer has a girlish crush on Johannes and that her classmate has some sort of repellent relationship with her father. As for Markus, he no longer has any interest in his fuckboy Oliver and even stops giving head to him during mid-blowjob. Needless to say, Markus is not happy with Oliver when he brings by an overweight 22-year-old after asking him to bring someone “young,”  as he specifically wanted someone about ten years younger like his preteen love interest Johannes.

 When Chris’ girlfriend Anne comes by the Larsen home to complain that her beau has not fucked her in over a week, perennially pussy-blocked Christine, who has literally no one to confide in, is hardly sympathetic. After complaining about Chris’ recent underwhelming sexual performance, Anne then begins to brag how great of a lover he is in general, stating, “I tell you, sex with him is fantastic. He is a real man, you know? Sometimes he took me really rough, wild…And sometimes, he was suddenly really tender, almost shy. And boy did he go down on me. He sometimes didn’t stop until I came.” At this point, Christine, who sees her friend’s problems as being particularly petty compared to her own, becomes almost murderously jealous and screams at Anne like a truly cracked cunt, “And when are you going to ask how I am? You come in here and tell me a bunch of shit! I had no vacation and I also didn’t get fucked. Welcome to my world. It’s been years, years since he looked at me. It’s been years since he went down on me. What do you think? Do you think you know the world? And you complain about one week? You slut. You could have a thousand men. Look for someone else. But don’t come to me crying your eyes out. I can do that all by myself. I don’t need you here for that. I’m doing shitty! Welcome to my world. Fuck off!”  After all, hell hath no fury like a middle-aged woman who has been screwed out of a sex life because her hubby is more interested in a little boy that looks like the long last brother of Hanson.

 When Christine discovers she is pregnant as a result of the one rare occasion where her hubby fucked her doggy style, she decides that the best course of action is to give herself a primitive abortion by shoving a coat-hanger up her vagina. Naturally, Markus never learns that she was ever even pregnant, which was Christine's intention, hence why she performed an abortion from the comfort of her home. Meanwhile, Markus becomes exceedingly enraged when Johannes shows up an hour later to one of their secret grillings and screams at the boy, “Are you jerking me around? If so, then don’t come here anymore.” Hoping to regain Markus’ faith in him, Johannes agrees to spend the night with Markus at the summerhouse, though the viewer can only speculate what the two actually do that evening. At this point, Christine begins to suspect that her husband and Johannes have a sick secret relationship and even hints at her knowledge by remarking to Markus, “He’s a nice-looking boy, that Johannes.” After hinting to her hubby that she knows what he and Johannes are doing, Christine maturely decides to squat and piss on Markus’ sandals. When Johannes declares to Markus, “I think I love you. I like your smell” and then adds, “I’ll take my shorts off for you,” it becomes too tempting for the protagonist and he opts to take the boy home. With Markus beginning to ignore him, Johannes decides to randomly show up at his house while his entire family is there and says to the protagonist when he asks what he wants in a somewhat hostile tone, “You said if I need anything, no matter what, I can always come to you.” From there, Johannes demands 150,000 Euros and attempts to blackmail Markus by stating in front of his wife and daughter in a somewhat smug fashion, “I can tell your family how you kissed miss. Or should I say how you get naked in front of me? Or how you grabbed me…Or…how I bled.” Needless to say, when Johannes says he has one hour to get the money or he will tell everyone about their very special relationship, Markus becomes frantic and goes to get the cash. Somewhat shockingly, Christine becomes more enraged with Johannes than her husband as she is jealous of him and hatefully yells at the boy, “You’re ruining our lives. You shitty little rat. You liar.” When Christine asks Johannes if he can prove his claims, the smartass kid smugly states, “The condoms in the coffee can. Markus’s body is completely covered with hair.” While Johannes is talking, Elisabeth decides to grab a Norman Bates-esque butcher knife. As to what happens in the end, you will have to watch the film for and find out for yourself. 

 Notably, being mailing me a DVD screener of The Summer Home, Artsploitation Films sent me a press e-mail about the film with the curious title “Warning: THIS IS NOT THE TYPICAL ARTSPLOITATION HORROR FILM!,” with the message reading, “The storyline definitely makes for uncomfortable viewing” and “An intriguing film for adventurous film-goers not put off by its indelicate theme,” as if they are even afraid of promoting their own film. Sort of like Luchino Visconti's Death in Venice (1971) meets Adrian Lyne’s Lolita (1997) in secluded kraut suburbia as directed by the more restrained progeny of Gregg Araki and Dominik Graf, Burz’s pleasantly polished yet nonetheless unnerving cinematic work is easily one of the most innately ‘bourgeois’ subversive films I have ever seen, as a work that seems like it was directed by a reformed gay pederast who wants to warn other potential pedo family men what might happen if they dare to attempt to act on their long repressed urge to seduce a preteen skater boy. Of course, the film is not just about pederasty but the hermetic hell that goes with upper-middleclass living and the spiritual retardation, emotional morbidity, sexual debauchment, moral hypocrisy, and overall interfamilial dysfunction that oftentimes accompanies it. Indeed, had the male lead of the film lived during his grandfather's generation, he could have been a proud Brownshirt in the Sturmabteilung and a comrade of Herr Röhm and Herr Heines instead of living a pathetic lie that causes the destruction of various other lives in the process, but of course modern Germany is no longer the same place that once produced the greatest thinkers, philosophers, and poets in the world, which is probably the natural retarding result of about 70 years of American occupation. Of course, few things are more dejecting to see than a hysterical sexually repressed woman, which is probably the inevitable consequence of a closest queen opting to begin a loveless marriage to a woman who never thought she would marry a man that prefers virginal kid cocks over old cunts. On top of that, as Burz's film reveals, any progeny begot from such a shame marriage can only grow up to have screwed up perspectives on both love and the opposite sex. While The Summer House reveals all these things, it offers no answers, which is all the more intriguing when one considers the director’s professional background as a psychologist. 

 When asked why he made The Summer House, auteur Curtis Burz replied, “I didn’t want to make a moralistic film. I didn’t want to make a personal film, and I didn’t work with any autobiographical material in THE SUMMER HOUSE. I wanted to try out a new genre with my colleagues. After the last two films we decided to approach this theme, to plumb its depths, to dedicate ourselves to it, as one simply does in artistic work…and not anything more. It’s a movie, fiction, not a documentary, not an analysis. It’s simply an artistic work.” While Burz describes his film as “simply an artistic work,” one cannot ignore the fact that it depicts a sort of social and spiritual plague of nihilistic hedonism and spiritual retardation that is not just prevalent in Germany, but Western European and the United States in general. Indeed, after watching The Summer House, it is easy to see why modern Germans are more or less committing collective suicide by refusing to have children, as the bourgeoisie is rotten to the core, but one should not expect anything less from a nation where cultural pride and community, which were once intrinsic ingredients of their country, are now seen as taboo and where Hollywood is constantly telling them that their pronatalistic ancestors are evil genocidal monsters. With mainstream German cinema increasingly resembling a bad parody of Hollywood, directors like Burz, who manages to maintain artistic freedom due to working with such small budgets and inordinately dedicated actors, are becoming all the more important as the only authentic no bullshit cinematic voices in krautland. Not unlike Jörg Buttgereit in the past and pseudonymous auteur Marian Dora today, Burz has proven that passion and artistic integrity trumps big budgets and stars when it comes to making truly provocative cinema that betrays the mainstream message that contemporary Germany is a happy democratic multicultural country where the path to paradise is achieved via Americanization. Unlike Oskar Roehler's modern classic Agnes und seine Brüder (2004) aka Agnes and His Brothers and the pedo-heavy oeuvre of Todd Solondz, The Summer House is a work that dares to confront interfamilial sexual dysfunction and the overall rotten fruits of upper-middleclass dystopia in a completely unrelenting fashion that never succumbs to comic relief. Indeed, I certainly found the film more distressing than Haneke collaborator Markus Schleinzer's admirable debut feature Michael (2011).  In its thankful lack of sapless sentimentalism in contrast to the dark Hollywood drama The Woodsman (2004) starring Kevin Bacon as an ‘empathetic childfucker,’ Burz's film even manages to chill the viewer more than the decidedly disturbing NAMBLA doc Chicken Hawk: Men Who Love Boys directed by Adi Sideman.  Arguably most importantly, The Summer House, quite unlike similarly themed pseudo-arthouse Hollywood twaddle like Sam Mendes' American Beauty (1999) and Todd Field's Little Children (2006), actually demands that the viewer make their own moral judgements, which is probably too much to ask for those viewers that are used to having their morality and opinions spoon-fed to them by the turds of Tinseltown who curiously seem to have no problems with the long unpunished sex crimes of their favorite Hebraic auteurs Roman Polanski and Woody Allen.  Of course, The Summer House depicts a world where the forcibly imported American dream has become a metaphysically malefic nightmare for one decidedly dysfunctional Teutonic family where the patriarch just happens to be a predatory poof, which is not something you will ever see in Hollywood or in the so-called American independent film world, thus making it essential viewing for anyone that likes their cinema to be challenging and, in turn, rewarding.

-Ty E

Aug 23, 2015

The Foreigner (1978)

Just as it had influenced a influenced a number of New German Cinema filmmakers and their early films, including Alexander Kluge with his debut feature Abschied von gestern (1966) aka Yesterday Girl and Rainer Werner Fassbinder with his debut feature Liebe ist kälter als der Tod (1969) aka Love is Colder Than Death, the French New Wave would have a crucial influence on the New York City underground, especially the No Wave Cinema movement. Indeed, the movement’s founder was arguably Israeli-born auteur Amos Poe (Subway Riders, Triple Bogey on a Par Five Hole) who early works Night Lunch (1975) and The Blank Generation (1976) were more or less punk rock homemovies starring then-unknown musicians ranging from the Ramones to Richard Hell to Blondie and whose first narrative feature Unmade Beds (1976) was the sort of À bout de soufflé (1960) aka Breathless of the No Wave scene, with the art fag protagonist absurdly believing that he is Jean-Paul Belmondo's character from Godard's flick (in fact, when the film was released on DVD by Eclectic DVD Distribution, it featured the tagline, “Godard's BREATHLESS re-made by the avatar of the “New” New Wave!”). Of course, not unlike Kluge and Fassbinder, Poe did not really become an intriguing filmmaker until he began to dispose of his fetish for the frog filmmakers of La Nouvelle Vague. In fact, with his second narrative feature The Foreigner (1978) starring French-born auteur Eric Mitchell (Kidnapped, Underground U.S.A.), Poe virtually single-handedly gave birth to the No Wave movement, or as the film’s female lead Patti Astor—an underground actress turned gallery owner whose real-life promotion of urban negro culture is reflected in Charlie Ahearn’s proto-hip-hop flick Wild Style (1983)—stated in the documentary Blank City (2010) directed by Céline Danhier, “You really have to give Amos Poe the credit for starting the next independent film movement after Andy Warhol.” Even Poe himself credits the film as inspiring all of his compatriots in the NYC underground as revealed by his remarks in Blank City, but more importantly said compatriots have also said the same thing. While para-punk auteur Scott B (Black Box, Vortex) said of the flick, “THE FOREIGNER was very fast, very tough and really there in the moment,” alpha-hipster Jim Jarmusch was even more generous when he stated, “One of my favorite films, that actually encouraged me to make films, was Amos Poe’s THE FOREIGNER. When I saw that, in 1978 or so, I got really inspired because he had made a feature film for about $5,000. It was so loose and raw, so close to the idea of the music of the late Seventies - so-called punk music where musicianship wasn’t important, virtuosity wasn’t the main criterion, it was ”I have something I want to express.” It’s a very loose story about a guy, played by Eric Mitchell, who’s being chased most of the film. He has real short hair, bleached blond, and there’s a great scene where he’s walking down an alley and he walks by Debbie Harry, who plays a hooker; she’s really gorgeous and she has a cigarette and she says, “You got a light, blondie?” I haven’t seen it in years, but it really gave me a lot of energy. It was my favorite New York punk movie - I hate to use that kind of label - of that period.” 

 Somewhat ironically, despite being directed by a Hebraic hipster that was born in Tel Aviv, The Foreigner, not unlike Poe’s subsequent feature Subway Riders (1981), owes a great deal of its style and aesthetic potency to its Austrian-born Germanic assistant director, associate DP, and editor Johanna Heer, who went on to shoot important European cult works like Hungarian auteur Gábor Bódy’s epic punk swansong Kutya éji dala (1983) aka The Dog's Night Song and the kaleidoscopic kraut flick Decoder (1984) directed by Muscha and featuring various drug-addled cult figures like Christiane Felscherinow, FM Einheit, a pre-tranny Genesis P-Orridge, and even William S. Burroughs. Not unlike Subway Riders and Decoder, The Foreigner features a sort of highly stylized low-budget neo-Expressionist aesthetic with Warholian undertones. Luckily, the Aryan influences do not end there, as the film is about a nihilistic European blond beast that comes to NYC as a sort of disgraced terrorist agent to get away from his continental compatriots, but ultimately finds himself alone recording himself reading Hermann Hesse in his hotel room and suffering from a decidedly debilitating case of Weltschmerz. A sort of neo-Expressionistic punk anti-noir (or ‘no noir’) with vague horror elements where perennial loneliness, malignant paranoia, collective social autism, senseless nihilistic violence, and sexual and romantic dysfunction are the name of the game, Poe’s film is like a cryptically Teutonized No Wave equivalent to Godard’s Alphaville (1965), albeit starring a frog in an American film as opposed to a American in a frog film, meets Hesse's novel Steppenwolf (1927) and Albert Camus' novel The Stranger (1942) with a tad bit of metaphysical influence from The Rebel (1951). While probably not a masterpiece of any sort outside of the mostly mediocre No Wave realm, The Foreigner is a goldmine for fans of punk as a work that features the members of the proto-psychobilly group The Cramps giving the film’s lead a sadomasochistic beating that is nothing if not fetishistic, among various other distinctly memorable moments that demonstrate what true cult cinema is all about. Also, the musical score by Czech-American musician Ivan Král (who previously co-directed The Blank Generation with Poe) is actually quite good and certainly infinitely superior to the sort of degenerate pseudo-avant-garde jazz that plagues much of Poe’s films and No Wave cinema in general. 

 The Foreigners somewhat fittingly begins on Halloween 1977 with angst-ridden antihero ‘Max Menace’ (No Wave auteur Eric Mitchell with his hair dyed bleach blond)—a moody and broody European spy/terrorist of the seemingly innately inept sort that looks like the morbidly depressed loser grandson of Laurence Olivier—arriving in NYC via airplane in a slightly tacky all-white suit and walking through an airport in a scene juxtaposed with increasingly ominous ambient noise that hints that the character is about to enter a sort of metaphysical pandemonium that he will probably not survive. When Max is picked up by a taxi, he answers virtually everyone of the driver’s questions with a simple robotic “yes,” as if he is plagued by paranoia and would prefer not to giveaway personal details.  Max wants to go to Manhattan, but when the taxi driver asks him the specific location he is headed to, he curiously replies, “Just drive.” Unbeknownst to Max, the taxi driver, who is dressed like a leather-fag, is actually an operative of a dubious unnamed group of druggy punks led by a faggy fellow named ‘King Bag’ aka ‘Shake’ (painter Duncan Hannah, who played the lead role in Poe's first feature Unmade Beds) that wants to hunt down the lead for an unexplained reason. Of course, it is also unexplained as to why he has flown to NYC or what he plans to do there, but it seems pretty obvious from the beginning that he will be dead by the end in an unfriendly city where social alienation is a way of life and where sensitive souls have no chance of surviving. Not long after arriving in the shitty east coast city, Max meets a kraut contact on a beach (German photographer Klaus Mettig) who tells him when he asks if he can still help him, “Well, I tell you, for the moment it is practically impossible. The police and the underground are constantly harassing us. I’m not in such a hot position either, but I’ll give you the name of a friend that might help you, but be careful.” As Max will soon discover, he is majorly fucked as he is ultimately led on a merry-go-round of abject neglect and apathy where each contact he encounters proves to be more worthless than the last, not to mention the fact that a motley crew of deranged punk rock dope fiends are attempting to hunt him down.

 Max may be a murderous spy of sorts, but he gets a kick out of watching punk docs while lying around the seedy hotel room he is renting. Indeed, after watching a performance of “Fan Club” by UK punk band The Damned on a tiny black-and-white TV, Max listens to a narrator hilariously stating, “It is a rare punk performance that doesn’t wind up with someone hurt or something destroyed, usually for no discernible reason. At this performance by The Damned, fans were having such fun crashing into each other that they ripped off the ceiling and the electrical wiring. It was the totally mindless action of which punk rockers seemed inordinately proud. They can’t do anything else…they can destroy. They count it an accomplishment.” The narrator of the doc also says something about punks that epitomizes the senselessly nihilistic psyches of Shake, describing them as follows, “What seems to worry the British is not that punk rock fans have rejected the older generation’s values, but that they have rejected all values. They are anti-everything. They will tell you at the drop of a safety pin that they have no future and that society offers them nothing.” As for Max, he is not so much “anti-everything” as he is just disillusioned with the world in general and everyone he encounters.  If Max was not a misanthrope before, his time in NYC will certainly lead him to believing that a nuclear apocalypse might be exactly what humanity needs.

 Unbeknownst to Max, an East Asian femme fatale in a skintight all-black leather outfit named ‘Doll’ (Anya Phillips of James Nares’ Rome 78’ (1978)) has paid a big bosomed broad named Fili Harlow (Patti Astor of Mitchell’s Underground U.S.A. (1980) and Assault of the Killer Bimbos (1988)) five grand to follow him and everything he does and make sure he does not leave town. Meanwhile, Shake declares to his punk minions in regard to the eponymous protagonist, “The foreigner is for the birds. We’re going to snip…snip his head off.” As a bunch of bongo-playing pansies who wish they were James Dean and like to play with electric powerdrills, light off firecrackers that they have fastened to their butt-tight denim jeans, and say absurdly retarded pseudo-poetic things like, “…his clenched asshole warned me,” Shake’s sickeningly dress-conscious leather-clad sub-beta-males minions seem like a said excuse for a hermetic collective of assassins, but of course that is largely one of the things that largely gives the film its inordinately charming character and pathologically offbeat essence. As for Max, when he goes to see the contact that the kraut on the beach gave him, he discovers the fellow does not speak of word of English. When he goes to see another contact (Ronny Stefan) outside of a gay bar, he is rudely asked, “What do you think I am…the Salvation Army?,” told “I can’t help you,” and warned, “Watch your ass.” Likewise, upon meeting another contact sporting an absurd cowboy hat named ‘Mr. Kool’ (the film’s cinematographer Chirine El Khadem, who was also the DP of Susan Seidelman’s Smithereens (1982)) at the sight of the World Trader Center buildings, he is told “You’re on your own.” Naturally, virtually everyone else Max encounters tells him the same thing, so he begins to accept that he is a lone urban existentialist Euro-cowboy trapped in a city full of bloodthirsty assassins, schizophrenic fashion victims, babbling philistines, rabid mercenaries, cunt-chic femme fatales, and other various sorts of highly deleterious undesirables that are native to NYC. 

 When not attempting in vain to get help from worthless weirdos around the city, Max enjoys lying around his hotel room and listening to tape recordings he has made of himself. Indeed, Max seems particularly forlorn upon listening to a tape of himself somberly reciting, “When we dream that we dream, we’re beginning to wake-up. Bourgeoisie civilization and all of its inanities are always a great joke. The dead…the dead do not discriminate. A coward cannot be free. A coward cannot lose. A coward cannot win. A coward cannot be. Each one carries the remains of his birth, slime and eggshells, with him to the end. That’s Hermann Hesse.” On the same recording, Max can also be heard bitching things like “every time I think I’ve found someone, they die” and “I’m only driven by eternal defeat,” so it almost seems like he would not mind being assassinated and that his trip to NYC is really a form of unconscious suicide. Certainly, if nothing else, it seems that Max has listened to the Sex Pistols song “No Future” one too many times. When Max takes a ride on a ferry during one particularly sunny November day, he receives an old school shoeshine and is eventually approached by an annoyingly extroverted dame of the discernibly dubious sort named ‘Zazu Weather’ (French TV actress Terens Séverine) who talks him into going to a bar with her and eventually going back to her apartment with her where she ultimately makes him her personal prisoner. The first blatant sign that Zazu might he unhinged is when she complains, “White socks. I never like anything white. I hate it. It disgusts me” and then compliments Max on being filthy and recommends that he not take a bath, but then immediately goes on to complain about how she hates anything that is dirty or filthy and then demands that he take a bath. Not only does Zazu lock Max in her apartment, but she also deprives him of food for two days and ties him to a chair in a manner that makes him seem like the masochistic partner in a stereotypical game of BDSM. Luckily, Zazu is eventually killed while she is playfully eating a sandwich on her bed by a faceless assassin who shoots her about a dozen times. Naturally, Max celebrates Zazu’s death by freeing himself from the chair he is tied to and finishing the sandwich that was in the bat-shit crazy broad’s hand while she was getting shot. Unfortunately for Max, despite managing to escape from the wrath of Zazu, he is no less safe on the streets. 

 While walking down the street, a prostitute named ‘Dee Trik’ (Deborah Harry of Blondie) humorously asks Max, “Hey, Blondie. Have a cigarette?” and of course the protagonist obliges the beauteous street slut. After lighting her a cigarette, Ms. Trik repays Max by singing him a somber take on the German-language song “Bilbao Song” from Bertolt Brecht's and Kurt Weill's three-act commie musical comedy Happy End (1929) and then tells him “Thanks soldier.” Not surprisingly, Max’s brief yet solacing encounter with Dee Trik is probably the happiest moment the character has during the entire film, as everything goes drastically downhill from there as the protagonist is immersed in a deluge of visceral street violence. Indeed, shortly after his encounter with the pseudo-blonde streetwalker, Max is brutally beaten by the members of The Cramps in the bathroom of CBGBs while the band the Erasers plays on stage.  Indeed, The Cramps singer Lux Interior even cuts off Max's shirt and then slices up his chest in a somewhat fetishistic fashion.  Meanwhile, while looking for Max, who she has been stalking for most of the film, Harlow is knocked out by a faceless person after suffering the shock of discovering her Asiatic friend Doll dead. When Harlow wakes up, she discovers that Doll’s corpse has mysteriously disappeared and immediately goes looking for Max. Upon arriving at Max’s hotel room, Harlow warns him by shouting to him outside his door, “You’re in big trouble, baby […] Don’t move until I comeback. I’m the only one that can get you out of here alive.”  Of course, considering all the pain and suffering he has experienced at the hands of various nefarious ghetto-dwelling New Yorkers, Max hardly trusts Harlow and fails to take heed of her warning. In the end, Max is chased by a car as someone shoots at him while Harlow tries in vain to get to him before it is too late. Rather fittingly, Max is eventually shot in the back multiple times by Shake’s goons while running through Battery Park. Upon collapsing from his wounds, Max grabs onto a fence and stares at the Statue of Liberty in a ending that might be described as quasi-poetically anti-American. 

 Notably, in a January 1981 interview with BOMB Magazine, Amos Poe somewhat pretentiously stated regarding his film, “THE FOREIGNER remains a mystery to me now, a very cloudy space where questions are allowed to go. Say you call it a genre, where the typical film tells a story by giving certain facts. THE FOREIGNER tells a story by leaving out the facts, a cloudy space where ambiguity, most fears, and emotions exist. If the film is successful at all, in any sense, it’s only if that occurs, that type of mystery.” To Poe’s credit, the film's mystique does to some extent largely lie in its ambiguity and inexplicable foreboding atmosphere, but also its absurdity. Indeed, what is more absurd than a bunch of drug-addled hipster and punk degenerate portraying evil government agents and assassins who have been professionally trained to kill?! Of course, Poe’s film is a work that emphasizes preternatural and pleasantly grating style over substance. In terms of its idiosyncratic take on Godard and the French New Wave, The Foreigner is certainly comparable to the early works of Fassbinder, especially his black-and-white ‘Franz Walsch’ gangster trilogy that includes Love Is Colder Than Death (1969), Gods of the Plague (1970), and The American Soldier (1970).  Interestingly, Fassbinder superstar turned auteur Ulli Lommel came to the United States in the late-1970s and directed Blank Generation (1980), which, aside from sharing the same name as Poe's second doc and depicting the same NYC music scene (among other things, Richard Hell appears in both films), also features imperative No Wave influence Andy Warhol.  Poe would also pay tribute to Fassbinder at the end of Subway Riders during a climatic scene with a shot of a movie theater marquee advertising the Teutonic auteur's classic (anti)Wirtschaftswunder film The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979) starring Hanna Schygulla.  Notably, both Poe/No Wave scene and Fassbinder would be somewhat linked together in a less than ideal fashion when short moon-faced blonde divas Schygulla and Deborah Harry co-starred together (with Patti Astor) in the botched pseudo-quirky comedy Forever, Lulu (1987) directed by Israeli degenerate Amos Kollek, who was clearly influenced by both Warhol/Morrissey and the filmmakers of the NYC underground like fellow Israeli Poe. 

 Somewhat respectably, Poe would reveal in an interview with BOMB Magazine that he felt his film influenced many other works of the No Wave scene, stating, “I think the B’s intentionally or unintentionally copied THE FOREIGNER, in some of their films…there were a whole rash of films for a while about terrorists and kidnappings when that was in the news. Michael Oblowitz uses stereotypes and camera movements that are a lot like THE FOREIGNER‘s, except they’re cleaner.”  Indeed, both Beth B and Scott B's oeuvre, as well as Oblowitz's early films like Minus Zero (1979) and King Blank (1983), feature various glaring aesthetic and thematic similarities with Poe's flick, albeit executed in a more sensational and, in turn, stupid and superficial way that would ultimately influence the filmmakers of the Cinema of Transgression movement, who also had a hard-on for Warhol yet had seemingly little interest in both the French New Wave and New German Cinema.  While The Foreigner is certainly one of his best films, I believe that Poe did not reach his peak until his subsequent work Subway Riders, which highly benefited from featuring kaleidoscopic cinematography, cult character actors like Susan Tyrrell and John Waters superstar Cookie Mueller, and various idiosyncratic subplots.  For a film that was shot guerilla-style in chronological order over the course of only eight days on a mere $5000 budget that the auteur procured via a phony car loan, Poe's gritty little ‘No Noir’ flick proves that a little bit of passion goes a long way when siring celluloid art.  Interestingly, Poe is somewhat ambivalent of The Foreigner and his other early works being labelled ‘No Wave,’ or as the filmmaker stated in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, “The thing about making an experimental film is having enough stuff and then just going with the accident," he said. "You can look back and say it was all 'No Wave. We certainly didn't have a name for it at the time. We didn't feel part of anything.”  Admittedly, I can understand Poe's sentiment to a certain degree, as his film is far too ‘cinematic’ to be lumped in with the pseudo-avant-garde torture porn of Beth B and Scott B and glorified homemovies of Irish feminist Vivienne Dick, among various other examples.  Ultimately, as a work that was shot at the World Trader Center buildings and various other iconic NYC landmarks, The Foreigner makes for a fitting film to watch on the upcoming anniversary of 9/11 attacks as a sort of modernist horror flick that, at least to some degree, does for the rotten Big Apple what Fritz Lang's M (1931) did for Weimar era Berlin.  In the other hand, as a work that features European-Americans who express so-called ‘xenophobic’ sentiments against a curiously dressed European from the Old World, Poe's film will probably induce feelings of nostalgia in viewers who are not too keen on the fact that most American cities are degenerating into third world hellholes that would never produce real art or cinema movements, including those as minor as the No Wave.

-Ty E