Jun 17, 2012

Nightbirds



Until last week, I thought Andy Milligan was one of the most irredeemable, talentless, and inconsequential filmmakers who had ever made the unfortunate mistake of picking up a Bolex 16mm camera. The fact that he has a marginal but loyal following baffled me as most of his inept cinematic works would not even be worthy of a minor Troma direct-to-video release. Of course, that was before I saw his extremely sordid yet queerly charming x-rated anti-romantic drama Nightbirds (1970); a mostly unseen work that was once considered lost until Milligan biographer Jimmy McDonough revealed a 16mm print of the film that he would later sell to Danish auteur Nicolas Winding Refn (Valhalla Rising, Drive); who would later help with the restored release of the film (with Milligan's campy vampire flick The Body Beneath) on dvd/bluray by actively petitioning the British Film Institute (BFI). If it hadn’t been for Refn’s serious commitment as both a filmmaker and a cinephile, I am fairly certain that I would have never attempted to watch another Andy Milligan smut-piece again after my last grueling experience with his appropriately titled  yet surprisingly banal work Fleshpot on 42nd Street (1972). In fact, the sole reason (aside from a recommendation by Phantom of Pulp) why I decided to give Nightbirds a chance was due to Refn’s name being on the front cover of the new BFI release because, unlike unrefined cinephile Quentin Tarantino, the Danish auteur filmmaker is someone whose taste in cinema I can trust and count on. Indeed, Nightbirds proved to be a magnificent piece of gritty melodramatic misogyny that totally took me by surprise; so much so that I ended up watching the film no less than three times over the course of a one week period. I don’t know whether or not Milligan was experimenting with a different kind of drug, amidst a breakup with his latest boy toy, or emotionally influenced by the wet and dreary London air, but with Nightbirds he proved that behind all the vapid degeneracy and technical incompetency was a serious and uncompromising artist with something profound yet inordinately pessmistic to express, even if it was a stereotypically gay contempt for womankind and heterosexual love. Mr. Refn stated of maniac Milligan: "He was sort of a Douglas Sirk figure." Indeed, Nightbirds is a quasi-Sirkian work for degenerates, delinquents, dandies, and other socially defective individuals that makes Todd Haynes' Sirk-inspired work Far From Heaven (2002) seem quite restrained and prosaic by comparison. Nightbirds follows the spontaneous and aimless rise and deadly fall of an ephemeral relationship between two lanky British blondes: Dink (Berwick Kaler) and Dee (Julie Shaw). Right from the beginning of Nightbirds, it is blatantly apparent that goofy momma’s boy Dink is submissive to all of Dee’s self-indulgent desires. Sensing and eventually exploiting his kindheartedness and gentlemanly demeanor, Dee – an opportunistic succubus who uses her beauteous body as a man-eating weapon – takes Dink’s heart hostage and drains his feeble soul. Squatting on the top-floor of a decrepit apartment building owned by a young slumlord named Ginger, the twosome spends their days and nights having mostly one-sided impassioned sex, but unlike kindly Dink, Dee has no other expectations nor desires for a relationship other than erotic debauchery where her body is treated as a precious temple of worship and her groveling man is nothing more than a glorified vibrator with arms and legs that makes whining noises.



Like the equally unseen and shameless British film Duffer (1971) directed by Joseph Despins and William Dumaresq, Nightbirds is a gloomy and gritty work depicting the peculiar perversity of the non-working urban proletariat.  Neither Dee nor Dink were born in the working-class, hence their abhorrence of work and failure in regards to self-sufficiency.  Unable to deal with the neurotic ramblings of his distraught widowed mommy, sweet and humble man-child Dink chooses homelessness over reasonably plush bourgeois comfort and eventually bumps into ferocious femme fatale Dee by mere chance, thus beginning their manifestly foreordained relationship. Leading desultory lives with nil goals for the foreseeable feature, the curious couple of Nightbirds sees nihilistic sex as a way of life and working and building a family as a gross pestilence. As a socially retarded would-be-romantic at heart, Dink is willing to overlook the fact that his quasi-sociopathic girlfriend is an unsentimental ice queen of the most unrelenting and thoroughly demoralized kind. In his pathetic and ultimately self-destructive naivety, Dink is willing to do anything and everything to please his idolized girlfriend as long as it does not involve working, including grovelingly kissing her feet and performing cunnilingus on Dee's command and masochistically accepting her venomous verbal reproaching, whilst totally oblivious to the fact that Dee sees him as nothing more than a momentary fling and a semi-entertaining sexual novelty. Unable to provide for himself, let alone his girlfriend, Dink relies on Dee’s crafty flirtations with other men and shoplifting to survive. Essentially, Dink and Dee – as a product of the post-WW2 generation – are an unstable couple that are totally at odds with every characteristic that was once expected of traditional and healthy western societies. Naturally, the couple would also feel at home in the sort of degenerate hipster ghetto microcosm of false values mindless sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll contained within the early cinematic works of Paul Morrissey. Unlike Morrissey’s pseudo-cinéma vérité works Flesh (1968) and Trash (1970), Nightbirds has a fairly potent, penetrating and expressive atmosphere, even if most of the film is constrained to a single and relatively unfurnished room. Originally shot on grainy greyish 16mm film stock, Nightbirds – like Duffer – is as aesthetically dispirited and decayed as it is thematically, thus near-perfectly accentuating the lifelessness of the demoralized characters and post-industrial setting the film so candidly portrays. Nightbirds also features a sometimes erratic and disjointed editing style that is analogous to the despoiled psyches of its lead characters. Needless to say, Nightbirds is a film that will appeal more to antinatalists than hopeless romantics.
 

Like Andy Milligan’s first film Vapors (1965), Nightbirds is considered to be one of the hysterical homo auteur filmmaker’s most personal and unprecedented efforts, sort of like Fassbinder-meets-grindhouse-kitsch. As a rabid misogynist who was raised an exceedingly cold and emotionally and physically abusive alcoholic mother, Nightbirds features one of the most naturalistic and inexorable depictions of a vicious vixen of a woman ever captured on 16mm film. Although evidence of Dee’s sadistic personality is sprinkled throughout Nightbirds, it is not until the remaining minutes of the film that one learns the true extent of her utter soullessness and sheer depravity.  Like all great exploitation works, Nightbirds features a tragic conclusion that is guaranteed to fully agitate less than demanding filmgoers. Although featuring scenes of sex and nudity throughout, Nightbirds is about as erotically stimulating as a vintage Polaroid of Steven Spielberg in a bikini and as romantic as a winter season coathanger abortion.  I can honestly say that Nightbirds is one of few films that has inspired me to reexamine the work of a director that I was once vehemently dismissive of, so if you're an Andy Milligan virgin, make sure that you pop your cherry with Nightbirds.  For an auteur that boasted of never directing a film that cost over $10,000.00, Nightbirds is certainly no small achievement.


-Ty E

7 comments:

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Andy Milligan was a faggot which totally negates all his "work" as a film-maker, the bloody dirty pansy queer bastard.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Steve Martin is a pile of dog-shit.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

BFI stands for "BLOODY FUCKING IDIOTS".

jervaise brooke hamster said...

It wasn`t enough that Milligan was a fairy, he had to degrade himself even more by coming to England, he must have been such a silly bastard (like all queers obviously).

eddie lydecker said...

I know its 6 months away yet but i`m still really looking forward to reading your reveiw of "Silent Night, Bloody Night" (1972), the one with Mary Woronov. Like i`ve said before, its always freely available on YouTube so that`ll save you $3 on a DVD.

Anonymous said...

Off topic-
I saw you have 'weiningers nacht' on your youtube channel.
I can't find the film or the play anywhere on the net.
Care to upload the whole thing? Or write a review of it?

Uncle Sam said...

You know the new animated movie "Brave", well i cant believe all the Scottish/British scum that they employed to do the voices for that movie, its really spoilt it for me, why couldn`t they have given those roles to American actors and actresses who could`ve then easily done Scotish accents. Its so bloody wrong and unfair on talented American performers when all this work and money is given to talentless and worthless British filth, i think the american studios should only be able to employ American performers when they make films, that would lock-out all that British scum once and for all.