Feb 3, 2014
In a review of the campy true crime exploitation flick The Ma Barker Story (1990) directed by preternatural historian, aesthetic nihilist archivist, and aberrant-garde auteur John Aes-Nihil (Suddenly Last Summer, The Drift), underground art designer/journalist/artist/editor George Petros (EXIT magazine (1984-1992), Propaganda magazine (1982-2002)) rightly described the sub-underground film as a “whacked-out mutation of Corman’s Bloody Mama.” Indeed, The Ma Barker Story is like Bloody Mama (1970) as remade by the psychopathic Mansonite stepbrother of Paul Morrissey (Flesh, Women in Revolt) and Andy Milligan (Vapors, The Body Beneath) as an appetizingly tasteless and spiritually sick piece of morbidly melodramatic high-camp aesthetic nihilism of the hysterically hilarious sort. Made over a 13-year period and shot with a consumer grade camcorder in an innately cockeyed fashion as if seen from the perspective of a sadomasochistic voyeur who has no intention of reporting the crimes he witnessed to the cops, The Ma Barker Story quite consciously transcends Bloody Mama in terms of taking sensational (but surely not sensual!) artistic liberties regarding the facts relating to the point of the real-life Barker-Karpis gang—a quasi-incestous gang from the Depression era spanning from 1931 to 1935 that is probably best known today for being ostensibly led by the mother of its leaders—and thus reduces the true story it is based on to the level of a decidedly debauched white trash homevideo soap opera. A sort of thematic and aesthetic prequel to Aes-Nihil’s first feature Manson Family Movies (1984) due to the fact that Barker gang leader Alvin ‘Creepy’ Karpis acted as a father figure for Charles Manson while the two were imprisoned at Alcatraz federal penitentiary and even taught the younger career criminal how to play guitar, The Ma Barker Story also has the rather refined distinction of featuring original cracker folk music by Manson himself. Also, like Manson Family Movies, The Ma Barker Story was also partly filmed at the Spahn Ranch (as well as Barker Ranch) where the so-called Manson Family lived and engaged in lecherous LSD-fueled orgies. A truly fucked folk flick and a sort of American tragicomedic equivalent to the ‘anti-Heimat’ of German New Cinema during the late-1960s/early-1970s that is set in the homicidal heart of sunny Southern California, The Ma Barker Story is nothing if not a scrumptiously unsavory slice of Americana that has the gall to celebrate America’s timeless tradition of pioneer-style ultra-violence and criminality.
Beginning at Alcatraz with the classically melodic yet strangely melancholy Manson tune “Big Iron Door,” The Ma Barker Story soon cuts to the Barker Ranch and the viewer is treated to a one week day-in-the-lives musical-melodrama-western hybrid about Ma Barker and her rape-happy, moonshine-marinated, and insanely incest-driven boys. While ambiguously gay FBI queen J. Edgar Hoover puked out some preposterous puffery out of his mouth when he described Ma Barker as “the most vicious, dangerous and resourceful criminal brain of the last decade,” she was apparently really just a lazy old fat gal who “couldn't plan breakfast” and was oftentimes stashed in motel rooms and various hideouts because she was jealous of her sons’ girlfriends and the gang wisely wanted her to know as little about their crimes as possible. While Ma Barker is portrayed as a mad matriarch of sorts in Aes-Nihil’s The Ma Barker Story, she is also depicted as an intrinsically inept individual who cannot even bother to fry a single egg for her sons. Portrayed by crippled tranny Aes-Nihil superstar ‘The Goddess Bunny’ (aka Sandy Crisp aka Johnnie Baima), the eponymous anti-heroine of The Ma Barker Story has an unquenchable sexual appetite and thus demands her sons sexually satisfy her each night with eloquently expressed questions like “Well… which one of you youngin’s is gonna service me tonight?” without even the slightest sign of shame. While husband Pa Barker (Harlan) and son Herman (‘Gator’ of the racially insensitive industrial/noise project Psycho-Drama) are more or less cuckolded by Ma Barker, son Freddy (‘Bubba’ of Psycho-Drama) is a vocal misogynist who is not afraid to get lippy with his momma. In between raping and killing chicks, Freddy teaches his brother Herman about the ‘birds and bees’ by endowing him with positively poetic wisdom like, “The trouble with pussy—it's attached to a woman. Now, woman is the bad part of pussy, you understand, you know, like the cob is the bad part of the corn.” When a god-bothering Christian pansy comes by the Barker homestead and begins proselytizing while waving a large but rather poorly made crucifix, the Barker bros take him out back and kill his Jesus-loving gay ass. When the local Sheriff shows up at the gang’s home regarding rumors the Barker boys have been raping young girls, musically-inclined Barker gang leader Alvin (played by Canadian ‘cowpunk’ musician Glen Meadmore, a fellow who has been described as “...the world's greatest exponent of the genre known as gay Christian punk”) attempts to calm the cop's worries by stating regarding Herman, “Sheriff, I know this boy here. He wouldn’t touch no girl. He’s been, he’s been boning these little boys around here.” When the Sheriff comes by the Barker home for a second time, he suavely states to Ma Barker, “I think I might know a way we can straighten this mess out,” and the two proceed to begin a steamy love affair, which naturally rather irks the mother-fucking Barker boys, so fiendish Freddy ends up wasting the lawman like a dirty pig. Of course, the Sheriff was right as Ma’s boys raped, tortured, and murdered a pretentious art-fag chick named Rembrandt (X-Tina), who proudly states whilst being tortured, “My parents are artists and so am I” as if such a pretentious proclamation will save her life. Quite notably, the scene featuring Rembrandt being tortured and killed was filmed in the former bedroom of Stanton LaVey, the grandson of Church of Satan founder and High Priest Anton LaVey. Of course, Ma Barker does not come from as nearly a cultivated background as Rembrandt, but her elderly god-fearing Mama truly loves her and makes sure that the gang leader daughter gets straight on a moral and righteous path, but that never happens because two of homo Hoover’s FBI G-man goons maliciously murder the matriarch with a storm of government bullets. In what is a retardedly melodramatic scene, Ma Barker has a flashback of her mother's speech while dying a grizzly and agonizing death. Of course, a young protégé of Alvin Karpis named Charles Manson would ultimately carry on Ma Barker’s legacy of lowlife criminality, henceforth demonstrating that Ma Barker's motherly teachings were not in vain.
While John Aes-Nihil might owe an aesthetic debt to Tennessee Williams, Jack Smith, Andy Warhol, Paul Morrissey, and George Kuchar, contemporary arthouse trash auteurs like Harmony Korine (Gummo, Spring Breakers) and Giuseppe Andrews (Trailer Town, Period Piece) certainly owe the aesthetic nihilist a debt as well. In terms of Aes-Nihil's oeuvre, The Ma Barker Story is certainly cream of the crop ‘cinema’ of the cynically campy sort that blends high and low elements from American (non)culture in a Nietzschean libertine blender and projectile vomits them in the viewer’s face without mercy like a serial killer in the middle of bloodlusting all over his prey. Immaculately accented by Weltschmerz-addled folk numbers of Mr. Manson and gay cowboy Glen Meadmore, The Ma Barker Story is a sort of culturally apocalyptic anti-western that makes John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)—a work described by wop western maestro as “the only film where he (Ford) learned about something called pessimism”—seem like a pathetically pussyfooting attempt at deconstructing the very same generic genre that he essentially single-handedly sired. Daring enough to utilize a polio-crippled tranny in the role of malevolent matriarch whose immorality and lack of daintiness is only transcended by her superlatively sickening sexual voraciousness with The Ma Barker Story, Aes-Nihil has even managed to one-up German dandy Werner Schroeter (Eika Katappa, Willow Springs) in terms of cinematically immortalizing the most ungodly idiosyncratic diva the world has ever seen. Featuring furry fat fucks fucking trees, shockingly tender moments between elderly mothers and murderous daughters, Freaks-esque sideshow sex, cocksucker country blues of the Canadian queer Christian persuasion, Mansonite mysticism, and what is the most queerishly queer tragicomdic acting the North American continent has ever seen, The Ma Barker Story has a truly rebellious rustic charm that almost makes the viewer forget that America is a cultureless wasteland, but it of course also reminds the viewer that the land of the culture-free and bravely stupid has always been Europe’s (and now the world’s) toilet. Indeed, as a nation that has the largest and richest film industry yet has only managed to sire outmoded genres like westerns by artisans (as opposed to artists) like John Ford, America is quite lucky it has even been able to produce an innately iconoclastic filmmaker like John Aes-Nihil who, with The Ma Barker Story and his other films, has managed to destroy what American cinema is all about and do it on a budget probably lower than Roger Corman paid a single film extra for a day’s work. A honkey home-video from anti-Hollywood Hades, The Ma Barker Story pisses on American celluloid wet dreams with the venomously vicious yet glamorous and campy vengeance of 2000 bottom-feeding Mansonite acidhead freaks.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 10:15 PM
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