Jul 30, 2015

The Deadly Art of Survival

While it is certainly no surprise that Andy Warhol never directed a martial arts flick, he and his head Factory filmmaker Paul Morrissey’s overly gritty (anti)aesthetic heavily influenced at least one such flick in a fairly idiosyncratic way that demonstrates the sort of racial and cultural schizophrenia that American style multiculturalism produces. Indeed, like a good percentage of the films associated with the NYC No Wave Cinema movement, The Deadly Art of Survival (1979) directed by Charlie Ahearn (Wild Style, Fear of Fiction) reeks of outstandingly amateurish pseudo-cinéma-vérité Warholian ineptness and unequivocally makes the late-1970s rotten Big Apple seem like a post-apocalyptic human zoo plagued by widespread destitution, mental derangement, and good old sub-lumpenprole debauchery. Admittedly, if there is any one film (sub)genre that I find more hopelessly banal than westerns and musicals, it has to be martial arts and karate flicks, but after watching excerpts of Ahearn’s film in the documentary Blank City (2010) directed by French documentarian Celine Danhier, I got the sudden urge to rape my eyes and ears with pure and unadulterated urban negro style kung fu. A real piece of D.I.Y. celluloid and no bullshit guerrilla filmmaking, the Super-8 feature only became a serious idea for its auteur after fairly effeminate white boy Ahearn was coerced into making it after being approached by a group of young black kids who saw him playing around with his film camera around their ghetto and urged him to make a movie about the karate school that they attended. Sort of The Karate Kid (1984) of the New York Underground minus the elderly Chinese dude, evil blond Aryan villain, and intolerable sentimentalism, The Deadly Art of Survival is an authentic example of art imitating life that stars real-life Lower East Side karate instructor and community leader Shidoshi Nathan Ingram in the lead role as a sort of negro folk hero in the making who wages a sort of quasi-racial war against a rival Latino instructor who gets his prepubescent students to run coke out of his proto-hip-hop dojo. Of course, if you have ever wondered why certain rap groups like the Wu-Tang Clan (which derives its name from the film Shaolin and Wu Tang (1983) directed by Hong Kong martial artist Gordon Liu) have have become so seemingly culturally schizophrenic that they have developed a deep fetish for esoteric Chinese martial arts aesthetics and philosophies, Ahearn’s film will give you a good idea and thankfully it is completely devoid of gangster rap garbage and ill-literate neo-minstrel morons whose pants are falling off their marijuana-marinated asses. 

 A piece of shockingly amateurish negro-realism of the pleasantly politically incorrect sort where the melanin-privileged ‘actors’ freely throw around words like “nigger” and “spick” whilst fighting one another, The Deadly Art of Survival features an aborted script with countless plot-holes and completely dead-end subplots, wretchedly bad acting and equally botched dialogue, sound quality so horrible that it is nothing short of hypnotic, and horrendous handheld camera work that reminds me of one of those ghetto brawl videos that usually comes courtesy of the geniuses at WORLDSTARHIPHOP and that were probably shot by some random government-subsidized jigaboo on a stolen iPhone, yet the film certainly has a sort of raw and visceral charisma about it that reminds me why I rather re-watch it than any Bruce Lee flick. Certainly a ‘brother’ film to Melvin Van Peebles’ proto-blaxploitation flick Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971) and Perry Henzell’s The Harder They Come (1972) starring Jimmy Cliff, albeit sans the nihilistic message and misguided glorification of savage gutter-level criminality, Ahearn’s film is also notable for being a rare film with a positive black hero as portrayed by a real-life positive black hero who does not speak Ebonics or sling crack or crusty crack-addled colored cunt. Despite its almost quaint positive prole message, the film also manages to drip with the slime and sleaze of Paul Morrissey’s Forty Deuce (1982) starring a very young Kevin Bacon as a young hustler who pimps out the corpse of prepubescent boy to an unwitting middle-aged New England preppie. Somewhat inexplicably shot by S&M-obsessed hipster nihilist Beth B—the ‘better half’ of an ill-fated marriage with Scott B that produced such post-punk art-fetish films as G Man (1978), Black Box (1979), and Vortex (1982)—The Deadly Art of Survival is a rare example of marginally working true multiculturalism in celluloid form, as a collaboration that brought together weak white hipsters and poor black kung fu champs. Indeed, the film may have been shot and directed by weak ass hipster crackers, but the negroes ultimately have all the glory, thus making the production a sort of unwitting allegory for how mainstream corporate sport leagues like the NBA operate. 

 I once had a friend from Annapolis, Maryland who told me about a local urban legend that he believed was true about how a Japanese tourist that completely vanished without a trace after he made the catastrophic mistake of wandering into the wrong side of town where black government housing is the norm. It seems that The Deadly Art of Survival director Charlie Ahearn had a rather different experience than the Jap tourist, or as the seemingly naively negrophiliac auteur stated in the doc Blank City regarding the genesis of his ludicrously ‘lo-fi’ directorial debut, “It was part of that whole thing of getting the hell out of the art world and finding a kind of cinema much closer to reality. When I decided to take my camera out to far Lower East Side…I didn’t have any film crew at all…so I could basically just disappear. I met this whole kung fu school and they said ‘Will you make a film with us?’” Out of all the films I have ever seen associated with the movement, Ahearn’s first feature certainly most personifies filmmaker/painter James Nares’ remark regarding the philosophy regarding No Wave Cinema that, “We purposely alienated ourselves from the avant-garde cinema. We wanted to make narrative films instead of art films…because it seemed like you could reach more people.” Certainly, The Deadly Art of Survival, like Ahearn’s other films, could not be any less pretentious, but I cannot say the same about No Wave filmmakers like Amos Poe and Eric Mitchell who seriously thought that they were America's answer to La Nouvelle Vague. A sort of cultural cuckold with a Super-8 camera, Ahearn ultimately sired what is more or less a glorified homemovie that also works as an eccentric ethnology and unintentionally absurdist example of cultural appropriation where the Far East meets the Far Lower East Side. If any film can bring new meaning to the timeless word ‘Négritude,’ it is most certainly Ahearn’s singularly shitty yet nonetheless strangely captivating debut. 

 The film begins fittingly enough with protagonist Nathan Ingram shirtless in a bargain bin chiaroscuro scene flexing his muscles and doing kung fu moves until eventually verbally announcing the film’s credits orally, stating, “My name Nathan Ingram. The name of this film is THE DEADLY ART OF SURVIVAl. Scripted and directed by Mr. Charlie Ahearn,” thereupon underscoring the flick's realist, almost dcoumentary-like tone.  As if almost mocking the innate ineptness and amateurishness of The Deadly Art of Survival, Ingram is subsequently featured walking around a graffiti-plagued ghetto basketball court and excitedly stating to a comrade regarding a Bruce Lee film that he just saw, “The style and everything…it was just beautiful. The choreography of the whole film was good.” Of course, everything about Ahearn’s film is absolutely appallingly bad, but as American negroes oftentimes say, it is a work about “Keepin’ it real” and that is one of its greatest charms. Ultimately, Ingram’s trouble arise when an Afro-Latino pal named Miguel Villanueva approaches him while initially acting chummy, but then completely changes, says to him out of nowhere, “Listen, Larry, what happened the last time I saw you? I told your ass to not come around here, didn’t I?,” sucker punches him in the face like the typical ghetto coward, and then has a pack of wild feral spades attack him. As a result of his beating, Ingram is not only left hospitalized, but his bodaciously bitchy baby-momma also rebukes him in the cruelest of ways, yelling at him, “I wish that god had killed you. That way I wouldn’t have to worry about you no more.” Needless to say, Ingram—a kung fu instructor (whose dojo is curiously never shown once in the entire film)—decides to dish out revenge against treacherous fair-weather friend Miguel and his slavish ‘play thug’ accomplices. Like in real-life when it comes to ghetto negroes, these two-faced “shines” are not so tough when it comes to fighting one-on-one and Ingram even manages to beat up a couple of them up after catching them bragging regarding his hospitalization and stating things like, “Dat nigga is crippled” and “He got fucked up so bad.” 

 As Ingram soon discovers after handing out various beat downs, a small-time wop Mafioso with the stereotypical name ‘Frankie’ ordered Miguel to kill him because the Guido assumed he impregnated his Chinese girlfriend. Indeed, after buying a revolver wrapped in a dirty newspaper from a young boy while composing music on an organic at his local church, Ingram decides to confront his (ex)friend and pulls the weapon on Miguel after catching him admiring himself in a mirror like a sort of welfare Narcissus. Rather absurdly, Miguel attempts to declare his innocence, pleading to Ingram while he has a revolver pointed in his face, “I had no choice” and “They put me up to it […] it wasn’t me. You know I wouldn’t do something like that.” After declaring, “I outta blow your brains out,” Ingram hits Miguel in the gut and lets him off fairly easy by giving him a quick little beating that demonstrates that he is a man of honor and self-restraint. After talking to a low-level thug sporting an Adidas t-shirt at a super sleazy pool-hall that confirms that he and Miguel were hired by Guido goon Frankie to murder him for supposedly impregnating the chink chick, Ingram heads to a fried chicken joint where the East Asian whore works and bitches her out, threateningly stating to her, “Let me tell you something, Bitch. You know I was nowhere near your stinking pussy. You know that, right, You know that. We were supposed to be friends, we were supposed to be friends.” After stating to her that “I gave you a lot of respect” because she was only female he knew that was serious about martial arts, Ingram threatens the Chinawoman by telling her that if she does not smooth things over with Frankie, “I’m going to take my fist and bust you into a million pieces – pregnant or not.”  Needless to say, the petrified race-mixing Chinese girl obliges Ingram.

 Somewhat ironically, as it turns out, it was not Ingram but Miguel who put his spade seed inside of the Chinese chick. Needless to say, when his Chinese concubine reveals to Frankie that he is actually the father of the monstrously miscegenated fetus inside her tiny East Asian womb, treacherous Afro-Latino turd Miguel naturally opts to get out of town and even expects his oriental baby-momma to foot the bill for his self-imposed exile, thus leaving the half-breed baby a bastard before it is even born and causing Ingram to have one less problem to deal with. Unfortunately, just as Miguel leaves, another nemesis arrives in town named ‘Handsome Harry’ and he begins dealing dope out of a transparently dubious business that he opens called ‘Disco Dojo’ that uses the less than hip motto, “Martial Arts – With Style.” Of course, the dojo is merely used as a front for dope-peddling, as ‘Sensei’ Handsome Harry has his prepubescent students run drugs for him while he sits on his ass and counts his candy money. On top of overcharging his students (he demands $20 for every single service he provides to them) and forcing them to make him money for him by running cocaine and heroin, Harry gives rather lackluster kung fu instructions that mainly involve him doing dopey poses while smoking a cigarette.  Not surprisingly considering his line of trade, Harry receives his drug supply from an exceedingly arrogant Hebrew in a white suit. When Harry fires an empty weapon at him as a sort of sick joke and then obnoxiously remarks, “You dumb white boy. I could have killed you if I wanted to,” the Judaic gangster humorously replies, “Listen. You’re a ten year old moron anyway. When you grow up and get out of nursery school, I’ll give you a real one of those.” Aside from hating whites (or, in the case of his dealer, Jews), Handsome Harry—a supposedly Hispanic chap with discernible Negroid admixture—is also no fan of blacks, even if they make up his largest clientele. Indeed, when Ingram confronts him at a phone booth, Harry less than jokingly says to him, “What’s up, Nigger?” and the protagonist replies, “What’s happening, spick? How you doing,” though the two decide to postpone their showdown for a more appropriate date. Since Ingram is in the company of a fine ass white female whose panties he wants to get into, he ultimately opts to take down Harry at a later date as he has much bigger priorities. After all, if there is anything that will totally incapacitate a black man, it is white trash pussy. 

 While watching an adolescent kung fu tournament and talking to a journalist, Handsome Harry brags, “These kids are real cute. Very cute. Shit….My class kicks better than that and their stoned the whole time. I mean, the whole time…I can’t believe this.” Harry now runs a fairly successful dope-dealing operation and of course the only person that can seriously stop him is Ingram, so he opts to take decisive action against the protagonist by hiring two ninjas from a mysterious Chinaman named Lang Wang Chow to take him out. While Ingram is banging his baby-momma in his Cadillac while parked under the Brooklyn Bridge, the two ninjas manage takeoff all four of his car tires and then throw them in the river. Naturally, when the black-clad ninjas kidnap his bastard baby and then give him an ominous message that includes a decapitated naked baby doll and a note reading “Get your baby on your roof tonight 8-PM,” Ingram decides to wage war against the comically dressed ghetto mercenaries. Against his students’ advice (one of them wisely says to him, “Sensei, you may be a martial artist but you’re not Superman”), Ingram opts to follow the ninjas' directions by meeting them on a dilapidated apartment roof by himself where he manages to not only kick the specially trained Chinamens’ asses, but also gets his wee black babe back.  At this point in the film, Ingram realizes that being a hero is tough and decides to throw in the towel, at least temporarily.

 While riding in a taxi with two of his students, Sly (‘Sly’ Arthur Abrams) and Freddy (Freddy Rivera), Ingram complains, “When you don’t got a job…and you got a kid…man, it is rough,” which leads to all three men discussing the pros and cons of dope-dealing. After Sly alludes to the fact that he slings coke, Ingram and Freddy complain about how it is a less than respectful trade that destroys the community. After parting ways with his two comrades, Ingram seems to admit defeat and reveals that he might have busted his moral compass as indicated when he thinks to himself, “I wonder what kind of business Sly is really into. If Freddy would have kept his mouth quiet, shit, he probably would have told us. Man, if I was born rich, I could teach anything. To hell with this whole karate business. Harry’s got it and Harry can have it. Money is the real deadly art of survival.” Indeed, while Ingram decides to give up on fighting the epidemic drug problem in his neighborhood and resolves to let Handsome Harry keep running his evil enterprise, a chance sighting by his baby-momma ultimately leads to the protagonist having a real one-on-one showdown with his nemesis. After his baby-momma spots Handsome Harry assaulting a girl named Paula from their apartment window, Ingram decides to leap into action (somewhat humorously, his lover says to him “get your shirt” before he runs out of their apartment) and begins chasing down the more silly than sinister dope-dealing Sensei. In what is ultimately one of the most absurdly anticlimactic showdowns in martial arts movie history, Ingram beats up Handsome Harry and then kicks him off a concrete pier into the East River in a scene juxtaposed with ambient noise that seems more typical of a Scott B and Beth B flick. 

 Notably, two years after The Deadly Art of Survival was released, star Nathan Ingram was honored with a medal by kosher crypto-cocksucker NYC mayor Ed Koch—a man that was hated by many members of the No Wave scene due to his soft stance on battling AIDS despite his own assumed aberrosexual proclivities—for using his martial arts mastery to thwart a robbery in his ghetto. Before earning the medal, creating the apparently very effective D.A.S. fighting system, becoming the most famous negro martial artist in NYC, training over 10,000 students (over 50 of which would become masters) and becoming a truly positive black community leader, Grand Master Ingram was himself apparently a criminal thug that worked for Chinatown gang boss Yin Poy Nicky Louie and ran with the infamous Chinese-American the Ghost Shadows, thus making his stranger-than-fiction legacy as a true black role model all the more remarkable and inspirational. Indeed, if anything, The Deadly Art of Survival downplays both Ingram’s karate skills and heroics to the point where the film makes him seem like nothing more than a semi-nerdy and terribly culturally confused negro with a inexplicable Bruce Lee fetish who went berserk after suffering one-too-many beatings and just happened to take out a couple bad guys in the process during his quest for revenge.  It should also be noted that a Ingram biography with the same name as Ahearn's film was released in 2012. Of course, in terms of films depicting the conspicuously culturally mongrelized merging of martial arts and black ghetto culture, The Deadly Art of Survival is more or less the The Birth of a Nation (1915) of the bizarre subgenre. Indeed, without Ahearn's debut feature, there would probably be no The Last Dragon (1985) directed by Michael Schultz or Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999) directed by Jim Jarmusch. Notably, with his subsequent feature Wild Style (1983) starring legendary New York graffiti artist Lee Quinones and rap pioneer Fab 5 Freddy, Ahearn would ultimately sire what is probably the Citizen Kane (1941) of hip-hop cinema, which is no small accomplishment for a wussy white dude who would probably be instantly beaten and robbed if he dared to currently walk around the same black ghetto neighborhoods that his films inspired. 

 Admittedly, I literally have nil interest in martial arts films and I doubt I have ever even seen a single movie featuring Brue Lee in its entirety, so I am not exaggerating when I say that The Deadly Art of Survival is one of the most unintentionally enthralling kung fu flicks that I have ever seen. Indeed, aside from Deadbeat at Dawn (1988), which features actor/auteur Jim Van Bebber doing all of his own stunts, including kicking ass with nunchaku and jumping off of buildings, I cannot think of a more captivatingly confused, idiotically idiosyncratic, and strikingly gritty contribution to the genre. Forget blaxploitation buffoonery like Dolemite (1975) and other intentionally schlocky celluloid coon crap, The Deadly Art of Survival might be a chronically psychotronic flick that is completely lacking in both wit and wisdom but it is also indubitably the real darkie deal as a true ‘black power’ motion picture that is to martial arts what Bill Gunn’s Ganja & Hess (1973) was to the vampire subgenre and what The Harder They Come (1972) was to real Jamaican reggae. Of course, unlike the degenerate jazz worship in films by the likes of No Wave filmmakers like Amos Poe and Jim Jarmusch, Charlie Ahearn’s first feature thankfully does not feel like a patronizing attempt to appropriate and/or mindlessly glorify American negro kultur, even if it features negroes that have strangely appropriated Chinese culture, hence why the film is probably less popular nowadays than certain shamelessly xenophiliac and nihilistic No Wave classics that glorify crime and old dead black men. After all, as MTV and Hollywood has showed us with countless neo-minstrel style rappers and films like Ridley Scott’s American Gangster (2007) and shows like HBO’s The Wire (2002–2008), there is nothing cool about a law-abiding negro who dares to fight against parasitic drug dealers that have completely ravaged his community, or so says the unscrupulous Hebrew and his hopelessly cuckolded minion the white liberal.  Indeed, as a film that completely lacks any phony altruistic white character and where a black man single-handedly saves his neighborhood from a racially dubious Hispanic dope-dealer who has turned all the local children into coke-peddlers, The Deadly Art of Survival promotes negro self-determination and rather refreshingly betrays the mainstream liberal narrative that negroes need to be coddled and that they cannot do anything on their own without the help of the white liberal slave-master, thus making the film a true black power picture that undermines uniquely absurd hocus pocus pseudo-theories like so-called post-traumatic slavery syndrome and proves that black men can be bad asses without having to sell drugs or kill other black men.

-Ty E


teddy crescendo said...

Like you said "The Deadly Art of Survival" may indeed be laughably pathetic amateurish garbage (with regards to the actual technical quality of the film-making and acting) but its still infinitely better than anything the
British film industry has ever produced, just to put things into the proper perspective again with regards to just how absolutely appalling ALL British made
films are ! ! !.

old granny grey said...

My favourite lines from "Enter the Dragon": "You have offended my family and you have offended a Shoalin temple", "We shall find an opponent worthy of your sense of grandeur, BOLO ! ! !", and "Your skill is extra-ordinary and i was going to ask you to join us". For full impact and hilarity of course its best to hear them with-in the context in which they appear in the film.