Aug 22, 2015

Manhattan Love Suicides

While most people would probably agree that suicide is no laughing matter, I think that it can be successfully made the butt of a joke if dope sick NYC hipsters, homo hustlers, and deformed drug dealers are involved, or so I learned while watching the seedy and sleazy yet equally silly and schlocky Super-8 celluloid quadriptych Manhattan Love Suicides (1985) directed by underground punk (anti)pornographer and prominent Cinema of Transgression figure Richard Kern (You Killed Me First, Fingered). A sort of absurdly tragicomedic epic short film that is made up of four different separately shot yet thematically connected works, including I Hate You Now (1985), Stray Dogs (1985), Thrust in Me (1985), and Woman at the Wheel (1985), Kern’s grotesquely goofy flick might be best described as the filmmaker’s sort of neo-bohemian bargain bin equivalent to Pasolini’s The Decameron (1971) as a perversely and sometimes perniciously playful piece made up of loosely connected petite vignettes that work as sort of nihilistic fables of the oftentimes savagely slapstick sort. In many regards a sort of who’s who of the Cinema of Transgression movement as a work that features wayward acting performances from many of the main filmmakers of the scene, including Nick Zedd (They Eat Scum, War is Menstrual Envy), David Wojnarowicz (Where Evil Dwells, A Fire in My Belly), and Tommy Turner (Simonland, Rat Trap), and seems to almost parody the more pretentious works of the NYC underground scene, Kern’s flick is literally and figuratively masturbatory celluloid trash that seems like it was directed by a brain-damaged teenage tweaker who stole his grandma’s Super-8 camera, yet at the same time it is also a distinctly fun and shockingly memorable movie that reminds the viewer that even morally retarded perverts can create marginally notable lowbrow (anti)art. While it probably seems like a strange puffery-plagued bullshit comparison to make, Manhattan Love Suicides somewhat reminded me of David Lynch’s masterful debut Eraserhead (1977) in a very particular way in that the film practically bleeds the foreboding essence of the specific zeitgeist and post-industrial hellhole that it so unflattering depicts while also focusing on the tragic young love in the big city and ultimately turning the morbid into the merry in the process. Indeed, I could not watch one second of Kern’s film without fantasizing about NYC being nuked into oblivion lest the world be contaminated by its anti-culture of rampant rudeness and infantile narcissism, as the flick makes the rotten Big Apple seem like a third world metropolis for poser poets and third generation punks who spend all day walking around and doing literally nothing but trying to give off the impression of being hopelessly hip and angsty, among various other emotional contrivances that are most typically obsessed over by hormone-imbalanced teenage girls. Despite the film’s superficially sensational porno-esque title, Manhattan Love Suicides is innately anti-erotic in tone, even though it features various unclad genitals from both genders, and contains a highly alienating post-counterculture Sodom where love is, at best, an intangible fantasy and adolescent delusion and, at worse, an all-consuming sickness the leads one to kill themselves in an incredibly stupid way that is hardly romantic. Of course, in Kern’s film it is impossible to feel empathy for a single one of the characters who have committed suicide as the depictions of self-slaughter are so absurdly amateurish and over-the-top that one can only see it as morbidly mirthful in the most keenly kitschy sort of way.  In other words, Kern's film makes Jörg Buttgereit's similarly themed work Der Todesking (1990) seem like a late era Bernardo Bertolucci flick by comparison.

 The first and arguably the best chapter of the film is Stray Dogs, which depicts a tall young street hustler who literally falls apart at the seams because a particularly pompous middle-aged artist rebuffs his love to the point of sadistically mocking him for it. At the beginning of the segment, the insufferably pretentious-looking ‘artiste’ (played by real-life artist Bill Rice of countless cult flicks, including Decoder (1984) directed by Muscha and Jim Jarmusch's Coffee and Cigarettes (2003)) is depicted walking around with a vaguely attractive woman with a dyke haircut, as if he hopes to obscure the fact that he has a fetish for young yet grizzled prick-peddlers (as revealed later in the film, the artist has an obsession with taking portraits of hustlers and painting hard cocks). When the woman points out a poster for a moronic looking Hollywood film and asks him, “Isn’t this that movie about a guy that marries two pregnant women at the same time?,” the revoltingly smug artist acts like a vainglorious queen and retorts, “I’m surprised at you” and then remarks regarding the lead actor of the movie, “He’s a fat pig.” After walking by a dog grooming place where the artist mundanely remarks, “I’ve got a dog like that” and his lady friend replies, “I do too,” the two seeming mismatched love birds soon part ways. Unbeknownst to the artist, a side-piping ‘stray dog’ (artist and sometimes actor/auteur David Wojnarowicz) has been following him like a lost puppy and wants him to take him home and let him sleep in his bed, which he rather reluctantly does after the lanky hustler, who walks and moves in a strange robotic fashion like a sort of autistic fag Frankenstein monster, encircles him at an ATM and puts his arm on his shoulder in a considerably awkward fashion that gives the viewer the impression that he wants to bash his brains in. On the way back to the apartment, a sort of debauched junky skinhead licks his lips at the artist, which naturally causes the hysterical lovelorn hustler to get extremely jealous to the point where he violently pushes the young baldheaded bastard out of the way. When they finally get back to the apartment, the hustler’s nose curiously begins bleeding after the artist rejects one of his various failed romantic advances. When the artist decides to work on a painting and fails to acknowledge that the stray streetwalker is still in his presence, the young man cries whilst staring out of a window and then proceeds to sit on a couch and masturbate like some cheap stripper slut. Somewhat humorously, when the artist notices the hustler choking his chicken, he merely looks disgusted like he is watching a slimy homeless man defecating on his new carpet. After another failed romantic advance, the hustler begins to lose it, starts bleeding out his neck, and then collapses, which the seemingly sadistic artist finds rather funny. Upon finding a stack of portraits with a portrait of himself located at the top of the stack, the hustler becomes momentarily happy but that soon ends when he looks at the rest of the photos and discovers images of various other young male prostitutes, thus causing him to become so distressed that his arm inexplicably falls off. Although initially shocked upon seeing the hustler lying in a pool of blood on his floor, the artist decides to stop working on his painting and begins drawing a picture of the armless prostitute while he is dying, thus his death via heartbreak is not completely in vain.  After all, countless great works of art are the product of lovelornness and romantic despair, even if Stray Dogs is not one of them.

 The second segment of the film, Woman at the Wheel, is arguably the weakest of the four parts and is largely the brainchild of female lead Adrienne Altenhaus and depicts how some women might be driven to suicide if they incessantly date superficially ‘misogynistic’ assholes who insist on driving their cars, especially if they are automobiles that they bought with their own money. Indeed, when Altenhaus shows up at her lover’s pad and proudly declares while sounding like a doped up 15-year-old regarding her new automobile, “Hey, man, checkout my new car. Like it? Let’s go for a drive,” she is forced to get in the passenger seat because her bastard neo-bohemian beau (Nick Zedd sporting a singularly retarded large hat that unequivocally proves that he is one of the greatest fashion victims to have ever graced the streets of NYC) insists on driving. While driving the car, the bitchy boyfriend mocks Alenhaus’ earrings and shouts naughty things at her like “Fucking bitch…Fuck off! I’ll drive the way I want to,” so the female heroine eventually gets so enraged that she repeatedly calls her gutter-hipster lover a “fuckhead” and then subsequently throws him out of her car while giving him the middle finger emoji and joyfully telling him to shove it up his ass. When Altenhaus decides to get an upgrade in terms of a boyfriend and hooks up with a generic Wall Street preppie type who looks like he regularly blows men in urine-drenched public bathrooms, the pseudo-suave gentleman proves to be just as adamant driving her car and treating her like a worthless piece of trash as Zedd's character. Of course, Altenhaus is even more vicious with her preppie beau due to her past experiences with dysfunctional romance and even has the gall to say to him, “I don’t even know why I hang around with you, you prick. You’ve got a little prick, too, you asshole,” thus revealing that the female protagonist is probably a little bit sexually repressed and would benefit from a cock being rammed down her throat. Needless to say, Altenhaus is not too happy when her boyfriend frankly says to her, “Your fucking attitude stinks […] I don’t wanna hear this fucking shit anymore about your car. I’m driving it. It’s my car when I’m driving it, so quit talking about it.” When the preppie later attempts to drive her car, Altenhaus decides to whack him on the head and leaves him for good. At this point, Altenhaus becomes so fed up with men that she begins dressing like a nun, so naturally when a gang of belligerent young men approach her car and shout obscenely crass things like “Hey baby, suck my dick” and “I got a dick to suck” she becomes murderously unhinged and decides to run them over during a moment of PMS style road rage. While one of the men is lying lifeless on her windshield, Altenhaus suffers a sort of ominous Carnival of Souls-esque orgasmic hallucination where she imagines herself in an orgy with the chaps she has just killed, suffers a sort of psychosexual panic attack, and then crashes her car into a wall.  While one can only speculate, maybe if Altenhaus had found the right cock for her cracked cunt, she would have not met such a patently pathetic end.

 The third segment of the film, Thrust in Me, is notable for being not only co-written and co-directed by the Cinema of Transgression's self-appointed  Führer Nick Zedd, but also featuring the trash auteur in dual acting roles, which include a too-cool-for-school hipster deadbeat and his morbidly depressed girlfriend.  Although I was not particularly surprised since he looks like a sort lesbo fangirl for the New York Dolls, it should be noted that Zedd seems to have a natural affinity for gender-bending. Seemingly disillusioned about her relationship with her hotheaded hobo-like hipster boyfriend, Zedd-in-drag decides to read a book entitled How to be Your Own Best Friend: A Conversation with Two Psychoanalysts (1971) by Mildred Newman, but that soon proves to be too banal for the dejected young lady, so she tosses the book aside and decides to do some less light reading and begins flipping through Hebraic frog Émile Durkheim’s classic text Le Suicide (1897). Of course, the woman opts to commit suicide, but her boyfriend has no idea as he is too busy assaulting redneck pimps and attempting to look oh-so rebellious and edgy by kicking around trash in the streets to be around to stop her. Indeed, after tearing off the cover of a kitschy looking book entitled Collection of Selected Prayers (1975) by Allan Kardec featuring an image of Jesus Christ and then taping it onto her bathroom wall, the woman undresses, gets in her bathtub, and kills herself by slitting her wrists. When the boyfriend gets back home after aimlessly strolling the streets of Manhattan like some would-be street celebrity who is a legend solely in his own mind, he immediately decides to take a shit and while doing so is completely oblivious to the fact that his girlfriend in lying dead in the bathtub right next to him. After defecating and subsequently failing to find toiler paper, the man looks around and does not think twice about wiping his ass with the Jesus book cover that his loony lover taped to the wall.  Of course, upon locating the book cover, the man soon notices his dead girlfriend and is quite startled by what he sees, though his subsequent response to seeing the corpse of his beloved is hardly predictable. In fact, the man is so excited by what he sees that he whips out his already erect member and begins mouth-fucking the cold wet corpse. After ejaculating what seems to be enough cum to fill a two liter milk carton, the man seems way more happy and fulfilled than before his girlfriend killed himself. In the end, the man stands on the roof of his apartment building while the corpse of his girlfriend lies on the ground in a black plastic bag next to him.   Notably, when Thrust in Me was screened at the Ann Arbor Film Festival, it was condemned as being misogynistic by various cunty carpet-munching feminist groups, so Zedd responded by writing a relatively admirable defense to his detractors entitled Dear Feminists where he argued that, by committing necrophilia with the corpse of his drama queen girlfriend (who was certainly attempting to commit emotional blackmail with her suicide), the character in his film had broken “the shackles of self-deceit which constitute the sentimentality of romantic love.” Indeed, as described in Deathtripping: The Extreme Underground (2008) by Jack Sargeant, in his decision to take pleasure in his girlfriend's death as opposed to enduring internal pain, Zedd's character was able to remain, “mental[ly] independent.”

 The fourth and final segment of the film, I Hate You Now, is notable for featuring real-life lovers, junky filmmaker Tommy Turner and his wife Amy Turner, as a degenerate dope-peddling pair that seems to have a wild sex life as demonstrated by the fierce fucking that the two do at the beginning of the piece.  Notably, it is only revealed a couple minutes into the segment that the nameless boyfriend is not your typical gutter-level drug dealer, as half of his face is terribly deformed.  Possibly due to the fact that he probably has a serious inferiority complex as a result of being teased during his entire life for having a fucked up face, the boyfriend acts somewhat cold to his girlfriend, even though she does everything for him, including cooking him fried eggs and helping him to roll joints that he sells to lowlifes on the street. When not peddling cheap weed or penetrating his girlfriend’s blonde gristle-gripper, the boyfriend practices bench-pressing an incredibly low amount of weight that could not be more than a mere 30 or 40 pounds. When her boyfriend goes out to sell some dope to some random street scavenger, the girlfriend gets depressed upon looking at a photo of her beau, thinks about what she can do to get him to show her more love and affection, and then comes up with the less than bright idea to burn her face with a iron so that she and her lover will somehow be closer due to being mutually disfigured.  Of course, being largely visual beings who consider physical attractiveness to be one of, if not the most, important attribute a woman can have, it is doubtful that the boyfriend will be pleased with his beloved's thoughtful sacrifice. Unfortunately, when the boyfriend gets home and sees that his girlfriend’s face is almost as revoltingly warped looking as his own, he pushes her and then screams in her face, “What have you done to yourself? Oh no, what the fuck!?,” thus demonstrating his decided dissatisfaction with her rather hasty and insanely irrational decision.  Upon doing a couple seconds of deep thinking, the man decides to kill himself by loading his barbell with all the weights he owns and then dropping it on his neck. Needless to say, the woman is not too happy when her boyfriend kills himself, especially after the sacrifice she has made for him, so she somehow manages to burn herself alive by lighting a small frying pan on fire and then standing over it. Certainly, in its own morally repugnant and innately illogical way, I Hate You Now is surely the most overtly ‘romantic’ segment of the entire film. 

 Notably, when interviewed by The Quietus in 2010 and told by interviewer John-Paul Pryor that, “I find STRAY DOGS the most bizarre of all your films,” Richard Kern replied in an insightful manner where he proved that there was actually a point to the degeneracy of his film, stating, “That was one of the MANHATTAN LOVE SUICIDE series, which were all about getting so hung up on your relationships that you just couldn't do anything else. When you're young you are so overwhelmed with all these emotions that are centered on your relationship – your life at that age is not about what you are doing but about who you are going out with. All the movies in that series were about people who just get so hung up on it all that they kill themselves. When you are older, it seems like the stupidest thing to be suffering so much: to feel that you have to die for love.” While I would argue that most of the segments of the film are about deleteriously deranged infatuation as opposed to actual genuine love that demonstrate the tendency of romantic relationships to be unequal and one-sided, the anti-erotic omnibus flick is arguably Kern’s most mature, sensible, and thematically eclectic cinematic work to date as a playful piece of ludicrously lo-fi slapstick cynicism that might be described as the ultimate celluloid punk (anti)romance. Indeed, the film features a message about young mad love that is not all that different from Alex Cox’s Sid and Nancy (1986), albeit directed in a strikingly technically inept way that is comparable to Sid Vicious’ bass-playing or Darby Crash’s howling and growling (speaking of the suicidal Spenglerian sod, a poster of Penelope Spheeris' classic doc The Decline of Western Civilization (1981) is featured prominently in the I Hate You Now segment). In the documentary Blank City (2010) directed by Céline Danhier, musician J.G. Thirlwell, who composed most of the music for the film, stated regarding Manhattan Love Suicides,“The no-budget part of it provides the humor, but also all of the emotions that are portrayed in those films are so exaggerated and so over-the-top it’s almost Dadaist.”  Indeed, it terms of its idiosyncratic and sometimes idiotic use of largely silent humor, Kern's film is probably the closest thing to a punk L’Age d’or (1930), albeit with fittingly piss poor direction and nil production values.

 As a man that would oftentimes let other people, especially Lydia Lunch, takeover his films and do more or less whatever they wanted to, Kern may be the ultimate ‘anti-auteur’ as far as subversive underground filmmakers go and this is especially apparent in Manhattan Love Suicides. In fact, in the doc Blank City, Zedd acts as if the Thrust in Me part is completely his creation, stating like a true elementary school iconoclast, “I thought I would make this film THRUST IN ME in which I play a female as well as a male. I thought it might offend people. When I put up posters for it with pictures of myself in drag, they were defaced and I thought that’s great. That’s exactly the response I want. I want to piss off the homophobes.” Somewhat ironically, the acting performances of filmmakers like Zedd, Turner, and Wojnarowicz are actually more entertaining and unforgettable than the majority of the films they themselves directed, thus hinting that Kern’s greatest talent might be in locating the specific strengths and talents of his collaborators and getting them to expose them on film (as he has oftentimes revealed on his VBS.TV show Shot By Kern, Kern uses a similar technique when he photographs unclad girls, who he encourages to expose their true characters and emotions while exposing their tits and pussies). Indeed, Kern must certainly have some special talent if he managed to accomplish the seemingly impossible task of causing a decidedly deplorable anti-diva like Ms. Lunch to shine on the seedy silverscreen, which is especially apparent in Fingered (1986) where the perennial whore does what she does best by getting fucked by an abhorrent asshole and acting like a classless cunt who is about to blow a fuse because she has not gotten her hourly heroin fix.

 While he would later steal his art-trash-porn aesthetic for his own films and even give the Cinema of Transgression auteur a cameo role in his somewhat disappointing second feature Super 8½ (1994), Bruce LaBruce wrote an article in 1990 for the Canadian ‘cappuccino communist’ film magazine CineACTION! entitled Right Wing Chic: Adam Parfrey and R. Kern Fingered!! under his supposed real name Bryan Bruce where he accuses Kern (as well as subversive Jewish publisher Adam Parfrey of Feral House fame) of being a ‘fascist’ of sorts, as if fascists make films about loose ladies like Lunch being violently finger-fucked and a beta-male bitch being fucked both anally and orally by two chicks wearing strap-on dildos in an exceedingly emasculating threesome, among other things, but I digress. The only marginal praise that LaBruce gives to Kern in the article is for Manhattan Love Suicides, which he describes as his “best film,” but not without including the snarky little pink Gestapo remark that, “…we can’t ask for too much. We are well prepared for his later forays into misogynist and homophobic territory.”  Notably, LaBruce begins his article with a pseudo-sensational quote by Kern from Film Threat where he sensibly stated, “If you have a black guy in a movie and he does something stupid you run the risk of being called a racist. . .Due to the feminist movement any reflection on, of, or about woman is going to be judged more critically than the same reflection about men. It’s purely a matter of hypersensitivity. For example you would think everyone at the Village Voice was a black, gay, Jewish woman – such is their degree of hypersensitivity to certain subjects.”  Indeed, one of Kern's most blatant and admirable rare true strengths as a filmmaker is that he not only dares to depict the hard truth, but also portrays it in a preposterously exaggerated way, hence why Manhattan Love Suicides features a young homo hustler (as portrayed by a real-life ex-hustler!) who is looking for a ‘daddy’ figure and lethally lusts after a middle-aged man, as well as depicts a woman using suicide as a form of ruthless emotional blackmail against her beau, among other things that expose Manhattan for the socially malignant human zoo that it is.  Of course, one should not expect anything less from a man who was almost as pathetically debauched as the people he cinematically depicted, or as he  once stated regarding his films, “There were sexual elements, there were drug elements.  For some movies I paid people.  I offered them $15 cash or $15 worth of drugs.  A lot of people would do the drugs and then we'd shoot the movie.  During the shooting of the movie, I was so wasted on smack and ecstasy all the time.”  Most importantly, Manhattan Love Suicides is an unequivocal piece of true trash art because it makes no lie about the fact that NYC is a degenerate cultural wasteland where cheap heroin, diseased and festering cunts, and visceral ultra-violence are the only form of solace from living in such an uniquely ugly and culturally retarded urban sewer.

-Ty E


Tony Brubaker said...

Ty E, you girl-tioned 1985 five times in the early part of the first paragraph and each time i saw that year Pauline Hickeys amazing and astounding tits seemed to get bigger and bigger and bigger, what an unbelievable babe that bird was 30 years ago.

Tony Brubaker said...

Ty E, i warned you before about showing images of choppers spunking or pissing alone, THOSE IMAGES ARE FOR WOOFTERS!. The next time you show an image of a chopper spunking or pissing make sure its spunking or pissing into a birds gob or over a birds bum or tits OK ! ! !.

Tony Brubaker said...

Amy Turner was quite a tasty bird, i wouldn`t have minded shoving my willy up her bum 30 years ago.

Tony Brubaker said...

Nick Zedd should be bloody-well ashamed of himself for wanting to "piss off homophobes", they are the literal lifeblood of American society, ALL FAGGOTS MUST DIE.

Tony Brubaker said...

Bruce LaBruce is a woofter, the bloody odious faggot.