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.”