Sep 2, 2015

Nymphomania (1994)




While nowadays associated with degenerate (sub-beta)male auteur filmmakers like Nick Zedd (We Eat Scum, The Bogus Man) and Richard Kern (You Killed Me First, Fingered), the Cinema of Transgression movement apparently had a less ballsy and more gynocentric flavor when it originally began, or as one of the female members of the scene, Casandra Stark Mele, complained in an interview featured in the book Deathtripping: The Extreme Underground (2008) by Jack Sargeant, “When I first met up with other filmmakers I felt these concepts were shared. I remember a lot of diversity, a lot of unique filmmaking going on at first. And it was not, at the beginning, male dominated. Tessa Hughes-Freeland and Ela Troyano organized all the downtown, underground film showings, as well as making and screening their own films. Quite a few women I recall were working and showing their films: Alyce Wittenstein, Beth B, Phoebe Legere, Leslie Lowe, Kembra Pfahler, Penelope Wehrli, etc, quite a few. It didn’t feel male dominated to me at all. It was later that certain egos seized opportunities to dominate, by the usual means of manipulation and feigning appearances as being the biggest, meanest, baddest, loudest; the usual infantile perversions.” Indeed, apparently the little known female auteur, who is (in)famous for denouncing and disassociating herself from the Cinema of Transgression scene, blames Zedd, Kern, and their dimestore cum-bucket diva Lydia Lunch for the degeneration of the NYC underground film movement. Admittedly, I was so intrigued by Mele’s candid shit-talking that I decided to hunt down as many as films directed by female filmmakers associated with the would-be-avant-garde cinema movement that I could find, thus leading me to viewing some of the most insanely inept and directionless Super-8 films that I have ever seen (and I say that as a fan of works like J.R. Bookwalter's The Dead Next Door (1989), Leif Jonker's Darkness: The Vampire Version (1993) and John R. Hand's Frankenstein's Bloody Nightmare (2006), among other shot-on-Super-8 schlock). While I did not mind seeing Mele’s largely aimless anti-romance short Wrecked on Cannibal Island (1986) where a dumb ass dude named Natz performs cunnilingus on the filmmaker (notably at the end of the short, there is a brief shot of Mele’s bushy guidette beaver, which has “Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here” above it over the artist's womb), I found most of these hopelessly D.I.Y. works to be decided duds that seem like they were directed by mental patients who were handed Super-8 cameras during some art therapy experiment gone awry. Indeed, for every somewhat interesting film like Alyce Wittenstein’s fairly memorable dystopian flick Betaville (1986), which is like Godard’s Alpaville (1965) as molested by Slava Tsukerman’s Liquid Sky (1982), there is a considerably childish homemovie experiment like Lung Leg’s 2-minute celluloid turd Worm Movie (1985) where the seemingly autistic underground pin-up model turned would-be-auteuress thinks simply filming herself with a worm in her mouth while making rather retarded faces is edgy enough to qualify as ‘avant-garde’ cinema. Out of all the female-directed films that I have seen that are associated with the Cinema of Transgression scene, the fiercely farcical feminist neo-fable Nymphomania (1994) directed by British-born experimental filmmaker Tessa Hughes-Freeland (Baby Doll, Rhonda Goes To Hollywood) and written by and starring Holly Adams is certainly one of the more timeless yet nonetheless idiosyncratic films to have sprung from the mostly mediocre movement, even if it seems like it was assembled in a couple hours while the film crew took turns passing around a joint.



 While many, if not most, of the films associated with the Cinema of Transgression movement seem quite typical of their particular zeitgeist and, in turn, have aged less than gracefully as a result, Nymphomania features a classic silent era aesthetic that seems to fall somewhere in between F.W. Murnau’s swansong Tabu: A Story of the South Seas (1931) and Kenneth Anger’s Rabbit's Moon (1950), albeit with graphic nudity and cunt-stabbing violence, though it certainly pantomimes elements from the very beginning of film history, even if it naturally looks hopelessly amateurish compared to something like Georges Méliès’ masterpiece Le Royaume des fees (1903) aka The Kingdom of the Fairies. Indeed, in that sense, the 9-minute black-and-white silent short has way more in common with the works of Jack Smith (Flaming Creatures, Normal Love) and James Bidgood’s kaleidoscopic high-camp micro-masterpiece Pink Narcissus (1971) than the sub-lowbrow trash works of Zedd and Kern.  Rather unfortunately, the film comes equipped with an extremely moronic one-dimensional misandristic message that could have only slithered out of the same NYC art fag ghetto as the likes of Karen Finley and other chicks that seem pissed that they do not have dicks. A work that depicts an ostensibly graceful fairy with a dyke haircut who is literally fucked to death by the great god Pan, who is depicted as sort of brutally buffoonish sex demon with a radically repellent melungeon-like appearance and a long yet skinny dagger-like prick, Nymphomania is notably described on Hughes-Freeland’s official website as follows: “The original idea for this film came about as a reaction to a sense of violation experienced through a love affair gone wrong.” Indeed, it seems that the film is a clichéd hysterical female response to a botched love affair where the big mean male, who is literally portrayed as a murderous monster with the IQ of a gnat in Hughes-Freeland’s work, is held completely culpable for the perennial disharmony between the sexes. Of course, if interpreted as an expressive depiction of one woman-child’s post-childhood disillusionment with the storybook romance of fairytales, Nymphomania is much easier to digest. 



 Nymphomania, which is somewhat fittingly set to Claude Debussy's “Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune”, begins in a sort of classic Golden Age Hollywood fashion with a shot of tree branches that quickly disappear from the screen to voyeuristically reveal a scantily dressed winged fairy nymph (Holly Adams), who awakes from sleeping on a large rock in the middle of a forest and then proceeds to perform a graceful ballet dance that demonstrates the elegance and angelic splendor of the character.  Seemingly completely naive to the oftentimes brutal nature of the world, the nymph surely makes for easy prey for any half-serious predator.  Meanwhile, in a less aesthetically pleasing area of the forest, pernicious pervert Pan (Bob Mook)—a fairly grotesque and loathsome looking being that resembles a sort of crack-addled demonic metalhead—wakes up with morning wood and makes an exaggerated face of abject disgust, as if he got drunk on too much fairy dust the night before. A bestially carnivorous devil of the violently impulsive sort, Pan satisfies his voracious appetite for live meat by biting into a cute furry animal and then vulgarly spitting some of its less appetizing guts out. Naturally, when Pan spots the nymph prancing around the forest, he seems to interpret the dance as some sort of exotic mating ritual, becomes instantly aroused and begins fiercely filing his fun-rod as if he has never seen a female fairy before. Of course, when the naughty nymph strips off her clothes and then proceeds to carry on her pseudo-provocative prancing, Pan becomes all the more ferocious in his recklessly wanton wank routine. When the naked nimble nymph eventually notices Pan staring at her in a less than savory fashion while he is bludgeoning his beefsteak and notices the bestial lust in his eyes, she naturally immediately attempts to run away from him, but it does not take long for the predatory beast with the dagger-like dick to grab her by the leg and begin manhandling the completely helpless fairy in a savagely sensual fashion. Unfortunately for the poor fairy, Pan has a rather large member and while forcibly plowing the playful forest princess’ magical puss, his pernicious prick manages to pierce completely through her tiny abdomen, thereupon killing her in the middle of coitus. As she dies, a tear of blood runs down the nymph’s face. In the end, Pan triumphantly blows his horn as if to celebrate his act of inter-species rape turned accidental necrophilia. 



In an admirably no bullshit approach to analyzing her own film and, in the process, unwittingly exposing her own misguided misandry, auteur Tessa Hughes-Freeland wrote regarding Nymphomania: “Hoping to express the conflict between the feminine experience of sex as a loving unifying event and its corruption by the male’s base animal instincts. The female body is not necessarily portrayed as a sexual phenomenon. It is the male who transforms the nude female form into an image of sexuality. The inclusion of nudity and penetration in film is often perceived as and labeled pornographic, in this instance, nudity and penetration are not intended to arouse or stimulate the audience. Instead, it invites the viewer to contemplate the relationship he or she has to his or her own sexuality.” Since Hughes-Freeland’s film has apparently invited me to contemplate my own sexuality, I must say that the short did not in any way arouse me, but only made me think that the director seems to absurdly believe that women are sexless children and men are rabid rape-mad monsters who live solely to eat, destroy, and fuck, even if innocent fairies happen to get killed in the process. Indeed, despite its scenes of nudity and inclusion of a big devilish dick, Nymphomania seems almost puritanical in its portrayal of sex and sexuality, thus giving credence to the timeless stereotype that feminists are frigid cunts that fear and loathe cocks and cannot stand the fact that women typically take a fairly passive role when it comes to carnal acts. In fact, the film’s allegorical portrayal of the male sex is so absurdly over-the-top that the short ultimately feels like a parody of post-Dworkin feminism, thus making it tolerable to those sane cinephiles that think Laura Mulvey is an annoying twat and consider popular feminist flicks like Lizzie Borden’s Born in Flames (1983) and Rose Troche’s Go Fish (1994) to be the celluloid equivalent of a STD.  Still, one must give credit to Nymphomania for being a truly all-female flick in terms of both spirit and film crew (Hughes-Freeland even gave herself the politically correct credit of 'cameraperson'), with Rachel Amodeo, who went on to direct and star in the fairly decent post-Cinema of Transgression melodrama What About Me (1993) featuring NYC underground figures ranging from Johnny Thunders and Dee Ramone to Richard Hell and Nick Zedd, acting as the film's special effects assistant.  With her short Rest in Peaces (1991), Amodeo would manage to assemble a Gothic horror work with a style more akin to Carl Th. Dreyer's Vampyr (1931) than to the preposterously juvenile post-punk celluloid puke of Zedd or the beta-boy junky (sado)masochism of Kern, thus making the film a great double feature with Nymphomania.




 While probably not the greatest film directed by a female filmmaker associated with the Cinema of Transgression movement (Jeri Cain Rossi's savagely sardonic Flannery O'Connor adaptation Black Hearts Bleed Red (1992) is certainly better), Nymphomania is, for better or worse, one of the few true classics of the NYC underground movement as a work that is nearly immaculate in its quaint D.I.Y. amateurishness. Notably, the film, as well as Hughes-Freeland’s early burlesque oriented short Baby Doll (1982), was included in Cinema of Transgression ‘canon’ featured in the bilingual English-German book You Killed Me First: The Cinema of Transgression (2012), which was a companion piece to the movement’s first collective exhibition at the Kunst-Werke Institute for Contemporary Art in 2012.  Of course, compared to other films that also utilize anachronistic cinematic techniques, like the works of a filmmaker Guy Maddin or even the queer New Zealand short Twilight of the Gods (1995) directed by Stewart Main, Hughes-Freeland’s anti-fantasy short seems somewhat weak and infantile, but of course that is part of its charm as a kitschy girly film with teeth. Indeed, as director Hughes-Freeland stated in an interview featured in Deathtripping, “In terms of the sensibility of the people involved, I think that people regarded the Cinema of Transgression as infantile, which it undoubtedly was, with all the fun involved in being completely fucking infantile, completely irresponsible.” If Nymphomania proves anything in regard to the gender politics of the Cinema of Transgression, it is that at least some of the lady filmmakers associated with the movement had more class and eloquence than both Kern and Zedd combined, but I guess that does not really say much. 



-Ty E

3 comments:

Tony Brubaker said...

If Tessa Hughes-Freeland was born in Britain how can she expect to be good at anything ! ?.

Tony Brubaker said...

Because of my murderous homo-phobia i`d have to call this film "Nympho-girl-ia".

Tony Brubaker said...

Something else that always got on my nerves was how society appropriated the word "fairy" as a slang term for faggots, because in reality of course "fairys" are lovely little Heather O`Rourke look-a-likes who are ripe for buggery, sodomy, and vaginal entry ! ! !.