Sep 14, 2015
If his films were actually in any way sensual or erotic, I would be tempted to label Richard Kern (Manhattan Love Suicides, The Evil Cameraman)—a somewhat dorky fellow that has the dubious distinction of being the most prolific filmmaker that the Cinema of Transgression movement ever produced, even though he never managed to direct a single feature-length film—a pornographer, yet the gratuitous sex and nudity of his films, which certainly seems fairly outmoded nowadays, is ultimately about as arousing as a vasectomy or used tampon. Undoubtedly, Kern is like a sort of avant-garde exploitation auteur, as he merely cuts out the pretense of a plot and character development in favor of solely focusing on all the degenerate scenes of sex and violence that are the reason people go to see exploitation films in the first place. Indeed, Kern’s arguable magnum opus Fingered (1988) feels like what might happen if some morally retarded junky Mansonite creep attempted to condense Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left (1972) into a mere pseudo-snuff flick where only sleazily stylized sex and violence matters. In short, Kern’s films are mere climaxes with only the most rudimentary elements of token foreplay, so it should be no surprise that the auteur would go on to be both a music video director and porn photographer for Hustler, among other things that demonstrate that the filmmaker may have a short attention span and fragmented mind as a result of all the various drugs that he fried his brain with during the 1980s. In fact, for his early work Submit to Me (1985), Kern disposed of narrative entirely to create what is a 12-minute performance (anti)art piece where about a dozen or so of his decidedly debauched friends engage in some of the things they like best like bondage, heroin, aberrant sex, and ultra-violence, among other things that will probably not seem too extreme to many contemporary viewers as overrated pseudo-artsy-fartsy mainstream films like Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers (1994) and Darren Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream (2000) have already surpassed them in terms of sheer graphic sexual content and gratuitous violence. Of course, what separates Kern's no-budget cinematic works from these oftentimes unintentionally hokey Hollywood films is that the degeneracy they depict is mostly genuine and reflects the real-life experiences and passion of the filmmaker and performers as opposed to the sort of phony bullshit that you would expect to be accepted by some monetary-motivated producer in Tinseltown who lives in a large mansion in Malibu. When asked in the early 1990s for an article entitled The Evil Cameraman: An Introduction to Richard Kern by Paul Anthony-Woods about how many people that starred in his films had already died, Kern replied, “Five or six people I knew have died in the last few years, three who were in the films. One was suicide, a couple were AIDS. One girl got beaten up by a drug dealer, and died afterwards. The guy who committed suicide had AIDS. People die from AIDS and OD’s all the time.”
Featuring a virtual who’s who of the Cinema of Transgression movement, including the director himself, filmmaker Tommy Turner, Lung Leg, and Lydia Lunch, among various others, Kern’s anti-linear celluloid ‘apolitical agitprop’ piece was once described by fellow Transgressive filmmaker Tessa Hughes-Freeland (Baby Doll, Nymphomania) as “an ocular assault of prurient psychopornadelia,” though the makers seem to have been more interested in heroin than acid as especially reflected in a scene towards the end of the film where a junky overdoses and his corpse subsequently begins to rot while he still has the needle in his arm. In fact, the man that portrays the junky overdosing is Cinema of Transgression auteur Tommy Turner who is notable for not only being a real-life junky, but also being a shockingly unprolific filmmaker who only managed to ever direct a handful of films, including the aborted feature Where Evil Dwells (1985) co-directed with queer artist David Wojnarowicz and the short Rat Trap (1986) co-directed with Hughes-Freeland, with Simonland (1984) being the only film he ever managed to direct all by himself (though Kern helped him out a lot by acting as his cinematographer). Undoubtedly, Turner’s pathetic, cadaverous ‘performance’ in Submit to Me in quite indicative of the film’s self-destructively autobiographical essence, with auteur Kern acting as a sort of anarchistic ringmaster to all the visceral post-punk filmic festivities. While expressing a sort of stylized realism, Kern's film is not without its schlocky cinematic influences. Aside from his first film Goodbye 42nd Street (1986) being a tribute to the exceedingly trashy horror and exploitation films that would play the infamous eponymous street, Kern revealed some of his horror influences when he stated in his interview with Anthony-Woods, “I read Tom Savini’s make-up book around the time of DAWN OF THE DEAD. Later, I saw THE EVIL DEAD for the first time, and the effects really shocked me. Now, they seem more commonplace. When I came to do SUBMIT TO ME NOW, I did the effects in about six hours. It was kind of a cheap trick, submitting art movie lovers to horror movie effects.” Not unlike the films of Dutch avant-garde auteur Frans Zwartjes (Visual Training, Pentimento) and the early works of Aryan Kaganof (The Dead Man 2: Return of the Dead Man, Ten Monologues from the Lives of the Serial Killers), Submit to Me is ‘horror’ at its most direct, pure, unadulterated, visceral, and confrontational, albeit somewhat more primitive and amateurish. Incidentally, all three filmmakers have been attacked by feminists and accused of misogyny, thus proving that they all must be doing something right.
While Submit to Me was made by a real-life junky and features real-life junkies acting like junkies, Kern once stated in regard to what inspired the film's overall aesthetic, “I remembered how movies looked to me when I was fucked up on acid.” In fact, the film was originally entitled Acid Death and was routinely screened at various downtown NYC LSD parties, but many of the original performers opted to have their parts excised from the film for obvious reasons, thus resulting in Kern more or less reconstructing the entire film into something completely different and more fluidly violent. In fact, when asked about the 30-minute film Acid Death in an interview with Jack Sargeant, Kern stated, “I took all the good stuff, and put it into SUBMIT TO ME.” In its depiction of people seductively staring into the camera while showing off their flagrant acts of degeneracy, the film sort of feels like a sort circle jerk where the ‘characters’ unload their spunk on Kern and, in turn, the viewer, hence the title of the flick. Indeed, by the end of the film, the viewer will feel like that they have been violently defiled by a collective of rabid punk squatters who live to disturb and debase, at least when they are not shooting up or sucking cock, among other things. Unlike the drug-addled fag and fag hag superstars of Warhol’s films, the people in Kern’s crusty cinematic work have literally nothing to say yet they demand your attention even more. In that sense, Submit to Me is like Warhol’s Screen Tests (1964) series meets Blow Job (1964), albeit fueled by hatred, angst, and pernicious playfulness of the mentally and morally defective sort.
Set to the less than soothing sounds of “Cherub” by the Butthole Surfers, Submit to Me fittingly opens with a high-angle shot of Kern’s main diva Lydia Lunch, who initially resembles an innocent child but soon transforms into a sexual predator with a serious case of penis envy as demonstrated by the fact that she turns the end of her dress into a makeshift cock of sorts which she begins stroking while sticking out her derriere and maintaining a seriously salacious look on her would-be-seductive guidette face. Meanwhile, a seemingly anorexic chick sporting nothing but an atrocious pair of tighty whitey underwear and vinyl gloves rolls around on the ground like a spastic retard. At first, the chicks seem to only get uglier and uglier as represented by the third chick, who is an androgynous broad with a rather repellent dyke haircut who (pseudo)seductively unbuttons a white button-up shirt and shows off her somewhat unsatisfying heroin chic body. The fourth chick proves not to be a chick at all, but a small girly man in a super gay costume that makes him seem like a cross between Jim Morrison and a campy leprechaun. In a vaguely foreboding chiaroscuro scene that one might describe as a sort of Deathrock go-go-dance, Kern’s one-time girlfriend Audrey Rose (of Kern's King of Sex (1986) and Submit to Me Now (1987)) dances seductively while sporting nothing but a tacky vest and a garter belt. As Ms. Rose's performance and much of Kern's photography demonstrates, the filmmaker seems to have a special affinity for deathly skinny chicks with no tits or hips.
At a little bit past the three minute and thirty second mark of the film, a series of quickly displayed inter-titles that ultimately spell-out “D-E-S-T-R-O-Y” appear on the screen and Submit to Me begins taking a somewhat darker tone, with the next ‘performer’ that is featured being a naked chick that is hogtied and is trying in vain to wiggle across the ground like a petrified animal that senses that it is about to be slaughtered. Meanwhile, a blindfolded man in bondage who has a rope attached from his cock to his neck in a discernibly painful fashion somewhat humorously hops around and eventually falls to the ground after predictably losing his balance. In the style of the classic ‘shaky cam’ scenes in The Evil Dead where the camera follows Bruce Campbell (or some other character) while he is running at warped speed in the woods, the camera comes up on a screaming woman played by Tommy Turner’s then-wife Amy Turner. In the next scene, Kern’s waif protégé Lung Leg sits on a disgustingly dirty floor while sporting nothing but a discernibly despoiled white slip and does fairly silly things like smearing a good portion of her lips with dark red lipstick and making goofy faces at the camera like a petulant child who is mad at her parents because they will not buy her a pony (of course, Leg would take her cutesy deranged pixie child routine to hilariously murderous extremes in Kern's (anti)classic You Killed Me First (1985)). Eventually, Ms. Leg whips out a knife she has hidden somewhat near her pussy under her dress and begins carelessly stabbing the air with it as if she is fantasizing about killing a room full of people, though she does not seem the least bit threatening as she seems to suffer from poor motor skills, not to mention the fact she looks fairly small and weak, hence her charm as a sort of preposterously pedomorphic punkette with grotesquely greasy hair who seems to believe that she is an ancient Norse Berserker. In one of the more aesthetically pleasing and ethereal scenes of the film, a naked man and woman that are completely covered in blood wrestle one another in a rather violent fashion as if attempting to ripe each other's guts apart on a white floor that they soak with vital fluids in a sinisterly sensual scenario that seems like it could be a deleted scene from Clive Barker’s Hellraiser (1987). Meanwhile, Tommy Turner croaks after shooting junk into his arm while watching TV and then proceeds to rot. After Turner decays, two blackhaired goth chicks (one of whom seems like they might actually be a tranny) strangle each other to death using a piano wire that causes blood to gush out of their throats. In one of the various scenes that makes me assume that Kern is either a cuckold and/or masochist (after all, Kern depicted a man, filmmaker Charles Pinion, being simultaneously ass and mouth-fucked by two chicks sporiting strap-on dildos in his short The Bitches (1992)), a menacing she-bitch leads out a man on a dog-leash that is wearing nothing but a gimp mask, puts a gun to the back of his head, and then blows his brains out. For about the final minute or so of the film, a man drenched in blood screams in agony whilst standing in a red room. The End.
It should be noted that Kern directed a sequel of sorts to Submit to Me with the fairly fitting title Submit to Me Now (1987) which more or less follows the same exact anarchistic performance-based format and features a number of the same people. Apparently, Kern intended the sequel to mark the end of both his filmmaking career and that particular chapter in his personal life, or as the auteur stated in an interview with Jack Sargeant, “SUBMIT TO ME NOW was the last thing I did before I went off the deep end on drugs – it says “The End” at the end of it.” Of course, it would be a couple more years before Kern really quit filmmaking (which he somewhat recently resumed doing, albeit in a somewhat less ambitious way), but he had pretty much disposed of all forms of narrative at that point as reflected in his later works like X Is Y (1990), Nazi (1991), and Sewing Circle (1992), thus one could argue that Submit to Me and its sequel represent his truest and most organic auteur style as a filmmaker whereas his more narrative oriented works like The Right Side of My Brain (1985) and Fingered (1988) reflect the sort of heavy influence that star and co-writer Lydia Lunch had over his work when they collaborated with one another. Indeed, it seems that, as her cinematic collaborations with Kern demonstrate, Ms. Lunch has slightly more talent than what is between her legs. Notably, a screenshot from Submit to Me of Lunch’s rival Lung Leg was used as the cover art for the Sonic Youth album EVOL (1986) by SST Records. It should also be noted that members of Sonic Youth appear in Submit to Me and Kern would be responsible for co-directing the band's music video for Death Valley 69 (1986). One thing I certainly appreciate about is Kern is that he does not overestimate the value of his ‘art’ or present it as something deeper than it actually is, which cannot be really said of his compatriot Nick Zedd, who always seems to babble on in interviews like a perennial victim about how he is some sort of tragically misunderstood artistic genius. Indeed, when Kern was interview by Vice in December 2012 and the interviewer noted that his Submit to Me films were “almost like moving photographs,” Kern replied by remarking like a proud philistine who does not feel the need to impress anyone, “I was looking for weirdness. Just trying to think of what weird thing can this person do. There was one guy with a really little dick and he said, ‘I really want to be in there.’ He would just bug the shit out of me. And I said, ‘Okay, you can just shave your pubes.’ Which was a weird thing back then, if you're a guy. So he said, ‘Okay, I'll do that.’ And it was just really weird.” Personally, I consider Kern's films to be art in a sort of lowbrow punk rock sense as they vividly express the morally retarded, dope-addled, and sexually dysfunctional spirit of their particular innately nihilistic zeitgeist. Undoubtedly if it were not for films like Submit to Me and some of the other cinematic works directed by Kern and his compatriots, one would certainly not have any idea of the lows that American kultur had reached during the 1980s, especially considering that NYC city is oftentimes considered America's cultural epicenter and the Cinema of Transgression movement was the closest thing that the city had to an avant-garde cinema scene at that time.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 12:21 AM
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