Oct 4, 2015

The Secret of Wendel Samson




Back in the good old days before being gay turned into a sort of highly coveted “good guy badge,” it was not uncommon for queer filmmakers to direct at least one highly personal film about homo neuroticism and coming out of the closest. Indeed, from Curtis Harrington’s Fragment of Seeking (1946) to Kenneth Anger’s Fireworks (1947) to Gregory J. Markopoulos’s Twice a Man (1964) to Andy Milligan’s Vapors (1965) to David Blyth’s Circadian Rhythms (1976) to Werner Schroeter’s Der Rosenkönig (1986) aka The Rose King to William E. Jones' Massillon (1991) to Todd Verow's Anonymous (2004), there is no shortage of highly idiosyncratic and largely hermetic self-loathing fag flicks that demonstrate that gay men are among the most perennially lonely, pathologically paranoid, and intricately neurotic people around, but few of these films are as bafflingly bizarre and unnervingly dejecting as the 33-minute featurette The Secret of Wendel Samson (1966) directed by Mike Kuchar (Born of the Wind, Sins of the Fleshapoids) who, despite later making a living creating homoerotic illustrations and paintings of the somewhat Tom of Finland style sort, typically refrained from including overtly homophile content in his early pre-video films (though his later shot-on-video efforts, like Statue In The Park (1993) starring underground cartoonist Mike Diana, are very, very gay). Out of the half a dozen or so Kuchar films I have seen, none is more grueling, discombobulating, paranoia-inducing, and overtly avant-garde than his self-loathing sod flick, so it should be no surprise that the the director credits Orson Welles’ Franz Kafka adaptation The Trial (1962) aka Le procès starring Anthony Perkins for inspiration. Just like Perkins’ classic character in Welles’ masterpiece, the protagonist of Kuchar’s film is a terribly tortured lost soul with a crippling persecution complex that feels he is incessantly being followed and lives in a perpetual metaphysical nightmare without end. Starring somewhat popular redheaded pop artist Red Grooms (who himself directed a couple of films around the same time, including Shoot the Moon (1962) and Fat Feet (1966)) as the eponymous lead as a mentally perturbed poof painter who regularly engages in sex with anonymous strangers because he is afraid of being in a committed gay relationship and who is terribly guilt-ridden because his female friend has fallen in love with him and wants to jump his bones, The Secret of Wendel Samson is a semi-surreal work that is not all that aesthetically different from various artsy fartsy porno and sexploitation films from around the same time, including the Amero brothers’ psychedelic fuck flick Bacchanale (1971) and Chuck Vincent’s Voices of Desire (1972), as an ominously oneiric psychosexual psychodrama of the hallucinatory sort that manages to do the seemingly impossible by making NYC seem like one big foreboding ghost town where only pathetic perverts and phantoms dwell. A film that unequivocally demonstrates that, at least for some people, there is nothing ‘gay’ about being gay, Kuchar’s exceedingly embarrassing work in paranoiac poof excess ultimately demonstrates that he was not less haunted by his homosexuality than his twin brother George Kuchar, whose early masterpieces like Hold Me While I’m Naked (1966) and Eclipse of the Sun Virgin (1967) have earned him the reputation of being the more hopelessly self-loathing and neurotic of the two very strange Slavic-American sodomite siblings. 




 As referenced in the book Desperate Visions: The Films of John Waters & the Kuchar Brothers (1996) by Jack Stevenson, Kuchar once stated regarding the titular character of his film, “Wendel Samson is a Universe in himself, but perhaps even more complex. The cosmic bubble is governed by the forces of electrical magnetic inertia. He is governed by a need Unstable. A hunger to understand the impossible. Himself maybe. A quest to find the equation to happiness in a cosmic structure where happiness is not a physical property. He is a star in a cluster of stars. A solar speck in the speckled nebula of souls. A silent phantom radiating in the heavens of shining phantoms. Floating on the islands within islands, in a bubble, fifty million light years curved.” Hilariously, Kuchar would later state of the quote in an audio commentary track that it was something he wrote as a “flamboyant youngster. It’s certainly flowery…That’s certainly a mouthful of flowery stuff.” Judging merely by the film, I can only assume that hallucinogenic substances most have compounded his paranoia and propensity for poetry, as The Secret of Wendel Samson ultimately feels like a ‘head film’ for homos, albeit a timeless one that manages to make the internal torment associated with being a closeted homosexual accessible to even the most flagrant of fag-bashers, so long as they appreciate trippy art films where the ‘bad trip’ is merely a state of mind. The genesis of the film is a result of star Red Grooms approaching Kuchar and offering to star in one of his movies. Beginning with the idea of an allegorical scene featuring Grooms stuck in a gigantic spiderweb, Kuchar later decided to create a film about a protagonist that is literally “tangled up in psychological problems” and ultimately assembled what is indubitably his most incriminating, pathetic, and psychoautobiographical work to date. 




 Beginning with a close-up shot of the dejected, melancholy face of protagonist Wendel Samson (Red Grooms) and then a credit scene sequence where the inter-titles are superimposed over a dilapidated brick wall, the film then captivates the viewer with an abrupt dream-sequence of the character tangled in a gigantic spiderweb, which is notably also wrapped around his genitals. From there, we see a shot of Wendel meekly standing behind a woman who is facing the opposite direction and is discernibly distressed. The woman’s name is Margret (played by Mimi Gross, who is the daughter of fairly famous Zionist sculptor Chaim Gross, whose apartment acted as one of the sets for the film and who Kuchar and his brother apparently found to be quite detestable) and she is in love with wimp Wendel, who does not reciprocate her feelings because he's a full-blown shit-stabber and he feels terribly guilty about this fact. After what Kuchar once described as the film's “pictorial overture,” the viewer is exposed to various bizarre aspects of Wendel’s particularly pathetic life, including the fact that he is being constantly followed by two very strange men (played by George Kuchar and Bob Cowan, with the latter of whom being responsible for the film’s highly complimentary paranoid beatnik noise score) and that he enjoys having random sex with strange men that he finds on the street. Despite being a wide receiver on the pink team, Wendel also seems to loathe his fellow fags as hinted in a scene where he dumps his queen-ish gay lover because he cannot bear listening to him to talk incessantly about gossip, redecorating, and fancy vacations to exotic places where they can presumably pay to have sex with young Asian or Latino boys. Indeed, when Wendel’s boyfriend, who is an ultra cultivated cocksucker who has primitive African tribal art hanging over his apartment walls, proceeds to bitch and moan about things like having to find someone to watch their cat when they are on vacation in Liberia (?!), the protagonist dumps him by simply walking out the front door while he's still talking. Of course, Wendel is no less socially inept when it comes to his female friend Margret, who has an undying craving for cock but somehow does not realize that her fire-crotched male BFF is a full-fledged nancy boy who cannot bother to swing both ways. 



 As a gay man that is trying to avoid the awkward situation of being seduced by a sexually starved straight woman of the fairly homely looking sort, Wendel is always trying to find ways to avoid hanging out with Margret and even manages to get out of going to a party with her by stating, “I promised myself I was going to put in new shutters in the kitchen.” Unfortunately for Wendel, Margret decides to show up at his apartment unannounced on the night of the party and rubs his lies in his face by remarking, “I see you haven’t put up the new shutters in the kitchen yet,” to which he meekly replies after pausing for a moment, “Oh, you know how easy it is to not do anything.” At this point, Wendel thinks to himself regarding Margret, “Something tells me she’s here for more than a chitchat visit,” and then proceeds to spy on his female friend via a keyhole while she is in the bathroom. As is quite apparent to both Wendel and the viewer, Margret has come to the protagonist's apartment to both declare her love for him and to seduce him but of course she ultimately fails to get what she wants. While awkwardly sitting next to one another on a bed, Margret asks Wendel about his sex life and remarks, “I wonder how you make as a lover,” but of course the protagonist is too petrified to reveal to her his sexual persuasion and instead has an absurd daydream where he imagines himself romantically wining and dining a somewhat hot babe and then begins making love to her on a leopard print rug. After Wendel stops daydreaming, he begins eating food like a slob on his bed and is eventually given an ultimatum from Margret, who is desperate for the protagonist's fiery dick. After declaring her to love him and begging him to fuck her after he does all he can to sit as far as he can away from her in his tiny bedroom, Margret states to Wendel, “Wendel, tell me you love me…or kick me out…but make up your mind NOW. Wendel, I can’t stand this anymore.”  Of course, Wendel lacks the testicular fortitude to answer Margret directly, but thankfully he eventually gets his feelings across.



 Instead of answering Margret, the scene cuts to Wendel being woken up in his bed by the two strange men that have been following him. At this point, Wendel must embrace his inner homosexual Übermensch or continue to live a pathetic life of guilt and paranoia. Indeed, the two strange men force Wendel to go with them like they are some sort of gay-bashing ghosts who have been assigned by a super holy heterosexual god to convert him to heterosexuality and ultimately bring the protagonist to a building where he is confronted by ten very different people, including a young sailor, a homely nurse, and a middle-aged blonde bombshell (Floraine Connors of Kuchar’s The Craven Sluck (1967) and Tales of the Bronx (1970)), the latter of which pulls out a sort of futuristic laser gun on him and demands that he have sex with her. When Wendel refuses to fuck the old blonde boot and instead begins brutally slapping and beating her, the two strange man make him stand facing the wall and then everyone takes out a pistol and proceeds to execute the protagonist with a storm of bullets comparable to the ending of Bonnie and Clyde (1967) where the eponymous outlaw lovers are ambushed by the cops. Miraculously, despite being shot countless times, Wendel is not only unharmed by the execution but also manages to transform into a sort of sod Superman (indeed, sound clips and quotes from Superman are juxtaposed with this scene) and then makes a swift escape, but not before laughing manically in the faces of his tormentors in an allegorical scene that is surely symbolic of the protagonist’s unwavering acceptance of his own homosexuality. In the end, Wendel and Margret finally say their goodbyes to one another, with the latter finally accepting the fact that her beloved redheaded friend is a flaming fag who has no use for needy Jewish American princesses. 




 Surely infinitely more brave, convincing, and intriguing than Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain (2005), Tom Ford's A Single Man (2009) and just about any other Hollywood film that attempts to portray poof pathos and pangs, The Secret of Wendel Samson is really an enlightening aesthetic example as to why it is truly offensive when contemporary propagandists and special interests groups have the gall to complain about persecution and inequality, not to mention the fact that the film unwittingly reveals that so-called ‘gay marriage’ is a somewhat oxymoronic concept that ignores that homosexuality is largely a ‘fetish’ and compulsion that is solely based on sex and especially not lifelong commitment or reproduction, which is after all the point of matrimony. Of course, the film also unwittingly reveals that, at least as far as instincts are concerned, homosexuality is certainly not a choice that any sane person would make, but a sort of carnal curse that marginalizes the gay individual from the rest of society, hence why an eclectic group of people of all ages and both genders are involved in the firing squad style (pseudo)execution of the titular character as they are symbolic of the general public as a whole. Notably, in the end, the protagonist resolves his situation by saying farewell to his female friend in a scenario where the character finally acknowledges that he is all on his own and will never be a truly accepted member of normal heterosexual society in any meaningful way, hence the abject absurdity of the fallacy based concept of so-called ‘sexual equality,’ for the homo will always be an outsider no matter what MTV or the double bastard mulatto political pimp President of the United States tells us. Indeed, certainly no one could watch The Secret of Wendel Samson without coming to the natural conclusion that being a sod seriously sucks, even if you are one of those very rare individuals that has the special benefit of having a fellow fag twin like Kuchar. While certainly a genre-defying work that is easily Kuchar’s most overtly avant-garde oriented effort to date, I think the film would be best described as a hallucinatory piece of experimental homo horror that is like the Carnival of Souls of the American queer avant-garde underground as a vaguely quasi-Cocteauian psychodrama that depicts the struggle of being a shit-stabber without being pedantic, patronizing, pretentious, and/or preposterous like so many other similarly themed works.  Notably, the director's brother George Kuchar also directed a film about a woman that falls in love with a fag entitled Pagan Rhapsody (1970), which plays out very differently from The Secret of Wendel Samson in that the gay male lead actually manages to have sex with a woman but the film ends tragicomedically when the protagonist vomits as a result of his heterosexual experience and his lover subsequently slips on the barf and dies.  A somewhat less personal and more genre-obsessed filmmaker than his brother, Kuchar may have had his greatest achievement with his brilliantly ludicrous lo-fi sci-fi anti-epic Sins of the Fleshapoids (1965), but The Secret of Wendel Samson is certainly the film to see if you want to discover the curious misfit of a man behind the camera.



-Ty E

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