Oct 25, 2015

War Is Menstrual Envy

After a number of years of total inactivity, Cinema of Transgression anti-messiah Nick Zedd (The Bogus Man, The Wild World of Lydia Lunch) attempted to make a comeback of sorts with his first feature-length film in almost a decade. Indeed, the moronically titled cinematic work War Is Menstrual Envy (1992) aka War Is Menstrual Envy: Parts I, II, and III is undoubtedly Zedd’s own sort of equivalent to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Kenneth Anger's Lucifer Rising (1972) as a sometimes oneiric flick that is not only special effects heavy, but also the director's most epically artistically ambitious work to date.  Indeed, one can certainly tell while watching the film that Zedd intended it to be his magnum opus, as well as a work that would demonstrate his maturity as both an artist and filmmaker. Of course, Zedd’s film is no masterpiece like 2001: A Space Odyssey or Lucifer Rising as it is basically a convoluted collection of autistic-garde petite vignettes of the intentionally obscenely obnoxious sort that are only loosely connected by an ostensible ‘antiwar’ theme, thus demonstrating that the auteur might have suffered some serious brain damage due to decades of drug abuse (as he described in his book Totem of the Depraved (1996), Zedd was addicted heroin around the time he made his last film Whoregasm (1988)).  Once described by Zedd himself as set, “In November 2092, following the death by radiation poisoning of 9/10ths of the human race. A cult of sea worshipers appears led by a human deity known as Shiva Scythe. Forming a telepathic alliance with the world dolphin population, they bring about the destruction of Christianity and Islam” (notice Zedd does not have the testicular fortitude and/or intelligence to mention Judaism, even though it is an antiwar film and Zionism is directly responsible for a good percentage of the war and chaos that has plagued the Middle East since at least since the end of the Second World War), War Is Menstrual Envy features a uniquely ugly mutant chick with a shaved pussy and bright orange skin who fucks a giant octopus, a large Jew pretending to be a barbaric redneck biker having his head blown off with a shotgun by a female bartender, an apocalyptic soldier sporting a gas mask who drives a bayonet into the chest of a naked baby boy, and porn history's most infamous Jewess porn star making love to and licking the heavily scarred skin of a real-life burn victim, among other things that demonstrate why the filmmaker is and has always been a one-note wonder who lives to attempt to shock and disgust and not much more. Once apparently described by banker turned onetime Warhol superstar Taylor Mead (The Nude Restaurant, Lonesome Cowboys) as, “The greatest underground film ever made,” the aberrantly kaleidoscopic 16mm celluloid work is notable for being a rare truly ‘cinematic’ Zedd flick in that it has a strong sense of mise-en-scène, which is in stark contrast to the auteur's absurdly amateurishly directed early features like They Eat Scum (1979) and Geek Maggot Bingo or The Freak from Suckweasel Mountain (1983). Indeed, almost completely devoid of both plot and dialogue, War Is Menstrual Envy is comprised of would-be-iconoclastic themes and imagery that seem like the creation of a perniciously petulant child who masturbates to the thought of his cinematic miscreations giving his bourgeois parents a heart attack. Seeming somewhat like the result of the Viennese Aktionists attempting to direct a bargain bin antiwar film for Disney starring the descendants of the cast of Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932), Zedd’s film is about as intellectually stimulating as Brazilian tranny porn, albeit with more cheap makeup and smaller penises (Zedd's included!). In other words, War Is Menstrual Envy oftentimes feels like the patently preposterous result of some trash auteur like John Waters or Andy Milligan developing delusions of grandeur and attempting to reinvent themselves as a real serious ‘artiste.’ 

 While only 77 minutes long, War Is Menstrual Envy could have easily been cut by two-thirds of its running time and still have the same impact on the viewer, thus providing strong evidence that spending most of his (non)career making short films really has warped Zedd’s view of nuance when it comes to the art of feature filmmaking (notably, the film was shot in three different segments, which were later combined into one fairly fragmented feeling film). Indeed, it takes about seven minutes before the title screen appears, as the film begins with a sort of pseudo-existentialist epilogue that seems to attempt to abstractly communicate internal pain and sexual dysfunction (Zedd's Cinema of Transgression frenemy Richard Kern aka ‘Nazi Dick’ once described the film as being, “set in the future, where there's no water, women are sluts, and men are fucked up sexually”). Beginning with a shot of two heavily bandaged individuals that resemble mummies lying in awkward positions on a sterile looking floor and quivering in seeming abject pain in an all-white room that is almost painful to look at juxtaposed with discordant noise, the film immediately gives the viewer the impression that the filmmaker is an emotionally and sexually wounded cripple of sorts, or at least he seems to be (sub)consciously communicating as such in a fairly heavy-handed way. Eventually one of the mummies begins twitching rapidly and then attempts to kiss and hump the other one, though he eventually opens his mouth and spews a bunch of blood out of his mouth as if he has just drained his comrade dry of their precious vital fluids. After spitting out the blood, the mummy (played by a young twink-ish Guido named Steven Oddo, who Zedd once mundanely stated of that, “He likes to mutilate himself in public.  I don't know why...His body is covered with scars...”) is featured completely unwrapped (Zedd makes sure to get a close-up of his flaccid member) and then proceeds to slowly and anticlimatically carve “WAR” into his chest in tribute to the first word of the film’s title. After the mummy epilogue, a sort of second title sequence begins featuring quasi-apocalyptic soldiers wearing gas masks and riding horses while attacking some unseen enemy in a sunny desert. In a seeming self-tribute to the director’s ostensible iconoclastic powers as a filmmaker, the title sequence concludes with “Directed By Nick Zedd” superimposed over an atomic mushroom cloud. Unfortunately, things get a little bit less impressive from there, though the film does have its undeniable unforgettable moments. 

 If War Is Menstrual Envy has something resembling a lead heroine, it is indubitably Cinema of Transgression anti-diva, performance artist, and sometimes filmmaker Kembra Pfahler (a strange lady that is probably best known as being the lead singer of the cult glam-punk-shock-rock band The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black), who is completely naked for almost the entire film aside from generically vulgar and intentionally unflattering body-paint that would probably appeal to fans of Gwar. In what is indubitably the most tedious, tasteless, and just plain stupid section of the film, Pfahler is featured ‘swimming’ in an aesthetically grating ‘green screen’ (chroma key) scenario where her completely hairless body is superimposed over deep sea stock footage that was seemingly stolen from some sort of National Geographic documentary. Sporting nothing but black thigh-high vinyl boots and a cheap neon yellow wig, Pfahler stands (and sometimes lies) in place while barely pretending to swim by motioning her arms and legs in a goofy lackluster fashion. Clearly Zedd must have been on a minuscule budget that forced him to use all of the footage he shot because the scene features moments where Pfahler unwitting breaks down the fourth wall by staring straight into the camera and then proceeding to blatantly talk to someone (probably Zedd) off-screen. Despite being about twenty minutes long, the segment is comprised solely of the ‘surreal swimming,’ with the climax of the scene being Pfahler pretending to fuck a gigantic octopus (it should be noted that she was once married to a Japanese fellow, so that might explain her octopus fetish). Indeed, at one point Pfahler has one octopus tentacle inside her freshly shaved pussy while another one is penetrating her mouth, thus demonstrating that she is probably a fairly sexually versatile women who lets none of her wet fleshy orifices go unused. Of course, the raunchy orange-skinned lady also grinds her shaved main vein against one of the tentacles, which is depicted in a close-up scene of playfully orgasmic octopussy perversity. Needless to say, none of this is even remotely erotic unless you are someone that gets off to associating vaginas with seafood or are into women that look like they were run over with an ice cream trunk that was driven by members of the Cockettes, though the segment is certainly as contrived and tedious as the average porn flick. 

 In the only segment of the film that vaguely resembles any sort of traditional movie in the sense that it involves human-beings interacting in their own typical social habitats, Jewish artist and sometimes filmmaker Ari M. Roussimoff (who directed Shadows in the City (1991), which Zedd appear in and was the last film to star NYC underground filmmaker Jack Smith of Flaming Creatures (1963) fame) absurdly portrays a violently intolerant GG Allin-esque biker-like redneck brute who sports black ‘tough guy’ sunglasses and a denim vest with a confederate flag patch and proceeds to hassle every single person he encounters while getting drunk at a seedy dive bar for sexually depraved (sub)human misfits. Indeed, when a cheaply tattooed fellow named ‘Tattoo Mike Wilson’ stares down the baldheaded biker due to his obnoxious behavior, Roussimoff rudely throws at bottle cap at his face. While Roussimoff pushes around both men and women, he decides to flirt with a sickly looking tranny (Ron Knice) that is dressed like a slutty 1920s flapper and looks like he is about to die from AIDS. Of course, the big butch bro has not clue that the pseudo-chick actually has a dick, so when the flagrantly faggy flapper randomly whips out a big black strap-on dildo (!) and then proudly waves it around like it is an impressive weapon of sorts, Roussimoff naturally goes completely berserk and begins choking the seemingly physically and mentally sick shemale creep. Clearly highly intolerant of violent rowdy meatheads causing trouble in her sleazy taproom, a dyke-like barmaid whips out a shotgun and blows Roussimoff’s head off in what is easily one of the most hopelessly schlocky head-exploding scenes of cinema history. After the Hebraic GG Allin gets his head blown off, a blonde female dwarf appears out of nowhere and begins destroying everything in sight while standing next to his corpse in a scene that is almost entirely in aesthetically odious color negative film. Eventually a sort of male sex slave sporting nothing but a gimp mask appears and attempts to clean up the menacing she-midget’s mess, so the extra little lady responds by proceeding to hurl pieces of garbage, including broken violins and smashed records, at her assumed sensual servant. During this segment, scenes from Zedd’s previous experimental film Whoregasm are randomly spliced in, including a shot of the filmmaker in drag sucking on his onetime-girlfriend Susan Manson’s extra bloody used tampon. 

 After a collage of sorts that was clearly stolen from a nature documentary that features time-lapse footage of decaying animal corpses and dying flowers (it should be noted that Zedd has an affection for neo-Marxist French Situationist filmmakers like René Viénet and Guy Debord because they utilized the postmodern technique of détournement and made films by simply reworking other people’s footage to give them new meaning while simultaneously destroying their original cultural contexts), the viewer is exposed to sentimental footage of a happy baby boy, who is soon senselessly murdered by an ominous soldier sporting a gas mask who carefully impales the little lad with a bayonet. From there, the soldier walks around post-apocalyptic ruins whilst admiring the dead baby on his bayonet as a flag with a swastika-like symbol waves in the background (of course, this symbol is featured prominently throughout the film). After the sort of pseudo-spiritual soldier scene, the viewer is bombarded with a series of vintage stock still photographs of men whose faces were horribly disfigured in war, as well as footage of deformed fetuses in jars full of embalming fluid. Not surprisingly, things only get uglier from there as the next scene begins with a color negative close-up of Zedd’s unimpressive cock. Completely naked aside from a whorish leopard print fur coat and blue body-paint, Zedd resembles a sort of radically repellent drag queen from 1950s B-movie sci-fi purgatory in a scene that is juxtaposed with some long-winded negro preacher proselytizing about the supposed greatness of Martin Luther King, Jr., among other mostly mundane things. In an assumed juvenile attempt to make this largely senseless scene as aesthetically unpleasing as possible, Zedd opted to have the camera incessantly zoom in and out during the entire segment, thus making it quite the relief when it finally ends. During this scene, anti-diva Kembra Pfahler and some other equally grotesque beings covered in body paint dance around Zedd as if they are having some sort of LSD-inspired Cinema of Transgression pow-wow.  Somehow, I got the impression while watching this segment that Zedd secretly longs to be a decadently glamorous coke-fueled runway model (as the auteur bragged in Totem of the Depraved, Annie Sprinkle once landed Zedd the less than dignified job of posing for a couple porno mags).

 In what is indubitably one of the best segments film, Kembra Pfahler and singularly grotesque porn star Jewess Annie Sprinkle attempt to sexually seduce an extra frigid middle-aged commie officer in a scenario that seems like what might have happened if Hebraic exploitation hack Herschell Gordon Lewis attempted to remake Dušan Makavejev’s WR: Mysteries of the Organism (1971). Like with the bar scene, Zedd decided to ruin this segment by juxtaposing it with outmoded rap music that makes the filmmaker come off as a dorky teenage negrophile fraud who is trying to annoy his parents. Set in a room in the spirit of Ulrike Ottinger’s sardonic postmodern dystopian flick Dorian Gray im Spiegel der Boulevardpresse (1984) aka The Image of Dorian Gray in the Yellow Press aka Dorian Gray in the Mirror of the Yellow Press where the walls are covered with newspaper wallpaper that has a SS Siegrune symbol spray-painted on it, the segment depicts the stoic Stalinist officer trying in vain to keep his composure while Ms. Sprinkle shoves both her cow-like mammary glands and a strap-on dildo in his face while Pfahler simultaneously acts like a ADHD-ridden grade school student that is on the verge of suffering a major epileptic fit. After the girls get done rubbing their largely nasty naughty bits in the poor commie comrade’s face, the film cuts to a shot of a bronze statue of Hindu Tantric deity Shiva that is sitting on top of a table that is right next to a completely motionless man that is completely covered in bandages and is reclining in a sort of campy throne.  After the establishing shot, Pfahler appears out of nowhere in a blasphemous nun outfit that exposes her fairly firm boobs and then begins carefully taking off the bandages on the man in an almost ritualistic fashion, thus eventually revealing that he is a burn victim (played by a real-life burn victim who was simply credited as ‘Ray’). Of course, in his largely moronic dedication to shocking the viewer, Zedd made sure to zoom in on the poor fellow’s heavily scared skin, so it should be no surprise that things naturally get more revolting from there. Indeed, after Pfahler sloppily dresses the burn victim in a poor fitting military uniform, Sprinkle abruptly appears and begins undressing Ray (who she apparently was dating in real-life at the time because she wanted to experience sex with all different kinds of people, including burn victims). In a fairly stupidly disgusting yet strangely tender scene that indubitably demonstrates that she wallows in even the most grotesque of flesh, Sprinkle proceeds to lick Ray’s scars and eventually rub her titties in his face while he delicately kisses all over her body with a certain degree of sensitivity that betrays his fairly horrific appearance. As if to brag that he has thoroughly despoiled the eyes of the viewer by the end of the film, War Is Menstrual Envy concludes with a couple images of red bloody eyes, with the credits scene featuring graphic medical footage of a badly damaged blue eye being repaired during surgery. 

 Quite hilariously, when I mentioned the title of War Is Menstrual Envy to a certain less than liberal lady friend of mine, she remarked that Zedd must be a faggot because no sane woman likes having periods and that it is a patent absurdly that any man would pretend to glorify such a thing. Of course, considering the film features a clip where Zedd sucks on a bloody tampon as well as another clip of Susan Manson's blood-stained ass crack and genitals, one can only assume that the seemingly sexually autistic auteur has a menstrual blood fetish that he is absurdly attempting to project onto both the viewer and his supposed enemies (aka masculine males), hence its senselessly sensational title. Undoubtedly, the best thing I can say about Zedd’s flick is that it is probably the most intricately infantile cinematic work that I have ever seen, as if it was directed by the sexually abused bastard brood of Mayan Deren and Russ Meyer, albeit nowhere near as important as either of those two filmmakers’ contributions to cinema history. Personally, I see War Is Menstrual Envy as the last major work of the Cinema of Transgression movement (though Tessa Hughes-Freeland’s rarely seen experimental Georges Bataille adaptation Dirty (1993) is also a similarly important work from the later period of the movement). It should also be mentioned that Zedd was really into the writings of kosher commie crackpot Wilhelm Reich at the time he made the film, thus exposing the sort of senseless pathological sexual degeneracy that the psychoanalyst’s pseudo-scientific writings attempts to validate in their promotion of a completely unrealistic pan-sexual utopia. Indeed, the only thing one really learns by watching the film is that Zedd is unequivocally a sexual cripple and anti-artistic miscreant who gets a kick out of making his own personal fetishes seem as radically repellent as possible. It might interest viewers of the film to know that despite the fact Zedd hoped that he would be able to sexually defile his two main lecherous leading ladies during the production of the film, both of them apparently turned him down, or as the filmmaker complained himself in his book Totem of the Depraved, “I thought if I made a movie where everyone was naked I might get laid. The film, entitled WAR IS MENSTRUAL ENVY, would deal directly with the misdirection of my sexual energy. Two of the actresses on the project might have wanted to fuck me but for some reason didn’t feel right about it. I thought if I played an octopus, I might be able to rape Annie Sprinkle but Kembra Squalor insisted on doing the scene instead and would only allow her husband to rape her. I thought up another scene where I’d play a mummy and have sex with an old girlfriend, but she had band practice the night we were supposed to do it so I had to give the scene to two other actors. I pray I will find some way to get laid before this film is done since it is costing my investor so much money.”  Of course, had Zedd invested more time and effort into creating a more cohesively constructed cinematic work than trying to get into the seemingly rancid panties of his raunchy female stars, he might have made a film that elevated celluloid trash to something worthy of being described as art.

 In Totem of the Depraved, Zedd demonstrates his sheer and utter cultural retardation by making the boldly moronic blanket statement, “European ‘culture’ is all second hand, and occasionally people with money there pay people like me to bring them the real thing from America so they can decided what next to imitate,” as if War Is Menstrual Envy was not a sort of failed culturally mongrelized attempt to make ‘Viennese Aktionism for Dummies.’ Of course, in general, Zedd is hopelessly American to the core, as a culturally and spiritually vacant artistic defiler and proud philistine who considers rap (which plagues his film) to be a legitimate form of art and whose sole goal as an artist seems to be creating the ugliest and most abhorrent films imaginable. Indeed, while it might be a extremely low-budget Super-8 film about corpse-fucking that features a guy sucking on an eyeball in a sensual fashion, not to mention a graphic unsimulated scene where a farmer kills and skins a cute bunny rabbit, a film like Jörg Buttgereit’s Nekromantik (1987) at least has a certain provocative poetic beauty to it that is nowhere to be found in any of Zedd’s films. What makes Nekromantik such an intriguing and somewhat singularly provocatively poetic work is that it manages to make the revolting and grotesque aesthetically pleasing while War Is Menstrual Envy manages to accomplish the total opposite by making pussies and titties seem like highly deleterious mutant animal parts.  After watching Zedd's film, I can truly see why the filmmaker has at various times referenced wanting to commit suicide, as only a hopelessly lost, passive-aggressive nihilist who lives to figuratively shit on the world with his one-dimensional celluloid ugliness could have sired such a superficially sick flick.

 Somewhat absurdly, Zedd apparently believes that War Is Menstrual Envy has influenced various popular Hollywood cult films, including Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant (1992) and Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers (1994), with the filmmaker once even complaining like a resentful social justice warrior, “I wish that I was making more money, I mean, it's annoying when these people take my ideas and make money off them. Meanwhile I"m still trying to scrape together enough money to make another movie. It's kinda unjust, you know.”  Indeed, Zedd believes that his film influenced Bad Lieutenant because both flicks feature the same Schooly-D song, but Ferrara had already used music by the rapper for his previous film King of New York (1990), which was released two years before War Is Menstrual Envy.  While Zedd once starred in and assistant directed a short entitled Thus Spake Zarathustra (2001) based on the classic philosophical novel of the same name written by Friedrich Nietzsche, it is quite evident from the filmmaker's statements and artistic sentiments that he not only suffers from the sort of slave-morality that the Teutonic philosopher ruthlessly condemned, but that he is also plagued by a sort of soul-decaying passive nihilism, or as avant-garde gatekeeper Jonas Mekas once wrote in his essay Notes on the Work of Nick Zedd in regard to the totally tactless trash auteur, “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 glories of that world which populated his films, they all exude sadness.  There is no ecstasy in those shaking breasts and penises, no joy.  Nothing but frustration, sadness.”  Indeed, Zedd epitomizes the worst attributes of the archetypal anarchistic rebel that Nietzsche venomously criticized in Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for All and None (1883-1891) and in no where is this more apparent than in War Is Menstrual Envy.  Of course, I would rather re-watch Zedd's film over the latest Hollywood blockbuster any day, but that is because I found it fleetingly humorous in a fashion not unlike encountering a schizophrenic black bum verbally assaulting petrified white liberals on a city sidewalk or a morbidly obese retarded man attempting to hit on a pretty yet prissy chick who is trying her darnedest not to reveal her sheer and utter revulsion at the fact that such an unwitting romantically forward fellow would dare to even think he was capable of getting with her.  If there ever was a film that unintentionally exposes the importance of seemingly unrelated things like masculinity, spirituality, and artistic self-restraint, it is undoubtedly War Is Menstrual Envy, which was not coincidentally directed by a passive-aggressive girly man who has been known to engage in cross-dressing and banging drag queens, among other rather unflattering things that might lead one to suffer the grand disillusion that human warfare is the natural result of manly men wishing that they had the capacity to hemorrhage from their genitals for a couple days each month without dying of blood loss.

-Ty E

1 comment:

winston95 said...

Fantastic reading. I was previously familiar only with Zedd's more "approachable" works ("Geek Maggot Bingo" and such ilk) but after perusing your review I tracked down "War" and have to say I enjoyed it immensely. Sure it's infantile and non-linear and pretentious but does have a certain modicum of charm as if Zedd really was trying to make his ultimate avant-garde masterwork (I know you made that point as well and I highly concur).

Using Holst's "Mars" during the mouse decay scene was a cheap stroke of genius, not only does it add an undeserving (and I'm sure copyright-infringing) feel of legitimacy to the scene but it seemed to invoke a sense of big bravado importance - much more than would have come across with some token public domain score (example A: see "Star Wars"). Life vs. death or some such esoteric nonsense. Simple but effective.

The second half of the film featuring Schoolly D and friends was the highlight for me, I felt the music really enodwed the film a gritty pre-Disney NYC vibe in collusion with the strange Warhol/Morrissey-esque art film images on screen. And I will guiltily admit I had a strange affection in the early 90's for Kembra Pfahler (must've been those thigh-high boots) and tried to catch Voluptuous Horror Of Karen Black anytime they sleazed through town - always a weird freak show culminating on the groupies-for-hire smashing paint-filled eggs on Kembra's upturned privates. It is too bad twenty years later she looks at best like a plastic surgeon's night terror...