DIRECTED BY: Nick Zedd
FEATURING: Nick Zedd, Lydia Lunch, Annie Sprinkle, Kembra Pfahler, Will Keenan
PLOT: A collection of shocking, often pornographic underground films from “Cinema of Transgression” founder Nick Zedd.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Although occasionally interesting, none of the shorts here are memorable enough to require inclusion on a list of the best weird movies ever made.
COMMENTS: In 1985’s “Cinema of Transgression Manifesto,” Nick Zedd demanded that “boring films never be made again.” Even taking into account the context of this broadside (which was explicitly aimed at structuralist filmmakers like Hollis Frampton who dominated the film school curricula of the time), this was an incredibly arrogant claim that was doomed to come back and bite him when audiences noticed that—surprise!—the films made by Nick Zedd and the Cinema of Transgression were frequently boring. “Any film that doesn’t shock isn’t worth looking at,” continues the Manifesto, and despite the dubious nature of that claim, Zedd’s films usually do succeed on that front (although occasionally, they only shock due to how boring they are—“Lydia Lunch,” I’m looking your way).
At any rate, note that the statement “any film that doesn’t shock isn’t worth looking at” doesn’t imply the converse: that any film that does shock automatically is worth looking at. Like most experimental filmmakers, Zedd’s work is a mixed bag, with a few successes shining out from amidst a sea of crud. The now out-of-print “Abnormal” disc collects most of his important short films made between 1980 to 2001, along with an excerpt from the (brilliantly titled) feature length movie War Is Menstrual Envy and some interviews and behind-the-scenes tidbits. Here’s the rundown of the films, approximately in reverse-chronological order (as they are presented on the disc):
- “Tom Thumb in the Land of the Giants” (1999): This show-on-video short is presented as a trailer. It’s not clear whether this is a pitch for a longer movie that never got made, or whether this was the concept all along. Zedd’s son Kajtek is pursued by a “phantom” through a graveyard in broad daylight; it ends with a shot of a one-armed man and the boy escaping (though the magic of trick photography) into a giant vagina! At only 4 minutes long there is still some dead space, but it is about the optimum length for a Zedd film.
- “Ecstasy in Entropy” (1999): A (mostly) silent black-and-white film set in a strip club/bordello. Retired-porn-star-cum-performance-artist Annie Sprinkle appears. There’s fellatio and fake ejaculation, and at one point the strippers laud the virtues of anarcho-socialism in voiceover. It briefly switches to color for the last few minutes for a catfight. Not as interesting as it sounds.
- “Why Do You Exist?” (1998): A woman smears spray-cheese and whipped cream on her ample bosom, then we see a parade of video portraits of performance artists and grimy underground personalities mugging for the camera. Once you get past the boobies it’s fairly dull, unless you’re one of the out-of-work actors profiled here.
- War is Menstrual Envy (1992): This 14-minute clip is the meatiest and most nightmarish segment of the collection. A topless woman painted blue and dressed like a nun (Kembra Pfahler) unwraps a disfigured burn victim, then dresses him like a sheik; another woman (Annie Sprinkle) enters, undresses him again, and licks his scarred chest. Then opening credits run over footage of eye surgery. The grotesque beauty on display here is Zedd’s finest work, but 14 minutes was enough; another hour of this stuff would be nauseating overkill.
- “Whoregasm” (1988): Hardcore porn scenes with images of policemen, swastikas and crosses, etc. overlaid on them and a noise soundtrack. Fairly tedious; gives you the sense you’re watching a badly scrambled adult channel, desperately hoping something sexy will come through clearly for a minute or two.
- “Police State” (1987): This is Zedd’s most straightforward narrative selection. A punk kid (Zedd himself) is hassled by cops, taken back to the station and tortured, but remains defiant until the end. Some may appreciate this punk persecution fantasy.
- “Kiss Me Goodbye” (1986): A Swans punk/goth music video wherein Zedd kisses, then strangles a woman.
- “Go to Hell” (1986): Junkies wander around abandoned, rubble-strewn Manhattan lots, then we see a mushroom cloud. Again scored to a Swans song.
- “Thrust in Me” (1984): A woman commits suicide, and Zedd returns to the apartment they share and has angry sex with her corpse. Co-directed by Richard Kern. Naughty!
- “Wild World of Lydia Lunch” (1983): In some ways, this is Zedd’s most notorious film. His then-girlfriend Lydia Lunch reads a letter she wrote to trhe director while she was in England waiting for him to arrive for a film shoot, expressing her financial distress and artistic despair. She mopes around London until Zedd arrives, then continues to mope, for 23 minutes all told. Lunch writes well (“lethargy and apathy have placed their boot print at the base of my brain, my heart ran away with the moon, and I am left ugly and alone…”), but it’s still a slog. Not at all wild, but it is strangely touching to see the usually narcissistic Zedd so enamored with his morbid cherub that he assumes everyone will be as smitten with their home movies as he is.
- “Bogus Man” (1980): This is one of Zedd’s more startling and entertaining works. A masked figure calmly explains about a secret program that has replaced President Jimmy Carter with a clone. A badly acted “comic” interview with a German doctor was a poor decision, but things “improve” with a striptease by a morbidly obese woman with a shaved head and trowled-on makeup. “When I first saw this footage, all I could say to myself was ‘why did my eyes have to see this—why?,'” complains the whistleblower.
- “1 of K” (the name on the menu; the end credits call it “Imitation of Kiss”) (2001): Two men and a woman kiss each other, then trade licks with a doberman. Will Keenan basically deep throats snout. The dog doesn’t seem thrilled, but he puts up with it. Mildly disgusting, but pointless.
Based on those descriptions you will know whether you are the target audience for Zedd’s films, or (more likely) not. I will say that, if you consider these nearly lost movies to be a grossout/trangsressive holy grail, they are bound to disappoint. They are legendary for their obscurity and subject matter, but there is too much dead air in each of them where nothing of interest happens. They are best viewed as a curiosity, and as a reminder that the 1980s weren’t all Ronald Reagan and Top Gun. Zedd may dress like a member of Duran Duran—sometimes you think he devotes more time to teasing his strawberry blond hair than working on that morning’s script—but he acts like Sid Vicious. He’s like an even angrier Kenneth Anger, but stripped of the occult and mythological references that give the seminal filmmaker’s work Satanic depth. My recommendation? Adventurous cinephiles with strong stomachs may want to pick up this disc, if you can find it at a bargain price. But don’t break the bank looking for a pristine copy unless you’re a dedicated collector of nihilist punk cinema.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
(This movie was nominated for review by Mar.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)