Nasilje, seks, samoubojstvo, jeza i crni humor umiješani su u filmski napitak koji je trebao klistirati Ameriku. Sve bi to danas trebalo biti limunada, no čini se da zapravo danas neki od tih filmova ne bi mogli biti ni snimljeni. S jedne strane šokantnost je postala mainstream (lejdi-gagaizirana), a s druge, naše je doba mnogo konzervativnije, tj. "sve je moguće", ali od nikoga se ne očekuje da to i "provede u djelo". Svi sad, primjerice, pljuju po kapitalizmu, ali to uopće ne znači da netko zaista misli da ga treba i srušiti. Postalo je jasno da iza "stvarnosti" stoje policija, vojska i tajne službe, a ne (u načelu lako promjenljiva) ideologija i diskursi. Možeš u galeriji i medijima biti beskrajno šokantan, ali ako "ugrizeš" policajca tijekom prosvjeda, ideš u zatvor.
Having never been in New York in the ’80s (or indeed ever), this writer cannot confirm or deny the truth of the above statement. What you/I missed, however, was the chance to be in one of the films by the Cinema of Transgression, a loose coalition of (somewhat lunatic) fringe dweller filmmakers who operated in New York’s Lower East Side from 1984-1991. Whether or not you regard this as a missed artistic opportunity depends on how you view the output of the COT from that period. If transgressive punk-styled nihilistic violence, sex, drugs and chaos aren’t your thing, then you definitely didn’t miss out.
And you definitely won’t be interested in “Llik Your Idols,” the new 70-minute documentary detailing the good and bad and ugly elements of the Cinema of Transgression. This arthouse-cum-grindhouse -cum-madthouse-influenced low budget Super-8 filmmaking movement was a loose coalition of lost, angry, damaged, searching, confrontational extreme artistic personalities who found themselves drawn by their personal neuroses and psychoses to the black hole of the Lower East Side during the late 70s/early 80s, during the period of time after punk had razed that city’s artistic pretensions and expectations and the No Wave musical scene was enveloping New York’s edge-dweller artists in its nihilistic smothering discomfort blanket.
Filmmakers and actors/writers like Richard Kern, Lydia Lunch, Nick Zedd, Tommy Turner, Beth B, Casandra Stark, David Wojnarowicz and others formed the Cinema of Transgression, a moniker Nick Zedd gave the movement in his Xeroxed self-cheerleading fanzine ‘The Underground Film Bulletin’. These desperate characters wanted to go as far out as they could on film to explore their own private winding internal artistic and pathological paths without worrying about self-censorship or government interference. As chief propagandist Zedd put it, in part, in the slightly pompous and pretentious ‘Cinema of Transgression Manifesto’:
“Intellectual growth demands that risks be taken and changes occur in political, sexual and aesthetic alignments no matter who disapproves. We propose to go beyond all limits set or prescribed by taste, morality or any other traditional value system shackling the minds of men. We pass beyond and go over boundaries of millimeters, screens and projectors to a state of expanded cinema. We violate the command and law that we bore audiences to death in rituals of circumlocution and propose to break all the taboos of our age by sinning as much as possible. There will be blood, shame, pain and ecstasy, the likes of which no one has yet imagined. None shall emerge unscathed.”
And you thought it was all just about sex and drugs and rock and roll.
Despite, or maybe because of, these lofty ideas and ideals, what the films generally ended up being were primitive Super-8 X-rated skinematik howls by their authors, nihilistic sex-and-death-tinted bodily fluid fingerpaintings ripped red and raw and dripping from the fevered fractured psyches and libidos of their far-out creators. Presubscribed ideas about sexuality and violence (or any blood-and-comeslick combo thereof) and religion and the family were attacked in a constant obscene stream of scream-of-subconscious short films and music(k) videos; basically the artists involved set out to challenge every moral and more that Reagan’s greed-is-good presidency had set out as a conservative repressive blueprint for life in 80s America. Provocative releases from the Deathtrip Films (Kern’s cinematic rubric) subverted and perverted every societal norm they could, and had a sweet sick drugged-out fun time doing so, often to a pounding soundtrack by the twisted musical genius JG ‘Foetus’ Thirlwell.
“Llik Your Idols” by French filmmaker Angelique Bosio documents the still-influential (and still underground) Cinema of Transgression by interviewing a few of its main adherents (Kern, Lunch, Zedd, amongst others) and talking to them about their taboo-trashing frantic cinematic antics two decades later (although Kern continued to make films until the early 90s, and Zedd makes a New York cable TV show called “Electra Elf” to this day). Using a selection of clips from various productions it gives us an overview of the COT and its main thematic concerns; contextualizes the loose-knit movement by talking about the time and place that spawned it, and the societal and political atmosphere that fueled some of its most fertile fires and furies.
“Idols” is a good, entertaining, eminently viewable documentary, and a great starting point for anybody who is interested in the COT and its nihilistic no future agenda and agent provocateur members. Richard Kern (whose “The Hardcore Collection” I recently reviewed and noted that many of the COT films are shoddily-shot time capsules that don’t hold up all that well today, except in a raw angry power-of-poke-in-the-eye-images way) is quite down-to-earth about the whole thing, noting his art background and just saying well, basically that’s the extreme stuff he was into exploring back then.
Nick Zedd and Lydia Lunch (who look and dress like they did 20-odd years ago) don’t fare as well. Zedd has delusions of grandeur, and believes that at some point in the future he will be recognized as a Great Confrontational Underground Filmmaker of The Ages, saying that people are afraid of his stuff because it’s too radical and controversial. I think the words “nobody cares less 20 years later, Nick, wake up” come to mind, personally, but well, you know, we each have our own view of ourselves. Then again, I haven’t seen his later stuff like “Whoregasm” or “War is Menstrual Envy” so maybe my opinion would change if I did. But I doubt it. He talks about how not one critic at the time the movement was around supported them, and I’d have to say that this is bullshit, pretty much. Back in 1986 Zedd contacted Chris Gore, Film Threat’s founder, upon seeing a Xeroxed copy of the now-defunct magazine incarnation of this website. Chris used to run regular articles by Zedd, and also about the COT, in FT in the ’80s (that’s where I first heard about them in 1987, from ads in the back of the mag, where you would have things like Lydia Lunch modeling FT tee-shirts), to so claim that nobody cared or wrote about them is total and utter garbage (editorial note: we did run a false obituary of Nick Zedd (which influenced Tarantino’s “Zedd’s dead.” in “Pulp Fiction”) at one point so we cared to the point of being fed up with caring… and with the COT). Still, I suppose that it makes for a better “us versus the uncaring philistine world” story.
Lydia Lunch talks about her spoken word performances as verbal sparring matches with the audience, and I’d have to say that I don’t think she would have much to say these daze that was all that radical or challenging, though of course what she was saying and doing back then was groundbreaking in some ways for the time. It’s ironic. In the late 80s FT ran an analysis of Lunch by a psychologist based on a spoken word video of hers, “The Gun is Loaded.” The psychologist concluded that unless Lunch let go of the pain she was in (she was, horrifically, abused as a child by her father) that she would still be the same suffering individual 20 years later.
Quite prophetic really.
As well as COT members we also have interviews by people like Jack Sargeant, author of “Deathtripping,” the excellent authoritative and informative (if occasionally too over-analytical-and-intellectual) book from England’s Creation Books about the movies and their makers; and Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, for whom Kern made a video for their song “Death Valley 69.” Having people like this in the movie helps to add a note of objectivity sorely needed; Moore especially is an excellent interviewee, drawing some useful verbal sketches of the music and film and art scenes in New York back at the time. “Kern was like a social scientist. Then when he went off to do heroin with GG Allin it was like ‘okay, see you in a few years,’” he humorously and wisely notes.
“Llik Your Idols” (which I don’t personally think is all that hot a name for the film) will be showing shortly at film festivals in various countries including America here and there; you can check out www.myspace.com/llikyouridols for further details on that. If you get the chance and are at all interested in underground and art cinema, it’s a definite must-see portrait of a brief sinematic sex-and-violence microburst that still is fairly unknown even today. It occasionally spends too much time documenting No Wave bands that were nothing to do with the COT, or talking to outsider artist Joe Coleman, who was only involved in two films (though he’s a fascinating, if disturbing character, and I’d be interested to see a doc about him alone), but these missteps are forgivable overall. Check it out from the future that no future never thought it would have.
“Llik Your Idols” by French filmmaker Angelique Bosio documents the still-influential (and still underground) Cinema of Transgression, and Film Threat had an opportunity to discuss the film and the cinema movement with Angelique prior to the film’s West Coast film festival premiere.
What is your background in films?
For a long time I was much more into music and literature. I became aware of films quite late to be honest. And in an odd way I think I saw them as a fascinating combination of what I loved initially. Because I was a complete novice. Because it was new to me, like a thrilling open space. Then I started working on films simply. I think the first film that struck me in that way was “Cry Baby” by John Waters. Then I saw the ones of Cassavetes, Bunuel, Polanski, Argento… I love people like Buscemi, Altman, Korine… Original, isn’t it??!! No genre in particular really.
How did you first hear about or see Cinema of Transgression films?
As I said, I was much more into music as a teenager. I was listening a lot to bands like Royal Trux and Sonic Youth. That’s how I first saw photos by Richard Kern, on the Sister and EVOL albums. I’m not sure how it did happen but at one point this friend of mine, who loved Sonic Youth as well, gave me a VHS of Cinema of Transgression films that were then distributed by Haxan in France. It was something of a forbidden tape! Actually this friend ended up making the music of the documentary. He and his brother formed the band dDamage a few years ago.
What was it that attracted you to the COT?
I think at first it was that “Punk quality,” the fury in it. The music too of course. I didn’t know much about the context. Later I got more and more interested in Richard Kern, Lydia Lunch and David Wojnarowicz in particular, who also was a fabulous writer. Some of the people involved in the COT I find really talented and fascinating. As for the films, they not only testify to a New York I’ve been fantasizing of for a long time but they’re also and mostly challenging artistically. And I think people like Kern and Lunch raised important questions about sexuality and its representation, which interests me a lot. There’s so much to say about the COT. It’s so diverse too. If I had to pick one thing that attracts me, I think it would be a film: “Thrust in Me”. Because of what it tells about, because of the narcissism, the cynicism, the beauty in it, the horror in it, the violence, the humor, The Dream Syndicate! I guess what I like about the COT is the contradictions I see. It’s immediate, savage and yet extremely clever, even elegant. It’s simple, honest and yet elaborated and opaque.
What made you decide to do a documentary about the COT?
First, I wanted to write a book about it. Later it naturally became a documentary because of the context I was living in, the people around me, what I was working on then… I think what interested me in doing it was the people involved in the COT rather than the films themselves. Some of them intrigued me, I was not sure why. I just had some kind of affection for them I just couldn’t explain. Nothing to do with identification! Anyway, what was certain is that I wanted to know what they felt about this “movement” 20 years later, and how their work had changed along with their lives as they had gotten older. Something about survival and how one adapts to life, how one’s art or beliefs adapt to life. It may sound nostalgic but nostalgia is precisely what I wanted to avoid. Who they are now and how they look at their young selves is more interesting to me than who I might think they were then. I didn’t want to glorify the COT or pretend I could tell the story as if I had been there in NY in the 80′s to experience it myself.
Do you think the movement has gotten the respect or acknowledgement it deserves?
This is a tricky one! First it’s not over yet. People will keep showing it, writing about it, filming documentaries or even fictions on it. The story is going to keep changing. So will its definition, its impact… It was not so long ago after all. Moreover I’m not even sure I would call it a movement. Finally I couldn’t tell how much respect or acknowledgement something deserves. I guess most of these people don’t even care about this, but more about how much respect and acknowledgement what they do today actually gets. What I can say is that it was underground and meant to be. Maybe it’s supposed to stay that way.
Why hasn’t a documentary about it been made before now?
I know there was something done about Richard Kern (photo sessions being filmed). SA Crary did “Kill Your Idols” about the NY music scene in which Foetus, Arto Lindsay, Lydia Lunch etc…appear. To my knowledge, nothing on film was made about the COT specifically. But maybe these documentaries simply never got out. I’m sure I’m not the only one having thought about it! I bet it’s just because people couldn’t make it happen for technical or financial reasons. Or because these filmmakers didn’t want to participate in such a thing until recently. Or more possibly because “Deathtripping” by Jack Sargeant was such an excellent and complete book about it! Actually the book will be published in a new version in December by Soft Skull. I strongly recommend it.
How influential do you think the COT has been on popular culture?
I’m sure it has influenced many people who are now making music videos, films, music, taking photographs, writing books… I am sure the impact has been really important and wide. Even if people don’t clearly refer to it, one can tell that their aesthetics has spread in many ways. Richard Kern and Lydia Lunch are probably the best examples, not just for their talent as a filmmaker / photographer or a songwriter, but also because they truly broke taboos and changed our perception of sexuality, violence, voyeurism, pornography and what can be said or showed when it comes to these issues, in the same way Larry Clark did. Today Richard can shoot for porn magazines as well as famous fashion magazines like Purple. He’s published by Taschen. He did a video for Marilyn Manson. David Wojanrowicz’s books were published in France recently by Editions Desordres. These people still influence popular culture because there is something truly disturbing and challenging in what they did and therefore in the COT. Something that is not just about cinema or the COT.
What is your impression of what the movement was trying to do and how far do you think they succeeded in this?
I was clearly told they weren’t trying to do anything or expecting anything from the COT. They were young, living in the Lower East Side in the 80′s, they responded to the environment. And their work is so diverse! I’m sure now they didn’t aim at anything else than making their own art. What would be the link between “Fingered” by Kern and “Whoregasm” by Nick Zedd? Or “Where Evil Dwells” by Tommy Turner and David Wojnarowicz? I think they were trying to do stuff freely! I remember Bruce LaBruce saying that they were not political but outsiders, dropouts. So I guess if they succeeded in doing something it’s for some of them to have kept making their art. I don’t believe they were militants or planning the next 10 years of their lives.
What was it about the films that people found so threatening?
I can understand that some people might find it offensive and obscene. It’s unpleasant for some to see blood, murders, violence, sex on screen. It just depends on how much one can take emotionally, on their personal and psychological tolerance, their own moral values and taboos. But thinking the films are threatening is different. On the one hand, I guess one might think they were threatening then because they were an immediate testimony of what was truly happening in these people lives and in NY at the time. And therefore they had an aggressive social and political meaning, whether the filmmakers wanted it or not. On the other hand, they remain threatening because some of the films like “Fingered” or “The Right Side of my Brain” by Richard Kern and Lydia Lunch tell about urges that we all have but that we don’t necessarily admit. There’s a postcard right in front of me now saying “Crime isn’t just for Criminals”. If you think about it, it’s threatening, disturbing for oneself to admit the idea that they all are potentially as dark as the characters in these films.
How much did “Llik Your Idols” end up costing and how did you finance it?
I’m not sure exactly how much it cost because it was a five-year-long thing. But I did finance it myself. Of course some people have helped me lending me equipment etc… What happened was I decided to go to NY in 2002 to do interviews. I kept on filming exhibitions, screenings, making of films and doing interviews whenever I had the opportunity. Meanwhile I was trying to convince French companies to produce the documentary but they systematically told me these people were not famous enough, and that the films were too violent and pornographic to sell it to a French TV channel. There has been two companies though, Cybride Production and ADN Factory, that tried to help me. But financially speaking, I was on my own. So I took a lousy job to finish it. Then I met the producer at Kidam and their editor, Thomas Drapron, who has been so great and we completed the film. But it was a very low budget thing that caused me a lot of trouble! And a lot of fun too.
Why did you call it “Llik Your Idols?” It’s a somewhat odd name.
I would have said “stupid name”! Five years ago, I was trying to find a name and that’s the funniest one I found. It made me laugh, simply. It comes from these horrible T-shirts that were all over the flea market when I was a teenager: the ones presenting the Christ on the cross with “Kill Your Idols” on it. If I remember well, there was another with Kurt Cobain on it after he died. I just hated them. It was sort of a phony punk rock cliché then. As I mostly didn’t want to make a nostalgic documentary about “Punks” in their forties or fifties, I picked that slogan and slightly change it to make it sound ironic. “To lick” is “lécher” in French, and “faire de la lèche” (“licking”) means “flatter”: I didn’t want to flatter these people or glorify the COT. That’s it. But mostly it was a funny title to me. I have a very bad sense of humor, I know.
What medium did you shoot it on?
I mostly used a PD150. But I made this terrible mistake under someone’s advice to shoot it in 16/9 and not 4/3.
How long did it take to shoot?
Five years, but of course not constantly. The first interview I did was Nick Zedd’s in NY in 2002. The last thing I filmed was Lydia Lunch and Richard Hell doing lectures at The French Cinematheque more than a year ago. It depended on the opportunities. There’s one thing I couldn’t film that I strongly regret. 3 years ago, I attended a screening of “Submit To Me” by Richard Kern in Paris. After a few seconds I heard a woman yelling to the projectionist to cut it. There was despair in her voice, really. When the film stopped and the lights came back, I saw her running to the exit door holding two 12 year-old kids by the hand. She was panicking, saying that it wasn’t art. The kids didn’t say a thing. They were unmoved.
Kolekcija na UbuWebu:
“If it’s not transgressive, it’s not underground. It has to be threatening the status quo by doing something surprising, not just imitating what’s been done before.” - Nick ZeddCinema of Transgression
Tessa Hughes-Freeland Nymphomania
Co. dir. by Holly Adams - 1993 - 08:53
Starring Holly Adams and Bob Mook
Tessa Hughes-Freeland Baby Doll
1982 - 03:16 - Featuring Feme and Irene
M Henry Jones Unknown 1
M Henry Jones Unknown 2
M Henry Jones Soul City
Beth B Stigmata
1991 - 38:13
Featuring Joseph Budenholzer, Kelly Considine, Johnny Lanz, Miriam McDonough, Brian Moran, Laura Miles Wright
Jeri Cain Rossi Black Hearts Bleed Red
1992 - 15:36
-A stark adaptation of Flannery O’Connor’s short story A Good Man Is Hard To Find. Starring Joe Coleman, Zemlya Vaudaux, Miss Xanna Don’t, Tod Allen, Nathaniel Roman, Dana Hatch, Marya Zoya Greene, Tommy Turner.
David Wojnarowicz & Tommy Turner Where Evil Dwells
1985 - 28:33
Loosely based on the story of the “Satan” teen killer Ricky Kasso. Starring Joe Coleman, Rockets Redglare, Natz, Nancy Coleman, Baby Gregor, Scott Werner and others.
Kembra Pfahler Cornella; The Story of a Burning Bush
1985 - 05:29
Film-as-performance from actress, artist, filmmaker, and co-founder of rock band Kembra Pfahler The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black (Spelling Bee by TVHOKB (MP3)).
Jon Moritsugu Mommy, Mommy, Where’s My Brain?
1986 - 09:20
Richard Kern My Nightmare
Format: avi | Size: 66.4mb
Starring Richard Kern and Susan McNamara
Richard Kern Thrust in Me
Co. dir. By Nick Zedd - 1985 - 08:12
Starring Nick Zedd, Don Houston, Margo Day and Dee Finley
New York City’s Lower East Side in the early Eighties saw an explosion of the downtown film scene, as a variety of film-makers, photographers, performers and artists, inspired by the post-punk No Wave music scene, began to explore new, direct, and confrontational cinematic forms.
In 1984 the manifesto for the Cinema of Transgression was announced, a movement looking to transform values by breaking all taboos of cinematic expression, conservative religion, politics and aesthetics.
In 1984 the manifesto for the Cinema of Transgression was announced, a movement looking to transform values by breaking all taboos of cinematic expression, conservative religion, politics and aesthetics.
Cinema of Transgression Manifesto by Nick Zedd
We who have violated the laws, commands and duties of the avant-garde; i.e. to bore, tranquilize and obfuscate through a fluke process dictated by practical convenience stand guilty as charged. We openly renounce and reject the entrenched academic snobbery which erected a monument to laziness known as structuralism and proceeded to lock out those filmmakers who possesed the vision to see through this charade.
We refuse to take their easy approach to cinematic creativity; an approach which ruined the underground of the sixties when the scourge of the film school took over. Legitimising every mindless manifestation of sloppy movie making undertaken by a generation of misled film students, the dreary media arts centres and geriatic cinema critics have totally ignored the exhilarating accomplishments of those in our rank - such underground invisibles as Zedd, Kern, Turner, Klemann, DeLanda, Eros and Mare, and DirectArt Ltd, a new generation of filmmakers daring to rip out of the stifling straight jackets of film theory in a direct attack on every value system known to man.
We propose that all film schools be blown up and all boring films never be made again. We propose that a sense of humour is an essential element discarded by the doddering academics and further, that any film which doesn’t shock isn’t worth looking at. All values must be challenged. Nothing is sacred. Everything must be questioned and reassessed in order to free our minds from the faith of tradition.Intellectual growth demands that risks be taken and changes occur in political, sexual and aesthetic alignments no matter who disapproves. We propose to go beyond all limits set or prescribed by taste, morality or any other traditional value system shackling the minds of men. We pass beyond and go over boundaries of millimeters, screens and projectors to a state of expanded cinema.
We violate the command and law that we bore audiences to death in rituals of circumlocution and propose to break all the taboos of our age by sinning as much as possible. There will be blood, shame, pain and ecstasy, the likes of which no one has yet imagined. None shall emerge unscathed. Since there is no afterlife, the only hell is the hell of praying, obeying laws, and debasing yourself before authority figures, the only heaven is the heaven of sin, being rebellious, having fun, fucking, learning new things and breaking as many rules as you can. This act of courage is known as transgression. We propose transformation through transgression - to convert, transfigure and transmute into a higher plane of existence in order to approach freedom in a world full of unknowing slaves.
YOU KILLED ME FIRST: The Cinema of Transgression
“There will be blood, shame, pain and ecstasy, the likes of which no one has yet imagined”, shouted Nick Zedd. The year was 1985 and the climate in New York was turbulent. Spawned from No Wave cinema and music, the Cinema of Transgression coined by Zedd aimed to outrage and violate morals and sensibilities, not pushing, but breaking with whatever boundaries it found. The term transgressive itself was first used by Zedd to describe his legacy with revolutionary filmmakers Kenneth Anger, Paul Morrissey and John Waters, and underground was the movement’s way of life and aspiration.
I like films that challenge and change my view on something or emotionally strike me in any way, may they be subtly and silently disturbing or aggressively and boisterously shockingConfrontational and provocative, the loose-knit group of filmmakers and artists clashed with the academically refined works springing from the film schools of the time, by spewing low-budget, punk-styled nihilistic aggression, violent eroticism, sex, drugs and chaos, shot with cheap 8mm cameras and stolen equipment.
The films each in its very own way formulated aggressive statements on US society. The intention was to shock, to provoke and to confrontNow Nick Zedd joins Richard Kern, Lydia Lunch, Lung Leg, Karen Finley, Tessa Hughes-Freeland, Kembra Pfahler, Casandra Stark, Tommy Turner and David Wojnarowicz in the first group exhibition of the collective’s groundbreaking work, subverting aggression, exploring excess, challenging conventionalized gender roles and crashing society conventions. We caught up with the curator, Susanne Pfeffer, to talk about the motivations behind a group that remains largely unknown but have greatly influenced later generations of artists – and to find out why do they still shock, even today.
Dazed Digital: What's the story behind the Cinema of Transgression? How did the sociopolitical background of the time inform what these filmmakers were doing?
Susanne Pfeffer: In the 1980s the group of filmmakers emerged from the Lower East Side, New York. Their shared aims were to transgress “all limits set or prescribed by taste, morality or any other traditional value system”, as Nick Zedd postulated it in the Cinema of Transgression manifesto (1985). While the Reagan government mainly focused on counteracting the decline of traditional family values, the filmmakers went on a collision course with the conventions of American society by dealing with life in the Lower East Side defined by criminality, brutality, drugs, AIDS, sex, and excess.
DD: What was the message? What did they want to say, and why did they want to say it?
Susanne Pfeffer: The films each in its very own way formulated aggressive statements on US society. The intention was to shock, to provoke and to confront. The films were primarily a radical response – YOU KILLED ME FIRST – to outdated social values and hypocritical double standards, to conventionalized gender roles, domestic violence as well as an ignorant view of poverty, drug consumption and HIV/AIDS.
DD: Nick Zedd said in the Cinema of Transgression manifesto, "any film which doesn't shock isn't worth looking at." Do you agree with this?
Susanne Pfeffer: With reference to the Cinema of Transgression I would definitely agree. I would generally say that I like films that challenge and change my view on something or emotionally strike me in any way, may they be subtly and silently disturbing or aggressively and boisterously shocking.
DD: Aggression, violence, troubled minds, sexual politics, desire, suicide - were they the movement's social comments or did these themes have a personal, more intimate connection to the filmmakers?
Susanne Pfeffer: Each film follows a very personal visual sense and demonstratively subjective readings of various living realities. About one film he directed together with Richard Kern, “Thrust In Me”, Nick Zedd once said: “By the time I made this, America had gone so far down the drain I was ready to kill myself but changed my mind when Kern offered me the chance to act it out in a film.” All filmmakers have been inspired by their own life stories and the films themselves emerged from an individual inner necessity. Art was the main element in life and life was the main element of art.
DD: Do you think these themes are gaining more popularity today?
Susanne Pfeffer: Unfortunately the themes of social hardship met with sociopolitical indifference hardly became less topical. Even if the social problems have changed, it is as the Cinema of Transgression shows, imperative to respond to them. The films attest to an extraordinarily radical thrust that to this very day remains shocking, disturbing, while reflecting and challenging social paradigms.
DD: Given the nature and thematics of the images we're constantly exposed to today, are we still easy to shock?
Susanne Pfeffer: The fact that these films still remain shocking, in spite of the massive presence of violence and pornography in contemporary societies, is quite surprising, but also points out a certain double standard in dealing with it.
DD: What are your personal favorites from the expo and why? What can we expect from it?
Susanne Pfeffer: Of course all the films I chose to show I really like and are definitely worth watching. YOU KILLED ME FIRST is the first exhibition to present the movement to the broader general public. To present them all together will shed a new light on this group of filmmakers whose output has remained largely unscreened until now.
DD: Why this, why here, why now? What makes it relevant today?
Susanne Pfeffer: Berlin was – already in the Eighties – one of the few and most important cities apart from New York where the films have been screened at all. As I mentioned before the relevance and importance lays in the remaining actuality and for me the radicality and the inner necessity of the movement's filmmaking is such outstanding, it can no longer be deprived of the public – especially today.
YOU KILLED ME FIRST :THE CINEMA OF TRANSGRESSION
“I think that today Julian Assange is pretty transgressive” told me Nick Zedd at the vernissage of YOU KILLED ME FIRST – The Cinema of Transgression exhibition that opened at KW Institute of Contemporary Art in Berlin on February 19th and will run until April 9, 2012. “I don’t think there’s any transgression left these days” replied Richard Kern. “Think about this. Today we are on show at the KW, 20 years ago I was kicked out of the Berlinale and my movies went unscreened and banned. What yesterday was transgression or revolution, today is simply establishment. I don’t like it, but that’s the way it is”.
In 1985, a group of artists reacted to what was at that time the so-called reaganomics and the attempt to contrast the decline of the traditional American family-society values, by publishing The Cinema of Transgression Manifesto, ten years before the Von Trier’s Dogma. Richard Kern, Nick Zedd, Kembra Pfahler, Casandra Stark, Beth B, Tommy Turner and Lydia Lunch went on trying to shock the world of art by stating that “all film schools be blown up and all boring films never be made again. We propose that a sense of humour is an essential element discarded by the doddering academics and further, that any film which doesn’t shock isn’t worth looking at… There will be blood, shame, pain and ecstasy, the likes of which no one has yet imagined. None shall emerge unscathed…”
And they made plenty of movies which, still today, bear the stigmata’s of something never seen before, certainly out of the mainstream and, yes, they remain quite violent and shocking, despite the fact that we think we have seen it all. The intentions were to question social conventions, morality, brutal domestic violence – a masterpiece in this sense is YOU KILLED ME FIRST, shot in 1985 by Kern – , gender roles, sex habits, suicide tendencies, as well as the idea of poverty, the consumption of drugs and the spread of HIV and subsequently AIDS. Movies that went largely unseen and unscreened for many years – only in New York and Berlin – becoming a fascinating underground counter-system of fighting for freedom and rights of expression.
There is no doubt that the KW Institute, dedicating for the first time ever such an exhibition to these filmakers, aims to refocus on the actuality and the necessity of similar artistic movements that today show probably less energy. Susanne Pfeffer, the curator, has made a long and deep journey into their world and the result is quite impressive. After you get out of the three floors and nineteen movies, you do feel full of blood and your brain keeps popping due to the disturbing images, but finally you get also a kind of revelation, with an enormous amount of willingness to fight against our contemporary chains. Unless you talk to Richard Kern at the exit. “I guess that all the movements from Occupy Wall Street to others are doomed to fail, because this system is fucked up and there are no chances to be free, at least from the capitalistic frame”. Pretty strong assertion, but if you kill, metaphorically speaking, your parents once, you can kill them twice, too. And they showed it is possible.- Elena Dal FornoThis act of courage is known as transgression. We propose transformation through transgression – to convert, transfigure and transmute into a higher plane of existence in order to approach freedom in a world full of unknowing slaves.