STOPS FOR A POSE AS A BAD GUY IN A WESTERN-ADVENTURE MOVIE
What do you see when you watch the films today, now that the time has passed?
Pretty much the same as they were before, it hasn’t changed one bit.
It’s like it was just yesterday, that’s the weird thing with time. It
seems like yesterday. But I still look at it and wonder what people are
seeing when they see it. There’s a couple of films I’ve got a really
good idea of how the audience is going to react, but not in general.
Like the very first one I made was Goodbye 42nd Street, that’s
on there. The first time I showed it, I was really surprised people were
into it. I just thought it was such a shitty Super-8 movie, but people
responded well and that encouraged me. The first time it was at a
screening, it wasn’t allowed to be screened. They immediately said, “You
can’t show this.” That was also inspiring, to say “fuck you” to those
So you were part of the Cinema of Transgression. Were you trying
specifically to shock people and freak them out or was that an
The group of films that immediately preceded it in the underground were
all very boring. It seemed like one of the qualifications was to make
it boring and slow and long. So our plan was to make it short, and make
it non-boring, if possible. And that may not work now, but back then it
did, and we just tried to break down any moral thing or taboo you could.
One of my personal things was to fuck up relationships and fuck up
people’s heads as much as possible. People were completely shocked by
some of the stuff. But this was in the 80s, so I don’t know how they
will react now.
Do you think it’s as shocking now as it was then?
There was this show in Berlin at the KW Institute of Contemporary Art
in Berlin. They did this whole Cinema of Transgression month where they
installed the films in this club-like atmosphere, like you would’ve seen
back then, in different, weird rooms. People said it was really
effective, and it was. I walked through and there was one film that I
watched that a friend of mine made that I hadn’t seen since then and I
couldn’t sit through the whole thing, it was just too fucking hardcore.
So it’s definitely a negative attitude, everything was negative,
everything was nihilist. It’s the whole belief, and it probably sounds
stupid sitting here in this restaurant, but you have to destroy
everything to start over again. That was the whole anarchist approach,
which was pretty much the punk attitude. It was “fuck everything”. And I
felt the only way you could really destroy and fuck with people was to
fuck with their love life and their personal relationships. When you see
something, it coarsens you. Every bad thing you see coarsens you. Think
about video games, like playing Black-Ops – it fucks with your head. I don’t care what people say.
I was reading some of the reviews and one of the main critiques was
that these people were shitty actors. Was that a secondary care for you?
It’s funny you just said that because I never thought about that. It
wasn’t the same kind of approach, and if I was making one now, I still
wouldn’t think about it. I never thought about that. But yeah, they are
shitty actors. It’s all your state of mind when you’re looking at them,
everybody in the movies is pretty real.
Yeah, the things they were doing were real.
Believe me, in Fingered,
Marty Nation was exactly like that, no exaggeration. The guy who’s
lifting weights, he was like that. Everybody was real. Lydia Lunch was
like that. Lung Leg was like that. The story was based on Lydia and
Marty’s travels when she was 16 and they would hitchhike and get picked
up by somebody, and Marty would take his knife out and start stabbing
and cutting up the upholstery in the car, looking at the guy. All those
guys were really scary. The guy who’s lifting weights in it got killed
about two years ago, somebody shot him finally.
You were pretty prolific in that time period, when these films were made. Were you just obsessed with making these films?
Yeah, it was what I did and I had a lot of ideas and I had all the
equipment, which wasn’t much, it was a Super-8 camera and three lights
and I had a big apartment to shoot in and plenty of people who wanted to
do stuff. And I wouldn’t call them actors, I’d call them performer
types. Nothing was scripted, the closest thing we had to a script was Fingered and You Killed Me First and
those were just, “This is what’s gonna happen in this scene. You’re
gonna say this. Or you say something like this.” Lydia and Marty in Fingered
would just make up dialogue as they went. They would play off of each
other. I would tell them what we were gonna shoot tomorrow and they
could say what they wanted. It wasn’t traditional filmmaking, by any
How much contact are you in with these people now?
I saw Lydia a few weeks ago in a bar in Williamsburg doing a reading.
And she’s playing in Williamsburg again next Monday. But she lives in
Barcelona, I see her occasionally.
I’m really interested in understanding the evolution from doing
these nihilistic films to the stuff you do now, which seems a little bit
more gentle and subtle. Fingered was one of John Waters’ favorite films, and I hung out
with him a few times and he said, “It’s interesting to be an angry young
man when you’re young, but when you’re old you just look like an idiot
to still be angry.” A lot of those films were made when I was a drug
addict, and when I got clean the only thing I could afford to do was
take photos. And I started taking photos of everybody I knew and tried
to get them naked. And it just evolved into this other thing.
There’s some films I’ve made that are still like the old ones. There’s
one I finished last year that was harder than anything I ever did. It’s
just hard to watch. And it’s the perfect movie for me because it’s a
documentary about a girl explaining why she cuts herself, and then she
does it. I shot it with a shitty little video camera, I set the camera
up and she sat there and talked about it. But it’s a really powerful
movie. It was in a show here in New York at Maccarone, and at the
opening it was just bumming people out like crazy. For me, that was a
huge success. To be able to have that effect, and it wasn’t fake, it
wasn’t set up, it was just a real thing that really bummed people out,
and I was lucky enough to get it. It’s the same attitude. But then
there’s these other films, Face To Panty Ratio
for example. It’s a pretty film, there’s nothing bad going on, but
you’re looking at girls’ panties, looking at their faces, it’s very
hypnotic. But you realise, “I’m looking at girls’ panties.” A lot of
people are into the movie, but it’s a little music video about girls’
panties. So other people think it’s perverse.
You can’t say it’s porn, because it’s not porn. It’s just focusing on
two really interesting parts of a female, their face and their panties,
and what’s wrong with looking at it? One of my things has always been to
make no apologies for what you’re doing, and if you have some kind of
perversion, it’s not a perversion. Guys like to look at girls’ panties,
plenty of girls like to look at girls’ panties, but people act like it’s
such a big fucking deal if they get caught doing it.
Everything’s a joke. Every film. A joke on the audience.
I thought I saw a bit of your work now in Submit to Me and Submit to Me Now.
I quit making films for like ten years and then around 2008 I started
again and then I really started again a couple years ago. All this stuff
is just random stuff I shoot when I shoot photos, it’s not completely
random, I have these themes. Just this past summer I spent four months
making ten or 20 films, all made up of all these pieces I shot. I just
collected them for four years and then sat down and edited them. But
that is not traditional filmmaking. I would just say to the girl, “Okay
give me a walk from here to here, this way to this way to this way.” I
just shot a whole bunch of girls, like B-shoot photos, I was like,
“We’re gonna shoot some video. You sit here, and I want you to cry. See
if you can cry, can you cry?” They go, “Maybe.” And I just sit there
and wait for them to cry, and if they cry I got it. Or I have them throw
a fit. “Beat the bed, beat the couch,” and all this shit will end up in
different movies. It’s not the traditional filmmaking or videos.
I think it’s interesting, especially in the Submit to Me stuff, they’re almost like moving photographs, there’s not a plot but they’re still very interesting.
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.