Monday, July 4, 2011

Mondo New York (Harvey Keith, 1988)

Following the seductive line of enviable filth that snaked along her sturdy thighs with my finger as the muck made its way down the pale nooks and ashen crannies of her pronounced calve muscles was one of my favourite past times as a withdrawn, easily entertained youth. Held aloft in order that the guy from Foetus could pretend to probe her pulsating pussy with a certain degree of comfort, the sight of Lydia Lunch with her brawny legs in the air was a huge influence on me. Looking directly into the camera as she braced for the pelvic onslaught that was about to be unleashed onto her genital flight deck, it was almost as if Lydia's eyes were speaking directly to me as I stared at her lying spread-eagle on the back of the Stinkfist EP ("The push, the panic, the pain, the poison!"). I like to think that her eyes were trying to tell me something. Perhaps something like, stay true to yourself, and maybe, one day, you'll get to penetrate someone like me. People often never ask me, "What's the deal with your obsession with vulgar words and phrases?" Of course, I wouldn't classify my vocabulary that way at all; it's unrefined language expressed without fear. Anyway, hearing this half-crazed woman one night ranting about wanting to destroy the pathetic cock currently seeking shelter and warmth inside her dangerous vagina, I remember my ears perking up in a manner similar to the way they percolated when I first heard the menacing throb of a Skinny Puppy song on the radio. Well, I soon found out that the half-crazed woman spewing verbal diarrhea all over my tinny speakers was Karen Finley, and just like that, my linguistic outlook was changed forever. Oh, and the reason I used the word "dangerous" to describe Karen's second most popular opening had nothing to do with its appearance or reputation as an unstable structure, but because of the sheer conviction of the voice attached to the vagina led everyone who listened to it to respect its raw power.

What, may I ask, happened when you discovered that not all women are like Lydia Lunch and Karen Finley? Did you, like, freak out and stuff? Since my intense shyness has prevented me from meeting an insane amount of people over the years, it's entirely possible that I haven't met this profane angel yet. However, in a universe replete with delusional pop stars who ripoff Madonna for a living and highly paid morons who paint themselves orange for the amusement of smug mouth-breathers with low self-esteem, I'll admit, my chances of meeting an unhinged performance artist, one who is just waiting to slit my throat with human kindness, are pretty slim. In the meantime, I guess I'll have to settle for watching Mondo New York, the only cinematic travelogue to feature lanky drag queens, BDSM, angry poets, human trafficking, and, of course, Lydia Lunch, who looked absolutely gorgeous laying the groundwork for the weirdness about to unfold for the next eighty or so minutes, and Karen Finley, who spends most of her time doing what she does best: railing against yuppies while covered with animal by-products.

Wait a minute, back up the truck (a truck that is hopefully crammed super-tight with defective dildos), you mean to tell me that there's an actual movie out there that features both Lydia Lunch and Karen Finley?!? You better believe it. Sure, so one of the loquacious lovelies is only in the film for forty-five seconds, but forty-five seconds is still better than nothing. Okay, as far as justifications go for the lack of a person's screentime, that shit is pretty weak. But you have to understand, just because you wanna live in a world where the sight of Lydia Lunch slowing asphyxiating a bound Kate Hudson with the mouth-watering circumference of her unclothed derriere, while Karen Finley tries on irregular pantyhose in the background are daily occurrences, does not mean that world will ever exist. Take the scraps of Lydia and Karen you given and be grateful, you pompous prat.

Conceived by filmmaker Harvey Keith and Night Flight creator Stuart S. Shapiro, the film, a veritable hodgepodge of New York cool, focuses on a wide array of artists, poets, musicians, comedians, perverts, criminals, and drug users at a time when being any one of those things actually meant something. Our guide on this tour, a nameless blonde woman in denim (Shannah Laumeister), quietly walks from one unorthodox venue to another, soaking up the city's unique culture over the course of a single day. Yeah, that's right, she walks quietly. On top of having no name, our guide seems to go unnoticed wherever she ends up, despite the fact she also turns heads (her physical appearance meets many of the rigid standards held by those whose populate the male branch of the heterosexual realm of existence). This anonymous temperament, including the overtones that seem to contradict her anonymity at every turn, gave her presence a decidedly non-judgmental air. Of course, I don't mean to imply that she's some kind of mindless observer, on the contrary, our guide does express her feelings every now and then. But for the most part, she simply absorbs what's put in front of her like she were a sponge or a moldy piece of bread.

You'll notice that I mentioned "New York cool" as supposed to just plain "cool." Well, the reason I did that was to keep to the two distinct types of cool separate from another. My coolness, let's get one thing straight, has never been in doubt, yet the cool that existed in New York City circa, oh, let's say, the ten year period between 1978-1988, will intimidate even the most ardent of cool people. Let me put it this way, there's a reason no one has bothered to make a movie called Mondo Etobicoke.

We open on New York City's world famous skyline, it's around 4 or 5 A.M. in the morning, when, all of a sudden, Lydia Lunch enters the frame, which, by the way, is bathed in mist. She doesn't identify herself as a "Lydia Lunch," but we know who she is. Clutching her jean jacket with a feistier than usual brand of determination, Lydia proceeds to tell us all about the hopes and dreams of the residents of the fair city she stands before. You see, apparently there's this giant garbage pile, and the outcasts, misfits, rejects, loser pervert lunatics, gangsters, pranksters, and outlaws all want to claw their way to the top of it. Standing in their way, however, are bunch of neurotics, psychotics, maniacs, brainiacs, hippies, yippies, yuppies, flunkies, and even monkeys. In other words, it's a war zone out there. The very soul of Mondo New York is up for grabs, and only the most self-absorbed of citizens will be able to claim it.

After Lydia is finished with her prologue, we quickly hook up with our red sneaker-wearing guide. Making her way through a crowd of punks and freaks, our guide enters what looks like a concert venue, positions herself amidst the jaded audience, and watches Phoebe Legere writhe about in an erotic stupor while performing "Marilyn Monroe." Even though the lyrics of the song mostly involve singing the deceased movie star's name over and over again, Phoebe's ebullient stage presence more than makes up for the song's lack of lyrical diversity. Sporting one pink opera glove (dig the black frays, girlfriend), fishnet stockings (which were held up by narrow bands of dark fabric), a gold chain belt, and strumming a guitar with a leopard print strap (yeah, I noticed her guitar strap), Phoebe thrusts and heaves her body across the stage like a raving banshee with rag doll ambitions.

Leaving the concert (I guess she'd seen enough of Phoebe's protruding pubic hair for one day), our guide enters a church-like structure, takes a seat in one of the pews, and watches Joel Coleman, performance artist, Richard Speck fan and all round weird guy, bite the heads off two rodents, utter the phrase "syphilic cunt fossils," and lights the firecracker that was sewn into his poncho. Question: If our guide leaves during a performance (she got up and left just as the rodents were about to lose their heads) does that mean we should go as well? Obviously she wasn't that offended by Joel's mouse abuse, because we see her at his apartment moments later, but it does give the audience something to think about.

Animal lovers will want to avoid the aforementioned rodent decapitation scene, the cockfighting sequence (one rooster is killed by another rooster), and the voodoo ritual (a live chicken has its head bitten off). There's a scene that features the always beguiling Ann Magnuson beating a dead horse with a mattenklopper, but the horse she was pummeling was clearly fake. Fans human cruelty, on the other hand, will want to make sure they catch the scenes that show our intrepid guide peeking through a crack in a wall to catch a glimpse of nipples being clamped and asses being spanked and another where she spies on an illicit gathering where women are being sold at an auction. The former was just your average early morning S&M party (lots of leather and some mild heel sucking), it was the latter scene that threw me for a bit of a loop. At first I thought they selling cheongsams. But then it dawned on me, the body-hugging garments weren't for sale, it was the shapely women poured into them that were being sold.

Tired of whips and chains, our guide heads down some stairs to watch a mentally challenged individual, one who took blithering and twitching in a wheelchair took a whole new level of spasticity, get his special needs penis serviced by Veronica Vera (her womanly epicentre eventually wrapped in cellophane) and Annie Sprinkle (her lumpy, bumpy frame covered in body paint), as Sabine Reithmayer (or it could it been Linda Mac) recites poetry.

It's around noon, and our guide is about to get an earful from a random collection of the Lower East Side's most civic-minded residents. Some yell out the standard "I love New York," while others, like one angry-sounding woman, declare, "I will fight for the Lower East Side." A former East Londoner, who now lives in Alphabet City, thinks the fact that you can now get rap music on compact disc is a sign of the apocalypse. Which, of course, will manifest itself when the yuppies inevitably takeover. Walking into a junkyard, I mean, an outdoor art installation (it's hard to tell the difference sometimes), our guide runs into Joey Arias, who, while as dressed like a flamenco-inspired devil, serenades her with a song called "Fish Out Of Water."

Heading over to the fountain in Washington Square Park, our guide finds a seat on the steps and prepares herself for the ethnic comedy of Charlie Barnett (Miami Vice) and Rick Aviles (Ghost). Announcing that he loves a New York audience, Charlie's routine revolves around jokes based on racial stereotypes (white guys walk this, black guys walk like this), while Rick's schtick was...pretty much the same (black gay guys talk like this, white gay guys talk like this).

Since I've already alluded to the Ann Magnuson scene, which takes place in a pastoral field and has her reciting a poem about prime interest rates to a giant turkey (which, surprisingly, isn't brutally murdered), I'll just mention that I regret not including Ann in my opening bit about Lydia Lunch and Karen Finely. If anyone deserves to be drowned in lavish praise, it's Ann Magnuson, especially a pigtail-sporting Ann Magnuson. Quirky fun-fact: The only audible sound our guide makes in Mondo New York are the screams she lets out as a result of being chased by a carpet beater-wielding Ann Magnuson.

Sandwiched between Joey Arias' elegant, jazzy interpretation of "A Hard Days Night" (I loved the mid-song costume change) and an abridged version of "Hustle With My Muscle" by John Sex ("I'll cram your box 'til it's good and smelly"), is the enchanting Karen Finley, whose scathing spoken word piece was, in my opinion, the moment when the film's overall mission statement (the soulless chunks of yuppie scum who desperately want to corrupt the cultural integrity of our beloved neighbourhood must be stopped) was expressed in a succinct manner. In a work called "I Hate Yellow," Karen strips down to her panties (all good performance art involves nudity), covers her body with egg yolk and glitter, and begins to attack the yuppie mindset ("I'm not gonna let you gang rape me, yuppie!"). The gist of her diatribe is that yuppies and their pastel clothing are the bane of human existence. It's not exactly the most groundbreaking concept, but it's done in a such an entertaining manner, that you're willing look past its apparent banality. I liked the part where she scolds the yuppie's children who are, according to her, a bunch of "nine year-olds who only talk through their computers."

Fully enlightened, and probably hankering a pair of chocolate-covered yuppie balls, our guide observes a crowd slam dancing to "New York New York" by Manitoba's Wild Kingdom ("Everyone's an asshole, everyone's a creep!"), and, like most nights in New York City, ends her evening standing before a bald, long-legged drag queen. Unafraid to drink in every square inch of his fabulous frame, Harvey Keith's camera immortalizes Dean Johnson as he performs "Fuck You" with the Weenies. I can't think of a better way to end Mondo New York than to have a rawboned dandy in shades say "fuck you" to Union Carbide and Mary Tyler Moore, as it sums up the film's anarchistic attitude perfectly.


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2 comments:

  1. I've actually seen this one. I must have looked past the animal abuse scenes, as I vividly remember K Finley's freakout and the wandereing NY lost soul as she checks into various and sundry late night establishments. I think I liked it. I was probably very high and therefore my opinion can't be trusted.

    Still, not so high that I don't remember it. So there's that.

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  2. The cat scene in Mr. Mike's Mondo Video is the worst example of animal abuse I've seen in a movie, but the stuff in this flick is still pretty bad in terms of overall cruelty.

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