Sunday, April 8, 2012

Vortex (Scott B and Beth B, 1982)

Whether I'm doing my laundry or dangling helplessly on a precipice overlooking a deep chasm, you can pretty much guarantee that one of the thoughts floating around inside my brain while I'm doing either of those things will be related to the worship and appreciation of Lydia Lunch's substantive thighs. However, since I've already explained my love for Lydia Lunch's meaty stems many times in the past, I'll just state that her... Oh, how should I put this? Okay, how 'bout this? Her curves were a huge influence on me as a teenager. Yeah, I like that; vaguely specific. Find a copy of the Stinkfist EP, take a look at the pictures that adorn the cover and the back cover (study them long and hard if you have to), and you'll know exactly where my head was at as a sex-starved fifteen year-old. Along with Boy George, Markie Post, and Winona Ryder, Lydia helped nurture my wayward hormones during a critical period. Yet, unlike the people I just mentioned, Lydia Lunch's physical structure was always seemed allusive to me. You see, whereas Boy George could be seen cavorting about in Culture Club music videos on television channels that were originally designed to show music videos around the clock, Night Court reruns gave me my daily allotment of Markie Post goodness, and Winona Ryder's movies were as an ubiquitous as a head cold, Lydia Lunch and her world class thighs were nowhere to be found in the realm of visual media. All I had was the sound of her snarky voice on the records I owned, and that was it. Well, I'm hoping to change all that by seeking out and finding as much Lydia Lunch material as I possibly can. My first step in this process was to watch a recent documentary called Blank City (Celine Danhier, 2010), a detailed account of the movies that made up the No Wave and Cinema of Transgression movements during the late 1970s/early '80s. If any film is going to give some ideas on where to start my cinematic journey, vis-à-vis, the films of Lydia Lunch, this is going to be it.
In the film, as expected, there's a lengthy segment on Lydia Lunch and the important role she played in both scenes. Showing clips from a wide range of No Wave and Cinema of Transgression movies, I was somewhat alarmed when I discovered that the majority of the films looked like unwatchable, non-titillating trash. Which, I'll admit, are exactly the type of films I seem to be gravitating towards as of late. But I'm not just gonna watch something because Lydia Lunch is in it. I mean, did I buy Waking Up with the House on Fire? (Culture Club's third album.) I don't think so. Did I watch Hearts Afire? (The sitcom Markie Post starred in after Night Court.) Nope. And did I go see The House of the Spirits? (The movie where Winona Ryder plays a Chilean woman.) Are you high? No, I need the film to have a certain quality about it that transcends its trashiness.
All of a sudden, the documentary started to focus on a film written and directed by Scott B and Beth B called Vortex, a futuristic film noir starring Lydia Lunch as a private investigator named Angel Powers. Now this is what I've been waiting for. A film full of artistic flourishes and big ideas, yet providing me with me shots of a leggy Lydia Lunch behaving in a leggy manner in the presence of a peckish boa constrictor, the film, not to be confused the awesome used record store of the same name (still going strong at Yonge and Eglinton, baby!), depicts a world where corporations have taken over the government.

Opening with a U.S. congressmen (David Kennedy) making incriminating statements to an unseen individual on a grainy security camera feed. Watching this grainy feed with an eerie sense of malevolence is Frederick Fields (the reliably gaunt Bill Rice), the Howard Hughes-esque CEO of Fieldco., a company that manufactures state-of-the-art weaponry. Visibly annoyed by what the politician is saying, Fields sends Peter (Brent Collins), the height-challenged bartender who works at a nearby pub, an encoded e-mail instructing him to eliminate the congressman. And the reason for this? Well, apparently, he was talking to Navco, a rival weapons manufacturer, so, goodbye.
Given that Fields is a recluse who is confined to a wheelchair, that means he has to depend on others to carry out the physical aspects of his bidding. While it's obvious that Pete the bartender is his go-to man when it comes to taking out his enemies (he uses what would now be construed as a taser to kill his victims), Tony Demmer (James Russo) is the man who handles his everyday affairs. Whether he needs milk and donuts delivered to his door or requires his office drones to be sufficiently scolded, Tony is the man for the job. Now, the reason his other employees, like, Pamela Flemming (Ann Magnuson), look at Tony with suspicion is because he used to be Fields' chauffeur. Which begs the question: How did a lowly chauffeur end up being the confidant to a man who designs satellite weapons and unmanned aircraft for a living? I don't know, but Fields seems to trust him.

Just as I was starting to wonder where Lydia Lunch fits in in this murky world of corporate espionage, legislative corruption, and congressional cronyism, we finally see her soaking seductively in an analogue bubblebath of her own creation. (Keen observers will notice that her thighs are poking through the bubbles ever so slightly). Smoking while reading notes attached to a clipboard–one that she held aloft over her no-nonsense nipples–Lydia plays Angel Powers, a private investigator who, it would seem, does her best sleuthing while submerged in soapy water.

After checking herself in the mirror (gorgeousness oozes from every pore), she answers the door to a man who wants her to investigate the murder of the recently tasered congressman. Standing amidst her collection of stuffed animals (the gal seems to have a thing for taxidermy) in a gunmetal outfit that looked amazing paired with her jet black hair (her bangs mean business), Angel listens to the man prattle on and on about Navco and Fieldco, and something called the "BFW," a super secret space weapon the two companies are trying to manufacture.

In order to create a film noir vibe, Scott B and Beth B shoot the scene in Angel's apartment through set of blinds. In fact, almost every scene in Vortex is shot in an irregular manner. In some cases, the only thing on-screen at any given moment is Lydia Lunch's beautiful face floating within an all-consuming field of impenetrable darkness (her profile is coarse yet angelic at the same time). Giving her the skinny on the eccentric millionaire and his chauffeur, the squirrely man tells Angel that he wants her to nail Fieldco, and nail them hard (he probably works for Navco). Meanwhile, back at Pete's bar, Tony is giving a group of Fieldco execs, including the lovely Ann Magnuson, a refresher course on how to act while in the presence of Mr. Fields; the idea is for the execs to watch a demonstration of the BFW in action.

As with most private investigators, Angel uses her so-called "connections" to help her with the tougher cases. Only problem is, a junkie and a paranoid shut-in are she's got. Sure, the former is constantly asking her for money, and the latter seems to enjoy watching swing helplessly in a net (a crude security system he uses to trap intruders), but unreliable connections aren't going to prevent Angel Powers from creating an aura that reeks of noirish cool. Sifting through a weapons catalogue supplied by the shut-in (using today's lingo, he'd be considered a "hacker"), while, of course, soaking in the tub, Angel learns more about the case.

Heading down to the "company bar," Angel, after telling her junkie "friend" to leave her alone, finally meets Tony Demmer, the world's most powerful former chauffeur. I won't lie, I've been waiting patiently for these two volatile characters to hook up ever since they were introduced. Asking Tony, "Do you want to fuck or not?" Angel is clearly a woman who prefers not to mess around. The film's jazzy electronic score ("Black Box Disco") and dark cinematography accentuate their off-kilter courtship, as the two make their way to his apartment. Unlike her apartment, there are no stuffed animals. But he does have a pet python, which Tony shows to Angel as she lounges leggily on his bed (he feeds it a dead rodent).

It would seem that Tony, much like the audience, has developed moderate to strong feelings for Angel (he showed her his snake, I bet he doesn't do that for all the ladies). And, as a result, he has lost interest in taking orders from Fields. Tired of catering to his every whim, Tony has started to ignore his master. This, of course, upsets Fields, who accuses Tony of being a sex maniac bent on destroying his work.
Sex maniac?!? No, actually, what Tony is doing is what any man with eyes would do, and that is fall hopelessly in love with Lydia Lunch. Granted her personality can be a tad grating at times, but you don't squander the opportunity to be ensconced in Lunch-based loveliness when given the chance, and that's exactly what Tony does; he ensconces the fuck out of her.

Except, Tony gets greedy. He wants to run Fieldco and be in love with Lydia...I mean, Angel Powers, at the same time. And we know that's impossible. The truth comes out during a confrontation between Tony and Angel on a shadowy rooftop. The scene is noteworthy for many different reasons, but it's mainly known, at least in my mind it is, for the brief shots of Lydia Lunch's legs encased in black silk stockings. To the surprise of virtually no-one, the sensation that came with watching the moonlight penetrate Lydia Lunch's garter belt, its black suspenders tearing across her ashen thighs with an air of sweaty desperation, was as close to heaven as I'm ever going to get.

The budget may have been limited–though, I hear it was quite high as far as No Wave movies go ($80,000)–but the ideas it tries to convey were anything but. Oh, and the fact Ann Magnuson (Making Mr. Right) is in it, even though it's only a small part, increases the film's coolness quota by at least ten points.


  1. Please tell me where you found this. I'm begging you. I've been looking for this film for a long time.

    Also a huge fan of Lydia's early music. TEEN-AGE JESUS, 8-EYED SPY, and HONEYMOON IN RED was my collective soundtrack during high school. Still listen to 13.13, IN LIMBO, and QUEEN constantly.

  2. I got my copy of Vortex (complete with Japanese subtitles) at Eyesore Cinema in Toronto.

  3. Dafuq????


    Useless trivia: Lydia Lunch is from Rochester.

    And thanks, Yummers. I now have "The War Song" STUCK IN MY HEAD. You know, the one on "Waking Up with the House on Fire"? I did have that album.

    During a recent sleepless night, I turned on the boob tube, and what was on? Undercover Boss: Abroad in Canada at...PIZZA PIZZA! Awesome sauce.

  4. Should I feel embarrassed that I had to look up what "dafug" meant. :D

    Oh yeah, Lydia's from Rochester. I always had this idea in my head she was hatched somewhere on the Lower East Side.

    You mean my mentioning of "Waking Up with the House on Fire" caused you to get "The War Song" stuck in your head? I don't know if I should be blamed for that. ;)

    You mean the guy or gal who runs Pizza Pizza worked behind the counter? I would have watched that. If anything, it would have been a refreshing change from the constant bombardment of shows about storage lockers and cupcakes.

  5. @ Yum-yum: thanks for the info. But Toronto is so far away. Wonder if they have any more copies or ship international.

    You have a favorite Lydia record? I love her voice and early music, but could never get into the spoken word stuff.

  6. I had my copy special ordered. Oh, and just so know, it's a bootleg DVD (with non removable Japanese subtitles). Anyway, I can ask about their shipping policy.

    In the meantime, you can check out there facebook page... maybe even ask them directly.

    The spoken word stuff was how I found out Lydia Lunch. But yeah, I like Queen of Siam; Atomic Bongos, baby.

  7. Freshman year of college, I spazzed out listening to "Atomic Bongos." I ran out into my dorm's hall, took of running, launched myself, and slide several feet. No alcohol or drugs involved. That crazy beat was just too much.

    I'm ok with bootlegs and non-removable Japanese subtitles (my own neglected blog features both). I'll check around online first before I give your store a call. Thanks for all the help!

    Have you seen her in R. Kern films?

  9. No, but I want to. Especially "Fingered."

  10. you will see the actual penetration and yet it's not pornography. it's something else. like pornography deconstructed. or broken. interesting work. it's also beyond trashy, like smashing the trash agenda. you find yourself somehow displaced, with all the wrong senses titillated. Or like having some new senses disocvered.

  11. I just placed an order for a copy of "The Hardcore Collection: The Films of Richard Kern." So, hopefully I'll be watching these film in the not-so distant future. :)