The “It” girl. This hard to pin down designation, with its origins in the 1927 Clara Bow film It, is usually reserved for a young woman with an undefinable yet magnetic appeal who causes a stir wherever she goes. Think Twiggy in the 1960s or Chloe Sevigny in the early 1990s. In the hedonistic days of the 1970s and early 1980s New York City, Wendy Wild easily laid claim to this title. Part Kathy Acker, part Helen Faraday (aka Marlene Dietrich’s character in Blonde Venus), Wild was a self-created force of nature with a seemingly insatiable well of creativity. In his short documentary The Wendy Wild Story, director (and Wild’s brother) Glenn Andreiev provides an intimate if, by the ropes, portrait of a woman who rubbed shoulders/collaborated with the high priests and priestesses of “the downtown scene” before her early death from cancer at age 40.
Growing up in a sleepy town on Long Island in the 1960s, Wendy Andreiev was a fish-out-of-water. Driven and outspoken, it was a fait accompli that she would make a beeline for New York City. And by the 1970s, the rechristened Wendy Wild had, indeed, moved to Manhattan’s gritty Lower East Side. Arriving her former boyfriend—who would come out of the closet and recreate himself as gay shock-disco pioneer John Sex—the shape-changing Wild was soon making the scene at the legendary discotheque Studio 54 and causing a ruckus at new wave/punk mecca The Pyramid Club. Not content to be on the sidelines, Wild began fronting Pulsallama, a short-lived yet legendary, all-girl band who would rule Manhattan nightlife in 1981 and 1982. She then resurfaced in the punk-polka band, Das Furlines. Wild also was one the first mermaids in the now hugely popular Coney Island Mermaid Parade and appeared in Bye Bye Birdie with (now) EGOT winning composer Marc Shaiman.
“…a woman who rubbed shoulders/collaborated with the high priests and priestesses of ‘the downtown scene’…”
Using family photos, grainy home video footage (which was in its infancy at the time), director Andreiev unspools the tale of Wild’s remarkable life, peppering the doc with anecdotes from famous Village Voice gossip/nightlife columnist Michael Musto (“Wendy was like a fabulous kaleidoscope.”) among other NYC litterati. She would go on to play in bands including The Mad Violets and Love Delegation, appear in a video for John Sex’s break-out hit “Rock Your Body,” and befriend Bongwater front-woman Anne Magnuson. Without a doubt, Wild lived large and, as the film tenderly shows, fought hard until her early demise in 1996.
As a film, The Wendy Wild Story—though shedding light on a luminous, little-known spirit — functions more like an intimate home movie than an incisive documentary, which is not all that surprising given that it was directed by her brother. Sometimes, when a filmmaker is too close to her/his subject, the narrative can be overcome by nostalgia. That’s not to say that this isn’t a film worth watching. Anyone interested in a glimpse of a Lower East Side that’s now only a memory — replete with penniless artists, margin walkers of all types, and cultural provocateurs — and of a woman who embodied the artistic muse and zeitgeist of the era would do well to watch this celluloid love letter.
The Wendy Wild Story (2017) Directed by Glenn Andreiev. Starring Wendy Wild, John Sex, Joey Arias, Michael Musto, Glenn Andreiev, Rachel Amodeo, April Palmieri.
6 out of 10 stars