Had any particularly good or bad reactions to your film?
Yes. Many good reactions did touch me. One of them being a filmmaker from New Zealand who now lives in Chicago and saw it at the CUFF. He said he was then feeling a bit down and enjoyed the doc. Another one is from the painter David West who appears in the film at the first screening in Paris. He did like it and he actually lived the thing. It touched me a lot. I’m getting really emotional these days! There’s been one very bad reaction. Someone wishing the doc would be re-edited. But I can’t say whom. Too bad…
How did you decide whom to shoot for the doc?
Some people I had been wanting to interview from the start: Richard Kern, Nick Zedd and Lydia Lunch because they’re the main figures of the COT to me; Joe Coleman because he was not a part of it but still he has something great in common with the others; Jack Sargeant because it was obvious to me he was the best one to talk to about it who was not directly involved. I wanted to meet people that were not necessarily filmmakers in the COT but who could testify of what was happening at that time, and who were involved in it in different ways. David West for instance remembers everything about this period and had an important role although he was not in the COT. Cliff Szaphir is a good friend of Nick Zedd now and didn’t know him in the early 80’s. Richard Hell was there before, he’s a Punk icon, and had acquaintances with these people. These are all very different point of views of the COT and the people involved in it. And of course, there’s always the ones who won’t accept to be interviewed, the ones you cannot reach, the ones you cannot meet because of the low budget, the ones you don’t get good interviews from, the ones that were good but you couldn’t keep in the final editing…
Was there anybody you wanted to shoot but didn’t or couldn’t?
Of course! Foetus for example thought about it and decided he didn’t want to get involved in the documentary. I think it was because it was history but I’m not sure exactly why. I would have loved to interview him but that’s just the way it happened. I never could reach Lung Leg or Casandra Stark or Tommy Turner. I also wanted to interview Annie Sprinkle but couldn’t afford the trip. Someone named Chad Rullman was kind enough to film and interview Jarboe for me and sent me the tape because of the lack of money. Some never answered. Or I did interviews that eventually didn’t fit in the editing. And there’s a whole part about Bruce LaBruce that I unfortunately had to cut because the documentary was too long. The main difficulty was that it’s not necessarily pleasant to these people to talk about the COT because it’s history for them. It’s long gone. One of them once asked me if the documentary was only about the COT. He was hoping not. I tried not to focus on it. I hope I didn’t and managed to talk about who they are now without nostalgia.
Why was Bruce LaBruce in the doc? After all, he never had anything to do with the films, and only wrote an article slating the cinematic movement after the fact.
I’m glad you ask this question because as I said I had to remove the whole part about him from “Llik…”. He’s really important because as Jack Sargeant told me, he started slating the COT but ended up being good friends with some of the people involved in the movement and perpetuating the COT tradition. He’s a perfect example of how the COT has influenced younger artists and on how it was then perceived. There’s also this film, “Super 8 1/2”, in which Richard Kern appears and it’s sort of a parody of COT films where you understand how much humor Richard Kern and Bruce LaBruce have, how much distance they have from their work.
I understand you were a Richard Kern model. Was it seeing his movies or looking at his nude photography books that made you want to do nude modeling (if it was nude)?
I had been modeling nude for some people in France before who suggested I model for Richard Kern. And I think he had a role to play in me doing so. When I first did, I hadn’t decided to make this documentary and I wouldn’t have thought then I would contact Richard Kern to model for him. But I guess if I wanted to model it is mostly because I like photography and I like Richard Kern’s work along with other photographers’ work, like Weegee or Diane Arbus. The nude part wasn’t necessary at all. It became something I liked because of my terrible shyness and what I thought about myself. It was some kind of an exorcism!
Would you have liked to appear in any of the films if you’d had the chance?
I would have loved to but I don’t think I’m a good model and I’m afraid I would not have been a good actress either! I should practice more.
You are French. Do you think the COT is thought of differently in Europe than it is in America? If so, how?
Well I think films in general are thought of differently in Europe than they are in America. In France, the audience is generally dead quiet for example. People don’t react much. I have this feeling, maybe I’m wrong, that people in America are more expansive and don’t hesitate to clearly show their emotions and reactions. Regarding the COT in particular, I think there are some aspects we won’t understand in the same way you do because of natural cultural, geographical, historical reasons. I’m thinking about the Reagan politics, the city of NY and what it became, the tradition of underground cinema (Jack Smith, John Waters, Russ Meyer…)… These are not inborn parts of our culture. We won’t react to it in the exact same way you will. But I would say that the essential is perceived the same way: the themes, the music… Then it depends on the persons watching these films.
Will “Idols” be getting a cinematic release?
I’ve been in contact with some distributors. A French release in theaters would be difficult, although films like “Dig!” got one. But there should be a DVD release next year in the US. We’re currently talking about it.
Do you have a lot of extra footage for the DVD release?
I do have a lot of material I didn’t use: Richard Hell and Lydia Lunch’s lectures, Richard Kern’s exhibitions, Bruce LaBruce filming in Berlin and many other things… But it would be complicated to use them and present them as proper extra footage. We could also use Q&A’s at festivals, stuff like that. Music videos from dDamage and Heliogabale would be a good idea too. It will depend on the distributors.
Do you have any favorites among the COT films, and any favorite artists/filmmakers in it? And why are they your favorites?
I do love Richard Kern’s work in particular. I think he’s really talented and he does what he likes simply. If I had to pick COT films, I would say “Thrust In Me”, “You Killed Me First”, “King of Sex” and “Where Evil Dwells” by Tommy Turner and David Wojnarowicz. “Thrust In Me” had been my long time favorite. I already told you about it. “YKMF” is such a clever and strangely edited one. “King of Sex” is extremely funny and simple. And “WED”, which is not finished, is a terrible and hilarious nightmare. It’s fascinating. I don’t think they have something in common that would explain why I love them in particular. They’re just good. Also there are two persons that intrigue me a lot: Casandra Stark and Lung Leg. The first one, I unfortunately never got to see her films but what I’ve read makes me curious about her. Lung Leg is probably the best actress of all these films. There’s something of an animal about her, something hypnotic.
Do you think that any of the films will stand the test of time? Do you think they have aged badly?
I don’t think they’ve aged at all. Some of them remain extremely good and fascinating, like “You Killed Me First”. And I think that they’ll stand the test of time because there’s something true about them, directly linked to what was happening in NY at the time. It’s a real testimony. I would say their honesty will keep them from aging. Look at “The Wild World of Lydia Lunch”: how could it? Romance and relationships will not get wrinkled any time soon.
Do you think that a movement like the COT could happen today, or are people too sophisticated and jaded now?
It’s just a question of context. I’m sure there are equivalents but times and places have changed. The media have changed. It is far more easy to make films and show them now. And we don’t look at what happened the same way we look at what is happening right in front of us now. Moreover transgression changes along with the social, cultural and historical context. If someone did such a film now, would it say the same thing? Would it be as transgressive? I’m not sure. I don’t think Gaspar Noé is that transgressive for example. But I don’t think people are too sophisticated and jaded now. Time keeps repeating itself. There will always be 20 year-old kids full of rage who want to create something out of their shitty situation.
Did the Cinema of Transgression ultimately truly have anything at all to actually say?
“F**k You”, I guess! Nick Zedd would have said something like that. And he would have added: “Do It Yourself”. I like the first proposition better.
Check out the new interview with Cinema of Transgression filmmaker and photographer Richard Kern. You can see “Llik Your Idols” on Saturday, September 16, 2007 at the Knitting Factory in Los Angeles, CA as part of the 2007 Erotica Film Festival