“Llik Your Idols” by French filmmaker Angelique Bosio documents the still-influential (and still underground) Cinema of Transgression, and Film Threat had an opportunity to discuss the film and the cinema movement with Angelique prior to the film’s West Coast film festival premiere.
What is your background in films?
For a long time I was much more into music and literature. I became aware of films quite late to be honest. And in an odd way I think I saw them as a fascinating combination of what I loved initially. Because I was a complete novice. Because it was new to me, like a thrilling open space. Then I started working on films simply. I think the first film that struck me in that way was “Cry Baby” by John Waters. Then I saw the ones of Cassavetes, Bunuel, Polanski, Argento… I love people like Buscemi, Altman, Korine… Original, isn’t it??!! No genre in particular really.
How did you first hear about or see Cinema of Transgression films?
As I said, I was much more into music as a teenager. I was listening a lot to bands like Royal Trux and Sonic Youth. That’s how I first saw photos by Richard Kern, on the Sister and EVOL albums. I’m not sure how it did happen but at one point this friend of mine, who loved Sonic Youth as well, gave me a VHS of Cinema of Transgression films that were then distributed by Haxan in France. It was something of a forbidden tape! Actually this friend ended up making the music of the documentary. He and his brother formed the band dDamage a few years ago.
What was it that attracted you to the COT?
I think at first it was that “Punk quality,” the fury in it. The music too of course. I didn’t know much about the context. Later I got more and more interested in Richard Kern, Lydia Lunch and David Wojnarowicz in particular, who also was a fabulous writer. Some of the people involved in the COT I find really talented and fascinating. As for the films, they not only testify to a New York I’ve been fantasizing of for a long time but they’re also and mostly challenging artistically. And I think people like Kern and Lunch raised important questions about sexuality and its representation, which interests me a lot. There’s so much to say about the COT. It’s so diverse too. If I had to pick one thing that attracts me, I think it would be a film: “Thrust in Me”. Because of what it tells about, because of the narcissism, the cynicism, the beauty in it, the horror in it, the violence, the humor, The Dream Syndicate! I guess what I like about the COT is the contradictions I see. It’s immediate, savage and yet extremely clever, even elegant. It’s simple, honest and yet elaborated and opaque.
What made you decide to do a documentary about the COT?
First, I wanted to write a book about it. Later it naturally became a documentary because of the context I was living in, the people around me, what I was working on then… I think what interested me in doing it was the people involved in the COT rather than the films themselves. Some of them intrigued me, I was not sure why. I just had some kind of affection for them I just couldn’t explain. Nothing to do with identification! Anyway, what was certain is that I wanted to know what they felt about this “movement” 20 years later, and how their work had changed along with their lives as they had gotten older. Something about survival and how one adapts to life, how one’s art or beliefs adapt to life. It may sound nostalgic but nostalgia is precisely what I wanted to avoid. Who they are now and how they look at their young selves is more interesting to me than who I might think they were then. I didn’t want to glorify the COT or pretend I could tell the story as if I had been there in NY in the 80’s to experience it myself.
Do you think the movement has gotten the respect or acknowledgement it deserves?
This is a tricky one! First it’s not over yet. People will keep showing it, writing about it, filming documentaries or even fictions on it. The story is going to keep changing. So will its definition, its impact… It was not so long ago after all. Moreover I’m not even sure I would call it a movement. Finally I couldn’t tell how much respect or acknowledgement something deserves. I guess most of these people don’t even care about this, but more about how much respect and acknowledgement what they do today actually gets. What I can say is that it was underground and meant to be. Maybe it’s supposed to stay that way.
Why hasn’t a documentary about it been made before now?
I know there was something done about Richard Kern (photo sessions being filmed). SA Crary did “Kill Your Idols” about the NY music scene in which Foetus, Arto Lindsay, Lydia Lunch etc…appear. To my knowledge, nothing on film was made about the COT specifically. But maybe these documentaries simply never got out. I’m sure I’m not the only one having thought about it! I bet it’s just because people couldn’t make it happen for technical or financial reasons. Or because these filmmakers didn’t want to participate in such a thing until recently. Or more possibly because “Deathtripping” by Jack Sargeant was such an excellent and complete book about it! Actually the book will be published in a new version in December by Soft Skull. I strongly recommend it.
How influential do you think the COT has been on popular culture?
I’m sure it has influenced many people who are now making music videos, films, music, taking photographs, writing books… I am sure the impact has been really important and wide. Even if people don’t clearly refer to it, one can tell that their aesthetics has spread in many ways. Richard Kern and Lydia Lunch are probably the best examples, not just for their talent as a filmmaker / photographer or a songwriter, but also because they truly broke taboos and changed our perception of sexuality, violence, voyeurism, pornography and what can be said or showed when it comes to these issues, in the same way Larry Clark did. Today Richard can shoot for porn magazines as well as famous fashion magazines like Purple. He’s published by Taschen. He did a video for Marilyn Manson. David Wojanrowicz’s books were published in France recently by Editions Desordres. These people still influence popular culture because there is something truly disturbing and challenging in what they did and therefore in the COT. Something that is not just about cinema or the COT.
What is your impression of what the movement was trying to do and how far do you think they succeeded in this?
I was clearly told they weren’t trying to do anything or expecting anything from the COT. They were young, living in the Lower East Side in the 80’s, they responded to the environment. And their work is so diverse! I’m sure now they didn’t aim at anything else than making their own art. What would be the link between “Fingered” by Kern and “Whoregasm” by Nick Zedd? Or “Where Evil Dwells” by Tommy Turner and David Wojnarowicz? I think they were trying to do stuff freely! I remember Bruce LaBruce saying that they were not political but outsiders, dropouts. So I guess if they succeeded in doing something it’s for some of them to have kept making their art. I don’t believe they were militants or planning the next 10 years of their lives.
What was it about the films that people found so threatening?
I can understand that some people might find it offensive and obscene. It’s unpleasant for some to see blood, murders, violence, sex on screen. It just depends on how much one can take emotionally, on their personal and psychological tolerance, their own moral values and taboos. But thinking the films are threatening is different. On the one hand, I guess one might think they were threatening then because they were an immediate testimony of what was truly happening in these people lives and in NY at the time. And therefore they had an aggressive social and political meaning, whether the filmmakers wanted it or not. On the other hand, they remain threatening because some of the films like “Fingered” or “The Right Side of my Brain” by Richard Kern and Lydia Lunch tell about urges that we all have but that we don’t necessarily admit. There’s a postcard right in front of me now saying “Crime isn’t just for Criminals”. If you think about it, it’s threatening, disturbing for oneself to admit the idea that they all are potentially as dark as the characters in these films.
How much did “Llik Your Idols” end up costing and how did you finance it?
I’m not sure exactly how much it cost because it was a five-year-long thing. But I did finance it myself. Of course some people have helped me lending me equipment etc… What happened was I decided to go to NY in 2002 to do interviews. I kept on filming exhibitions, screenings, making of films and doing interviews whenever I had the opportunity. Meanwhile I was trying to convince French companies to produce the documentary but they systematically told me these people were not famous enough, and that the films were too violent and pornographic to sell it to a French TV channel. There has been two companies though, Cybride Production and ADN Factory, that tried to help me. But financially speaking, I was on my own. So I took a lousy job to finish it. Then I met the producer at Kidam and their editor, Thomas Drapron, who has been so great and we completed the film. But it was a very low budget thing that caused me a lot of trouble! And a lot of fun too.
Why did you call it “Llik Your Idols?” It’s a somewhat odd name.
I would have said “stupid name”! Five years ago, I was trying to find a name and that’s the funniest one I found. It made me laugh, simply. It comes from these horrible T-shirts that were all over the flea market when I was a teenager: the ones presenting the Christ on the cross with “Kill Your Idols” on it. If I remember well, there was another with Kurt Cobain on it after he died. I just hated them. It was sort of a phony punk rock cliché then. As I mostly didn’t want to make a nostalgic documentary about “Punks” in their forties or fifties, I picked that slogan and slightly change it to make it sound ironic. “To lick” is “lécher” in French, and “faire de la lèche” (“licking”) means “flatter”: I didn’t want to flatter these people or glorify the COT. That’s it. But mostly it was a funny title to me. I have a very bad sense of humor, I know.
What medium did you shoot it on?
I mostly used a PD150. But I made this terrible mistake under someone’s advice to shoot it in 16/9 and not 4/3.
How long did it take to shoot?
Five years, but of course not constantly. The first interview I did was Nick Zedd’s in NY in 2002. The last thing I filmed was Lydia Lunch and Richard Hell doing lectures at The French Cinematheque more than a year ago. It depended on the opportunities. There’s one thing I couldn’t film that I strongly regret. 3 years ago, I attended a screening of “Submit To Me” by Richard Kern in Paris. After a few seconds I heard a woman yelling to the projectionist to cut it. There was despair in her voice, really. When the film stopped and the lights came back, I saw her running to the exit door holding two 12 year-old kids by the hand. She was panicking, saying that it wasn’t art. The kids didn’t say a thing. They were unmoved.
Read what Angelique has to say about the legacy of the Cinema of Transgression, audience reaction to her film and just what it was like being a nude model for Richard Kern in Part Two of “Llik Your Idols”: Interview with Director Angelique Bosio>>>