book update

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I’ve written two books and co-edited a third, and I suppose I’d be a damn fool not to promote them here, so:

Just released as of December 2016 is Porno Chic and the Sex Wars: American Sexual Representation in the 1970s, which I co-edited with Carolyn Bronstein. I’m really excited about this because it includes a bunch of essays from some of my favorite scholars, on topics including Desiree West (the first black female porn star), transfeminine and female-impersonator magazines, Peter Berlin and the gay porn archive, the magazine AVN and the adjustment to VHS, Bob Guccione’s failed women’s mag Viva, Shaun Costello’s wild hardcore Dickens adaption The Passions of Carol, the role of BDSM and fisting in the emergence of antiporn feminism, and a lot more! Plus an essay by Joe Rubin of the great Vinegar Syndromeand look at that cover!

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Before that, I wrote these:

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Newark Meadowlands or Bust: Swamp (1971)

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The only good thing about the COVID-19 era at a mass social level has been the recalibration of the political real, as the left wrenches certain things from decades of a neoliberal death-grasp on the possible during which the role of the Democrats was to tell us to always ask for less. Now rent and debt cancellation, forms of universal basic income, demands for free and accessible healthcare, serious decarceration and immigrant-detention reduction, and community mutual-aid projects all seem at least tangible. Verizon keeps giving me free extra data because we’re taking back the internet as a public utility eventually and they fucking know it. We may for now be saddled with Zombie Joe Biden instead of Bernie Sanders, which is a full-scale national tragedy, but the basic ethos of #NotMeUs is here to stay, and this awful coronavirus has helped establish its necessity.

Compared to this, streaming movies seems epiphenomenal. Indeed, I’ve been blogging about films shot here in Newark since 2013, but it’s tapered off dramatically since Trump took office, as I’ve escalated my political engagements, to the detriment of spending time writing about, uh, Ironbound Vampire. But it’s got to be said: the COVID streaming explosion has been wild. From the Spanish Film Library suddenly unearthing a previously unknown Jess Franco film and putting it up for a mere few days, to the appearance of Dziga Vertov’s 1918 debut Anniversary of the Revolution, it’s been a head-spinning proliferation of rare, amazing, and time-sensitive viewing, too much to ever keep up with.

It’s minor, but it’s exciting; the internet has felt like one huge digital chain restaurant since Facebook Zucc’d the online public sphere, cleaning up the sleazy Old Times Square weirdness of the Angelfire years and offering us no-nipples-just-hate-speech monotony. Right now, at least for film nerds, it feels alive again.

So you get things like the Holt/Smithson Foundation’s Friday Film series, which I only know because of a great write-up by Ava Tews for ScreenSlate today. How ephemeral are these things? In this case, a 24-hour run, seven of which have passed as I type. I’m throwing this up in haste, to kickstart a personal blogging revival, and because . . .

Nancy Holt and Robert Smithson’s Swamp (1971) was almost shot in Newark. If you think about the ridiculous historical over-municipalization of New Jersey, it could have been shot in a more sprawling Newark, so you know what, close enough! Think of it as Newark regional film. Continue reading

Paul K. Forever

I loved Paul Kopasz forever within seconds of first hearing him. I was a teenaged loser in mid-1990s LaCrescent, Minnesota, and what I mostly did was work a shitty fast-food job at the local Hardee’s and then every two weeks when I got paid, splurge on CDs across the river at Deaf Ear in La Crosse, Wisconsin. I’d never heard of Jorge Luis Borges and as such, The Garden of Forking Paths meant nothing to me, but it was before the modern internet and my policy was to buy anything that looked like it came from a lonely, alienated person howling into the void. A trash heap in front of a city skyline fit that bill.

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The first thing Paul did was howl, and then it turned into words: “We failed, we fucked up, now it’s time/to live our lives more quietly.” That was enough, I was hooked. That was around 1995, and I’ve never stopped listening. Continue reading

Class War at Newark Penn Station

“If there is going to be class warfare in this country,” Senator Bernie Sanders tweeted earlier this primary season, “it’s about time the working class won that war.”

But what does class warfare look like? When conservative Republicans invoke it, they mean any slightly increased marginal tax rates for the wealthy, which they absurdly present as an assault on freedom and a slippery slope to gulags and guillotines.

Democrats are less likely to mention class war, because as a party, they’ve also been complicit in waging it—against the poor, not the rich. The massive upward redistribution of wealth begun under Ronald Reagan through cuts to taxes and social services in the 1980s was continued under Bill Clinton in the 1990s, and the Obama administration showed more concern for bailing out banks than homeowners.

But these examples are structural. What does class warfare look like? I suggest it looks like a fence in Peter Francisco Park, put up without fanfare this past summer. In one set of spiked posts with a clear message, we can see class war in tangible form.

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The Cinema of Newark Leisure Culture, Part 1: Headpin Hints (1955)

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Headpin Hints is an eight-minute movie of people bowling in 1950s Newark, and since that about sums it up, let me go straight into the question of the ephemeral internet archive, because nobody’s gonna read this one anyway.

I became aware of Headpin Hints while planning a completely unrelated research trip to the Wisconsin Historical Society, exploring their Newark-related film holdings because hey, why not! This was around 2013, and I finally went in 2014.

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At this point, you could not see the movie anywhere, and the most expansive library database out there, WorldCat, listed it in only two places, Wisconsin and UCLA. So I was pretty psyched for this extremely rare short. They even brought out the old film deck for me!

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Radical Art, Radical Politics, and Community-Based Filmmaking in Newark: Being Gladys (2019)

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You’d be hard-pressed to find a better example of community-based filmmaking than Being Gladys, which premiered at the 2019 Women in Media-Newark film festival. I’m a longtime admirer of WIM-N, whose director, Pamela Morgan, tirelessly throws herself into organizing a diverse, global assortment of feminist shorts and features every year. And through the associated New Jersey Filmmakers Lab, WIM-N facilitates collaborative, supportive projects, from which Being Gladys emerged.

So I was admittedly predisposed to like it, on a procedural level alone. Fortunately, it earned my warmth on its merits. Continue reading

The Death of Nineties Indie Film on the Newark Tarmac: Hal Hartley’s Henry Fool (1997), A Personal Reflection

I saw Henry Fool when it came out on video. I remember watching Hal Hartley then fade from view on the cultural landscape. I misunderstood it at the time, as a matter of my changing personal relationship with his work; as it turned out, that shift was collective, and seemed to include Hartley himself, who also grew tired of his own sensibility.

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I had been drawn in by Trust, which in suitably Hartleyesque fashion, I had shoplifted on VHS from the local grocery store, Carrs, in Wasilla, Alaska, where I lived. Martin Donovan and Adrienne Shelly together resonated so deeply with my thirteen-year old self that they were all I ever wanted from adulthood, or from life. That it ended poorly for them was no deterrent, pubescent fatalist that I was. Everyone in it seemed so smart, so sexy, so dangerous, that was enough to justify the consequences. Simple Men, same: I mean, shortly thereafter, I majored in Philosophy, for god’s sake. I should sue Hal Hartley for that. Continue reading

Newark Stripped Bare: A Cold Wind in August (1961) b/w the Vibrant Mood Swings of Scott Lewis

A Cold Wind in August opens on slightly different notes, depending on whether you read Burton Wohl’s novel or see Alexander Singer’s film. They’re both overzealous, eager to flaunt their imagined merits to better avoid the fundamental trashiness of the whole enterprise, but it’s the trash that ultimately distinguishes this otherwise unremarkable story of an age-inappropriate May/December romance.

For Wohl, it’s the strained cleverness of the Jaded Young Literary Man shtick that provides an alibi—he holds those naked breasts at bay until almost the end of the first page (a full description awaits on the third page, after some morning-after wistfulness), even though that’s what we’re all presumably here for. Still, for all its smarminess, this ain’t half bad—I like the “chafed crotch walk” description, you could see Charles Willeford writing that. Continue reading

Baby It’s Newark: A John Sayles visit, with a little Bruce Springsteen too, even!

I never really thought of John Sayles as a New Jersey filmmaker. I grew up watching his work, and my immediate geographical associations run the gamut: Texas, Alaska, Florida, Harlem, Roan Inish, Matewan. But then there’s Lianna. And the Secaucus 7, though their movie was shot in New Hampshire. As Alvin Klein put it in the New York Times in 1991, “No matter their actual locations, most of the seven films that bear the imprint of Mr. Sayles, who was been acclaimed as ‘the godfather of independent film makers in this country,’ are permeated with the look and feel of New Jersey.”

Somehow I’d just never noticed (full disclosure: until moving to the east coast a decade ago, I’d never really contemplated New Jersey much at all, it was just sort of an abstraction with a turnpike in my mind, and that detail mostly courtesy Paul Simon). But I also haven’t spent a minute thinking about Baby It’s You (1983) since seeing it around early high school. It’s not a great film; it bears the traces of a struggle between an independent director and a studio, but they’re less like an attractive scar than a pothole in a road. It is, however, pure New Jersey maximalism, all diners and shore dates and “Trenton Makes, the World Takes” bridge shots.

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The Backroom at the End of the World: Goodbye, Flash Video (Pornography in Newark, Part 5)

Flash Video left this world as it entered, largely unnoticed. Aside from listings in online directories, I can find no discussion of it whatsoever, not even a Yelp review.

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Which is a shame, because it was a nifty little place, one of the last independent video shops in Newark, and it deserves some celebration, even if, alas, posthumously. {NOTE: some explicit images in the form of video boxes contained here!} Continue reading

The Yaku and the Undefeated (2017)

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The monk is in town to avenge his brother, though because he’s taken a vow not to kill, he brings a team of assassins along. Only a young couple can stop them, though it’ll involve interrupting their reunion date, which begins with a roll in the hay and a strange discussion of the restorative powers of, uh, “male proteins.” Such is the setup of Vaughn Christion’s The Yaku and the Undefeated, which would sound convoluted were I to fully explicate the circumstances of revenge and defense at play but which unfolds in a nicely streamlined manner from one fight scene to the next, as some seeming moral ambiguities are headthwacked into clarity, villains are dispatched, and a restaurant reservation may or may not be broken.

Vaughn Christion is Newark’s longest-working filmmaker, and I’ve written at length about him before, so I won’t rehash except to say Yaku carries the torch he’s long held, blending pulp action-thriller and martial arts like a 70s grindhouse double feature condensed into a single film. I mean that as praise, of course—it’s possible that some folks attending other screenings at the Newark International Film Festival, where this proudly premiered today at Newark’s Cityplex, might have more highbrow tastes, but let ‘em have their Merchant-Ivory knockoffs or global middlebrow whatevers; this is good cheesy fun, without a hint of ironic distance, and I salute everything about that. Continue reading