Pornography in Newark, Part 3: Hello, Hardcore!

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I had intended to write this a while ago, but then got distracted writing a piece on Utah’s asinine declaration of pornography as a public health crisis last month; that ran on Salon, which has a vastly larger audience than this humble blog, but the truth is, I find writing here more fun. So, back to Newark. Continue reading

In Search of Newark’s Great Lost Grindhouse Auteur: The Vaughn Christion Story, from Silent Death (1983) to Key of Brown (2013) . . . and Beyond!



Cinema does not get more Newark than this, from the opening credits to Vaughn Christion’s 2013 film Key of Brown. Here’s a local filmmaker whose career dates back several decades, including the lost horror flick Silent Death (1983), the martial-arts drama The Wrong Disciple (1991), the heist movie Heaven (1997), and the lurid, pulpy thriller Key of Brown—a body of work that makes him not only the king of Newarksploitation, but by my reckoning, the longest-active Newark filmmaker, period.

And yet, when I went in search of information about Christion or his Newark-based production company, Reina, I found very little: few reviews of his films, not much in the way of biographical information, and no interviews. This seemed . . . well, just wrong. Especially in an era of online cult-movie communities that have brought renewed attention and shed deeply-researched light on previously obscure and elusive films and directors, supporting an entire distributional infrastructure where Vinegar Syndrome and Code Red and Distribpix and Bleeding Skull, among others, can recover and restore lost and esoteric works, and where the valorization and even fetishization of the cheap, the tacky, the grimy, and the lost (or the paracinematic, as Jeffrey Sconce theorized it in a great scholarly article) means there are cults around everyone from Doris Wishman and Andy Milligan to Fred Olen Ray and Don Dohler, AND—I swear, this sentence ends soon—where the highlighting of regional cinemas in such books as Stephen Thrower’s brilliant, gargantuan Nightmare USA seems poised to hail a Newark filmmaker, the question remains: where in the hell is the appreciation of Vaughn Christion’s work?

Well, it’s here, at least. I appreciate it. I’ve been watching, researching, and digging Christion’s work for a while now—that which I can find, at least—and I wanted to do right by him in a post. Without much info to work with, though, I felt like I needed input from the man himself; fortunately, after some digging around, we made contact, and met up at Rutgers University-Newark for a pretty lengthy interview.


Vaughn Christion is a charming, insightful guy who was generous enough to share his memories and thoughts for the below account, and I’m grateful. Before digging in, a quick montage from his work over the course of three decades:

From this, you can probably tell whether or not you’re interested in what follows. Continue reading

Archive Fever: Pelting Gay Marchers with Eggs and Busting Porn, a 1980s Wisconsin Flashback

Here’s a depressing spectacle, but one that bears witnessing and remembering: Ray Fisher of Sparta, Wisconsin, waiting with smile on face and egg in hand, to pelt participants in what would have been the town’s first gay rights march.


Would have been the first march, “but no gays showed up.” I wonder why. Continue reading

The Amiri Baraka Film Archive, and other quick updates


I was honored to have my essay “The Baraka Film Archive: The Lost, Unmade, and Unseen Film Work of LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka” included in the most recent issue of Black Camera, a scholarly journal I really love and admire. It’s a piece that builds on some of the collaborative work I had participated in last year, bringing Baraka’s previously-lost 1968 documentary The New-Ark to Rutgers-Newark (which I also wrote about here, to complete the link-orgy). Continue reading

Pornography in Newark, Part 2: The Failure of Decency

If part 1 of this Brick City smut saga ended with the Cold War, part 2 began here, at a talk last year by Gail Malmgreen at the New Jersey Historical Society, discussing her work on the wonderful Newark Archives Project.



Well, that caught my attention. As did learning that Newark’s Legion of Decency left its files to Seton Hall University, just outside Newark city limits in neighboring South Orange. Continue reading

I see Andy Milligan everywhere: a birthday tribute/confessional/tour


It’s true: I see Andy Milligan everywhere. Today is his birthday, or would be—born Feb. 12, 1929, he’d be 87 were he still alive, rather than a casualty of the AIDS epidemic. To honor his memory, I thought I’d knock out a quick blog post—messy, unsystematic, written between work-related emails, but roaming over the places where he’s entered my life (and I’ve followed his). Some cool images, too–

Seeing Milligan everywhere, case in point: Philadelphia

Browsing the out-of-print books at the wonderful Molly’s Books & Records in the Italian Market, I come across this relentlessly bleak precursor to Taxi Driver:


The promised movie never appeared (not sure how it could at the time: the book just wallows in solipsistic urban alienation for 150 pages, then stops), but the one in the background did, and then disappeared—it’s Andy Milligan’s lost Depraved. Could there be a better tribute to the misanthropic filmmaker than using his work as the backdrop to a title that would easily fit into his filmography? And could it better resonate with the Milligan aesthetic than by effectively disappearing? (Jeffrey Frank has gone onto other books, but this one left barely a ripple in cultural memory). Continue reading

Star Wars in Leather: A Lost Movie Review, and Some Notes on Smut-Mag Print-Media Historiography (!)

Okay, I confess: I haven’t seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I’m not a hater; I’m too old to relive my sneering Teenage Adorno years of smug condescension toward anyone who engages with mass culture for such sniveling epiphenomenal pleasures as, oh, entertainment. Nah, I appreciate populist film, even from Hollywood, and thought Creed was great. I just can’t be arsed on this one, I guess (also, apparently we’re supposed to collectively pretend the great river of crap known as episodes I-III never came along and destroyed our—my—goodwill?).

Nonetheless, I thought it was great when Samuel Delany’s original review of Star Wars from Cosmos Science Fiction and Fantasy popped up online, so in my already-faltering effort to post a few quick-hit archival treasures with minimal blathering, here’s this: the review of Star Wars from Drummer.


Continue reading