The Sticky Floors of History at the Little Theater (Pornography in Newark, Part 4)

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The other month I wrote an article for Vice about the Little Theater, Newark’s last and finest theatrical den of smut. It was nice to share the story of Newark’s rich sexual and cinematic subculture with a much wider audience than this humble blog reaches, but it came at the cost of paring things down to 1200 words, sacrificing some of the history I wanted to present. I get it: Vice readers might be interested in the fact that men are still attending porn theaters and curious about what goes on inside; they are less likely, collectively, to hold a deep interest in the Little Theater’s development from ethnic grindhouse to multicultural cruising spot or its role in Newark’s cultural history. Continue reading

Sidney Lumet’s Newark Pitstop: Find Me Guilty (2006)

To the best of my knowledge, Sidney Lumet only ever shot in Newark once, and not, lamentably enough, for his remake of John Cassavetes’ Gloria (whose Newark Penn Station scene I wrote about here)–a remake whose omission of Cassavetes from the credits still perturbs me.

Instead, it was for this Vin Diesel mediocrity:

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Now, I really enjoy Sidney Lumet as a filmmaker. I always think of him as the pre-Soderbergh, reined in by a classical Hollywood leash that prevented any wildly idiosyncratic swerves like Schizopolis or Bubble, but still committed to an almost experimental craftsmanship in his willingness, eagerness even, to jump genres. We tend to remember Lumet for his gritty NYC canon, but dude made westerns, musicals, a really good and overlooked British spy thriller (The Deadly Affair, y’all!), a romcom, etc.

Of course, they weren’t all good. Continue reading

Curt McDowell, with Love and Leather

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I’ve just finished a feverish four-day run of attending “Loads of Curt McDowell” at the Anthology Film Archives, truly a cinematic highlight of 2016 for me; I love McDowell’s work, and much of it is near-impossible to see, hence the exhausting commitment. McDowell arguably captured the queer, freewheeling sexual currents of 1970s San Francisco better than any other filmmaker, and the features and shorts included in “Loads” range from outright smut to ethnography, surrealism to musical to melodrama. It’s a beautiful, dizzying mixture, and I’m posting this fast and artlessly in the hopes of inspiring someone, anyone, to go check out the series as most of it repeats in the next few days.

As well, I’m posting some documents I came across in the archive on the very days of the screenings, a serendipity too delicious to pass up: Continue reading

Archive Fever: New Jersey Lesbian Cat Poetry of the 1970s (and a brief election rant)

I hate everything about this election. I hate the candidacy of a garbage-monster fascist, and I hate that I’m related by blood to people who will vote for him. I hate the neoliberal emotion-management of the DNC, and the fact that brilliant, progressive people I know and admire seem genuinely enthused about a warhawk candidate whose loyalty to the international 1% is so strong that she had to be shamed into supporting a $15 minimum wage (and ecstatic too about Cory Booker, who has made a remarkable career in government without doing much in the way of actually governing). I hate that she and her VP are pretending not to support the TPP until after the election, when they will most assuredly support it (“oh, we didn’t support it as then written; now we fixed that semicolon, all good!”). I hate the third-party-shaming by friends who in some cases actually teach and write about the concept of hegemony but still insist on the need to be reasonable, and I hate the futility of supporting third parties, which I have done since I cast my first vote against Bill Clinton’s reelection. I hate that Facebook is cracking down on dank memes, which often feel like the only worthwhile political commentaries out there. I hate it all.

So what better relief, I ask you, my fellow Americans (and others, of course!), than previously undigitized lesian cat poetry from the 1970s? Continue reading

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!

 

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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.

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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.

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