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

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The Zebedy Colt Teenage Sex (?) Scandal

Continued from “My Own Private Zebedy Colt

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One of the heartbreaking things about writing any scholarly article (beyond the near-certainty that virtually no one on earth will ever read it) is having to chop content to hit word-count limits, which happens to me every time. Perhaps I’m just verbose. In any case, GLQ has a generous limit of 11,000 words—but by the time I was finished revising “Sex Wishes and Virgin Dreams,” I was at some absurd level in the 16,000 range. Something had to give, and there weren’t that many adjectives and adverbs. Continue reading

Russ Meyer in the Archives

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A few years ago, I thought it would be fun to post some short archival-encounter quickies, but alas, my enthusiasm sometimes snowballs into verbosity, the ostensible quickies took as much effort as full posts, and I guess it trailed off, after an expose of a night with Fassbinder, the gay-leather mag Star Wars review, antigay jerks with eggs in 1980s Wisconsin, and some unearthed 1970s New Jersey lesbian cat poetry.

So, to flare that old archive fever back up, and tersely at that: Continue reading

My Own Private Zebedy Colt: From Mondo Video to GLQ

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I first discovered Zebedy Colt in early 2002, at Mondo Video back when it was located on Vermont just north of Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles’s rapidly-gentrifying Los Feliz. It wasn’t Colt who drew me to Farmer’s Daughters, but rather the mind-blowing (to me, at least) presence of Spalding Gray in a particularly grimy-looking hardcore film.

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Alas: this was before easy streaming or downloading of movies, and some rat bastard kept the tape checked out so long that I had moved into the neighborhood, right across the street, but Mondo Video then moved out (after its transgender mud-wrestling matches on the rooftop and huge poster of Osama bin Laden sodomizing George W. Bush in the front window apparently violated both the terms of its lease and the increasingly hip-genteel community standards), to a stretch of Melrose Avenue far east of anything Aaron Spelling ever put on TV, before I ever saw Farmer’s Daughters.

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Newark’s Worst: Scraping the Bottom of the Local Film Barrel

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In blogging about films shot in Newark for nearly four years now, I’ve expounded at great length about the various pleasures of zero-budget filmmaking; sure, Kubrick and Hitchcock and Lumet shot here, but for me the real hidden treasures of Newark cinema are The Ironbound Vampire, Bride of Frank, and scrappy homegrown b-movie auteurs like Vaughn Christion and Bobby Guions. These are the works that best engage with Newark as Newark, and make inventive use of its spaces and ambiance.

But for all my Zero-Budget Newark boosterism, even I must occasionally concede failure at locating redeeming aspects in some of these flicks. Such as the following. I hate to kick a low-budget local film, because even a short YouTube video takes time and effort, and at some level I more or less respect anyone who makes any film (and isn’t also a Republican; in that case, it’s contempt all the way down, sorry; see below).

Here are my picks for Newark’s three worst. I’ve tried to find the redeeming qualities even here, though it got progressively tougher as I moved down the list. I ain’t sayin’ this is a great blog post, but I can confidently promise you this: reading about these films is more rewarding than watching them. You’ve been warned.  Continue reading

Newark under Surveillance: Highlights of the COINTELPRO files, and Confessions of an Undercover Cop (1988)

It’s a good time to think about surveillance and its history. We have a nakedly racist administration escalating and further militarizing the already cruel and counterproductive monitoring, harassment, and deportation of Latino/a people. Meanwhile, in the fraudulent name of national security, they’re trying to bar people (read: Muslims) from seven nations responsible for zero acts of domestic terrorism, as part of their New Crusades Theater-spectacular. One of the first things the Trump administration did was to round up data on which federal scientists were doing their fricking jobs by tracking climate change, and if native-born white U.S. citizens somehow still think they’re exempt from all of this, oh hey, they’re also checking IDs at exits from domestic flights.

None of this is normal, that can’t be emphasized enough. But neither is it a radical break from the grotesque U.S. history of internal domestic surveillance of radicals, people of color, queer people, etc. During the Obama years, the NYPD shamefully spied on the Rutgers Muslim Student Association, and as recently as last month continued to refuse to confirm or deny its possession of surveillance records. And don’t get me started on the PATRIOT Act and its travesties.

Congressional Democrats aren’t going to save us—the very day I’m writing this, eleven of them voted to confirm scumsucking racist mouthbreather Rick Perry to head a department he literally did not remember existed in the recent past, just the latest capitulation in a shameful month-and-a-half descent into Trumpism. The only hope for American democracy to survive this onslaught comes from two sources, in my estimation: first, the resistance that has galvanized millions of Americans to put their bodies on the line in streets, airports, town hall meetings, and elsewhere; there are more of us than there are of these jackbooted fascists, and if we can stay focused, angry, and active, we have at least a chance.

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Newark Liberty International Airport, 28 January 2017

Our second—and maybe more powerful—hope is the sheer ineptitude of the national security state. Nearly all of Trump’s appointments veer toward utter slack-jawed stupidity, Perry’s not alone: Ben Carson and his mushmouthed ramblings, Betsy DeVos and her delusions that HBCUs grew out of a “choice” in Jim Crow America, and most tellingly Michael Flynn, before he was deposed by his lying: the very man who was supposed to head the NSA tweeted fake news because he couldn’t tell the difference. And then there’s Steve Bannon, a man so desperate to be perceived as an evil genius that he misuses the term “deconstruction” (not synonymous with destruction, which is what he seems to intend for the administrative state) because it sounds like . . . wait, those smarty-pants professors that I thought we were supposed to hate, and whose earlier career as a director of dud rightwing documentaries was so pathetic that a recent Film Comment podcast compared it unfavorably to the cinematic works of Alex Jones and Dinesh D’Souza. I apologize for so many italics here, but just let that sink in, seriously. I actually saw his Sarah Palin movie, and while it made me fear his ability to pander to racist, nationalist chestbeating, I did not walk away awed by his intellect, to say the least.

All of which leads back to COINTELPRO. Continue reading

Newark Deserves a City Symphony: New Work: Newark in 3D (2009)

The city-symphonies of the 1920s and 30s defined both film technique and “the city” itself as representational space. Beginning with Manhatta in 1921, they swept across the globe: Paris, Berlin, Moscow, etc. When I taught a class on film and urban history last semester, we began with Manhatta—it’s short, legible but still open to discussion, and a good way to begin thinking about montage, mise-en-scène, and how cinema narrates urbanism (for one smart, if theory-heavy analysis of the genre as revealing “the temporal movements of urban modernity,” see Sarah Jilani’s 2013 Senses of Cinema article; a perhaps more reader-friendly, if NYC-centric, century-long overview from Jon Gartenberg can be found here as a pdf)

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The genre persisted in various ways after its heyday—if a basic scattershot canon might include Manhatta, Berlin: Symphony of a Great City , Man with a Movie Camera, and Bronx Morning, later efforts range from Brakhage’s Wonder Ring to Menken’s Go! Go! Go! and Lights, through the recently-departed Peter Hutton (some of whose work I caught at a recent Anthology Film Archives retrospective). I’ve seen Amos Poe’s 1970s no-wave films (great) and Hollywood crossover attempts (wretched), but not his experimental 2008 Empire II; David Bordwell makes it sound interesting, though.

Missing from all of this, of course, was Newark, skipped over by the city-symphony movement. There was Sightseeing in Newark in 1926, which I wrote about here and can be viewed here; it’s a great document of the city, and not devoid of creative flourishes, but really a little too stilted and postcardish to qualify as a city symphony. So, no Newark city symphony.

Until 2009. Filmmaking team Marylou Tibaldo-Bongiorno and Jerome Bongiorno are probably best known for their documentaries, including the powerful Revolution ’67 and the education film The Rule (both of which deserve eventual posts unto themselves), but they’ve also made an eclectic array of fictional and nonfictional works—see the whole list here. Marylou is from Newark, Jerome has been here for decades, and they’re deeply committed to the city—so when the Newark Museum prepared for its centennial in 2009, it made perfect sense to commission them for a short cinematic celebration of the city.

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The result, New Work: Newark in 3D, finally gives Newark its belated city symphony, capturing the city’s vibrancy and beauty in gorgeously-composed shots featuring both its iconic architectural and urban-design highlights, and also the everyday vitality of the city in action. Continue reading