Archive for the ‘film’ Category

From a remarkable sequence, shortly after the intermission, in Abel Gance’s Napoléon (1927):


Apocryphal? Yes and no. There seems to have been such a character, but he only admitted to soaking the papers and throwing them into the Seine after-hours. But a 1908 biography of Josephine has this to say:

If there was the slightest evidence against an ex-noble, he or she was doomed, and among the Beauharnais papers, if not in Josephine’s personal correspondence, there can hardly fail to have been something which might be twisted so as to compromise her. According to a common story, Josephine was one of the people saved by the erratic humanitarian La Bussiere, who preserved a number of prisoners’ lives, destroying their dossiers by the simple method of chewing them up. Josephine herself appears to have believed this story, for she made a point of attending a benefit to La Bussiere at the Porte Saint-Martin Theatre in 1803 and of contributing to a fund on his behalf.

Philip W. Sergeant, The Empress Josephine; Napoleon’s Enchantress. London: Hutchinson & Co., 1908.

For obvious reasons, our archives are conspicuously bereft of direct evidence touching upon the history of bibliophagy. The practice is nonetheless an ancient one, with a diversity of motivations: for an obscure Christian sect of uncertain provenance, it was a means of bodily union with the divine Word. See Eigil Zu Tage-Ravn on “the ecstasy of the scroll eaters.”

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Science fiction is, and has always been, obsessed with fictive States: techno-dystopias, post-apocalyptic juntas, chemically policed narco-utopias. Real-life totalitarian regimes, however, are usually approached with dread and ellipsis, and have been aligned with the most grimly realist of genres (e.g., concentration camp fiction). But what if our perspective of totalitarian regimes themselves were refocused through the kaleidoscopic lens of hyper-speculative science fiction? What if, for instance, we went could transition from speaking about “North Korean science fiction,” an anomalous subject in its own right, to “North Korea as science fiction”?

This was the proposal made by Seo Young-Chu in a fascinating talk, introducing the film Pulgasari at NYU in late February. In her book Do Metaphors Dream of Literal Sleep? A Science-Fictional Theory of Representation (Harvard, 2010), she attempts to reimagine science fiction as “high intensity realism” rather than an escapist unrealism, “a mimetic discourse whose objects are nonimaginary yet cognitively estranging.” Sci-fi is not antithetical to mimesis but works through “a combination of lyric and narrative forces” to “generate mimetic accounts of cognitively estranging referents” (3, 73). The “cognitively estranging referent” is the native subject of science fiction, in her analysis. Such a referent is one that eludes “simple,” naturalistic representation: the wondrous, the repressed, the uncanny, the ineffably other (5ff).

In this way, sci-fi does something like the Freudian dreamwork: it rearranges our neuroses in ways that are distorted enough for them to become palatable. The work of science fiction is often the work of trauma, operating by necessarily insufficient approximations. But in the view of Seo Young-Chu, these are not exactly fantastical, since “trauma is always already science-fictionalized;” she quotes trauma expert Judith Lewis Herman as saying that the experience of trauma “gives rise to complicated, sometimes uncanny alterations of consciousness” (156). If political trauma is the cognitively estranging referent, it makes sense that its representation would resemble science fiction.

The talk began with a second person “tour,” revealed after the fact to be an almost verbatim pastiche cobbled from various accounts of North Korea, from travel guides to history books. “Uncanny alterations of consciousness” seem to be the norm here: Pyongyang is a “surreal theme park,” a “stage set,” symmetrical and sparklingly clean, sometimes as garish and pointlessly monumental as Las Vegas but also a “ghost city” that is so quiet at night that you can hear the purring of coal-powered automobiles for miles down the mostly desolate highways. The denizens, each of whom has an individual “reliability rating,” seem like mass-produced robots, outfitted with the same mass-produced costumes. The exact same image of a smiling Kim Il-Sung hangs everywhere above them. You can see his body, housed in a glass sarcophagus, though only at the appointed time, and not without passing security checks, disinfection, and powerful air blowers.

This might all be true, but there’s a way in which the prose ineluctably drifts into the territory of science-fiction. And indeed, North Korea has been richly mined by sci-fi proper, from David Mitchell’s novel Cloud Atlas to the Bond film Die Another Day to the Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries digital lit piece “Miss DMZ” –  all discussed by Seo Young-Chu, who ably demonstrated that science fictional representation of North Korea has become the default mode.

She speculated upon a variety of reasons why this might be the case: it may be an overcompensation for the virtual “poverty” of representations of the “hermit kingdom,” a response to the uncanniness of North Korea’s anachronistic, otherworldly existence in a universe where the Cold War never ended, or it could be a mutated species of Orientalism (or even “self-Orientalism,” a curious but provocative phrase she seemed to regret as soon as she uttered it).

What she didn’t explicitly suggest was that, perhaps, the science fictionality of North Korea begins with the Kim regime and with the “Juche idea” itself (that “opaque core of North Korean national solipsism,” Bruce Cumings calls it). The way this works akin to, but in the end very distinct from, the way all countries utilize and repackage exogenous representations to sell themselves as fictions to tourists and other onlookers. Quaint villagers in Southeast Asia are paid to dress as old-fashioned peasants for Westerners; Western Europe sells a storybook fabrication of itself through heritage tourism; the United States has entire cultural industries that serve the purpose. What is distinct about the autofictions of the “hermit kingdom” and other “closed states,” to use an expedient term, is that they are directed primarily inward. An allegory: Pyongyang’s tallest building, a luxury hotel, is not designed to dazzle foreign tourists like the grand establishments of Dubai, because foreign tourists are not encouraged to visit Pyongyang. In fact, it’s not even habitable, and never was. It exists only as a scar on the skyline, a masterpiece of unconsciously deconstructivist architecture, a monument to monumentality. It is a fictional edifice.

All nationalisms are essentially fictions. But what happens to the fiction of the nation state in a totalitarian regime, promoted and maintained through a cult of personality, with a highly centralized system of communication and information exchange? In a place like North Korea, the “imagined community” as it exists in official representations of the State derives principally from the myopic, bizarre millenarian fantasies of a dictator. If there is a dialectic process of circulation at all it tends to be confined to the channels of the bureaucracy, forming a closed loop, like the networks of communication in Franz Kafka’s The Castle.

So when we see such States as sci-fi or as speculative fictions, we are only following their lead. Moreover, the relevant realms of fictional representation are not confined to statecraft: dictators seem to have an uncanny fondness for pulp, fantasy, and sci-fi. Adolf Hitler, for instance, was famously fond of the movie King Kong, released the year he was appointed Chancellor. And Kim-Jong Il, as it turns out, is both North Korea’s supreme leader and its supreme cineaste. With a science-fictional theory of millenarian/”revolutionary” dictatorships, it is more than a happy coincidence or a curiosity that he is the author of a portentous volume entitled On the Art of the Cinema.

In fact, Kim’s obsession with the art form went to such lengths that he kidnapped his favorite director, the South Korean Shin Sang-ok, and forced him to make a “socialist Godzilla movie” that would enhance the reputation of North Korean cinema. The result was Pulgasari, which can be viably read as an anti-capitalist film, but which seems more poignant as a coded critique of the Kim regime itself.

The monster in this film is almost too good a metaphor for the authoritarian post-Leninist Revolutionary project: it leads a “backward” population at mercurial speed to overthrow the ancien régime, and continues growing by furiously consuming iron at the ultimate expense of the people. This seems to me an allegory of the famines caused by the fetishization of industry and steel manufacture that gripped post-Stalinist modernizers like a Marinettian fever dream. Once he consumes all of the iron, Pulgasari is at once “savior” and “enemy”: their liberator, their god, but also a nihilistic, Molochian machine fueled by the obsessive weaponization of raw materials. In short, he is the Kim regime personified. But the great leader, who is not a cognitively estranging referent to himself, was pleased with the film he had sired at gunpoint: “When the movie was delivered to Kim, he saw it as a great victory. Trucks pulled up to Shin Films to unload pheasants, deer and wild geese for the movie crew to feast on.” Most North Koreans are severely malnourished.


“…because fact and fiction sometimes blur in Libyan politics, I might be accused of exaggeration… The domestic policies of the Libyan regime have often bordered on fiction.” – Mansour O. EL-Kikhia, Libya’s Qaddafi: The Politics of Contradiction

“I will now tell you the story of my experiences when I made that journey, that escape to hell. I will describe the road that leads there, describe hell itself for you, and tell you how I came back by the same way. It was truly an adventure, and one of the strangest true stories ever, and I swear to you that it is not fiction.” – Muammar Gaddafi, “Escape to Hell”

So much for North Korea, but half a world away, another megalomaniac is busy constructing hyperreality out of midnight-movie pastiche. When Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi was faced with the first serious challenge to his thirty-year reign, he was simply unable to absorb events into the fictive narrative within which he understood his place in history. Because such events could not happen in the hyperreal Libya of Gaddafi’s imagination, actual state policy was to proceed as if they were not happening. Soon after the unrest began, Gaddafi took to state television, “charging that Osama bin Laden had drugged the town’s youth into a rebellious frenzy.” A classic exploitation plot: replace Osama bin Laden with “the Russians” and you have a half a dozen science fiction films from the 1950s.

The official ideology of Libya is jamahiriya, which translates to “state of the masses.” The system outlined in The Green Book, the founding text of Gaddafi’s Libya, describes a politics not unlike syndicalism or council communism (from what I can gather; it’s not the most cogent thing ever written and I am not motivated to reread it). In theory, Gaddafi has no power. This is why he told Christiane Amanpour that he cannot “step down,” because in the Gaddafian ideology he is not a ruler, but the liberator and savior of a free Libya. These are not “lies,” they are fictions. The realist approach to studying North Korea and Libya has only produced bafflement and confusion. Perhaps hyperreal regimes, which conjoin fact and fantasy, require theories of resistance based on a kind of hyperrealpolitik.

Gaddafi’s is what Libyan scholar Mansour O. EL-Kikhia calls an “idiosyncratic ideology,” a syncretic bricolage attempting to overcome a heavy anxiety of political influence with the use of improvised, localized mythologies. Gaddafi fused “Nasserism and classical Marxism, along with Islamic socialism” into the “Third International Theory,” as outlined in his Green Book. Such ideologies are “experimental” in nature, which is to say, they are speculative fictions: works in progress. In Libya’s case, it is “cemented together by the colonel’s complex personality.” The idiosyncratic dictator is an authoritarian and an author, and the nation is his text. Gaddafi’s words are not (or not only) ridiculous, because like the plot of a science fiction novel they are only meant to cohere to their own fantastic premises. Emendations and retractions can be made as required.

One of these men has written a short story about space travel.

But Muammar Gaddafi doesn’t just play a sci-fi writer on television. He’s the author of Escape to Hell and Other Stories (1998), a curious volume which veers uncomfortably between hyperbolic political allegory and madcap fiction. The description on the jacket of the English printing is a vindication of Seo Young-Chu’s argument about science fictional representation: “Muammar Quaddafi’s short stories and essays in this book are more revealing about his vision of the world than all of his addresses and the articles and reports that have been written about him during the last 25 years.”

I think this is quite true, but alas, it has received almost no serious attention. Why does the work linger in such obscurity? Why do the few reviews that exist of it seem almost embarrassed of themselves? Why does the New York Public Library require it to be read under “supervised use”? “Dictator lit,” as a review in The Guardian styles it, is indeed an uncomfortable genre, and just the proposition of Gaddafi’s “fiction” is dually repulsive: revolting, like Mein Kampf, but also frivolous, like Stalin’s insipid poetry. In fact, it’s too preposterous to truly affront, and too bizarre to be boring. But while it is one of those books that one likes to amuse guests with, it is not merely an oddity.

Of course, it is odd. Suicidal astronauts? “Jewish satellites” taken down by the power of mass prayer? Pathetic entreaties to respect “the earth’s bounty” by a the leader of an oil kingdom? Hand-wringing ruminations on the gender of death? The discovery of “Amelica” by an Arab prince? The line between sarcasm and solipsism is difficult to discern. Certain broad tendencies, however, are impossible to ignore.

Escape to Hell opens with a harangue against urban life, the Fritz Langian bleakness of which is paralleled only by the anxious, mephitic metropolises of dystopian, futurist science fiction. The “Hell” of the title both is and is not the city; even if the latter is vile, “how beautiful is hell compared to your city!” City inhabitants are like rats and mice, scurrying emotionlessly, like the robot inhabitants of sci-fi Pyongyang: “City people do not address one another as fellow social beings or even human entities, but as ‘You, who live in apartment number x on floor number x…telephone number x, license plate on car number is x’ and so on.” The city is “a filthy tomb,” with “no moon or sun,” perpetually dark like the sci-fi cities of Blade Runner or A.I..

Gaddafi’s hyperbolic, delusional contempt for urban life and his identification with a non-existant “people” located somewhere in an amorphous Arcadian hinterland makes his aerial bombings of his own cities consistent with his fictional prognoses, in which agitated urban throngs are literally mentally disturbed, unearthly creatures. The city dweller is not a “true human being” (48), but some kind of uncanny specter. To Gaddafi, a place like Benghazi must seem like a pestilent sore, a tumor requiring irradiation – especially after the supposed recent invasion of the “Qaeda” body snatchers.

There is, of course, a long and diverse tradition of reactionary pseudo-populism which identifies the city with bodily infection, as in the pithy remark of Thomas Jefferson (who, in the interest of civic health, moved his nation’s capital from Manhattan to a pestilent, malarial swamp): “The mobs of great cities add just so much to the support of pure government, as sores do to the strength of the human body.” Gaddafi says much the same thing, but in the mode of frenzied science fiction rather than political aphorism: “[The city] stretches out in every direction, limitlessly. It becomes a parasite to everything around it, spreading its poisonous tentacles, killing fresh air by turning oxygen into carbon dioxide, which is then turned into carbon monoxide.” Here we have what Seo Young-Chu describes as a staple of science-fictional writing: the literalization of metaphor. The city is not merely a metaphorical “sore” on the “body politic,” but a veritable engine of miasma and molecular disintegration.

This recourse to technobabble is not an aberration. Consider the following passage from The Green Book, which is not trying to resemble science fiction, but nevertheless does:

If a community of people wears white on a mournful occasion and another dresses in black, then one community would like white and dislike black and the other would like black and dislike white. Moreover, this attitude leaves a physical effect on the cells as well as on the genes in the body. This adaptation, will be transmitted by inheritance. The inheritors automatically reject the colour rejected by the legator as a result of inheriting the sentiment of their legator.

A common formula for him: a practically nonsensical political claim is asserted as a self-evident axiom, and then reinforced with a nonsensical appeal to the authority of scientific knowledge. In this case, the “knowledge” is a bizarre admixture of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and the things you hear from drunken street prophets, but no matter. The esoteric specificity of sci-fi writing is part of what gives it its “high intensity” aura. The worlds summoned up can seem realer than our own; the futures projected can propel themselves backward to us in affective waves of uncanny retrocausality. This is how prophecy works, as well, and Gaddafi is duly dubbed “a revolutionary and a prophet” in the translator’s introduction.

Unfortunately, prophets have a marked obsession with the end times. Understanding how they will navigate their apocalypses will require a hyperrealpolitik amenable to fantastic speculation.

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I’m sure other people have noticed this by now – the video has been out for, what, 20 minutes? – but I figured my Enter the Void post could use this update.

Also, Rihanna’s outfit may have been inspired by Paz de la Huerta’s rarely-clothed performance. As Prefix writes: “Her line, ‘Want you to see everything,’ gets taken to another level here.”

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“My rage is really about the fact that WHEN I WAS TOLD THAT I’D CONTRACTED THIS VIRUS IT DIDN’T TAKE ME LONG TO REALIZE THAT I’D CONTRACTED A DISEASED SOCIETY AS WELL.” – from David Wojnarowicz, “Postcards from America: X-Rays from Hell” (in Close to the Knives, 1991: p. 114).

In 1989, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) withdrew funding from a show (“Witnesses: Against Our Vanishing”) at Artists Space in New York City, because of a controversial accompanying essay by photographer, painter, writer, musician, filmmaker, and East Village luminary David Wojnarowicz. The piece, “Postcards from America: X-Rays from Hell,” was a searing j’accuse directed at among other people, Jesse Helms, Ed Koch, and Cardinal O’Connor for poisoning the discourse of AIDS with fear, bigotry, and callous indifference. Soon after, Reverand Donald Wildmon of the right-wing American Family Association (AFA) excerpted images of David’s work in a sensationalist pamphlet designed to further smear Wojnarowicz and decrease public funding for the arts. Wojnarowicz successfully sued the AFA for violation of the New York State Artists’ Authorship Act. He was awarded damages of one dollar.

From the trial:

Mr. Wojnarowicz, apart from the harm that you believe the AFA pamphlet has cause to your reputation as a fine artist, has it affected you personally?

Yes, it has. I live an isolated life. I rarely see people. I spend a great deal of time at home, whether for reasons of health or work, and I have come to depend very seriously on my work as the communication that I engage in with other people; and I feel this work, this mailing that Wildmon created along with the AFA, seriously distorted that communication and caused me a great deal of anxiety and outrage and, when I saw the pamphlet around May 2nd, I went through a period of very intense depression and outrage at feeling unable to combat this representation of my work or what my work was reduced to and the communication that I perceive and believe is inside the work that I make being so severely distorted. (excerpted from A definitive history of five or six years on the lower east side, Semiotext(e) 2006: p. 225)

Twenty years later, Wojnarowicz’s work has been subject to censorship once again, though this time he is not able to sue his censors (he died of AIDS-related illnesses in 1992). The Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, in response to pressure from the religious right, the Republican Party, and the media, has removed the film “Fire in My Belly” from its exhibition “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture.”

The footage for the film was made in 1987 in Mexico, and exists in several versions. One of them features a visceral montage of sometimes shocking images, backed by the genuinely disturbing music of Diamanda Galas, who recites lines from the Book of Leviticus. (The piece is from her long work Plague Mass, a challenging and often frightening meditation on mortality, sickness, and AIDS, in which she makes her voice resound like the last opera on Earth, performed by a banshee who can play her throat like Anthony Braxton plays saxophone.) It is the most powerful of David’s films that I’ve had the privilege of seeing, next to his death-bed film of the late photographer Peter Hujar, his partner, who also succumbed to AIDS.

Though the Smithsonian is ultimately to blame for the decision, we should be alarmed and repelled by yet another instance of the American Right attacking the arts community — often in flagrantly homophobic language — in order to cynically bolster support among the ignorant for their regressive social agenda. The charge this time has been led by Bill Donahue, shameless bigot and President of the Catholic League. The outrage has focused on a brief, Dalí-echoing segment, in which ants crawl along a crucifix which lies on the ground, which is indeed a provocative image, but one which is part of a larger argument that has been lost in the media noise. The film takes the stigma of pollution and contamination associated with the AIDS crisis and displaces it onto, implicitly, the Catholic Church, which was, and continues to be, complicit in the spread of the disease, especially in the developing world, by way its insistent campaigns of misinformation and homophobia. The film is not anti-Christian, but it is unsparing in its contempt for misguided and dangerous Church positions that even the Pope has become equivocal about. Rather than engage the piece with any sort of argument, Donahue et al. have taken a segment out of context and used it made baseless, slanderous accusations against the artist.

Donahue, moreover, apparently did not see the irony in claiming outrage on behalf of an offended minority while trying to silence an AIDS victim on World AIDS Day. This is unsurprising, given that the man has said things like: “We’re not going to allow gay people to adopt children, that’s against nature, it’s against nature’s god.” Republicans in Congress, who alarmingly have a good deal of control over the budget, have repeated this charlatan’s views on the exhibit, and have threatened the Smithsonian and the NEA with funding cuts.

The NEA’s annual budget is tens of millions of dollars smaller than the daily cost of fighting the war in Afghanistan, that Sisyphean spectacle of pointless and unending violence which seems to “offend” no one in the American political establishment, least of all the Democrats who were elected on an anti-war mandate. It is also about one-tenth of one percent of the sum the Republicans want to give away in tax cuts to the richest people in America over the next ten years. By contrast, the Wojnarowicz piece, and indeed the entire exhibit in question, was funded with exactly zero taxpayer dollars. To put it in even bleaker relief: the artist died so miserably partially because he had no health insurance. To frame this as a question of budgetary priorities, then, is dishonest and perverse in the extreme. This is a cynical game, a game playing on cultural anxieties and homophobia, and one which reveals the House Republicans as the vacuous, reactionary philistines that they are.

If you are in Washington, D.C., and you would like to see the film, the Transformer Gallery is screening it. They are also marching to the National Portrait Gallery to stage a protest tonight, December 2nd, at 5:30pm.

UPDATE: The New Museum on the Bowery in New York City is also screening the entire work in their lobby until late January, as is PPOW (which represents David’s work), and a rogue demonstrator inside the National Portrait Gallery. I also encourage everyone to boycott the NPG until the work is reinstated and a sincere apology is offered.

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This is the first of a new series of posts which present first impressions free of belabored redraftings, research, and the like. When I was consulting a reference librarian about 19th century American pronunciation to make a minor point about Emily Dickinson for a post here, I decided that I needed a new direction for the blog if it was to be anything but a graveyard of abandoned ideas. The methodology of academia is not, I think, appropriate for one-off reviews with a limited scope and a readership of 3 people. These might be embellished over time…

It’s hard to see Enter the Void as anything but risibly absurd: the mawkish familial drama, the heavy-handed (even brass-knuckled) pop-Freudianism which transforms Kleinian psychoanalysis into silly breast fetishism, the gratuitous psychedelic interludes, and the stubborn refusal to attain even a semblance of coherence, combine to make it an often nauseating, not to mention potentially seizure-inducing, experience. And yet it is enthralling cinema, with the hallmarks of a B-movie classic: half-formed but singularly original ideas, clumsily written perfunctory dialogue delivered even more clumsily, and plenty of scenes that no self-respecting director would ever commit to film (I won’t give it away, but the film’s superlatively ridiculous coda breaks new ground in avant-garde psycho-pornography). Unfortunately, as the children of postmodernism, our omnivorousness has paradoxically brought with it the elimination of such hierarchies of taste that make the category of “B movie” an operable one. Enter the Void is only “a” movie, and it’s playing at an art-house cinema in Manhattan.

Its dependence on visual splendor to keep people from walking out brings Avatar to mind. But to me, Avatar is a very sinister film; its visual grandeur is a thinly veiled apotheosis of techno-capital, and its sentimental didacticism should be repellent to anyone capable of critical thought. But I excuse Enter the Void its masturbatory exercises in frivolous spectacularity, precisely because they are self-indulgent ends in themselves.

Yes, the technical trickery, especially the explosion of the distinction between the objective and subjective camera, is totally germane to the film’s themes of hyperreality and ego-dissolution, but the unquestionable excess of it is what stands out. Gaspar Noé has, perhaps inadvertently, hit upon the essence of the discourse of being-on-drugs, as explained by Jacques Derrida in “The Rhetoric of Drugs”: the asociality, unproductivity, and basic pointlessness of the experience. Enter the Void is a drug hit, it’s aborted reproduction, it’s an aimless spectacle exploring the boundaries of cinematic expression like a purblind Celestial prowling the corners of an opium den. If it’s a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing, it still teaches us something about spectacularity in and of itself – and it’s quite a trip.

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Nelson Sullivan (1948-1989) is an unsung master of cinema vérité, who became through the force of benign obsession one of the great documentarians of New York City. A relatively penniless music-store worker originally from the repressive confines of the rural South, he began renting an unassuming apartment at 5 9th Avenue in the Meatpacking District in the early 1980s. (The building still exists, but is in a rather different real estate bracket; a restaurant downstairs now sells twelve dollar omelets). Over the next decade, until his sudden death of a heart attack on July 4, 1989, Nelson used the new technology of videocassette recording to compile almost 2,000 hours of footage documenting his life on the fringes of the city’s art world and gay scene. The dramatis personae of this project is incalculably long : RuPaul and Andy Warhol, Deee-Lite and Michael Musto, and scores of other figures both major and minor.  But the more quotidian material, of Nelson taking the M14 bus, walking his dog Blackout along the river, attending the much feistier gay pride parades of decades past,  is also extraordinary. Nelson’s unpretentious approach, and mastery of technique – notice the flawless transitions of point of view, the spontaneous interviews, the stream-of-consciousness narration,  all contributing to a sense of participatory spectatorship – makes the archive more than a documentary nostalgia tour. Tragically, Sullivan died only days before he was to begin preparing the footage for television broadcast, and consequently only a handful of people could see any of his recordings until recently.

I only know of  Sullivan’s remarkable body of work from watching, against my initial judgment, and out of sheer boredom, a short film in the extra features section of the Party Monster documentary, based on the memoir Disco Bloodbath by James St. James: a perversely enjoyable account of the decadence (in both senses of the word) of downtown in the 1990s, by means of a story of the rise and fall of “club kid” impresario, drug vacuum, and eventual murderer Michael Alig. (The book was also turned into a 2003 feature film starring Macaulay Culkin). Sullivan sadly remains associated with these characters despite their peripheral presence in his life.

One can only assume there are no plans to release the collection in its entirety, but friends of Nelson have set up the 5ninthavenueproject on Youtube to share some highlights, in addition to a few DVDs. He remains obscure,  even in his now basically unrecognizable Manhattan; in fact, more public exhibitions of his work have been held in France than in New York.

Here are some samples:

Stonewall 20: Waiting for the Judy Garland contingent.

A jaunt across town.

A jubilant and yet heartbreaking performance of “Downtown” by Petula Clark, as an AIDS fundraiser by many people who would later die of the disease themselves.




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