My August 2009 film column for Maximum Rock N Roll. Originally appeared in issue 315.
YOU KILLED ME FIRST
I have this annoying memory from my first month in San Francisco 1990. I saw a flier advertising an underground film festival showing the films of Nick Zedd, Richard Kern and others. I had seen a bunch of both Zedd's and Kern's films while I was living in Boston and was really interested to see more, hopefully newer films. I showed up at the Kennel Club (now known as The Independent) and paid ten dollars to get in which seemed like a lot at the time, but I was in a new city so I didn't know better. It ended up not being a film festival at all. Two different films were shown simultaneously on two screens set up on the stage at askew angles. There was no sound for the films. Instead a DJ was playing music while everyone stood around talking and drinking. I tried to watch the films for a while, but it was utterly frustrating. I left completely pissed off.
Llik Your Idols tries to tell the story of the New York film, art and music scenes of 1984 - 1991 in a little over an hour. It is ambitious to be sure, but doesn't seem to get focused enough to make any part coherent. Maybe that was the point. The film focuses on artist Joe Coleman, filmmakers Richard Kern and Nick Zedd and musician-spoken word artist-author-actress Lydia Lunch. There is a bit of mention of No Wave too.
I would have liked for Llik Your Idols to solely concentrate on the filmmakers. That is the direction this documentary mostly heads in. All the other interesting peripheral people particularly Joe Coleman sidetracks the film. Each of the four main characters focused on could have had their own documentary, yet the viewer only learns the basics. Kern and Zedd's interviews don't really tell too much about their filmmaking or even what was going on with them at the time. Drug use is barely mentioned. Film clips are shown from other filmmakers, but none are interviewed. I was particularly interested in Jon Spencer's 1986 film "Shithaus". A small clip is shown and someone recalls a review that said the film "out Kerns Richard Kern". I would have liked to hear more about it or even Spencer's recollections. But the clip appears merely as a footnote.
There are also interviews with Thurston Moore, Richard Hell, Russell Simmins, Jarboe and more. Usually I'd say no more Moore, but he is the only one who has anything interesting to relate. He describes Sonic Youth playing at CBGBs and Kern showing some uncompleted scenes from "Submit To Me" as a backdrop. The audience was outraged. He later recalls Kern deciding to go off and do heroin with GG Allin. That was too much for Moore. Simmins opinions are virtually useless since he doesn't even seem to have been around at the time all this was going on. The absence of Lung Leg is equally conspicuous.
One of the DVD extras is an interview with director Angelique Bosio. I almost wish it wasn't there because it definitely clouded my impression of what Llik Your Idols was attempting to achieve. Whereas I thought it was simply scattered and trying to cover too much ground at once. It seems that perhaps she didn't do enough research. Bosio's simple reasoning for the title was a play on a t-shirt she saw at stores depicting Jesus or Kurt Cobain with the slogan "Kill Your Idols". I always relate that phrase to the Sonic Youth song "Kill Yr. Idols" from 1983. Sure, it has been co-opted by t-shirts companies. Almost everything has. But Bosio also states that her interest in Richard Kern and New York underground film was a result of being a Sonic Youth fan. I would think she would at least have heard of the song.
The best part of the Llik Your Idols DVD is the inclusion of two Nick Zedd films "Police State" and "War Is Menstrual Envy". It is much better when you get to witness first hand what all the fuss is about. "Police State" is my favorite Zedd film. It's a simple anti-authoritarian story. A guy gets picked up on the street for looking weird. He gets accused of being a junkie and hauled in to the station for a variety of ridiculous charges including resisting arrest. He stands up to the crooked cops and gets beat up. There is no good cop/ bad cop in this story. They're all bad. www.mvdvisual.com
One of the more fun aspects of working at MRR is simply showing up at the house. The other day I walk in to Brace Belden telling a story of pissing next to Greg Ashley while he was trying to play some songs at some BBQ. Then I walk down the hallway to compile my top ten and Bruce Roehrs tells me I have to listen to the new Cock Sparrer. I'm skeptical. New Cock Sparrer? Yikes. But Bruce was right. The song "Gotta Get Out" rocks. Included in the LP "Here We Stand" is a bonus DVD that includes "Making Of Here We Stand" and live footage. It is all pretty straightforward.
The "Making Of Here We Stand" is a short documentary made as a student film. The questions are obvious ones: what are your influences, how do you write the perfect song, what are the plans for the future, etc. The guys are funny and even though interviewed separately they all have similar answers. There is a bit of them playing in the studio, but not enough. The live footage is from their 2000 US tour and then some other more recent shows. The venues are large, the audience is going crazy and it all seems like a lot of fun. It is a nice bonus.
The weird and unintentionally funny part of the Cock Sparrer DVD is a "forward" by Pirates Press owner Eric Mueller. It is obvious he is not an actor. His nervousness and frequent glances at his computer screen where he seems to have written his monologue down are understandable, but it is still a very odd thing to include on a band's DVD. He goes on to explain in full detail his introduction to Cock Sparrer when he was interning at TKO records through Pirates Press' release of the "Here We Stand" album. He is obviously very proud of this history and it is kind of charming in a twisted voyeuristic way. I just wish he wouldn't refer to the album as a "package" so many times. With that small phrase he goes from fanboy to marketer. It's a punk rock infomercial. www.piratespress.com
I am always looking for films to review. If you made one, send a copy to Carolyn Keddy, PO Box 460402, San Francisco, CA 94146-0402. If your film is playing in the San Francisco Bay Area, let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will go see it.