Glasgow Short Film Festival – Brutal Measures: Lydia Lunch and The Cinema Of Transgression / The Sum of All Fears, 19/18th March 2016


lydia lunchIf one was of an equine persuasion one may be slightly nervous about entering a venue named The Glue Factory, situated as it is beside the old canal-ways of Glasgow.  The barges often being pulled by our horsey chums, one may assume that time was up and it was that moment in life when one is boiled down to an adhesive with a cheerful wave.  As it is, we escape that feat though there’s a fair old amount of sticky substances on display in the array of short films on offer in the chilly environs we find ourselves tonight.

Following on from the transgressive art lecture and evening a few weeks ago at the Glasgow Film Festival, Brutal Measures: The Cinema of Transgression takes a sometimes murky tour through some richly creative, occasionally highly dubious but mostly, mostly, entertaining 8mm films made under that cinematic banner as coined by one of its progenitors Nick Zedd.

Themes explored are, well, transgressive I suppose.  Drugs, violence, sex, morality… all prodded in an entirely unforgiving fashion.  It may not feature expansive and expensive cinematography but that’s not the point. And you cannot deny the passion of these endeavours put together across the 1980s and into the early ’90s.

The Manhattan Love Suicides: Stray Dogs is one of the gentler offerings – and even that features the odd arm falling off.  Describing one of the protagonists in the accompanying literature as, “a cross between Buster Keaton and Ed Gein,” is pretty darned accurate.  Occasionally comic monochrome zombie chap flits around like an extra from Dawn of the Dead with some amphetamines rammed into him. Oddly touching in the tragedy and ultimately futile existence of our roaming friend.

Nymphomania is perhaps the most successful in terms of film-making.  A rather elegant and almost balletic dance by a fairy through the woodlands is quite classical. This being the Cinema of Transgression she is, of course, pursued by a Puck-type character with a massive erection who’s motives may not be entirely benign.  Indeed, the gory denouement is an amoral sight to behold.  Not perhaps as shocking as Whoregasm which rounds off an interesting and sometimes compelling event.

Whoregasm exemplifies things in a way.  It’s hardcore, it’s pornographic – in both the wider and more specific sense – it’s sometimes rather beautiful in its aesthetic… and it’s also quite juvenile.  As explored before, the juvenile is perhaps not to be shied away from in outsider-art such as this.

In 1988 en route to a screening in Montreal, the movie was seized by Canadian customs officers and ten minutes of Whoregasm depicting Susan Manson masturbating with money vanished forever,” states the handout and also reveals much about the film itself and also the movement as a whole.  Nevertheless, the collage-like images are striking and at points rather beautiful in amongst all the brutality.

Whatever one’s assessment of the individual pieces on show there’s no getting away from the influence these vignettes have on aspects of contemporary visual art.  Aesthetically they draw a line between the gritty New York of The Velvet Underground, film-makers such as Larry Clarke and even the fashion photography of Terry Richardson. How benign that legacy is is entirely subjective of course.

After all that, we get a spirited performance by Lydia Lunch which veers between quite lively and edgy improvisation to – ever so slightly – pastiche-like recreations of beat poetry and whatnot.  Not as compelling as one would hope from such a legendary figure but she’s a character, that’s for sure.

Optimo round things off with a rousing and all over the place set by Johnny Wilkes which has a raucous vibe once things get going.  Entirely fitting the overall theme and aesthetic of the event.  Things do get a bit totally Mexico towards the end with a couple of fairly spectacular mullet hairdos spotted stalking around the dancefloor but that’s always the way in this most art school of venues. Nevertheless, it’s a groovy end to a provocative evening.


These frolics succeeded an esoteric night before that perhaps best illustrates the idiosyncratic delights such film festivals can offer.  A collection of seven films from Tarantula through to Hitchcock’s Frenzy reduced to 10-minute shorts.  Distillations put together by Castle Films and discovered in a distributor’s basement in Sweden. Entirely bonkers stuff: most successful was clearly The Mummy with Boris Karloff – the magnum opus of the genre at a lofty 17 minutes.  More sinister in some ways than Frankenstein-type goings on due it’s undeniable nastiness.  People being buried alive and then the witnesses being bumped off lest they spill the beans makes for an unpleasant thrill.  On the other hand, it’s hard to argue with the nine-minute version of Tarantula which features not just an early appearance by a certain Clint Eastwood but a guinea pig roughly the same size as an Alsatian dog.  You can’t legislate for marvellous lunacy and a killer combination like that like that.  Excellent stuff.

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