Friday, October 26, 2012

The Video Store Grab 'n' Run: Laa-Dee-Documentaries

Before you run screaming from the computer, afraid this column will be covering the mating habits of the dung beetle, or the deforestation of Brazil, just turn yourself around and plant that hinder back in the chair, little missy. Hitting the avant-garde and Beat lit lately, I thought a few documentaries about some of these weirdos would be entertaining.

I wish I could have lived in the '50's and '60's (I was born in '68), taking drugs, sleeping with whomever I pleased, and creating a new wave of art and literature whose era can never be recreated. I don't look back at the 1990's as a magical, creative time, I just see it as the decade when my first son was born and I had to go work for "the man" to put food on the table. This week's victims, all from the Documentary section, are: "The Cockettes," "Kerouac, the Movie," "Nico Icon," "Pie in the Sky: The Brigid Berlin Story," and "William S. Burroughs: Commissioner of Sewers."

Hello, Bill, tell me about your funky theory that dreams are time travel...where's your bong? William S. Burroughs was one of the original Beat writers, and this too short video celebrates his writing and artwork. This was filmed in the 1980's, and Burroughs was showing his age, but he was still sharp as a tack and could have heady conversations with the surprisingly sharp interviewer Jurgen Proog, who asks very intelligent questions about Burroughs' creative process. I was sometimes bored, Burroughs was even too much for me, but this documentary is still worthy.

That Andy Warhol, what a gas... "Nico Icon" is a fantastic documentary about the pop icon known as Nico, who was born in Germany, emigrated to the United States, became one of Andy Warhol's superstars, and died before the age of 60 after finally kicking a decades long heroin habit. The footage of her in her last years is depressing, after seeing what a beauty she was. Then there was her voice, a deep singing voice belting out painfully honest lyrics that are hard to hear based on the singer's hatred of herself and disinterest in life in general. An astounding film, and I am Beat...

"Kerouac, the Movie" is an okay film, recommended simply because there is a lack of good documentaries on the King of the Beats. Kerouac died in 1969 at the ripe old age of 47, so he could not be reached for interviews like Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg could, when they became the old gentlemen of the Beat movement. The film does rely to heavily on some unconvincing reenactments, but you do learn a lot about Kerouac, and you get to see the man on talk shows and reading his works, before sliding downhill into alcoholism. Not a great film, but good enough.

Who wants Pie? "Pie in the Sky: The Brigid Berlin Story" introduces us to sixty year old Brigid, who used to act in Warhol and Paul Morrissey's films, record phone conversations with her conservative mother, and take her clothes off at the slightest inclination, not caring how others viewed her even if she weighed 260 pounds. Vincent Fremont and Shelly Dunn Fremont present their first documentary, and it is great. It helps that they let Brigid do her own talking, never pushing or trying to steal the film from her. This is intercut with tons of footage from Warhol's Factory days, and I enjoyed this tremendously.

What's a Cockette, you ask? They were like the Rockettes, only "The Cockettes" had more glitter...and penises. In the late 1960's and early 1970's, a bunch of gay men, straight women, straight men, and possible gay women all communed together in San Francisco. They used to go to midnight movies, where old Hollywood musicals were played, and they thought they could put on a show during the intermission. Everyone was in drag, when they kept their clothes on, and they lampooned everything from the mentioned Busby Berkley musicals to Tricia Nixon's White House wedding. This is very funny, a few years before "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" debuted, but the troupe was eventually decimated by drug abuse and later, AIDS. Very good stuff.


There, that wasn't so bad, was it? I would recommend all five films this week, something I have never run into while writing this column before. This may be a sign...from best to worst:
1. Nico Icon
2. Pie in the Sky: The Brigid Berlin Story
3. The Cockettes
4. William S. Burroughs: Commissioner of Sewers
5. Kerouac, the Movie

That's it for now, we'll see what happens the next time a flaming hot spotlight is shown on the underbelly of obscure video cinema!