V/A feat. Jon Spencer – Deathtripping: Cinema of Transgression (Creation Cinema Collection) (BOOK, US)

19 November 1995 Creation Books 1871592291
Jack Sergeant book on the Cinema of Transgression featuring a segment on the films of John Spencer.

“While the Cinema of Transgression filmmakers would regularly appear in each other’s films, and collaborate on producing and disseminating their work, they did not necessarily share similar filmmaking styles. What they did share was an aesthetic of pushing boundaries, thus films ranged from, for example, the non-narrative ‘moving wallpaper’ style of Kern’s Submit To Me to Turner’s exploration of mind control in Simonland, from Zedd’s post-punk trash camp Geek Maggot Bingo to Casandra Stark’s surreal and dreamlike Dead On My Arm, and from John Spencer’s stock footage collage Shithaus to DeLanda’s graffiti documentary Ism Ism.

A further aspect of the Cinema of Transgression, briefly alluded to in the manifesto, was the concept of ‘Expanded Cinema’ (a concept borrowed from the ’60s underground and especially Warhol). The ideas behind the concept of ‘Expanded Cinema’ allowed the filmmakers a creative space in which they could show rushes of works in progress in a context other than that of the traditional cinematic audience/film relationship. ‘Expanded Cinema’ also […]

iii) Other Filmmakers

While the work of the more established filmmakers associated with the Cinema of Transgression is dealt with at length in this volume, other filmmakers were also briefly associated with the movement. Much of the work by these filmmakers remains unavailable, although in 1986 Nick Zedd coordinated and produced a video release entitled The Cinema of Transgression Volume 1. Alongside shorts by Zedd, Kern and Turner the video also featured the work of John Spencer, Ling Leg (see Chapter 5), Richard Klemann, Erotic Psyche, Michael Wolfe and Manuel DeLanda.

John Spencer’s ‘contribution’ was Shithaus. The film opens to the soundtrack of Wiseblood’s Cough And Kill, while repetitious edits depict two cowboys shooting at each other, the camera following the trajectory of the bullet as it leaves the barrel of the gun. This is followed by a collage of ’70s television thrillers (odd lines are occasionally audible such as “there was blood under his fingernails”), footage of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, atom bomb tests, and ’50s Cold War ‘duck and cover’ style public information films. Intercut with this montage is a repetitive series of mushroom clouds. The entire collage section of the film is driven on by Swans’ slow aggressive noise songs. Only at the film’s end is the title revealed, with the first and the last letter designed to signify the lightening flash logo of the Waffen SS.

Spencer also directed two other movies, Pus and Ponzo’s Masterwork. When Pus was screened at the Third New York Film Festival Downtown, in 1986, it created a near riot despite the failure to complete the screening due to the projector’s bulb exploding. What those gathered at the festival did witness was a series of shocking images such as: “The repetition of the filmmaker’s asshole dripping shit, his penis jerking off, his mouth gorging spaghetti, garbage piling up, Hitler giving speeches, Nazis marching, aisles of supermarket junk and other mundane sights too humorous to mention.”

The abortive screening divided the audience between those screaming for it to be taken off and those screaming for the showing to continue. The strength of Spencer’s Pus and the repetition of images it utilises are designed to transgress the boundaries demarcating the zone of the inside of the body and its outside. Shit and blood cross this boundary and mark a defilement of the concept of the human body as a sacred site. As Spencer commented, this confusion of boundaries via images of excretion is exactly why “those kinds of actions are upsetting and morbidly fascinating.”

Ponzo’s Masterwork, a film depicting slaughterhouses, and the director sitting in the bath with a cow’s head, met with a similar fate when it was screened “to an unappreciative throng on East 4th Street [it was] ripped out of the projector prematurely”, an act Spencer himself was prone to do if he was unhappy about the technical or social aspect of the screening. Spencer’s films were produced as part of a Semiotics course at Brown University and when interviewed by The Underground Bulletin Spencer claimed that the films were engaging with the question of nderground and avant-garde art in a parodic style. As Spencer observed, the movies, for all their extremity, “were using these incredibly cliched type of things – swastikas, meat, things being cut up…” That a parodic movie such as Pus could divide an audience and be condemned for “ a seemingly psychotic fascination with elimination… [and] I was relieved when the film ended prematurely” reveals its obvious power.”

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