V/A feat. John Spencer – The Underground Film Bulletin 6: The Most Hated Filmaker In The World: John Spencer (PRESS, US)

1987 n/a #6
01. Tommy Turner’s Excuse
02. “Last Rights”: The Scott B. Interview
03. Nick Zedd Interview by Dirk de Bruyn
04. Rick Strange, Poet Laureate, John Crawford, Cultural Anthropologist
05. “You Had Your Last Supper: Now Sit Down For Your Last Lunch” by Tommy Turner
06. John Spencer Interview by Orion Jeriko
07. George Kuchar Interview by Tom Church
08. Lung Leg photos by Richard Kern
09. Jack Smith Interview from Semiotexto
V/A feat. John Spencer - The Underground Film Bulletin 6: The Most Hated Filmaker In The World: John Spencer (PRESS, US) - Pages from Magazine
2700 word (approx.) John Spencer feature/interview regarding his film work printed in the Underground Film Bulletin 6 from 1987. The entire article is a photocopy of the hand-written text (all in capital letters) and features images taken from the movie Shithaus (released on The Cinema of Transgression Vol. 1).

The publication is A4 black and white photocopied pages stapled together with the front cover image of Lung Leg coloured by hand. The rear page features an image of Pete Shore (the subject of a song on Cold Hands) in Submit Now (c) 87 by R. Kern (Richard Kern was in Black Snakes who released a split single with Pussy Galore in 1988 although he is now better known as a photographer.

The article published in 1987 and mostly deals with the reactions at the screenings of Pus and Ponzo’s Masterwork. At one point there are comments by ‘Christine’ is probably Cristina Martinez but it’s not really clear from the few comments here.

The Underground Film Bulletin publications along with the Cinema of Transgression and many other Nick Zedd works are available from his website (http://www.nickzedd.com/).

“The Most Hated Filmaker In The World: John Spencer

Interviewed by Orion Jeriko

PUS is the most ugly convulsive barrage of hate ever vomited onto celluloid and the guy that made it hates it almost as much as you do. At the New York Downtown Film Festival it caused a near riot when it was shown to a throng of unappreciative hecklers and hillbillies masquerading as film connoisseurs, to the delight of no one in particular.

This unrelenting assault of light and noise screamed at the audience for about a half hour until the projector bulb committed suicide in protest.

I have never, in my long years of viewing underground atrocities witnessed as profound a state of shock experienced by this many jaded people.

It was all accomplished by the repetition of shots like the filmakers 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.

Why in the world was this smorgasbord of shame ever made? Who in their right mind could conceive of such a hellish turd as this misanthropic depravity, a blot of monumental degeneracy, a diseased maggot sent to ruin our world, an atrocity expelled at our expense, a rotten fungus festering in smegmatic splendour, in short, a MASTERPIECE deserving all the attention it may never get within our time but watch, if there’s any justice, will be revered as an underground classic fifty years from now, whether you like it or not.

The perpetrator of this and other crimes, Mr. JOHN SPENCER resisted any attempts to connect his name to these transgressions.

He was deeply disappointed in the negative reception accorded his work and expressed no interest in promoting the few films and videos he has made. He resisted this interview and didn’t want to talk to anyone about these films, but I persisted, swayed by the unabated attacks on his character spewed out by some of my closest friends. I realized that anyone hated this much for having done so little deserved some kind of lasting recognition.

I was finally able to track down Spencer in spite of his efforts to avoid me, and secured this interview, even tho everyone told me not to do it. He refused to supply me with any photos of himself and didn’t have any photos from his films or tapes either. He didn’t care if I interviewed him or not and didn’t seem to think his films were worth talking about.

A week before, his other movie PONZO’S MASTERWORK, a non-narrative featuring some charmingly tasteless views of a slaughterhouse and some touching shots of Spencer in the bathtub was screened to an unappreciative throng on East 4th St. before being ripped out of the projector prematurely, a fate shared by every one of his previous films I have seen attempted to be show, Sometimes Spencer rips the film out of the projector himself preventing anyone from seeing it, if he can’t stand the way it sounds over the P.A. No one seem to care when this happens.

Some people say that John Spencer’s films such. That’s where they’re wrong. His films are great, It’s the world that sucks.

ORION JERIKO: Why do people hate your films so much?

JOHN SPENCER: I don’t know. They’re just unpopular. I don’t know.

O.J.: When you made ’em did you expect people to hate ’em?

J.S.: Yeah. That was probably in my mind, I guess that some people would find it repulsive. People wouldn’t like ’em.

O.J.: What films have you made?

J.S.: PONZO’S MASTERWORK and PUS. There are other shorter things but those are just little exercises, incomplete short things.

O.J.: Where did you make them and what’s the significance of the titles?

J.S.: They were made at Brown University. I went to Brown for a couple of years. They were made under the auspices of the semiotics department. The first title is a joke and the second title’s not that much of a joke.

O.J.: What do you do in semiotics class?

J.S.: It depends. There are three areas of study. There’s production, analysis and theory. Analysis would be, as I was interested in it applied to film study. Production was making films.

O.J.: What would you analyse?

J.S. Horror films semiotics is the study of signs. Symbols.

O.J.: So were you trying to convey symbols in your films?

J.S.: Yeah. I guess I’m using that a little, but you gotta understand, the only reason I was in the semiotics dept. was to avail myself to the equipment and make the films. I was not really into semiotics that much.

O.J.: How did you feel about the away the audience responded to PUS at the N.Y. Film Festival Downtown and the fact that half the people there were screaming for it to be taken off?

J.S.: I hate sittin’ around while the films are being screened. I don’t really enjoy screening the films. I don’t enjoy having people yell about it. I don’t enjoy sittin’ back there squirming, which is basically what it amounts to. I suppose, if you want to know what the correct reaction of reaction that I’d like to see is people laughing. The films , I feel, are humorous and meant to be seen as such.

O.J.: Were you trying to attack the audience?

J.S.: Yeah, but it’s a joke, Tho. It’s an attack. What the fuck. I dunno.

O.J.: Watching it seems to be a form of torture. Was that intended?

J.S.: That’s what you got out of it?

There’s three ways you can look at it. Basically, I see the films as kind of a failure. The main thing I was trying to do was just to vent some kind of spleen and I suppose they achieved that. The first film would be, “I Hate Brown University” and the second film would be about sexual frustration. The first is – people are repulsed by it and just shut it out and will leave or not do anything and then there are people who see all the shock horror shit and will revel in it and can accept it on that level.

The third level, which I was working on hopefully – that it’s a joke. People don’t really get that, so that’s why the films don’t really work. They’re failures. People either just think it’s gross or, “Oh, it’s the same old stuff” , or, “Oh, yeah, cool”. I dunno.

O.J.: You’re saying that they’re failures because people don’t laugh?

J.S.: It’s just that when I was doin; ’em the idea was that these films were not out-and-out parodies, but they were using these incredibly clichéd type of things – Swastikas, Meat, Things being cut up, and all these like avant garde, underground things. It’s just all this stuff that’s been done and done, but people just see it as sincere. That’s why the films are a failure. I guess it wasn’t out and out enough.

O.J.: Do you think some people were shocked or offended by PUS in that they might have thought you were trying to advance Nazism?

J.S.: I dunno, if they were, I don’t give a fuck. Anybody who would seriously think that has gotta be pretty stupid.

O.J.: In PONZO’S MASTERWORK were the shots of the person cutting himself with the knife real?

J.S.: No, that’s fake, it’s that trick with the baby ear syringe.

O.J.: What was the meaning of the image of you in the bathtub naked covered in blood with the horses head?

J.S.: I dunno. It was made a long time ago. It’s a cows head. I dunno, what was it?

CHRISTINE: You remember.

J.S.: I dunno.

CHRISTINE: You’re a fucking liar.

J.S.: Well, you seem to know. Ha, ha. Walling in the mire or something izzat what it was?

CHRISTINE: I don’t think so.

J.S.: What was it? I don’t know. That whole film was just like, Fuck You! I thought it would be cool to sit in the tub.

O.J. What do films of you taking a shit have to do with sexual frustration?

J.S.: You don’t have to limit the scope to sexual frustration. It could be fascination and fear of bodily function. Borderlines in your body — Those kind of things…Pissing, shitting, bleeding. That’s confusing boundaries between the inside and the outside. That’s why those kind of actions are upsetting and are morbidly fascinating. Shit is phallic. That kind of thing is psychoanalytically sexually repressed infantile stage.

I was just fuckin’ around and then afterwards you can think up reasons how it fits in, I guess.

O.J.: Were you thinking about people watching it when you did it or is that irrelevant?

J.S.: Sure, you’re thinking about the people that are gonna watch it while you’re doin’ it. That’s why you enjoy filming it. That’s the whole kick.

O.J.: It’s an act of exhibitionism?

J.S.: Hell, yeah. Eating, shitting, masturbating… – That triumvirate is interesting because somebody came up to me afterwards and said “Oh I thought the whole thing – I got this whole religious thing out of it – Father, Son and Holy Ghost.” I thought that was really stupid. That’s just the main activities that occupy my life – Eating, Shitting and Masturbating. The three things.

O.J.: More than reading?

J.S.: What, you think reading means more to you than eating, shitting and masturbating?

O.J.: Sometimes, or watching movies.

J.S.: Fuck that, man. Are you serious? That’s fucking nothing.

O.J.: I get bored with eating, shitting or masturbating too. They still excite you more than anything else in life?

J.S.: Yeah, I really seriously don’t believe you if you say that reading or watching a film means more to you.

O.J.: Or making music, for you. That’s not as important?

J.S.: It doesn’t mean anything. When you’re out on the road, going to McDonalds is more of a high point than playing a show!

O.J.: Especially for the audience.

J.S.: That’s a big problem with me. When we’re out on tour it’s just like this big excuse to eat a lot. No matter what I’m doing, if I’m more active or not, or less bored those things are still what I’m thinking about.

O.J.: So right now you’re thinking about the next time you’re going to shit, jerk off, or eat?

J.S. No. ha, ha. No. I spend a lot of time thinking about eating…and…

O.J.: What about fucking?

J.S.: At that point in my life, it was masturbating. I guess now you could broaden it to just, like getting off. I still masturbate but it’s not always the way I get off.

O.J.: Why have you not tried to get your films shown around more?

J.S.: When they were completed originally, I guess in ’84 or ’85, I showed ’em around in like five places in New York City. I was real excited because I had to come to New York after finishing a semester and seen a show and I read the UNDERGROUND FILM BULLETIN, so I got really excited and I really wanted to show the stuff and I did and nobody really came. Then I got more interested in other stuff.

Now I don’t have any interest in showing the films because I think they’re failures.

O.J.: Why are they failures? Because people don’t get the joke?

J.S.: Yeah.

O.J.: But that only means that the world is a failure. Maybe you’re a success.

J.S.: You could say that, but it means a lot to me – getting the idea across.

O.J.: Maybe the idea came across and they just didn’t like it. Do you want them to like it?

J.S.: The whole thing is that the films are pretty repulsive they’re all just whining and “Fuck You.” Certainly they’re not very attractive things but when I sit thru these things at screenings nobody laughs.

O.J.: Maybe you don’t hear them laughing because they’re drowned out by the people saying “This sucks!” and “It’s shit!”

J.S.: The Downtown Film Festival was the first time people said “This Sucks!” more often than not, the most reaction I get is people coming up to me in the middle of the films when they’re being screened saying, “I know what you’re trying to do. I’ve seen this.”

It’s not working.

O.J.: So even tho it was an attack on the audience you wouldn’t expect them to get offended?

J.S.: I don’t mind.

O.J.: Then why do you say it’s a failure, if that many people got uptight about it?

J.S.: I dunno, because the main impression I get is people going like, “What the fuck is this? I don’t care.” It’s just indifference more than anything.

It’s not that people are storming up to rip the film out of the projector.

O.J.: When the audience started applauding gratefully when the bulb blew out on the projector, didn’t that make you feel good?

J.S.: No, man. I hated that! That was one of the worst nights of my life! I hadn’t seen the film for a long time. It was a lot worse than I thought it was and then just having everybody yell, “This sucks!” and “Get it off!”

O.J.: You should take that as a compliment. It means that it was something revolutionary. It challenged their perception.

J.S.: Challenged whose perception? Who the fuck are those people?

O.J.: The assholes. You don’t care?

J.S.: Who are those people? How many people were there? Fifty? It’s just these fucking downtown art fags! It’s nobody, man!

O.J.: It was more like a hundred and fifty.

J.S.: Do you really care about those people?

O.J.: No, but you didn’t either. You weren’t trying to please them.

J.S.: Right, so that’s what I’m saying. I don’t care about ’em. You’re asking me, “Well, if they were really pissed off, isn’t that revolutionary?”, No, because that’s no measure or standard. These people are just jaded socialites. I don’t even know who the fuck they are. The audience doesn’t mean anything.

O.J.: the only way you would have been pleased by the audience response would be if it had been laughter?

J.S.: I think so. I don’t know.

O.J.: You still would have hated the film yourself?

J.S.: Yes.

O.J.: Did you feel apprehensive about ripping off people’s music without their permission?

J.S.: No.

O.J.: Whose music did you use?

J.S.: The Swans were in both films. The main thing is just fucking around with sound tracks and F.X. on a Cascan 4-Track cassette machine. It was just mainly noise.

O.J.: Are there any filmakers you’ve been influenced by?

J.S.: Russ Meyer. Certainly nothing avant garde.

O.J.: Would you call your films avant garde?

J.S.: No!

O.J.: Are they anti-avant garde?

J.S.: No, I’m not searching for any label. A nice compliment someone said to me is that, “Yeah, people at the screening didn’t seem to enjoy it that much. They were badmouthing it during the screening, but I really like it. I’d seen it before and I liked it even more this time. It’s just pure entertainment.”

O.J.: Do you plan to make any more movies?

J.S.: I was thinking about maybe doing a video for the band. If I was gonna do one again I’d like to do a real production, with sound synch and try and make it approximately more narrative and work with a crew with actors and actresses.

O.J.: Where’d you grow up?

J.S.: In New Hampshire. My parents aren’t rich. The films were financed by the death of a great aunt who was a Christian Scientist. She never married. She was a schoolteacher and she died when i was about 18 so I got some money from that.

O.J.: Were those students aware of the fact that you were shooting them eating?

J.S.: No, because I was using telephoto. It’s just a real cheap shot showing other people eating in slow-motion, carrying out this demeaning biological act, just stuffing themselves.

O.J.: It seems that you appreciate your films a lot less than me.