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The blog of author Dennis Cooper

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Penelope Spheeris Day

 

‘Punk has been tamed, punk has been neutered, punk has been domesticated. The album The Stooges is fifty years old this August, and the music of omnidirectional bile and antiauthoritarianism that it anticipated has been museumified, the subject of a Met Gala and a Museum of Sex show—this despite Johnny Rotten’s staunchly anti-erotic definition of love as “two minutes and fifty seconds of squelching noises.” Punk has been turned into something that it never was, as has so much “problematic” art, in this case retrospectively cast as protest music with clearly articulated social justice–oriented aims that if stated wouldn’t ruffle the feathers of a contemporary middle-class liberal. This required a process of selective amnesia: we can remember Joe Strummer yawping about Sandinistas or whatever, but not Rotten growling seemingly anti-abortion sentiments in “Bodies” or Siouxsie Sioux performing in a swastika armband.

‘All of this only underlines the importance of Penelope Spheeris’s achievement in her punk films, for they offer a from-the-pit perspective on what American punk and hardcore was—not what many of its contemporary interpreters might have liked it to be—an idiom cleanly classifiable neither as progressive nor as reactionary, a nailbomb chucked in the direction of popular entertainment, a subculture whose identifiers projected a clear “KEEP OUT” stance to the wary. This body of punk films may be said to include Spheeris’s fiction feature debut, Suburbia (1983), and Dudes (1987), and the Decline of Western Civilization trilogy of documentaries, released in 1981, 1988, and 1998. Part I and Part III are addressed to two generations of Los Angeleno punkers, while Part II, subtitled The Metal Years, focuses on the Los Angeles hair metal scene as centered around Sunset Strip clubs like Gazzari’s, Rainbow Bar & Grill, and the Cathouse club. It’s a bit of an outlier, but the film finds enough affinities between this world and that of punk to merit inclusion.

‘It was the first Decline that tagged Spheeris as the foremost interpreter of the punk phenomenon. The film was shot between fall 1979 and spring 1980 using equipment checked out from the music videography company she ran, Rock ‘n Reel, a world away from the yacht rock outfits and bloated FM rock acts that she made a living shooting. A lightning-in-a-bottle document, The Decline of Western Civilization catches a pivot point in the southern California punk scene, as the center of gravity is moving away from the older, artier, more queer-oriented crowd in Hollywood, represented by the likes of the Alice Bag Band and X, and moving toward the dowdier precincts of the unfashionable South Bay and Orange County, where bands like Black Flag and the Circle Jerks were playing in a headlong, raw-power style that would eventually be distinguished—if never particularly well-defined—as “hardcore.” Brendan Mullen, founder of Hollywood punk club the Masque, identifies the key element in this new music as breakneck velocity, playing at “upwards of 250, 300 beats per minute.” Recording a moment in punk history, Decline also helped to make it. On the other side of the country, punkers in major cities saw Spheeris’s movie and started to imitate the roving, herky-jerky dance seen in the SoCal pits, dubbed the Huntington Beach (colloquially shortened to “H.B.”) Strut. And if hardcore might’ve eventually made inroads in Boston, New York, and Washington D.C., Spheeris’s movie certainly did its part in expediting matters.

‘Spheeris was in her midthirties at the time of the shoot, a decade or more older than most punkers at the time. If her age might’ve marked her an outsider in the milieu she was capturing, she was in other respects its ideal chronicler. Freak shows were in her blood, coming as she did from midway folk. Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1945, her father, Andrew, was a former Olympic wrestler from Greece who created his own traveling carnival, Magic Empire Shows, and performed in it as a strongman. Penelope—the first of four children to Andrew and his wife, Juanita (nicknamed “Gypsy,” and picked up by Andrew at a stop in Kansas)—traveled with Magic Empire Shows until, in 1951, at a stop in Troy, Alabama, her father was killed while defending a black troupe member from harassment. Spheeris’s mother thereafter took her children to California with their first in a series of nine stepfathers, shuttling the family between trailer parks in gritty, working-class Los Angeles neighborhoods like Long Beach, Chula Vista, National City, Midway City, and Venice Beach, where she tended bar at a dive called the Circle.

‘Through Spheeris’s peripatetic youth, rock and roll was the one constant, her shelter. She was a regular at venues like the El Monte Legion Stadium, the Rendezvous Ballroom on Balboa Island, and the Cinnamon Cinder in Studio City, a devotee to surf rock acts like the legendary Dick Dale and the Deltones. After putting herself through film school at UCLA waitressing at Denny’s and the International House of Pancakes, she started making the scene at LA’s punk clubs—the Masque, Club 88, Blackies, Cathay de Grande—and saw something that was worth setting down in celluloid.

‘Young enough to feel the goaded animal anger of this anguished music in her gut, old enough to bring some perspective to bear on the men and women making it, Spheeris caught something essential about the scene, specifically the degree to which it revolved around music by and for damaged individuals, people practically radiating with their hurt, for whom this music was nothing less than a lifeline. Her childhood marred by violence and instability, lived in part in the highly unorthodox familial environment of the circus, Spheeris understood something about her subjects, and was able to put them at ease in a way that many filmmakers might not.

‘Now treasured as a time capsule, Decline was on its initial release more of a succès d’estime, and it succeeded in catching the attention of producer Roger Corman. As the newly inaugurated expert in the mores and folkways of hardcore punk, Spheeris was given her first fiction feature by Corman, a punksploitation picture to be titled Suburbia. The film’s opening, one of the most bracing and brutal in ’80s American cinema, depicts a toddler being mauled to death by a stray dog. Undeniably something to get an audience standing at attention—the movie inspired the Pet Shop Boys song of the same title, and the lyric “Let’s take a ride, and run with the dogs tonight”—it also effectively introduces the underlying themes of the film: child neglect, child endangerment, the hostility of the suburban environment.’ — The Criterion Collection

 

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Stills



















































 

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Further

Penelope Spheeris Site
Penelope Spheeris @ IMDb
Penelope Spheeris: ‘I sold out and took the money’
Penelope Spheeris on leaving Hollywood behind: “They can blow me”
PENELOPE SPHEERIS: FILMING ROCK & ROLL
Penelope Spheeris @ Facebook
Penelope Spheerie @ letterboxd
The Truth About Punk According to Penelope Spheeris
On steamrolling bold visions into existence and healing along the way
Penelope Spheeris looks back on her cult punk docs the police tried to ban
Visual History with Penelope Spheeris
On The Corner of Lookout and Wonderland: A Profile of Penelope Spheeris in Present Day Los Angeles
‘I’ll die a punk’
Penelope Spheeris: Selling Her Soul For Cinema
PENELOPE SPHEERIS IS THE BLACK SHEEP OF HOLLYWOOD
Penelope Spheeris on Wayne’s World, Dating Extras, and Why She Didn’t Do the Sequel
PENELOPE SPHEERIS TALKS ABOUT THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION
Sleaze on the Sunset Strip: How Penelope Spheeris captured the hair metal scene at the brink of implosion
Talking to Penelope Spheeris about time
Interview: Penelope Spheeris
The Family Values of Penelope Spheeris and Anna Fox
Underground with Punk Icon Penelope Spheeris
Penelope Spheeris on Documenting the Misunderstood
Penelope Spheeris Revisits Her Decline of Western Civilization Trilogy
For Penelope Spheeris, Fame Came at a Price
“It’s All About Shocking People”
Penelope Spheeris: Things are better for women … kinda

 

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Extras


Penelope Spheeris on “The Decline of Western Civilization”


Megadeth – In My Darkest Hour


Night Ranger – I Did It For Love


Megadeth – Wake Up Dead


Penelope Spheeris at length

 

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Interview

 

The A.V. Club: You’ve been a filmmaker forever, but you’ve said in interviews that you didn’t grow up obsessed with cinema.

Penelope Spheeris: I wasn’t obsessed with it. I would go to movies because it would be our escape. We lived in trailer parks, and I would save money by collecting up Coke bottles so we would be able to go. It would cost, like, a dollar to get into the Saturday matinees. I’d go to a double feature and you got free stuff in the middle, you know, news reports and The Little Rascals and shit.

AVC: Then you ended up making a Little Rascals movie.

PS: That’s why I did it, because I really knew a lot about The Little Rascals from going to the matinees.

AVC: Do you remember the first thing you ever shot?

PS: When I was at school at UCLA, they loaned [us] cameras and I was going home one day and I saw a bunch of crows flying in a field. I used some negative film, and I printed it as a negative so it was a black sky with white birds in it. That was my first piece of film I ever shot. And I’m like, “Man, this is cool!” Filmmaking is about trying to master or change reality, and have your own interpretation of it. It’s kind of an ego trip in a way!

But yeah, I fell in love at that moment, and again when I did my film at UCLA called Hats Off To Hollywood. I put some music to a shot of Hollywood Boulevard in, like, 1968 or something, and man, when you put music and movies together—it was like the sky opened up and God said, “You’re meant to do this.” So I did it.

AVC: Combining music and film is your thing, but a lot of the stuff that you do is also about outcasts, people who live on the margins. What is it about those kind of characters that interests you?

PS: I think the fact that I was born on a carnival [had a lot to do with it]. When we traveled around, the people that would join us as we moved from town to town would be people that didn’t really have any reason to stay where they were. The carnival was a collection of outcasts, so I feel very comfortable around them.

AVC: You’ve filmed in the pit at punk shows, you’ve done TV movies about alien abductions, you’ve shot in a women’s prison. Has there ever been a day on set where you were just like, “What the fuck am I doing here?”

PS: That would be working with the Weinsteins. I have done a lot of different kinds of genres and a lot of different types of subject matter, but I did those because I just took whatever job I could get. Because as a woman in the film business, you really don’t get to pick and choose.

But working with the Weinsteins was probably the moment where I said to myself, “How the fuck did I get here? What am I doing?” I did a movie called Senseless with David Spade and Marlon Wayans with the Weinsteins producing back in 1998. I was just finishing this movie and I said, “I don’t want to do this anymore. I don’t want to work in this movie business anymore.” And as a matter of fact, that was that.

AVC: Do you feel like you forgot why you were in the business, or that it had changed into something that you didn’t recognize anymore?

PS: It changed into something that I didn’t want to be a part of. I really didn’t want to be a part of mainstream Hollywood anymore. It was too—it’s ugly. You have no friends in Hollywood. Hollywood is a lonely, lonely desert, especially as a woman.

AVC: Something that I’ve heard a lot of female directors say is that there’s no mercy. If you make a movie and it’s not a hit, that’s it.

PS: There’s no forgiveness. Oliver Stone could go wreck a car and get arrested for being on drugs and then do Alexander. But we can’t do that. Women can’t make mistakes. I’m not driving home tonight because I had a couple beers, you know? [Laughs.]

But yeah, you can’t screw up when you’re a woman. One little mistake, and you’re done. Like Senseless, they kept rewriting it and rewriting it. And I’m like, “Dude, you guys, this is not working. Don’t keep rewriting it. Let me just do the movie I signed up to do.” But they kept rewriting it, and it’s in my contract that I got to do what they say, you know? And at one point, I said to Bob Weinstein, “I don’t think this works,” and he goes, “This is my fucking money and I’m going to spend it any fucking way I want to.” And how are you going to argue with that?

So I had to do the movie, and it didn’t do very well. And as a woman, when you do a movie that doesn’t do well, then you’re done. You’re in director jail.

AVC: For forever.

PS: Forever. It’s not like they go, “Okay, Penelope, you’re out of jail now. Let’s make a movie.” At this point, I don’t want to make a movie. They can’t even fucking beg me to make a movie. I got to make a lot of money in the days when you could make a lot of money as a director, and I invested it right. I don’t need that anymore. It’s not like I’m bitter. I just feel like I went through too much pain. I really did enjoy my life, being in the movie business.

AVC: That’s something that’s incomprehensible to a lot of powerful men in Hollywood, that you would not care about them.

PS: [Laughs.] Really?

AVC: I think they think that the world revolves around them and that’s why they can do whatever they want.

PS: That’s their problem, because I don’t care. I don’t care. I really don’t. I feel like there’s more important things in life than going through these dealings where you’ve got these people that are deceitful and liars who don’t stand up for their words, you know? And I went through a lot of that.

I don’t mean to be griping. Let me tell you, I did better than most people did. I got paid during the time where they were paying directors millions of dollars for doing movies. I think that’s why the Weinsteins tortured me so much, because they paid me 2.75 million or some shit like that for doing Senseless. It’s like, “Okay, we gave you all this money so we’re going to torture you this much.” It’s not worth it.

AVC: So you just thought to yourself, “This isn’t that important to me”?

PS: I got to a point where I said, “It’s not that important to me.” It took a little while, because that was me. I identified with the movie business. “I am a filmmaker. That’s what I do.”

Right now, I don’t identify with that anymore. [Sin and I] just spent two years building a house together, and we have six houses, and we’ve got a lot of tenants and a lot of rent, and I don’t need the movie business, you know? So if they don’t hire me because I’m a woman—because I’m an older woman—if they don’t hire me, I don’t give a shit. I don’t know who fired who, but as far as I’m concerned, I fired them.

AVC: That’s kind of badass. “Fine, well, fuck you too, then.”

PS: I don’t need them. I really don’t. Especially now, what am I going to do? Work for a year on a movie and make $50,000? They can blow me! That’s a quote. You can print that.

AVC: How does it feel to go to something like this event and see something that you did back in the early ’80s and be celebrated as a filmmaker?

PS: It does feel good, especially because when I did it back then, nobody cared.

AVC: You were saying the LAPD tried to shut down the premiere of The Decline Of Western Civilization.

PS: Right. Most of my movies do well later—they don’t do well at the time. Well, except for Wayne’s World and Black Sheep. And I guess The Little Rascals did good.

AVC: We were talking earlier about places where you felt like you didn’t really belong. Was there a time where you felt like, “This is the place for me?”

PS: That’s a really good question. I’ve thought about that a lot. And honestly, in mainstream studio production, I never really felt like I belonged there. I almost regret not soaking up the glory at the time, but I just never felt like it was the right place for me. I was doing it because, like I said, I took every job I could get. But those aren’t my people. My people are these people here tonight [seeing Decline]. Just down to earth, normal people.

AVC: What about the second Decline movie? That’s a whole different thing, with Ozzy Osbourne and KISS and that whole rock star culture.

PS: Well, the second one—that’s a long story. I don’t mean to put it down, a lot of people like it, but it’s a different thing. You know who produced that movie? Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton, who directed Little Miss Sunshine. And they had a whole comic vision for the movie. I would have made every band in the movie be more like the hardcore bands [in the original Decline Of Western Civilization], but I didn’t really get to pick and choose.

AVC: There are some pretty heavy moments in it regardless, like Chris Holmes [of W.A.S.P.] pouring a bottle of vodka in his mouth while his mom watches silently.

PS: Yeah, in the pool. Chris Holmes and Megadeath. That’s me making a movie. The rest of it is, “Let’s exploit this, you know, scene that’s going on right now.”

AVC: The Decline Of Western Civilization Part III is close to your heart, for a number of reasons.

PS: Not least because that’s where I met my boyfriend of 21 years. [Gestures to Sin, dozing on the couch next to her.] He’s going to sleep right now. [Laughs.]

AVC: How do you feel when people say punk is dead?

PS: I feel like they are so behind the times, because back when punk was thriving, that phrase was being used. Punk rock is by nature so against being exploitative and commercial that it doesn’t promote itself. And so people don’t hear a lot about it. But punk, I think, still is alive and well.

And I’m not talking about Green Day—I mean, fine. Okay. Green Day’s okay. Whatever. But for me, it, punk is not only music. It’s a philosophy and a way of life and a set of morals and ethics.

AVC: So someone could be a punk painter or chef or something.

PS: Yeah! Definitely! Usually, it doesn’t involve self-promotion or exploitation.

AVC: There are lot of people talking now about how can we get more women into directing. If a young woman today wants to start making movies, do you think there’s any value for her in going through the system, or do you think that’s just totally fucked?

PS: There is, actually. I’m very glad that today there are more opportunities for young women. I don’t think it’s a useless endeavor at this point, by any means. I almost feel jealous that I was not able to take advantage of this movement. Because it’s one thing to be a woman in this business, but let me tell you something, it’s another thing to be an older woman in this business. Because then you’ve got two strikes against you from the start.

 

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12 of Penelope Spheeris’s 38 films

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Uncle Tom’s Fairy Tales: The Movie for Homosexuals (1968)
‘In 1968, Richard Pryor and director Penelope Spheeris worked together on a subversive satire called Uncle Tom’s Fairy Tales: The Movie for Homosexuals. While it’s unclear what the film was about, it is believed that it followed a group of Black Panthers who kidnap a wealthy white man and put him on trial for all the racial crimes in American history. Spheeris had assembled a rough cut to screen for Pryor at his home, but Pryor’s then-wife Shelley Bonis got into an argument with him about spending all of his time and money on the film. In a fit of rage, Pryor destroyed the negative.

‘According to the Richard Pryor biography Furious Cool, “Penelope spent days splicing the pieces of the film back together like a jigsaw puzzle. She reconstructed the forty-some minutes of film by arduously piecing together the mangled pieces, some only a few frames long. The result was so crumpled and patched together that the film danced all around as it ran through the projector gate.”

Uncle Tom’s Fairy Tales was thought to be lost until Spheeris found a brief clip in her archive and donated it to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2005. It was screened during a tribute to the comedian, when it sparked Pryor’s widow Jennifer Lee to sue Penelope Spheeris and Pryor’s daughter Rain for allegedly stealing the original negative during the 1980s. The lawsuit is still pending.’ — Mental Floss

 

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The Decline of Western Civilization (1981)
‘Penelope Spheeris’ THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION was perceived as shocking and outrageous at the time of its original release in 1981 and its two follow-up films were no less extraordinary and revealing. Today, museums and educational institutions around the world present them as a historically significant works of art. Featuring some of the most influential and innovative musicians and groups of all time – Germs, Black Flag, X, Fear, Circle Jerks, Alice Cooper and Ozzy Osbourne, these riveting, unflinching and hard-core films adeptly captured the spirit of a major cultural phenomenon.’ — Decline Movies


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Suburbia (1983)
‘The dramatis personae of Suburbia have made it to the threshold of adulthood, but as walking wounded. Through the characters of teen runaways Sheila and Evan (Jennifer Clay and Bill Coyne), Spheeris introduces the viewer to a group of squatters who call themselves T.R.—The Rejected. Having left home, they’ve created their own makeshift family, like the one jerry-rigged together by James Dean, Natalie Wood, and Sal Mineo in Nicholas Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause (1955), though with none of the Gothic romanticism of their abandoned mansion retreat. The backdrop here is the decidedly non-picturesque cities of Downey and Norwalk, the T.R. manse a run-down tract house located near the Alondra Boulevard off-ramp on I-605.

‘As to lend the proceedings a level of verisimilitude, the young cast was made up mostly of street kids and punk scenesters—among them Red Hot Chili Peppers’ bassist Flea and more than a few clunky line-readers—and Spheeris gets to make use of her concert film–shooting bona fides, interpolating semi-documentary scenes of bands in action. T.S.O.L. perform “Wash Away” and “Darker My Love,” the Vandals contribute “The Legend of Pat Brown,” and early on in the film D.I. offer “Richard Hung Himself,” with frontman Casey Royer fashioning a noose from his microphone cord while a kewpie-ish New Waver–type girl in the audience is first accosted and then stripped nude, mocked and jeered. As teen punks my friends and I scoffed at this moment, which smacked of scare tactic “Do you know where your children are?” propaganda, but I’m less inclined to do so nowadays, for in its over-the-top way it expresses something true about the free-floating misogyny in the scene being covered—the stories about T.S.O.L.’s malevolent jock frontman, Jack Grisham, as circulated through various proliferating oral histories, are enough to curl your hair.’ — Criterion Collection


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the entirety

 

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The Boys Next Door (1985)
‘When Bo and Roy, 18-year-olds fresh from school and seemingly normal, decide to hit LA for one last fling before settling into factory jobs, neither they nor the audience are prepared for their sudden descent into committing a series of brutal, apparently motiveless murders. Whereas Spheeris’ The Wild Side was weakened by sentimentalising its disaffected punk heroes, her second feature presents a tougher and more balanced view of teen violence; while we’re allowed a glimmer of understanding into the murderers’ feelings, we never indulge them with misplaced sympathies: these boys are monsters.’ — Time Out


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Dudes (1987)
‘Two punks from the big city, traveling across the country in a Volkswagen bug, embrace the western ethos when they must take revenge against a group of rednecks for killing their friend in this lighthearted road movie. Along the way, they enlist the help of a young woman who runs a wrecking service.’ — letterboxd


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The Decline Of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years (1988)
‘The second in Penelope Spheeris’ trilogy, The Metal Years takes a fast-paced look at the outrageous Heavy Metal scene of the late ’80s. Set in Los Angeles, the film explores fascinating portraits of struggling musicians, fans and star-struck groupies. Featuring Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne, Poison and members of Aerosmith, Kiss, and Motorhead as well as performances by Megadeath, Faster Pussycat, Lizzy Borden, London, Odin and Seduce, this raucous and entertaining chapter also chronicles the lonely naiveté of the striving bands, the endless flow of alcohol and drugs and the relentless sexism. Poignant, wistful, sad and insightful, it’s a brilliant look at a unique and timeless genre of music. It’s a historically significant time capsule and it has come to define a generation of music lovers. It is both an exposé and a fun, irreverent, indulgent, indescribably exciting ride.’ — Shout Factory


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The Making of “The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years”

 

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Thunder and Mud (1990)
‘Completely bonkers, not sure if this was a Pay Per View event when it first came out because it sure feels like one. Thunder & Mud is essentially a rock concert/battle of the bands/mud wrestling tournament all rolled into one. Two shitty hair metal bands will perform and then two women who represent each band will mud wrestle to determine which band is the best, there’s also some comedy bits in between each act and of course everything is obviously 100% scripted. To top things off the event is hosted by Jessica Hahn, a.k.a. the woman at the centre of the Jim Bakker scandal.’ — Keenan Tamblyn


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Wayne’s World (1992)
‘Because Spheeris had issues with Meyers during Wayne’s World—he wanted to recut it; she didn’t—she was not asked to direct the second installment, which hit theaters in 1993. “I did feel bad that I couldn’t direct Wayne’s World 2,” she says. “It was one of those Hollywood tests. It’s what Carrie Fisher called a ‘nervous breakthrough.’ That was one of the really tough ones for me.” If it’s any consolation, the movie bombed. Spheeris, meanwhile, continued as a successful working Hollywood director but got pigeonholed into directing mainstream comedies—from big-screen adaptations of The Little Rascals and The Beverly Hillbillies to S.N.L. alumni Chris Farley and David Spade in Black Sheep.

‘“I didn’t really want to be doing comedy,” she says. “I was good at it, I think. But basically, I’m an extremely serious person—borderline depressed. I don’t run around trying to be funny all the time. I don’t think of the world as funny, but that’s maybe what makes the comedy in the films work. But I wish I would’ve been able to do other kinds of films after Wayne’s World.” She recalls pitching a story on toxic waste to a producer, who laughed at her. “Everything serious got dismissed after Wayne’s World,” she says.

‘With the success of Wayne’s World, Spheeris became one of only a handful of women who have directed a movie grossing over $100 million. Spheeris and her fellow female (and male) directors got paid “big time” in the 90s—“you don’t get $2 million to direct a movie anymore,” she says—but thinking back, she also realizes how much discrimination she experienced as a female director.

‘“I never went along the way saying, ‘Oh, I’m being beat up because I’m a woman. I’m being treated badly because I was a woman.’ But when I look back, I definitely was. And we all were during that time. The fact that there hasn’t been much of a statistical change 25 years later is kind of disheartening.”’ — Vanity Fair


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The Beverly Hillbillies (1993)
‘Penelope Spheeris’s home, near Laurel Canyon in the Hollywood Hills, doesn’t look like it belongs to a punk icon. It’s airy and minimalist, with grey tiled floor and white carpet. We’re sitting on white sofas in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows, and three small dogs are running around. Spheeris bought the place in 1974, then completely rebuilt it in the 90s with the money she made from directing a string of box-office-friendly comedies. But she’s in no mood to reminisce about the likes of Wayne’s World, The Beverly Hillbillies or Little Rascals. “The only movies I could get released were movies that I basically just sold out on and took the money,” she sighs. “And the only reason they released them was because they had thrown money at it and they had to get their money back.” Then she apologises for being so “Hollywood-jaded”.’ — The Guardian


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The Little Rascals (1994)
‘Spanky, Alfalfa, Buckwheat, and the other characters made famous in the Our Gang shorts of the 1920s and 1930s are brought back to life in this nostalgic children’s comedy. When Alfalfa starts to question his devotion to the club’s principles after falling for the beautiful nine-year old Darla, the rest of the gang sets out to keep them apart.’ — letterboxd


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The Decline of Western Civilization III (1998)
‘Penelope Spheeris: ‘I feel that Part III makes the strongest social statement of the three films, and that it serves a greater purpose than the other movies. We have a very, very concerning homeless situation here. In the 20 years since I made that film about homeless gutter punks, the homeless population has exploded here. The reason Decline III is my favourite film is because I think I was able to capture some sympathy and understanding for people in these unfortunate situations. It was the best two years of my life, honestly. In the beginning of punk rock, in the late ‘70s, there were certain traditional concepts that were targeted and being broken down — social issues, political issues, clothing trends, musical trends – it was across the board. The insane genius that Johnny Rotten is, he was just like, “Let’s just tear down everything.” Okay, well, he’s lost his mind today, but back then it was genius. Because we had to get rid of disco on the radio, we had to get rid of hippies, we had to get rid of a lot of things. We needed to change, y’know? And with Decline III, I feel that the kids really embraced that original ethic and continued to live it. My movie Suburbia also has those kinds of themes in it: “Fuck the world, I can live on my own, leave me alone, I don’t care what you think about me.”’ — Dazed Digital

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Behind the Scenes

 

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Hollywierd (1999
‘An in depth documentary shot by music video director Penelope Spheeris  during the production of the Full Moon Features classic BLOOD DOLLS. The documentary features Phil Fondacaro (Troll, Ghoulies II, Bordello of Blood, Return of The Jedi), Venesa Talor (Femalien) and the beautiful ladies of the Blood Dolls band.’ — Full Moon Features


Excerpt

 

 

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p.s. Hey. We’re back. Long story short, the blog has these plug-ins, and occasionally I’m notified that I need to update one of them, which involves just clicking a button. On Friday, I was notified that a plug-in called Ninja Form needed updating. I did, and the blog was immediately shut down. Apparently the plug-in was corrupted and shot a bug into my blog. It was finally repaired yesterday. In the course of fixing things, the WordPress repair crew raised issues about some of the content I post here that they say exceeds WP’s guidelines. I can’t go into details right now, but I may be forced to either delete a number of certain posts or have my blog completely shut down. We’re in negotiations at the moment. But, as far as you’re concerned, everything should work okay while that’s ongoing. ** G, Hi, G! Great to see you! I was really into the WWE in the 80s and 90s, wrote a big essay about it for an art magazine that seems to have gone missing. As David said just below your comment, the Barthes essay is from his book ‘Mythologies’. Anyway, so glad you liked the post. You good? I hope your time during the blog black out was beautifully spent. ** David Ehrenstein, I was on a plane with Haystack Calhoun once when I was a young teen on vacation with my folks on Maui. He needed three seats to sit comfortably, and was he was kind of crammed in even then. My favorite back then, or relatively soon after then, I guess, was George ‘The Animal’ Steel. I think he still might be my all-time fave. Everyone, Mr. Ehrenstein is still selling great things out of his house and still needs lucky buyers. Hit him up at Cellar47@yahoo.com. ** Corey Heiferman, Hi. As I told G., I was kind of obsessed with the WWE thing decades ago. I think it even influenced my fiction in some weird, forgotten way. The TV series project was a colossal waste of time and energy, but if we can salvage a feature film out of all that useless work, that would make it somewhat worth it, I suppose. We’ll see. It’s a rough time to try to make a strange feature film. Did you get to start visiting with your folks? I hope your dad is still doing well and improving. I like Robbie Basho. I did a post about him way back when that I should try to restore. Thank you for the shares. ** politekid, Hi, Oscar, just barging in on your and Corey’s back and forth to say hi! How’s it? ** Misanthrope, I assume Kayla is in pristine shape by now. How’s the guitar treating you? Like a good slave, I hope. How was that little singing gig dealy? ** _Black_Acrylic, HI, Ben. Cool, thanks. I guess Johnson laid down some seemingly half-assed new measures on you guys yesterday? What do I know, but I thought it was semi-insanity that the UK reopened pubs at the point they did. How’s everything? ** Nik, Hey, Nik! Wow, seriously? You’re reading ‘The Golden Fruits’? That’s nuts. I do still have my original copy, but it’s way, way far away in inaccessible LA like the giant majority of my books. Thanks about my toe. It’s still painful, and there’s still nothing I can do but wait and not jump around too much apparently. Halloween in Paris is basically a nothing. Although the kind of great Paris haunted house attraction Le Manoir de Paris has just reopened after the lockdown to do a Halloween haunt, and I’m going with friends tomorrow night, and I am ultra-excited about that. Otherwise, I think I’ll be stuck just making Halloween themed blog posts and dreaming. How has stuff transpired since my blog’s accessibility to you was so rudely interrupted? ** Dominik, Big D! Yes, I’m back. It was not the funnest and least stressful series of days, that’s for sure. I hope everything will be fine here now. We’ll see. Still no new restrictions on Paris. Very strange. Hooray about your laptop and the exciting-ness of the course! Even your words had a kind of smile shape. Today … Zac is going to help me do a backup of my blog since things are still a bit scary/fragile, and then I think we’re going to look at art, and I think we might go see the new Gaspar Noe film. I think that’s my day’s best possible outcome. What did your day provide? I had to look up who Cody Fern is. I agree that short shorts is the way to go for him. Scotty Clarke drunk as a skunk strip tease love, Dennis. ** h (now j), h (now j)!!!! Hi!!! ** Steve Erickson, Yeppers, good to back. Everyone, Mr. Erickson has written about the New York Film Festival, and, since it’s somewhat unlikely that you’ll be attending said fest, Steve’s overview is probably your best way in. Here. I’ll likely never see that NXVIM cult doc series, but who really knows. Wow, about Errol Morris’s Timothy Leary doc. I didn’t know about that. That could really work, Thanks for the tip. ** Bill, Hi! I did know about that basketball player only because of the shared name and a revealing google search. Listen, SFMOMA and Amoeba reopening are huge deals. I totally get it. Congrats! You good? Things good? ** Conrad, Hi, Conrad! Thanks a bunch for coming in here. I’m so happy that the blog facilitated you discovering artists you dig. Especially Torbjorn Vejvi, one of my greatest favorites. And Ryan Trecartin, ditto. I would be very happy and honored to do the podcast. Thanks you so much for asking. I’m around, so basically at your convenience. Do you have my email? It’s: denniscooper72@outlook.com. It will be a great pleasure to talk with you! Take care. ** Okay. The blog restarts with this post about the curious, all over the place oeuvre of filmmaker Penelope Spheeris. I hope you’ll give it your all. See you tomorrow.

WWE Special: The Undertaker vs. Roland Barthes *

* (restored)


‘Don’t you realize you cannot destroy that which does not wish to perish?’

The Undertaker made his debut as a surprise member of Ted DiBiase’s Survivor Series Team at Survivor Series 1990. Despite rumors, he was not introduced as Kane the Undertaker. He was originally managed by Brother Love but a few months later Paul Bearer became his manager. In his first year in the WWF, he feuded with Randy Savage, the Ultimate Warrior, and Hulk Hogan. At Survivor Series 1991, the Undertaker won his first WWE Championship by beating Hulk Hogan.

 


Announcement of the 1992 Royal Rumble Match

 

____________

‘The virtue of all-in wrestling is that it is the spectacle of excess. Here we find a grandiloquence which must have been that of ancient theatres. And in fact wrestling is an open-air spectacle, for what makes the circus or the arena what they are is not the sky (a romantic value suited rather to fashionable occasions), it is the drenching and vertical quality of the flood of light. Even hidden in the most squalid Parisian halls, wrestling partakes of the nature of the great solar spectacles, Greek drama and bullfights: in both, a light without shadow generates an emotion without reserve.’

 

____________

‘For when you look into the eyes of the Reaper, you will know your time has come.’

In the spring of 1991, Jake Roberts tried to hit Miss Elizabeth with a chair but the Undertaker stopped him. The Undertaker remained a fan favorite for the next seven years. During that era, he fought monsters like Yokozuna, Kamala, and even a fake version of himself. In 1996, Paul Bearer turned on him. When Undertaker regained the WWF title in 1997, Paul Bearer threatened him with a secret from his past. The secret was that Undertaker started a fire that killed his parents and badly burned his brother, Kane.

 


The Undertaker shows his evil side to Kane

 

____________

‘The public knows very well the distinction between wrestling and boxing; it knows that boxing is a Jansenist sport, based on a demonstration of excellence. One can bet on the outcome of a boxing-match: with wrestling, it wold make no sense. A boxing-match is a story which is constructed before the eyes of the spectator; in wrestling, on the contrary, it is each moment which is intelligible, not the passage of time. The spectator is not interested in the rise and fall of fortunes; he expects the transient image of certain passions. Wrestling therefore demands an immediate reading of the juxtaposed meanings, so that there is no need to connect them. The logical conclusion of the contest does not interest the wrestling-fan, while on the contrary a boxing-match always implies a science of the future. In other words, wrestling is a sum of spectacles, of which no single one is a function: each moment imposes the total knowledge of a passion which rises erect and alone, without ever extending to the crowning moment of a result.’

 

____________

‘I like to bleed, it turns me on.’

While the Undertaker was fighting Shawn Michaels in the first-ever Hell in a Cell Match, Kane made his debut and cost his brother the match. Undertaker refused to fight his brother until Kane locked him in a coffin and set him on fire. The two men fought for the first time at WrestleMania XIV. Over the years the men have feuded and befriended each other on countless occasions.

 

 


The Undertaker and Kane set William Regal’s office on fire

 

____________

‘Each sign in wrestling is therefore endowed with an absolute clarity, since one must always understand everything on the spot. As soon as the adversaries are in the ring, the public is overwhelmed with the obviousness of the roles. As in the theatre, each physical type expresses to excess the part which has been assigned to the contestant. Thauvin, a fifty-year-old with an obese and sagging body, whose type of asexual hideousness always inspires feminine nicknames, displays in his flesh the characters of baseness, for his part is to represent what, in the classical concept of the salaud, the ‘bastard’ (the key-concept of any wrestling-match), appears as organically repugnant. The nausea voluntarily provoked by Thauvin shows therefore a very extended use of signs: not only is ugliness used here in order to signify baseness, but in addition ugliness is wholly gathered into a particularly repulsive quality of matter: the pallid collapse of dead flesh (the public calls Thauvin la barbaque, ‘stinking meat’), so that the passionate condemnation of the crowd no longer stems from its judgment, but instead from the very depth of its humours. It will thereafter let itself be frenetically embroiled in an idea of Thauvin which will conform entirely with this physical origin: his actions will perfectly correspond to the essential viscosity of his personage.’

 

____________

‘There will be no mercy, only slain bodies and taken souls.’

After being a good guy for several years, the Undertaker became a cult leader and started sacrificing wrestlers on his symbol to satisfy the higher power. The person that he went after was Steve Austin and the WWF Championship. At the same time, Undertaker kidnapped Stephanie McMahon and tried to force her to marry him in a dark marriage. It was later revealed that the higher power was Vince McMahon.

 

The Ministry of Darkness vs. The Corporation

 

____________

‘It is obvious that at such a pitch, it no longer matters whether the passion is genuine or not. What the public wants is the image of passion, not passion itself. There is no more a problem of truth in wrestling than in the theatre. In both, what is expected is the intelligible representation of moral situations which are usually private.’

 

____________

‘You know my name, as the LORD of DARKNESS.’

The Undertaker had another transformation a few years later. By 2001, he was a motorcycle rider and had cut his hair. He carried on with this gimmick for a few years. His biggest feud during this era was with Brock Lesnar. At Survivor Series 2003, Vince McMahon beat Undertaker in a Buried Alive match when Kane turned on his brother once again. When he returned at WrestleMania XX, he came back with his “dead man“ gimmick and reunited with Paul Bearer.

 


25 Years of the Undertaker Montage

 

____________

‘But what wrestling is above all meant to portray is a purely moral concept: that of justice. The idea of ‘paying’ is essential to wrestling, and the crowd’s ‘Give it to him’ means above all else ‘Make him pay.’ This is therefore, needless to say, an immanent justice. The baser the action of the ‘bastard,’ the more delighted the public is by the blow which he justly receives in return. If the villain – who is of course a coward – takes refuge behind the ropes, claiming unfairly to have a right to do so by a brazen mimicry, he is inexorably pursued there and caught, and the crowd is jubilant at seeing the rules broken for the sake of a deserved punishment. [. . .] Naturally, it is the pattern of Justice which matters here, much more than its content: wrestling is above all a quantitative sequence of compensations (an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth). This explains why sudden changes of circumstances have in the eyes of wrestling habitueés a sort of moral beauty; they enjoy them as they would enjoy an inspired episode in a novel.’

 

____________

‘Until nothing do us part.’

The reunification with Paul Bearer did not last long. Undertaker saw his friendship with him could be exploited as a weakness. Paul was kidnapped and trapped in a concrete crypt. Instead of saving Paul when he had a chance, he decided to bury his manager alive. Despite this vile action, wrestling fans still cheered him. In 2005, he had a bloody series of battles with Randy Orton.

 


The Undertaker attacks Paul Bearer

 

____________

‘Wrestlers, who are very experienced, know perfectly how to direct the spontaneous episodes of the fight so as to make them conform to the image which the public has of the great legendary themes of its mythology. A wrestler can irritate or disgust, he never disappoints, for he always accomplishes completely, by a progressive solidification of signs, what the public expects of him. In wrestling, nothing exists except in the absolute, there is no symbol, no allusion, everything is presented exhaustively. Leaving nothing in the shade, each action discards all parasitic meanings and ceremonially offers to the public a pure and full signification, rounded like Nature. This grandiloquence is nothing but the popular and age-old image of the perfect intelligibility of reality. What is portrayed by wrestling is therefore an ideal understanding of things; it is the euphoria of men raised for a while above the constitutive ambiguity of everyday situations and placed before the panoramic view of a universal Nature, in which signs at last correspond to causes, without obstacle, without evasion, without contradiction.’

 

____________

‘I may not dress like Satan anymore, but I’m still down with the Devil, and I will go medieval on your ass.’

In 2007, the Undertaker won the Royal Rumble for the first time. That victory gave him the opportunity to battle Batista for the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania 23. Of all the records that Undertaker has, the most prestigious is his undefeated WrestleMania record. Undertaker won that match to claim his first World Heavyweight Championship.

 


FULL MATCH – Undertaker vs. Undertaker: SummerSlam 1994

 

 

*

p.s. Hey. ** Dominik, Hi, D! Strangely they didn’t end up announcing the new restrictions yesterday after all. I don’t know if that’s a good or bad sign. I’ll see if flixtor.to is available here. I’ve never tried it. Thanks! Hope your laptop arrives ASAP, or has it? Is the course a Zoom class-type thing or a sending instructions/ results back and forth one-on-one type of thing? Yesterday Zac and I met with Gisele. We’re turning the doomed TV project into a possible feature film. Zac and I had rewritten/ consolidated/ changed the original script into a film script, and we were waiting to see if Gisele, who would direct the film, liked it, and she loves it, so now she’ll try to get a producer on board to help her make the film. So that’s what we met about. It’s nice to feel excited about that project again and have it under our total control after years of nothing but hellishness trying to please ARTE. Today I’m going to show my friend OB De Alessi the gallery show where my gif works are and then talk with her about her new film. She sent me a rough cut, and it’s great, so I look forward to all of that. Did today surprise you at all and how? Or, if not, was its expectedness a goodie? I saw France’s biggest twink porn star Jerome James on the metro yesterday and his 3 dimensionality was not a disappointment love, Dennis. ** Corey Heiferman, Hi, Corey. Cool. About the post, etc. Frans Brüggen, no, I haven’t. I haven’t had a single experience or even thought about recorder playing since I ceased playing one in my teens. Our recorder consort, ‘Tag Rag’, consisted of my late boyfriend, me, and a high school friend (can’t remember her name). We mostly formed to play at the local Renaissance Faire (my boyfriend was a ‘gentle hippie’ type into that kind of stuff even though he looked remarkably like the young Mick Jagger), and we did, and we were pretty terrible — even the gentle hippie crowd seemed to think so — and that was the end of that. Anyway, I’ll use those links to check out that dude’s stuff. Oh, you’re in the States! I was wondering how you were dealing with the lockdown, and you’re dealing with it by escaping. Good move. All best wishes for your dad. And of course for your test’s outcome. Can’t even imagine being in the States right now, yeah. A USA-shaped waking nightmare. My projects go well, I think. I just told Dominick about the film script thing. And things look very hopeful for Zac’s and my next film. And other stuff. Some theater stuff is starting up here again, and I think I’ll see my first on Monday. Gaspar Noe’s new film ‘Lux Aeterna’ opens net week, and Paul Hameline, who was one of our stars in ‘Like Cattle Towards Glow’ is in it, and I’m curious. And Le Manoir de Paris has just reopened to do a big Halloween haunted house attraction, and I’m probably most excited about that. Anything cool going on in your temporary neck of the ‘woods’? ** Bill, Very happy to hear that the air is transparent again. Marseille is very interesting. Definitely the most non-characteristic French city I’ve ever been in. It just got hit hard by new COVID restrictions, which doesn’t surprise me because, when we were there, the social distancing thing was really not happening at all. No, I don’t think I know R.W. Spryszak. Huh, very interesting. I’m on it. Thanks a lot, Bill. Did today pony up with anything both doable and loveable? ** Steve Erickson, Hi. I like the track too. Kudos. How interesting to have interviewed Haneke. Yeah, I read several interviews with him when I was making the post, and he did seem not into interpreting his stuff. I wish I had the gumption to do that when I’m interviewed sometimes, I must admit. The new McQueen sounds like it might incorporate some of the qualities that he normally puts into his video/ installation work. I really prefer his videos, so I’m curious to see that. ** politekid, Hi, pk! Ah, right, using COVID as a ‘golden’ excuse to downsize their shops, the bastards. In the States public opinion has about a three day lifespan, but you guys are smarter, I think, so … Well, I’ll keep my fingers crossed, but, yeah, I hear you. I just don’t see how academia could reject such an obviously stellar proposal, but I am so not an academic, although some of them like what I do, so perhaps my enthusiasm means something. Surely they’ll jump. Surely. It doesn’t seem totally implausible that one could travel to the UK from France by then. I don’t know what all the Brexit shenanigans will do. And at least you’ll hopefully get the work online. I think I’m anti-precious. Not anti-anal, but anti-precious, yes. Oh, in fact that Weymouth Timewalk does excite me. I am putty in the hands of themed attractions across the board pretty much. I’ll go tour the evidence of the thing. Thank you for that, big O. ** Sypha, Shorter than my short? Wow, respect. My upcoming one is very short. A little bigger than ‘Period’, but not by much. Fuck your readers’ presets. You’ll show them. You’ll expand them. End of story. ** Okay. Here’s a curious restored post from sometime long ago that I thought I would foist on you today. See you tomorrow.

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