“Sleazoid Express / Metasex” – Bill Landis & Michelle Clifford

Image

Typical of most discussions of sexuality and deviance in America, most of the writing about 1960s – 1980s era Times Square utilizes a variety of distancing techniques, including condemnation, mindless celebration, irony, or a dry “ethnographic” approach. However different these styles appear to be on the surface, they all share the fact that most of the authors of these texts are outsiders, writing about the period as observers and “researchers.” Bill Landis’s “Sleazoid Express” and Michelle Clifford’s “Metasex” were brilliant self-published monographs (though Clifford and Landis contributed significantly to each other’s publications) that were different not only because they personally knew many of the people of this world, but they applied a human touch missing from everything else written about this subject.

“Sleazoid Express” and “Metasex” focused on the films and, more importantly, the people who lived, worked, and breathed the porn/vice lifestyle during this period. Landis and Clifford not only offered some of the most in-depth and insightful criticism of the exploitation films that played Times Square, but also profiled the filmmakers, actors, theaters, employees, and customers.  The reviews were terrific, because they didn’t distinguish between art and exploitation.  The denominator that mattered was that a film told the truth.

The personal profiles were where Landis and Clifford excelled, mainly due to their ability to humanize their subjects and not turn them in to martyrs, icons, or creeps.  There were rarely any heroes and villains in Landis’s and Clifford’s profiles and if there were villains, they were typically hypocrites, liars, and people who channelled their own vices/deviance into crusades or schemes against the people they are outwardly condemning. The depth and complexity with which Landis and Clifford wrote about their subjects not only separated their writing from everyone else’s, but also raised it to the level of art.

Landis and Clifford had a unique perspective and sensitivity towards telling the truth about what they saw and experienced and the people they knew from that world. Their approach also complicated one’s reaction to such material, since one was never sure whether to condemn, admire, or feel sorry for the people they wrote about. It also didn’t fit into any of the typical categories much of this writing typically falls into: 1) the porn is evil perspective; 2) the mindless “sex positive” perspective; 3) the smart-alecky “look at the freaks” perspective, or; 4) the academic “ethnographic” perspective.

This is not to say Landis’s and Clifford’s work lacked humor, but it’s difficult to approach this material in any kind of smart-alecky fashion once certain images are burned into one’s head. It’s incredibly powerful and complex stuff.

Landis and Clifford were the only two people documenting this era as it really happened, since everyone else who lived through the things they did are either dead, in prison, burned out, or MIA.  Sadly, Landis passed away in 2008.  Fortunately, Clifford is still around and in 2011, Clifford appeared on an episode of the stellar Projection Booth podcast during their Kenneth Anger special (Clifford and Landis co-wrote the brilliant Kenneth Anger biography “Anger” in 1995).

http://projection-booth.blogspot.com/2011/09/episode-27-kenneth-anger-magick-lantern.html

Also, a version of Clifford’s infamous Jamie Gillis profile (from Metasex #4) is included in the 2011 anthology “From the Arthouse to the Grindhouse: Highbrow & Lowbrow Transgression in Cinema’s First Century” by John Cline and Robert G. Weiner.  You can still find “Anger” and the “Sleazoid Express” books Landis and Clifford wrote in 2002 on Amazon and are worth reading.  And if you can find copies of the original “Sleazoid Express” or “Metasex” monographs, they’re definitely worth tracking down.

Advertisements

Redemption scene from “The Mission” (1986) dir. Roland Joffe

Video

At one point during the mid-1980s, Roland Joffe was considered one of the world’s best film directors. His first two films: “The Killing Fields” (1984) and “The Mission” were nominated for multiple Academy Awards, with a “work-in-progress” version of “The Mission” winning the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1986.

Nowadays, Ennio Morricone’s stellar soundtrack for “The Mission” is better remembered than the film itself. Mainly because Joffe’s post “Mission” film career has not lived up to the promise of his first two films. I have mixed feelings about “The Mission,” but this scene never ceases to bring me to tears.

Robert DeNiro’s character is a South American slave-trader who kills his brother in a duel after he catches him in bed with his fiance. While DeNiro’s character is acquitted of legal wrong-doing, his guilt overwhelms him. A priest, played by Jeremy Irons, challenges him to undertake a suitable penance. The penance is to carry a heavy bundle, including his armor and sword, across many miles into the territory where he captured slaves. The people who he used to enslave recognize him, are ready to kill him, but under the guidance of Irons’ priest, cut him loose. DeNiro’s character’s acknowledgement of the grace of a people who were ready to slit his throat is heartbreaking.

You may recognize a young Liam Neeson in the background … approximately 20 years before he became our generation’s version of Charles Bronson.

“The Origin of Love” – Jonathan Richman

Video

From the tribute compilation “Wig in a Box: Songs From & Inspired By Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” comes Jonathan Richman’s cover of “The Origin of Love” from “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” I like Richman’s more upbeat arrangement here, but his earnest vocals indicate an appreciation for the power and beauty of the lyrics.

“Turmoil” – Frigidettes

Video

One of the highlights from the legendary double-LP hardcore punk compilation put out by Jello Biafra’s Alternative Tentacles label in 1982. Yes, this song embodies several cliches about punk … especially U.S. hardcore punk circa 1982 … but I would argue that’s what makes it so charming. The earnestness may make you giggle … or roll your eyes … but I don’t doubt the band’s sincerity, which makes this fascinating 30+ years on.

“Try Me” – James Brown and the Famous Flames

Video

James Brown is the undisputed Godfather of Soul. However, Brown’s quieter ballads tend to get lost in the thunder of his hard-edged R&B and funk. This is a shame, because Brown has an incredible voice and his ballads are among the best ever recorded. “Try Me” is a beautiful song and conveys so much in just 2 minutes and 30 seconds. An amazing performance that was James Brown’s first hit single (it allegedly saved Brown from being dropped by his label).

“Harlem Shuffle” – The 5.6.7.8’s

Video

F–k yeah! Japan’s garage punk femme fatales make absolute mincemeat out of Bob & Earl’s classic R&B song from 1963. The Rolling Stones may have scored the highest chart placement with their version from 1986, but the 5.6.7.8’s eat the Stones for breakfast on this one.

Trivia note: you may recognize the 5.6.7.8’s as the all-female Japanese rock band performing near the end of Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill Vol. 1” before Uma Thurman kills about 500 or so Yakuza members with her sword.