After running into Ellen Turrietta earlier this month, we left the encounter feeling confused, but still curious about the Ginger Mama. Was her streetside “barber shop” and “leather shop” performance art, or was it simply a case of decadence gone awry? Who could tell.
Just when we were ready to shrug our shoulders and move on, a trailer for a documentary about the enfant terrible landed in our inbox.
Forrest McCuller shot Go Lightly just months before the former model embarked on a bizarre squat demonstration outside her former apartment on East Seventh Street, alleging that she’d been kicked out by a salty landlord.
The documentary consists of 30 minutes cut from a six-hour discussion about religion and sexuality (among other things), in which the ex-model recounted her traumatic upbringing and revealed what McCuller calls a “complex psychology.” Her incessant babble revealed masochistic tendencies, according to the filmmaker: “[Her monologue] was all pretty wrapped in this thematic makeup of Catholicism and morality– it was perverted in certain ways, not in my eyes, but in the internal logic of it. Perverted, and maybe self-effacing.”
McCuller says he met Turrietta back in March of this year, when she had recently arrived in the East Village and her apartment parties were still going strong. “She was this model who wasn’t modeling and was stripping,” he remembered, later adding, “a few people were coming through [her house], and they had done some sort of crazy, destructive stuff that I guess verges on performance art.”
After filming was complete, Turrietta went further in that direction. “Right after we shot the film, she made this very sudden switch to wanting to be a full-time artist, and wanting to do that every single day. So she stopped going to work. She stopped stripping. She got a bunch of paint and started covering herself in paint and putting it all over the walls and inviting a ton of people over,” he said. “Every night it was a party, but what she was doing was never very distinct from what everyone else was doing. She was just this centerpiece, like a muse, or a catalyst it seemed like.”
In fact, Turrietta is now part of “this sort of posse that follows her around,” according to McCuller. “When I first met her I thought she was just this very interesting character. She’s really a singular personality, but whereas now, it’s mixed up with so many things. She’s got a lot of artists, and poets, and filmmakers, and photographers around her and that sort of thing.”
McCuller plans to submit Go Lightly to festivals; if you ever get to see it, don’t expect it to completely clear up the mysteries surrounding Ginger Mama. “You watch it and you wonder how truthful she’s being, and if she really feels this way or if she’s trying to glorify and stylize everything,” Forrest says. But this much is certain: Turrietta is not a vulnerable woman. “I think she’s very strong,” Forrest insists. “To be as smart as she is and to have done what she’s done, takes a person who’s very intelligent.”
“Is she OK?” he laughed. “I’m not qualified to say.”