Nelson Sullivan’s Downtown: ’83 – ’89
Monday July 18, Tuesday July 26 (7:30 pm and 10 pm) at Spectacle: $5
When Nelson Sullivan, the tireless documentarian of the 1980s downtown party scene, died suddenly of a heart attack in 1989, not only did he refuse to go quietly into the ’90s and subsequently save himself from the disappointing developments of the aughts, but he left over 1,200 hours of footage in his wake. It was a “treasure trove of late-night videos,” according to Michael Musto. As the former Village Voice writer whose beat was the ins and outs of the Downtown party scene (he was largely responsible for some of the first coverage of the Michael Alig murder case), Musto should know some good gossip when he sees it.
Sullivan’s filming hardly qualifies as “straight documentary”– instead, his footage of Ru Paul, the Club Kids, Michael Alig, Keith Haring, the Pyramid Club Scene, and many others, is infused with his flamboyant personality and outlandish humor. Of course, the backdrop is a much grittier New York City, but it’s also a glimpse of a more colorful Lower East Side. As Sullivan said it himself, “I have so many friends, I hardly know where to start.”
The film screening at Spectacle is less a traditional movie than it is a series of clips from Sullivan’s scene, what the theater describes as a “remarkable portrait of New York in the 1980s.” Thankfully, Sullivan’s pals and some admirers were cool enough to painstakingly sift through his VHS tape and put together a museum show dedicated to his life’s work. The result is a five-part, five-hour long series of Nelson Sullivan’s greatest hits. Definitely worth a peep and a sore butt if you ask me.
The Neon Demon
Thursday, June 30 through Thursday, July 2 at Nitehawk: $12
A friend recently suggested that we go see Neon Demon— the new film from Nicolas Winding Refn, aka the director of Drive and Danish filmmaker behind the superb Pusher trilogy. Whyyyyy would I ever want to go see that? I asked. Everybody makes mistakes, and some are worse than others, but my first impression of this particular movie made me think it was just a big trolly-troll on Big Hollywood dum dum cinema, but the kind of “comment” that’s too real. I mean, seriously, that title? Count me #dead. Plus, it just seemed like another Drive, with the same style and lots of long-leggy appeal, but way less noir vavoom. Then my friend assured me that the Neon Demon was, in fact, “pissing people off” in droves. Sign me up, fellas.
Hear me out: Jesse is an “aspiring model,” who just screams naive small-town girl, moves to big, scary LA to try and make it in the highly competitive fashion industry (yeah, yeah, believe me– I know). Tyra Banks might not be here to shame her into perfecting a limp strut or compel Jesse to do silly model tricks for the audience’s anguish and joy, but something about Joan from Mad Men‘s presence tells me that a little hazing is in order. And by a little hazing, I mean brutal competition for fame and fortune between the models that often results in stabbings and blood-spurting assaults. According to The Guardian, Refn, rather than say “Action!” like any old director dude, liked to scream out, “Violence, motherfuckers!” A man after my own heart.
There’s the same lush, highly stylized scenery and saturated color trips found in Drive, coupled with a vision of LA that’s perpetually cloaked in darkness (whether it’s nighttime or not) and lit only by twinkling desert stars and the gleam of a knife covered in syrupy gushes of blood. Critics seem to agree there’s something flimsy about the narrative, plagued by a hollow plot and mask-like character development– but hey, this isn’t just a film that accidentally takes place in LA, it’s a film inspired by Refn’s fascination with LA, so he might be getting at something here. Maybe.
He Hated Pigeons
Saturday July 2, 7:30 pm at Spectacle: $10
A month after his boyfriend Sebastian dies unexpectedly, Elias takes off on the road trip they’d always talked about doing– just a winding path through some of the harshest, most epic landscapes on earth, thaaaaat’s all. Starting in the Atacama desert (a plateau near the Andes, and one of the driest deserts on Earth), Elias journeys south to Patagonia, literally going to the end of the world to battle his grief– which we also have to contend with through his memories of Sebastian. Ugh.
Elias is, understandably, very upset– and driving with a picture of Sebastian affixed to his dashboard is probably more painful than if Elias decided to stab his own eyes out with a pair of chopsticks. What’s more, he’s driving through incredibly remote areas, making for the loneliest trip possible on Earth ever. You know when you’re so upset that you do everything in your power to keep feeling upset, yeah, Elias is experiencing one of those.
The filmmaker Ingrid Veninger embraces Jarmusch’s penchant for silence and drawn-out staring sessions. Even the desert landscapes sorta recall The Limits of Control, but the light-play Veninger captures against the flora and rocky environs is mesmerizing. If you’ve ever driven across certain deserts before, you’ll be super familiar with this flickering, undulating color transformation. Stare into it and contemplate the void– the live score by Akiva Zemcheck will only help.
From This Day Forward
Thursday June 30 at 6:20 pm and 8:10 pm at IFC Center: $14
A filmmaker, Sharon Shattuck, has just gotten engaged and takes a trip home to reflect on her childhood growing up with a transgender parent. It would have been a difficult thing even now, with our vastly increased awareness of transgender identity and experience, but it’s hard to imagine how Shattuck’s father, Trisha, and mother, Marcia, publicly dealt with Trisha’s transition in the late ’80s and ’90s.
Shattuck grew up in Petoskey, Michigan– a beautiful resort town on Michigan’s west coast (if you’re doing the mitten thing, it corresponds to that space between the top of your ring finger and middle finger). It certainly isn’t the most conservative town in the state, but it’s not exactly New York City. And considering that the population is just under 6,000 people, it’s safe to say everybody knows what their neighbors are eating for dinner and whether or not their daughters are smoking weed in the backyard.
The family was already a non-traditional one in that Marcia, who worked as a doctor, was the financial pillar, while Trisha was a stay-at-home dad. But the kids found out when Sharon was just 8 years old that dad liked to dress like a lady occasionally (she found a photograph), something that was primarily confined to private time between the couple. Nevertheless, Marcia was shocked when Trisha revealed she was transgender, what she described as constantly feeling as though “something’s not quite right.” Amazingly, the couple was able to stay together (but there was a compromise– Trisha’s transition has not involved gender-reassignment surgery) and Shattuck’s documentary explores the obstacles their relationship has faced and how, ultimately, they came out on top.