Monday, 29 April 2013

Mutant Disco [They Eat Scum (1979)]

From http://24.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m65j76Bvlx1qzq9v4o1_500.jpg


Dir. Nick Zedd
USA

From http://s3.amazonaws.com/auteurs_production/images/film/they-eat-scum/w448/they-eat-scum.jpg?1289659829

To someone who does not love or admire They Eat Scum, a barrage of criticisms could be rained down. It looks cheap they would say, amateurish, badly acted, not good in terms of structure, and just tastelessly disgusting. It was clearly made out of Nick Zedd’s own resources yes, and it does quality as amateur cinema, but “amateur” is not an inherently negative word, and viewing this film, I myself have to reassess how I use that word from now on. An amateur creation can be far more interesting than the “professionally” made work. That’s why the term underground art was created for and creations within said term have knocked to the kerb overground creations in terms of quality. It was the creation of a New York based movement known as the Cinema of Transgression, made with what was available at hand and, with Zedd as one of the main individuals of it and a manifesto writer, making intentionally provocative and tasteless films designed to startle and amuse. Truly cheap, awful work is lifeless, lazy rehashing of generic tropes ad nauseum or pretend to be intentionally bad with no charm. They Eat Scum is the opposite to all this, keeping with its punk rock content in terms of mindset rather than being a dull gooffest. When a character, so enamoured with man’s best friend, sucks off their male poodle, people will raise their eyebrows to this differentiation but tastelessness needs creativity and a sense of craftsmanship, at any level, to work. Nothing in this film is half-hearted and contrived, but feels like a gleeful poke in the eyes that works whether you reveal in it or feel like you’ve got poodle spunk in your mouth.

From http://images.undergroundfilmjournal.com/wp-images/timeline/they_eat_scum_zedd.jpg

Episodic, it is centred on the actress Donna Death and starts off with a family – Death as the daughter, who is the lead singer of a famous death rock band who encourages a death cult of cannibals out of her fans, a son with a “very” close relationship to his pet poodle, and a very religious father. From there you go through shady managers, canine prostitution, ritualistic genital mutilation, twin sisters, chaos and digs at disco that, far from being cruel jokes in this newer era, are actually funny and leads to one of the best moments which the quote of the review’s title is from. It’s also, as mentioned, a celebration of punk music, including filmed performances of punk bands in their messy audio glory. I wonder if Zedd saw Jubilee (1978) and was directly inspired by it, Derek Jarman’s anarchic series of vignettes about the growing punk culture at the time and made in a way just as antagonistic and intentionally ramshackle as They Eat Scum is meant to be. It’s the unpredictability that makes They Eat Scum rewarding. Only seventy or so minutes long, it never drags into the mire of tedious plotting. It has no hesitance in its content and has no issue using music, such as the Beach Boys’ Good Vibrations, that may have not been paid for. It even introduces, unexpectedly, a scene of stop motion animation that was my personal highlight of the film just for the sake of it.

From http://img.rp.vhd.me/4627840_l2.jpg

And it is fun. Shot on Super 8, it is the product of a decade before where a micro budget film automatically brings up the image of something interesting or at least worth seeing (usually) than a cheap zombie/slasher film or CGI sharks. It was intended to shock the viewer or gives some un-PC entertainment to those who got the joke, and its do-it-yourself, take-no-prisoners aesthetic is ultimately rewarding. 

From http://i2.ytimg.com/vi/iA2DlxbREys/mqdefault.jpg

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