Saturday, March 18, 2006

War is Menstrual Envy (Zedd, 1992)

For a film that I truly think may be one of the worst I have ever seen, Nick Zedd’s War is Menstrual Envy actually starts out pretty strong. The opening images are of two bodies wrapped completely in gauze, lying on a white floor like two freshly created mummies. Slowly, one struggles towards the other, seemingly in need for contact – any kind of contact. After some moments of awkward flailing, we see a sudden shocking image of one of the mummies’ mouths opening and a large amount of blood pouring out through the gauze. This is the sort of provocation and highly charged imagery I was hoping for when I took a chance on this ultra-underground film with the clever title. At that point, it looked like I was in for a kind of dark exploration of the cruelties of war employing elements of performance art. Unfortunately, Zedd quickly plunges into a highly tedious and unfocused series of half-baked ideas that fluctuate between nauseating and cruel. One tip-off of Zedd’s desperation is that he has employed two of the biggest exhibitionists in the history of the world to fill screen time. Kembra Pfahler, lead singer of The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black, appears in her trademark body paint, thigh-high boots and nothing else. Hiding behind her loopy goth persona and the punky noise of her band, Pfahler can be very charismatic. But here, Zedd unimaginatively exploits her nymphomania, allowing her to contort in front of images of underwater sea creatures that seem drawn directly from a local cable access show and then topping that off by having her get intimate with a hokey looking pair of tentacles. The sequence goes on for what seems like an eternity with Pfahler clearly looking off-camera seemingly to receive spoken instructions, presumably from her trusty director. The other modern-day Godiva making an appearance is Annie Sprinkle, best known in the performance art world for inviting audience members to gaze into her vagina with a speculum. Sprinkle is involved in the film’s climax along with a man who appears to have suffered horrible burns over his entire face and torso. He is unwrapped from gauze and – oh look! – Sprinkle touches him! Fondles him! Caresses him! It is one of the more depressingly vile sequences I have ever seen committed to film – well, video – completely devoid of purpose, meaning or artistry. It is the sort of thing that makes Harmony Korine look like Orson Welles. Zedd’s final insult is to offer close-up images of eye surgery underneath his closing credits.

Surely, it is unlikely that many people besides me would even bother to pick this film up off the video shelf. However, Zedd has earned a bit of a reputation as an underground auteur. When filmmakers break free from narrative and decorum, terribly exciting things can happen. This is why I give directors like Zedd a chance, even though it might seem foolish in retrospect. However, it seems clear to me, based on this film, that Zedd is a nasty small-minded charlatan posing as an artistic rebel.



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