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Camp Existentialism: Mario Montez (1935–2013)


Mario Montez (born René Rivera), superstar of the New York underground films of Jack Smith, Andy Warhol and many others, passed away recently at the age of 78. In homage to his brilliance, and in recognition of the fact that many of these films are difficult for people to actually access, I reflect here on my favourite Montez performances in Warhol’s films, and honour the superstar’s indelible existential bond to his namesake – and Smith’s divine muse – the Hollywood actress Maria Montez.

Portraying Jean Harlow in Harlot (1964), Hedy Lamarr in Hedy (1965) and himself in Screen Test #2 (1965), Montez gave some of the most beautiful performances in Warhol’s cinema. In these three very different films, all scripted by the late great Ronald Tavel, Montez is the queen of the glamour pose. In Harlot, Warhol’s first talkie (three off-screen narrators wax philosophic), the director defies the norm that a moving picture frame must have actual movement within it. The glamour pose as embodied by Montez can be seen as a stylized gesture of pure presence as if it were in a vacuum, the result of formalizing the “throwaway part” of life, the triumph of affect over language, style over content, mimicry over originality. Montez is clearly the star, dressed in luminous white garb complete with furry wig, flanked by three figures in black, framing him. Ostensibly playing the role of Harlow, the enormously popular blonde and beautiful MGM bad girl, but more accurately distilling the idea of her, Montez vamps it up for the camera while constantly eating and playing with bananas with erotic abandon. Silent and barely moving, Montez seems to be performing the archetypal female star image, which makes her more like a luminous blank slate for our fantasies than an actual personality. Montez/Harlow’s continual consumption parallels our “eating up” of our favorite stars, Warhol’s oral metaphor for fandom. Because Hollywood was such an enormous part of American culture, part of the fabric of American life, showing the overwhelming fascination of these images was a way of coming to terms with what it meant to be an American in one way, but always also the Other, for a male’s overly emphatic obsession identification with female star glamour is decidedly shameful, queer, and forbidden.


Mario Montez with Andy Warhol

Employing dramatic movie music on the soundtrack, Warhol’s Hedy tells the story of Hedy Lamarr – from plastic surgery to death by intoxication – as minimalist absurdist melodrama, with Montez as Lamarr occasionally bursting into songs such as “I Feel Pretty” and “Kleptomaniac” (sung to the tune of “Young at Heart”). The film opens with artful shots of Lamarr receiving plastic surgery (performed half an inch above her face, no attempts at verisimilitude here) to make her into the most beautiful woman in the world. Then in a different space, illuminated by film noir lighting, we see Lamarr arrested for shoplifting. Throughout the film, Montez plays up the “strong woman” role: Lamarr is always vamping proudly, covering up her emotions with a brave face, and courageously changing outfits in front of us to go to jail. In a satire on melodrama, Warhol presents Lamarr donning white gloves with overly emphatic musical cues and excessively dramatic zooming in and out. In the courtroom scene for her trial, dressed defiantly in formal wear, Lamarr is the center of the camera’s attention as well as the focus of judicial inquiry. The camera moves closer and closer to her muscular, dark-featured face as the music increases in volume. Found guilty – she confesses that “stealing is like life” – she undresses as the wild zooming begins anew and the music reaches a fever pitch. Forced to drink herself to death (?!), she histrionically flails about.  Finally, Jack Smith, playing the bailiff, testifies that Lamarr was “tragic and noble” as the film ends mid-sentence, as was common in Warhol’s films. While the star may command the world’s attention, the cinematic machine waits for no one. Warhol’s reels always run out, leaving the drama unceremoniously unfinished. MORE >>>

Watching from the Last Row: “In The House” by François Ozon (Review)

Germain (Fabrice Luchini), married to Jeanne (Kristin Scott Thomas), is a high school French teacher who seems to have lost all of his enthusiasm for teaching literature and reading uninspired papers. One day as he is grading papers, he comes across one that clearly stands out from the rest due to its unique style. The paper, written by Claude (Ernst Umhauer), is about the family of one of his classmates named Raphael (Bastien Ughetto), and about what happens in Raphael’s house. Labeled “chapter 1”, the paper becomes the beginning of something dangerous for all involved, but particularly for Germain.

From storytelling to the relation between literature and cinema, from middle class family criticism through coming of age story to inter-genre juggling – In The House attempts to achieve much at once; and it pulls it all off but, more importantly, it distinguishes itself with what it says about the act of watching/peeping and, at the same time, it offers the audience some food for thought. Especially Claude’s growing curiosity about the Artole family and their house creates a vortex around watching/identifying by juxtaposing Germain’s obsession with Claude’s story, and this vortex, overflowing from the screen, absorbs and carries away the audience. As Germain and Jeanne talk about Claude and the second chapter of his story, it is obvious that Germain has already been impressed by Claude. And the similarity between Claude and Germain is quite predictable: Germain, as a student, always sat in the last row just as Claude does. As he explains it: You can see everyone while nobody can see you. Germain also intends to watch the Artole family from this position. However, as the film proceeds he has to leave this position and participate.

Watching from the last row, where the gaze does not return to the viewer, is like a meditation when one loses the sense of self, just like when watching a movie. You are somehow there but do not reflect back from the screen. In the theatre, when it darkens and the movie begins, there is the thing that you are watching and there is you who transcends your body. Christian Metz labels this state ‘primary cinematic identification’, described as follows: the spectator identifies with himself, with himself as a pure act of perception (as wakefulness, alertness): as the condition of possibility of the perceived and hence as a kind of transcendental subject, which comes before every there is. (1)
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Cover Art: New Music by Cakes Da Killa, No Bra, Shaun J. Wright/Alinka, Abdu Ali, JD Samson & MEN, LE1F

Cakes_da_Killa_I_Run No_Bra_candy

Shaun_J_Wright_Alinka Abdu_Ali_Push_Slay

JD_Samson_MEN_Making_Art Le1f_Tree_House

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on Friday, September 20, 2013 | | : , , , , , | Comments (0)

Chloë Sevigny by Wolfgang Tillmans, 1995


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on Saturday, August 31, 2013 | |

Abdellah Taïa’s film debut “Salvation Army” premieres soon (+ Teaser Video)



I’ve just recently discovert the books of Moroccan writer Abdellah Taïa and totally fell in love with his novel Le jour du roi (“The day of the king”), one of 7 books he has released so far. Taïa grew up in Salé in the North of Morocco and has studied French literature in Rabat. In the Ninties he moved to Europe, first for an exchange semester in Geneva, then to study at the Sorbonne in Paris, where he still lives. His childhood and youth were the subject of his autobiographical coming-of-age novel Salvation Army, which especially focusses on the writer’s experiences as an adolescent queer man with a working-class background in his home-country and his struggles with his identity in Geneva.
In late July, Taïa has announced on his Facebook page that a film adaptation of the book will be released soon. In the last few days more details about the production were announced – and it turns out, that Salvation Army was not only adapted for the screen by the writer, but also that Taïa has directed it. The film will premiere at the Venice International Film Critics’ Week on September 3 as well as at the Toronto International Film Festival (tiff), where it will be screen three times between September 10 and 14. Below you find a first promising teaser excerpt from the film, you also find an interview with Taïa in French about the film on the website of the Moroccan news portal H24info. We will keep you posted about official release dates.

Picture on top from Abdellah Taïa’s Facebook page.

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on Friday, August 30, 2013 | | : | Comments (0)

Music Ticker: Manhooker & Snax & Justus Köhnke, The Julie Ruin, Le1f, Unicorn Domination



+++ Berlin based neo-disco duo Manhooker has released a cute new video for their track “Wheels in Motion”, which can be found on an EP with the same title released earlier this year via Ostgut Ton/Unterton. The duo has also just released a new limited 12″ in collaboration with Snax. It is part of the Based On Misunderstanding series presented by Sonar Kollektiv (order here) and features a beautiful, chilly remix of the track “Cloud 9″ by Justus Köhncke. You can stream it here:

+++ Kathleen Hanna’s band The Julie Ruin will release its debut record “Run Fast” on September 3. Stream the opening track “Oh Come On” right here (download here in exchange for email) and the whole album on the NPR website. You can also already pre-order it on the band’s website. MORE >>>

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on Thursday, August 29, 2013 | | : , , , , , | Comments (0)

“New York Close Up” featuring Jacolby Satterwhite

Jacolby_SatterwhiteCheck out this short documentary about the mindblowing work of Jacolby Satterwhite. The New York City based artist brings voguing movements into self-created virtual realities and futuristic gender performances into the public space. Visit his vimeo page for more of his video works and video of his performance at Jay-Z’s “Picasso Babe” video shoot.

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on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 | | : , | Comments (0)

Call for Action: Trans*tagung Berlin, an Interview With Luce deLire

The 16th Trans*tagung (trans*-convention) in Berlin is coming up (October 3-6). Luce deLire and Markues spoke about it:

Luce deLire_Slutwalk_ photo: Markues

Luce, you are one of the organizers of the annual Trans*tagung in Berlin. There is an inter*-Tagung as well and I was wondering how it would be to have a gay-tagung, a lesbian-tagung these days or a straight-tagung (if this isn’t the Bundestag) – tell me why do you think there is none of the latter or if there is a need for it?

You are right to pose this question, adressing the difficulties and differences among a diverse crowd which may be called “queer scene”. In the same moment, the question seems a bit weird as there is no proper distinction between those categories. It is not necessarily the case that you are either trans* or gay or inter* or lesbian or. Categories seem to cut through here. There’s room for a lot of different approaches and lived realities at the Trans*-tagung, depending on the workshops we get, responding to our call (extended until 31.08.2013). So if you read this send us stuff. In the same moment, your question also adresses the problem of “safe/r spaces”, community organizing and trans*-politics.

One overview of what trans*-politics could actually be is Dean Spades Video “Impossibility Now”. Please explain for us the specifics of the upcoming Trans*tagung in this broader context?

It’s true, trans*politics are part of broader political landscapes and movements. Spade explains the relationship between neoliberalism/ prison-industrial-compex/ homonationalism/ pink washing and trans*-politics. Important for him is the deconstitution of state power – to replace the penalty system, the police and other given transphobic institutions by collective care and strategies like “listening to each other” and “imagining another world together”. I am not saying that this is the definitive aim of this Trans*tagung – for we never talked about it. I think if trans*politics can achieve to strengthen trans* and queer communities in order to build some solidarity and bring people together so that they can imagine their lifes collectively, we may have won something.

This years motto is “Trans*, schön Fem(me)nistisch!”. How did you choose it and how is it connected to the discussions in the Berlin based scene? How is the strong critique of a group of queer people of color posted prominently around the transgenialer CSD reflected here?

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on Sunday, August 18, 2013 | | : , , , | Comments (1)

Akshay Mahajan: “I don’t want to sleep alone” (Photo series)

The pictures below are part of the photo series “I don’t want to sleep alone” by New Dehli based photographer Akshay Mahajan. With the series Akshay explored queer live in Indian cities with the intention not to expose his protagonists, especially focussing on the community around Bangalore based poet and writer Joshua Muyiwa (whose work can be found on his tumblr and is really worth discovering as well). More pictures from the series and a statement that explains the photographer’s intentions can be found on Akshay’s website.

Akshay Mahajan: I don't want to sleep alone

Akshay Mahajan: I don't want to sleep alone

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on Friday, August 16, 2013 | | : , , | Comments (0)

Hari Nef: “i am your girlfriend” (Performance video)

Hari_Nef_i_am_your_girlfriendWith the wonderful lip sync piece “i am your girlfriend” New York City based performance artist, Columbia student, Chez Deep member and Original Plumbing contributor Hari Nef explores and ironically questions the universe of iconic femininity as it is and always has been omnipresent in the media. For the 21-minutes performance Hari borrows and appropriates the voices of modern-time divas and female media personalities and role models such as Björk, Beyoncé, Aileen Wuornos, Margaret Cho, Scarlett Johansson, embodying them with a beautiful, multilayered ambiguity and a breathtaking endurance.
The video below was shot at Dixon Place, Manhattan on August 1st and is currently featured over at DIS magazine as an entry to the DIScrit 89plus competition, which supports young artists born in or after 1989. If you want to help Hari win a grand of around 15.000$ you can now register on the DIS site and vote (the voting period was just extended for an indefinite period of time). For more of Hari’s work please check out YouTube or tumblr.

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on Thursday, August 15, 2013 | | : , , | Comments (0)

Alexis Penney: “Your Eyes” (Video)

Alexis_PenneyFrom Alexis’ debut album Window (available on Itunes, out via Ecstasy). You can download the album track “Praying for Rain” in our most recent music ticker.

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on Wednesday, August 14, 2013 | | : | Comments (0)

10 Paintings by Travis McEwen


Artist Travis McEwen is based in Montreal, where he is currently graduating in Fine Arts at Concordia University. I first discovered his beautiful paintings on his tumblr and so i missed my chance, where he combines his own work with the work of other contemporary artists and other mostly queer-related web findings. Most of his colorful paintings are portraits and show bodies in moments of ambiguity and restlessness, often referencing (queer) art and pop culture. Or, to use his own words: “ I am continuously exploring my own visual and emotional responses to ideas and conceptions surrounding otherness, exclusion and normalcy and how they intersect/interact with the ideas and constructs of gender and sexuality”. Here’s a little collection of his most recent works Travis put together for us, for more of his work please visit his artist portfolio or his tumblr.


Crossed Legs, 2013

Travis_McEwen_Robert_Palmer Video_Girl_2013

Robert Palmer Video Girl, 2013

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Posted by
on Tuesday, August 13, 2013 | | : | Comments (1)

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