Directed by Richard Kern and Featuring a Former VICE Intern
Richard Kern’s Films Are Still Shocking as Hell
If you know VICE, you know Richard Kern. He’s been taking picture of young, supple women not wearing clothes for us (and a myriad of others, as well as for his own fine art) for years. Hell, he even has his own show with us. But what some of you whippersnappers may not know is that Richard wasn’t always making his current brand of hot naked girl art. Back in the day, Richard, along with buddies like Lydia Lunch, David Wojnarowicz, Lung Leg, Sonic Youth, and Henry Rollins, made some of the most bloody, sexually devious, and generally fucked up short films ever. Labeled the “Cinema of Transgression,” Richard and like-minded film makers shooked viewers to the core with their art. All of his films from this era were just remastered andreleased on Blu-ray. I recently came to work one morning and found a copy of the collection on my desk. Of course, I had to watch it. I then called up Richard and convinced him to come talk to me.
VICE: I was given a copy of the collection. I put it on the Blu-ray player at work and sat in the dark and watched all of it. There were some things that were hard to get through, to be honest, but it was definitely visceral and striking.
Richard Kern: And old, 40 years old.
What do you see when you watch the films today, now that the time has passed?
Pretty much the same as they were before, it hasn’t changed one bit. It’s like it was just yesterday, that’s the weird thing with time. It seems like yesterday. But I still look at it and wonder what people are seeing when they see it. There’s a couple of films I’ve got a really good idea of how the audience is going to react, but not in general. Like the very first one I made was Goodbye 42nd Street, that’s on there. The first time I showed it, I was really surprised people were into it. I just thought it was such a shitty Super-8 movie, but people responded well and that encouraged me. The first time it was at a screening, it wasn’t allowed to be screened. They immediately said, “You can’t show this.” That was also inspiring, to say “fuck you” to those kind people.
So you were part of Cinema of Transgression. Were you trying specifically to shock people and freak them out or was that an after-effect?
The group of films that immediately preceded it in the underground were all very boring. It seemed like one of the qualifications was to make it boring and slow and long. So our plan was to make it short, and make it non-boring, if possible. And that may not work now, but back then it did, and we just tried to break down any moral thing or taboo you could. One of my personal things was to fuck up relationships and fuck up people’s heads as much as possible. People were completely shocked by some of the stuff. But this was in the 80s, so I don’t know how they will react now.
Do you think it’s as shocking now as it was then?
There was this show in Berlin at the KW Institute of Contemporary Art in Berlin. They did this whole Cinema of Transgression month where they installed the films in this club-like atmosphere, like you would’ve seen back then, in different, weird rooms. People said it was really effective, and it was. I walked through and there was one film that I watched that a friend of mine made that I hadn’t seen since then and I couldn’t sit through the whole thing, it was just too fucking hardcore. So it’s definitely a negative attitude, everything was negative, everything was nihilist. It’s the whole belief, and it probably sounds stupid sitting here in this restaurant, but you have to destroy everything to start over again. That was the whole anarchist approach, which was pretty much the punk attitude. It was “fuck everything.” And I felt the only way you could really destroy and fuck with people was to fuck with their love life and their personal relationships. When you see something, it coarsens you. Every bad thing you see coarsens you. Think about video games, like playing Black-Ops—it fucks with your head. I don’t care what people say.
I was reading some of the reviews and one of the main critiques was that these people were shitty actors. Was that a secondary care for you?
It’s funny you just said that because I never thought about that. It wasn’t the same kind of approach, and if I was making one now, I still wouldn’t think about it. I never thought about that. But yeah, they are shitty actors. It’s all your state of mind when you’re looking at them, everybody in the movies is pretty real.
Yeah, the things they were doing were real.
Believe me, in Fingered, Marty Nation was exactly like that, no exaggeration. The guy who’s lifting weights, he was like that. Everybody was real. Lydia Lunch was like that. Lung Leg was like that. The story was based on Lydia and Marty’s travels when she was 16 and they would hitchhike and get picked up by somebody, and Marty would take his knife out and start stabbing and cutting up the upholstery in the car, looking at the guy. All those guys were really scary. The guy who’s lifting weights in it got killed about two years ago, somebody shot him finally.
This Sunday, if you live near New York City, you should definitely skip church and head over to Space Billiards in Korea Town for the second installment of the 8-Ball Zine Fair. Just send your family a link to this post so they know that it’s has nothing to do with that white girl. Last year, this shit was popping and we expect it to be just as much fun this time around. Once again, it is organized by our buddy Lele Saveri and put on in conjunction with ALLDAYEVERYDAY. The fair features tons of great stuff from the world of independent music, art, and publishing including:
Pau Wau Publications
Toilet Paper Magazine
Miss Lily’s Variety
Plus, there’s going to be good music curated by RadioLily.com, a video installation by William Strobeck, and hot cider for sale (proceeds go to aid Sandy relief efforts). You can even drop off your own self-published zines and tapes to the DIY table.
On top of all this awesome shit, Lele is also working with the dudes at Pau Wau Publications to create five special zines, just for the fair. One is by Evan Morris Cohen, who at the ripe age of 20, was asked to be the tour photographer on GG Allin’s final tour before he passed away. Andreas Laszlo-Konrath also documented the punk life, shooting kids at various festivals. Giorgio Di Salvo and Charlie Engman both created still life series and Richard Kern put together a zine of his clothed and unclothed cute girl school photograph series, Class,some of which we featured a few years ago. Check out some images from the zines and and go to the fair. I’ll be there, say hi!
Sunday, December 2nd, 2012
2 PM - 12 AM
34 W 32nd St / 5th Ave
Subways: 34 St - NQR / BDFM or 33 St - 6
Growing up in New York City, I knew about Jemima Kirke long before we ever met. We both went to art-centric private schools in Manhattan, and Jemima was a myth you heard about during Monday-morning homeroom. Her dad was a rock drummer, and her mom owned a vintage boutique that supplied dresses toSex and the City, so it was ridiculously unfair that Jemima was also stunningly gorgeous. Normally, this breed of legendary cool chick meets some tragic fate after graduation, or moves away and is never heard from again until she appears in a Japanese perfume ad under a different name.
Somehow, Jemima has avoided both fates, and she’s being talked about now more than ever, mostly because of her role as a fun-loving party gal on HBO’s Girls, which revolves around the stories of four young women who keep trying and failing at relationships, work, and life (it also makes dorks on the internet very angry for some reason). In real life, Jemima is a wife, the mother of a young daughter (with another baby on the way, obviously), and a visual artist, so when Richard Kern and I drove out to her family home in East Hampton to photograph her (at eight months pregnant), I was curious as to whether she had been wholly domesticated by this point. I also wanted to see if she’s still pretty. She is, and she’s got her shit together so much that it’s somewhat upsetting.
VICE: I ran into you when you were 18 and back home for the holidays from the Rhode Island School of Design. It was at an afterparty for our friend’s band Dopo Yume. From the moment I met you I’ve always seen you as this beautiful, glamorous—
Jemima Kirke: Wait, what happened at the afterparty? Now I want to know. Do you remember?
Well, I can tell you and it can be off the record if you want…
No, it’s fine.
We were at Black and White, the bar, and obviously neither of us was old enough to be there. We were introduced by a mutual friend, hit it off, and then you asked me to go into the bathroom with you.
Oh yeah! I do remember that, and that you seemed somewhat impressionable at the time. So I thought, “I could probably get this girl to do drugs with me.” But I don’t think there was anyone else at the bar…
You offered me bumps off your keys while you were peeing on the toilet. And I recall thinking, Who the hell is this girl? Then when I saw the show and watched you doing the same thing, minus the drugs, it brought it all back.
The character I play is not so far from me. I mean, fundamentally she is, and some of her behavior might have been taken from things I’ve done, but—
But now you’re 27 years old and about to be the mother of two. How did this happen? Most people our age who grew up in the city are still kind of fucking around—living at home and not pursuing any of their passions, if they even had any to begin with.
I think that way of life stopped working for me really quickly. Some people know how to balance things, at least enough to be able to continue messing around, but I didn’t. I was very all-or-nothing about it, and you burn out really quickly if you keep going that way. It really fucked me.
How did you get into acting?
My friend Lena [Dunham] asked me to be in a movie that she was making with her parents’ money calledTiny Furniture. She didn’t have enough to pay anyone, and I guess it was slim pickings, so she asked me to be part of it and it was a success. Afterward she was offered the TV show and invited me to work on it. I never thought it’d go as far as it has.
Genesis P-Orridge, Cheltenham, 1988
A collective group of artists and musicians located in Gothenburg, Sweden, called Radium invited me to show films a few times at their warehouse-like space in 1986 or ’87.
I was a drug addict at this time, so going to places like this was always a psychedelic experience. I’d get on a plane, begin kicking dope immediately, then be forced to start looking for something to dull the pain as soon as I landed. In Sweden, the favored drugs seemed to be speed, alcohol, and cigarettes. No one slept. I was amazed that the Swedish government gave organizations like Radium free money to promote the kind of stuff that degenerates like me were doing.
On one of these trips, I met Carl Abrahamsson. He was producing a fanzine called Lollipop and offered to organize a film screening for me in Stockholm.
Memory is selective, unreliable, and questionable. There is no “I’ll remember this forever” tool in our brain. So I was very happy to receive this book of Carl’s photographs from that time period in Sweden. The book puts names to some of the hazy images that drift around in my head. It’s nice to see myself with thick dark hair and black stubble, Genesis as a man, Lydia as a shapely sexpot, Freddie Wadling exactly as I remember him, and multiple photos of one of my favorite bands, Union Carbide Productions.
All I remember about Carl and the trip he organized for me was that I was supposed to sleep on a beat-up leather couch in his one-room apartment while he and his girlfriend “slept” in a bed a few feet away. Drug-sick, I couldn’t pass out, and the grunting and squeaking noises from the bed didn’t help. I know lots of people slept on that couch while visiting Stockholm, and I’ve always wondered if having sex while an extra person or persons were in the room was and still is a vital part of Carl’s sex life.