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Hong Kong Fooey: Bill Milling’s ‘Vixens of Kung Fu (A Tale of Yin Yang)’
09:38 pm



Poster Art for Vixens of Kung Fu
Who doesn’t love a great combination? Whether it is Dolly Parton with Porter Wagoner or peanut butter and chocolate, a meeting of two good elements can be a beautiful thing. But what happens when you take two separately intriguing ingredients and yet, when they meet, you get a whole lot of head scratching muck? Welcome to The Vixens of Kung Fu (A Tale of Yin Yang).

The Vixens of Kung Fu is a film that I had heard about for years. Mind you, never from anyone who had actually seen it, but it was noted in cult film circles as the 70’s sex film with kung fu. It’s fantastic on paper, with two titanic fringe film subgenres meeting in the middle, complete with a classic adult era cast that includes C.J. Laing, Bobby Astyr, Jamie Gillis and Bree Anthony. Nudity, martial arts and cinematic ridiculousness—it’s the ultimate dreamsicle but like the old adage goes, be careful what you wish for.

Title Screen for The Vixens of Kung Fu
The film begins with some fortune cookie narration, including lines like “..he would conquer the land, the sea and the dragon.” Well, it’s certainly good to be ambitious! Somewhere in what looks like rural upstate New York, a dark-haired young lovely (Bree Anthony) is hiking when she encounters a group of brain damaged and unfortunately randy hunters (Astyr, Gillis & according to the semi-reliable IMDB, Douglas Wood.) The woman manages to flee but it’s a bad day to be in the woods since the head goon possesses an “anesthesia gun,” which looks exactly like a regular pistol. The key difference is that instead of killing or maiming someone, the bullets are basically roofies. You can put two and two together on what happens next. Inexplicably, the soundtrack goes from Chinese buffet to Hee-Haw to eerie silence and then to some stunningly inappropriate notes of whimsy. The one good thing about that, though, is that between the wonky soundtrack, Astyr’s insane giggling and Anthony’s questionable acting, the scene is more goony than creepy. And guess what? It’s only going to get more goony.

A lithe kung fu Master (Laing) is holding court outdoors with her students, lecturing them on how “Yin and Yang are the principles of Heaven and Earth.” They look mildly confused but appreciative, in a Valium-laced sort of way. Master ends up taking a peaceful walk on the beach and discovers the passed out, nude form of the woman. Taking a cue from the Linda & Abeline school of rape counseling, the Master gives her an oily massage. Learning both about the assault in the woods and the woman’s former career as a prostitute, she promises the woman to teach her kung-fu, so no man ever uses her again. The Master proclaims that “We women can hold up half the sky” before seducing her. As far as seduction lines go, it’s a little weak but it does get the job done.

The Master & her students meet up
After that, The Master and her students take part in some nude deep breathing exercises that results in smoke emitting out of their quims?!? That is maybe the last orifice you want smoke coming out of, but it is definitely a striking visual. The soundtrack, keeping with the pure spirit of randomness, switches to experimental sounding synth music. Finally, around the forty minute mark, we finally get to see some kung fu moves with the Master and one of her students finding a monk clad in yellow, wandering around the woods. They fight him, poorly, capture him and then the rest of the ladies have their way with him. This would be zero of a problem for most people that are into lovely, amorous female martial artists, but this event propels the Monk to seek out higher learning.

The Monk seeks help…in the kitchen.
He travels to a Chinese restaurant in a strip mall, which is kind of fabulous. The place, House of Wong, has the female Master of “Golden Dragon Raising Head,” Ha Tien Sau (Peonies Jong), who is working covertly as a short order cook. He begs her to teach him this mythical form of martial arts and in the end, she agrees and has him meet her, where else? In the woods. They begin their training, which as far as I can tell, mainly involves him breathing hard, flailing his arms and ultimately, spanking it. There must be a legion of dudes out there who are masters of Golden Dragon Raising Head and don’t even know it.

This Monk is the Yang to the former prostitute’s Yin, resulting in the two matching one crappy martial arts form with another until they end up both practicing the ancient art of boots knocking. The film then ends with Yin’s Master approaching Ha Tien, asking her for guidance and then leaping in the air with a high kick. Does Yin get to avenge her rape? Do the two dubious Masters get to have the epic battle of who is worse at their chosen martial art? Spoiler alert, we never find out, leaving the viewer slack jawed and wondering who dosed their kool-aid.

The Vixens of Kung-Fu is so nonsensical that it borders on the transcendent, but is neither self aware nor completely over the top enough, to quite cross over. The story and pacing plays out like someone got incredibly baked, watched some Times Square quality chop-socky flicks and then got suddenly aroused. The best thing about this film is the highly creative editing implemented during the fight scenes. Presumably the fast cuts were used to enhance the puce belt level karate antics, but they are entertaining.

Yang practices.
Thanks to the hard work from the folks at Vinegar Syndrome, Vixens has never looked better. The picture quality is gorgeous, with the early Autumnal woods looking postcard lovely. They have paired this title along with director Bill Milling’s (billed here as Chiang, seriously) superior Oriental Blue. (The latter was made around the same time and features most of the same cast.) When you think of Vixens of Kung Fu, as I know you will, think of fortune cookie dialogue, the most random musical soundtrack ever and creative character decision making.

Posted by Heather Drain | Discussion
David Frost R.I.P.
12:39 am



Oh dear, David Frost has died. What a lovely man. Dead at 74 of a heart attack.

There will be a lot written about David Frost in the next few days. He was at the center of major political and social events for several decades as both a commentator and brilliant interviewer. His death has triggered many personal memories of cultural touchstones that populate my life. Among them, his encounters with The Beatles. He had an ongoing relationship with John Lennon that was vital and shot through with the kind of energy that animates many friendships defined by respect and curiosity.

Here’s Frost interviewing John and Yoko in 1968 on British TV show Frost On Saturday. Kind of a Jungian mindfuck with Lennon struggling to communicate what sounds like some insights he received while tripping. Frost goes with the flow.

Posted by Marc Campbell | Discussion
‘Who do you think you are, God?’: Bible talk with Jim Jarmusch and Neil Young
01:20 pm



God figures prominently in the video below from Jim Jamusch’s 1997 documentary, Year of the Horse.  The film impressionistically chronicles the storied, decades-long partnership between Neil Young and Crazy Horse as they tour the world in 1996. 

I dug up the clip after reading a Rolling Stone interview from last April with Frank “Poncho” Sampedro, long-term guitar player for Crazy Horse, brought on board after the tragic death of Danny Whitten, the band’s integral and original guitar player and songwriter.  Sampedro first played with the band in 1973, but wouldn’t see material released with Crazy Horse until Zuma in 1975.  He says in the interview that his gut tells him that their current tour will be their last.

“Our shows are physical,” says Poncho. “It takes a lot of energy to play that much. It just seems at some point something is going to break. I already had an operation on my thumb. Neil’s wrist bugs him, and he has to tape it when he plays. You can’t fool time. You can’t count on this happening again in five years.”

The quote turned out to be prophetic. Sampedro broke his hand in an accident earlier this month forcing Crazy Horse to cancel the last seven dates of the European leg of their tour.  Then, just last week, they announced that they had to bail on an upcoming four-date tour in the U.S. and Canada as well. 

It struck me as possible that Neil Young and Crazy Horse might be close to having done their last show (they have a few dates scheduled in September and through the end of the year according to Young’s website), and it made me think about how glad I was that I got to see them in October. Despite the fact that the youngest member in the band (Poncho) was in his early 60’s, they were still great, classically hunching in a tight circle onstage, once again summoning that indescribable thing, those beautifully heavy, organic landscapes that you either get or you don’t and that Crazy Horse uniquely conjures.

Year of the Horse came to mind as I thought about the Crazy Horse live experience. In this more-than-a-rockumentary, rust belt auteur, Jarmusch (Permanent Vacation, Strangers in Paradise, Night on Earth, Broken Flowers, etc.), inter-mingles sometimes confrontational band interviews and grainy concert footage with ethereal, black-and-white, fluttering, ghostly imagery shot from moving vehicles, from inside empty concert venues, and from deep within dancing audiences rendered in slow motion. Vintage out-takes, culled mainly from tours in 1976 and 1986, mark ten year intervals from the time of the contemporary footage, infusing the film with a sort of timelessness, glimpses rather than a solid narrative and the sense the Crazy Horse has been on some kind of a mission, however insane and disjointed, since day one. It’s a chronicle of a band haunted by a turbulent past, littered with lost members and what Young calls a “trail of destruction.”

The film flows nicely from Jarmusch’s previous film, 1995’s Dead Man, a genre-bending western and Native American death journey featuring a stark, reverb-infused instrumental soundtrack crafted by none other than Young himself.

One of the virtues of Year of the Horse is that for all the leave-it-all-on-the-stage swagger of the live performances, there’s often just as much intensity between the band members when they’re not on stage. Then again, during several moments of levity, the film shows how hilariously dopey the band can be at times. These parts leave you laughing and sometimes marveling. 

In one segment from 1976, Young sets fire to a bunch of cloth flowers inside a Glasgow hotel room, tries to extinguish them with a pile of napkins and “a little orange juice,” and then, when the hotel manager arrives, sheepishly blames the whole incident on how dangerous it is that the establishment keeps flammable flowers on the table right near where the ashtray sits. 

In 1986 footage from Rotterdam, Young, known for literally kicking his players in the ass on stage for screwing up, goes ballistic on bass player Billy Talbot for fucking up during a performance after rehearsing all day. It’s seriously not nice.

Later, intimate black-and-white footage finds the band back in England in 1976 in a small, back-stage, painted brick room, moments after a performance with the crowd yelling for more in the background.  Crazy Horse seems wiped out, but they ultimately settle on “Home Grown” for the encore.

While some of the concert footage meanders a bit a times, there are also some great performances here. There’s a blistering, careening, angry take on “Fuckin’ Up” from 1990’s Ragged Glory, wherein the band chugs along with the ferocity and attitude of a bunch of guys half their age. There’s an ultra-heavy, incendiary version of “Tonight’s the Night” that captures all the stop-on-a-dime dynamics of that tune, with the band deconstructing itself into shaky vocal harmonies then ripping into guitar-bending feedback crescendos while Young works out jerky, side-stabbing solos. The film wraps up with footage of the band literally beating the hell out of “Like a Hurricane,” while Jarmusch infuses footage of the same song performed twenty years earlier, demonstrating the unwavering, stubborn energy that can almost transcendentally exude from this epic, multi-decade vision of analog exploration.

Young really liked the film. In a 1997 interview, he said:

I love that movie ... You can really feel the personal view of a filmmaker and, above all, the movie is about the band. It’s more than a simple story; it’s an impression, a succession of feelings. I had the idea of doing this movie - I like this kind of stuff and I like to have a camera with me, but Jim made it possible.

Sampedro, on the other hand, is a little more lukewarm about it.  When asked to speak on Year of the Horsein the April Rolling Stone interview mentioned above he answered:

Am I a fan of the movie? In a way, yes, and in a way, no. I think if people really think that’s Crazy Horse . . . it’s a pretty soft version of us. You don’t really see what goes on. But then again, some stuff is so personal you don’t want people to see it all. It would be like one of those weird reality shows. There’s a lot more turmoil than what you see there, and intensity as well.

In interviews, Sampedro harangues Jarmusch on two separate occasions in the film for being an “artsy-fartsy” director who could never even begin to ask a few questions and hope to capture the decades-long saga that is Crazy Horse.  In the interest of full disclosure, or maybe just because he’s having fun with it, Jarmusch lets the camera roll and includes footage of the visibly annoyed Sampedro.

Is this the best documentation ever put to film of Neil Young and Crazy Horse? Maybe not, but what does it matter? What it comes down to is that Year of the Horse is just another moment in time for a band on a messy, cantankerous and often incredible journey. It’s just another historical artifact demonstrating that when Crazy Horse is firing on all cylinders, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better rock-and-roll outfit on the entire planet.

Not unlike 1991’s film version of Weld which was released on VHS and never reissued, Year of the Horse seems to be out of print for purchase (there are a few pricey copies listed as “new” left on Amazon) and is often not even mentioned in band bios. It’s a shame. Not only is the film something for fans of Jim Jarmusch to consider, but, if Crazy Horse really is almost done touring, Year of the Horse is a part of the band’s legacy worthy of a look.  There might not be much new live footage to ponder.

There is live album called Year of the Horse, but none of the performances from the film appear on it.

The clip below focuses on Jarmusch and Young pretending to take seriously a bunch of completely over-the-top bible verses.  There’s a goofy and childlike camaraderie between the two who, frankly, seem a little “light-headed.” 

While you’re waiting for the God talk, enjoy a psyched 1970’s super-fan extolling the virtues of “the Neil Young universe” and a spacey, Jesus freak guy enlightening Young on how “San Francisco was the rebirth of the planet.” 


Incidentally, Roger Ebert HATED Year of the Horse, giving it a single star and calling it the worst movie he saw in 1997.  He describes the music in the film as (among other things)  “shapeless, graceless and built from rhythm, not melody.” 

Decide for yourself by watching the film in its entirety in the two clips (with Spanish subtitles) below or better still, it’s streaming on Netflix.

[FILM] Year of the Horse (Jim Jarmusch, Neil Young, See more) from santa sancha on Vimeo.

‘Year of the Horse,’ part II, after the jump…

Posted by Jason Schafer | Discussion
Want to see what’s ahead for America’s young? Pay attention to what’s already happened in Japan
04:15 pm

Class War


This is a guest post from Charles Hugh Smith. His newest book is Why Things Are Falling Apart and What We Can Do About It

Social recession is my term for the social and cultural consequences of a permanently recessionary economy such as that of Japan—and now, Europe and the U.S.

Forget Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a measure of expansion (“growth”) or recession—what really matters is the social recession, which continues to deepen in America.

The term social recession has two distinct meanings: around 2000, the term was used to describe the erosion of social cohesion via the decline of institutions such as marriage and the rise of social problems such as teen pregnancy.

Many commentators pinned the responsibility for this erosion of social constraints and bonds on rampant individualism and overstimulated consumerism, while others pointed to urbanization, the commodification of child care, women entering the workforce en masse and similar trends. Poverty was explicitly rejected as a causal factor, hence the term “social recession.”

This notion of social recession was aptly described by Robert E. Lane, author of the 2001 book The Loss of Happiness in Market Democracies:

There is a kind of famine of warm interpersonal relations, of easy-to-reach neighbors, of encircling, inclusive memberships, and of solidary family life… For people lacking in social support of this kind, unemployment has more serious effects, illnesses are more deadly, disappointment with one’s children is harder to bear, bouts of depression last longer, and frustration and failed expectations of all kinds are more traumatic.

(For more on the subject, please see “The Social Recession” (The American Prospect.)

I use the term social recession to describe a very different phenomenon, the social and cultural consequences of permanently recessionary economies such as Japan, and now Europe and the U.S.

I have defined and used social recession in this way since 2010:

The Non-Financial Cost of Stagnation: “Social Recession” and Japan’s “Lost Generations”
(August 9, 2010)

Here are the conditions that characterize social recession:

1. High expectations of endless rising prosperity have been instilled in generations of citizens as a birthright.

2. Part-time and unemployed people are marginalized, not just financially but socially.

3. Widening income/wealth disparity as those in the top 10% pull away from the shrinking middle class.

4. A systemic decline in social/economic mobility as it becomes increasingly difficult to move from dependence on the state (welfare) or parents to the middle class.

5. A widening disconnect between higher education and employment: a college/university degree no longer guarantees a stable, good-paying job.

6. A failure in the status quo institutions and mainstream media to recognize social recession as a reality.

7. A systemic failure of imagination within state and private-sector institutions on how to address social recession issues.

8. The abandonment of middle class aspirations by the generations ensnared by the social recession: young people no longer aspire to (or cannot afford) consumerist status symbols such as autos.

9. A generational abandonment of marriage, families and independent households as these are no longer affordable to those with part-time or unstable employment, i.e. the “end of work”.

10. A loss of hope in the young generations as a result of the above conditions.

I have described the “end to (paying) work” many times:

End of Work, End of Affluence   (December 5, 2008)

End of Work, End of Affluence II: Cascading Job Losses (December 8, 2008)

End of Work, End of Affluence III: The Rise of Informal Businesses (December 10, 2008

Endgame 3: The End of (Paying) Work   (January 21, 2009)

Demographics and the End of the Savior State   (May 17, 2010)

What happens to the social fabric of an advanced-economy nation after a decade or more of economic stagnation?

For an answer, we can turn to Japan. The second-largest economy in the world has stagnated in just this fashion for almost twenty years, and the consequences for the “lost generations” which have come of age in the “lost decades” have been dire. In many ways, the social conventions of Japan are fraying or unraveling under the relentless pressure of an economy in seemingly permanent decline.

While the world sees Japan as the home of consumer technology juggernauts such as Sony and Toshiba and high-tech “bullet trains” (shinkansen), beneath the bright lights of Tokyo and the evident wealth generated by decades of hard work and the massive global export machine of “Japan, Inc,” lies a different reality: increasing poverty and decreasing opportunity for the nation’s youth.

The gap between extremes of income at the top and bottom of society—measured by the Gini coefficient—has been growing in Japan for years; to the surprise of many
outsiders, once-egalitarian Japan is becoming a nation of haves and have-nots.

The media in Japan have popularized the phrase “kakusa shakai,” literally meaning “gap society.” As the elite slice of society prospers and younger workers are increasingly marginalized, the media has focused on the shrinking middle class. For example, a bestselling book offers tips on how to get by on an annual income of less than three million yen ($30,770). Two million yen ($20,500) has become the de-facto poverty line for millions of Japanese, especially outside high-cost Tokyo.

More than one-third of the workforce is part-time as companies have shed the famed Japanese lifetime employment system, nudged along by government legislation which abolished restrictions on flexible hiring a few years ago. Temp agencies have expanded to fill the need for contract jobs, as permanent job opportunities have dwindled.

Many fear that as the generation of salaried Baby Boomers dies out, the country’s economic slide might accelerate. Japan’s share of the global economy has fallen below 10 percent from a peak of 18 percent in 1994. Were this decline to continue, income disparities would widen and threaten to pull this once-stable society apart.

Young Japanese, their expectations permanently downsized, are increasingly opting out of the rigid social systems on which Japan, Inc. was built.

The term “Freeter” is a hybrid word that originated in the late 1980s, just as the Japanese property and stock market bubbles reached their zenith.  It combines the English “free” and the German “arbeiter,” or worker, and describes a lifestyle which is radically different from the buttoned-down rigidity of the permanent-employment economy: freedom to move between jobs.

This absence of loyalty to a company is totally alien to previous generations of driven Japanese “salarymen” who were expected to uncomplainingly turn in 70-hour work weeks at the same company for decades, all in exchange for lifetime employment.

Many young people have come to mistrust big corporations, having seen their fathers or uncles eased out of “lifetime” jobs in the relentless downsizing of the past twenty years. From the point of view of the younger generations, the loyalty their parents unstintingly offered to companies was wasted.

They have also come to see diminishing value in the grueling study and tortuous examinations required to compete for the elite jobs in academia, industry and government; with opportunities fading, long years of study are perceived as pointless.

In contrast, the “freeter” lifestyle is one of hopping between short-term jobs and devoting energy and time to foreign travel, hobbies or other interests.

As long ago as 2001, The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare estimates that 50 percent of high school graduates and 30 percent of college graduates now quit their jobs within three years of leaving school.

The downside is permanently downsized income and prospects. Many of the four million “freeters” survive on part-time work and either live at home or in a tiny flat with no bath.  A typical “freeter” wage is 1,000 yen ($10.25) an hour.

Japan’s slump has lasted so long, that a “New Lost Generation” is coming of age, joining Japan’s first “Lost Generation” which graduated into the bleak job market of the 1990s.

These trends have led to an ironic moniker for the Freeter lifestyle: 
Dame-Ren (No Good People).
The Dame-Ren get by on odd jobs, low-cost living and drastically diminished expectations.

The decline of permanent employment has led to the unraveling of social mores and conventions.  Many young men now reject the macho work ethic and related values of their fathers. These “herbivores” also reject the traditional Samurai ideal of masculinity.

Derisively called “herbivores” or “grass-eaters,” these young men are uncompetitive and uncommitted to work, evidence of their deep disillusionment with Japan’s troubled economy.

A bestselling book titled The Herbivorous Ladylike Men Who Are Changing Japan by Megumi Ushikubo, president of Tokyo marketing firm Infinity, claims that about two-thirds of all Japanese men aged 20-34 are now partial or total grass-eaters. “People who grew up in the bubble era (of the 1980s) really feel like they were let down. They worked so hard and it all came to nothing,” says Ms Ushikubo. “So the men who came after them have changed.”

This has spawned a disconnect between genders so pervasive that
Japan is experiencing a “social recession” in marriage, births, and even sex,
all of which are declining.

With a wealth and income divide widening along generational lines, many young Japanese are attaching themselves to their parents, the generation that accumulated home and savings during the boom years of the 1970’s and 1980’s. Surveys indicate that roughly two-thirds of freeters live at home.

Freeters “who have no children, no dreams, hope or job skills could become a major burden on society, as they contribute to the decline in the birthrate and in social insurance contributions,” Masahiro Yamada, a sociology professor wrote in a magazine essay titled, Parasite Singles Feed on Family System.

This trend of never leaving home has sparked an almost tragicomic counter-trend of Japanese parents who actively seek mates to marry off their “parasite single” offspring as the only way to get them out of the house.

An even more extreme social disorder is Hikikomori, or “acute social withdrawal,” a condition in which the young live-at-home person will virtually wall themselves off from the world by never leaving their room.

What we’re seeing in Japan is the confluence of three dynamics: definancialization, the demise of growth-positive demographics and the devolution of the consumerist model of endless “demand” and “growth.”

Japan is the leading-edge of the crumbling model of advanced neoliberal capitalism: that consumerist excess creates wealth, prosperity and happiness.

What consumerist excess actually creates is alienation, social atomization, narcissism,and a profound contradiction at the heart of the consumerist-dependent model of “growth”: the narcissism that powers consumerist lust and identity is at odds with the demands of the workplace that generates the income needed to consume.

Japan and the Exhaustion of Consumerism

The Hidden Cost of the “New Economy”: New-Type Depression

The Future of America Is Japan:  Stagnation

The Future of America Is Japan: Runaway Deficits, Runaway Debts

The younger generation of workers raised in a consumerist “paradise” are facing an economic stagnation that reduces opportunities to earn the high income needed to fulfill the consumerist demands for status symbols. Given the hopelessness of earning enough to afford the consumerist lifestyle, they have abandoned traditional status symbols such as luxury autos and taken up fashion and media as expressions of consumerism.

But the narcissism bred by consumerism has nurtured a kind of emotional isolation and immaturity, what might be called permanent adolescence, which leaves many young people without the tools needed to handle criticism, collaboration and the pressures of the workplace.

Narcissism is the result of the consumerist society’s relentless focus on the essential project of consumerism, which is “the only self that is real is the self that is purchased and projected.”

Narcissism, Consumerism and the End of Growth  (October 19, 2012)

In my analysis, this is the direct consequence of the supremacy of a consumerism that is dependent on financialization: an economy dependent on debt-fueled consumption to power its “endless growth” is one that will necessarily implode from its internal contradictions: debt and leverage eventually exceed the carrying capacity of the collateral and the national income, and the narcissism of consumerism leads to social recession, a crippling state of “suspended animation” adolescence and great personal frustration and unhappiness.

The ultimate contradiction in this debt-consumption version of capitalism is this: how can an economy have “endless expansion and growth” when pay and opportunities for secure, high-paying jobs are both relentlessly declining? It cannot. Financialization, consumerist narcissism and the end of growth are inextricably linked.

This leads to a dispiriting no exit:It’s as if there is a split in the road and no third way: some young people make it onto the traditional corporate or government career path, and everyone else is left in part-time suspended animation with few options for adult expression or development.

We need a third way that offers people work, resilience and authentic meaning. In my view, that cannot come from the Central State or the global corporate workplace: it can only come from a relocalized economy in revitalized communities.

For more on this topic:

Generational Wealth and Upward Mobility
(October 24, 2012)

Priced Out of the Middle Class
(June 28, 2012)

Do We Have What It Takes To Get From Here To There? Part 1: Japan
(November 8, 2012)

Degrowth, Anti-Consumerism and Peak Consumption
(May 9, 2013)

Tune In, Turn On, Opt Out
(May 17, 2013)

Will Crushing Student Loans and Worthless College Degrees
Politicize the Millennial Generation?
(May 31, 2013)

The Recession That Never Ended: 2008 -2013 (and Counting)
(August 26, 2013)

This is a guest post from Charles Hugh Smith. His newest book is Why Things Are Falling Apart and What We Can Do About It

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
Peace at Last: Beautiful and moving photographs of dead animals
03:43 pm



It was Gloria the cat that first brought Gemma Kirby Davies the “gift” that started her photographing dead animals.

“It started about 18 months ago when Gloria (the cat) brought me a gift,” Gemma tells Dangerous MInds. “A perfectly intact, but totally lifeless mouse–which as it fell from her mouth to the floor, seemed to sink into the earth with a complete sense of purpose and ultimate timeliness. It was his time to go, and the earth swallowed him back up. It made me feel a huge sense of peace toward death.

“Gloria rarely eats her prey, and so the mouse’s corpse was given back to nature. In one of my favourite books, Jim Crace’s Being Dead, there are beautiful descriptions of nature reclaiming nature and how through the death and decomposition of living things, nature is renewed and the dead (once living matter), prevail in the earth, the soil and the plants.”

Gloria’s gift inspired Gemma to begin photographing dead animals, when and wherever she discovered their bodies, and curating these beautiful and moving pictures on her website Peace at Last. It should be made clear that Gemma has nothing to do with the demise of any of the animals photographed, and her work aims to preserve something of each creature’s final beauty. The site is introduced by the poem “Death Be Not Proud” by John Donne:

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost over throw
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure - then, from thee much more must flow;
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones and soul’s delivery.
Thou’rt slave to fate, chance, kings and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war and sickness dwell;
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well,
And better than thy stroke. Why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more. Death thou shalt die.

Gemma Kirby Davies: We, like all animals will one day die. It’s something I find sad, but reassuringly certain. I hope my photographs evoke a sense of how I perceive death; wholly still, eternally quiet and completely calm.

I see death as stillness and as sleep. Not all of my images are cute and fluffy; some animals may have come to a brutal end and their visceral wounds reflect that. But death for me is always an end to chaos: an end to suffering, peace at last.

Dangerous Minds: What attracted you to this subject matter?

Gemma Kirby Davies: Growing up I was always interested in dark themes in art; Francis Bacon’s paintings and macabre literature. I love Taxidermy, and have been extremely inspired by this art trend, especially the exquisite work of modern artists like Polly Morgan and Nancy Foutts.

Yes, there is a deeper meaning behind what I am doing, but I think the colours and composition of my pictures work on a superficial level too – dead animals can be visually stunning… and much easier to photograph when still.

DM: What has the response to your work been?

Gemma Kirby Davies: It’s not for everyone. My aunt’s response to the invite to my recent exhibition was, “Of course I’ll come and support you dear—as long as you don’t expect me to ever put any of it up on my walls!” and on applying for a stall at Spitalfields Art Market, I was advised that my work wasn’t family friendly and cautioned that my photographs could be “interpreted as disturbing”… I didn’t have the heart tell them that that was sort of the point!

I think art should always incite feeling, and if we all got excited about the same things then life would be rather boring. Reactions like that - especially from an art market in London’s seemingly edgy East End - prove that there is a real stigma around portraying death in art. If I have hit a nerve with this subject matter then I am glad of positive and negative responses as it opens up a debate.

Gemma is now developing a Peace At Last book, which will include pictures sent to her by other artists. If you are genuinely interested in submitting a picture, “your personal interpretations of this theme (photos of ‘peaceful’ dead animals),” then please send your images to Alas, Gemma can’t offer a fee, but if published in the book each artist will be credited and “of course get free champagne at the book launch!”

Discover more of Gemma Kirby Davies’ incredible photographs at her site Peace at Last.
More after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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