In 1969, the American writer and intellectual Susan Sontag (born on this day in 1933) made her first film Duet for Cannibals AKA Duett för kannibaler in Sweden. Like Godard and Truffaut before her, when Sontag moved from serious critique to the arthouse, she stayed quite true to her own ideas about cinema.
The most celebrated and influential modern doctrines, those of Marx and Freud, actually amount to elaborate systems of hermeneutics, aggressive and impious theories of interpretation. All observable phenomena are bracketed, in Freud’s phrase, as manifest content. This manifest content must be probed and pushed aside to find the true meaning - the latent content - beneath. For Marx, social events like revolutions and wars; for Freud, the events of individual lives (like neurotic symptoms and slips of the tongue) as well as texts (like a dream or a work of art) - all are treated as occasions for interpretation. According to Marx and Freud, these events only seem to be intelligible. Actually, they have no meaning without interpretation. To understand is to interpret. And to interpret is to restate the phenomenon, in effect to find an equivalent for it.
In her writing, Susan Sontag sought to liberate art from interpretation (which is a bit ironic, of course, from someone who was essentially an exalted critic). When it came to her own film, she made something that intended to deliberately confound the notion that there was any sort of underlying meaning beyond exactly what the audience was seeing on the screen directly in front of them.
Again, Ingmar Bergman may have meant the tank rumbling down the empty night street in The Silence as a phallic symbol. But if he did, it was a foolish thought. (“Never trust the teller, trust the tale,” said Lawrence.) Taken as a brute object, as an immediate sensory equivalent for the mysterious abrupt armored happenings going on inside the hotel, that sequence with the tank is the most striking moment in the film. Those who reach for a Freudian interpretation of the tank are only expressing their lack of response to what is there on the screen.
Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, in other words.
Sontag’s definition of “interpretation,” then—what she’s agin’—is selectively taking only certain elements from a work of art and then using them for the purpose of “translating” the work in a particular context (Marxist, Freudian), as opposed to simply accepting it. What you see is what you get and stop looking for the subtext or allegory in everything. Art should be sensuous and just wash over you is how, I, er… guess I would interpret it.
Vincent Canby wrote something along these same lines in a 1969 New York Times article about the films on offer at The New York Film Festival that year:
“The key to the enjoyment of the film…can be found in Miss Sontag’s essays. It’s not because the film recalls either Godard or Bresson, about whom Miss Sontag has written with extraordinary insight. Rather it’s because the film adamantly refuses interpretation on any level but he surface one. It simply is what it is, a self-contained comedy of set pieces, some of which sort of remind you of events (political and psychological) outside the film without ever actually representing those events.”
‘It was all a Dream.’ An oil painting depicting rapper Biggie Smalls as ‘Max’ from Maurice Sendak’s 1963 book, ‘Where the Wild Things Are.’
Artist Camargo Valentino is a painter whose beautifully mashed-up, pop-culture inspired oil paintings routinely fetch between $4,000 - $14,000 bucks a pop. Though he is self-taught when it comes to his preferred medium of oil-painting, Valentino graduated from the Art Institute of Houston and then went on to study under the tutelage of Norwegian artist Odd Nerdrum in Norway and Iceland.
As a child, Camargo spent much of his time drawing pictures based on his toy collection. According to the artist, his creations can take anywhere from 40 to 200 hours to complete and the influence of masters such as Diego Velasquez and his mentor Nerdrum are vibrantly apparent in the composition and use of color to evoke mood in his dreamy oil paintings. Here’s more from Camargo on what inspires him to paint pop culture icons such as jazz great Charlie Parker clad in a “Big Bird” costume:
I paint what I am most attracted to; icons; comics; movies; history; art; sports figures; hip hop; my heritage and world myths. So my paintings are a combination of all these things rolled into one with a splash of myself.
I’ve included a nice selection of Camargo’s paintings below that I think you will love just as much as I do.
It’s amazing when you consider what we might now view as quaint, familiar photographic imagery was once a serious no-no. We’ve all seen photos of Betty Page bound and gagged to the point where it’s no more shocking than a LIFE magazine cover image. When John Alexander Scott Coutts aka “John Willie,” publisher of the original Bizarre magazine and the author/ artist of the iconic art comic The Adventures of Sweet Gwendoline started, excuse me, basically invented fetish photography as we now know it, it was a punishable crime.
Possibilities!, a massive 472 page coffee table book of John Willie’s photos, published by J.B. Rund’s Belier Press is the be-all, end-all last word from the world’s greatest expert on the subject.
Belier Press has been in existence since 1974 and the publisher’s own story is as interesting as the subject of the books he puts out. J.B. Rund was a young teen running around in the original rock ‘n’ roll era (1955/56) looking for second hand rock ‘n’ roll 45s to buy cheap from juke box distributors in Times Square. One of these stores also had “adult books” and this is where the author first saw a John Willie photo. The afterward of this book goes into great detail about this discovery period and the history of Belier Press. Belier Press has published all kinds of books, not just fetish photography, though I can say that the first time I ever saw a photo of Betty Page was on the cover of Belier’s Betty Page Private Peeks volume two. He also put out R. Crumb’s Carload o’ Comics, The Complete Fritz The Cat, all of the reprints of the Irving Klaw catalogs (Bizarre Katalogs), Eric Stanton and Gene “Eneg” Bilbrew and other fetish artists in Bizarre Komix (24 volumes!), The Adventures of Sweet Gwendoline and the recent deluxe reprint. An amazing run.
Possibilities! has more than 1,360 photographs basically giving a visual history of John Willie’s fetish coming of age and, in fact, the birth of what we take for granted now as an art form, a style, a distinctive look and feel all which can be traced back in these photos to something that sparked excitement in one man’s mind (and loins) and the fact that he wasn’t afraid to act on that idea, even though for all he knew he may have been one of the only people on earth to feel this way.
John Alexander Scott Coutts (or JASC as the author refers to him) was born in 1902 in Singapore, the youngest of four children of William Scott and Edith Ann Spreckley Coutts. His father, wanting to go into business for himself moved the family to St. Albans, Hertfordshire, a northwest suburb of London in June 1903. As a very young child Coutts was drawn to a particular type of children’s fantasy literature called “Fairy Books,” where he developed an attraction for “damsels in distress” and the want to rescue these damsels. At around this time he also showed a talent for drawing.
To quote the author:
At about the age of puberty he became aware of another attraction—for women in high heeled shoes—which had a strong sexual connotation for him. In his fantasies John wanted these women in high-heels to be tied-up (in order to rescue them?).
In September of 1921 Coutts entered Sandhurst (the Royal Military Academy), graduating in 1923 with a commission as Second Lieutenant and joined the Royal Scots regiment. In 1925 he married Eveline Stella Frances Fisher, a nightclub hostess who he decided needed “rescuing.” They were married without the required permission of his regiment and against his the wishes of his father (who cut him off), so he moved to Australia in late 1925 or early 1926. The marriage disintegrated soon after. One day in 1934 Coutts stumbled upon McNaught’s, a shoe store on King Street that had a sideline catering to shoe fetishists. He also discovered in that establishment the existence of a weekly British magazine called London Life.
London Life was, as Rund puts it:
...a weekly British magazine that openly dealt with a range of fetishes, but in a conservative manner that would seem quaint by today’s (lack of) standards. Suddenly John Coutts realized that he was NOT alone!
At this point he was introduced to a locally based organization for shoe fetishists, possibly called “The High-Heel Club,” run by a retired ship’s captain who went by the name “Achilles.” He then met Holly Anna Faram around 1934, a woman that shared his his interests in bondage & high heels. She became his first model, and his second wife.
“Coutts was frustrated by the refusal of London Life to print any of his letters on the subject of bondage and arrived at the conclusion–in 1936 or ‘37–that he could produce a superior and more liberal publication, which in 1946 would come to called Bizarre.
In the decade in between coming up with the idea of Bizarre magazine and getting the finances to put that project together, he came up with the idea of selling high-heeled shoes, though he actually wanted to market his photographs of women wearing those shoes and not the actual shoes themselves. But it didn’t work out that way.
In 1937 Coutts got access to “The High-Heel Club” mailing list and started his career as a photographer. He also acquired the right to use the name “Achilles.” At first, using the list, he offered rather pedestrian photos of women wearing high-heels. He then added Holly Anna Faram who turned out to be an amazing model and started offering bondage poses, but in a veiled manner. Like many artists, writers and musicians Coutts was not a good businessman and not very good with money, a problem that would follow him throughout his life.
Early in 1938 he placed a series of ads in London Life magazine for his sexy shoes, charging what he felt would be too much for any potential customer (wanting to push his more reasonably priced photos instead) and naturally people started to order them. Now he had to do something, or return the money. So Coutts added shoe maker/designer to his list of accomplishments. He also put the money together to make his dream magazine but World War II broke out and that ended that dream, at least for a while.
In 1940, John Coutts volunteered for service in the Australian Army (listing his religion as “Pagan”). In 1945 he decided to move to America to once again attempt to bring his Bizarre dream to life. At the end of that year he travelled to Canada on a merchant ship to subsidize the trip. In Montreal he found a printer that not only had an allotment of paper (remember this was wartime), but was willing to take on the job. At that moment both “John Willie” and Bizarre were born.
As far as Coutts’ new name was concerned and what it meant—“Willie,” of course, being British slang for the male sex organ—but “John Willie” was also a Cockney rhyming slang term for a little boy, so ummmm… take your pick! At last he was on his way. Willie moved to New York City in 1946 or ‘47, trying to work on Bizarre with not a lot of luck. He postponed publishing after four issues and started again in 1951. He sold the magazine to a friend in 1956 after publishing 20 issues. He also did business with infamous fetish photographer and mail order dealer Irving Klaw, famous for his Tempest Storm and Betty Page photos, bondage photos, fetish cartoon serials and of course, the photos by John Willie. Klaw made two color full length films (Teaserama and Varietease) which survived and can be seen on one DVD from Something Weird Video.
To quote Rund again:
In April of 1961, after moving to Los Angeles, Coutts/Willie was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, followed in May by a confrontation with a Postal Inspector concerning his photographs. He then decided to put an end to his activities as “John Willie” and destroyed all of his negatives as well as his mailing list sending this announcement to his customers:
“On this occasion I will forgo the usual editorial “WE” (which is more businesslike) and instead, as this is the last letter you will ever receive from me I am reverting to “I”. I got sick (it happened very suddenly) and had to undergo a major operation (of course I’d have no insurance). As a result, there will be no more “Gwendoline,” and the whole business will be closed as of June 25th. (I have a few weeks grace—I hope.) I would like to inform you that on that date everything, but everything, including the mailing list will be destroyed… It’s been nice to have known you and I wish you the very best in your games of fun and nonsense.”
This was followed by a quotation from John’s favorite book (his “Bible”), The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, from which he had also quoted at the beginning of each issue of Bizarre: “Ah, with the grape of my fading Life provide, And wash my Body whence the Life has died, And in a Windingsheet of Vine-leaf wrapt, So bury me by some sweet Garden-side.”
John Alexander Scott Coutts passed away on August 5th 1962, at a doctor friend’s house in Scottsdale Arizona, on the same day that Marilyn Monroe died.
Little could Coutts have known the impact his art and life would have on the future of human sexuality. This impact is mostly due to Bizarre magazine and his The Adventures of Sweet Gwendoline, both of which have been documented. According to author and publisher J.B. Rund:
The former (Bizarre) in the disappointing reprint of the magazine. The Latter (Gwendoline), together with a substantial amount of previously unpublished and uncollected artwork, in The Adventures of Sweet Gwendoline, (Belier Press, 1974 and 1999). And to a lesser extent, as a photographer, which heretofore has been poorly and disrespectfully done. The present work will expand on this other talent, and provide an extensive—but not a complete—record of his prodigious output in that medium.
The photos in the book are culled almost completely from just two sources, the author/publisher’s personal collection and that of the Kinsey Institute. It’s separated into three huge sections, geographically (Australia, New York, Los Angeles) which match his life’s timeline and it’s just incredible to see it all in one massive artistic survey. The notes, introductions and afterward are riddled with the most minute details that seem to leave no stone unturned. If you have even the slightest interest in pop culture, photography, women in distress, art, bondage, or the history of alternative culture, then you owe it to yourself to own this book—the only one you’ll ever need on this subject. Trade edition available from Belier Press for $70. Deluxe limited edition of 150 numbered copies each in a custom made cloth slipcase containing an ORIGINAL print of a photograph taken by John Willie in Los Angeles circa 1958-61, a different photo in each book, plus reproductions of two previously privately circulated photographs taken by Willie in Sydney circa 1938 (not in the book). Plus John Willie Speaks–John Willie Sings!?!, an audio CD, just under forty-eight minutes, consisting of a monologue from Within A Story, his only known speaking part in a motion picture from 1954, and excerpts from the only known interview with Willie from 1961-62, excerpts from A Bawdy Recital–Poems, songs and stories performed by John Willie in 1962. Whew! A serious bargain if you ask me, as only Belier Press could whip up.
A fantastic, gender-bending cover of ‘Female Mimics” magazine, 1971.
Launched in 1963, Female Mimics magazine was the very first glossy covered cross-dressing publication of its kind. In the past magazines of this sort tended to be the size of “digests” so this was a rather significant advancement for a magazine catering to the crossdressing/transgender community.
The first issue featured Kim August a popular drag performer at the equally popular 82 Club located in the East Village of New York City. August was well-known for his spot-on impersonations of Bette Davis, drag icon Judy Garland and the then emerging star (and another drag favorite) Barbra Streisand. The cover of Female Mimics debut featured opposing photos of August as a man and all dolled as his female alter-ego with a blonde wig, red bustier and leather skirt. Over the course of its first few years of publication the magazine routinely homaged other stars of the professional female impersonator nightclub scene not just in the U.S. but all over the world such as the renowned Madame Arthur’s in Paris and Le Carrousel. When it came to the “writing” inside the pages of Female Mimics it was as over-the-top as the flamboyant entertainers it featured, though it’s important to note that much of the editorial information wasn’t necessarily based in fact and, as you will see in the images from the magazine in this post, Female Mimics tried very hard to assert a strong “heterosexual” vibe when it came to how their drag-loving subjects were presented.
Here’s more on how FM walked that “straight” line direct from the pages of the magazine discussing the case of “Joi Fulnesee,” who was allegedly an autoworker in Detroit who liked to dress like a woman after-hours:
Recently Joi Fulnesee’s wife gave him a Dior gown for a birthday gift. Joi spends his evenings gloriously gowned female attire. Can you imagine how surprised his co-workers at the auto plant would be?”
Any “writing” in FM was generally not credited although I did come across a name that was familiar to me, Carlson Wade. If you follow my ramblings here on Dangerous Minds you may also recall Wade’s name as it is attached to many salacious publications on the subject of cross dressing, transvestism, fetish and the “dangers” of homosexuality. Given Wade’s track record (he also published trashy literature under the name of “Ken Worthy”), it’s not surprising that the background information on the performers and drag enthusiasts in the magazine were perhaps spurious at best, if not just totally made up. FM would continue to publish its provocative content under different names for sixteen years until 1979.
I’ve included many images of the colorful covers of Female Mimics for you to peruse below. Some are slightly and delightfully NSFW.
The premiere issue of ‘Female Mimics’ magazine featuring entertainer Kim August, both as a man and in drag, 1963.
As regular readers will know we have a love of movie posters here at Dangerous Minds. A film poster encapsulates in one single bound a shared memory, a liminal experience, an emotion (and our response) and some abstract of knowledge. A well-crafted movie poster can hit all the bases while still being aesthetically pleasing.
Always on the look out for new movie artwork I was more than tickled to find this selection of innovative and original takes on old pics by a group of young artists from across the globe. Apart from producing work for books, magazines, comics and what have you, the collective at Mad Duck Posters produce officially licensed artwork for a variety of classic movies.
What I like best about these posters for films by Alfred Hitchcock, John Carpenter and Stuart Gordon is how the artists have interpreted each film in a throughly imaginative and contemporary way while still remaining true to their source material. Most of these posters are up for grabs—details here. Now I just have to find some more wall space…
Here are some interesting “weekend bags” that will certainly grab people’s attention. The bags are by 99 Wooster and they’re delightful, in my opinion. I’m really liking the Elizabeth Taylor in Boom! bag. Or even the Bea Arthur bag. I mean, how many of these are you going to see around town? You’d be truly an original with one of these puppies.
I’d probably use mine as a gym bag because who in the hell has time to take weekend trips anymore?
The bags are selling on 99 Wooster’s site for $75 each. I didn’t post all of their bags. You can check out the rest of them out here.
The early 80s was prime time for scary music. Blame it on Reagan and his itchy nuclear trigger finger, but in its darkest corners, rock n’ roll devolved from the freeballing hedonism of disco and the happy computer blips of new wave into the gnashing teeth and ripping claws of hardcore punk, industrial, death-rock and extreme metal. Bands like Black Flag, Hellhammer, Christian Death, Venom and Whitehouse were making records so aggressive, unhinged, or suicidally depressed that they sounded like the work of actual lunatics. But, you know, rock n’ roll is supposed to be edgy. Dance music, well, you’re just supposed to dance. But in 1982, a year that birthed Negasonic teenage warheads like Venom’s Black Metal, Walk Among Us by The Misfits, and the Birthday Party’s Junkyard, it was a mysterious synth-pop band from Germany who released perhaps the most unsettling album of the year.
It was right there in the title of the band, really: Warning. That basically says it all. The cover of their self-titled debut album is both campy and terrifying. Two black-caped, space-helmeted figures—half Black Sabbath’s Never Say Die pilot, half Darth Vader—descend an escalator, presumably to kill you when they reach the lower level. Amazingly, the music contained within is just as unnerving. A sort of unholy g(h)oulash of horror-prog, clanging disco-metal and woozy electro-pop, Warning is dance music made by people who have never danced in their entire lives. Forget new wave or even cold-wave, this was harrowing doom-wave, anchored by the alternately hilarious and soul-piercing croaks of frontfiend Ed Vanguard.
Except that there was no “Ed Vanguard”...
It was actually the work of the positively jovial Edgar Schlepper, a turtleneck-wearing producer/songwriter known mostly for writing minor hits for minor pop singers and for “solo” records like 20 Disco Hits in Super Sound. Schlepper made happy, boring music for elevators and mall food courts, but along with his pal Hans Muller (AKA “Mike Yonder”) he created an inexplicable alter-ego so dark and disturbing that it hardly seems possible that this goofy asshole in the beige slacks could be responsible for it. Only Germans could come up with shit this wack. Warning’s crazed opener “Why Can the Bodies Fly” surged up the German pop charts, peaking at #11, despite the fact that it’s seven minutes long, has no hook, and is totally fucking crazy. It was like Daft Punk after a weeklong bath salts binge watching only Teutonic skat videos. It was also their only hit, but since when did Darth Vader care about the pop charts anyway?
A year later, Warning returned with Electric Eyes, a (very) slightly more accessible album, but it still sounded like two fleshy robots short-circuiting during the climax of Saturday Night Fever.
Since the Women’s March on Washington is coming up on January 21, I thought that it be a good time to blog about this coloring book: Boss Babes: A Coloring & Activity Book for Grown-Ups. The fun-filled book is by Michelle Volansky and it’s an ode to strong women.
BOSS BABES is a coloring and activity book filled with fun facts and whimsical black-and-white line drawings celebrating female powerhouses from Beyonce to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Dolly Parton to Malala, Tina Fey to Serena Williams. On every page is a portrait to color or an activity to complete: Connect the dots to conjure J.K. Rowling’s patronus. Complete the Beyonce crossword (12-DOWN: Who run the world?). Decorate Flo-Jo’s nails, decode Cher’s most recent tweet, design a new jabot for RBG, color in Frida Kahlo’s flowers, and more!
Even though it says in title that it’s a book for “grown-ups,” I think it would be an awesome activity book for little girls (and boys, too). Kids are wiser and hipper nowadays, so I’m sure they’d totally get the references in it. Be warned, though, there are a few “naughty” words.
It’s a 96-page paperback activity book and sells for $10.95 here. Dig it.
We all know that author William S. Burroughs is one of the “people we like” on the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s album cover, but did you know that Burroughs was actually around when Paul McCartney composed “Eleanor Rigby”? Apparently so. Over the weekend, I noticed the following passage in the book With William Burroughs: A Report From the Bunker by Victor Bockris:
Burroughs: Ian met Paul McCartney and Paul put up the money for this flat which was at 34 Montagu Square… I saw Paul several times. The three of us talked about the possibilities of the tape recorder. He’d just come in and work on his “Eleanor Rigby.” Ian recorded his rehearsals. I saw the song taking shape. Once again, not knowing much about music, I could see that he knew what he was doing. He was very pleasant and very prepossessing. Nice-looking young man, hardworking.
The connection here was, no doubt, author Barry Miles. Miles started the Indica Bookshop in London with McCartney’s financial backing. Miles states in his book In the Sixties that Burroughs was a frequent visitor to the shop. When the Beatles started their experimental label Zapple, with Barry Miles at the helm, the idea was to release more avant garde fare, such as readings by American poets Michael McClure, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Richard Brautigan and comedian Lenny Bruce. McCartney set up a small studio that was run by Burroughs’ ex-boyfriend, Ian Sommerville, who also lived there, and this is why Burroughs would have been around.
It’s always thought that John Lennon was the far-out Beatle, but it was in fact Macca who was the one obsessed by Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Cage and Morton Subotnick, not Lennon (he got there later, via Yoko).
The “Eleanor Rigby” section from ‘Yellow Submarine.’
“Ricky was of the devil. When he was on acid, he’d go back into the dark woods, up in Aztakea, and he would talk to the devil. He said the devil came into the form of a tree, which sprouted out of the ground and glowed. I tried to question him about it, but he said, “I don’t like to talk about it. People think I’m nuts.”
Ricky would take ten hits of mesc in a night. He would take three; ten minutes later he’d take another three; and two hours later he’d take four more. He’d figured it out in his mind how to take the most without ODing Ricky is the acid king. “
—Mark Fischer, friend of “Acid King” Long Island teen murderer Ricky Kasso, in Rolling Stone magazine.
What the fuck did I just watch? is often the response to Tommy Turner and David Wojnarowicz‘s cult 1985 no wave/transgressive film Where Evil Dwells. Not because some viewers of this splatterfest are uncool dickheads but because there is no real cohesive story or structure to Turner and Wojnarowicz’s film—and people really do prefer things like structure and stories. Just ask James Patterson. Our savvy public are none too appreciative of being buttonholed by a would-be weirdo rambling incontinently about conspiracy theories, Satan, murder and devil dolls—people get enough of that shit on the evening news.
Moreover, to give 28 minutes over to watching this is a considerable investment of time for something that may not be that good after all—especially true in a world that’s marked out in 140 characters or less. But wait, let’s not be too hasty or too cynical, for there’s a reason there is no real story to Where Evil Dwells. It is (apparently) because this is all that remains of a much longer intended feature length project which was lost in a fire. The only footage that survived was put together for the Downtown New York Film Festival in 1985, which makes Where Evil Dwells interesting for what it could have been. And it certainly does contain some very interesting things.
Where Evil Dwells was loosely based on the PCP-fuelled murder of young Gary Lauwers in Northport, New York, on June 16, 1984. His killer, 17-year-old hesher Ricky Kasso was painted by the press as an occult dabbling, drug-addled Satan freak, and not without good cause. In an attack that went on for longer than an hour, Kasso burned Lauwers, gouged out his eyes and stabbed him somewhere between 17 and 36 times. At some point during the attack, Kasso is said to have commanded Lauwers to “Say you love Satan,” but Lauwers is said to have replied, “I love my mother.”
After Kasso bragged about Lauwers’ murder to several of his friends, claiming the killing was a “human sacrifice” that Satan (via a black raven) had commanded him to carry out, even taking some of them to see the decomposing body, an anonymous tip was made to police. On July 7, two days after his arrest, Ricky Kasso committed suicide by hanging himself in his jail cell.
The Long Island Satan teen murder case was made famous nationally in a widely read 1984 Rolling Stone article (”Kids in the Dark” by David Breskin in the November 22 issue) and in the (nearly fictionalized) lurid “true” crime novel Say You Love Satan. Kasso—basically a troubled AC/DC loving idiot who became a very sucessful fuck-up—was almost made out to be the “new” Charles Manson by the likes of Sonic Youth, Big Audio Dynamite, the Electric Hellfire Club and the Dead Milkmen. Where Evil Dwells is not the only film or documentary to be made about Ricky Kasso, although it was the first.