Nelson Sullivan: Pioneering chronicler of NYC nightlife in the 1980s
03.15.2013
06:12 pm

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Nelson Sullivan


Nelson Sullivan (center) turns his ever present video camera on himself, LaHoma VanZant and and RuPaul

Today, on what would have been his 65th birthday, Nelson Sullivan’s World of Wonder, a documentary directed by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato about the life and work of their friend (and mine) New York-based first-person video diarist Nelson Sullivan, is being released on iTunes by World of Wonder.

Here’s a flashback to a 2010 post where I discuss Nelson. Robert Coddington, the archivist/historian mentioned below, told me yesterday by email that Nelson’s archive is becoming a part of the Fales Library collection at NYU on April 25th. I think this is fantastic news:

I spent the better part of the afternoon and evening conversing with a brilliant historian and a delightful guy by the name of Robert Coddington. Robert is an accomplished Queer studies scholar and archivist for the late Nelson Sullivan, a video artist who captured hundreds of hours of NYC’s nightclub and drag scene during the 1980s. Wigstock, Limelight, Area, Michael Alig and the club kids, the drag scene at Boy Bar, the infamous “outlaw party” at the Times Square McDonalds outlaw party immortalized in Party Monster (I was there), the Pyramid Club, early Dee-lite performances… I could go on and on and on and on. Nelson documented all of, a permanent fixture on the lower Manhattan club scene with his ever-present video camera: If Nelson wasn’t there taping the action, you were at the wrong party.

I knew Nelson, and when I was 21, in 1986, I rented a room from him for about six months in the ramshackle old carriage house he leased at 5 Ninth Avenue, smackdab in the middle of New York’s now trendy meatpacking district (Today it’s all about high fashion and boutique hotels, but back then, it was patrolled by cruising leather daddies, crossdressing hookers and smelled like… rotting carcasses). Nelson’s house was a whirlwind, creative environment complete with a colorful cast of characters that included actress Sylvia Miles, Michael Musto, fashion designer Albert Crudo, party giver Erich Conrad and Lady Bunny. When I moved out, soon after RuPaul, Larry Tee and Lahoma Van Zandt made their way to New York from Atlanta and moved in to 5 Ninth Ave. It was that kind of place.

Nelson Sullivan created an ultra important historical archive that has yet to be recognized in this country—which is a real shame—although it has been exhibited in many places outside of the US on a museum level. Not to be deterred, Robert Coddington and Dick Richards (Nelson’s friend since childhood) have put together a growing online video archive called The 5 Ninth Ave. Project on YouTube.

Below. club kids at one of Susanne Bartsch’s parties at Bentley’s. Note Leigh Bowery huffing amyl nitrate:
 

 
The most fabulous and glamorous queen of all, International Chrysis, performing at Boy Bar on St. Mark’s Place sometime in the mid-80s with Perfidia and Cody Ravioli
 

 
Nightlife “supergroup” Shazork (who I thought were amazing) featuring Lady Bunny, a pre-Dee-lite DJ Dimitry, Sister Dimension and Hattie at the Pyramid Club performing the David Essex hit “Rock On.”
 

 
And last but not least, one of Nelson’s favorite subjects, the ULTRA TWISTED drag queen “Christina,” who Nelson discovered dead after her suicide in the Chelsea Hotel. Nelson died himself not longer after, of a heart attack on the 4th of July, 1989. Christina was played by Marilyn Manson in the Party Monster film (also directed by World of Wonder’s Bailey and Barbato). Watch this clip and tell me that Manson wasn’t robbed of a best supporting actor role. He got her down perfect!
 

 
“A Visit with Christina” part II here.

Fenton Bailey’s treatment for a TV documentary about Nelson Sullivan nicely explains Nelson Sullivan’s pivotal role in heroically preserving a big chunk of NYC nightlife history (Funtone)

Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Nelson Sullivan films Quentin Crisp at the Flaunt It Club, 1988

Remembering John Sex

Cruising The Westside Piers, 1976

Posted by Richard Metzger

 

 

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