‘Born in Flames’: Feminist terrorism in a post-capitalist dystopia
04.04.2014
07:57 am

Topics:
Feminism
Movies
Queer
Race

Tags:
Adele Bertei
Born In Flames


 
It’s been a hot minute since I watched a movie that really blew me away with its concept and vision, and I I have no idea how I only just discovered 1983’s Born in Flames. Everything about it is in my wheelhouse. Set in an alternative New York City, Born in Flames is a feminist telling of the injustices plaguing society after a socialist revolution. It goes without saying that a theoretical “post-capitalist patriarchy” is the subject of much debate among socialist feminists—the more “vulgar Marxist” of us believe that capitalism is the very foundation of oppression, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a socialist feminist proclaiming that the abolition of capitalism will be a silver bullet to end all sexism.

Of course, in Born in Flames, the “revolution” has actually changed very little in regards to the state or social order. Police still exercise an absurd amount of power, often wielding it violently, communities are still reliant on mutual aid for essential services like childcare, ghettos remain dilapidated, and meaningful work is scarce. A workfare program has been instituted to alleviate unemployment, but this triggers a macho backlash. Now, exacerbating the sexism and misogyny that pervaded pre-revolution, men are rioting, under the impression that women and minorities are taking all the “good jobs.” It’s by no means an unheard of scenario—phony revolution fails to placate the people, and the reactionary tendency is to blame the marginalized for social and economic woes.

The plot of the film centers on two factions of women, each with their own pirate feminist radio station. Radio Ragazza is run by a white lesbian named Isabel, played by Adele Bertei, a prominent figure in New York’s “No Wave” scene—she played organ and guitar in James Chance and the Contortions, and fronted The Bloods, rock’s first openly lesbian group. A black woman named Honey (played by an actress plucked from obscurity by director Lizzie Borden, and billed only as “Honey”) runs Phoenix Radio. When a famous feminist activist is arrested and dies in police custody, foul play is rightfully suspected, and unrest in the women’s movements grows. A vigilante Women’s Army appears, intervening on assaults against women in a stampede of bicycles—the media labels them terrorists, but Honey and Isabel, who once perceived these sorts of renegade tactics as a bridge too far, begin to see the need for escalation. The ideological leader of the Women’s Army is Zella, played by Florynce Kennedy, a real-life civil rights lawyer and feminist. (In the movie, Zella likens violence to urination—saying there is a time and a place. In real life, Florynce led a mass urination on Harvard’s campus to protest the lack of women’s bathrooms.)

Eventually, both radio stations are burned to the ground, but Isabel and Honey combine forces to create “Phoenix Ragazza Radio” from stolen equipment. “Ragazza” means “female friend, and “Phoenix” is the mythical bird that rises from the ashes; some may find the metaphor a bit heavy-handed, but the anti-obscurantist in me loves it. The pair join the Women’s Army, who are now moving to take over TV stations. Large-scale armed struggle appears inevitable. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but climax is astonishing, especially now, in a post 9-11 America.

Shot partially with a documentary-style narrative, the storytelling of Born in Flames is ambitious but expertly executed. Director Lizzie Borden, who also directed the 1986 classic, Working Girls, a feminist flick on the lives of high-end escorts, manages to masterfully weave FBI reports, news broadcasts, and radio transmissions with a traditional dramatic movie. Though it’s a fast-paced and brutal, much of the plot is centered around women’s negotiations and strategies—it’s a cinematic exploration of the old political question, “what is to be done,” and it directly addresses the question of necessary violence. I’ve never seen anything like it, and I cannot recommend it enough.

Eagle-eyed viewers will spot Eric Bogosian (in his first onscreen role), future Zero Dark Thirty director Kathryn Bigelow and Ron Vawter, one of the founders of the avant garde Wooster Group.
 

Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Adele Bertei: ‘Adventures in the Town of Empty’

Written by Amber Frost | Discussion
Conspiracy of Women: Lydia Lunch’s Post Catastrophe Collaborative Workshop


 
Lydia Lunch sent me this post about the upcoming Post Catastrophe Collaborative Workshop that she’s curating in Ojai California on May 24-27.

I should think if there was anyone you’d want in your corner post-catastrophe, it would be Lydia!

To question why women artists need a workshop by and for each other in 2013 is to ignore the damage done to the sensitive psyche by the brutarian policies of kleptomaniacal plutocrats in their race for global domination.

From the imperialist profiteering of endless war, to the justification of the psychosis of bloodlust in the name of God, oil or natural resources, from austerity measures as punishment against entire nations for the fraud perpetrated by greedy corporations and their criminal finance ministers, to the blatant arrogance of corrupt politicians who do their bidding with utter disregard for the health of the planet or the life of its inhabitants, we as women demand a safe place in which to create from the ashes of this man-made destruction.

We are seeing in these times a striking attempt on a global scale to redress economic and social imbalance by sheer physical presence—the Arab Spring, the Occupy movement in the US. Pervasive ecological imperatives have been won (and lost) by indigenous-led groups in South America and Africa. This consensus is essential for large-scale change, and yet, the foundered promise of the movements of the 1960s and 1970s indicate the depth to which transformation must but has not yet occurred in the way we live.

The dominator model continues to run the world, and in so doing affects us in both obvious and unconscious ways.

Indeed this bespeaks a need for the attention to the microcosm, to the immediate community. In the West where we are not bound by blood tribe or homeland, we come together in kindred passions.

What is absolutely necessary is the fostering of environments, which we must learn together how to more adeptly create, in which the existing hierarchical, dominator paradigm can be further and further subverted by the constant intention to transform our learned ways of relating to ourselves and one another within this powerful action of collaboration/co-creation.

This by its nascent nature requires a protected space—here by and for women—in which to listen and share the deep language of the body; the creative impulse; the desire to collaborate and the methods to invoke; the experience of time, space and accomplishment unfettered by the anxieties of funding and recognition. This last is extremely important.

Our current model of success for everyone, artists included, remains competitive and largely solitary in the West.

Women who create and attempt to move within established systems find themselves indentured into the necessary sales pitch to self-promote, furthering the continuance of the established pattern, which fosters alienation and dissociation rather than community.

A workshop by and for women can provide a haven of inspiration, encouragement and a sense of community in these extremely trying times. The burden of often deeply traumatized women constantly having to manage their emotions and warp themselves to adjust to social situations that adhere to linear, rational, productive values is soul-killing.

Art has the ability to act as salve to the universal wound. It gives voice to the silent scream within us all.

It rebels as pleasure in times of trauma. It brings a sense of beauty and joy by rising up in celebration of life, a direct contra-diction to the widespread brutality of socio-sadistic bullies who seek to divide and conquer.

A space of protection and clarity to explore the strengths and weaknesses women possess, along with their innate neural capacity for emotional imprint and communal feeling; concurrently with the research and practice of creative techniques together can foster tremendous healing along with powerful work.

This is an essential contribution toward the continuance of the species and its shift away from trying to dominate the planet toward the recognition that it is simply part of all life.

This workshop seeks to bring together a diverse and multi-generational collection of women artists who comprehend the importance of community, collaboration and creation as an inspirational weapon in the war against divisiveness, division and death. 

—Lydia Lunch /Vanessa Skantze

Lydia Lunch will be curating the second Post Catastrophe Collaborative Workshop in Ojai California May 24-27, 2013

 

 

Written by Richard Metzger | Discussion
Adele Bertei: ‘Adventures In The Town Of Empty’
06.03.2012
01:14 pm

Topics:
Dance
Literature
Music
Punk

Tags:
Adele Bertei


Power trio: Lydia Lunch, Bertei and Anya Phillips.
 
If you lived in downtown New York City during the late 1970s and were a fan of new music, the odds are you encountered Adele Bertei. She was a member of seminal No Wave band The Contortions and could be seen performing and hanging out at the Mudd Club, Pep Lounge and CBGB’s, along with a formidable number of musicians and artists that made those clubs their second homes.

Petite and powerful, Bertei is a renaissance woman, much like her hero Patti Smith, who can operate within the worlds of music, literature, dance and film with a fine-tuned ferocity and grace. Moving from the unhinged funk of The Contortions to dance floor hits produced by Jelly Bean Benitez, Arthur Baker and Thomas Dolby weren’t no big thang for the mercurial Bertei. The transition from No Wave to New Wave and disco may have had a commercial design but Bertei did it all without selling her soul. Along with a number of downtown bands (Blondie, Talking Heads) she expanded her range, infiltrating the discotheques with bohemian raps riding big beats. Even her slicker stuff had a knowing quality that said “I can do this stuff too. So, why not.” The walls between uptown and downtown were crumbling, along with the bridges, subways and ghettos.

Bertei is working on a memoir, No New York: Adventures in the Town of Empty, which will chronicle her experiences in New York City from 1977 to the late-1980’s. Those were amazing years to be in Manhattan and if anyone can get at the heart of what made it such a wildly creative time, Bertei is the person to do it. She’s developed into a very fine writer - precise, heartfelt, tough and delicate. Her life story is the story of a city in flux and the people who rode the crest of a very tumultuous pop culture wave. Her early years alone include a stint as Brian Eno’s personal assistant through the Contortions and her all-girl band The Bloods to being a major label artist and collaborator with musicians as diverse as Matthew Sweet, Lydia Lunch, John Lurie, Scritti Politti and Sparks. If you’re interested in learning more about No New York: Adventures in the Town of Empty check this out.

My own experiences of Bertei were the several occasions on which I saw the Contortions and The Bloods. Uncompromising as hell, both bands took traditional funk and rock styles and played them with an aggressively manic edge that mirrored the vibes of a city hovering between decay and resurrection while also serving as a kind of curative - a headshot to the zombies that lurked at the edges of night.

It is arguable that artists and musicians did far more to exorcise the dark spirits embedded in New York City of the Seventies than the useless politicians helplessly choking on clots of meaningless rhetoric and the cops randomly arresting harmless panhandlers while heroin dealers ruled the Lower East Side with impunity. In clubs like CBGB’s, we gathered to re-fuel our engines before returning to the garbage-strewn streets, with their wall-to-wall carpeting of glassine bags, dessicated condoms and dog shit, to look the dead-eyed rat of reality straight in its big fucking smirk of a face. Within this doomsday scenario, we chose to contort ourselves into shapes that hieroglyphed our inner urgency to drown out, with the beat of drums and clang of metal, the grim wails of sirens that tore through the dank poisonous air like sonic razorblades. We had come to make a bigger noise. We weren’t going to take the shit of civilization lying down. We were going out fighting or at least fucking things up. As it is, some of us made art that cooled the jets of the degenerate culture of death. While Rome burned, we did more than fiddle. We rocked.

The videos I’ve included here give testimony to Bertei’s range and musical spirit. Stiff Records’ motto “fuck art, let’s dance” was good to be sure. But in Adele Bertei’s world, you can create art while dancing because they’re the same fucking thing. I know Stiff was trying to make a point about pretentiousness in music, and No Wave was an easy target for that argument, but when the Mudd Club (co-founded by Anya Phillips, Contortionist James Chance’s lover) opened its doors in 1978 and punkers had a dance club they could call their own it was amazing how quickly we went from cretin hopping to eventually burning down the house. The demonization of disco seemed like a waste of time. And segueing from “Le Freak” to “I Wanna Be Sedated” was as smooth as the seats on the L train.

“Jackie is a punk, Judy is a runt
They went down to the Mudd Club
And they both got drunk
Oh-yeah” 
The Ramones

As many times as you may tell your story, it is true that it will never be the same as you are never the same. Memory is flux as is life, although some people may tell you you never change. Stay away from those people. Weed the snakes from your garden. Navigate always toward the love. No matter how much they tell you we are born alone and die alone, it doesn’t make the need for love any less necessary to the in-between.” A. Bertei.

I for one can’t wait to read Adele’s story.
 

 
A multiplicity of Adeles after the jump…

Written by Marc Campbell | Discussion