Henry Rollins and Lydia Lunch in the erotic, violent ‘The Right Side of My Brain’ (NSFW)

Richard Kern was a big part of the underground cinema of the East Village in the 1980s. Among other things, he directed videos for Sonic Youth’s “Death Valley ‘69” (which featured Lydia Lunch, of course) and King Missile’s ”Detachable Penis.” Kern was very much a part of the same scene that was more or less defined by Nick Zedd. He made many experimental and sexual movies on Super-8.

According to Richard Kostelanetz in A Dictionary of the Avant-Gardes,

This fascination with the dark side of looking—with the dynamics and aesthetics of voyeurism—is Richard Kern’s theme and it runs through his films and photography. In many ways, Kern’s work is a culmination of self-referential approaches to depicting the artist’s relationship to his “subject.” And his subject is a kind of seeing. ... In many ways his movies are responses to popular film and commercial culture as a whole.

One of Kern’s early movies was The Right Side of My Brain, a 23-minute black-and-white experimental movie that is unabashedly about sex, violence, and control. This movie is about as NSFW as anything we’ve ever presented on the site.

The whole movie is told from the point of view of the character played by Lydia Lunch in a dreamy and sexualized and insular mode that was well-nigh invented by Maya Deren in 1943’s “Meshes of the Afternoon.” Lunch’s character goes through a series of assignations that involve varying degrees of violence. Around the 10th minute an actor credited as Clint Ruin (actually the musician J.G. Thirlwell) shows up and he proceeds to dominate Lunch’s character somewhat, after which she gives him a blow job. Yes, you read that right, most of that highly X-rated act is captured in the movie.

The bulk of the movie was shot in some claustrophobic NYC tenement, but in the sole outdoor sequence—possibly shot in Central Park?—Henry Rollins appears and follows the Lunch character. They too start making out and then the Rollins character has a kind of tantrum.

By the bye, when this was shot Rollins had the “SEARCH AND DESTROY” part of his back tattoo in place but not the rest. At one point Lunch is shown wearing a T-shirt with the Einstürzende Neubauten homunculus on it.

The images of sexual violence are, of course, disturbing; many ladies in the audience will enjoy the three smoking hot dudes in various states of undress.

The Right Side of My Brain is available on Blu-Ray in Hardcore Collection: Director’s Cut.


Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Lydia Lunch’s sexy ‘Fashion Calendar,’ 1978
Lydia Lunch and Henry Rollins: A tale of jealousy, rage and obsession

Posted by Martin Schneider
02:14 pm
Scraping Foetus Off The Wheel: Nailing a whole lot of ‘Hole’ and ‘Nail,’ an exegesis

JG Thirlwell in 1987, portrait courtesy Richard Kern

This is a guest post written by Graham Rae.

“This isn’t the melody that lingers on/it’s the malady that malingers on.” – Foetus.

Flashbacktrack: for reasons that I am not going to discuss, I was in a great deal of mental and emotional pain in August of 2010. I often found myself listening constantly to the albums Hole (celebrating the 30th anniversary of its release this year) and Nail (30th anniversary next year) by Scraping Foetus Off The Wheel, which I have now been listening to for a quarter of a century. At that time, and others preceding it, these two therapeutic sonic works helped eat my pain and keep me sane. The reasons why they did, and why they will no doubt continue to do so in the skull-suture future, are what I intend to discuss here.

James George Thirlwell, the one-manic band behind Scraping Foetus, was born in Melbourne in Australia in 1960. He spent the first 18 years of his life being down in Down Under, saying that he hated every minute in the country. He attended an all-boy’s Baptist School for twelve years, singing in a choir and playing cello, the school experience a life-scarring one that resonates through a lot of his work to a greater or lesser degree. “I’ve put myself through a deprogramming process so I’ve blocked out most of my childhood, but I remember as I grew up I felt like I didn’t want to be where I was,”(1) he noted later. “I remember getting a bad report card that said my studies were okay but ‘James needs to have more faith’. I was pro-evolution and I’m an atheist to this day.”(2)

Thirlwell flirted with and dropped out of art school, but his disaffection for his art-content-informative (de)formative years soon led him across the ocean to London, where his Scottish mother had studied music. He told his parents he was going on there holiday and quite simply did not return to Australia, which had been his plan all along. He’s rarely been back to the land of his birth since; there are no Antipodean (or Scottish) melodies in his music that I have ever heard. Scorched earth policy from lifestart to teen angst finish.

Finding himself in the post-punk-blitzkrieg soundruins of England’s capital, the displaced Australian got himself a job at Virgin on Oxford Walk, which meant he could keep an ear and eye on the latest musical releases as they came out. After some sonic noodling in a couple of undergroundsound outfits (pragVEC, Nurse With Wound, Come), Thirlwell put out his first Foetus-themed release in January 1981, Foetus Under Glass doing OKFM/Spite Your Face.

Before we go any further, I have to explain something to the Foetus virgins in the audience. In order, apparently, to let the music speak in tongue twisters for itself, Thirlwell has recorded using more Foetus-themed pseudonyms and bandwagons than I would care to remember for three decades, but since 1995 has used Foetus as his main moniker. And what is the significance of that six-letter babybrand? Well, Thirlwell has been known to say with a shy sly wry grin it’s just an embryonic human, and that he likes the connotations of potential. But one thing’s for sure: with this mercurial never-miss-a-beat pimp of the perverse, you can never be quite be sure.

There have only ever been three Scraping Foetus Off The Wheel releases. Of the bizarre and slightly disturbing name, Thirlwell says: “My mental image of that is a foetus being tied to a railway track and being run over by a train and the engineer going, ‘Oh shit, not another!’. It’s a strong image and I like it. The word foetus is great, you know. I love f-o-e-t-u-s. I love the fact the oe is ee. I see it more in an abstract sense. It’s like a vague, abstract term.” (3)

Eventually-just-Foetus’s first few releases were cheaply recorded in London, with tiny numbers pressed for lack of cash, making small raindrop-in-puddle splashes in the British music press. Although he met his several-years-long girlfriend, firespitter No Wave punk provocateur Lydia ‘Lunch’ Koch during this time (more on which later), hanging out with her in a Brixton high rise flat, Thirlwell still wasn’t happy. He had no money, but fortuitously met Stevo of Some Bizzare, records through his Virgin job. This sonic-malefactor benefactor offered him unlimited 24-track studio time free, which Thirlwell jumped on, pulling mad 24-to-36-hour shifts to produce a full album and two 12” tracks.

The end result was the album Hole, recorded in May-October 1983 in London. The name shows its composer’s penchant for four-letter one-syllable titles. “You know, each (record title) has triple entendres. Like, say Hole, for example. It can mean hole in a sexual sense, hole as in a hole in the wall, or hole as in the hole that you descend into Hell with.”(4) The recording was originally conceived as a six-song album, with a three-minute rendition of “Clothes Hoist” for the whole of Hole’s first side. “The trouble is that as I worked on the song it started growing into a monster and the others just came from nowhere.”(5)
Read more after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger
04:00 pm
Tubercular Bells: J.G. Thirlwell’s Manorexia scrapes the foetus off a chamber orchestra
03:52 pm

J.G. Thirlwell’s a man with a lot on his plate, composing soundtrack music for Adult Swim’s latest season of The Venture Brothers and producing Zola Jesus. He’s also performing with his experimental classical ensemble, Manorexia.

To my ears, 2011’s brilliant Manorexia release, Dinoflagellate Blooms is one of the best things Thirlwell has put out under any of the various pseudonyms he’s worked under in his long career. I’m a huge aficionado of 5.1 surround mixes and Dinoflagellate Blooms (which is only available from Thirlwell’s website) is one of the most striking uses of the format I can name. Most often 5.1 mixes are re-mixed versions of classic rock albums tarted up for six speakers, but Dinoflagellate Blooms is one of the rare albums that was mixed especially for the format.

Tractor Beam caught up with Thirlwell after Manorexia’s June 23rd live performance at the River to River festival in New York:

Tractor Beam: During the Manorexia performance, you are at the back of the stage working from a laptop. As Tom Waits might ask – what are you building back there?

J.G. Thirlwell: Most of my compositions are on the page (i.e. the score) and I re-voice them for the instrumentation. The pieces have a bedrock of sounds from the laptop and some contain one or two events (e.g. samples). On two of the pieces, we are using the laptop as a keyboard module (e.g. an organ sound), or a bass. On one piece I am using a Max MSP Patch and I have signals from all four strings running into the computer; into four different channels. I am processing the strings live (i.e. adding plug-ins, delays, filters, etc…) as well as triggering samples and changing (sound) levels.

Tractor Beam: Experimental music – as an identifier – can leave me baffled and frustrated. What is Manorexia? 

J.G. Thirlwell: Manorexia as a recording project is something unto its own and the pieces take on a different but parallel life when performed by the chamber ensemble. One of the pieces we perform, “Anabiosis,” started life as a commission for Bang On A Can; so it was voiced for clarinet, cello, contrabass, percussion, piano and guitar. A symphonic version ended up on the last Manorexia album, which was then re-voiced again for our live performances. Another one started life as a Foetus piece. There are elements are probably informed by contemporary classical music and soundtrack music.

Gravitation Generator: JG Thirlwell Talks Manorexia, John Peel and Analogue Synths (Tractor Beam)

Below, Thirlwell’s Manorexia ensemble perform “Tubercular Bells” and “Anabiosis” live at Roadburn on April 13, 2012:

Posted by Richard Metzger
03:52 pm
Ghost Rider: Soft Cell and Jim Foetus cover Suicide, 1983

Soft Cell (Marc Almond and David Ball) share the stage with Clint Ruin/Foetus/J.G. Thirlwell and squealing saxophonist Gary Barnacle for this excellent cover version of Suicide’s “Ghost Rider.”

Obviously Suicide would have been a huge influence on both Soft Cell and Thirwell, and they really tear it up here in this intense homage taped for the BBC in 1983. Listen loud.

Posted by Richard Metzger
06:52 pm
Lydia Lunch and Wiseblood at the Cat Club, NYC

I keep stumbling upon videos on YouTube of things, events, shows where I was actually present, like the Warhol book signing or various parties. It’s odd to have a memory of something, and then one day being able to see that event replay before your eyes. Here’s another: this is what I believe was the onstage debut of Wiseblood, a project of Clint Ruin a/k/a JG Thirlwell, Foetus, etc; and Roli Mosimann (ex-Swans) at the Cat Club in New York City on July 6th 1986.  I think they only did two songs, the stage covered with dry ice smoke and a chair Thirlwell tossed around. It was one of the single most thrilling, spectacular and violent moments of live rock and roll I ever witnessed. When you watch the clip turn it up WAY LOUD.
It had been a super hot Fourth of July weekend that year and a friend of mine wanted to totally freak out his friends who had come into town from Pittsburgh and he trusted that I would know where to take them. So I took them to this show. I wasn’t even 21 at the time, but they never carded you back then in New York. It wasn’t just Wiseblood, although they closed the show, it was also the premiere of Fingered, the notorious underground film made by Lydia Lunch and Richard Kern. Fingered absolutely blew their minds, and then Lydia herself, who the audience had just seen anally violated with a loaded gun on film(!) came out and did one of her patented Lydia Lunch confrontational theater of cruelty raps and this, I think, scared the living shit out of them. I must have seen Lydia perform fifteen times in the late 80s and 90s and to get the full enjoyment—yer money’s worth, let’s say—you have to be in the front row, receiving the full malevolent force of her nihilistic sermon. We were right up front, I made sure of it! These poor guys from Pittsburgh probably thought they were going to die that night.

Posted by Richard Metzger
12:04 am