A photo floated across my desk yesterday of a costume being sold by national chain party-supply store, Party City, which is a generic gothic rocker outfit.
What was remarkable about this typically lame attempt at subculture commodification for normies to play dress-up-like-a-weirdo for Halloween, is the fact that they went all deep-cuts for the title on the package.
“Romeo’s Distress” is the eighth track on Christian Death’s seminal 1982 death-rock masterpiece Only Theatre of Pain. Personally, I consider “Romeo’s Distress” the best song on the best goth album of all time. Your mileage may vary. Still, I’m impressed that some designer working for this particular costume company went there with the authenticity in the titling, even if pre-packaged Halloween costumes always look somewhat LESS than authentic.
With Halloween over, these things are bound to be on sale, right? Find one on discount now and plan ahead for your next occasion warranting a fake goth look. Be sure to pick up some clove cigarettes to complete the ensemble.
Here’s the real deal. Rozz Williams and Christian Death performing “Romeo’s Distress” live:
1334 is, by its very nature, a wholly unique creature. Like a black pearl born out of the twins of experimental cinema and the exorcising of personal demons, 1334 is less of a sequel and more of an obtuse follow-up to 1998’s Pig. Both were helmed by Dutch filmmaker and Cult Epics founder, Nico B. Both films also featured the late Rozz Williams, though in some unique ways. Pig was a collaboration with Rozz, who created the music, artwork, parts of the story and played the Killer. 1334 is a work created from the aftermath of his death and both the literal and dramatic imprint it left for B. Further tying the two together is the incorporation of Williams’ brilliant collage art, often in the form of the Killer’s textbook, Why God Permits Evil, as well as some of his strikingly disturbing sonic ambient work too.
It is extremely fitting that the first shot is a male hand closing Why God Permits Evil, ending what was opened in Pig. Rozz’s quote, “All truth is parallel, therefore, all truth is untrue.” appears on screen. Which is brilliant, especially in this case, since while so many fact-based films are presented so pristinely and perfectly dramatic, as if real life ever functions like that. Memories and events, for most of us, tend to become more fragmented and dreamlike over time. So to craft a film like this that is so stark yet darkly ethereal in parts, is a bold and needed move.
The tarot card for “The Hanged Man” appears, giving instant foreshadowing as we see the Rozz figure (Bill Oberst Jr.), shirtless and wearing a mask of a wretched looking old man with a gunshot wound to the temple, Kennedy-style. There is vintage footage of Rozz’s actual apartment shot before he died, seamlessly blended in with the new footage, featuring an old desk with a typewriter, a fetal-looking stuffed pig, a black bird and a large Nazi flag. He hangs himself and his body becomes slightly transparent, perhaps indicating him dying and crossing into the next plane. As the act is done, a dark-haired man (Dante White-Aliano) tries to call.
The next tarot card appears, “Le Maison Diev” or The Tower. The music grows even more high strung, as the young man showers. His lover, the first of the number of lovely raven haired women, sleeps, her pregnant belly exposed. The phone rings and the news of suicide is broken. He falls down from shock and grief, as his partner starts to weep. This whole sequence is shot in dreamy, Maya Deren-esque b&w, in contrast to the more gritty look of the scenes with Rozz. It’s only fitting that the next shot, a naked baby crying in the grass, looks more like the grittier scenes.
What exactly does the crying baby mean? Is it a metaphor for how the man feels? Is is something more literal? Especially given that after this scene, there is no mention of the baby again. But that is the beauty of the nature of 1334. If all works of art came with automatic cliff notes, then where’s the fun in that? The decision is always subjective.
The man gets into a heated argument with his lover, now no longer pregnant. Things start to get pretty physical, with the screen suddenly solarized, as a black mist starts to flood through the background. The screen goes back to normal and his girlfriend/attacker has fangs. The sound and sight of sirens start to come through and the domestic disturbance lands her behind bars.
Another tarot card appears, “La Roue de Fortune.” The Wheel of Fortune. The young man, bedecked in suit and tie, sits on a couch while a different woman speaks to him, sitting across at a table. Her voice can be heard, but not necessarily her words, as she sounds distorted. Her face, though, is kind. The film stock gets scratchy again as a faceless man drives around the countryside, invoking strong shades of Pig.
The tarot card of “Death” appears. The young man sits with a woman on a couch. As they talk, the black mist from earlier reappears every time the screen is solorized. They retire to bed, where the woman ends up being strangled by an unseen force while the man struggles like he paralyzed. When the attack lets up, there are marks around her neck.
The young man walks to the bathroom and picks up a straight razor, cutting his own neck. Bleeding, he enters a trance-like state where he meets the Rozz figure, clad head to toe in black Plague doctor garb. With his arms outstretched, he takes the young man into a living version of Flemish painter Peter Bruegel’s work, “Triumph of Death.” The moving landscape of apocalypse and death is inescapable as the Rozz figure is wide-eyed and unblinking, while the young man looks wan and burdened. The final shot ends the 17-minute long film on a powerful, grim note.
1334 is part of a very under-looked type of non-fiction film. It eschews traditional, linear storytelling for a more surreal and at its core, pure approach. Instead of breaking things down by ABC’s, we get a more emotionally honest portrait of what this filmmaker has gone through. Sometimes, the hardest but more rewarding approach is just this, yet so few have done this. Other than Klaus Kinski’s controversial and brilliant Paganini and some of the biographical works of Ken Russell, it is hard to think of such a similar cinematic creature.
One thing of note, like Pig before it, is the fantastic score, thanks to both the archives of Rozz Williams as well as some additional contributions from Dante White-Aliano. It’s appropriately creepy, full of tension and sadness. 1334 is an incredibly brave film in a much different way than its predecessor. In some ways, one can’t help but get the feeling that while Pig dealt with indulging some demons, 1334 is more about exorcising others. Death can be hardest for the living, especially since we are the ones dealing with the aftermath.
Cult Epics has done another prime job, with putting both Pig, which had been severely out of print for years, and 1334 on both Blu Ray and DVD. What this release may lack in extras, it more than makes up for with presentation, from the detailed booklet that includes photos of the script and assorted notes, to the slipcover featuring the cover of Why God Permits Evil in gorgeous color. The cover for the actual disk will definitely look familiar to any fans of Williams’ band Premature Ejaculation, since it is very similar to the art used on their posthumous release, Wound of Exit.
1334 is a beautiful, haunted work that will ruin any preconceptions you may have going into it. This is a very good thing.
Nothing is more fascinating, frightening and at times, awe inspiring, than human nature. That moment when our nature becomes predatory is a theme examined in countless true crime TV specials, slasher films and pulp novels. But when you approach the pathology, impulse and modus operandi of a killer with a stark, borderline surrealistic touch, you end up with a film like 1998’s Pig.
A collaboration between Dutch filmmaker and Cult Epics founder Nico B. (Bettie Page: Dark Angel) and musical innovator, the late Rozz Williams (Christian Death, Premature Ejaculation, Daucus Karota, Shadow Project), Pig is an incredible work. Being available only on a long out-of-print VHS and DVD, Cult Epics is re-releasing this along with the long-awaited follow up, 1334 on Blu Ray. While it’s too early for me to comment on 1334, I can say that Pig is one of the most tonally dark and melancholy films that yet possess a strange beauty. While some will be instantly turned off by the subject matter and at times, extreme imagery, Pig is a film that has more in common with surrealism than it does with, say, Hostel. If anything, it lies more in the ether between Un Chien Andalou and Helter Skelter.
Pig opens up with a black suitcase, as a pair of male hands start to methodically pack it. A deck of cards here, a copy of Lillian Hoban’s children’s book, Mr. Pig & Sonny Too there. We see images inter cut, including a shot of a bare man’s torso, featuring the title carved into his chest and a rotten window decorated with photos and dice. The man with the suitcase (Rozz Williams), dressed in a suit and his long hair pulled back, closes the door and descends to his car. He ends up in the middle of the desert, with only little desolate signs of life, including graffiti’d rocks with words like “Ellie” and “Dead Man’s Point” painted on them. The latter phrase in particular is incredibly hard to read without the aid of freeze frame, making it almost a nice and morbid subconscious film blip.
A solitary figure (James Hollan) wanders around the landscape, lanky and clad in black except for the white bandages wrapped around his head. The two paths interconnect, with the man in bandages getting in the man’s car. Through a reflection of the rear-view mirror, we see that the driver is wearing a pig mask. They pull up to an abandoned house in one particularly desolate stretch of nowhere. The bandaged man is put through a series of physical tortures, including blood play, piercing and cutting. Curiously, he seems extremely passive, not unlike a patient studiously enduring an assortment of painful medical procedures. There’s less of a feeling of creepy killer tactics and more of human interaction put through a mutilated filter. The man’s passive behavior, despite looking to be a good foot taller than his captor, only adds to this. His body language is more of an animal calmly awaiting its fate, than anything else.
The boundaries become even more blurred, with one particularly striking scene directly referencing Rene Magritte’s famous painting, “The Lovers.” As both men have their heads bandaged, they start to communicate via hand signals. Even more startling, is one shot of one of the men (judging by physical size and briefcase placement, more than likely Rozz), sitting alone in an empty stove, looking like a sad child. It’s this blurring of the lines of black/white/good/bad that make this film so compelling. It’s too easy to get babied by the old school way of villain/hero, which is one of the reasons why Pig is a fascinating work.
Without giving too much away, Pig ends on an dreamy yet somber note, giving you no firm answers, only the memory of violence and sadness.
When films are prefaced with such carny-tastic warnings like “for strong stomachs only” or “sensitive viewers beware,” it usually means that either you’re about to sit through a fantastic camp fest of grue or some torturous bit of film extremism Ala the Guinea PigPig is a strong work and sure, if you’re sensitive to violence, you will definitely be put in an very emotionally uncomfortable place, but it’s not excessive just to be excessive. It doesn’t necessarily revel in its stronger images, though it does not shrink from them either. The violence here seems to serve two purposes. One is literal, since our main character is a predator by nature, but the second is more tenuous, with the violent images often bordering on the surreal, making them blend in with the rest of the film’s dreamlike imagery. Strong imagery is certainly nothing new for anyone influenced by the surrealists, whether you’re talking Bosch, Duchamp or Jodorowsky. For people that have an auto-bias against anything branded “horror,” a work like Pig shows that there are many shapes to a deceptively simple genre.
Being the debut film work for both director Nico B. and star/writer Rozz Williams, this is such a strong start. Nico would go on to create the amazing film company Cult Epics, which has been responsible for spreading the word and preserving the work of such cinematic luminaries as Radley Metzger, Walerian Borowczyk, Rene Daalder and Fernando Arrabal. He also directed the well made Bettie Page bio-picture, Bettie Page: Dark Angel. Rozz Williams, whom despite leaving this plane of existence at only age 34, already had a considerable musical legacy behind him, especially with his pioneering work in bands like Christian Death, Shadow Project and Premature Ejaculation. With this musical history, it’s fitting that Williams’ stellar work, along with some editing help by Premature Ejaculation alumni Chuck Collision, on Pig’s soundtrack, is eerie and standout. An artist like Williams, if nurtured more and if he had stuck around, would have and should have been a new generation’s Bowie.
The collaboration of these two artists is fascinating and makes one wish that more could have come from this tree. But at the end of the day, there is always Pig. Disturbing, thoughtful and highly creative, this short is finally back in print and available on both Blu Ray and DVD via Cult Epics. It is a must for anyone who loves experimental film, dark subject matters, as well as fans of both Rozz Williams and Nico B.