On sex, gender, and spectacular subcultures
At the same time punk, glitter, and glam appeared on both sides of the Atlantic, scholars in England, associated with Birmingham and Open Universities, began to reevaluate the ways in which sociologists looked at youth culture. Drawn primarily to the spectacular street subcultures in postwar Britain such as the Mods, rockers, Teddy Boys, and punks, scholars such as Stuart Hall, Tony Jefferson, John Clarke, and Dick Hebdige brought Marxism, structuralism, ethnography, and media theory together to look at youth in terms of cultural difference rather than juvenile delinquency. Although Angela McRobbie and Jenny Garber did write on girls and subcultures, most of this scholarship dealt with young men and their investment in ostentatious styles that separated them structurally from mass-mediated consumerism as well as the working-class culture of their parents.
Since the 1970s, research on subcultures has expanded, and several of the authors in Downtown Film and TV Culture, David Bowie Is, and Enchanting David Bowie explore the relationship between star image and youth culture through style. In David Bowie Is, Jon Savage, for example, references cultural studies research done by Stanley Cohen and Dick Hebdige and explores Bowie’s image relative to glam, Mod, punk, and various gay subcultures that intersected with the star’s career. Speaking of the evolution of Bowie in relation to these subcultures, Savage observes:
“His relationship to youth subcultures is complex and fascinating, as it shadows his development as an artist and a mass-media performer. He begins as a follower, trying things out before he begins to find his individual voice; he then becomes an outsider, as he attempts to develop that voice; when he finds it, he becomes a leader—creating youth culture in his own image.” (103)
For Bowie, this meant taking a leading role in the development of glitter and glam.
Punk and glitter/glam coexisted in the 1970s as extraordinarily fecund youth subcultural styles. They concretized a sensibility associated with post-Vietnam, Watergate, moral, political, and economic exhaustion in the United States and the waning days of Swinging London on the other side of the Atlantic. Many aspects of punk, glitter and glam drew on earlier subcultures—particularly the Hippies in the United States and the Mods in the United Kingdom. In America, the Hippies sported long hair, torn jeans, love beads as a unisex rebellion against the military draft of the Vietnam War era by going as far as possible away from crisp military uniforms and crewcuts as possible. Looking like a “girl” meant not being part of the American war in Vietnam. In England, some of this unisex Hippie style merged with Mod dandyism, creating a trans-Atlantic androgynous style typified by Mick Jagger’s use of makeup, lace, soft fabrics, bright colors, and long hair. Nicolas Roeg and Donald Cammell’s film Performance (1970) starring Mick Jagger as the gender-bending bisexual rock star Turner exemplifies this aspect of subcultural style. Turner, much like Bowie’s stage persona Ziggy Stardust, and space alien Thomas Jerome Newton played by Bowie in Nicolas Roeg’s science fiction feature The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), has a malleable identity that transcends traditional gender norms as well as considerable personal charm and sexual charisma.
For both Jagger and Bowie, Mods played a key role in the fashioning of their gender-bending styles. In the 1960s, Mods [open notes in new window] rebelled by dressing in flamboyant suits, ties, and colorful jackets as a concrete stylistic expression symbolizing transcendence of the working-class boundaries of their parents’ generation by parroting the fashions associated with the gentry. For the Mods and other subcultures, as Dick Hebdige points out in Subculture: The Meaning of Style, self-fashioning allowed for rebellion by reworking commercially produced articles in subversive ways. In his chapter in Enchanting David Bowie, Christopher Moore draws on Hebdige to underscore the importance of subcultural bricolage to Bowie’s identity formation as the star repurposes symbolic commodities, usurps commercial fashions, subverts accepted meanings attached to mass-produced objects, and provides alternative styles through these transgressive cultural re-appropriations.
In her essay in the anthology, “David Bowie Is… Customizing,” Helene Marie Thian takes a close look at one of David Bowie’s jackets to show how the Mod practice of customizing clothing with printers’ ink gave the aspiring musician a way of connecting and commenting on male fashion through Op Art stripes. Thian argues that Bowie’s jacket not only marks his individual interest in self-fashioning and control over the details of his public image, but also betrays his debt to the Mod subculture which referenced the “dandy’ in a collective statement against social expectations that working-class men should be “macho.” She says of the jacket:
“It is also a statement rooted in the subculture movement of the mods and their customization of clothing for the purpose of bonding as a social group to expand the boundaries of acceptable limits of self-presentation for working-class men in Britain in the 60s.” (239)
The exaggerated elegance of the Mods morphed into the glam rock style of Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music and Marc Bolan of T. Rex in England, and Hippie androgyny paved the way for glitter rock with Gary Glitter in the U.K. and Iggy Pop, Alice Cooper and Wayne (Jayne) County and the New York Dolls. As Christopher Moore notes, Bowie’s “mod persona was less occupied with class than it was with gender…” (159), and gender and sexual orientation, rather than class, set the stage for Bowie’s global popularity.
For Ian Chapman, the cover design of the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972) resonates with the glam subculture’s fascination with glittering super-stars:
“Glam rock, circa 1971-75 (approximately) offered its followers an escape from the confinement, drudgery and physical, mental and emotional restrictions of the inner city and suburbia. The wider reinventive promise of glam rock was that one could transcend one's immediate physical, social and even sexual environment to construct a new idealized version of the self.” (35)
In his chapter on Bowie’s cover versions of songs by other artists in Enchanting David Bowie, David Baker argues that the songs in the Pin Ups (1973) album “are homage and acknowledgement to the specific music that influenced and formed ‘glam’ Bowie….” (111) Glenn D’Cruz argues for a broader view of Bowie’s star persona in relation to glam and glitter in his analysis of Todd Haynes’ feature Velvet Goldmine (1998). The lead character, Brian Slade (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), like Bowie, has a space alien stage persona “Maxwell Demon,” who dies at the height of his rock music career. Bowie, of course, famously killed off his alter ego Ziggy Stardust when he decided to move on to the next phase of his career. Other characters in the Velvet Goldmine resemble Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Brian Eno, and Bowie’s first wife, Angela Bowie.
According to D’Cruz, Haynes did considerable research with rock music journalist Barney Hoskyns, who wrote a book on the subculture’s history, Glam! Bowie, Bolan and the Glitter Rock Revolution, timed for publication with the release of the film. D’Cruz states: “Glam rock was a seismic event, for Haynes and Hoskyns, because it shook the heterosexual foundations of society in general by, paradoxically, appealing to heterosexual boys….” (260) However, as D’Cruz rightly points out, the film does not unequivocally celebrate glam and glitter as politically progressive. In the film, Haynes critiques the subculture’s superficial, narcissistic, excessively materialistic, and self-destructive tendencies, and D’Cruz argues that the film’s “ambivalence about sexual identity, politics and the transformative potential of popular culture is perhaps its greatest contribution to our understanding of the cultural significance of David Bowie.” (271) Ironically, the closest Enchanting David Bowie comes to being disenchanted with the star is in a chapter about a film in which Bowie does not appear.
Punk traces its trans-Atlantic genealogy differently from glam and glitter. Expressing frustration with the economic, social, and spiritual cul-de-sac that confronted British and American youth in the 1970s, punk champions an aggressive, “bad” attitude associated with violent outbursts on stage, in bars, and on the streets; a raw DIY trash aesthetic; and, an uncompromising commitment to shout about taboo topics and extreme feelings of alienation and despair. In David Bowie Is, Jon Savage notes the influence Bowie had on the emerging punk subculture by channeling William S. Burroughs’ homoerotic The Wild Boys: A Book of the Dead (1971) and the dapper droogies of Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation (1971) of Anthony Burgess’ dystopian novel A Clockwork Orange (1962) for a younger generation:
“Within five years of Ziggy, the punks were enacting The Wild Boys on the streets of London, Manchester, Liverpool and other cities in Britain—as if to promote and preview an inevitable collapse of society. Many accounts of punk accentuate its social realism, but it also had a very strong science fiction element—projecting into a conceivable nightmare future.” (103)
|Glenn D’Cruz talks about the present absence of David Bowie in his perceptive analysis of Todd Haynes’ Velvet Goldmine (1998).||Barney Hoskyns’ book, Glam! Bowie, Bolan and the Glitter Rock Revolution, serves as a companion to Haynes’film—filling in the historical blanks in the film’s narrative.|
Punk rocker Siouxsie Sioux mentions Bowie and glam icon Bryan Ferry as influences. Bowie, however, claims to have missed direct contact with the subculture in London and New York because he lived in Berlin when punk explored in the United States and the United Kingdom: “I really regret missing out on that. I’d love to have seen the dialogue on television… and the feel of the clubs at that time.” (257) Christopher Breward, however, sees a significant change in Bowie as punk overtook glam and glitter:
“And though Bowie later disavowed that punk held any sway over him, its visual codes and nihilistic nastiness did seem to herald the coming of the end of glam aesthetics for something far more disturbing.” (198)
Glam continued to be a cultural force, however, overlapping the popularity of punk.
Glitter and glam experienced a resurgence, for example, with successful midnight screenings of the glam rock musical The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), directed by Jim Sherman and based on a British science fiction/horror spoof by playwright Richard O’Brien. The film version stars Tim Curry, reprising his London stage role, as a “sweet transvestite from Transylvania,” and the film attracted a cult following of devoted fans who lined up in costume at the Waverly Theatre in New York’s Greenwich Village beginning in 1976. Drawing on glitter/ glam style from both sides of the Atlantic, Rocky Horror devotees crossed-dressed as their favorite performers, participated in the film’s pan-sexual fantasies, sang along and talked back to the characters on screen. In addition to drawing on gay male subcultural tropes such as the male bodybuilder and drag queen, the film also recognized female sexual desire in a refreshingly direct way with the character Janet (Susan Sarandon) given a solo in which she signs, “Touch-a-touch-a-touch me. I want to be dirty.” As Christopher Breward points out in David Bowie Is, Pierre La Roche, who worked with David Bowie on his stage make-up, also designed the make-up for Rocky Horror, and the connection between Bowie’s gender-bending and Curry’s interpretation of the character of Frank-N-Furter—also an androgynous, bisexual space alien who sings rock and roll—seems clear.
In Just Kids, Patti Smith does not talk about punk, glitter, or glam at all. A poet, actress, and graphic artist, she came to music comparatively late. Her rudimentary musical education derived from avidly following, like most in her generation, the careers of her rock idols (Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison, Grace Slick, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Kris Kristofferson, Bruce Springsteen), many of whom she had met in person. For Smith, Downtown Manhattan serves as an arts incubator, and she sees herself as part of a countercultural continuity that extends from the beat poets and Abstract Expressionists to Warhol, Mapplethorpe, and her own oeuvre without any clear subcultural rift. However, the punk subculture gave her club venues, an audience, and creative opportunities she likely would not have had otherwise. Because of punk’s DIY raw aesthetic and support for intermedial experimentation, lack of formal musical training did not stop Smith from forming a band, and she tacitly recognizes that she was part of a broader movement in Just Kids. For example, Smith eloquently describes her feelings playing at Max’s Kansas City and CBGBs with punk/new wave bands such as Television:
“We imagined ourselves as the Sons of Liberty with a mission to preserve, protect, and project the revolutionary spirit of rock and roll. We feared that the music which had given us sustenance was in danger of spiritual starvation. We feared it losing its sense of purpose, we feared it falling into fattened hands, we feared it floundering in a mire of spectacle, finance, and vapid technical complexity. We would call forth in our minds the image of Paul Revere, riding through the American night, petitioning the people to wake up, to take up arms. We too would take up arms, the arms of our generation, the electric guitar and the microphone…. CBGB was the ideal place to sound a clarion call. It was a club on the street of the downtrodden that drew a strange breed who welcomed artists yet unsung.” (245)
Even though Smith identifies with the “sons” rather than the “daughters” of liberty, she describes a punk rock incubator that gave many female musicians their start and set the stage for women to emerge within a punk subculture that allowed them to express their dissatisfaction with consumer-defined feminine ideals by wearing torn jeans, streaked makeup, studded leather, safety pin accessories, lingerie and various props appropriated from sadomasochistic porn and bondage subcultures. Smith voices the anger of her generation in a way that speaks to women in a particularly poignant way. For a working-class Catholic girl to get up and sing in “Gloria” that “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine” required considerable temerity. However, Smith was not the only angry woman to take the stage and make the scene in Manhattan at the time.
To Hawkins’ considerable credit, she provides much needed gender balance to the extant scholarship on subcultures and media arts in Downtown Film and TV Culture. Even though key subcultural scholars are conspicuous by their absence (Hebdige, for example, only makes a brief appearance on pp. 328-9), subcultural communities, with shared oppositional aesthetic practices and collective styles, and women as well as sexual minorities attracted to the arts scene in Lower Manhattan take pride of place in her book. Hawkins includes reprints of two classic articles written at the time punk/New Wave erupted on screen in bars, discos, clubs, in underground cinemas, as part of performances, and in other alternative screening venues. A Jack Smith/Lou Reed/John Cale collaborator, Tony Conrad, who passed away in April 2016, brings his background as an electronic musician championing minimalism, structural filmmaker associated with “flicker” films, and experimental performance/video arts to his appraisal of the small-gauge films made in the mid-1970s. In “At Last Real Movies: Super-8 Cinema from New York,” Conrad does a superb job of articulating the relationship between the subculture, New Wave music, and New York underground filmmaking:
“(1) the films are often shown like TV in a bar, on a video projector; (2) the most unvarnished raw energy work is welling up out of the same geographic and social source as the old ‘underground’ (the lower East Side), and (3) so many of the new directors are European.” (24)
Conrad picks up on the European origins of the filmmakers, which Jonathan Everett Haynes expands on his analysis of Amos Poe’s Unmade Beds (1976) bringing New York’s punk/New Wave music and No Wave film into conversation with Godard and the French New Wave. Chris Dumas makes a similar gesture in his chapter, which compares Fassbinder’s Querelle (1982) with Todd Haynes’s unapologetic homoerotic aesthetics and the birth of what B. Ruby Rich terms the New Queer Cinema. Tony Conrad seems to agree with programmer Edit deAk that the super-8 films should be called “New Wave,” since “[t]here are no—and there have never been—punks in New York.” (26) However, this really belies the fact that, in music, film, fashion, and through subcultural style, the trans-Atlantic conversation between young artists and musicians in Europe and the United States cannot be denied. Many of these filmmakers come from Europe, and they congregated on the Lower East Side at the same time that American bands, such as the Ramones, who championed a raw, stripped down, style of aggressive punk rock toured in the United Kingdom.
|Amos Poe’s Unmade Beds (1976) brings the French New Wave and New York’s No Wave into bed together on screen.||Pat Place and Lydia Lunch bring punk out of the streets and clubs and put it up on the screen in James Nares’ Rome ’78 (1978).|
Even though labels vary, the connection between music, video, dance, sartorial style, performance art and specific New York venues such as the Mudd Club and CBGBs remains clear. Conrad singles out Lydia Lunch’s performance in James Nares’ Rome ’78 (1978) for comment: “Lydia Lunch, the most consistently intense personality of first-rank New Wave genius, is here, all akimbo, slinky and slimy....” (26) Conrad does not mention it, but perhaps the most striking aspect of this program is the fact that so many of the films are directed by women—Becky Johnston, Tina L’Hotsky, Laura Kennedy, Pat Place, Ellen Cooper, Cara Perlman, and Kiki Smith. As this shows, punk opened up avenues for women to express transgressive, violent anger with the sexual status quo through media in which they had been traditionally underrepresented, including hard rock, avant-garde cinema, and performance art.
The other article anthologized here, J. Hoberman’s “No Wavelength: The Para-Punk Underground,” which originally appeared in the Village Voice in 1979, stands as perhaps the most referenced essay on New York punk cinema in print. Many of the other contributors to the book cite Hoberman, and, as Mark Benedetti points out in his chapter, “Canonization and No Wave Cinema History,” it serves as one of the principal texts used to create a “canon.” Benedetti’s decision to call these films “no wave” rather than “punk” or “New Wave” or merging them with the later Cinema of Transgression or with earlier New York underground movements testifies to the centrality of Hoberman’s analysis of the super-8 film explosion that coincided with the visibility of punk music and fashion around 1977. In his essay, Hoberman makes a compelling case for the intermedial merger of these films with punk music, performance, and visual arts. As he sees it:
“Closely linked to local art-punk, no-wave bands, these film-makers parallel the music’s energy, iconography, and aggressive anyone-can-do-it aesthetic, while using the performers themselves as a kind of ready-made pool of dramatic talent… The existence of punk bohemia, the cross-fertilization of avant-garde rock and post-conceptual art… and the proliferation of sync-sound Super 8mm cameras have stimulated a number of young artists and musicians over the last year to produce a new wave of content-rich, performance-oriented narrative films.” (15)
Hoberman also displays a clear sense of the punk aesthetic that animates these films. Likely with glitter and glam in mind, he contrasts “camp” with punk:
“For the pseudo-aristocratic camp sensibility, the key element in American popular culture is its mass-produced glamour; for pseudo-lumpen punk, it is America’s mass-produced sleaze… Camp’s vanguard subculture was the homosexual; punk’s is the alienated urban teen. The secret star of camp is the female impersonator; the sacred monster of punk is the dominatrix. Camp was obsessed with sexuality as a style; punk is obsessed with the aesthetics of violence.” (18)
Both subcultural styles involve androgyny, so the effeminized Bowie represents the campy qualities of the glam/glitter subculture and the masculinized Smith performs the anger associated with punk. Arguably, the Downtown scene described by the authors included in Hawkins’ anthology, paved the way for a productive dialogue between gay and straight communities that fueled activism around AIDS as well as the development of “queer” as a way of thinking about sexuality and gender beyond heterosexist norms.
With the exception of James Nares’ Rome ’78, Hoberman does not write about the same films as Conrad; however, like Conrad, Hoberman showcases female filmmakers (Beth B—partnered with Scott B—and Vivienne Dick, in particular), without commenting on the relative visibility of women behind the camera in punk vis-à-vis American avant-garde cinema more generally. David Sterritt’s chapter, “In the Movie-Viewing Machine: Essential Cinema in the 1970s” allows for a comparison between the earlier underground and the punk new wave/no wave. As Sterritt shows, the number of women involved in New York institutions such as Anthology Film Archive and circulated as part of the Essential Cinema Repertory (no women/five men on the selection committee) was miniscule—a handful of female luminaries such as Maya Deren and Marie Menken making the cut—when compared with the significance of women in the New York punk subculture’s motion picture circles.
Moreover, like Conrad, Hoberman celebrates the centrality of Lydia Lunch of Teenage Jesus and the Jerks as a major punk performer featured in several of the films he analyzes. He comments on her talent as follows: “As Rome ‘78’s disheveled coquette, the bratty dominatrix of the B’s Black Box, or the autistic child of Vivienne Dick’s Beauty Becomes the Beast, this 20-year-old ex-groupie… has demonstrable range as well as presence.” (17) In “Lydia Lunch, The Right Side of My Brain,” Chuck Kleinhans makes a compelling case for the centrality of Lunch as the super-8 star of punk, which he sees as a “ moment—musical and lifestyle and filmic” when “the ripped and ragged, the torn, the distressed, the limited, the obviously flawed, brand an attitude.” (101)
|[Left] As Chuck Kleinhans argues, female punk performers such as Lydia Lunch draw on the “powers of horror” Julia Kristeva describes in her book Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection (1980) in ways that open up new possibilities for women to express their sexuality on screen.
[Above] Lydia Lunch solidifies her punk screen stardom as the abject protagonist of Richard Kern's Right Side of My Brain.
Even though Richard Kern directed the short, Lunch’s powerful screen presence shapes the film’s “dark Romanticism” and, as Kleinhans argues, assures “its place as a major film presenting female abjection.” (101) Like Patti Smith and other female punk performers, Lunch never shied away from dealing with objectionable, excessive, disturbing, grotesque, and taboo subjects, including sadomasochism, bondage, lesbian desire, interracial sexuality, childhood sexual abuse, the occult, torture, sexual humiliation, and self-loathing without an overtly “feminist” frame providing a specific way to read these images.
Punk aggressively enacts the dark side of society without providing explanations, analysis, or excuses, and that makes it an empowering, potent provocation for many of the women who embraced the subcultural style. Drawing on Julia Kristeva’s analysis of abjection (Kristeva, Powers of Horror), Kleinhans explores the way Lunch uses punk to shape her pain and transform it: “… in this case female embrace of abjection reveals itself as potentially and perhaps actually more profound, more powerful, more threatening.” (Kleinhans 110). Without a doubt, women artists have worked with raw and violent themes throughout history; however, as Kleinhans’ appraisal of Lunch shows, punk opened up “a potential energy in female abjection” (109) for young women to express intense disgust with the sexual status-quo.
Using the punk subculture as a conceptual frame sheds light on an interpretative landscape that would remain occluded otherwise. Outside of the subcultural context, Lunch’s performance loses much of its significance as an indictment of the ways in which gender norms straightjacketed young women, how traditional sexual mores stymied their search for pleasure, how sexual violence haunted their lives, how society treated them like trash, and how too many in the feminist movement dismissed them as victims of internalized misogyny. Punk permits Lunch to perform her abjection as more than a self-indulgent exhibition of personal fantasies of dominance and submission, and to voice a naked appeal to look at how society has trashed her generation in more ways than one. Starting out as a rock groupie runaway, Lunch’s ability to move from fan to punk performer testifies to the porousness of the boundaries between stage and dance floor. In Just Kids, Smith highlights this by noting: “The thin line between the stage and the people and the faces of all those who supported us.” (245) The raw punk DIY aesthetic allows Lunch to cross media with confidence, and her performances as a musician and spoken-word artist blend together with her screen appearances and decision to take up the camera herself later in her career.
Editor Joan Hawkins’ own contributions to the anthology also involve women filmmakers—interviews with Beth B and Bette Gordon and a chapter devoted to Gordon’s feature Variety (1984) that helped give New Queer Cinema independent producer Christine Vachon her start as well. Hawkins adeptly situates her reading of Variety within the context of the pornography/erotica debates and “sex wars” erupting in feminist circles at the time, in which questions of erotic pleasure and violent sexual danger polarized women in the movement. She expressly situates Gordon’s film within a Downtown scene in which women (many identifying with punk and/or glitter/glam) infiltrated all-male domains, such as strip bars and porn cinemas, for their own ends:
“The early days of the Downtown movement encompass an era that is not usually discussed in feminist history. This is a pre-Third Wave period that overlapped Second Wave Feminism and took many of Second Wave Feminism’s accomplishments for granted. But it also reacted against much of what has been seen as the constrictions of Second Wave Feminism. Downtown women dressed up, made up and revelled in the way that gender and sexuality could be performed. Many Downtown artists worked in the sex industry or danced in clubs to make money to do their art, and they resented what they saw as the prudishness and privilege of feminists like Andrea Dworkin. Later, the AIDS crisis galvanized the entire Downtown movement, and the women I’m writing about here joined forces with ACT UP in a manner that put sexuality and race (rather than just gender) front and centre in their identity formation.” (124)
The preponderance of the other chapters included in Downtown Film and TV Culture pick up on this vitally important aspect of the subcultural melting pot of Lower Manhattan from the mid-1970s to early 1980s. As Hawkins acknowledges, younger women, representing an evolving postmodern post-feminism and queer sensibility, brought a dramatically different conception of gender and female sexuality to the New York scene. Laurie Stone’s appraisal of Spalding Gray’s performance pieces, for example, shows the way in which the male raconteur appropriates aspects of the confessional style of feminist artists as well as the explicit description of homoeroticism only possible after Stonewall. A roundtable discussion, “Downtown’s Queer Asides,” with Lucas Hilderbrand, Alexandra Juhasz, Debra Levine and Ricardo Montez, makes many of the inchoate LGBTQ political concerns of the other chapters more explicit as well.
The chapters on cable access by Terese Svoboda, Benjamin Olin, Nick Zedd and David Sjoberg show how programs such as TV Party brought punk, glitter, glam, and their queer possibilities into subscribers’ living rooms—albeit buried on obscure channels at odd hours. In fact, Downtown Film and TV Culture’s mission to rescue many of these ephemeral broadcasts, buried super-8 reels, and club performances from obscurity also adds significantly to the history of female artists, musicians, and filmmakers. The book concludes with Mark Benedetti’s “semi-comprehensive filmography and videography of Downtown moving image production from the mid 1970s to the early 2000s” (335) with many distribution sources. The number of women on this list testifies to the contribution punk and other New York subcultures made at the time to enabling women to pick up the camera to tackle new subject matter in the company of other women who shared their vision, aesthetic, and subcultural sensibilities. In the wake of punk filmmakers such as Beth B, Ericka Beckman, Vivienne Dick, Pat Place, Tina L’Hotsky, and, of course, Lydia Lunch, other women gravitated to the cinema to explore similarly disturbing topics involving women’s bodies, sexual taboos, and female abjection, including Sadie Benning, Bette Gordon, and Abigail Child, among others listed in Benedetti’s filmography.
In Just Kids, Patti Smith does not write much about the filmmakers in her circle although she does mention some luminaries such as Jonas Mekas and Shirley Clarke, and she only makes desultory comments on the films in which she appears. For example, she does not mention Blank Generation, but Smith does discuss a film not included in Hawkins’ book, Sandy Daley’s Robert Having His Nipple Pierced (1971), which circulated in some touring programs devoted to punk film at the time. Acquainted with Andy Warhol and his circle as well as the residents of the Chelsea Hotel, Daley frequented Max’s Kansas City with Mapplethorpe and Smith. In Just Kids, Smith talks about the production as follows:
“Robert got his nipple pierced. He had it done by a doctor in Sandy Daley’s space while he nestled in the arms of David Croland. She filmed it in 16mm, an unholy ritual, Robert’s Chant d’Amour. I had faith that under Sandy’s impeccable direction it would be beautifully shot. But I found the procedure repellent and did not attend, certain it would get infected, which it did. When I asked Robert what it was like, he said it was both interesting and creepy.” (159)
Thus, Daley’s film speaks to another meeting point between trans-Atlantic glam/glitter and punk. Mapplethorpe’s lover, David Croland, had, as Smith points out in her book, collaborated with Donald Cammel, the co-director (with Roeg) of Performance. Moreover, Smith sees the film in relation to Genet’s homoerotic short about prisoners and their jailor, Song of Love (1950), which Mekas had brought to New York. Writing earlier in the book about Mapplethorpe’s evolving sexual identity and their romantic relationship, Smith admits:
“I knew nothing of the reality of homosexuality. I thought it irrevocably meshed with affectation and flamboyance. I had prided myself on being nonjudgmental, but my comprehension was narrow and provincial. Even in reading Genet, I saw his men as a mystical race of thieves and sailors. I didn’t fully comprehend their world. I embraced Genet as a poet.” (77)
Smith’s stream-of-consciousness voice over for Robert Having His Nipple Pierced speaks to her intimate involvement and alienation from New York’s gay male subcultures and their rituals. Literally off-screen and excluded from this part of Mapplethorpe’s life, she still witnesses the piercing through the eyes of another woman, Sandy Daley. Speaking about her trans brother, drawing on her own life and artistic influences in her monologue, Smith maintains her distance from the rites and rituals of the gay subcultures that Mapplethorpe embraced.
Smith also chronicles the making and exhibition of another cinematic collaboration with Mapplethorpe in her book. Emerging director Liza Rinzler served as the cinematographer for Still Moving (1978), designed as part of a gallery installation showcasing pieces by Smith and Mapplethorpe. A still photographer and director of cinematography for documentaries and feature films such as Menace II Society (1993), Rinzler, like Daley, provides a female point of view that mediates Mapplethorpe and Smith’s creative encounter. In the finished piece, Mapplethorpe intercuts his still photographs of Smith with Rinzler’s motion pictures and Smith’s voice over on the themes of artistic inspiration, occult mysticism, and the responsibility of the artist to speak to society. Smith talks about the success of the collaboration with Mapplethorpe in Just Kids as follows:
“He decided to call the film Still Moving, as he incorporated the stills in the final edit of the film, and we built a sound track with my commentary mixed with me playing electric guitar and excerpts from “Gloria.” In doing so, he represented the many facets of our work—photography, poetry, improvisation, and performance… Still Moving reflected his view of the future of visual expression and music, a type of music video that could stand on its own as art.” (257)
This marked the first and last time Smith collaborated on a gallery show with Mapplethorpe; however, it testifies to several crucial aspects of the meeting of fine art and punk, gay men and straight women, music videos and gallery installations within the fecund creative environment of New York City in the 1970s. Downtown Manhattan provided a place where diverse subcultures, avant-garde photographers and rock musicians, several generations of underground artists and poets, as well as young activists involved in feminist and LGBTQ movements could congregate and overturn many of the rules that governed both the world of fine art and commercial popular culture. Mapplethorpe and Smith played a crucial part in these sex and gender “culture wars” that extended far beyond the borders of Lower Manhattan.