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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Monday, December 24, 2012


John Waters’s fledgling full-length feature effort, 1969’s MONDO TRASHO is a very odd duck of a movie that even the writer/director’s may find a daunting work to sit through in one straight shot, and I can totally understand why. It’s very crudely crafted — in terms of artistic quality and realization, not just in terms of questionable content — needs several editing and pacing problems addressed, and possesses other aspects that irritate, but I have a very soft spot in my heart for it. Simply put, it’s a bizarre head-on collision of film school-style pseudo-artsy narrative and aural collage with the look and feel of a squalid fever dream.

Opening with a sequence of a medieval executioner beheading a live chicken with an axe — a bit that, as far as I can figure, has nothing whatsoever to do with the actual story — the narrative proper (such as it is) commences with a tawdry-looking bleached blond in fishnets and short-shorts (Mary Vivian Pearce, identified in the credits as “the Bombshell”) strolls to the bus stop and rides the public conveyance to the strains of the incongruously-employed “Pomp and Circumstance,” a tune that lets the audience know it’s gazing upon a late-20th century avatar of Venus-like beauty and regality. (Yeah, right. Sure, she’s kinda/sorta cute in a trashy way, but come on…) Our heroine makes her way to a local Baltimore park bench, where she feeds raw hamburger to scampering cockroaches (to the accompaniment of Billy Stewart’s 1965 hit “Sitting in the Park”) while a scurvy-looking longhair (Danny Mills) observes and stalks her from the nearby bushes. 

Seduction in the park.

Initially startled by the hippie’s attentions, the Bombshell soon finds herself quite taken by the fellow’s dubious charms and apparently aphrodisiacal foot-fetishism, allowing him to lead her deep into the woods near the park for privacy, where she ends up on her back on the ground as she is seduced by the hippie as he sensually kisses and sucks her feet. For her part in all of this, the Bombshell is clearly transported upon the wings of pedally induced sexual ecstasy, moaning like a rusty door hinge as she fantasizes about being Cinderella (complete with the cunty step-sisters and the hippie cast in the role of Prince Charming).

But all good things must eventually come to an end and the hippie, after having satisfied his own selfish foot-related needs, fucks off into the unknown (to the tune of “See You Later, Alligator”), leaving our heroine heartbroken and in a confused daze. She staggers out of the woods, straight into the path of a joyriding Divine (the now-legendary drag performer in her first feature film role) who, distracted by her fantasy of a nude hitchhiker, backs her car over the Bombshell. Divine throws the seriously injured Bombshell into the back seat of her convertible and the pair embarks upon a trashy odyssey of petty larceny, a highly questionable mental institution (after they are forcibly abducted off the street by the institution’s staff), foot-replacement surgery performed by the heroin-addicted “Doctor Coathanger” (David Lochary), religious visions and visitations from the Virgin Mary (Margie Skidmore), death in a pig sty, and an ending that absurdly harks back to Dorothy’s “there’s no place like home” bit from THE WIZARD OF OZ.

Filmed on a budget that probably wouldn’t get you a decent cheese sandwich even back when it was shot, the grainy, black-and-white MONDO TRASHO reads like what would have happened if David Lynch’s ERASERHEAD had been made as a comedy, only with no mutants and monsters (unless one counts damned near the entire human cast). There’s virtually no dialogue and the film relies on its imagery and soundtrack of illegally appropriated music segments to tell its story. The soundtrack is the key reason why the film is unlikely to ever again be released in a legitimate home video format, thanks to Waters re-purposing snippets from dozens of old pop songs — ranging from the 1930’s through the mid/late-1960’s — to serve as the movie’s Greek chorus. The resulting effect is akin to being stuck in a room with one’s demented grandfather as the old geezer incessantly plays around with the dial on his battered radio, unsatisfied with any song he encounters and changing the station after only a taste of any given tune is heard. That aspect is one of the “flaws” that prevent less-hardy movie fans (I call them “pussies”) from making it all the way through MONDO TRASHO without being driven hopelessly mad.

Other sanity and patience-shredding elements include the at times dodgy editing (several scenes go on for far too long), often murky/terrible lighting, an idiotic and aimlessly rambling plot, and an aesthetic/cinematic feel that makes the audience feel like it’s been on a three-day binge involving heavy-duty Jamaican cough syrup and Everclear, while chain-smoking one’s way through an entire carton of unfiltered Marlboros. All of that is as it may be, but to me it all adds up to an engrossing and occasionally hilarious live-action cartoon nonsense odyssey that gene-splices a fairytale quest with an ultra-sleazy, doped-up late-1960’s Baltimore hillbilly sensibility that just holds me mesmerized.

Every filmmaker has to start somewhere and it’s surprising to see so many of John Waters’s signature tropes and themes already in place so early in his filmography. All would soon be refined and perfected into what is now one of the most singular directorial voices in American (and world) cinema, but the rough and messy birth of his oeuvre an be traced straight back to this scabrous little first feature-length flick. And several of Waters’s soon-to-be-familiar repertory players are on hand for this journey into aggressive weirdness/absurdity, including:
  • Mary Vivian Pearce as our hapless heroine.
  • Mink Stole as a tutued, topless, and merrily tap-dancing funny farm inmate.
  • David Lochary as the most questionable of bargain basement surgeons.
  • And of course Divine, who is of course at the epicenter of the narrative’s shitstorm, pitching overwrought histrionics and generally being as fat and delinquent as she wants to be. (Hey, the girl can’t help it.)
The one and only Divine, vamping it up.

Unavailable on DVD — legally, that is — MONDO TRASHO is worth seeking out on VHS or via whatever shady means you can obtain a hard copy (it’s available in its entirety on YouTube) and it’s a must-see for students of Waters’s career, especially those who are fucked-up out of their minds at Jesus o’clock in the morning and need something to hold their attention in an effort to stave off imminent death via alcohol and drug-related misadventure. That said, though possessing damned near everything one could ask for from a movie — drama, romance/sex (sort of), adventure, nudity, transvestites — it’s definitely not for all tastes and certainly way tamer than the majority of the director’s subsequent efforts. A wholly worthwhile curiosity.

Poster/flier from the original release.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Saturday, November 24, 2012


One of my all-time favorites.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Sunday, November 18, 2012


I just got back from a trip to Albany, where I gave a slideshow presentation and fun lecture on the geekish wonder of comics conventions and cosplay at Temple Israel, and I had a blast!

Invited up by my friend Bob Crystal — the older brother of my dear friend and fellow reprobate, Ruthie — I presented a lecture and slideshow of some 120 photos taken at the various cons I've attended over the past five years to the temple's periodic brunch gorp of nearly forty people, and it went over a treat.

 My philosophy on this kind of thing is that Rule #1 should be "Do NOT bore your audience," so I picked out shots that highlighted the imagination and creativity that that is celebrated on comics conventions, illustrating that point with loads of images of the often stunning costumes crafted and sported by attendees. The audience, most of whom were in their mid-fifties and up, clearly had fun and there was even a Q&A session where I answered questions about convention event logistics, whether or not the cosplayers got paid for their efforts, and a number of other queries that folks unfamiliar with the culture were likely to ask.

 When it was all over I was greeted by several audience members, some of whom continued to eagerly ask questions and share their agonized stories of owning a veritable library of Golden Age classics that their mothers threw out or that they eventually outgrew, each tale making me visibly shudder. Upon noting my reaction to some of those tales, one venerable codger looked at me and said, with a heartbreakingly earnest look on his face, "I swear, I don't know what the hell I was thinking when I threw them out. I had ALL of the first appearances! Batman, Superman, Captain America, you name it, I had it, and now..." (CUE FUNERAL DIRGE)

Anyway, the whole thing was a hit and I had a terrific time. I hope to do more events like this in the foreseeable future!

Yer Bunche, explaining to an attendee that cosplayers do not necessarily suffer mental disorders that make them believe they are the characters that they portray, nor is their desire to cosplay a drug-induced state of delusion. No, I'm not kidding.

NY COMIC CON 2012-Day 4

10/14-The last day.

After the SOYLENT GREEN-level crowds of the previous day, things calmed down considerably but it was still pretty crowded for a Sunday, which is usually a "dead" day.

The 2000 AD booth, always the first place I hit on this show's opening day.

2000 AD graphic novels editor Keith Richardson (L) and writer Ian Edginton (R) at the 2000 AD booth. I met Keith after the previous day's 2000 AD panel and as we chatted he told me about an upcoming project where they plan to make a line of shirts that use some of the venerable sci-fi weekly's classic imagery. One of those mentioned was the Glenn Fabry-drawn SLAINE page Keith's holding, a piece he described as one of his very favorites from the series' entire run. Since the source material they had to print from was old film, I told Keith that I own the page in question and would get him a high-res scan of it as soon as possible. And since fans at cons talk a lot of shit, the following day I brought in the page in question to prove that I'm a man of my word. If I didn't love that page so much myself, I would have given it to him, simply because the genuine love he bore for it was as plain as the nose on his face.

Found him! (Talk about a brilliant costume to wear in the midst of tens of thousands of people!)

Xena and the Black Panther.

The Doctor and River Song.

Dolphin Loki...

...with punchline.

The Jason Todd sisters.

An unexpected surprise: MAD TV and FUTURAMA luminary Phil LaMarr dropped by to meet Amanda (who's a huge fan of his work on MAD TV) and proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that he's a fellow hardcore comics geek. More reason to love the guy, plus he's really, really nice and totally down to earth.

It was a mutual and utterly shameless geek-out.

(L-R) Russ Braun, Phil LaMarr, Anina Bennett, and Paul Guinan.

The always-stunning Brandy Gibson, once again showing off her Level-10 cosplaying skills, this time as the sea queen Mera. Seriously, this could not be any better, short of her being submerged in a tank and actually breathing water.

Brandy's ultra-animated/expressive face and her utter costumed supremacy make this my very favorite photo from this show. An instant classic.

Not just a gratuitous booty shot: this shows off the back of the costume, plus the fact that Brandy went the distance and included the Aquaman-style  fins.

Seriously, it's the seemingly-small details that make for a classic.

Brandy meets Russ Braun, illustrator of THE BOYS, which is her husband's favorite comics series. Russ, being the total gentleman that he is, seriously gave her the hookup in the swag department, but that's Brandy's story to tell...

A.C. (who certainly appreciates a great costuming effort) with Brandy.

Russ, caught in the act of sketching THE BOYS' Wee Hughie for Brandy's husband, who's currently serving our country as a United States Marine. Semper Fi, bro!

Brandy imparts some of her cosplaying wisdom to a young aspirant.


With Mada Design colleague and fellow Bruce Lee slave Minh Luong, shamelessly proclaiming our geekishness for Lee Siu Lung.

Neo versus the Dragon. My money's on the shirtless guy.

The red and green Hulks.

A charming Kitsune.

You're never too young to appreciate Bruce!

Another Tuxedo Mask.

Good versus evil at Hogwarts.

An excellent comics-accurate young Loki.

Tintin (twice) and Captain Haddock.

The Dark Side is real: the sign for Ian "Emperor Palpatine" McDiarmid's signing line. Note the price for his autograph, and the specification of cash only.

The line for the final scheduled signing for Chris Elliot, who never showed up. His fans wasted four days waiting for him to arrive, and the con's runners got no information on what happened to him after several unsuccessful attempts at contacting both Elliott and his agent. My own theory on what happened is that somewhere along the line, his appearance at the show did not get entered into his day-to-day schedule and he went off to do something else while unaware that he was committed to the show. Chris, if you ever read this, bear in mind that none of your fans held you personally responsible for this mixup. Not even me, and I ended up waiting for a total of around seven and a half hours over the show's four days. Just goes to show you how much we love what you do, dude.

For those who don't know, this was the original design for daredevil's costume. No, seriously.

The Broflofskis.

There were more of them about and wish I'd gotten to photograph a pack of them, but at least I got this one Weeping Angel.

A whole lotta Doctors.

My beglittered face after it was swathed by none other than Carrie Fisher, Princess Leia herself.

The latest treasure for my autograph collection.

A.C. and the Twins.

Jimmy and the Twins.

You know you've made it as a comics artist when the legendary Jim Steranko — of NICK FURY, AGENT OF S.H.I.E.L.D.  fame, as well as being the man who designed Indiana Jones — drops by to pay his respects.

With Marvel Bullpen sister Lysa Hawkins.

Amy and Rory.

Amy and Rory take on a passing Dalek.

The awesome Michael Golden.

Shang-Chi, master of kung fu.

The Question.

Two of the baddest martial artists in American comics.

This Rorschach's mask pattern would change a bit when he breathed.

The Question and Rorscach: basically the same character, only with the latter being a re-jiggered version of the former. (It's a long story from the creation of WATCHMEN back in the 1980's, so I urge you to look it up online since it's a tad too long to go into here.)

A perhaps too young fan proudly awaits the signing of Amanda's now-classic and gleefully filthy THE PRO.

Amanda Conner: corrupter of the youth of America.

With Michael Golden.

Continued from Day 3: John with a George Perez sketch of Nightwing in the second NEW TEEN TITANS omnibus.

I've run into this lady at a number of geeky NYC functions, and her hair is never anything les than mind-blowingly spectacular.

Olliver just could not resist taunting my inner bully by rocking a headpiece that proudly proclaimed his "Brony" status. Shortly after this picture was taken, I hauled him out in back of the Javits Center and gave him a merciless pantsless birching.

Professor Brown.

I may hate He-Man, but I love me some Orko.

I love the DIY aspect of steampunk costuming.

The best of the weekend's several new-look Captain Marvels.

(L-R) Bob Camp, Larry Hama, and Michael Golden.

As the show comes to a close, a damned near brain-dead A.C. gets ready to hit her hotel room and pass out.

As the show closes, a few stragglers make their way out of Artist Alley.


After four solid days of fun and geekery, I returned home to tally my swag and mull over the weekend's events. While I had a terrific time, I have to admit that the epic crowds made things quite claustrophobic and difficult to physically navigate through, an aspect that led me to spend nearly the entire weekend in Artist Alley when I would have otherwise explored the full con in more exacting detail. Not that I didn't expect such a state of affairs, especially as geek culture finds more mainstream acceptance with each passing year and that good grace being co-opted by Hollywood and greedy corporations. Shows like this are steadily becoming less and less about the medium they were spawned to celebrate, and that, coupled with the choking crowds, may finally spell my bowing out of the convention scene after being a regular since I was ten years old. I still love the might and majesty of geekdom, but the venues in which it is celebrated is not necessarily for old school folks like me anymore. I have nearly another year in which to make up my mind if I'll attend the next Javits Center show, but I have to admit that during this year's show I seriously contemplated calling it quits after this last round. Check back next year to see what decision is eventually made...

The Thor sketch by Walt Simonson.

The weekend's complete haul. (The large plastic sleeves in the back contain stuff already in my collection and are filled only so the sleeves can be visible.)