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NICK ZEDD UNEDITED: “Triumph of the ILL” Part One

Drew Tinnin

by:
March 5th, 2012

This is filmmaker in exile Nick Zedd reporting from Mexico City, where immersed in an alien environment, I’ve been reinventing myself for the last year. Why you might ask, would I uproot myself from New York City after spending most of my life there, making underground films, books, paintings, acting in plays and producing a TV series for five years?

It seemed like a good way to short circuit the control mechanisms dictating what I was doing with my life.

I was born in a small town in Maryland near Washington, D.C. and was fascinated by television, drive-in movies, comic books and rock ‘n roll. I had no interest in sports, religion or peer pressure. I was oblivious to cliques and in-groups. I didn’t care about the activities of most kids my age. Growing up in Hyattsville, I learned to hate most humans with the exception of some outcasts with whom I got into trouble on occasion. A select group of weirdos were co-conspirators in my mission to create an alternative reality to the boring life adults were attempting to impose on us.


 

Inspired by Japanese monster movies like Mothra, anything by Ray Harryhausen, and episodes of The Outer Limits, I started shooting 8mm sci-fi epics at the age of 12, directing neighborhood kids, waging miniature wars in the backyard, exploding toy jeeps and making bonfires of tanks while eviscerating GI Joes and animating giant insects.

I was later fascinated by a Japanese TV series called Johnny Sokko and His Giant Robot featuring ludicrously bad acting and woefully inept miniature work along with garish dayglow sets and costume designs accomplishing unintentional high art without meaning to. This particular series should be considered psychotronic or subgenius art, a potent and misunderstood genre exemplified by passionate, strained performances of histrionic emotion regurgitated by critically neglected thespians destined for undeserved oblivion wearing papier mache prosthetics or nazi inspired uniforms with wrap-around shades. The fact that every sentence dubbed in English is spoken completely out of synch greatly adds to Johnny Sokko’s mystic splendor. The rubber monsters flailing at cardboard skyscrapers were highly poignant in a mongoloid way.

My father had a job with the US Postal Service that put him in touch with people in advertising. On a rare summer trip to New York City, he was able to get us into the ABC TV studios where a horror soap opera called Dark Shadows was shot and televised. It was a big thrill as a thirteen year old to stand outside the dressing room door and see Jonathan Frid get made up as the vampire Barnabas Collins. Seeing the TV cameras, indoor forest, and Collinwood Mansion in person made a big impact on my psyche as a filmmaker but I never realized it until eons later.

I was originally drawn to NYC by the myth that it embodied. As a kid in Maryland, reading about Andy Warhol’s factory, I imagined New York to be the place to go where one could meet other freaks and be part of a creative community opposed to the conformist values of our dominant culture.

The first chance I got, I moved to NYC and began making super-8 atrocities like They Eat Scum, a feature length science fiction/musical/comedy about a death rock revolution morphing into a cannibal holocaust. Not realizing that my cinematic ambitions exceeded reasonable notions of a sane budget, I resorted to the same amateur miniatures and hand-made special effects that I’d employed as a teenager, recruiting local prosthetic wizards to construct a giant roach out of foam rubber for mere pennies. Cameras and lights were rented or borrowed and screenings were held at punk caverns like Max’s Kansas City or underground screening rooms like O P Screen to enthusiastic throngs of the kooky and curious.

Foam rubber was also an ingredient in my next film, The Bogus Man, in which emaciated transgender sculptor Grier Lankton performed, zipped into a nude fat woman costume.  Future FX specialist Screaming Mad George donated a chair composed of human legs with five erect penises and a moving vagina composed of synthetic flesh.

I soon realized that the attention of a lazy and sluggish outside world could be jump-started by being perceived as part of a movement so I announced the birth of the Cinema of Transgression in the pages of a photocopied zine I edited using multiple pseudonyms in 1985. Perception is everything. Once three or four filmmakers like myself showed up looking for attention, we had a real movement. It was a hermetic insurgency, designed to shock and scandalize a complacent public anaesthetized by a reactionary political system and corporate media pumping out lies every hour on the hour.

Years before a sad, sorry Simulation was to envelop humanity in a reality-challenged Big Myth with the paradigm shifting 9/11 Inside Job, the filmmakers of the Cinema of Transgression articulated a politics of negation; a blanket refusal to buy into a prefabricated existence designed by a global elite utilizing state terror to impose a control grid of surveillance, torture and indefinite detention transforming Earth into a prison planet.

The Cinema of Transgression was recently unearthed in the feature length documentary Blank City by Celine Daumier, playing in actual movie theaters around the world, including the IFC Center in Manhattan. The movie focuses on the largely neglected and hitherto obscure yet somehow influential underground film scenes of the late seventies and early eighties in NYC. Little did we suspect in 1985 that future documentary filmmakers would launch their careers by excavating our buried super-8 treasures and tracking us down with hi-def cameras to record our memories for a generation of youngsters feeling nostalgia for their formative years.  I remember when nostalgia was the exclusive domain of old people. This newfound appreciation for the past must be a recognition that our current era lacks authenticity.

I was recently flown to Berlin to inaugurate the Kunst Werke Museum’s current exhibition entitled You Killed Me First: The Cinema of Transgression. This exhibition, occupying three floors with nineteen movies by myself, Richard Kern, Tommy Turner, David Wojnarowicz, Tessa Hughes Freeland and others, projected on loops, coincides with the Village Voice firing its head film critic J. Hoberman. Such a dismissal would normally be considered of no consequence but for the fact that Hoberman spent the last 27 years denegrating and/or ignoring the Cinema of Transgression. He was our Ellsworth Tooey. In 2012 life imitated art.

A print of my film Police State is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art. Last year I sold my archives, including original negatives of my films to the Fales Library at NYU. The money I made financed my escape from New York.

After 35 years of rationalized struggle, life in New York  became a self-imposed purgatory, fighting psychotic landlords in bogus eviction proceedings that I’d always win, getting  betrayed by ex-girlfriends with borderline personality disorders; (one published a fallacious memoir slandering me to advance her downwardly spiraling career) while accepting obscenely inflated prices for diminishing services (subways, taxis, psychotherapists). The ubiquitous sight of yoga mats under the arms of upwardly mobile professionals became too much to take. One can only spend so many years ignoring the constant parade of plastic people shuffling past you before one realizes that having to mentally airbrush these creatures out of your sight has rendered you blind to the hideousness surrounding you. A shared denial keeps people anchored to cities like New York, a mass belief in the myth of transcendence that was once possible there.

Ultimately, love made me leave. Meeting someone I loved enough to break free and escape with, to try a new life; to make a family in Mexico. The first month I arrived in Mexico City I caught typhoid salmonella poisoning and was stuck in a hospital bed for a week. I almost died. But that rite of passage made me later appreciate not being sick.

Editor's Note: Look for Part II of Zedd's "Triumph of the Ill" later this week.

 

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  • Jonnyvongolden

    This piece reminds me of being a kid playing Star Ward figures and being inspired to make movies.  I love it.

  • http://twitter.com/KDubbstedt Kirsten Walstedt

    That is fascinating. I’d like to see those Super 8s. Glad you found love, it is paramount.

    Would love to hear more about New York in the late 70s/early 80s, something I am obsessed with. Everyone forms their own internal “New York Myth,” their vision of what NYC is. Mine came from visiting my brother when he started at NYU in 1977 and lived on 7th and Avenue C. Seedy, dirty, vibrant, dangerous, ALIVE, nothing like the sanitized Mall of America it has become. There comes a time when the current reality of NYC gets so far from your own internal New York vision that it can’t be sustained anymore. NYC has become Mall of America. But the creative process doesn’t have to stop, doesn’t have to depend on geography. 

  • Jonnyvongolden

    Absolutely.

    It was a really exciting time in New York.  I was young but remember how seedy and dangerous the city was.  It was fun.  Also, what a great time for music in NY.  This piece really captures the time and more in part 2.  With the mall replacing the strip club we are a more prosperous city but a more soulless one as well.

  • Customrobbo

     To be a part of the scene of NY artists and filmmakers of the 70′s and early 80′s must have been THE exemplary experience of art of the 20th century (in my opinion). At least now we have those great artists, films, pieces, music, etc. to further draw inspiration. I would count on it that NYC could see a revival of sorts in the arts to possibly match the era of the 70′s and 80′s. Maybe not in my lifetime, but hopefully.

  • Jonnyvongolden

    I feel like the early 2000′s had a great music scene emerge in Brooklyn and the early Pool Parties where amazing.  NYC will always be filled with stories.

  • Mattgreennyc

    Great piece!  We’re all obsessed with NYC when it was a lot less sterile.  Then you live in the the “new” NYC, and you kind of forget over time about the older one with a little more soul.  I remember when Jonny and I used to sneak to NYC when we were young and talk to some pretty crazy deviants, and it was eye opening and pretty freaking cool.  That’s just not happening any more.  Looking forward to part II!

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