Refuse and rubble unpacked upon the release of various films by William E. Jones
The customary self-promotion of most websites requires that negative or neutral reviews be suppressed, unless these are the only reviews available. During my years as a filmmaker, I have had plenty of positive reviews, as well as thoughtful essays on my body of work in general. I have nothing to fear in presenting contrary opinions, which are fortunately less numerous. In fact, both appreciative and hostile responses to my work mention many of the same things. To some critics, the strategies I employ in my films are compelling or even admirable; to others, they are intolerable.
I wish to explore the limits of cinematic form, and this sort of interest, when put into practice in a film, provokes the ire or disgust of the faint of heart. Many avant-garde filmmakers have held up their worst reviews as badges of honor, but no one has done it with more panache than those associated with the Situationists. Isidore Isou, the founder of Lettrism, composed a brilliant cinema manifesto, read to a (fake) audience of hecklers, for the soundtrack of his film Traité de bave de d’éternité. Arguably the first post-modern filmmaker, Isou paved the way for the SI’s more widely known provocations.
I adapted the title of this collection from a thin volume by Guy Debord, Ordures et décombres déballés à la sortie du film “In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni” published in 1982 by Champ Libre. The book consists of fourteen reviews of his last film. He made no commentary on them at all, aside from the book’s title. (“Refuse” is a very polite way of translating “ordures.”) Seven years earlier, Debord had commented on his reviews in Réfutation de tous les jugements, tant élogieux qu’hostiles, qui ont été jusqu’ici portés sur le film “La Société du Spectacle” (Refutation of all the judgments, both complementary and hostile, which have been brought to bear up until now concerning the film “The Society of the Spectacle”). “A landmark in the history of cinema,” according to Tom Levin, “this film is (to my knowledge) the first to take as its explicit and exclusive focus the analysis of the reception of a prior film.” I can’t imagine what sort of film I could make from my reviews, though one of them included here is nearly long enough to be a film script on its own.
The texts below are the most interesting of those reviews that I have no need to circulate. They are often symptomatic of something; of what is not entirely clear, least of all to the writers themselves. My commentaries on the texts, kept to a minimum, appear in italics. Some examples serve simply as opportunities for me to correct points of fact, but other texts are complex and perversely fascinating. At one time, I found these attempts to come to grips with my work painful reading. Now I can say I almost enjoy them, though they have not entirely lost their sting.
This is my first New York review:
Bob Satuloff, “Amber Waves of Brain,” New York Native, January 27, 1992, p. 36.
Gay filmmaker William E. Jones’s Massillon, an hour-and-ten-minute documentary which had its premiere at Artists Space as part of its “New Year, New Work” series, is the sort of film that’s considerably more interesting to think about after you’ve seen it than it is to actually sit through. This is not to say that the film is without merit: the soundtrack — which consists, for the most part, of sporadic narration by Jones, punctuated by long periods of silence — gives the mind’s machinery a reasonable amount of material on which to chew, but the filmmaker’s visual scheme puts the viewer’s mind — at least, it did my lover’s and mine — into what might be described in terms of brain waves as a theta state, that indistinctly defined, mushy no-man’s-land that lies midway between wakefulness and sleep.
Understand that I’m not trying to find a cute, new way to say that I was bored shitless, because it’s not boredom I’m attempting to describe here. And it would be remiss in calling the film mesmerizing; that would imply that I found the documentary impossible to take my eyes off, which believe you me, is definitely not the case. But Massillon does have — and, I’m pretty much convinced, means to have — an hypnotic effect. What I haven’t a clue about is why.
Remember that scene in David Cronenberg’s Videodrome in which a bare-chested James Woods — hooked, for thematic and plot reasons I’m not about to go into, on an hallucinatory pirate cable television station — watches in a dazed state as a slot begins to open up in his chest; at which point, a man he’s never seen before walks into his apartment and matter-of-factly inserts a videocassette into the slot? After watching Jones’s film, I had to resist the temptation to get up and make sure the chain latch was firmly in place on our front door. That’s the state in which this movie left me.
Massillon begins as a sort of autobiography, with home movie footage of Niagara Falls and various historic tourist spots in Washington, D. C., shot by Jones’s father when he was a kid, then moves to the eponymous Massillon, Ohio — Jones describes it as “a little industrial town that’s seen better days” — where the filmmaker was raised. Here, we see shots of various and sundry locations in and around the town: the library, the city hall, a bridge, roads and highways, a river, construction sites and empty lots. Over these static shots, in which not a human being is seen, Jones talks about his life when he was growing up, his realization that he was gay, his feelings of isolation and dislocation, his unfulfilling introduction to sex at a truck stop men’s room off the highway.
One of the many upsetting aspects of this incident for Jones is the fact that what he did was, among other things, illegal. This leads the filmmaker into a narrated history of sodomy laws, juxtaposed against more shots of Midwestern small town, post-industrial ugliness and what seems like unending footage of highways, ostensibly photographed out of a car window.
This sequence had a palpable effect on me, stimulating an onrush of decidedly unpleasant memories of car trips with my parents, memories which my conscious mind until now had the good taste to stifle. Now they returned with a vengeance: the monotony of being stuck in the back seat of a Ford sedan, unable to decide which was worse, continuing the journey or getting to where we were going: ball games on the radio, the headache-inducing drone of the announcer’s voice; visual desolation; oil smells. Pass the Dramamine. In the middle of this section, we hear a right-wing announcer on a religious radio station do a riff of about ten minutes’ duration, expressing his — and God’s — wholehearted approval of the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold sodomy laws and disapproval of the dreaded “homosexual lifestyle.”
Before Massillon completes its circle, ending up where it started — back at Niagara Falls, the Washington Monument, and the Capitol, courtesy of Mr. Jones, Sr. — the scene briefly shifts to Santa Clarita, California, the place to which Jones has moved in order to pursue his adult life. Just when you think Jones has at last, thankfully, blown ugly old Massillon in favor of a place where he can be openly gay in a friendly, attractive environment, the filmmaker lands his Sunday punch. It looks just like Massillon! And not only that: Santa Clarita is a planned, family community, as hostile to gays as the place where he came from, and very nearly as aesthetically revolting.
It’s at this point that the film begins to assume what clearly appears to be a pathology. What’s with this guy, I start to wonder. Is it that he prefers the horrendousness of the familiar to what is new and perhaps threatening to him? Does he really need to be up to his eyeballs in oppression in order to define himself? Or is he, perhaps, into some kind of messianic thing, placing his gay self smack in the middle of the most unwelcoming and sociologically grim environment he can find in order to sacrifice himself in the name of all the good and well-meaning gay people on the planet? Your guess is as good as mine.
I can’t express emphatically enough the feelings of loneliness, isolation, desolation, alienation, despair — every imaginable level and sub-category of angst — that resonate through every moment of Massillon. If, as I’m starting to think, Jones chose the throbbingly monotonous design of the film — empty roadside America at its absolute worst — as a visual metaphor for his life up to this point — I assume he’s not yet out of his twenties — I’m tempted to take up a collection to move the filmmaker to New York or San Francisco, with a summer in Fire Island or P’town thrown in as a bonus.
It may be perverse of me, but I have to admire Jones’s power as a filmmaker for getting me to think so much about this movie, as well as reminding me of much that, due to a disposition much like that of the late Marie Wilson playing My Friend Irma, I had suppressed for a long time. I can’t say that I particularly enjoyed confronting Jones’s unhappiness any more than I did reliving some long-lost bits and pieces of my own, but hey: I believe in giving credit where credit is due.
When the film Massillon had a screening in Northeastern Ohio, a local newspaper described it in the following blurb. “Tigertown” refers to Massillon, home of the high school football team, the Tigers. A number of films have represented the place where I grew up; mine remains the only one that does not mention football.
Dan Kane, “On the Beat,” The Repository (Canton, Ohio) April 12, 1993.
William E. Jones’ film titled Massillon is not likely to inspire waves of enthusiasm in Tigertown, where he spent his formative years. An experimental work, the film features frank autobiographical narration by Jones about growing up a homosexual, while street scenes of Massillon fill the screen. Later, the camera monotonously films out the window of a car driving on Route 21 as an evangelist rails about sodomy on the dashboard radio. Also examined in the 70-minute film, over scenes of a half-built planned community in California, are the history of sexual persecution and laws restricting sexual activity.
My first Variety review:
Godfrey Cheshire, “Finished (documentary – 16mm),” Variety, February 10-16, 1997, p. 67.
A minor gay porn star gets a postmodern, post mortem tribute of sorts in Finished, an essay film so dry and detached that it surely would have scandalized its subject’s former employers. While the non-erotic, uninvolving approach is no doubt a big part of William E. Jones’ point, it makes for a film so narrowly conceptual as to defy interest beyond specialized gay and experimental sites.
Pic’s imagery mainly offers distanced, live-action views of cityscapes and other scenery, particularly around L. A. and Montreal, interspersed with occasional blowups of faces and other nonspecific flesh from porn films. Its soundtrack consists of Jones reading a memoir of his fascination with the life and early death of Alan Lambert, who committed suicide while still in his 20’s after an off-and-on career in the L. A. skin trade.
Jones’ investigations of Lambert’s life, which include visiting his hometown Montreal and some not always productive attempts at interviewing his family and friends, revealed someone other than a hunky airhead. Lambert was a Marxist who saw himself in the vanguard of a world revolution. Alas, those convictions weren’t enough to offset his passivity and narcissism; he recoiled at the prospect of life after youth’s beauty had fled.
Though the personality revealed here in some ways mirrors the film-maker’s own cerebral displacement, the ostensible subject and that ironic, self-reflexive subtext don’t come close to sustaining interest at feature length. Jones deliberately measured and monotonous commentary might have made a fairly interesting magazine article; it has no obvious reason for being a film.
(Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival)
The following text was the longest review anyone ever wrote about my work until the Cinema Scope piece by Michael Sicinski was published about 10 years later. Finished inspired a fair number of negative reviews, but this one is particularly impassioned. Another writer responded to the piece and expanded an already enormous text. I can't say I was pleased to find this bit of criticism on the internet, but there was something to be gained from all the bile and venom. The writer’s use of the term V. O. triggered something that manifested itself years later.
Mary Morrissey, Moviegoer, a. k. a. Supermarky, “The extended play version of a Film Review of Finished by William Jones,” Pink Noise, May 1997.
“An emotional autopsy of a life tragically cut short...highly unusual and compelling...defied traditional film genre.” – Lisanne Skyler, Sundance Film Festival
USA, 1997, 75 minutes Alan Lambert was a 25-year-old gay porn star who flamboyantly committed suicide in public, in his native Montreal. He left behind an elaborate, 10 page suicide note, 18 porn films....and several friends and lovers...He wrote that he felt he was at his “physical and intellectual prime” and could not endure the thought of aging...this enigmatic icon...entertained apocalyptic premonitions and radical political theories...
– from the brochure which lured two full houses to the premiere of FINISHED which was shown as part of the remarkable ALTERNATIVE SCREEN series of the American Cinematheque on April 10, 1997
Some work gives experimental film a bad name. The real tragedy of this film is that it wasted screen time at Sundance and will continue to get programmed because of the riveting subject, which figures almost not at all in the piece other than as a vehicle for sales, and, ironically, for masturbation on the part of its director, William Jones. It will sell festival tickets without fail and in its modest way (it won’t make much money, but might make some) is perhaps the quintessential “exploitation film” as the subject – the story of the life and death of Alain Lebeau – is really the only thing it has going on despite the fact that the audience’s curiosity on this matter is never satisfied in the least; the story itself is “rigorously” not exploited, just the man himself, or his corpse, in a far more “site specific” way than any of the porn movies that Lebeau performed in.
In my last film review I said that I have “no statuette, no coveted figurine (keep you as you are)” to bestow upon filmmakers who win my approbation but I’m thinking maybe I should go to some dog show trophy concern and have something struck just for William Jones. I would name the coveted kudo after the little poodle in Silence of the Lambs. William Jones wins the “Precious” award for 1997 paws down I can only hope!
This film “tropes” (an underovereducated person might say “riffs”) on a scene from Capra’s Meet John Doe (a film in the public domain – perfect “material” lock, stock and teardrops for an exploitation flick) and generous helpings of beautiful black and white photography Hollywood style are served, but they are quickly over with and replaced by lotsa shotsa the sea, the sky, various empty urban landscapes and sort of begrudging glimpses of the special subject of this very special film, Alain Lebeau (who was billed in the opening credits: “starring Alan Lambert” so I guess his filmography now numbers 19). There are many shots of porn throughout the film but they are all taken in such a way as to empty them of their meaning perhaps in an attempt to endow them with artistic refinement of some sort. For example one sequence consists of a series of stills of approximately 3" x 3" sections blown up onto the screen which show the very center of various “spreads”: a little bit of flesh is glimpsed on either side of the line between two consecutive pages, sometimes focusing on the staples that hold porn “magazines” together. For the first twenty minutes at least the film shows very little of the star other than extreme close-ups which appear to be more about the 4 color printing process than anything else. This is counter-pointed with a droning monologue delivered by Jones about how he felt this special connection to Lambert because he was so impressed by his beauty that he tore his picture out of a rag the first time he saw it in a phone sex ad. He goes on to hypothesize that probably Alain never worked as a phone phantasy guy, for example, and the voiceover largely consists of similarly brilliant insights, no, conjectures. Along with a lot of deadpan exposition of practically nothing: for example, the filmmaker often speaks of the “investigation” he conducted into the life and death of the star. The fruits of this “investigation” are, for example, a long sequence of still shots of opening titles for various porn videos with Jones’s voiceover which describes each of Alain’s scenes, “in this one Alan Lambert gets fucked by Jon Vincent, who calls him a bitch.” He more or less belabors the point several times in case we didn’t get it the first or any succeeding times that he has watched every single “video” in which Lambert ever appeared.
After the film a “Q & A” took place in which Jones uttered various platitudes about film in general to defend the boringness of his film, things that a lot of really boring experimental filmmakers are required to say I guess such as “I’m very suspicious of films that lead the viewer by the nose and tell him ‘ok now you look here and now you look there’ and I want to create a space of more freedom for the viewer.” When he was questioned about who he saw as the audience for this film, since he went out of his way in the V. O. to explain things such as what being a “bottom” in a gay porn film means, he said something like, “I think it’s really important to leave the film ‘open’ and not directed to a particular audience. The obvious is sometimes more interesting than we think.” The shopworn high falutin’ remarks were the aesthetic equivalent of saying “eat yr spinach, it’s good for you” and at one point he even invoked (without crediting him) Foucault’s introduction to The History of Sexuality explaining that he wanted to “get away from” the delusional idea we have that the subject of sex is somehow inherently “liberating...there’s even the phrase gay liberation...” he corollaried fatuously and meaninglessly oh and need I add pompously.
Anyway my good friend Mary Morrissey, moviegoer, went to see this film. Mary’s a great gal and an astute moviegoer and it’s funny because Tom Harris, the programmer for the usually extraordinary ALTERNATIVE SCREEN series at the American Cinematheque always asks so nicely, and so endearingly for audience members to question and to criticize each film on the series after each screening, to offer feedback to the artist and to offer whatever insights the audience might possess into “challenging” work, which the ALTERNATIVE SCREEN series always offers and usually the challenge is richly rewarded. Mary can never get it together in time to participate in the discussion though. She leaves the theater and later fires off e-mail to Andrew Crane, the shorts programmer and membership manager of the Cinematheque, with her usually glowingly positive but always strong, excited reactions to the latest ALTERNATIVE SCREEN offering. But the intervals are getting shorter between the end of the film and Mary’s coming out of the fog! If she lives long enough one day Mary will be saying her piece right in public and it will be most amusing for all I anticipate. Mary’s sentence structure is a little funny, she makes a very silly mixed metaphor about “back burners” and sitting alone in a dark theater jerking off, sort of, but please bear with her she’s really pretty damned smart and reacted thusly:
This time my whole “tirade” for the film came to me as I was still in the parking lot I wish I had asked him how he would defend himself if he were accused of making an exploitation film. I really really hated the film and I thought it [the film/the directors “relationship” with/to Alain Lebeau’s/his ghost] would have been [better served/more accurately represented] by footage from a film like Sunset Boulevard than by footage from Meet John Doe.
[It’s basically the classic story of a self important person/artist (another for instance is Petra von Kant) who “takes an interest” in a complicated character, makes projections on it, enacts a predictable drama with it, then disposes of it.]
I’ve never seen a film documentary, docudrama “personal film” what have you, show less respect towards its subject and ultimately of course the film is about more than everything you don’t want to know about William Jones and hardly at all about Alain Lebeau. And all this bullshit about not wanting to “lead audiences by the nose” when in fact the visuals were nothing but a long drawn out strip tease [finally towards the very end of the film, the audience gets its first clear view of the subject] to counterpoint his droning on to the end of producing this dry “style” that being more important than any of Alan’s writing or thinking which Jones only dismisses as “too complicated” and out of the 10 page suicide note he reads only one or two well-formed sentences, far more interesting (and excruciatingly portentous since we never learn any more about the contents of the letter) than anything the filmmaker has to say (including of course the after-screening “Q & A”). The camera does not allow the spectator any freedom; in fact it’s incredibly tyrannical camerawork and it shows next to nothing. Far from letting the viewer be “free” this forces the audience to have nothing to do but to listen to the director drone on and on projecting his simplistic fantasies on this guy. Ultimately what they [Jones and Lebeau] get from each other is the same thing: an audience. It’s a kind of necro-mutual exploitation going on... I’m sure Alain would have been tremendously insulted by the film but glad it was made nonetheless, though surely he'd be disappointed and like everybody in the audience tonight, bored at this film made in his honor. Was Alan Lambert hoping to attain 15 minutes of fame? If so he never got them, but this film offers over an hour of tiredness instead as a sort of precious consolation prize...
There’s [practically] a tradition of people who renounce the world and consider suicide for various reasons to be a political act, but first Jones said he pondered the “Marilyn” paradigm then he talks about all these other lame ideas he had and was forced to abandon by the inconvenient facts of Alan Lebeau’s actual life story--the very little he managed to uncover of it. Ironically the advance write up for this screening in the L. A. Times mentions the obvious parallels to the life and death of Yukio Mishima. At least Paul Schrader kinda sorta tried in Mishima to “tell the story.” Tried to. Barely. Barely because he didn’t address the thinking behind the real life story at all. Like most, he seemed to dismiss Mishima’s Sun & Steel – the as clear as possible setting forth of Mishima’s political philosophy – as an incoherent mess, for the purposes of his film at least (he ignored it entirely). At least Schrader had the excuse that he was trying to make, no not trying to make, making a commercial (I’m tempted to say “feature” as an added slap in the face to Wm. Jones ’cause this 105 minute thing was billed as an “independent feature” but what is genre anyway?) film.
What a joke Jones’ “investigation” was! He talked to a couple of people, gossiped, if you will, exploiting these peripheral characters too, I think, e.g., asking this john “did you think of intervening” in the planned suicide – putting him through a little privately screened re-catharsis for his digestion and eventual elimination which turned it like everything else in the film including the subject and his story into nothing more than fodder for his deadpan drone, giving only the most superficial account of the meeting and the conversation. Near the film’s conclusion he has the audacity to claim that his film is perhaps how shall I put it, ’cause I don't recollect...anyway something to the effect that he’s “realizing” a part of Alain’s vision of course in a more sophisticated, wise, artistic and drony armchair political buzzwordy fashion and of course with dashes of “more interesting than it seems” trivia and tautology. It’s quite clear what Alain was saying with his political views even from the little we were “free” to hear about them: his idea of being political was to leave the social order of the world to it’s own inevitable self destruction. He wanted to be the leader when the time was right for a new social order and figured he was the type and that this would occur naturally but not in this lifetime so he hurried on to the next. His life did not belie his “politics” as unclear as that remains to Jones, who whines about feeling superior because Alain did not participate in political actions of any sort and pooh poohed them. Working in the “sex industry” (being a “porn star” which in most cases means being a prostitute) certainly fits this vision I think. Actually when I hear the phrase “sex industry” I usually don’t plan on hearing anything intelligent from the person who said it subsequently and rarely am I disappointed. When will they start talking about “the homeless industry” I wonder? [If hustling and porn production and distribution are part of the same industry then dumpster diving dining is...just a job opportunity in the food industry!]
Oh! God that film was so bad I could go on and on. Anyway it makes my friend Supermarky’s My life as a dog at the gym look like Gone with the Wind so I was a little smug and proud of my lad considering how much, formally, the two pieces have in common. The crucial differences being that Supermarky has some style and something to say, otherwise the films might be lumped together in a sort of “genre” (Genre is a stupid limiting concept and the stupid name of a stupid gay not-porn “magazine”) but the list of grants that supported this project belie that notion and destroy it once and for all. FINISHED is most definitely a subsidized movie, the $ gone into it is kissed goodbye. Supermarky’s “Dis-enfranchised Video Production” is from beyond the ken of all “independents” money just doesn’t enter into the equation/process of a Supermarky de Sage Productions Unlimited Incorporated video. My lad’s motto might not be “ars gratia artis” but “through toil, sweat, suffering, tears, and even through prayers into damnation” since probably nobody will ever show his stuff.
[Another index of FINISHED being an “exploitation film”:]
Also his use of a public domain property for that “dash of camp” which was in all earnestness the truest expression of what I think the film was about: the dream a john has that he will transfigure a hustler [by possessing him] and when he doesn’t [manage to do either] he throws him right back on the street again [which this filmmaker does by repudiating Alain, refusing to respect him or his wishes or thoughts or ideas or to even to relate them to the audience (It be JONES’ audience now, not Lebeau’s!!)] The director reminded me of some of the guys Supermarky’s endured who wanted to “help” him in the past with fantasies cooking in the back burner of their minds where they sit in a dark theater sort of, “if only we could get together like Coop and Stanwyck!” It’s so egotistical and self aggrandizing! [I mean the thought that this filmmaker could have changed this guy’s life is, I think, highly laughable, but the joke is not lost on him as he seems completely unserious about his wish to “save” Alain – the last sentence of this film review will say why, I think!]
There were two or three interesting things he said, I thought: 1. that porno gave him a standard to live up to. And he evidently has a lot of issues with that; he'd like to see people camp it up while they have sex, I guess, ideally, on camera, to be fair to our less masculine brothers and sisters. [My own view is that porn is a far greater tragedy to all of us, and the world would just be a better place without it for us gay men at any rate, basically because porno gives us “standards to live up to”]; 2. the translation of “a matter of size” twice removed (once into French and then back) into “delusions of grandeur” which is what I think he has in equal measure with Alain.
[No, on a little further thought I wouldn’t say that. He’s more a victim of tunnel vision or ultra-self centeredness. It’s sort of delusions of important intellectual pettiness, actually, is exactly what it is!]
But so does every guy [delusions, let’s say!] who dreams of “taming” a hustler, or even a “complicated” sexy character; it’s really always the same story. Maybe just two interesting things.
Oh how The Audience was left starving for information about Alain and glutted with rarified tales of such niceties as how the director tried to project images of Alain into his memories of the first time he ever saw gay porn! Give me a break! Is that supposed to be “interesting”? Get a life! Or make a film about someone who didn't have one! Or something, anything other than!]
Oh, also I resented for example his attributing to Alain’s decision to build up his body postulating the “obvious” to him, I guess, motive “it was to make a comeback in porn!” How arrogant! How the fuck does he know that, his “investigation”? What a joke!
[It’s so ridiculous when you think the work true crime authors do or anyone who *really* wanted to know Alain’s story who *really* cared would have done for whom it wasn't simply some precious “project” to make “inquiries” and conduct “my investigation” which mostly consisted of jerking off to videos!!! THAT’S what I might have liked to ask, too. Siruhh, did you jerk off when you watched all these videos or didja just sit there thinking haute cuisine boring thoughts about nothing in particular trying to use them as inspiration to show us how astute you are or as keys to your nothing doing inner life!?]
And he really escalated this story of a hemorrhoid into a trauma it may or may well not have been for Alain. [I doubt he committed suicide because of a hemorrhoid. God.] Oh I could go on and on...
[Another thing I found so idiotic was when the filmmaker tells the audience “I went to the plaza [Lebeau actually blew his brains out upon] right on the anniversary thinking maybe I would be able to see something there that would illuminate his motives” and yr looking at footage of the place and then the idiot confesses “But I didn’t find anything!” At that point I thought, “well, why am I being inflicted with this pointless corny scene?” And all the while the audience is raging with curiosity about the letter, stuff “precious” has decided never to let out of the bag perhaps out of that same sense of decorum that prevents him from going to visit the kid’s mother, but actually I think more because his delusions of petty intellectual pseudo leftist grandeur enable him to believe that his vacuous V. O. is more important than anything he was just a porn star could possibly have to say. He expresses his ultimate disrespect with Authority even though he ventured his “love” conditionally, having never met the guy! The only power this film had came from its riveting subject, which was almost ignored the whole time! It’ll be totally sold out at Outfest, too (anyone up for a “Too Far Outfest” à la “Slamdance” this July?) and forgotten quickly thereafter except it might actually play on public t. v. ’cause it’s so fucking harmless! Films like this one give experimental film a bad name. Oh, if I could only get better/quicker at this, I would love to be the terror of Raleigh Studios, confronting the filmmakers I despise and stroking the ones I like and prodding the ones who trouble me...Actually this film was a terrible film but it gave my brain a workout picking it apart...I could go on and on....
[Another thing I thought was ludicrous was the assertion that porn stars are all “becoming interchangeable” (Christ, the way Jones photographs photographs the stars become fucking MODULAR!). That’s a nice dehumanizing thought for the person who is basically jealous of porn stars, who is the person who makes these kinds of films in which the “true tragedy” of their lives is exposed, their inner vapidity laid bare in spite of the miracle of their physical appearance, or they get murdered – very obvious “sublimated” covers for the rage of members of a society in which darling porn actors really have the highest status (oh, I'm forgetting Marky Mark though...)] but...anyway better luck next time, eh? Sorry about the typo-rama that just ensued!
[Another of the most beyond naive statements he made in the Q&A was his declaration that a shot of the face of a porn actor extracted from the porn artifact itself is the “closest we’ll ever get” to appreciating “how it feels to work in porn.” How incredibly obtuse and stupid! Mr. Jones, could ya put down the poppers for just a minute and wake the fuck up?! And this even better demonstrated Mary’s assertion that this stupidity is inspired by the same kind of attitude that informs almost all gay movies about prostitution or porn: the gay filmmaker is basically JEALOUS of the subject. Most gay men all wish they really were porn stars. And to call a hustler a “Sex worker” supposedly to confer some sort of “Respectability” on prostitutes in fact does just the opposite, robbing them of their dignity because, like the characters in Huston’s The Misfits what guys who “live by their wits” actually can lay claim to doing is not punching a time clock (tell that to the classifieds staff at Frontiers and they’d laugh at ya!) not having a boss (though in reality for a hustler this is an illusion it really means suffering an endless series of bosses: a masseur can retain control and thus this contradiction is less the case for a masseur, by the way). A hustler does live an anarchic, subversive, non-tax paying even, existence, if you look at it in a certain way, the way they (ideally, I think) like to try to cling to viewing it. When in fact most would vastly prefer easier, less disgusting work that paid better: they would prefer not to be disenfranchised. We walked out on Skin and Bone ’cause we could see in a few minutes what kind of film it was, essentially very much like Hustler White, a laughing totally fantasy oriented depiction of prostitution with some kills eventually thrown in towards the end which are the filmmakers revenge on men who can have sex for a living.]
a response by Paul Sbrizzi:
I just came across your tirade on Finished and you spoke my every thought. I saw the movie at Filmforum last May I think and became so infuriated that I asked La Jones in the Q&A what made him think he had the right to trivialize someone’s life like that. (In his trademark drone he replied he didn’t think he did) I pointed out that he had called what seemed to me an extremely interesting suicide note “inane ramblings” and he looked at me dumbfounded and corrected me: he had called them “INCOHERENT ramblings.”
Anyway I feel sick every time I read yet another glowing review by the forces of Gay Good Taste or liberal heterosexual relieved to find a gay auteur so happy to sneer at the more complicated aspects of homosexuality.
Oh, he also spoke indignantly about how porno “creates an illusion.” And about how this is possibly the last film to receive public money to get made. By the way, where do you think he spent that money, since the movie obviously required no actors, no crew, no anything really, and apparently he got something like 20,000 dollars to make it!
Also, as a publicity still he somehow decided not to use, say, a picture of a Van Nuys industrial park at 5 a. m., but a beautiful photo of Alain. Hmm.
Anyways, great article even if I did totally agree with it. I haven’t felt so self-righteous in years!
My memory of the screenings mentioned above doesn’t correspond to the descriptions in the reviews. I don’t think I said what was attributed to me, but I can’t be completely sure, since it was a long time ago. I am not aware of having met Supermarky or his alter ego Mary Morrissey. I do remember Paul Sbrizzi quite clearly. The discussion following the Los Angeles Filmforum screening of Finished in 1997 began with his screams of indignation. (Why do such explosions tend to come first in any Q&A session? I suppose it is because a waiting period causes a screamer to lose his nerve.) I have a distinct memory of my heart leaping into my throat when Sbrizzi began his rant. I was naïve enough to fear physical violence, since it was the first (though not the last) time my work inspired such behavior. I was relieved when he finally stormed out of the venue, but his bracing response did make for an exciting evening.
The following is an excerpt of a review that evaluated films exclusively on the basis of the amount of nudity they contained. The zippy title is the best part of the text; everything following the colon is an anticlimax.
Gary Morris, “The Penis in the Festival: The San Francisco Lesbian and Gay Film Festival at Crotch Level,” Bright Lights Film Journal, July 1997.
A porn documentary without penises is hard to imagine, but William E. Jones’ Finished, about sex star/suicide Alan Lambert, somehow managed to make one. Perhaps the NEA credit at the end of the film explains why there are so many shots of waves and industrial landscapes, and so little of Alan Lambert’s drool-inducing body.
If I had had the opportunity to talk to the writer from Bright Lights Film Journal, I would have told him that I made the decision to concentrate on things other than nudity in Finished long before the money from the Federal government reached me during the film’s post-production.
A competitor of the distributor of Is It Really So Strange? posted this text, so it can’t be considered a disinterested or fair review. The writer exhibits the most banal cliché of film criticism; he thinks he is talking about aesthetics when he is only worshiping money.
Eric Bresler, “Review,” tlavideo.com, July 22, 2006.
Is It Really So Strange? is a perfect example of a “documentary” that would never see the light of day if not for its subject matter. Of course subject matter is key for the success of any documentary, but director William E. Jones merely exploits modern crooner and former Smiths front man Morrissey’s fame in order to elaborate upon an observation that the audience has to take his word for in the first place. It's well known within Morrissey fandom that he has a Latino following, an underwhelming fact that Jones considers a societal phenomenon but lacks the evidence to prove. He takes center-stage in the film as the jaded Smiths fan who is trying to blend in with the youth of today, apparently in order to come to grips with his middle-age. The whole Latino fan premise is abandoned after ten minutes as Jones sits down with a mere twenty Morrissey fans (only a handful of which are Latino) who aren’t the least bit remarkable in any way. The film is ultimately 90 minutes of kids rattling off what Morrissey’s music means to them within the confines of some of the lowest production values ever released on DVD. The built-in camera microphone is used for half of the interviews providing a great deal of audible interference; cutaways to meaningless objects are annoyingly plentiful, and the interviewees’ backgrounds include an overabundance of bland white walls. Some sequences are beyond intolerable, such as footage of a Morrissey cover band sans music (apparently they could only get the rights for one Smiths song which is played over the end credits) as well as a fan seen sketching the cover of a Smiths 7" for what is probably a sixth of the film’s running time. Audiences also get to watch the director stiffly shuffle through the highlights of his record collection in an unintentionally humorous scene. The film’s one entertaining bit is Jones’ story about how he met Morrissey while tagging along with a photographer friend of his. Jones quotes every dry word that came from Moz’s mouth as if he were a higher power, which no true fan would fault the director for. This sequence provides the only clear images of the subject in the whole film as it is quite obvious that the singer didn’t want to get involved. Jones chalks this lack of participation up to his directorial interest in the fans themselves, none of which provide any enlightenment regarding the film’s original premise nor the celebrity culture. Once the topic at hand switches to such medial subjects as Morrissey’s sexuality, it’s pretty apparent that they are really no different than your average gossipy Britney Spears fan. This DVD release is aimed at the niche market that ingests all things Morrissey, but even the fanatics will be sorely disappointed.
The “sketching fan” is Mark Flores, an internationally known artist whose works can be seen here.