*with daft input from The Dictator*
Ladies & Germs!
If’n you loves strange and unusual cinema, do we have a treat for you.
What do bullfights, legendary cartoonist and painter –Robert Williams, Noise artist – Boyd Rice, and a mask clad amputee video star have in common?
Well, my feathered friends, the answer is THIS MAN :
Larry Wessel is not a man to shy away from controversy, the weird, or the taboo. A member of the UNPOP art movement, whose collages have appeared in both Hustler and Answer Me!, his documentaries can shock as they beguile.
Larry was kind enough to chat to us about cinema and his latest project – Eric & Shaye.
PMM: Larry, what is your first memory of sitting in a cinema?
LW: 53 years ago at the age of four I remember sitting in a dark theater with my parents and experiencing Walt Disney’s Fantasia. The Night on Bald Mountain sequence really gave me a thrill. Many years later I would encounter the same Disney devil in a mural painted by Anton LaVey on one of the kitchen walls in his black Victorian house in San Francisco, the notorious Church of Satan!
PMM: Is there much use of your studies in college or contacts made there in your work?
LW: None whatsoever. I felt there was a conspiracy to destroy my creative spirit at the university I attended. I dropped out after 2 years and never looked back.
PMM: You were an early user of the video camera-analog, yes?
LW: Yes. I started shooting video around 1986. Prior to that I shot all of my films using Super 8mm and 16mm cameras.
PMM: And later digital too?
A: Yes. I shot my first digital video in 2000. It was called “Lip-stick Liz” and was based on a poem by Robert Service.
PMM: What advantages did the early video equipment have and what were the hassles?
LW: The advantages for me were economical. Shooting video was a hell of a lot cheaper than shooting film. Also with the built in microphone I didn’t have to record the audio separately. The hassles with analog video occurred during the editing process. The Sony editing console I used was a bit of a challenge because it wasn’t frame accurate and oftentimes I would have to keep re-cutting a sequence to get it right. After I switched to shooting digital video and starting editing with Final Cut Pro my work became infinitely easier!
PMM: What draws you to the projects you choose? Esp. given that often they are extreme/ fringe/ transgressive?
LW: In Tijuana, a man prays to The Virgin of Guadalupe, steps into the bullring and immediately gets gored in the chest by a beast that has been genetically engineered to kill human beings. (Taurobolium)
In San Francisco, a macho Gulf War fighter pilot transforms himself into a woman with a penile-inversion genital conversion. (Sugar and Spice)
In Albuquerque, a teenage Robert Williams stands in line to get a blow job from a carnival fat lady. (Carny Talk)
At The California Medical Facility in Vacaville, a psychiatric inmate douses Charles Manson with a cup of paint thinner, lights a match and turns Charlie into a human torch. (Ultramegalopolis)
In a dockside parlor in San Pedro, beautiful girls squirm as tattoo needles penetrate their willing young flesh. (Tattoo Deluxe)
In Horrorwood, Karloffornia, Forrest J Ackerman, editor of the original “Famous Monsters of Filmland” magazine gives a tour of his “Ackermansion” where the props of hundreds of science fiction and horror films are displayed. (Sex, Death and The Hollywood Mystique)
In San Diego, teenage Boyd Rice presents First Lady Betty Ford with a severed sheep’s head. (Iconoclast)
In Berlin, a young artist is creating a highly detailed painting of a woman slitting her own throat after setting her house and dog on fire, cutting the head off of a chicken and stabbing her infant daughter to death. (Love)
Meanwhile, in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles an insane quadruple amputee wearing a plastic “wig mask” stars in short films created by master filmmaker Eric Fournier. (Eric and Shaye)
Extreme? Fringe? Transgressive? Perhaps. Fascinating? Absolutely! I don’t think I can generalize about what motivates me to do the films I do. It’s situational. The way I see it is that each film of mine is completely different. They are like snowflakes.
PMM: Tell me, what kind of documentaries do you hate?
LW: I try to steer clear of documentaries made by filmmakers with an axe to grind. Michael Moore is a good case in point. I don’t regard what he does as documentary. I see what he does as more of a form of propaganda. I don’t appreciate seeing propaganda being misrepresented as documentary. There is far too much propaganda today masquerading as documentary.
PMM: Any one art movement that has had impact on your life?
LW: I don’t really have a favorite art movement. I have always admired artists throughout history who have resisted being included in movements. Artists who stand alone. Two of my favorite artists Rene Magritte and Salvador Dali were both embraced and then rejected by the surrealist movement. So I find this whole concern with taxonomy in art in conflict with the very creativity and freedom that are central to the core of what art is really all about.
PMM: Having done Taurobolium, do you have any desire to see a bullfight now?
LW: Yes I do. La Fiesta Brava is a passion of mine that I don’t think I will ever lose. It’s very sad to me that the old downtown bullring in Tijuana that I spent 1991 through 1993 shooting my bullfight documentary – Taurobolium– which was torn down in 2007.
PMM: Was Robert Williams living in North Hollywood in a small tract home when you interviewed him and what was the process like?
LW: I met Robert Williams at a Rat Fink Reunion that Big Daddy Roth invited me to in 1984. Robert invited me to join The Art Boys, his “art gang“. In 1986, my drawing of Peter Lorre was included in The Art Boys’ “Day of Infamy” group exhibition at EZTV in Los Angeles. In 1987 I screened my film “Lust 4 Knife” at The Art Boys’ “Marinated Heart” show at Plamates of Hollywood. Also in 1987 I asked Robert if he would like to be in a six hour long documentary I was doing called “Yucky Secrets” which consisted entirely of people telling stories. “Sure Wessel, I can give you an hour’s worth of amusing anecdotes“, he said. So I went to visit him at the house he shared with his wife Suzanne in North Hollywood. When I started to shoot he was concerned that I wasn’t using a tripod and insisted that I use his. So I mounted the little compact VHS camcorder that I had borrowed from a neighbor of mine on Robert’s rusty old tripod. I locked it down and started shooting when he began his first tale, I had the camera zoomed in for a tight close up of his face and he immediately tilted his head to the side out of camera range! I had to quickly loosen the panning head on the tripod and move the camera over to where his face was … the camera lurched over to the left to follow his sudden movement. Later on I decided to just go ahead and leave it in because the story he was telling was just so darn good! This six hour opus was screened only once at the opening of a solo art exhibition of mine called “Yucky Secrets” at Jabberjaw in 1990. Five years later I decided that the best stories in “Yucky Secrets” were told by Robert Williams so I gathered all of his stories and my friend John Shourt composed and performed musical introductions to each of the stories and the end result was “CARNY TALK” released in 1995.
PMM: Didn’t know that you were in “Art Boys” – Could you talk about that?
LW: In 1985 there was the first Art Boys’ exhibition, the “Ugly Madonna Art Sweetsteaks“. It was a contest held to determine who could create “The Ugliest Madonna in History”. My friend, David Arshawsky won First Place for his cake with an airbrushed image of an obese Madonna in bondage, a dead baby under her arm and jumper cables attached to her nipples! The next year I was asked to join this notorious group of artists that included Robert Williams, Big Daddy Roth, S. Clay Wilson, Mark Mothersbaugh, Gary Panter, Georgeanne Deen, Pizz and many others. The two group exhibitions that I was included in were the last Art Boys shows ever.
PMM: Larry, you might be known for the amazing doc you made about Boyd Rice, author, musician, activist, etc. How did all that go and how long did it take to make?
LW: ICONOCLAST was a lot of fun to make. It took approximately 7 years to complete, having it’s world premiere in Los Angeles at Quentin Tarantino’s New Beverly Cinema in 2010. Mute Records has plans to re-release ICONOCLAST hopefully soon.
PMM: Any outtakes from the original that you could release someday?
LW: There are many cool things that didn’t make the final cut and my Director’s Cut of Iconoclast runs close to four hours! I haven’t given any thought to releasing any of those outtakes though but who knows, maybe some day.
PMM: What has been your relationship to mainstream Hollywood film making?
LW: My films have always existed outside of mainstream Hollywood even though I do have an IMDb profile!
PMM: Have you wanted to make a feature Hollywood film or been approached to do one.
LW: I would certainly love to. And no, I have not been approached to do one.
PMM: Which dead personality would you have liked to have interviewed/documented if you had a time machine?
LW: The great filmmaker Eric Fournier. He unfortunately passed away in 2010. I am currently making a documentary about him, his films and the star of his films Shaye Saint John. My documentary is called “Eric and Shaye“. I would have loved to have known him personally. Fortunately I have been able to keep his memory alive with the participation of those who did know him. He was a man possessed by genius. Through his works he has been able to achieve what few ever do, immortality.
PMM: How did you first come across the individual known as Shaye Saint John and were you immediately captivated by her?
LW: In 2002 on of my trips to the C.!.A. club in North Hollywood I was sitting at the bar and these videos called “Triggers” were being presented on this tiny t.v. screen perched above. I was mesmerized. This was 100% Pure Cinema and I was absolutely spellbound. I then became aware of Shaye’s website and it too was a Mind Blower! There is a never-ending labyrinth of adventures to be found on shayesaintjohn.net This website is like a virtual Disneyland for Shaye Saint John fans. A few years later, a compilation of these videos was released on DVD and I immediately ordered a copy and discovered that Eric Fournier was the name of the filmmaker who created these beautiful videos. Shaye Saint John can be found on Live Journal, Myspace, Facebook and she has her own YouTube channel called Elastic Spastic Plastic Fantastic. She has an international audience and her fans are constantly writting blogs about her and posting their own tribute videos to Youtube. Sadly in 2010 the world had lost a Genius. Eric Fournier had passed away. He was only 42 years old when he died. I was devasted when I found out this very sad news. I asked Eric’s friend Carl Crew to tell me the story of Eric Fournier and Shaye Saint John and I created a short film called “Trigger Happy” which I posted to YouTube in 2012. After the release of my LOVE documentary on Valentine’s Day in 2014, I began shooting “Eric and Shaye“, my upcoming feature length documentary about Eric Fournier and Shaye Saint John.
PMM: When do you expect “Eric and Shaye” will be completed?
LW: “”Eric and Shaye” is very much a work in progress. As of now, there is no deadline. I am still gathering information from all those who were close to Eric Fournier and Shaye Saint John and from other Shaye Saint John enthusiasts like myself. I encourage anyone who would like to contribute their stories or amusing anecdotes regarding Eric Fournier and/or Shaye Saint John to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org The more the merrier! The FUN has Just Begun.
PMM: Have you ever been fascinated by a subject that you thought, “Ooooo …that’s too strange to go near, even for me“?
A: Nothing is too strange for me. Welcome to the world of WesselMania! In my life as well as in my films I celebrate and embrace the outsider and find beauty in the astonishing, bizarre, fantastic, offbeat, outlandish, peculiar, unusual, weird, abnormal, eccentric, far-out, idiosyncratic, mystifying, oddball, and uncanny.
PMM: And finally, which films make your top 20?
1. Titticut Follies (1967) Frederick Wiseman.
2. F for Fake (1973) Orson Welles
3. Night and Fog (1955) Alain Resnais
4. Henry Miller Asleep and Awake (1975) Tom Schiller
5. Taurobolium (1994) Larry Wessel
6. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) Stanley Kubrick
7. The Loved One (1965) Tony Richardson
8. Freaks (1932) Tod Browning
9. The Devils (1971) Ken Russell
10. The Tenant (1976) Roman Polanski
11. 8 1/2 (1963) Federico Fellini
12. Blow Up (1966) Michelangelo Antonioni
13. The Wild Bunch (1969) Sam Peckinpah
14. Art Pepper: Notes From a Jazz Survivor (1982) Don McGlynn
15. The Birds (1963) Alfred Hitchcock
16. If… (1968) Lindsay Anderson
17. Burn! (1969) Gillo Pontecorvo
18. Santa Sangre (1989) Alejandro Jodorowsky
19. The Good, the Bad and The Ugly (1966) Sergio Leone
20. The Charles Bukowski Tapes (1987) Barbet Schroeder
Larry Wessel is a Producer, Director, Cameraman, Editor, known for Iconoclast (2010), Love (2014) and Ultramegalopolis (1995).Official YouTube page for Larry Wessel: https://www.youtube.com/user/2LionsOfficial website for LOVE:Official website for ERIC AND SHAYE:Official Facebook Fan Page for ERIC AND SHAYE:
Eric and Shaye (Documentary) A work in progress.
Love (Documentary) 2014
Daughter of The Gods (Animated short) 2013
The Mysterious Beauty of Margaret Thatcher (Animated short) 2013
Summer (Narrative short) 2013
The Sugar Weasel Story (Animated short) 2013
Thoughts on Brubeck (Animated short) 2012
Boy Scout (Animated short) 2012
Chaotic Hipsterism (Animated short) 2012
Blues (Animated short) 2012
Grooved (Animated short) 2012
The Hipster (Animated short) 2012
Trigger Happy (Animated short) 2012
Veruschka the Classical Cat (Animated short) 2012
Santeria! (Animated short) 2012
OIL! (Animated short) 2012
9/11 Is a Lie! (Documentary short) 2012
Let’s Talk About Chemtrails (Animated short) 2012
Have a Nice Day (Animated short) 2012
Whac A Mole (Animated short) 2012
Fly (Animated short) 2012
Giddlechrist (Animated short) 2011
Kraken (Animated short) 2011
Beast (Animated short) 2011
Giddle (Animated short) 2011
Midnight Cafe (Animated short) 2011
Punch (Animated short) 2011
Fur Balls (Animated short) 2011
Hallways of The Always (Animated short) 2011
Nightide (Animated short) 2011
You Axed For it (Animated short) 2011
Iconoclast (Documentary) 2010
Lip-stick Liz (Narrative short) 2000
Sex, Death & The Hollywood Mystique (Documentary) 1999
Song Demo for a Helen Keller World (Documentary) 1999
Carny Talk (Documentary) 1995
Tattoo Deluxe (Documentary) 1995
Sugar & Spice (Documentary) 1995
Ultramegalopolis (Documentary) 1995
Taurobolium (Documentary) 1994
Lust For Knife (Narrative short) 1981
The House on The Strand (Narrative short) 1980
The Pike in October (Documentary short) 1979
Watts Towers (Documentary short) 1979
The Bogey Man (Narrative short) 1979
A Perfect Day For Bananafish (Narrative short) 1974
The Vulture Eye (Narrative short) 1972
The Devil Inc. (Documentary) 1970
The Black Glove (Narrative short) 1968
4 thoughts on ““The FUN Has Just Begun!” – An Interview with Larry Wessel by Matt Dukes Jordan*”
Thank you so much Matt and Jason.
I am proud to be the subject of this extraordinary interview/article!!
It’s so great to have another Larry Wessel full length feature to look forward to! Iconoclast and Love were superb, adding value in an otherwise dull mainstream pop culture obsessed world. His shorts are sublime. I can’t wait to order my copy!
Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is some sort of great film, and an unforgettable endeavor. Technically and imaginatively, what he put into it is staggering.
My current email address is email@example.com and all of my documentaries are available to purchase on DVD here… http://WWW.WESSELMANIA.BIGCARTEL.COM