Shade Rupe’s Dark Stars Rising is a collection of interviews with first class weirdos in the world of cinema and performance. What makes it a special read for connoisseurs of this sort of bizarre entertainment is Rupe’s earnest, non-ironic, deeply curious set of questions, which bring out a candor and trust in his subjects. Told entirely in Q&A format, there’s a shortage of editorializing, and Rupe allows his superstars to speak for themselves.
For example, the spectacularly large drag queen Divine, best known for appearing in such John Waters classics as Pink Flamingos and Polyester, opens up about various inherent vulnerabilities and interests. Perhaps it’s because Rupe’s very first question isn’t a question—he simply states, “Those are great shoes.” Divine’s response is, “I always say I look normal from my neck to my ankles, and the head and the shoes are always, as I say, fucked up.” Rupe’s follow-up question wonders if Divine gets bugged a lot for looking “normal” and already we’re set up for a little more to the discussion than, “Did you really eat the dog turd in that movie?”
Transgressive bad-boy filmmakers like Gaspar Noe (I Stand Alone) and Richard Kern (You Killed Me First) delve into their work, and how they have evolved over the years. Kern’s deadpan sense of humor about living in his fantasies is summed up when he says, “[When I was making] all that violent stuff, I was in that phase. Now I’m in the pervert phase. I don’t have to hide anymore.” Noe explains how his projects became fueled by personal anger at being rejected by financiers, or observing his friends make movies while his hands were tied. “Then you start hating the person who refused your script,” he says, “[to the point where] you kill her in your own dreams…and [when you finally make the film] it all comes out in the movie!”
Jim Van Bebber (The Manson Family) talks at great length about the struggles of money and distribution, and Richard Stanley (Dust Devil) reminisces about the art form but also how he has to keep going when the bottom falls out from projects and they simply dissolve. Buddy Giovinazzo (Combat Shock) waxes philosophical about life after his movie got recut and his gradual transition into writing novels. While one wishes Rupe would ask them to wax philosophical about the work itself, it’s nevertheless compelling to see how these directors on the fringe try to carve out some kind of creative existence for themselves.
Some of the interviews are more catchy—you can’t go wrong with witty character actor Udo Kier, who recounts his experiences with Gus Van Sant, Lars von Trier and other directors, but keeps the focus centered on himself (”Medea is my favorite film because I play the main part, of course. That’s why it’s my favorite film.”) Other entertainers focused on their own sense of self, such as performance artist Brother Theodore and filmmaker/actor Crispin Glover, are wonderfully loopy stunt interviews. Alejandro Jodorowsky even does a Tarot card reading of the author which includes the delicious bon mot, “Paint your beard gold and rape your mother!” The author seems to smile as he acknowledges these words to live by.
While some of the interview subjects are less vivid than the photographs that accompany the article (Zamora the Torture King is more of a spectacle than a raconteur; Hermann Nitsch’s flesh and blood sculptures speak louder than his ability to elucidate his themes), who else—what other journalist—would take the time to track down these strange fellows and get them to take a trip down memory lane? Johanna Went is able to give us a glimpse into a punk rock scene that doesn’t really seem to exist anymore, back in a time when the club community seemed smaller somehow—more of a social network than nowadays, where everything seems to have moved online. And I wonder if the video art of the great eccentric Floria Sigismondi, and the gay-grim texts of Dennis Cooper, are now museum pieces of yesteryear. If they are, that’s a great pity, and thank god Shade Rupe is cataloguing and creating a context for these artists. They exist within the margins, and we the masses need to be continually reminded of their existence.
Shade Rupe’s Dark Stars Rising: Conversations from the Outer Realms was released on February 9, 2011 by Headpress. To purchase it, click here.