Thursday, June 12, 2008

Lydia Lunch - "Video Hysterie 1978-2006" DVD

The career of the enigmatic Lydia Lunch has been one of constant reinvention. Her work has plumbed the depths of the human condition and (especially) the more violent nature of sexuality. Her own claim that she uses 'sex as a weapon against man' is a tall, and entirely necessary order even today. Her confrontational persona has likely intimidated many an audience, but in reality, this sharply witty and intelligent artist has done a huge part in empowering females in outsider culture, particularly in the face of adversity at the hands of, uhm, men. Sure, you can argue that her softcore films with famed NYC sleaze director Richard Kern may have backfired in some ways, but her tireless and polarizing work has gone on, and this collection of video clips attempts to convey a sense of Lydia's scope and influence over 30 years of recording, writing, and performing.

Beginning with the wildly tuneless no-wave noise-punk of her early band, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, and continuing to her more musical swamp-a-billy act 8 Eyed Spy (both with her characteristic monotone vox), we are then steered into what I think has been her finest hour, perhaps. Namely, her brief collaboration with the Birthday Party's Rowland S. Howard. Howard's distinctive and unusual junkie-cool guitar shrapnel fit perfectly with Lydia's seductive 'black widow' sensibilities. And live, it seemed to work as well as on record (check out their marvelous 'Shotgun Wedding' CD - if you can find it). We are treated as well to a blistering rock tour-de-force with German group Die Haut (which featured future members of the Bad Seeds and Einsturzende Neubauten). Another highlight there, for sure.

Her 90's era spoken rants follow this, and with stylish musical backing from folks like Joe Budenholzer, they're transformed into a kind of sound poetry (as opposed to primal feminist rally-cries). In fact, this era shows Lydia's work even approaching a kind of elegant mystical and ambient meditational quality (again, in contrast to her early abrasiveness and audience-baiting). 'Knives In My Drain' (with Terry Edwards, Ian White, and others) is even a cool bluesy number that is a kind of spiritual cousin to greats like Nina Simone or Diamanda Galas. A nice twist.

Now, the quality of some of these clips is kinda poor, being mastered from old VHS recordings, but 'Video Hysterie' does as good a job as possible in documenting some of her raw and early music and live performances. It's just a shame that the best part of this 80-minute set isn't even officially a part of the programme. The 15-minute 'Flashpoint' featurette documentary, which traces Lydia's path in music and ideology far better than the bootleg-quality smattering of live clips could ever hope to do, is the definite highlight here. If that were expanded to a feature-length doc, I would be most impressed. So, a bit of a letdown here, but still necessary for anyone who wants to get to 'know' Lydia Lunch without resorting to buying an assload of recorded works. (MVD Visual)

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