Previously at the ICA - Films
15 Sep 2013
Remember when New York was filthy? This is the cinematic world of Variety, where the nightly wash of neon round Times Square holds a threatening edge, and desires are rated XXX. Written by Kathy Acker, this lost gem of downtown post-punk cinema is both a time capsule from an energetic moment in American independent filmmaking and a simmering portrait of a young woman losing her grip on reality.
Christine is adrift, trying to pay the rent, when barmaid and best friend Nan suggests a gig working in the box office of the Variety, a porn cinema. Initially unphased by the job, curiosity soon gets the better of her and Christine is drawn into the world of her patrons, and grows increasing fascinated by a shadowy customer, with a fervour that spills into obsession.
Before there was Girls, or Frances Ha, there has been a long line of art, film and literature dealing with young women, lost in the city and seeking something, a job, a relationship, a sense of what the hell they’re doing with their lives. Hailed as 'a feminist Vertigo' on its release by LA Weekly, Bette Gordon's feature film debut may pass the Bechdel Test, but is much more ambiguous than polemical, and the strange flip of voyeurism from a male to female perspective gives this character study some fascinatingly blurred edges.
As part of a downtown Manhattan scene/moment that featured Jim Jarmusch, Susan Seidelman, Amos Poe and others, as documented in last year’s Blank City, Variety features an impressive post-punk pedigree. The film features the soon-to-be-famous photographer Nan Goldin as Christine's smart cookie barmaid pal, a sleazy voice cameo from Spalding Gray, an early turn by Luis Guzman as the porn cinema’s caretaker, and even a cameo from John Waters' muse and underground heroine Cookie Mueller. John Lurie provides a suitably scuzzy jazz score and shooting duties fall to cinematographers John Foster (Wild Style, Keane) and Tom DiCillo (Stranger Than Paradise, Underground U.S.A) with the latter going on to direct Johnny Suede and Living in Oblivion.
Little screened in the UK, this is a welcome opportunity to discover a classic of feminist underground transgressive New York cinema. Tonight, Variety is presented on 35mm by She Shark Industries, a new independent enterprise from film programmer Kate Taylor.
This screening is part of Scalarama, a UK-wide celebration of cinema taking place throughout September 2013.
Variety, dir Bette Gordon, USA 1983, 97 mins, cert 18
All films are 18+ unless otherwise stated.