The Performant: Beats and Beuys - is anything sacred?

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Melting the masters with Oddball Films and Keith Hennessey

In a scene from the hilariously boffo short film Pull My Daisy an unruly gang of beatniks (Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky, and Gregory Corso) grill their pal’s invited guest, “The Bishop” (Richard Bellamy) about the relative holiness of the world around them, from baseball to cockroaches to the male organ. Is this-and-that holy, is such-and-such holy? they slur via Jack Kerouac’s partially-improvised narration. Their good-natured interrogation is doubtlessly modeled on Ginsberg’s “Footnote to Howl”—that affirmative litany asserting the holiness of cocks, typewriters, and “the bop apocalypse”. Throughout, their commitment to proving the divine in the human gives their tactless party-crashing a metaphysical justification and an almost wide-eyed innocence.

 The tiny screening room of Oddball Films, might seem at a casual glance to lack a direct conduit to heaven, but scouring the stacks one does find all manner of human concerns. Animated shorts, trailers, features, industrial, educational and other “ephemeral” flicks fill the warehouse-like space in leaning towers of film cans. During last Friday’s screening of beat and beat-themed films (Bongo Beatin’ Beatniks), metaphysics, innocence, and the meaning of art collided with the carnal, the craven, and the brazen, especially through a series of clips from “beat-sploitation” classics such as Beat Girl and the Bloody Brood. A touch of dada surfaced in the wonderfully bizarre Help, my Snowman’s Burning Down, and the earthly pleasure of music-making was encapsulated by jazz short Jammin’ the Blues. Tucked away on the second floor of a furniture warehouse on Capp Street, Oddball Films screens its collection of weird gems on a regular basis, and seems as good a place as any to spend time considering the archived intersection between flesh and spirit.  

Meanwhile, at a performance of Keith Hennessey’s “Crotch: all the Joseph Beuys references in the world cannot heal the pain…” the intersection between art and philosophy was humorously relayed via a quick lecture which began with Plato, Hegel, and Judith Butler, and ended somewhere around Arendt, Focault, and Wagner. Fortunately, you don’t win prestigious dance awards by spending all your stage time talking about Rudolf Steiner, so eventually Hennessey relented, took off his pants, and donned a “Scream” mask.

His body—squatting, hopping, attempting to stand on its head—asked that question which the mind has a hard time answering. Is this-and-that holy, is such-and-such holy? All joking aside, he removed the mask, helped his stage manager strike a part of his set, and nailed two boards together—a cross to bear—and balanced it on his head, slowly moving across the stage in tears. In a final act of acceptance, he barricaded his genitals behind a wall of lard, invited us onstage with him, and with needle and thread, sewed the visible scars on his body to the clothing of the three nearest audience members, covered himself in a rain of glitter, and inserted a set of misshapen Halloween teeth for good measure. In unison, we sang along to the Nirvana tune hypnotically playing in the background (“Something in the Way”), until almost without warning, the performer was gone—but the audience was still connected. Flesh and spirit.

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