The best way to rob a bank is to own one

December 20, 2012 § Leave a comment

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“You da One” is a “sexy” video. I am employing scare quotes, because I have roughly as much erotic response to Rihanna as I do to, say, a Styrofoam cup or a slab of Formica. Rihanna’s private dancer show in “You da One,” however, got me to thinking of a video that had a pretty seismic effect on my young libido, released as it was when I was thirteen years old: The Breeders’ “Divine Hammer”.

The video is credited to Kim Gordon, that hip Zelig Spike Jonze, and Richard Kern—and I am willing to bet that the black-and-white segments in which Kim Deal is bending and stretching on a palette for the delectation of a camera perched overhead are the work of Kern. (There is another version of the video, hosted on YouTube by Breeders’ label 4AD, which replaces these segments with interpolations of the band playing. Needless to say, it is not nearly so interesting.)

Kern was one of those down-and-out Manhattan decadents who, along with Lydia Lunch and Nick Zedd, banded together under the rubric of “Cinema of Transgression” in the early ‘80s, all interested in exploring the outer limits of deviant sexuality. Watching Kern and Zedd’s Thrust in Me, in which Zedd throat-fucks his own cross-dressed doppelganger, was certainly a revelation of sorts to my adolescent self when it was rented from Alexandria, Virginia’s late, lamented Video Vault.

What was so enrapturing about the “Divine Hammer” video? What made it hot in a way that, say, MTV’s “The Grind” most assuredly was not? I would venture to guess that it was something to do with a bracing “realness.” Kim Deal looked like a girl you would see around—in fact, she’s from outside Dayton, Ohio, 40 miles as the crow flies from where I grew up—and there is something incredibly intimate and playful in her limbering up, as though she’s getting ready to take somebody—Please, please me!—to the mat.

The simulation of privileged intimacy in Kern’s bedroom shoots, a world away from music-video choreography and studio gloss, would in time combine with the aesthetic of porno from the shot-on-the-fly 8mm smoker era. The result was a popularized, deliberately-awkward amateur-smut aesthetic whose development can be traced through Mark Romanek’s 1997 video for Fiona Apple’s “Criminal,” Vincent Gallo’s 1997 Buffalo ’66 (and the pederastic, paneled ’70s rec-room ads by Gallo’s sometime-employer, Calvin Klein), right up through to the adverts by American Apparel that grace the back cover of Vice Magazine, in which Kern’s pictures regularly appear today, supplemented by affiliated online television network VBS.tv’s “Shot By Kern” featurettes. The past decade has seen a concurrent boom in demographic-targeting alt-porn; while grand-dad was content to glance over his centerfold’s Turn-Offs, the contemporary hip consumer wants to know that the young lady whom he or she is about to watch have anal sex is a fan of Alkaline Trio, or, in the case of Sasha Grey—photographed by Kern!—is a card-carrying Existentialist. This is something like the erotic equivalent of conscientious farm-to-table dining, and may even constitute an ethical advancement of some sort. I have no idea.  read more

STILL: Ann Hirsch

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