Yet again, a sports event has rendered a communiqué from the artworld into a non-event. This time, it was the Superfowl, I mean bowl, and it preempted a screening of Andy Milligan's fuck-you THE MAN WITH TWO HEADS a full two hours before the Superbowl even started. But that's sports for ya, innit? They colonize time and space as surely as fine forefathers did. An American pastime indeed. Never mind that the film ended at 4:20pm which would have given the football drones a full 40 MINUTES to get back to their tvs-cum-metronomes. (Actually, it was longer than that since we started the film a few minutes before three and several splices would have saved the drones another full minute at least.) NO - the whole freakin' daaaaaay had to be reserved for the pigskin parade. It isn't enough that football games have traditionally preempted the season premieres (!) of The Simpsons (!!) and Jack Smith knows what else. It's also isn't enough that this Bevo fuck dominates the visual schema of Austin more than green lights do (and yeah, I know Bevo is college and the Superbowl is professional - the oppressiveness is all of a piece; now what can YOU tell me about Andy Milligan?!?). Football's gotta have it all. And they got it. Well, 99.99% of it. The .01% was one of the most visceral screenings I've ever experienced (or non-experienced).
It all started when The Film Loop (UT-Austin's premiere film-on-film film society) needed a cheap film to screen. We could get THE MAN WITH TWO HEADS for free so I chose it as our first film of 2006. Here was my calls to arms:
THE MAN WITH TWO HEADS
(D. Andy Milligan US 1972 80min. 16mm)
"Come spend an afternoon in the tortured mind of Andy Milligan – the Fassbinder of exploitation cinema. As per exploitation practice, this film features no man with two heads. Instead, we witness a Dr. Jekyll (apparently channeling Dirk Bogarde) who torments prostitutes in 19th century London (or the microbudget approximation thereof) and partakes in a remarkable S/M orgy which rivals Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures in its sheer ungraspable extraterrestriality. Less bitchy than the Milligan norm, The Man with Two Heads still seethes with his characteristic nihilism and hatred for all things breathing. So here’s your golden opportunity to buy into the Andy Milligan cult now and reap huge cultural capital rewards tomorrow!"
A shot heard...round the corner? Down the Alamo Drafthouse staircase? Barely. Only two Loopers showed up and we barely counted. I programmed the thing and was there to introduce it (and also to, ya know, see it!). Afsheen projected it but couldn't hear a thing in the booth. Ten other lost souls drifted in, none in raincoats, all sentient. One fresh faced lad led Afsheen to suspect they were all here for the Steve Martin vehicle THE MAN WITH TWO BRAINS. But where was my student who was disappointed we weren't screening THE THING WITH TWO HEADS? If he knew THING existed, how could he resist a true rip-off like MAN from the very same year? Very easily, it appears. Battleworn, Afhseen and I decided to let everyone in for free, small pittance for resisting the insidious pull of the Superbowl Shuffle.
So: a film society without a society. A film screening with barely an audience there to see it. We were the "no one" in "if a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" This was somehow appropriate to THE MAN WITH TWO HEADS because Milligan's films court no one. Where the Superbowl wants to travel down your every capillary, a GHASTLY ONES or a BLOODTHIRSTY BUTCHERS or my beloved SEEDS is barely concerned you're here to witness it. Nothing is shot for your optimum point of view. Milligan shamelessly bucks the 180 degree rule. A mouth talks below the frame. The insipid, found, wall-to-wall non-diegetic music obscures much of the dialogue.
Superbowl cameras will frequently jump over the entire stadium and give you the illusion that 99.99% = 100%. Milligan rarely has much space behind his camera so his interiors (and even exteriors) are necessarily tight, a visual reminder of the economically disenfranchised .01% (but really much, much more). That's why his preposterous overuse of fog is so endearing - it fills in for the space that isn't even there in the first place. Superbowl time is obsessively regimented - preshow, halftime, quarters, stop and start, stop and start, postshow bullshitting (not to mention the PREpreshow purchasing of beer and nacho hats). Milligan pulls time out of shape like a piece of taffy. It becomes distended drearily in the many scenes of hetero chit-chat, as if to throw their hegemony right back in their faces - you wanna dominate screen time? well there ya go! But in the amazing final act (if one could call it that), time gets bewilderingly compressed, most memorably in that horror show of an orgy. What is its spatial/temporal relationship to what has transpired before and what will happen after? We never know. It shimmies down into the text and in just a minute or so, levitates back up again. Overseen by a wart-infested hag, the orgy brooks no introduction. Dr. Jekyll communicates with the hag in grunts and shoves and therefore, we know not when/where he is. At the end of a hellish tour of nipple torture and syringe play (all grunged over with Milligan's hand-held, swirling camera), Dr. Jekyll beckons a naked woman towards him. Who, we don't know. What happens next, we don't know. The scene fades.
From that moment on, we can barely catch our breaths. Decapitations skid into conversations. A splice in the print brings Dr. Jekyll into a room without a knock on the door. Fog follows him wherever he goes now. Shrill music hall piano and absurdly canted angles makes us loose our footing. Everyone looks more haggard, especially the beauty-exhausted Berwick Kaler who sleeps lustfully in the nude and gives us a judicious look at his ass. This is late 19th century England where .01% of the population slept in the nude. Kaler played one of them and Milligan caught his gorgeous orbs on film. Alas, we never get to examine the thin white pajama in which he subsequently hides his bottom half - Dr. Jekyll soon slices him dead.
It all winds down in the basement. Or one must suppose. Dr. Jekyll's meets his end in a smoke-filled, jerky space that looks collaged together like a ransom note. A larger audience might have snickered at the pathetic cap gun shots that kill the man and his two heads. But in this uncomfortably intimate setting, they were one more cog in a chaotic, unrepeatable sequence.
The print lobbed off the "THE END" title. Fuck you! It's over! Get outta here!
The guy in front of me turned around and let out a beat-up sigh. We had all been kicked around like a football for 80 minutes. But recounting the experience would inevitably fall on Superbowl ears, deaf ears. We had all heard a tree fall in the woods. But outside of the Superbowl energy ball, we were no one. If an Andy Milligan film plays "during" the Superbowl and "no one" is there to see it, will we make a sound?
Fuck you! It's over! Get outta here!