Independent film: Lydia Lunch channels pain into punk in “The War Is Never Over”


Lydia Lunch on stage, in a scene from the documentary “The War Is Never Over”. Photo courtesy of Kino Marquee

“Short, sharp, precise shots with brutal precision.”

This is how Lydia Lunch describes the music of her longtime debut band, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks. And while the singer, poet, and empowerment guru, now 62, has showcased many different outfits over her four-plus decades of music (8-Eyed Spy, 13:13, Queen of Siam, Retrovirus), this description could fit all of Lunch’s work, as well as director Beth B’s new documentary about her, “Lydia Lunch: The War Is Never Over.”

Airing at Portland’s Apohadion Theater until the end of July, the documentary arrives at a fast but deadly 77-minute pace. It may seem too short to encompass Lydia Lunch, especially as uninitiated viewers learn more about her and the poignant, eventful maelstrom that has been her life. But, honestly, it’s a perfect length. Like the music from Lunch, a little is all that is recommended to be taken in one sitting.

Born into an abusive family in upstate New York, Lunch, then 16, jumped on a bus to go to apocalyptic decaying New York in 1975. Taking her suitcase to a club, Lunch a Quickly wowed the bad rock band frontman onto the stage, moved into the band’s squalid digs and embarked on the city’s booming punk scene, eventually leading his own band, provocative Teenage Jesus and the Jerks. Photos from the time show Lunch as a young town crier with a smeared face, dressed in fishnets and tattered lingerie, or, according to Lunch’s current assessment, “a dark-haired, traumatic, sadistic, and face killer. baby”.

As the film presents it with unabashed pragmatism befitting its subject matter, this assessment isn’t just noise. Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, who befriended the 5-foot-tall teenager Lunch, proclaims, with all seriousness, “There was no one more dangerous” in a punk scene housed in the The rotting desert that was the Lower East Side of the 1970s. As Lunch herself puts it of her uncompromising presence, “I was a successful predator.”

Punk was all about the rebellion, and most of today’s punk documentaries are about how that rebellion either failed or softened. “The War is Never Over” is an apt title for B’s film, however, as Lydia Lunch has never ceased to rail against a world that continues to act like an executioner, especially to women. On the one hand, Lunch’s profession was not punk but “no-wave”, a genre marked by a deliberate discordance and an “unfriendly” atonality. Basically, without hesitation, punk, for all its fury, was too invested to sound like music, whereas Lunch’s goal was (and is) “to make the most angry, yet accurate bitter music. which was just a scream from the bowels of the caterwaul. As Lunch explains in the film, “It was me exorcising my hatred and anger.”

Anyone who has listened to Lydia Lunch’s music over the years knows this is no exaggeration. And viewers of “Lydia Lunch: The War Is Never Over” discover that Lunch’s ever-roaring hatred and rage comes from a deeply real place. The film begins with the following disclaimer: “The next film is about assault, child abuse, and mature situations,” so this review will suggest the same at this point. Lunch’s first story in the film is a terrifying anecdote about his kidnapping at gunpoint by a man with very bad (albeit strange) intentions, an experience which Lunch says taught him at a young age that ” It’s not a question of sex, it’s a question of power. ” Sexually abused by her father from childhood until her escape to New York, the singer presents herself as “the great avenger of all women against men”.

The film unpacks Lunch’s singular style (or music and existence) in crude but dirty eloquence. Examining the explosive mix of anger and sexuality that has marked his music and his life, Lunch thoughtfully admits to having found exorcism in aggression and rage. (A disturbingly erotically erotic piece of speech emerges with Lunch’s voice eerily resembling Mercedes McCambridge’s husky demon voice from “The Exorcist.”) Shown on stage relentlessly, mocking and enticing a male spectator with a barrage of sexualized abuse, Lydia Lunch wields her power to shock and attract, all in the service of her relentless and unfathomable needs. Describing without flinching how his father’s abuse and a life of misogynistic hostility opened his eyes to the appalling cruelty that seems to have been instilled in the male of the species, Lunch explains, with painful clarity, “What you got. need is tenderness that was denied to you as a child, but as a defense mechanism if you don’t get it you will be looking for something monstrous.

Despite all her admirable ferocity, Lydia Lunch is not there to reassure or to provide solutions. The film shows Lunch’s ever-thorny anger at everyone, from Hollywood actresses who – in her eyes – accepted their abuse by powerful men, to Hillary Clinton for – again, according to Lunch – simply mimicking genocidal posture and warrior of her male predecessors. . Stories from admiring musicians show how Lunch’s unique blend of sexuality and hostility can leave very real marks on everyone around her, while the singer’s self-awareness of her own still-active personality. reveals the lingering pain that fuels her one of a lovable creative fire. As L7’s Donita Sparks says, “She’s the queen of this part of the underground, and yet she’s unsuited to it.”

The world of Lydia Lunch has always been a vicious and ruthless world, where this lonely and tiny woman has managed to forge an independence born out of bloody necessity. “Lydia Lunch: The War Is Never Over” is a brief, brutal, brutal punch of unwelcome enlightenment on a woman who continues to ruthlessly sculpt what she needs and wants in a world of seemingly bottomless pain and brutality. Enjoy.

“Lydia Lunch: The War Is Never Over” airs on Portland’s own No-Compromise Apohadion Theater until July 30. It’s $ 12, with a portion of the proceeds going to keep the lights of the Apohadion on until this ever-dangerous pandemic allows for in-person screenings and concerts again. It is not rated, but for (brave) adults only.

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.

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