It's a Monday night with occasional downpours, but the steamy weather and the chance to view Andy Warhol's rarely screened tribute to the underground legend, poet, and actor Taylor Meade's posterior has the crowd, composed mainly of artsy gayboys, both young and old, lining up en masse in the lobby of the Museum of Modern Art.
A murmur of true excitement, amidst the chatter about organic art exhibits and mild flirtations, greets the ear as the flip-floppers are ushered into the Sculpture Garden. Instantly, stylized composure is disposed of as there's a mad rush for seats with an unobstructed view. Those who lose out on the "Musical Chairs Grab" wind up sitting on steps, which actually proffer a better sight line.
This highly social event, by the way, was organized into being by several bright-eyed cultural-mavens-in-the-making. Sophie Cavoulacos, the Curatorial Assistant in the Department of Film (MOMA), has helped organize the film exhibition Dirty Looks at MoMA: Mining the Collection, a monthly screening of the unexpected. Upcoming is Lothar Lambert's1 Berlin Harlem, which co-stars the unforgettable Tally Brown (August 22).
The groundbreaking umbrella event, though, is "Dirty Looks on Location," "a month of queer interventions in New York City Spaces," which runs until July 31. Bradford Nordeen, the Creative Director, along with his Assistant Directors, David Everitt Howe and Karl McCool, are daily showcasing mostly underground films and videos in queer social spaces both operating and defunct, such as shuttered bathhouses. (Be prepared with the Lysol.) Some of the noted directors being honored include Su Friedrich, Bette Gordon, Bruce LaBruce, Rosa von Praunheim, and Pedro Almodovar.
Back to Mead's butt.
This 1965 film was a 70-minute response to a letter sent to The Village Voice by a Peter Emanuel Goodman, who was upset by Jonas Mekas's film reviews for the paper: "I have tolerated his praise of films shot without cameras, films shot without lenses, films shot without film, films shot out of focus, films focusing on Taylor Mead's ass for two hours, etc. . . . But the August 13 column in praise of Andy Warhol was a bit too much."
Mead retorted in a following reader's response column: "Re. Peter Goldman's letter in The Voice, Andy Warhol and I have searched the archives of the Warhol colossus and find no 'two hour film of Taylor Mead's ass.' We are rectifying this undersight with the unlimited resources at our command. Love and kisses."
Thus a classic of sorts, if you are into unexercised tushes, was born. And the film is everything you might expect from Warhol in the era when he was still directing his own movies.
There's no soundtrack (except for the site-specific whoosh of the MoMA's fountains and the whirr of Big Apple traffic on 53rd and 54th streets). The 16mm visuals are a lush black and white. As for the lead: a derriere that at times almost looks as if it's carved out of marble, and certainly out-acts many a modern starlet.
Action. Take One.
At first, Mead's rump is immobile, then animated, shimmying to the left and to the right. This goes on for quite a while, causing more than a few folk to start interacting with their iPhones. Then Mead starts stuffing dollar bills up his fanny as if he were housing an anal ATM.Cash is pursued by a photo of Lady Bird Johnson; a glossy of Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor in The Birds; a snap of Liz Taylor and Richard Burton in The V.I.P.s; and the Beatles on the cover of Life. All up the ol' keester.
Then Mead starts fluttering his hands before scratching his ass cheeks.
At this moment, a museum guard walking by looks at the screen, then looks at the intermittently enthralled audience, and shakes his head.
Shortly, the projector's reels get stuck, and the celluloid vision of Mead's rear starts burning up. The audience gets excited, but the problem is fixed, and the film continues.
Soon, Hemingway's Moveable Feast goes up the butt, followed by Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, a gay porn magazine entitled BIG, flowers, a vacuum cleaner hose, plus a Scott toilet tissue wrapper.
Finally the film ends. Those who remain, which are most, offer heartfelt applause. But is this film just a jokey response to a glib note in a weekly rag, or an incisive commentary on the intellectual state of America in the '60s?
Ronald Gregg, a Senior Lecturer at Yale, has noted that the film is an entryway into Mead's world, "a cross between burlesque performance of the various uses of the ass and sharp critique of the anal stage in Freudian psychology." And according to cultural critic Wayne Koestenbaum, "Taylor Mead, by flaunting ass in the face of censors, [has proved] his ass is a superstar . . . ."
But in his collection of poetry, Taylor Mead on Amphetamine and in Europe (1968), the superstar probably said it best:
Mr. Mead passed away on May 8. - Brandon Judell
Mr. Judell is currently teaching "Theatre into Film" and "The Arts in New York City" at The City College of New York and is Coordinator of The Simon H. Rifkind Center. He has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire.com, the New York Daily News, Soho Style, and The Advocate, and is anthologized in Cynthia Fuchs's Spike Lee Interviews (University Press of Mississippi) and John Preston's A Member of the Family (Dutton). He is also a member of the performance/writing group FlashPoint.