Before I started writing this, I was trying to remember the exact moment I discovered Joe Coleman, who I consider to be my favorite living artist. I’m pretty sure it was about 12 years ago when I was working at Borders Bookstore (RIP) in Atlanta, Georgia. I was shelving the art books early in the morning before any customers came in, and I came upon Cosmic Retribution: The Infernal Art of Joe Coleman. I spent about thirty minutes on the clock reading the book and looking at the pictures and realized that there was someone out there making art that resonated with me.
Joe Coleman’s paintings more often than not centered on outsiders of every stratum, whether it’s music (A Picture From Life’s Other Side; Hank Williams, Captain Beefheart, etc.), film (American Venus; Jayne Mansfield, the original poster for Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, starring Michael Rooker, etc.), serial killers (Portrait of Charles Manson, Portrait of Albert Fish), historical figures (The Man Who Walked Through Walls; Harry Houdini, Old Man Brown; John Brown, etc.), or himself (Self Portrait: 1986, I Am Joe’s Circulatory System, 1991, Love Song, 1999). Mr. Coleman is no stranger to what most normies would consider the outer stretches of society.
So, it makes perfect sense that The Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies would have Joe Coleman discuss his favorite films made by “outsiders”. Even though he doesn’t consider himself an outsider artist by definition, Mr. Coleman isn’t afraid to delve into the darkness that most people don’t care to explore. He also is a friend of the losers of the world, of “the accused”, and the forgotten. However, Joe has a wealth of knowledge about art history and, well, everything. So, we can agree on a certain level that when you say “Outsider Art”, Joe Coleman is not necessarily within that realm; he’s simply a champion of outsiders everywhere.
Heather Buckley, producer, writer, and New Jersey punk rocker, had the idea for this riveting, haunting, and enlightening discussion/crash course. She moderated the discussion and I’m incredibly grateful that this whole thing came together. I have always wanted to meet Joe Coleman, and because of Heather and Joe Yanick, and the amazing Film Noir Theater, I got the chance.
Before I get into the specifics of this awesome master class, I would first like to discuss how awesome that the Film Noir Cinema is for a moment. Long ago, well, almost 11 years ago, when I had lived in New York City for about six months, I was unemployed and not quite sure what was going to happen. Thankfully, I harassed Ricky, one of the managers at Kim’s Video, to the ends of the Earth and he finally ended up giving me a job. That job was like the second semester of my ramshackle fake film school education (first semester being my brief disastrous tenure at Troma Entertainment). The place closed about three months after I worked there. It had one of the biggest, most exciting rental collections in the world, which now resides in a hotel in Sicily, but I digress.
What I’m getting at is that video stores were so important to film nerds growing up. I wouldn’t know half of the information about cinema I do now, if it weren’t for the advent of the video store. Kim’s was The Grand Poobah of New York City video stores, and after their St. Mark’s location closed, many other video stores followed suit. St. Mark’s Place is now almost entirely recognizable and most people get their movie picks from some sort of Internet outlet. At the writing of this article there are now only two places in the 5 boroughs that rent out DVD’s; Videology in Williamsburg (which used to be a two story video store, but is now a bar/screening room, with a small collection of rentable movies), and Film Noir Cinema (this is that I know of and please let me know if I’m wrong because I will go to any video store ever).
Film Noir sort of picks up where Kim’s left off and goes beyond it. Located in a former funeral home, the front of the space boasts a super impressive collection of films, and the back is a 55-seat single screen theater. It’s basically a Brooklyn film-lover’s wet dream. Will Malitek opened the theater/video store on Meserole Avenue in Greenpoint 2 years ago from their old spot (that was only a video store, not a theater) on Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg. The space used to be a funeral home, which is incredibly appropriate for the guest of the evening.
Coleman told us that he used to play in the cemetery across the street from his house. He has always been fascinated by death, which he says is in part due to the fact that he was raised Catholic. In his childhood thoughts when he saw Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space, he thought that the lighting in the cemetery must have been the fires of hell.
Speaking of Plan 9, Coleman takes a seemingly crazy leap of comparing the classic Ed Wood flop (which I love, regardless) to Jean Luc Godard’s Alphaville. His logic is that both films ask us to take a leap of faith and just believe what the film’s telling us. For example, the “villain” in Alphaville is basically just an exhaust fan, and the flying saucers from Plan 9 are hubcaps.
Joe Coleman really does know his shit when it comes to film. We were first presented with two films I have never seen but now must whenever I get a free moment, Angst and Dementia (also known as Daughter of Horror). Angst is a German serial killer movie from 1983 (the year I was born, hooray!) that predated Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer by a few years. Dementia is from the 50’s. Both films show extreme violence, Angst showing a very realistic depiction of a murder and Dementia showing a much more stylized version. Both directors, Gerald Kargl and John Parker were ostracized for their choices at the time of their release.
In another comparison we have Charles Brabin’s Beast of the City and Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch. I had never seen Beast of the City but the final scene of that film and the final scene of The Wild Bunch are pretty much exactly the same. He also said that the character of Freddie Sykes (played by Edmond O’Brien) was almost a total replication in appearance and demeanor of the role of Walter Huston’s (John Huston’s father) role in The Treasure of The Sierra Madre. It was then discussed Sam Peckinpah’s notoriety for being a…. piece of work. Also, it was discussed that the final scene of Beasts of the City was very violent for its time.
One of the final pieces we saw was a comparison of the infamous Stan Brakhage film The Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes and a piece that depicted Coleman himself performing an autopsy, so two real autopsy films, back to back. Coleman says that when he performed his autopsy (with the assistant of his friend the medical examiner in Hungary) it was shortly after the death of his own mother and that the process made him feel better about the whole thing, that he felt like he was returning to the womb.
Lastly, Joe shows us a video of his new art installation which he says is “An altar to the God of Television”. The most interesting part of this part of the discussion is that there is a panel in the extremely detailed art piece dedicated to Asia Argento. He then went on to discuss his role as a sleazy producer in her film, Scarlet Diva. I had seen the film before but it’s been such a long time that I didn’t realize that she literally depicts her own story about Harvey Weinstein on film right around the time that it happened and no one ever made the connection. Joe thought it might have been based on Harvey but he wasn’t sure. It’s quite clear now that it was.
Joe also went on to say that he stands with the accused, with the losers of the world. Which sounds like another JC to me, ya know, Jesus. Which is a weird stretch maybe, but I found Mr. Coleman’s capacity of understanding the human condition very moving and inspiring. I’m not saying that I think Argento shouldn’t be held responsible for perpetrating the crimes in which she is alleged if she did what is said, but I do think that no one is perfect and every human being contains a bit of evil and a bit of good. Which is kind of the same line of thinking Joe Coleman has about the world, and I’m glad we share that.