Artist's Essay by Mike McCarthy
The Nineties was a big garage sale for the American Century. The last half of the century was especially for sale as we got ready for the Chinese century. As Americans, we call our WW2 elders the greatest generation but we relegate their architecture, their art, and yes, the people themselves, to the trash heap.
Trash Art, Trash Rock, Trash Film, indeed. The materialism of the American century yields much garbage.
I would roam through a dead person's house at a Memphis estate sale and acquire movie props on the cheap. My films were thrifty and I am too. And while I never liked the term "trash cinema" or "trash rock", I could see where it was coming from; an observation that our American garbage is better than the bright and shiny but uncertain future (made in China).
When I was growing up in Mississippi, my parents would burn their garbage in the backyard or toss an old refridgerator in a gully. There was no "trash pick-up" out in the country in much the same way that out door toilets were the norm - until World War 2 brought Northern "enlightenment".
Even I looked down on white trash who simply dumped their garbage on creek banks or beside the road. I left Mississippi in 1984. before my county road was paved, before there was garbage pick-up, before the road workers mutilated my treehouse tree.
With trash in mind, I had alot to say and it was all dystopian, I thought my work would catch on. After all, the previous (more "American"?) generation had accepted, assimilated, and gentrified a rough and tumble underground class of artists. And my work had heart and was personal, with sound 'drive-in' Principles.
I was wrong. So far.
This newer Wal-mart generation that allowed the demise of regionalism and the death of main street would scratch their heads over my romanticized ideal of comic books, rock and roll and drive-in cinema. those pure and superior Western inventions.
The times they were a-changing. The problem is that they kept on changing until the baby boomer gave birth to the porn infested, pseudo-variety, internet gorged, corporate reality in which we now live. The virtual world fills a gully of the mind, but there is still nothing more natural than peeing outside.
Trash rock may be a glorious gift from a 'retro god', but "trash FILM" is a much trickier thrift store item. A cheap sticker price, written in grease pen, lifted from a knick knack and reapplied to a more expensive item. And you pray the cashier is a "Mongo Lloyd".
As with anything, Some writers "got" my work and others didn't, but no writer wants to be considered "unhip". And to everyone who ever screwed up the "Sore Losers" tagline, it was "THEY DID WHAT THEY WANTED, NOW THEY'RE WANTED FOR WHAT THEY DID!" Thank you.
The old idea of the charming but clueless writer who wouldn't understand my redneck arthouse films was now being replaced by hip writers burdened with irony and political correctness. No one wanted to admit to not understanding my approach, lest their own understanding of art (or exploitation cinema) be called into question.
In some cases, I was something alien in their park, with my eccentricities unexplained, my films uncalled for. I wasn't really a filmmaker, I was (and am) other things: cartoonist, musician, preserverationist, factory worker. I admire the mortician. But by god, in America, you have to be ONE thing. That's what they want.
Mother and Son, Mildred and Mike
I felt like I was doing my thing the best way I knew how (no film school!) And I'm still doing it in the good-old, occupied South where folks are still weary of regulation, where rock and roll was created as revenge for losing the Civil War, where murder is gotten away with, literally for the bad, and artistically for the good.
When you least expect it, that's when it comes from the South.
But how many people know how to write about it and furthermore, how many people can relate to it? After all, it wasn't England that put Howlin' Wolf on a plane, it was some Queen's English long-hairs who worshipped the Blues. The nineties generation was not Retro, we were Vintage in our own way. After all, even the sixties culture appropriated marching band jackets and a slave's guitar. I, like a good garage rocker, called attention to the fact that we were the last gasp of the twentieth century. Yet Lo-Fi Film has to have Hi-Fi sound.
I developed a snooze alarm for lazy reviewers who chose to waste precious column space on merely describing my plots (trying to describe them, actually) - without venturing into the real story: why someone would even bother making an exploitation film in the nineties, once all the old distribution models had collapsed. Surely the time was ripe to have a garage sale for the twentieth century.
We kept thinking that Film (like Life) could be anything, and not a slave to the commercial model. And weren't people tired of the "same old story"? Doesn't evolution work in consumerism as it supposedly does everywhere else? And don't people appreciate things made by hand? And couldn't I get rich by making stars out of my friends? To quote a local furniture commercial, "We Are The Factory!". But I wanted more than a Warhol redux, I wanted a Warhol Holy War.
But the jury is still out on that one. In fact, the answer just might be NO. Emotions do not evolve. They still want MELODRAMA, not PSYCHODRAMA. Therefore, my sincere apologies to my investors but we still got something timeless and personal to look at and listen to.
If I had made a movie like Teenage Tupelo in the sixties, would I have been assimilated into the mainstream like John Waters or to a more important degree, the informal Corman school? Or to a lesser extent, Russ Meyer?
I'd like to think so, cause back in the sixties, "the Man" didn't have a handle on the cool stuff (but he was learning). Granted, where was my competition in the nineties? Was I the only one making these kind of psychedelic (and personal) garage rock movies? These are the riddles of American pop culture and the sub-genres in which we fringe artists exist. We, of the "trash" generation. Furthermore, was Long Gone John my Danny Fields?
As it is, witness the lowly cartoonist turned low budget filmmaker, making art in the best city on Earth (Memphis) and with the absolute best rock and roll music by people who I am astonished to see walking the streets without fame and fortune, some with rock and roll chldren to raise.
Memphis never abandoned the cause, the cause abandoned Memphis. And America abandoned the 20th century. Let it be known: Memphis will never be one of those hipper-than-thou cities - because it's only seventeen miles from Mississippi. Mississippi not only keeps it real, it kills you real. If you are from Mississippi, be prepared to crawl.
This is what it's like living after the death of Elvis Presley. A "Deathweek" that lasts one hundred years. That's how long I give this country. 2077. I'll be one hundred and fourteen, living in the back room, reading "Criswell Predicts" with a magnifying glass, refusing the morphine.
How do you handle John Waters if he's a redneck who likes women or Russ Meyer if he was a homosexual? Or David Bowie, if he grew up on a gravel road and drew comic books instead of pretending to be a movie star? Or maybe I'm just Jean Rollin if he made lawn mowers in a Verona factory or the Black Dahlia if she was born in Baldwyn and died of natural causes. When I'm 114, "Superstarlet A.D." will be 78.
If the Crossroads are surrounded by four sections of land filled with rowed crops and distant wilderness, then, if forced, I will take to the field. No one said you had to stay on the road. Better to know where you came from, because that is where you are headed. My thick skin starts on the soles of my bare feet.
I'm just a good old American Primitive with a bent for Punk. A bastard who dropped out of his Master. An auteur savant, JMM, The Pop Kop, Super Tupelo, Thin White Trash. A disciple of Chuck Moonchow.
I am from MYTH-ISSIPPI.