Finally! Britain at last gets a chance to absorb Beth B’s fascinating film on the life and work of Lydia Lunch. 28th October, I’m off to The Barbican in London, for the U.K. premiere showing – and because I’m curious to hear Lydia speak herself in the Q&A portion.
Music is a conversation between kids and their parents. Each generation bounces between reacting to, making peace with, ignoring, or stepping beyond the sound of their forebearers, embracing the wholly new or remaking what is past to create something they can call their own – sometimes the gap can be as vast as a conversation between a young adult and a never-met great-grandparent, sometimes as small as a reaction against the taste of an elder sibling in an effort to define teenager self. A small number of people then step so entirely outside of the past that they become the figures future generations need to reckon with. Lydia Lunch is one of those figure who – through force of will – have made themselves timeless and their creative works an unsettled source of creative intrigue to be revisited because it avoids easy conclusions.
Beth B’s films have, over the years, grappled with the legacy of relationships, power, what those who have been wounded are compelled to do in order to lift the burdens placed upon them. From outside in the land of the uninjured, the actions of the damaged can feel incomprehensible and confusing when, with empathy, there’s a sense to be discerned. It doesn’t fit into the glib language of wellness and healing either, what is broken can’t simply be fixed and just because it offends or discomforts those with lesser problems doesn’t mean it should be glossed over or replastered to give a smooth impression.
The image of ‘scales of justice’ weighing elements against one another to come to a single decision is such a ridiculous, overused, and ultimately harmful concept. Often things simply don’t connect. The good doesn’t balance out the bad, the two simply co-exist separately even when we’re referring to a single body. Your charitable donations, good deeds, and humanity doesn’t cancel out your venality, selfishness, brutality and greed – credit and criticism are due in equal measure and there’s no need to tidily merge the two. Watching Lydia Lunch: The War Is Never Over, what I was struck by initially was the way in which New York City mirrored the psychic state of so many who found themselves in the arts scene there. Yes, the city was dangerous and damaged and gave little succor to polite society – but it was also vibrant and energetic and imaginative too.
Beth B’s film reflects both those sides simultaneously, the ways in which both these sides co-exist within Lunch’s work across multiple forms of art over several decades. The film also refuses to demystify Lunch’s creative drive, it isn’t a crib-sheet or quick note – there’s no easy way into such a sprawling catalogue of music, spoken word, literature, theatre, film. The film exists as its own artwork with Lunch at the centre exploding outward in all directions and giving you, as the viewer, a sense of her spirit and concerns…But no tell-all striptease or over-simple revelation.
What I appreciated most about the film was its humanity, the kindness at its heart, the possibility of defending the weak against the strong without letting anyone off their bullshit.
I’m hugely looking forward to the showing at the Barbican in London on 28th October – featuring a Q&A with Lydia Lunch herself – and heavily recommend getting over to see it on the big screen at any of the nine U.K. showings.