Sunday, April 22, 2012

Why am I Doing This Again?

Film: Blonde Cobra
Format: Internet video on laptop.

For whatever reason, I’ve been on something of an art film kick lately, and Blonde Cobra is merely the latest in the string of video oddities I’ve been watching lately. Like many films in this pseudo-genre, I’m thrown off-kilter by what I see on screen. I don’t find anything to latch myself onto as even a frame of reference for this film.

According to the story (I’m loathe to call it a legend), the fragments that make up this film actually come from the remnants of two other films created by Bob Fleischner and Jack Smith (who created then as-yet-unseen-by-me Flaming Creatures). A fire destroyed part of what they had created, and Ken Jacobs took what survived and cobbled together…this. I don’t have any explanation for what remains here.

The film consists of three parts, more or less, and none of the parts seems to have much to do with any of the other parts. Frequently, we’re given nothing to look at but a black screen with rather florid narration over the top. This narration, which comes from Jack Smith, tells bizarre stories that link to perverse sexual practices with elements of sadism and furious self-abuse. He tells, for instance, of the time when he was a young child and ignored by his mother. Upon meeting another boy, he lights a match and burns the other boy’s genitalia. The middle story deals with a group of nuns that are evidently having sexual relations with a plaster statue of Christ, which culminates in them being punished by being whipped with rosaries.

Yeah, I don’t really know, either.

It’s evident that there’s a great deal here that is, while not precisely homoerotic, definitely homosexual in source and intent. Initially, it seems that Smith’s monologues seem to be blaming his mother’s inattention and a sort of overbearing Catholic authority for his own homosexuality. There’s also a great deal of self-loathing at play. That Smith on camera dresses in baby clothing and as a startlingly ugly transvestite is perhaps a part of this. More, though comes through at the end when Smith is complaining about a life lived in futility and for no purpose, putting a toy gun to his head and pulling the trigger followed by flashes of cemetery imagery. In fact, the last thing Smith shouts as the film ends is “What went wrong?”

Really, I’m floundering here. I’m trying to work out something that this film might actually be about, and I’m really coming up empty. Blonde Cobra seems very much to be about nothing but itself. It is despairing and strange, and difficult to watch. It is also thankfully just over half an hour long.

For me, the most difficult part of the film is Smith’s voiceover. He comes across as taking this experiment as casually as possible, which I don’t think is the case. For much of the film, he sounds a great deal like a cartoon character, a cross between Snagglepuss and a carnival barker. Again, knowing nothing about Smith (but knowing that several people have warned me about his Flaming Creatures), I have no idea if this is his natural speaking voice or something affected for this film. I suspect the later, but have no proof.

All told, I’m simply happy that this is a film I’ve put into the rearview mirror and that I won’t have to watch it again. And I probably won’t. I can’t help but think that I’d probably have been better served to knock out films like this a year or so ago if only so I didn’t have to spend my time watching them now.

I wrote this much without consulting The Book, but felt I should give the film one last chance to make itself relevant to me. It’s worth noting that The Book doesn’t explain anything about Blonde Cobra either, save for calling it one of the important films of the New York underground scene of the 1960s. And with that, I’m done trying to figure out what I just spent half an hour watching.

Need to see this and willing to give over half an hour? Click here.

Why to watch Blonde Cobra: Experimental film had to come from somewhere.
Why not to watch: It will damage your soul.


  1. Oh yeah, I just watched this recently myself. I couldn't even manage the whole half hour. Mind you, I suspect the copy available on Ubu is just horrible quality (their video files are *extremely* variable from what I've seen, and I've been watching quite a few Ubu videos of late), although it would've been produced under fairly grungy conditions in the first place. I'm more open to the idea of experimental cinema than a lot of people I know, but I find myself sorely tested by it at times...

  2. I really do try. I'm trying to get something of value from everything I watch, particularly on this list. There's no point to doing this if all I'm doing is checking off boxes on a list. But this one...there was nothing there.

  3. I haven't seen this. I heard it was bad, and from reading your review I think he rates right up their with Warhol's Vinyl. Seen that, yet? If not, what a treat you have in store--NOT!

  4. I haven't seen Vinyl yet. It's another one I'm dreading.

  5. Yeah. I have no idea. I'm at a loss. I'm trying to prime myself for writing about this one, but your review pretty much perfectly encapsulates my thoughts as well. Why is this a must-see? I got nothing.

    1. At least it's short. So there's that.

  6. The are experimental films better than this. I have been to dozens of exhibitions of film art where I genuinely enjoed myself or was baffled into curiosity, but this does not qualify. It is just stupid. Í admire you for trying to get something out of it. For me just paying attention was a challenge and even at that I eventually had to yield.

    1. Well, it's not one I'll ever watch again. There really is nothing here.