EXCLUSIVE JON MORITSUGU INTERVIEW!
Jon Moritsugu’s latest piece of cult trash, PIG DEATH MACHINE, screens at 95 Empire on Tuesday, April 1st at 8pm. $5.
After eating undercooked, parasite-laden, pink piggy, a brainless hottie is transformed into a dangerous genius, while across town, a punky-buxom-botanist-babe eats the same meaty treat and ends up endowed with the supernatural ability to “hear” her specimens. This is a fable about ENVY and the sickness that comes from getting exactly what you wish. PIG DEATH MACHINE is a sci-ﬁ/psychological horror/screwball ride of chaotic, day-glo fever dreams and glitter-dusted nightmares, shot in the stunning wilds of New Mexico and featuring the music of Deerhoof, Dirty Beaches, Polvo, and industrial legend Monte Cazazza (Throbbing Gristle).
So, what’s your story?
Born and raised in Honolulu and fled for the big time…. Providence and Brown U… where I played in a buncha scuzzy dirt-rock bands and made a buncha skuzzy short films. One of them, DER ELVIS, became an oddball hit (one of the “top 50 films of the 80’s” – Village Voice, tons of festival play and awards), and it launched my “career.” Since then I’ve made 7 features and lived in about as many cities. My partner in crime and leading lady is Amy Davis, who went to RISD. We’ve been married almost 20 years and run our totally nutzoid production company, Apathy Productions, from the balmy Miami area. She’s also a totally hot-shit illustrator. See more at www.jonmoritsugu.com www.amydavis.com.
What’s the local scene / freak culture in Honolulu? What impact did punk / hardcore / new wave have out there and how did you tune into all that shit….in paradise?
Right now there’s a small indie/punkrock scene in the islands with way too many Jawaiian bands playing in hotels, christian cover bands, etc. When I was growin’ up in the early 80’s, it was even drier. There were 20 people in the whole city into punk rock, plus this was pre-internet so you had to get all your music thru the mail or tape the shit offa the radio (one college punk show every Friday night for a coupla hours). I remember the band AGENT ORANGE came to Honolulu to hang out for a coupla days but didn’t even play a show… total disappointment. It was a complete tropical cultural wasteland, and in the 70’s it was even worse – all TV shows were delayed ONE WEEK!. Anyways, in high school I took a trip to NYC with my family and it was a TOTAL MIND FUCK for a backwoods rube like me. I hit every record store in Manhattan and came back with a suitcase loaded full of Stooges, MC5, Ramones, etc. Those beautiful sounds saved my teenaged soul.
I always wanted to find something in life that I could throw my energy and passion into and feel like I was getting some type of “result.” For me, that’s film. Plus, ya gotta admit, cameras are pretty sexy and fun to play with.
What were your influences or what informed your style?
As much as I’ve studied cinema, art, writing, theory and all that highfalutin’ crap, my biggest influence has been music. Punk rock, hardcore, Black Flag, Dead Boys, Iggy, Nina Hagen, all that shit. My movie making has been totally inspired by live shows and the raw energy of falling-apart/barely-keepin-it-together bands with that “outta control” attitude. And Apathy Productions has been totally influenced by the DIY and indie pioneers who had the balls to start their own labels, clubs, and whatnot even when they had to invent the way to do it. Film-wise, though, the French New Wave and John Waters have squirted their juice throughout my damaged psyche.
Do you still shoot on film?
All my early films were shot on 16mm, which was awesome. I LOVE film and would do it in a flash, and my dream is to shoot on 35mm. I try not to let the format get in the way of creating, though. SCUMROCK, a feature from about ten years ago, was shot on analog Hi8 with a $300 camcorder and COMPLETELY EDITED on VHS tapes. I shit you not. Really, you can make a movie these days with practically nothing. GO FOR IT!
It’s common for people here to say that most Brown and RISD students, “on the hill”, did not cross the river and come downtown..or anywhere else. What were you experiences with 1980’s Providence?
From the moment I got to Providence, I knew I had to explore it. The early 80’s were crazy and weird… abandoned factories & buildings, bridges, crazy weirdo neighborhoods like Olneyville, Johnston… you could wander all night long thru places like the CIC complex – 5 or 6 stories of crumbling brick mess with open elevator shafts and windows you could smash out… the train tunnel and its one mile walk thru that would let you out in Fox Point… I loved it! Plus there were bars like Safari Lounge and Babe’s where you could get a beer for a buck whilst skipping SEMIOTICS class. I dunno, I’ve always been drawn to this type of stuff – gritty, grimey, post-industrial landscape. After graduating, I made SLEAZY RIDER, a 23 minute short about biker ladies, and MY DEGENERATION, my first feature, in the Providence area cuz, well, I loved the way the place looked. Plus there was this ice cream place downtown where you could get a flavor called CRAZY VANILLA. Just vanilla and a buncha food coloring. Acid-dipped brilliance.
What the hell is semiotics?
Good question… I don’t really know! Actually, it’s sorta like the fine art of bullshit, as it applies to art. You know, being able to talk/write about nothing and make it seem like EVERYTHING… making it sound all ELITE and shit. It’s sad but these are all totally useful skills to help ya to “make it” as an arteeest. I’m a full-on pseudo- intellectual psychopath.
How did you first connect with AS220?
I started going to punk rock shows and playing gigs at AS220 probably about ’85, ’86. CRAZZZZY times with Bert doing everything – running the door, introducing the bands, doing sound, cleaning up the vomit, stopping skinheads from stealing art supplies…Rapidograph pens are hella money, yo! Then I started making movies and AS220 was the one place in Providence that was totally supportive of my work. I’m totally stoked to see how awesome things have gotten. I mean, I gotta stop by someday and get a gluten-free sandwich and energy shake from you guys. Plus, I met my lady, Amy, there. She saw me rock in a black leather dress…Yeah, I was in the dress and she full-on fell for me. NICE. Remember guys, leather dress = chick magnet.
What bands did you play in?
Soooo many… SEX DRUMS, HATE FAMILY, BIG SKID, FURBALL (in Providence), and then in Cali, NONO BOY and S.E.G. (SLANTY EYED GOOK, an all-asian proto-punk band). Now it’s all about me and Amy and LOW ON HIGH. Just the two of us creating tons of noise with big-ass sugary hooks. Here’s a video for “Emo Boy” from our latest album.
Do you recall exactly what was going on the night you met Amy?
Oh yeah, it was one of those rock-n-roll punkoid nights at AS220 with three bands… I was playin’ in two of ’em, BIG SKID and HATE FAMILY. She stood in the front row and totally gave me the stare down. She admitted later she was stalking me and dug my puke green ripped sweater and orange hair. She was exactly my type, a twisted deathrock Louise Brooks wannabe. I later cast her in MY DEGENERATION and the rest is sleazoid underground history.
How was the show with Der Elvis screening along with bands like Six Finger Satellite and Green Magnet School?
It was AWESOME!!! Tons of peeps, great fun, everyone loved it. I forget who booked it (maybe Ty Jesso?) but there was a lot of energy in the scene… a plethora of clubs – the Living Room, Lupo’s, Babyhead, AS220 and others I can’t even remember, people putting together shows, promoting, etc. Providence in the late 80’s after I graduated was pretty sweet – tons of bands I loved – Medicine Ball, Backwash, SIx FInger, Velvet Crush, nice walkability or walk score, plus I was working at some really swank restaurants washing dishes but getting awesome free food, and later at In Your Ear Records on Thayer Street where I got totally addicted to the fine art of record collecting. Ah, the memories….
What other films of yours screened at AS220?
DER ELVIS, SLEAZY RIDER, BRAINDEAD, MOMMY MOMMY WHERE’S MY BRAIN, plus MY DEGENERATION (my first feature) had it’s world premiere at AS220.
Yeah, I shot a music video for PLAN 9 when they got signed to a major label. I also shot a a buncha super8 footage of MEDICINE BALL, right before I moved to California, but it all got lost in the move… I did use their music in my feature HIPPY PORN though.
How did your feature Terminal USA wind up on PBS?
It was one of those hurried, last minute grant applications… I did the whole thing in a coupla hours the day before it was due, resorting to one word answer, a sharpie pen, and crypto-semiotics jargon and bullshit. And it worked! I got nearly $1/2 million dollars to shoot with Panavision equipment with union actors and a crew of 50! Plus, James Schamus (former head- honcho of Focus Features and producer behind Ang Lee and tons of other stuff) produced it, which was cool until I mouthed off to him big time… what a disaster – I was the ultimate dick and ruined my chance of cashing in and getting that dream Malibu house.
For someone who’s most known for toiling in the realm of sleazy trash cult films, what was it like receiving a Grammy nomination?
That was totally surreal and great! Amy and I were asked by our buddy, Kyp Malone (geetar player in TV ON THE RADIO), to shoot a music video for their 9 TYPES OF LIGHT album. We flew to NYC and did it on a shoestring. It was very old skool, underground, wild, manic, frenetic, sweaty fun. Long story short, it got put on a compilation which got a 2012 GRAMMY NOMINATION in the “long form video” category. We ended up flying out to LA, whooping it up luxxxx-style, walking the red carpet, and getting beatin’ out by the Foo Fighters (really nice guys! – no joke). I guess the moral to this story is that you should find something you love and pursue it with a passion cuz you never know where it will take you. BACKSTORY note: We saw Kyp in a cafe and invited him to read for my flick, SCUMROCK, based on star wattage alone. This was before he made it, way back in 2000. He, too, followed his dreams and a coupla months later, BOOM! TVOTR was the toast of Williamsburg. Hate to sound cliche but dreams really do come true…cue Hallmark channel music. Here’s the video.
Tell us a little bit about PIG DEATH MACHINE – what can people expect?
Ah, PIG DEATH MACHINE, my favorite topic. It’s a sci-fi/psychological horror/screwball ride of chaotic, day-glo fever dreams and glitter-spattered nightmares, shot in the wilds of New Mexico, where we used to live. Amy plays a totally dumb chick who eats parasite-laden pig and turns into a super genius. I play a stripper. Tons of groovy music – Monte Cazazza, Deerhoof, Dirty Beaches, Polvo, Early Man, shock edits, noise and laffs. Sick-ass meat animation. Like early Moritsugu, but in Technicolor. It’s a total comeback cuz I haven’t made a new movie in a decade. And, it’s also my favorite movie.
Why the decade long gap in movies?
Ah so. The big poignant question. Well, let’s be honest – lack of fundage and a full-on writers block almost did me in. My energy was sapped and I just couldn’t do anything. Amy and I had a major sit-down and she basically bullied me into PIG DEATH MACHINE. It was painful and AWESOME. Now I’m back with a porky vengeance!!!