Film gives unflinching look at rocker Lydia Lunch’s artistic path

Plus: ‘Mandibles,’ Quentin Dupieux’s latest contribution to the cinema of the absurd.

Lydia Lunch: The War Is Never Over. Credit: Kino Lorber

In the almost 70 years since the invention of rock ’n’ roll, pimple-faced musicians have been doing their best to baffle and mock their elders (while amusing themselves and their fans) with unusual monickers. From The Beatles (whose name was considered baffling and meaningless in their pre-fame days) to The Crocheted Doughnut Ring and The W. C. Fields Memorial Electric String Band, there’s been no shortage of imaginatively named musical groups.

The punk era added intentional offense to the nomenclature game. The Dead Kennedys and Sex Pistols got most of the press, but there were plenty of runners up in the “most offensive band name” sweepstakes — including, of course, Big Apple noisemakers Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, led not by our pubescent savior but by a 16-year-old runaway from upstate New York: Lydia Anne Koch, better known as Lydia Lunch.

Lydia Lunch: The War Is Never Over (currently streaming via the Virtual Roxie) unflinchingly details the story of this legendary performer, who fled her sexually abusive father for the relative safety of New York City when she was barely 13. Three years later she was fronting the atonal Teenage Jesus, pushing back against punk’s three-chord limitations as part of the city’s vaunted and frequently derided No Wave movement.


The band is, however, only the jumping-off point for veteran underground filmmaker Beth B’s documentary. Teenage Jesus and the Jerks were done by 1979; Lunch has spent the decades since defiantly charting her own unique artistic path via provocative spoken word performances, music projects and several transgressive shorts by Richard Kern (disappointingly revealed herein as the most normal-looking white guy you can imagine), who was also working with ornery New York artist David Wojnarowicz around the same time.

One warning: Ms. Lunch pulls no punches in her descriptions of the abuse she suffered at the hands of her father. Proceed accordingly.

Mandibles. Credit: Magnolia Pictures

Regular readers know how enthusiastic I am about the films of Quentin Dupieux. Though I reviewed his Keep an Eye Out! only four short months ago, the man sometimes known as Mr. Oizo is back again with Mandibles (opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, July 23), his latest contribution to the cinema of the absurd.

Dupieux’s films generally center around clueless characters encountering and accepting nonsensical situations. His characters never push back and never proclaim “I can’t believe this is happening”: If something happens to them, they adapt and carry on. In other words his films are surprisingly like real life, while remaining completely surreal.

Mandibles is no exception: not-terribly-bright chums Manu and Jean-Gab (Grégoire Ludig and David Marsais) have been entrusted with the delivery of a mysterious briefcase to an equally mysterious recipient in exchange for €500. The contents of the case (revealed only at film’s end), however, are almost entirely immaterial to the film’s plot, which revolves instead around a giant housefly the friends are convinced is going to make them very rich indeed.

No, this isn’t a remake of David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch — and the briefcase definitely doesn’t hold anything as consequential as the radioactive contents of Kiss Me Deadly’s black box or Repo Man’s automobile. Like every Dupieux film, it’s utterly unique: you may not like it as much as I do, but I promise you won’t forget it.