Transcending Transgression

Richard Kern abandons hysteria for erotica

Transcending Transgression

Watching a Richard Kern film is akin to having your eyes replaced by endless loops of other people's nightmares – cruelly beautiful, they're also profoundly disturbing. Kern, the New York City-based filmmaker/photographer, came of age as the dark star of that city's famed "cinema of transgression" alongside such other Lower East Side luminaries as Nick Zedd, Lydia Lunch, Jim "Scraping Foetus Off the Wheel" Thirlwell, and the inimitable Lung Leg. While these days Kern is better known for his strikingly erotic photographs of women (collected in seven volumes, including the amazing New York Girls), his films, from the melodrama-on-acid hysterics of "You Killed Me First" to the Sonic Youth-scored "Death Valley 69," remain cinematic NYC touchstones. The Chronicle spoke to Kern via phone about his impending Alamo Drafthouse retrospective.

Austin Chronicle: So are you on a film tour now, or what?

Richard Kern: No, I'm just coming to Austin. I'm a photographer now and the whole point of this is that the guy who's organizing this said I should be able to get some models if I come down there. I've shot a lot of Texas girls but I've never shot one in Texas.

AC: So, basically, this is a big model search for you.

RK: Yeah. Man, sometimes it's so hard you don't even know.

AC: Have you expended all the girls in NYC?

Transcending Transgression

RK: Well, no, it's just really fun to shoot somewhere different. I just came back from Poland where I shot five girls for five days. It was great. Just being in a different place makes it seem different, makes it seem fun.

AC: Are you working on a new book now?

RK: Yeah, there's a new one coming out called Soft – there's a lot of girls laying on beds, a lot of girls sitting in bathtubs. I'm also working on my next book, which is all about voyeurism and that's what I'm going to try and shoot in Texas, some voyeuristic stuff.

AC: What about your films? Are you still working on that these days?

RK: Well, I shoot video while I'm doing photo shoots. Just the model rolling around.

AC: What about the old NYC scene you used to hang out with? Is there still a cinema of transgression movement going on or is that old hat?

RK: I'm the last person to know. I would think there is. People send me films all the time. Sometimes I watch them, but I just feel like I was there in the Eighties doing the same thing. You get older and you're not so much interested in the same things as you were when you were younger. But the scene must still be there somewhere. All those filmmakers have to start out somewhere. end story

The Alamo Drafthouse's Rolling Roadshow, You Killed Me First: The Films of Richard Kern, with Kern in attendance, is Thursday, Nov. 18, 7:30pm, at the Church of the Friendly Ghost (209 Pedernales). For more information, call 476-1320 or visit

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Richard Kern, Alamo Drafthouse, You Killed Me First: The Films of Richard Kern, Death Valley 69, You Killed Me First, Soft

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