Saturday, August 16, 2014


A Film by Michael M. Bilandic / 2013

"They aren't as dark as they think they are, and there's something dark about that."

So ruminates Nate (Keith Poulson), an aspiring New York artist, on the predicament that is Young Torture Killaz, a rap-rock group based out of rural Delaware whose homebrewed vid for their single "I'll Cut Yo Dick Off" Nate came across in a YouTube recommendation-sidebar. Not quite viral and not yet a meme (except in real-outside-the-movie-life, but we'll get to that at the end), the YTK represent a collective who nevertheless aspire to stardom — or, more realistically, memedom, even if they don’t know it yet (and there's something dark about that).

At the just-ended Locarno Festival, winner-of-the-special-jury-prize Alex Ross Perry commented: "The competition of living in a city where people are fighting against each other: that is exactly what New York feels like to me. There's no shortage of people who are sickeningly repellent in their jealously and their hatred of anyone who does anything slightly more impressive than them."

Nate hasn't had his fame break yet, and the Killaz could be his key to cracking the convincing-code. With his friend Bernadette (Sophia Takal) in tow, Nate drives to Delaware's spiritual successor to Cave-In-Rock to ingratiate himself with the boyz in the basement of leader Rusty's parents' house. Crew's on the illest juggalo tip, and Nate starts snapping pics, then returns for more after gallery owner Olivier LaFleur (Gilles Decamps, who rules the roost like Dennis Hopper in The Blackout if you combine his character here with his role in Bilandic's 2011 feature Happy Life, exec-produced by Abel Ferrara) encourages him to pursue this very strong, very "ethnographic" project to the limit. And so the opening show at LaFleur's new gallery is wholly dedicated to Nate's YTK photo series, and the exhibition's called "Delaware Dayzz." Things get pretty dicey when the artist disregards Killa Rusty's only request: that none of the prints show him engaging in illicit usage from the night Nate turned up to remunerate the troupe with purple drank. As that would blow his parole.

Well, the NYC art-world may be the church of the subtweet, but Nate doesn't count on the Young Torture Killaz googling "Young Torture Killaz + Nate." Needless to say, shit gets real, and builds to an ending at once inevitable, savage, inflammatory, hilarious, and, as The Talk of the Town would cover it, 'deliciously ironic.'

But let's cut to the chase: even before the climactic exhibition attended by an array of real-life local critics, performers, directors, programmers, and generally 'known' scenesters, it’s clear that Bilandic has made a picture about the modern New York film-world as much as he has about the modern New York art-world. The endless sniping and behind-the-back put-downs, the self-pitied bitching about so-and-so getting to such-and-such career level before him-or-her-or-me-or-it: it's all in Hellaware, which (built into its knowingly condescending title) depicts on the surface Delaware as the sticks, though it becomes increasingly apparent throughout the film that the real 'Hellaware,' the 'Delaware of the mind,' the 'Delaware of the soul,' might just, ironically, be New York City, or at least the mass of New York's own subcultures, its own "ethnographies," which are at essence no less alien or base than the Torture Killaz' enclave. Getting ahead is a dirty business: What's fair manipulation? What's free usage? What are you asking-for when you throw to YouTube? Do you own your image? — own your own image?

Are you in charge of your gallery?

What's appropriate appropriation?

Bilandic poses all these questions in his Moebius-strip of a movie. And he started the conversation in advance of the film's 2013 BAMcinemaFest premiere when that June he posted without comment "I’ll Cut Yo Dick Off" to YouTube as a standalone video. Next thing, WorldStarHipHop and The Madd Rapper Show weighed in...


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