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March 19, 2021

Wojnarowicz: Fuck You Faggot Fucker


Chris McKim - 2021
Produced by WOW Docs/World of Wonder's Randy Barbato & Fenton Bailey
Kino Lorber

In case anyone is wondering, the film title does not have asterisks, and I take full responsibility should there actually be someone reading this who gets offended.

My own awareness of artist David Wojnarowicz comes from reading about him in the performance art magazine, High Performance. This was in the late 1980s when congressional Republicans, looking for a new enemy following the apparent end of the Cold War, turned to attacking artists. In particular, artists and artists that received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, using tax dollars for art that was deemed objectionable, usually for reasons of sexuality. David Wojnarowicz was one of the artists cited for his artwork infomed by being gay and living in what was then considered a rougher part of the Lower East Side in New York City, between 1979 and 1992.

The documentary is cobbled together from Wojnarowicz's collection of cassette tapes of his own speaking, recorded phone calls, and city sounds, combined with his own Super 8 movies. Added to that are the voiceover recollections of friends and relatives, as well as photos by friend and former lover, the photographer Peter Hujar. Wojnarowicz's life is the story of a difficult childhood, with a street hustler turned self-taught artist and writer, who achieves greater notoriety than commercial success. While there had always been a political edge to much of Wojnarowicz's work, it became more pronounced and urgent when he was diagnosed with AIDS.

Chris McKim also incorporates other documentary footage and photos from more recent sources that try to give some contemporary resonance to his material. The various forms of bigotry and homophobia of the past have not gone away. Our own still fresh memories of how Covid-19 has been handled or mishandled show are another example of government indifference to an epidemic. But I also feel that even the briefest inclusion of Donald Trump, while well intended, is also a too easy target of anger.

As it is, the Trump connection is not entirely unwarranted. One of the stories is of Wojnarowicz getting a commission to create a piece in the basement of the brownstone of Robert and Adriana Mnuchin. The Mnuchins are high end art dealers and collectors. Their son, Steven, was Donald Trump's Secretary of the Treasury. Wojnarowicz gladly accepts the money and does the work, but part of his assemblage includes detritus from the New York City streets, and to Adriana Mnuchin's horror, live cockroaches.

Wojnarowicz is available for streaming on the Kino Marquee app.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at March 19, 2021 08:25 AM