In Pop: A Survey of the Explosive Rise of Pop From the 1950s-60s, Andy Warhol is quoted as saying, “You have to do stuff that average people don’t understand because those are the only good things.”
He was obviously talking about Sleazy Rider.
Welcome to Shitville, USA. Cruella, a senior citizen super villain dressed in black, lords over the city. Miss Fonda and Miss Hopper, “girl hoods on an epic scum ride,” arrive in Shitville on their motorcycles. They spread the gospel of violence and huffing spray paint. I’ve never huffed spray paint. But if it’s as fun as it looks in this movie, pass the bag, brash.
Cruella imprisons the ladies in her basement dungeon. But they easily escape when Miss Fonda pulls sausage links out of her bra and tempts Cruella — her only weakness! Soon after, Fonda and Hopper invade the home of a woman who owns a stuffed pony named Jesus. Butcher knives slash. The house gets trashed. The woman feeds the bikers cookies that are laced with PCP. Miss Hopper says, “Cookies are for pussies!” Things don’t turn out well for anyone.
That’s the loose plot that drives the movie. But like Curt McDowell’s Thundercrack! and Alyce Wittenstein’s Betaville, the story is just a means of delivering the real magic.
Sleazy Rider is the first post-college project from the underground force of nature known as Jon Moritsugu. It’s also the most electrifying 23-minutes that you’ll have all week. Feeling like a mixtape that was assembled by hyperactive methamphetamine fans after watching H.G. Lewis and Alison Downe’s She-Devils on Wheels, this movie is a touchpoint for everything that was special about underground culture in the late 1980s. It’s like sludge-punk band Flipper made an homage to Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising while also hitting Easy Rider in the face with a shovel and leaving it for dead. There are inserts of crude animation, comic book panels, press-on typography, footage from Easy Rider, blowjobs, dicks, and a cameo from Ellie Mae Hopper, “Dennis Hopper’s illegitimate daughter!” A narrator does a drop-dead perfect impersonation of John Waters. Everything is overdriven and in the red, including the songs by Steppenpuke. But this isn’t just an experiment in DIY style. Especially when you read between the lines.
Moritsugu’s prolific career has been defined by a sense of playful, campy angst that he would later perfect in My Degeneration and Mod Fuck Explosion. But like those movies (and Jerri Blank in Strangers With Candy), Sleazy Rider has something to say. And that’s what elevates it beyond Super 8 genre workouts like Folies Meurtrieres and into the rarified air of Sarah Jacobson’s I Was A Teenage Serial Killer. Throughout Sleazy Rider, Moritsugu takes jabs at gender expectations, traditional depictions of masculinity, and Catholicism. The messaging might not always be clear, but the intent is admirable, refreshing, and fun. Even thirty years later.
There’s only one thing left to say:
When can we move to Shitville?