Queer Realities and Cultural Amnesia
The Lower East Side Biography Project Presents:
Queer Realities and Cultural Amnesia
Co-Directed by Penny Arcade, Steve Zehentner & Anna Margarita Albelo
Original Music Score by Chris Rael
Former Warhol Superstar and creator of the seminal sexual politics performance spectacular Bitch!Dyke!Faghag!Whore!, Penny Arcade washed up on the shores of the Lower East Side of New York as a teenager in 1967. After decades in the Downtown art world, Penny’s personal relationships with dozens of outrageous characters, from the world famous to the fascinatingly obscure, led to the creation of the Lower East Side Biography Project, an oral history of New York’s Bohemian culture from the ’50s to the present. These half-hour biographies are broadcast weekly on Manhattan cable television (Tuesdays at 9 pm, Time-Warner Channel 34).
This feature documentary includes interview excerpts with:
- Iconic raconteur Quentin Crisp
- Film star & poet Taylor Mead
- Feminist artist & sex educator Betty Dodson
- Film maker & choreographer Jack Waters
- Novelist & playwright Sarah Schulman
- Warhol Superstar Holly Woodlawn
- Punk rock legend Jayne County
- Novelist & political commentator Gary Indiana
- Experimental theater visionary John Vaccaro
- Painter Harold Stevenson ... and more!
These artists, and others who created and lived the reality of New York’s recent cultural golden age, describe their traditional milieu and recount a half-century of radically shifting social perceptions of sexual identity – in Bohemia, in the arts, and in the marketplace. Keepers of countercultural wisdom, they hail from generations that enriched the artistic and cultural life of an entire nation. Today much of their world has passed into history, but lessons of their colorful experience remain, to educate and inspire us.
- Quentin Crisp – Actor, author, Edwardian raconteur whose 1968 autobiography The Naked Civil Servant brought international focus to issues of homosexuality and gay liberation
- Taylor Mead – Unabashed comedic genius, refugee of a powerful Michigan banking family who became a writer, performer, Warhol Superstar, and Lower East Side icon
- Betty Dodson – Illustrator, educator, author, the original ’70s pro-sex feminist, a proponent of women’s sexual pleasure for 30 years
- Jack Waters – Creator of internationally recognized work in film, video, and dance utilizing the Lower East Side as a backdrop, often incorporating erotic imagery as political and social commentary
- Sarah Schulman – Playwright, chronicler of contemporary culture, and a driving force in activist organizations such as the Pro-Choice movement, ACT UP, and The Lesbian Avengers
- Holly Woodlawn – Notorious drag queen, cabaret artist, and actress, one third of Warhol’s premiere Superstar trio with Candy Darling and Jackie Curtis, inspiring Walk on the Wild Side
- Jayne County – Transgendered punk rock legend who embodied the glitter-glam era, paving the way for gender bending in rock n roll
- Gary Indiana – Eloquent sociopolitical commentator, photographer, author of the unflinchingly incisive new book Schwarzenegger Syndrome
- John Vaccaro – Visionary founder of the original experimental rock n roll glitter theater of New York in the ’60s, the Playhouse of the Ridiculous
- Harold Sstevenson – Erudite painter, pioneering devotee of the eroticized male figure in contemporary fine art, a fountain of sly wit and impish charm
The Film Makers
- THE LOWER EAST SIDE BIOGRAPHY PROJECT
Founded by Penny Arcade and Steve Zehentner in 1999, the Project’s mission is to preserve oral accounts of the last half-century of Downtown New York culture, an era of expansive creativity that is rapidly disappearing. Queer Realities and Cultural Amnesia is culled from the Project’s extensive video archive.
- Penny Arcade
Co-Director, Co-Producer, Narrator
Penny Arcade is one of the most influential theater and performance artists in the world. The internationally respected writer, director, and actress is one of the handful of people who defined performance art as it is known today. Penny debuted at 17 with John Vaccaro's explosive Playhouse of the Ridiculous. At 18, she was a teenage Superstar in Andy Warhol's Factory, featured in the Morrissey/Warhol film Women in Revolt. She has been called “The Queen of the Underground” and “The High Priestess of Gay Wit and Wisdom”. In 1990, Quentin Crisp identified Penny as his anima figure – the woman with whom he most identified, and his soul mate. In 1992, she became an international icon via her sex and censorship spectacular Bitch!Dyke!Faghag!Whore!, an extravaganza of political humanism and erotic dance that spearheaded the queer/feminist/sex-positive backlash and helped create the current burlesque revival. She has written and produced 10 full-length shows, dozens of performance pieces, and numerous essays on art and culture.
Co-Director, Co-Producer, Editor
Independent video producer, theater designer and photographer Steve Zehentner has managed the Lower East Side Biography Project since its inception, serving as its director of photography, chief editor, graphic designer, and administrator. His video The Color Line: Racism in America was broadcast by PBS, and screened at the New York Film Festival. He has produced, directed and edited profiles, promotional videos, and live events for dozens of institutions, both public and private. His collaboration with Penny Arcade originated in the theater, where he has designed stage, video and sound for all of Arcade ’s major productions since 1992. In 2002, he received a Bogliasco Fellowship. In development: The Money Machine, a parody talk radio debate about the US economy and the culture of “free market” capitalism.
Co-Director, Associate Producer
Since 1993, Cuban-American Anna Margarita Albelo has been living and working in Paris , France as an independent director, journalist, video artist, and performer. Her work, which ranges in genre from narrative to documentary to experimental to music videos, has aired on Canal Plus, MTV Europe, ARTE, and more than 20 independent and gay and lesbian film festivals worldwide. Recently, Anna Margarita was honored by two prestigious European retrospectives for her short films: the Forum des Images ( Paris, 2003), and La Reina Sofia Modern Art Museum (Madrid, 2004). Her short film Koko is featured in the compilation Short Shorts by Picture This! Entertainment, one of the best selling lesbian compilations to date. This year Anna Margarita directed an original documentary short for Canal Plus France, and five short reportages on Berlin and the Berlinale for the Q-TV network. A native of Miami , Anna Margarita is a BFA graduate of Florida State University , and attended film school on a Bernard Sliger Presidential Scholarship in London , where she studied with Derek Jarman’s cinematographer Christopher Hughes. Currently a Narrative Honoree at IFP/ New York’s Project Involve for emerging filmmakers, she is developing a feature film, The Papaya Factory, a musical comedy about a kooky Cuban family in Miami and a Quinces Party that had to be.
Composer, Executive Producer
Founder of legendary New York Indo-pop band Church of Betty , Rael has composed, recorded and produced dozens of innovative CDs, collaborating with some of the world’s finest artists. A force in the progressive music movement at the original Knitting Factory in the ’80s, he studied Hindustani classical singing and sitar in Varanasi , India throughout the ’90s, forging a unique world orchestral pop style. “Chris Rael has consistently blended rock and Indian music better than any Western guitar guy, ever.” (Village Voice) Rael has performed on four continents, most recently at Sydney Opera House with wife and collaborator Penny Arcade. He composed and produced feature Bollywood-parody songs for Gigantic Pictures’ Cosmopolitan, (starring Roshan Seth and Carol Kane; screenplay: Sabrina Dhawan [Monsoon Wedding]; director: Nisha Ganatra [Cake]), and collaborated on score with Bob Muller in Shortcut to Nirvana. He’s now composing Araby, an opera based on James Joyce’s Dubliners, and editing Tail End of a Dream, a Church of Betty concert film.
- The Lower East Side Biography Project gratefully acknowledges significant contributions to Queer Realities and Cultural Amnesia by Associate Producer Dean Lance, Associate Editor Amy Ferrara, Public Access Liaison Rick Jungers, and a dozen other invaluable associates.