In my new project, County Down, an epidemic of psychosis among the adults in a gated community coincides with a teenage girl’s invention of a designer drug. One day, Angel wakes to find that her exclusive housing development has turned into a haven for madness, excess, and decay in this darkly comedic horror series in which parents suddenly prey on their children. The film uses the structure of youth-culture media products, such as horror and science fiction movies, video games and coming-of-age films as a barometer of cultural depression. In this live-action animation, reality and illusion intermingle, creating a highly stylized world of visual excess.
The following is an excerpt from a conversation between myself and Chris Kraus where themes of adolescence are discussed. The conversation was commissioned by Video Data Bank, to be published as part of an upcoming DVD box set.
CK: Another thing these films have in common is an interest in female adolescence. You pursue this in Blood and Guts and Hollywood Inferno, and especially in No Is Yes.
LP: Yes – that film is like a 40-minute advertisement for rebellion!
CK: When did you make No Is Yes?
LP: It was 1998, and it’s all about the co-option of counter-culture. I was thinking about how MTV and advertising had appropriated experimental film and video techniques to basically sell whatever they were advertising.
CK: That sounds really prescient. Like Bernadette’s Reena Spaulings and Lisa Kirk’s Revolution.
LP: In it, two teenage girls accidentally kill and mutilate their favorite rock star. But before doing that, they give him a makeover –
CK: – They turn him into a girl –
LP: Right. Because if you think about it, within the horror genre, there might be one last girl who survives, but girls aren’t the killers. There’s a real implication of castration in the scene, which thwarts the gender conventions of the horror film.
CK: A lot of artists and writers are fascinated with adolescence, but the ones that come to mind first are gay men: Dennis Cooper, Gus Van Sant’s early movies and also more recent ones. Their kids are portrayed as both fucked up and totally luminous. The only depiction of girls I can think of is Catherine Hardwicke’s Thirteen – a great movie, but much harsher – she certainly isn’t seduced by their delirium. Her treatment of it is very clinical. And likewise Peter Jackson’s Strange Creatures. Your films exist somewhere in the middle, and I wonder what drew you to female adolescence in No Is Yes and then made you return to it?
LP: I’m approaching it from a female point of view and there are certainly feminist issues involved in it. I’m sure there’s a personal obsession too – maybe, I don’t feel I’ve ever gotten out of that stage, but – Adolescence is the perfect place to examine the myth of rebellion. The adolescent is perceived as this rebellious figure, it’s supposedly the time where people act out the most, but I don’t think that’s entirely true.
CK: I think the romance of adolescence is, to exist for a brief moment almost outside of time, when you see and feel things very acutely. Everything razor sharp and clear, because you’re old enough to see the adult world for what it is, but not old enough yet to have to make concessions and participate in it. So in a way, the girls in your films exist in an ideal intellectual state – pure criticality!
LP: Maybe it’s a moment of potential for actual rebellion. Decisions do have to be made about what your own values are, and how you can make your way in a society that is constantly co-opting every form of rebellion you can muster. I think the girls in my films are more like composites of stereotypical adolescent figures – especially in Blood and Guts. But No Is Yes is actually more internal. There’s an infatuation this culture has with female adolescence, but it’s definitely ambivalent. There are images of adolescent girls everywhere, but at the same time, there’s an incredible amount of hostility directed at that. So it’s very confusing. A lot of the hostility, I guess, has to do with repressed sexuality and what they represent.
CK: And your girls are very sullen and violent.
LP: Yeah, that’s true
CK: Seems very realistic to me.
—Laura Parnes is an artist living and working in Brooklyn, NY.