Critics’ Picks

View of “Nick Zedd: There Will Be blood, Shame, Pain and Ecstasy,” 2021.

View of “Nick Zedd: There Will Be blood, Shame, Pain and Ecstasy,” 2021.


Nick Zedd

Goswell Road
22 Rue de l'Échiquier (Door Code: 27A46)
May 28–July 10, 2021

Droning, gratuitous scenes of violence and scumminess, nightmarish characters, and deep perversions, certainly, but, also, from this side of the “noughties,” a kind of charming quirkiness found in the amateurism of early green screens, ad hoc props, and Halloween-store gore. Currently on view at Paris’s Goswell Road (lit in ghoulish green for the occasion), Nick Zedd’s films offer up shock (self-mutilation, sex with the disfigured) and lo-fi special effects (plastic tentacles, impaled baby dolls) in voluptuous quantities, exquisitely and excruciatingly protracted across squeamishly long, slow-motion scenes of brutality and dissipation.

Amidst the footage, from Zedd’s early slices of Lower East Side iniquity (Go to Hell, 1986, and Police State, 1987) to later piss-takes of Warhol’s screen tests (Why Do You Exist, 1998) the exhibition’s pièce de résistance is undoubtedly the feature-length War Is Menstrual Envy (1992). It’s tempting to paint Zedd as Walt Disney of downtown transgressive cinema, and this film as very own Fantasia (1940) at least insofar as it achieves a demented phantasmagoria through ambiguously related and outrageously profane narrative segments that unfold with a drowsy, fucked-up levity. Kembra Pfahler swims through a chroma keyed sea in nothing but thigh-high patent leather boots. Creatures of the deep shove into her various orifices as she squirms, exalted. She sticks out her tongue to match the slither and slime of moray eels. Sometimes, the effect is Hokusai on heroin; elsewhere, shimmering allusions to Jack Smith’s costumed glamour emerge in Zedd’s seductive djinn and drag queens. Despite discomfiting scenes of self-mutilation and blown brains, the film’s most shocking aspect is in its insistence on the perversity of pleasure. Watching War is like suffering a violent wound, only to wind up laughing deliriously.