New York

Betzy Bromberg

Collective for Living Cinema

The most promising first show I’ve seen this season has been Betzy Bromberg’s at the Collective for Living Cinema. Bromberg’s three 15-minute films embody a sensibility somewhat akin to the anarcho-punk feminism of the super-8 filmmaker Vivienne Dick, though less angry and more fragmented. Petit Mal, 1978, is a raw, everything but-the-kitchen-sink movie: choppy street scenes, a girl clowning, subway sequences enlivened by artless overexposures and split screens. What holds it together is the strong and unobtrusive audio track, a melange of confessional rapping, nondescript mood music, and slyly gratuitous sound effects.

If Petit Mal is an obvious but unusually talented student film, Ciao Bello, or Fuck Me Dead, 1979, takes Bromberg’s polymorphously perverse try-anything esthetic a step closer to style. This “Summer in the City” assemblage mixes verité of Lower East Side bikers, Times Square topless dancers, and Coney Island to achieve a highly charged atmosphere of manic exhibitionism and sexual raunch. By comparison, Soothing the Bruise, 1980, is a sort of pastoral, with a number of scenes set in a Western truckstop before reverting to 42nd Street. The soundtrack here is one of Bromberg’s most audacious concoctions. A meditation on America, it alternates her own stoned ranting with a speech by Barry Commoner.

Bromberg’s work has the crude but savvy, free-wheeling energy of early Robert Nelson films like Oiley Peloso the Pumph Man or Confessions of a Black Mother Succuba, and if her tone is more hysterical, it may be because she has somewhat more to say. The amazing thing is that this sort of rough-and-ready American mishigas collage film was done to death in the late ’60s. It’s an almost unredeemable form, and Bromberg appears to be the first filmmaker since Nelson who has been able to make it work.

J. Hoberman