Blonde Death

Blonde Death ★★★

Cited by friends and fans as "The Last Angry Gay Man", James Robert Baker became a notorious figure in the growing subculture of transgressive fiction, making a name for himself with his hyper-sexual and hyper-violent tales of the gay community, interspersed with sex, pop culture, anarchistic disdain at Reagan-era politics, and all done in tightly-wound timebombs of novels that have since achieved cult status. Before that, however, Baker attended UCLA for the sake of studying film, and while this would help him gain further knowledge on the medium to embed into his novels, his attempts to actually enter the film industry were constantly frayed, having submitted screenplays for five years that nobody with millions to their names would dare fund given the controversial themes that thrived in Baker's content. Disillusionment was swift, but just before his first novel Adrenaline divebombed into bookshelves, Baker wrote, produced, and directed his only feature-length film Blonde Death, and while it's interesting to look at in the perspective of it being Baker testing the waters for his singular voice, as a viewing experience it doesn't really do much and really makes me hope his throw-it-all-at-the-wall methods have a more incisive fury within his novels.

Tammy's ready to explode out of frustration and boredom with her American suburbia life, where her surroundings are constantly threatening in their antiquated values and open hypocrisy regarding the concepts of family and love. I can see what Baker is trying to do by essentially ripping in half the homeliness and contentedness of middle-class living by magnifying the small black pits of the American heart, where rebellion is justified under the iron-fist of born-again Christianity and predatory action is less implied more restrained, as evidenced by the one-eyed lesbian who eyes Tammy as fresh meat while constantly letting slip of her ulterior motives that Tammy just never quite catches up on. All of this is done in a comedic fashion, not quite overt but not quite deadpan, and the easiest/most accurate comparison to make is John Waters in its refuge in audacity, given the incestuous creepiness of Tammy's father or lines like "as easy as stealing a dildo from a baby", but whereas Waters crossed the line of unbearable sleaze so experssionisticly that it became riveting, Baker's interpretation of West Coast suburban hell certainly has personal stakes but doesn't really much to communicate beyond those surface-level frustrations and isn't able to mine much out of it that's particularly creative or, perhaps most damningly given the intent, all that humorous. Waters had layers to his anarchistic society, but here Baker just wants to lay out everything he finds wrong with our sugar-coated cultural clutter, and while he certainly has a point in most regards, they don't evolve beyond angry platitudes which makes the satire correct but unimpressive.

The interpersonal nihilism in Tammy's homestead eventually becomes criminal/murderous nihilism, as a home invasion in her home lets the real story of the film tumble into place, tumbling into a Badlands scenario without the tact or brief veneer of serenity in Malick's film with a dash of Bonnie & Clyde (which Baker places on a TV for Tammy to watch in a pretty on-the-nose fashion, like, yeah, of course I'm gonna make comparisons to the most famous male/female crime duo in history, don't need to SHOW me it). While its satirical misanthropy still ends up being not quite enough to rise it far above its clotted first half, the crime set-up does allow more focus through its knotty doomed tapestry of crime and love, bitter in Tammy and ex-con Link's constant need to hide their tracks and avoid the cops, sweet in the two forming hormonal affection that's highlighted through a montage of a week waiting for Tammy's dad, one that involves commonly endearing couple activities like going to the beach, making love, and dropping a dead moldy body off near the woods (hey, it beats getting killed by cyanide-laced Tang, I'm happy for Tammy). The couple eventually becomes polyamorous thanks to Link's prison lover (again Baker letting his unabashed and destructive emotions on his gay livelihood seeping through), and while there's a mild attempt to make these three characters more than just murderous rouges with their in-depth passion, at the end of the day their crime will turn towards a downfall just like all the other crime duos of fact and fiction, a fact Baker resigns himself to with one or two acidic jokes as conclusive vexations to all watching.

A film like this tends to be tricky to assess, Blonde Death certainly could have gone more out-there in its frank cynicism against the modern world, it certainly could have done more with its crime-life, and yet when factoring in the known limitations there's really not much more that could have been done. This was made on a budget of $2,000, which explains away the SOV-quality footage, the abrasive sound mixing/quality, the sloppiness in its shots, and the lack of anything more than a few props found around the common-day places (they're still bad in quality but I'm not gonna gripe about them), this is a film that's totally homegrown and "of-the-people", which in a weird way does kinda support its attempts at deconstructing the mythmaking and melodrama of Hollywood's crime hits down to its most blunt, ruthless, ripped-seam format possible, and even though I never loved the substance enough to push it into something I'd actively recommend or really think about, I respect the hell out of it and can appreciate a lot about what it tries to do with very little (even sneaking in a guerrilla-style sequence at Disneyland that's a whole lot less embarassing than the film which got famous for the same thing 25 years later). A boiling pot of anger towards America and passion for its rebels that never really spills out into euphoric brilliance, but it does reach the brim quite a few times.

Part of the Collab Film Club

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