From David Wojnarowicz Knowledge Base
Jump to: navigation, search

David Wojnarowicz acquired his first, albeit broken, Super 8mm camera in 1979. The majority of Wojnarowicz's moving image works were filmed on 8mm, the most popular medium for downtown New York artists not only due to its lower cost but the raw, gritty, amateur quality that best mirrored the Lower East Side in the late '70s-'90s. Wojnarowicz had begun a very close relationship with Tommy Turner and Richard Kern, principal figures of the Cinema of Transgression, in the 1980s. Wojnarowicz collaborated with friends for a majority of his films, most notably his collaboration with Turner for Where Evil Dwells.

Click Here for information on A Fire in My Belly (1986-1987).

Select Super 8mm Films

Heroin (1979)

Before having developed a relationship with artists involved in the Cinema of Transgression, Wojnarowicz already showed interested in the moving image. Wojnarowicz filmed Heroin on a broken Super 8mm camera. The cast included high school friend, John Hall, and 3TeensKill4-no motive band mates, Brian Butterick and Jesse Hultberg.[1] The unfinished film, running 00:02:50, took place at an abandoned warehouse on the Hudson River. Although Heroin is consistently dated to 1979, Cynthia Carr mentions that Peter Hujar, who Wojnarowicz would not meet until 1980, was originally cast in the film.

Wojnarowicz's Account of Heroin

" [Heroin] has beautiful sections of these very weird symbols. A Person with a wrapped head, like an invisible man, would just sort of move into a room and through these endless door frames, like door frames on door frames on door frames, and all these beautiful elements of rust. So one figure's moving through the warehouse and another guy the same size, the same clothing, is moving in another direction and eventually they meet, on the roof, where you can see the Empire State Building, which is symbolic of the hypodermic. They collide on the rooftop. One holds out a gun and shoots the other in the head and all this ketchup flies out. He bends down and starts unwrapping the head and it turns out to be his own face that is revealed. Then it cuts into a hundred images of different people dead in their kitchens, on their rooftops, in their hallways, in the street." [2]

Where Evil Dwells (1985-1986)

Initially titled, Satan Teens, Where Evil Dwells was an unfinished collaboration with Tommy Turner . In September 1985, Wojnarowicz and Turner began writing a script based on a 1984 Long Island news story about a Satan worshipping teen committing murder. The script took three nights to complete. PCP-abusing metal-head Ricky Kasso, murdered his 17-year-old friend, Gary Lauwers in Northport, Long Island by stabbing him repeatedly and gouging his eyes out. Kasso bragged about the murder, showing friends in disbelief Lauwers decomposing body, while claiming that Satan approved. He was eventually arrested and hung himself in jail before his 18th birthday. Wojnarowicz and Turner not only found the story humorous but also symbolic of the generation. "[Wojnarowicz] and Turner saw Kasso as the ultimate, aimless alienated kid and both could identify with that to some extent." [3]

Wojnarowicz was also inspired by his own childhood, in writing the script. He wanted to include "Friends who had strange problems growing up." This would manifest in the characters meant to portray Kasso's friends.[4] The cast included Joe Coleman (The Devil), Nancy Coleman, Rockets Redglare (Jesus), Lung Leg, as well as Turner and Wojnarowicz.[5] Turner and Wojnarowicz recorded eight hours of footage. Turner edited the footage down to a silent 31-minute trailer, to be ready in time for the 1986 Downtown Film Festival.

The film was originally shot on a Canon 8mm camera, which Turner borrowed from Richard Kern. Although Turner claims that audio and footage was lost in a fire, Fales Library and Special Collections has two reels of Super 8mm film straight from the original camera. The film can be viewed with fragments of original audio, including voice-overs spoken through a Howdy Doody Doll and the song Where Evil Dwells by Wiseblood.

Jim Thirlwell, at the time a leader for the band Wiseblood and known as the leader of thrash metal band Foetus, offered up his song about Ricky Kasso to be used in the film, under the stipulation that the song's title would also be the title of the film, Where Evil Dwells.[6]

Beautiful People (1988)

Beautiful People was a collaboration with longtime friend and 3TeensKill4-no motive bandmate, Jesse Hultberg. Hultberg is the sole actor present in the film. The color and black and white Super 8mm film initially ran 30 minutes. It was screened in 1988 at the La Mama Theatre in the East Village, with a live soundtrack performed by Wojnarowicz and Hultberg.

In 2011, 19 years after Wojnarowicz death, Hultberg edited Beautiful People for the HOWL festival in New York City. At the festival, an event was held entitled In Peace and War, 3TeensKill4 to honor the involved artists. This version was cut down to seven minutes and a 3TeensKill4 soundtrack was added, entitled Special Reserve, where Wojnarowicz's tape recorder can be heard.

Richard Kern Collaborations

Stray Dogs and Manhattan Love Suicides (1985)

In Stray Dogs, which would become one of four segments included in Kern's Manhattan Love Suicides, Wojnarowicz's collaboration does not extend beyond acting, getting Bill Rice to sign onto the film, and possibly funding. Wojnarowicz stars as a fan infatuated with Bill Rice, following him around New York City. Rice takes Wojnarowicz's character home with him, getting him off the streets of New York. Wojnarowicz makes sexual advances on Rice, who does not oblige. Wojnarowicz becomes so sexually frustrated that he violently comes apart at the seams; blood pouring from his putrid smelling body, his arm falling off. Rice laughs at the gory scene before him and motions of Wojnarowicz to stay still on the floor, so he can create a sketch.

Like Where Evil Dwells, Jim Thirlwell also created the soundtrack for Stray Dogs.

You Killed Me First (1985)

Although one of the most important Super 8 films for the Cinema of Transgression is accredited to Kern, Wojnarowicz could certainly be viewed for this project as not only an actor but co-creator. Not only was the role of the father mostly inspired by David Wojnarowicz's own relationship with his father but Kern has exclaimed that 50% of the film was inspired by David's stories about his childhood in general. Wojnarowicz was also the person to get Karen Finley on board with the project after the initial actor for the role of "Mother" dropped out. Wojnarowicz offered to provide human skeletons for the film, which would instead be used for Installation 8 at Ground Zero Gallery, conceived in conjunction with the film.


  1. "Heroin". MUBI. N.p., 2016. Web. 2 Sept. 2016.
  2. Lippard, Lucy R. "Passenger on the Shadows." Aperture, no. 137 (1994): 6-25.
  3. Carr, C. Fire In The Belly. New York: Bloomsbury, 2012. Print. p 304
  4. Carr, C. Fire In The Belly. New York: Bloomsbury, 2012. Print. p 305
  5. "Where Evil Dwells (1985)". IMDb. N.p., 2016. Web. 2 Sept. 2016.
  6. Carr, C. Fire In The Belly. New York: Bloomsbury, 2012. Print. p 331