via NYTimes: ART IN REVIEW
253 East Houston Street,
Lower East Side
For several years Laura Parnes has been working on a video adaptation of Kathy Acker’s 1984 novel, “Blood and Guts in High School,” presenting segments as they were done. The piece is now finished and being shown at Participant Inc.
Acker, who died at 53 in 1997, was one of the most dynamic American fiction writers of her time, her work a violent, pornographic, punk-feminist version of Gertrude Stein with lifts from William S. Burroughs, Marguerite Duras, Jean Genet and her own life. Her prose has the pile-driver beat of a garage-band drummer, its anarchic tone a perfect counteroffensive to the recycled folksiness of the Reagan years.
Ms. Parnes makes this historical context clear by prefacing each section of her video with news clips of the mass suicide in Jonestown in 1978, the nuclear meltdown at Three Mile Island, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the Israeli attack on Beirut in 1982 and the conservative ascendancy in national politics. Against this backdrop Acker’s protagonist, Janey (as spelled in the book, and well played by Stephanie Vella), moves, changing clothes and hairdo but not her sullen, affectless demeanor from scene to scene.
In place of Acker’s motormouth prose, however, Ms. Parnes has written a script of short, emphatic lines and long silences, with actors moving in slow motion when they move at all; often cut-and-paste editing does their moving for them. Ms. Parnes has cooled Acker’s frenetic world down to the stately pace of a Greek tragedy, retaining the hilarity but increasing the menace of Janey’s episodic abandonments, imprisonments and punishments.
by Elisabeth Kley
Laura Parnes at Participant
Evidence of our current shell-shocked state can be found on Houston Street on the Lower East Side at Participant, which is screening Laura Parnes’ new film, Janie 1978-1982 a.k.a. Blood and Guts in High School, a 50-minute-long version of Kathy Acker’s 1984. The show commemorates Participant Press’s publication of Blood and Guts in Hollywood: Two Screenplays by Laura Parnes, a wonderfully structured book that gives a comprehensive account of two of Parnes’ films.
In contrast to Acker’s gritty, violent novel, filled with poverty, incest and rats, Parnes’s film is banal and antiseptic, like a low-budget production for community access cable TV. A group of interchangeably youthful actors seem to play out their frustrations for each other, so cut off from reality that they can’t even experience their own oppression.
The capitalists in Acker’s novel use Janey as a name for "perverts, transsexuals, criminals and women." Parnes has transformed Janey into Janie, a clean-cut young woman who bounces from one distressing situation to the next, dressed in various clichéd youthful costumes -- pink and blue wigs, torn stockings and jeans, neck collars, leggings, miniskirts. As helpless as a character from a Kafka novel or a Beckett play (not to mention The Perils of Pauline), Janie is flummoxed by the senselessness of every institution she confronts.
At her job selling cookies, a co-worker berates her for her fake smiles and then tells her she is rude when she stops smiling. A sleazy young preacher in a cheesy chapel with a neon sign that says "good news" ignores her plea for help and tells her she will burn in hell. At school, she is told to communicate like an adult and then beaten up by a gang of club-wielding young men.
Episodes from Janie’s life are bracketed by archival footage of human rights disasters that took place at the time Acker wrote her book. Horrific scenes of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, the Jim Jones massacre and the invasion of Afghanistan make Janie’s travails seem even more unreal.
The archival footage cuts to action in which Janie takes part in each disaster, such as hiding in a bomb shelter after a nuclear reactor explosion, and lip-synching Jim Jones’s pre-massacre speech in male drag. The film ends on an optimistic note when Janie escapes down a country road, leaving her nightmares behind. The exhibition also includes a set of eight life-sized archival ink-jet portraits of Stephanie Vella (the actress who plays Janie) dressed in her various costumes. Printed in an edition of ten, the photographs are priced at $3,000 each. [...]