MADAME WANG'S represents another over-the-top, fiercely funny attack on social mores and cinematic forms from the underappreciated "underground" director, Paul Morrissey. This 1981 curiosity makes most of the other films of the past year seem tame by comparison.
MADAME WANG'S takes place in Long Beach in the early 1980s, when the Cold War between the East and West got even colder. Lutz (Patrick Schoene), an East German undercover KGB agent, comes to America to plot a Communist invasion by connecting with Western leftist sympathizers like Jane Fonda. Lutz
first meets a prostitute (Christina Indri), who introduces him to her over-stimulated pimp, Billy (William Edgar), her transvestite father (Jimmy Madaus), and her father's bunch of untalented transvestite friends. Without any other place to live, Lutz moves in with the transvestites in the
basement of the Long Island Masonic Temple, while the group of men in drag rehearse for their big audition at Madame Wang's, a trendy nightclub in the city.
While planning his overthrow of the government, Lutz realizes he needs money to live in America. The prostitute, who has grown fond of Lutz, teaches him to be her new pimp, but Lutz fails miserably in the role. Later, Lutz is mistaken for a prostitute himself as he, his prostitute friend, Billy,
and the transvestites are all invited to a posh house party thrown by a suburban matron (Susan Blond). The hostess of the party takes a particular liking to Lutz, but instead of having sex with him, she asks him to kill her abusive husband. Lutz fails as badly as a paid assassin as he did as a
Next, Lutz visits a local Jane Fonda Workout Center in the hopes of meeting her in person, but he is disappointed to find out that she does not work at the site. Finally, feeling desperate for work, Lutz auditions as a punk rock singer at Madame Wang's, but during his routine he slashes himself
with a knife rather than perform the primitive gyrations he is taught by a fellow rocker. Madame Wang (Virginia Bruce) likes Lutz's original, if bloody, act, but Lutz himself feels disgusted by his experiences in America and decides to return to East Germany.
Inept acting. Bad eye-line matches. Microphones visible in the camera lens. Even the earliest work (FLESH, TRASH) of Morrissey, the ex-Warhol Factory auteur, was more technically polished than MADAME WANG'S. Yet, if this later film seems ostensibly like the work of an amateur, Morrissey's "bad"
technique perfectly complements his sly genre deconstructions. The director cleverly assaults everything from punk rock to DOUBLE INDEMNITY melodramas to Cold War spy thrillers to PYGMALION comedies. He even finds odd pathos amidst all the transvestite characters' lusting and desperation.
Best of all, Morrissey critiques Western capitalism through his sharp-eyed mise-en-scene. Lutz's pursuit of Fonda at her exercise club hilariously juxtaposes the star's Vietnam War-protester past and her wealthy fitness-queen persona of 1981, while the prostitutes' search for clients in front of a
savings bank simultaneously contrasts and conflates two supposedly disparate business institutions.
Fifteen years after it was made, MADAME WANG'S' cryptically campy take on the American Dream looks funnier and more relevant than ever. (Violence, nudity, sexual situations, adult situations, profanity.)
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- Released: 1981
- Rating: NR
- Review: MADAME WANG'S represents another over-the-top, fiercely funny attack on social mores and cinematic forms from the underappreciated "underground" director, Paul Morrissey. This 1981 curiosity makes most of the other films of the past year seem tame by compa… (more)