Supposedly a look at the cutting edge of urban performance art at the time it was filmed, MONDO NEW YORK is an annoying showcase for performers who traffic almost entirely in cheap shock tactics. Such tactics date quickly, and this documentary already looked badly dated by the time it got
to theaters (its release was delayed by legal problems); by now, it's almost completely unwatchable.
MONDO NEW YORK was the brainchild of Stuart S. Shapiro, who created the genuinely entertaining and innovative cable series "Night Flight." But while it is well-photographed and recorded, the film sadly shows none of the taste that made the series so worthy. At its lowest point, it features
performance artist Joe Coleman biting the heads off two lab mice. (A lawsuit by animal rights activist Bob Barker over this caused the film's release to be delayed.) Equally objectionable are sequences showing a Santeria ritual and a cockfight, the inclusion of which negate the film's claim to be
an "artistic showcase" and reveal it as what it is, a pretentious excuse for a geek show.
Inanely linked by a vacuous-looking young blonde strolling around Manhattan, the performances largely substitute attitude for talent. This is particularly true of openers Lydia Lunch, who reads an introductory poem, and Phoebe Legere, who acts more like a cheap stripper than a singer as she
lip-syncs a bad song about Marilyn Monroe. We are shown an S&M club where people in leather underwear are whipped and lesbians kiss while German music is played; a gallery where naked women accost a painter with cerebral palsy; and a street poet who graphically likens poetry to rape. A junkie
shoots up, and someone calls New York "the clitoris of the world." It's all accompanied by atrocious programmed synthesizer music.
The only notable aspect of MONDO NEW YORK is the efforts of a few talented performers, none of whom are seen here at their best. Comedians Rick Aviles and Charlie Barnett give lively but dated standup routines in Washington Square Park. Ann Magnuson reads an oblique piece about gentrification and
beats a dead horse (literally). A nearly naked Karen Finley makes a gown out of raw eggs and glitter before delivering a shrill, abrasive rant to a wildly cheering audience. Dean Johnson and his band, the Weenies, end the film with an amusing comedy song, "Fuck You." Such moments aside, MONDO NEW
YORK seems determined to prove the assertion of an East Side resident who tells the camera, "If you can't make it in New York, you can't make it anywhere." (Graphic violence, extensive nudity, sexual situations, adult situations, substance abuse, extreme profanity.)
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- Released: 1988
- Rating: NR
- Review: Supposedly a look at the cutting edge of urban performance art at the time it was filmed, MONDO NEW YORK is an annoying showcase for performers who traffic almost entirely in cheap shock tactics. Such tactics date quickly, and this documentary already look… (more)