Performance artists may very well be the cryptograms of the 1980s. Aside from a few extremely arch cable TV programs, e.g. "Mondo Beyondo," the Spalding Gray showcase SWIMMING TO CAMBODIA and Laurie Anderson's HOME OF THE BRAVE, most of the best-known performance artists, from Whoopie
Goldberg to Ann Magnuson, have compromised their art for popular appeal.
So too, acclaimed monologist Eric Bogosian, whose film and TV work--TALK RADIO, TV's "The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial"--up to this point has been a curious amalgam of mainstream and performance art sensibilities. With SEX, DRUGS, ROCK & ROLL, however, Bogosian has a film vehicle worthy of his
special talents. A replica of his most recent one-man show, it showcases Bogosian at his best, with ten biting, satiric, below-the-skin caricatures of contemporary stereotypes, including a British rock star, a high-profile entertainment lawyer, an emotionally dead homeless man, and a crazed
bachelor on his final unmarried night.
Similar in technique to Richard Pryor's stand-up comedy films of the 1970s, this film has Bogosian as the sole performer and he remains front-and-center throughout. But Bogosian's is not a comedy routine. Rather, he has the ability to inhabit his characters like a virus, drawing out their
enclosed, unfeeling, egocentric personas. So deeply etched are his depictions that laughter is not the release mechanism but, rather, it is a feeling of appalling emotional recognition that lends these sad people their bite. Bogosian, in portraying an upper-echelon Hollywood lawyer at one moment
and a street panhandler the next, connects different strata of society to paint a chillingly accurate indictment of a society fraying at the seams, awaiting apocalypse.
However, as a film and not merely a filmed record of a live performance, SEX, DRUGS, ROCK & ROLL leaves a bit to be desired. Director John McNaughton (HENRY, PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER), desperate for variety, cannot merely allow Bogosian's artistry to emerge from his performance. Instead,
McNaughton resorts to extreme closeups of more interest to a dermatologist or orthodontist than a general film audience. (The closest example of this type of overwrought direction can be found in Sidney Lumet's EQUUS, in which the extreme closeups of Richard Burton, making mincemeat out of his
otherwise superb peformance.) Such camerawork amplifies Bogosian's performance to an unnecessarily shrill level, but his formidable skills overcome this minor setback.
SEX, DRUGS, ROCK & ROLL should not be missed, simply in order to experience one of the finest performance artists at work in a performance environment. Perhaps, with its extreme direction, the film will play better in the diffused medium of a television screen. (Excessive profanity.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1991
- Rating: R
- Review: Performance artists may very well be the cryptograms of the 1980s. Aside from a few extremely arch cable TV programs, e.g. "Mondo Beyondo," the Spalding Gray showcase SWIMMING TO CAMBODIA and Laurie Anderson's HOME OF THE BRAVE, most of the best-known perf… (more)