Book Review: Cinema Sewer

Robin Bougie is a very, very, very sick and twisted man. And thank the gods of filth-film fetishism for that. Actually, I’ve never met Bougie; for all I know, he gets his taxes done on time, goes to church twice a week, and cries at Hallmark Hall of Fame TV movies. I have a feeling, though, that he’d rather be considered very, very, very sick and twisted. The creator of Cinema Sewer — the zine and then the book (published a year ago today) — would probably have it no other way.

Comprising the best of the zine’s first twelve issues, along with a surfeit of new stuff, Cinema Sewer is about as disreputable a movie book as they come. It’s like holding a stack of inky, sordid photocopied zines in your lap, between slick, attractive covers. (Maybe too attractive, I think; a book like this really should look like something you find in a supermarket bathroom.) Bougie not only enthusiastically reviews porn, he draws scenes from it. The aesthetic is a bit like the old Loompanics catalogs that were later collected in trade paperbacks, with radical, disturbing essays illustrated by artists who clearly didn’t care about making it cute. Aside from the index and the interviews, wherein the subjects are allowed Courier font, there’s hardly a dot of machine-printed text anywhere in Cinema Sewer — it’s all hand-printed, in rigorously ruled all-caps. This may look like a slim volume, but it’s a dense read — perfect for (of course) shithouse perusal.

In case it isn’t clear by now, I dig what Bougie is doing here. He covers ferociously wrong shit, stuff that would give even Michael J. Weldon pause, and often finds insightful things to say in its defense. At times, especially in the porn coverage, it’s as if we’re getting a sharp, unapologetic direct line to Bougie’s id. (You haven’t lived until you’ve read him rhapsodizing about the remote possibility of Thora Birch starring in a porno.) “Look,” he says (in effect), “this stuff fascinates me. It’s fuck-ugly, but I can’t leave it alone.” It isn’t just rude-boy wanking, though: Bougie’s lengthy piece on Linda Lovelace goes through various attitudes and moods about the infamous porn queen (who later repudiated her triple-X efforts) before finally settling on compassion. Two pornos by the recently deceased Gerard Damiano (who directed Lovelace’s opus Deep Throat) are reviewed here, as well as other vintage stroke flicks either famous or justifiably obscure.

Bougie was born in 1973, and therefore wasn’t around the first time for most of the stuff he loves. He’s also Canadian, so he’s doubly estranged from the mostly-American material in this volume (he samples some Japanese fetish porn too, and even he seems a bit nonplussed by its sheer what-the-fuckery). Yet he has the passion of someone who spent years ruining his eyeballs with this stuff in 42nd-Street fleapits back in the day. What I like about Bougie and his no-bullshit, this-is-what-I-watch approach is that it leaves absolutely no room for pretension or condescension; it cuts to the chase with starkly rendered ejaculations and frequent cameos by a cartoon Bougie sweating and eye-popping his way through various rants (as when he flips off his fellow moviegoers). Bougie implicates himself in his own tastes more fearlessly than just about any film critic out there; in a way, the book and the zine are his ongoing trash-culture autobiography.

Cinema Sewer comes on like some Peter Bagge idiot projectile-vomiting turds of wisdom about best-forgotten crap, but that’s by design; it’s actually a good deal more thoughtful than that, and, I suspect, more carefully pieced together — the pages may look DIY and junky, but considerable craft and planning have gone into making them look that way. Whenever the blue-hairs and red-staters harrumph about the latest supposedly youth-corrupting pop-cultural confection, I have to chuckle and say “This? This is what you think is going to bring America down? Do you even know what kind of legitimately deranged shit is out there and has been out there for decades?” Well, Robin Bougie, a 35-year-old Canadian, sure as hell knows, and has devoted himself to telling us all about it. Hell, anyone so cheerfully eager to point a Klieg light at American culture’s fat, semen-crusted underbelly is performing a goddamn public service.

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