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by Annie Davis
 
 
When you picture life in the former German Democratic Republic of East Germany, wild parties with punk models storming down the catwalk in dresses made out of hospital body bags are not the kind of images that come to mind. Yet such worlds existed in the former GDR and in his documentary, Comrade Couture, Marco Wilms brings this forgotten counter-culture to life, sourcing archived footage and seeking out former designers, photographers and fashion models who led this avante garde movement. T-Squat caught up with the director and former GDR fashion model and East Berlin squatter during his recent visit to Australia last month as part of the Goethe Institute’s Berlin Dayz festival for the Berlin on Film series at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI).

So how did you get to be an official ‘state certified fashion model’ in the GDR?


The GDR had a fashion institute, which guided the whole fashion industry. They went out and selected models who were suitable for the designs – mostly they preferred the intellectual, serious-looking types. I think they found me in this discoteque and I wearing this home-made jacket, it was not finished yet and it looked sort of bizarre and they must have thought “this guy would be suitable”.
Did you enjoy a kind of celebrity status as a model in the GDR, like models do now?
It was the opposite in a working class state. Models were seen as kind of decadent, they don’t do much, they’re not working hard. People long for beauty, I guess, but there was no hype at all.
 
 

Was everybody in the fashion industry employed by the socialist state?

Everything in the GDR was owned by the government, there was no private industry. The designers were quite creative, most of them, but the industry could not use them – the designers had no material to work with and there were a lot of problems making things, so normally the clothes didn’t appear in shops. What appeared in shops was 10 per cent of the idea and people didn’t like it so much to wear. Some designers made beautiful stuff and sold it on the streets themselves, you could make really good money that way. Sort of like a black market.

Although you were employed by a government institute, was there still a lot of tension between those working in the fashion industry and the socialist state?

The problem for the Stasi was more the free ideas, it was something they could not control. They were very paranoid about individual behaviour and about individual action. If something was not controlled by the German Youth Organisation – every youth movement, every art program – it was a potential enemy. Everything was a potential enemy for the Stasi. They observed us but they didn’t know what to do, they were confused.

 

 

In another sense, there is this sense of total, free abandon when you watch the archived footage. Would you say that even in that time you were, on some level, free?

Sure, I felt very free – the only thing was I could not travel. But you were very free in a way, If you found your niche it could be very free. You didn’t have to wake up in the morning and go to the factory, you didn’t have to be part of the youth organisation. We just lived our own crazy lifestyle and nobody bothered us. If an official came up to us and asked us what we were doing we’d say, “Oh - sorry, we are models! We are presenting clothes for the new socialist being!”

Every person you interviewed in the film who was part of that movement who appears in your film expresses a sort of nostalgia for that freedom – is it something that is now lost?

Today, if you do anything you have to make a living out of it. Even coming to Melbourne for this film, it’s very expensive. We didn’t have to think about that in the past, money absolutely wasn’t an issue. If you wanted an apartment you just pay $10 per month in the GDR. You don’t have to think about how to make a company, how to make a brand, who is the target group. You just create and try to be pure and experience it honestly. People are confused in our time, there’s a lot of confusion going on, all the possibilities, there’s too much going on. It’s an utter dictatorship you have to follow one group, you have to be nice and this and that – that’s not the point, you have to be yourself.

It’s logical – after the wall came down, capitalism took over. When you see that fashion show we held in that abandoned community bath, with 200 dancers and people all in leather, this amazing, big show. They did it without money, the whole project was a kind of living thing. It took months to prepare, not just the two days of the show. And nobody was thinking, “oh, I can sell it in advance” or about how to get the money back. It would be impossible to do that today. If you tried to hire out that same bath-house today, it’s very exotic looking, it would cost you a lot of money.

It’s much more complicated now to be avante garde. It’s not so black and white. Then, it was very easy to provoke they system, you just glitter spray your hair and all the old men in power, they had no idea about fashion so it was very shocking. Then when we got reunited with West Germany, the old guys who were in power for too long got taken over by old guys from West Germany who came again to take over our country. We didn’t want to be reunited with West Germany that way, we wanted to keep our culture.

 
 

Some see fashion as something superficial and not something that can define you as a person – would you disagree?

Actually, I’m not so interested in fashion. But maybe that’s not true, because I just made a film about it! For me, it’s more about how a person experiences it – fashion is a good way to separate yourself from the mainstream, it’s always about your individual personality. In the GDR, I was completely overdressed most of the time. I felt tied up in this dictatorship and I wanted to push them back and say no, I don’t want any part of your system. Today it’s not necessary, because the world is much more free now so I don’t buy those types of eccentric clothes anymore, I have no need to do this.

It was disturbing to hear what happened to people like make-up artist Frank Schaefer when he was arrested for what he was wearing. Was fashion really that dangerous in the GDR, as a form of self-expression?

I think for Frank, he liked it in a way – he’s a tough character, he likes extreme things. It’s another lifestyle where if they cannot break you they make you stronger. As Frank said in the film, “a tiger in a cage is wilder than a tiger in nature”

 

 

You fled East Germany in 1989. Why so soon before the wall went down?

I left three months before the wall went down. If I’d known how close East Germany was to collapse, I would never have left. At the time, I was absolutely sure it was going to be stuck like that for too long. I was young, I wanted to cross borders and develop myself – it got too grey and too restrictive for me. But when I left, I didn’t go far, I just went to West Berlin. So I could just take a subway to go home. The first night after the wall went down I did that, I went to East Berlin with my passport. Two months later, I started squatting in a house where I still live.

Are you still squatting in East Berlin?

No, I live in the same place but now I have a contract. It’s owned by a West German. I don’t own the house but I have a nice life with my family and the other people in the house have been living there for twenty years.

 

 
 
 
Words by James Watkins.
 
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Ben Smith, founder of Horror Sleaze Trash, a site that celebrates all things filthy, honest and carnal, is an true poetic enigma. After meeting up with Ben in a Mexican tequila bar, and after a few shots of some of the best tequila money can buy (without the buying part), it became quickly and painlessly obvious that he is the real deal. He speaks what he does and does what he speaks. If his poetry ship was sinking, he'd stay at the wheel as hundred foot waves crashed over the bow, then pilot it gracefully to the bottom of the ocean and in the last moments before he drowned, he'd write a beautiful, apologetic poem in the sand with his finger about how perhaps next time he should be less drunk at the helm.

His poetry acts as his confession booth, honesty box, diary and bible simultaneously. He openly writes about his passionate embracing of alcoholism, driving around in his car whilst airing his cock in the secret sanctuary of the space below his window, drunkenly eating seashells for shits and giggles (then shitting them out) and an epic (spanning three poems) about shaving his balls. Then amongst this slightly crass, seemingly callous (whilst still essentially poetic) material you'll find beautiful, sensitive character studies and existential musings about sitting with a dying kangaroo in the rain.

T-Squat is proud to present a selection from Ben's new poetry book: 'Horror Sleaze Trash' and it is within these three loose thematic guidelines that Ben writes. For those who think they don't dig on poetry, let Ben Smith show you just how accessible, valid and unpretentious it can be.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Click here to read parts 2 and 3 of Ben's ball shaving epic.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
by Ingrid Reynolds
 
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She was wearing the red silk dress, which had three tiers

and a train that trailed behind her as she walked.

Kneeling down on the rocks at the banks of the lake she took her place carefully

as her red dress settled around her like blood.

In her red hair was pinned a red flower and her pale bare shoulders

shimmered in the sunlight.

She knelt over the edge of the lake

and gazed across the soft surface.

A swan swam past.

The beak was the same colour as her dress and the swan,

it could smell her desire.

The lady in red, she wanted to eat the swan.

Perhaps she wanted to fuck it also.

But only once she had gouged out its eyes. Plucking it from the lake

she would kiss the swan tentatively and it would kiss her back.

She could imagine wrapping its long neck

around her body and wearing it extravagantly.

Draped over her red dress in swan skin.

Together they would ride on top of the lake and orgasm silmutaneously.

She leaned her face down a little closer. By now,

her face was a few short centimetres away from the water.

Evidently she saw her own reflection.

The soft ripples in the water did not deter her beauty.

The pair of almond eyes, her alabaster skin

stared back at her.

Pulling the eyes away from her own reflection

momentarily she gazed up at the swan.

She reached her arm out

The swan swam closer

and then moved away

 
 
 
 
 
by The Void
 
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Good horror is the master filmmakers genre as it's extremely difficult to get right and extremely easy to get wrong. The last decade of horror films stands as a testament to this theory, as most just rely on gore and splatter that have now completely desensitized the viewing public to the point where most horrors now go straight to DVD.

Where is the suspense I ask?

I want to see the kind of horror movie that scares me like a 9 year old again. Comfortably numb is as boring as bat shit. I want to be scared! For those true horror appreciators who are sick of the same old crap and want a guide on the best, look no further ...

The Thing (1982)

I read somewhere recently that they were remaking one of my favourite horror movies, 'The Thing'. My first response was 'fuck no!', as it really is one of those films that ages like a fine wine - so why destroy it in the name of pimply faced skin dicks and big bucks at the boxoffice? Stupid question I guess. One recent exception to bad remakes is Rod Zombies remake of Halloween 1 and 2.

Those of you with half an idea about horror will know who John Carpenter is. For those of you who don't, he is renowned as one of the best horror writers/directors of all time, bringing us such classics as Halloween, Escape from New York and Christine. His best work in my opinion was from the late seventies into the mid eighties, and while in the midst of this creative purple patch he created 'The Thing'.

Interestingly (and keeping the remake thread) Carpenter actually remade his hero, in director Howard Hawks 1950's film of the same name so I am essentially reviewing a remake. Ironic, maybe.

Now, I want to set the clock back to the summer of 1982 when most of you reading were either just a twinkle in your mothers eye or were shitting on your hands and rubbing it on your face. In was during this summer that Spielberg released 'ET', the family friendly, license to print money, merchandising Juggernaut that made everybody feel warm and fuzzing towards aliens! Then Along came 'The Thing'.

Take a team of Men, Scientists, isolated on a scientific research station on the vastness of Antarctica. Because of the bitter climatic conditions they are mostly confined inside the station, forced to spend their time between research work, playing games, drinking and arguing with each other. Mac (Kurt Russel) plays the part of the loner on the team. A chopper pilot, he spends most of this time playing chess and getting drunk.

Now throw in an Alien Creature that is like no other creature you have ever seen. A creature that's been dug up from under the ice, buried for hundred of thousands of years. Without ruining the story for those of you that haven't seen the film, this creature systematically takes over living cells and tissue, replicating it's host. The only way you can see it, is by catching it during it's morph phase (while it's in the act of dissolving and replicating it's host). So once it's taken on it's new identity, you can't distinguis if it's your dog, your friend or the bird that just shat on the window.

So now imagine a team of people trapped inside together as this thing takes them over one by one. Imagine the paranoia, the suspense and terror. Carpenter's expert eye and Dean Cundy's skill as a cinematography make for the sort of suspense that keeps you involved and on edge to the final curtain call.

The real hero in this film is the special effects which have mostly aged really well against the over killed CGI crap that we are saturated with today. Before computer effects it was the real-world of puppetry and prosthetics using plastic, rubber and PVC. Real technical skill and artistry came into play during the production of this film, courtesty of an effects team led by Rob Bottin.

The morphing creatures created are just as scary as they are disturbing and you will find yourself impressed not only by how good the effects look but by how well they stand up next to the effects today especially when taking into consideration these are puppetry and camera tricks only. I will go as far as to say that the effects and monster prosthetics in the film are some of the best I have ever seen. Period. There is one classic scene where a decapitated head sprouts spiders legs and scuttles across the floor. Brilliant.

The score is classic Carpenter's, electronic and atmospheric music sends a shiver down your spine. He wrote and produced the score with another master in Ennio Morricone, the Italian great that gave us the 'Good the Bad and the Ugly' and countless other classic film scores. The soundtrack is very ominous and forboding, enhancing the feeling of paranoia that the cast is feeling, dragging you into the film whilst churning your stomach. A genius score but not the sort of music you want to listen to on a Tuesday morning, lying in the bath after a 2 day speed bender.

So dudes I highly recommend a night in with John Carpenter's 'The Thing'. It's a fucking thrill pure and simple and even for those of you that don't like horror it's a chance for you to appreciate creative film making at it's finest, especially remembering that this was released in the wake of 'ET', did poorly at the box office because of it but has now become a cult classic.

So see this remake before you see the remake of the remake of the remake.   

Post Script: Fuck you ET

 
 
 
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Inspired by East Berlin’s body-bag couture, we mined the Eurotrash vein a little deeper with a clip from the documentary Examined Life of philosopher and social theorist Slavoj Zizek talking trash and the human condition. Described as the world’s hippest philosopher, Zizek’s greasy-haired lumpiness doesn’t exactly scream out ‘style’ but his lectures rack up hundreds of thousands of hits on Youtube and the man counts an Argentine lingerie as one of his ex-wives. In this clip, Zizek rifles through old fridges at a junk-yard, scoffing at soft porn he discovers in disused refrigerators as he systematically destroys conventional understandings of ecology and sustainability. Feel that? That’s Zizek, gently fucking your mind. That Argentinian lingerie models starts to make a little more sense...