Friday, May 13, 2011
Popular Orientalism: Tuli Kupferberg in "Voulez-Vous Coucher Avec God?"
Here's another example of "popular" Orientalism, put to avant-garde and subversive purposes. It's not quite as subversive and avant-garde as Jack Smith's work, but it is still of interest.
I learned of this 1972 film, directed by Michael Hersh and Jack Christie, from a Facebook post by the Moorish Orthodox Church of America. It's called Voulez-Vous Coucher Avec God?, and all I really know about it is from this opening segment, featuring Tuli Kupferberg (of The Fugs) as God. God who speaks English with a strong Eastern European Jewish accent. God who smokes hash from the houka.
God who lives in Hashish Seventh Heaven, surrounded by a harem of barebreasted hippy bellydancers. Who loves Al Jolsen's "Swanee." Who sings The Trashmen's surf-punk avant-le-lettre "Surfing Bird."
Kupferberg is hilarious in this clip. I'm ambivalent about the claymation stereotypical-black figure in tarbush who introduces the film (see above). The barebreasted 'houris' of the harem are typical of the sixties counter-cultural sexual revolution, which seemed in large part to be about hippy women taking off their bras and tops so that hippy men could ogle them. But I've only seen this clip, so there may be more too all this. A DVD should be out later this year. The film has played in New York recently in tributes to Kupferberg, who passed away in July 2010. J. Hoberman wrote an interesting if short review of the film in The Village Voice, calling it "strenuously druggy, anarchic, and blasphemous," and writing that Kupferberg's God is "an unkempt, hairy schmoozer, consorting with his female subjects in a vaguely Baghdadian crash pad".
I continue to be interested in how significant a role Orientalist images of the Arab world and the Middle East played in avant-garde, counter-cultural, and hippy pop cultural manifestations of "the sixties." Besides several posts in hawblawg on Jack Smith, I've also written posts on the film Performance (here and here) and a few asides. More to come. I don't want to claim that such deployments of "Orientalism" are necessarily progressive, but I am against a certain kind of dogmatic and all-too-common deployment of Said's critique of Orientalism, that describes any Western consumption of "The Orient" as "flexible positional superiority," and therefore, exploitative.
P.S. If you don't know The Fugs, please check out their brilliantly hilarious zen nihilist song, "Nothing." "Social anthropology, uckalcucka, nothing."