DARK STARS RISING: Transgressive Artists Are People, Too

If you’re a cult movie fan, you probably have an eccentric definition of what makes a good celebrity interview subject – and you’d probably like to hear from similarly unusual people in other areas of the arts.  Unfortunately, collections that cater to these sensibilities are few and far between.  Thankfully, there are a handful of alternative journalists who have created interview compilations for this kind of fan: the RE/Search books blazed the trail and Gene Gregorits of Sex & Guts fame threw his hat in the ring not too long ago with Midnight Mavericks.

Dark Stars Rising by Shade Rupe is the latest addition to this canon and it fits the personalized style that fans of this journalist genre crave.  It offers 27 interviews plus an appendix full of reviews, all spread out across over 550 carefully-designed pages.  It’s worth noting that David Kerekes created the design and layout for the book, aided and abetted by some cool artwork from Howard Forbes and a number of rare photos and ad mats gathered by Rupe.  The finished product has a “fetish object” sort of intricacy to its look, a style that is fully appropriate for an interview tome where the leading theme is artistic obsession.

The draw here for many readers will be the interviews with cult film directors, writers and actors – and they can rest assured that Dark Stars Rising has plenty to offer in this category.  Over half the book is devoted to filmmakers and actors, plus a number of other artists who cross over into the cinematic realm occasionally.  On the “expected” side of things, some major horror genre people are covered here: Chas Balun speaks candidly about the difficulties he faced trying to cross over from fan press writer to filmmaker, Dennis Paoli gets into the day-to-day challenges of being a working screenwriter and a young Jim Van Bebber offering plenty of ‘shoot from the hip’ opinions (he refers to the people at Troma as “dog rapers”).

There are also filmmaker interviews from the artier (but no less dangerous) end of the spectrum:  Alejandro Jodorowsky participates in a long and involved chat covering all phases of his career, including some fascinating stuff about his days as a creator of theatrical “happenings,” and a chat with the controversial Gaspar Noe delivers strong opinions in a surprisingly relaxed and non-confrontational manner.

However, the best film-related interview on either side of the aisle is a lengthy, life-covering conversation with Faster Pussycat Kill! Kill! star Tura Satana.  You’re likely to walk away with tremendous admiration for this woman, who faced setbacks that would make even the strongest people wither yet rebounded each time and did things on her own terms.  It’s a not a survival story, it’s a champion’s story – and in light of her recent passing, it is a fine tribute to her memory.

However, there is more to Dark Stars Rising than just cinematic celebrities.  Interviews with uber-controversial writers like novelist Dennis Cooper and zine-ist Peter Sotos take the reader into their world of controversy but do so in a way that sidesteps the salacious side of the story to focus on what it’s like to obsess over transgressive content in your work when the most of the world frowns on it.  There is also a truly expansive interview with Teller (as in Penn and… ), who walks the reader through his half-magic/half-performance art career as well as the experience of making Penn & Teller Get Killed.

The final piece of the puzzle is the approach of interviewer Shade Rupe.  The interviews here were conducted over many years and it is interesting to see his approach mature over time.  He’s not afraid to be chatty to get his subjects going (particularly in the early stuff) and has pretty strong ideas about the work of the people he talks to… yet he gives them plenty of space to express their thoughts about their work and any number of other topics.  He usually avoids the generic topics/questions and instead gets his subjects to discuss their work from an aesthetic standpoint.  The latter approach really pans out in interviews like the ones for performance artist Johanna Went and actor-turned-filmmaker Crispin Glover, who go deep into the mindsets that fuel their unusual styles of artsiness.

There are many more interviews that could be touched on in this review – the irreverently humorous anecdotes of actor Udo Kier, the luckless yet oddly inspirational odyssey of filmmaker-against-all-odds Richard Stanley – but perhaps it is best to let potential readers discover these things for themselves.  If the interview subjects mentioned here pique your interest, you’ll want to carve out some space on the bookshelf for Dark Stars Rising.  You don’t get opportunities to hear from a group of artists like this very often.

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