“Lunch’s defiantly unfashionable sort of feminism is the main point of interest in this documentary. Viewers will . . . marvel at a woman who, at 60, seems just as fierce as she was 40 years ago.”
— John Defore, The Hollywood Reporter
Filmmaker Beth B and multi-media artist Lydia Lunch have been friends since the late ’70s, when both integrated themselves into New York’s “No Wave” movement: Beth B* excelled in film; Lunch drifted towards music. Taking her cues from Patti Smith, Lunch burst onto the scene with Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, which reached a national audience when Brian Eno (David Bowie, Taking Heads) included the band on his 1978 No New York compilation.
After her work as a singer and guitarist in Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, she fronted the band 8-Eyed Spy, then broke out on her own as a solo artist with the albums Queen of Siam (1980) and 13:13 (1981). During this period, she transitioned into acting, working with the experimental, “No Wave” filmmakers Vivenne Dick, James Nares, and Beth B, for whom she worked with an early James Russo (Beverly Hills Cop, Donnie Brasco, The Postman) and Ann Magnuson (Making Mr. Right with Malkovich) in the noir-homage, Vortex (1982). Lunch also worked with low-budget undergrounders Nick Zedd and Richard Kern (each known for Geek Maggot Bingo, 1983, and Sonic Youth’s “Death Valley 69,” respectively**). Lunch also worked with director Amos Poe (later of the more mainstream-distributed Alphabet City (1985) with with Vincent Spano of Over the Edge; Rocket Gibraltar (1988) with Burt Lancaster) on his early feature, Subway Riders (1981).
First collaborating with Sonic Youth on their album Bad Moon Rising (1985), for that album’s college radio single, “Death Valley 69,” she came to collaborate with that band’s bassist, Kim Gordon, as the guitarist and lead vocalist in Harry Crews. The band released the lone album, Naked in Garden Hills (1987), in honor of the Deep South, dark-noirist author of the same name (his books The Gospel Singer (1969) and The Knock Out Artist (1988) were adapted as songs on the album).
For this first documentary on Lunch’s career, Beth B secured the insights of fellow New York scenesters, and artists inspired by her, such as Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, Donita Sparks from L7, and Henry Rollins. Lydia Lunch: The War Is Never Over became available in select theaters and national streaming on June 30, 2021, by Kino Lorber. You can also learn more about the film’s virtual screenings at KinoMarquee.
* As part of our “John Doe Week” of film reviews, courtesy of the film starring his ex-wife and X bandmate Exene Cervenka, we reviewed Salvation! (1987), Beth B’s parody on organized religion and the mass communication medium of television. We also reviewed Lydia Lunch’s appearance in Mondo New York (1988), as well as taking a look at The Blank Generation (1976) — a 16-mm black & white DIY documentary co-directed by Lydia Lunch and Patti Smith Group guitarist Ivan Kral with director Amos Poe — in the context of our review for Ulli Lommel’s Richard Hell-starring Blank Generation (1980).
** Richard Kern’s other MTV 120 Minutes-era alternative rock videos include King Missile’s “Detachable Penis” and “Marilyn Manson’s “Lunchbox.”
Other female punk/new wave musicians who transitioned into film that we’ve reviewed are the late Christina Amphlett of the Divinyls in Monkey Grip (1982), Nena in Hangin’ Out (1983), and Nina Hagen in Cha Cha (1979). While we haven’t reviewed them, Debbie Harry of Blondie fame, and later of David Cronenberg’s Videodrome (1983), appeared in Amos Poe’s Unmade Beds (1976) and The Foreigner (1978).
There more rock ‘n’ roll on film — including many punk and new wave-inspired films — with our “Rock ‘n’ Roll Week” blowouts (Part 1 and Part 2). Is there a “Part 3” on the way? Oh, you bet! Join us during the last week of August through the first week of September for thirty more films concerned with rock and radio. Oh, speaking of radio . . . be sure to visit our round up of “Exploring: Radio Stations on Film” . . . and we get into Gen X/Grunge films with our “Exploring: 50 Gen-X Grunge Films of the Alt-Rock ‘90s” featurettes.