Mondo New York Blu-ray Review: A Time Capsule Full of Uninhibited Freedom and Expression

Performance art, for many, is something that most people will take with a grain of salt, or twenty. However, it is still art, art that represents rebellion and a thunderous way out for misfits, outsiders, and other weirdos (you know, like me, not an artist, but a proud weirdo). Filmmaker Harvey Keith gives the art and its artists their gonzo chance to shine with his 1988 very cult classic Mondo New York.

A young, unnamed innocent (Shannah Laumeister) wanders the seedy streets of 1980s Manhattan and encounters strange but engrossing inhabitants along the way. In this case, she is our tour guide through the city’s almost forbidden terrains and its many colorful characters, each connected by her experience. She witnesses stand-up comedy in Central Park (with popular comedians Charlie Barnett and Rick Aviles); artist and nightclub performer Ann Magnuson beating a dead horse; artist, singer, and drag performer Joey Arias dressed as a mermaid; paraplegic artist Frank Moore with painted naked women on his lap; painter and actor Joe Coleman biting the heads off mice while exploding firecrackers on himself; musician and poet Karen Finley performing her fiery monologue on greed while covered with raw eggs and confetti, and actor Emilio Cubeiro reciting terrorist poetry, among interesting sights.

As someone who enjoys art and cinema, I got a lot out this, especially as a time capsule, one full of uninhibited freedom and expression. The performances are amazing, but I could have done without the “Mondo” part: a Chinese slave auction, a voodoo ceremony, and a cockfight. These moments drag and have little reason to be in the film. It was pure shock value and nothing else. Yes, the Coleman scene has him killing two cute mice, but there was more to him than that, especially in the next scene in his apartment where he displays his paintings, dolls, and other art.

There is a key line where Finley says that “This is art, buddy”, which is true because even the most unorthodox and dangerous art is art that speaks to some people. Mondo New York is clearly not for everyone, but not everything has to be. Art belongs to everyone, even to us weirdos.

Special features include interviews with Coleman, Arias, Laumeister, and producer Stuart Shapiro; behind-the-scenes photo and press/script galleries; and trailers. The release also comes with a soundtrack CD, 18-page booklet, and a 2-sided mini-poster.


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