SIFF 2013 Face The Music Preview: Peaches Does Herself

Chris Estey

Peaches Does Herself(Directed by Peaches, Germany 2012, 80 minutes)

Festival Screenings:Saturday, May 25 9:30 PM at the Egyptian TheaterMonday, May 27 9:00 PM at the Egyptian Theater

I remember the first time I heard “Fuck The Pain Away” at a bar on Cap Hill in 2000. It jolted me as much as the moment I discovered “Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Joy Division in West Hollywood twenty years before. Maybe it was the candor in which the singer reveals their frustrated desire and pain; both a minimalist, electronically-enhanced musical confession of need from the body through absolute honest connection to the listener. Neither seemed like they should be heard in public; or rather, it was goddamn time someone did sing those words in public. How they differed is that one seemed to be about a sickness unto death, and the other about a fever into a healing life force.

Peaches (Merrill Beth Nisker) hasn’t released a whole lot of records since then, just a handful of full-lengths since the album that single is from, The Teaches of Peaches, an electro-clash essential. But her mind-bending, shape-shifting, sex-positive, genital-obsessed pop art has been heard in remixes ubiquitous in clubs, and seen on international TV and in film. The latest and most ‘hers’ is Peaches Does Herself (naturally, and more). It debuted at the 2012 Toronto Film Festival and then was screened elsewhere, including the 2013 Sundance Festival in London.

Starting with a professor speaking German about her lyrics, which are as blunt as they are provocative, the orgiastic concert film proceeds with a guest starring young two-piece bashing away on her bone-rattling anthem “Rock Show,” showing her adolescent love for rock and roll and, well, genitals. From there, an enormous silk vagina comes down into a construction of Peaches’ youthful bedroom as she diddles with a keyboard, and a scary topless older “Naked Cowgirl” starts the crass dialect between what Peaches desires and perhaps how she sees her need, or others may see her need. I don’t know: I’m a music reviewer, not a cultural theorist. But that doesn’t mean I am not transfixed by the banality and vulgarity trading off between this persona and Peaches’ own occasionally monstrous music and dance sequences exploring mouth-blood break-downs, red silk and leather-clad bodies of dancers enfolding and pounding over each other, a wild woman on bicycle-chopper, and so on. Set to a fierce, unrelenting pounding of synthesized and real drum beats.

Narratively like Nick Cave’s cover of “Stagger Lee” and perhaps revealing what Madonna would really like to be going on about (I’m sure she’s a jealous fan), there is a rush to the constant theme of flesh-energy and gender mutation. It might be hard for those with more libido restraint or burdened by propriety to see and hear that this is pretty much more natural than the endless sickly stream of saccharine love songs broadcast relentlessly otherwise. Is the queer-punk pounding of body acceptance and ego-preening tiring? Yeah, a couple of times this movie’s extremes exhausted me. Also: Electro-clash. Not the most nuanced of genres. Catchy, compelling, occasionally as astonishing as any rock and roll; but not often capable of inducing bliss. Still, if you got to body rock it, this is where you find that socket.

On the other hand (so to speak), there is a scene near the end so bizarre, so transcendently beautiful and outrageous and upsetting, a new mirror for Peaches to look into personified by an Other, that you become enthralled with her (in the same moment). Sadly, though taken above it is all degraded by whatever personification of doubt is haunting our Peaches, and her heart is broken with her ideal indulging in some absurd small scale fire-play. But it all ends back out in the world and on the chopper bike with Peaches railing a cappella to everyone/herself to “Fuck The Pain Away” -- into the daytime, around the block, through the city, pumping and pedaling, never shutting up about needing to be healed in the spirit by the pleasures of the body. This is an odyssey for sure, and recommended to those who can appreciate a little rough trade and raw riffs in their visual-musical pursuits.

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