Relax Be Cruel (1983–2023) by Marion Scemama

Sunday, February 18, 2024, 7:30 pm

Queering the Wreckage: Marion Scemama’s Relax Be Cruel

presented in association with CounterPulse


80 Turk Street

San Francisco, CA 94102

Admission: $15 General / $12 Cinematheque Members
Event tickets here

By the end of the 1970s, following the economic collapse of New York City in that decade, the Hudson River Piers of lower Manhattan were derelict no man’s lands, rotting metaphors for the greater city’s imminent decline. Throughout the decade and into the 1980s, the piers served as sites for gay cruising, underground art making and ad hoc habitation. Extensively explored by artists of the era, the piers are immortalized in the writings and art works of David Wojnarowicz and the photography of Alvin Baltrop; served as the site of performance works by Vito Acconci, John Baldessari, Lawrence Weiner, et al. and provided the canvas for Gordon Matta-Clark’s epic architectural deconstruction Day’s End (1975) among myriad other clandestine off-the-grid uses.

Filmed in 1983 at Pier 34, in the proverbial shadow of the newly constructed World Trade Center (and not completed until 2023), Marion Scemama’s legendary lost film Relax Be Cruel is an embodiment of the end of this queer, pre-AIDS, pre-gentrification era and a fascinating forgotten work of punk/no wave neo-realism. In this imagined portrait of a resident of the piers (a place which “breathed transgression, desire, danger”), an unnamed woman—portrayed by Dea Clevenger—wanders amidst graffiti murals by Wojnarowicz, apparitional frescoes, sculpture and myriad anonymous junk installations and through desperate and covert encounters with fellow dock denizens, including appearances by renowned subcultural photodocumentarian Miron Zownir and shadowy underground filmmaker James Krell. Program will also include Wolverine Kills T.V. (1975) by James Krell; Heroin (1981) by David Wojnarowicz with Brian Butterick, John Hall and Jesse Hultberg; The Guy on the Bed (2021) by Mike Hoolboom, based on writing by Wojnarowicz and an earlier portrait of marginal life in Manhattan, The Whirled (1961) by Ken Jacobs, featuring underground queer saint Jack Smith. (Steve Polta)

The Guy on the Bed (2021) by Mike Hoolboom; digital video, b&w, sound, 4 minutes, from the maker
The Whirled (1961) by Ken Jacobs; 16mm, b&w, sound, 19 minutes, from the Film-Maker’s Cooperative
Wolverine Kills T.V. (1975) by James Krell; 16mm, b&w, sound, 5 minutes, from the Film-Maker’s Cooperative
Heroin (1981/2018). Posthumously edited by François Pain and Jesse Hultberg, using original rushes by David Wojnarowicz with Brian Butterick, John Hall and Jesse Hultberg. Music by 3 Teens Kill 4 No Motive. Special thanks to Marion Scemama.
Relax Be Cruel (1983–2023) by Marion Scemama; digital video, b&w, sound, 39 minutes, from Light Cone