#167: Michael M. Bilandic
Michael M. Bilandic on The Underground Film Bulletin, Hangman's Elm, Roxy Cinema Tribeca, and more.
Cool people like cool things, which is why we asked Michael M. Bilandic to share some recommendations on Perfectly Imperfect.
Michael M. Bilandic is a New York-based filmmaker and screenwriter. For the last 10 years or so he’s been putting out cult-classic indie films such as the Abel Ferrera produced Happy Life, horrorcore rap film Hellaware, and Jobe'z World, which follows a middle-aged rollerblader. His latest project, PROJECT SPACE 13, continues that streak of greatness by following Nate, a performance artist, who is kicking off an art show as the pandemic begins. It’s a super fun and quotable movie that doubles as commentary on the art world and the pandemic era. You can watch most of his films on MUBI and check him out on a recent episode of Eugene Kotlyarenko’s Directors Commentary podcast. Lucky for us, Michael is here to tell us what he’s been into.
Without further ado
Michael M. Bilandic (instagram)
In the late ’70’s - early ’80’s Nick Zedd (RIP) began unleashing a series of edgy zero-budget assaults on the status quo of the downtown film world. Disgusted with the academic leaning avant-garde work of the day, the conformist, film school driven “indie” scene and pretty much any form of arthouse culture splattered across the pages of the Village Voice, film festival programs, etc., he pushed forward with his own brand of antagonistic underground cinema. With a handful of degenerate collaborators he began showing mostly Super-8 films in local bars, nightclubs, storefronts and micro-cinemas. The only problem was nobody knew about them. And worse, the ones that did hated them! He went years without receiving one positive review while simultaneously enduring the “censorship of omission” aka no one giving a fuck. The solution? In 1984 he launched a self-published magazine called The Underground Film Bulletin. He edited it under the alias Orion Jeriko and wrote the articles under a slew of additional pseudonyms. It was a way to FINALLY get good reviews, boost his peers, and frame his work in a historical context. It was in these pages that The Cinema of Transgression was born. The narrative finally caught on and Zedd declared “That's how I became a part of history.” A helpful reminder that “history is whoever gets to the typewriter first.”
It’s not just the most GOATED tree in Washington Square Park, it’s the single oldest tree in all of Manhattan! For over 300 years it’s been posted up on the corner of Waverly Place and MacDougal Street in the northwest region of the park. On any given morning, afternoon, or evening you can find throngs of wack jobs enthusiastically ingesting every type of narcotic while acting shady af around it. When the city was in lockdown I’d have all my “important” meetings there. The bulk of Project Space 13’s pre-production was hatched out under its shade. In the last few years alone it’s been privy to crazy all night raves, historic protests, Van Damme level fight clubs, and bizarro performances (from every end of the spectrum). The most outré shit you can think of is just another day at the office for this towering Ulmus procera. It even beat the murder allegations! People love to claim it was used for hangings in the American Revolution, but there’s little to no evidence supporting this. There’s no plaque or anything drawing attention to it either. Salute this OG tree when you see it.
In 2014 I was randomly wandering the streets of Greenpoint one day and slithered into an unspectacular Polish ninety-nine cent store. Perusing the imported Eastern European wares I saw something under the counter that made me lol on sight, a deodorant (or “deo” as it was written) labeled “Menergy.” I always loved the 1981 Patrick Cowley song of the same name, and the later version with Sylvester, and just thought it was a high quality word. So I bought a stick and immediately posted a pic on IG to flex. I started using it and would giddily light up whenever I saw it in the cabinet next to my other lamestream toiletries. When it inevitably ran out I said “fuck it” and hopped back on a train to Greenpoint. The only problem being it wasn’t there anymore. So I roamed the hood a bit more and eventually found it at a different Polish market. This time I copped a handful. Throughout the years, it's gotten more and more rare (and expensive!), but I still insist on making the trek to hunt it down. In many ways, making a film is about seeing a ridiculous idea through to completion. I guess personal hygiene can be the same thing.
The internet sucks ass for sharing nuanced ideas or having meaningful discourse, but it’s a wonderful tool for looking up the dumbest shit on Earth. I’ve been obsessed with “Smurfed Up” Eurodance for a while now. One of my faves of the genre is the German Smurfs (Die Schlümpfe) 1995 dance compilation Tekkno Ist Cool Vol. 1. It’s got iconic, high pitched, renditions of Cotton Eye Joe, Saturday Night, and No Limit, amongst various other Hi-NRG anthems. All in nasal Deutsch! I was extra shocked, not too long ago, to discover a variation on this record, also from 1995, by a sus, GREEN, Smurfs knock-off called Die Schlapse. The album’s called Let’s Go Tekkno. It offers basically the same covers but with a slightly different intonation and ‘tude. I don’t really know what’s going with ‘em but they do a wicked Cotton Eye Joe!
Is this currently my favorite movie theater in NYC because they premiered my new film and hosted a complete retrospective of my work? Duh! But it’s deeper than that. Two years ago I was convinced the arthouse theatrical experience was doomed and that the future was ramshackle cine-clubs for a handful of scorched psychos. Turns out I was wrong. Things are back to normal and on any given night now there’s a surplus of amazing programming all across the city again. The biggest plot twist, though, was the rise of this posh, art deco, single screen theater beneath a fancy hotel in the heart of Tribeca as the new epicenter for contemporary indie cinema. While other venues floundered at first, the Roxy reopened with a bang, finally giving a theatrical run to Eugene Kotlyarenko’s Spree (which never got a proper theatrical release due to covid). Next thing I knew they gave Project Space 13 a run there too, despite not having played any festivals or any of that shit… and it was selling out! They’re doing the same for Betsey Brown’s Actors right now, which keeps getting extended. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a theater tap in this hard. Recent events with Abel Ferrara, the Ion Pack, Alex Ross Perry, and more have been unforgettable. Seeing ASAP Rocky hop on stage to freestyle with Abel after the Siberia premiere is one of my all time fondest memories there. It’s tight being able to see new films like The Scary of Sixty-First, Zola, or El Planeta balanced perfectly with rep fare like Screen Slate’s Bad Habits nun series and Sean Price Williams and Nick Pinkerton’s monthly ‘City Dudes.’ Head programmer Illyse Singer and her cohort Mitchell are heroes. Bonus points for being walking distance to the best new record store in town, Paradise of Replica.
We all bow down to Fassbinder’s “BRD Trilogy.” Obviously. But I only recently learned of a filmmaker who also made a trilogy of films dealing with postwar German history from an equally singular, provocative, and entertaining place, Christoph Schlingensief. The two wild man auteurs even share many of the same actors; Margit Carstensen, Irm Hermann, Volker Spengler, Peter Kern, etc. Aided by Udo Kier (who appears in all three films), Schlingensief was unafraid to tackle explosively sensitive material in recklessly exciting and absurdist ways. 100 Years of Adolf Hitler (1989), The German Chainsaw Massacre (1990), and Terror 2000 (1992) make up the Germany Trilogy. The German Chainsaw Massacre’s my personal fave of the lot. It was quickly written in a few days after the Berlin Wall all came down and was shot in a mere two weeks immediately after. Heavily inspired by The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, which he was a huge fan of, it follows a group of East Germans who wind up entangled with a psychotic West German family looking to turn them into wurst for their butcher shop. In a Year of 13 Moons’ Volker Spengler steals the show in a yellow raincoat and metal helmet (with sausages attached to it), drooling on himself, and flailing a chainsaw around. Like Fassbinder, Schlingensief died way too young. And also like him, thankfully, there’s a seemingly endless amount of material to sift through.
🛴🥷 SOLOWHEEL CREWS
Shout out to everyone racing around on electric unicycles, drinking bubble tea (or White Claw), yapping into selfie sticks, blasting un-Shazamable dubstep, and weaving through oncoming traffic. While face masks and plywood dining shacks have completely altered the contemporary urban landscape, this scene’s the cherry on top in our journey (descent?) into some kinda cyberpunk meets Burning Man future. I never thought vape pens or Bluetooth headsets would catch on because they looked so ridiculous and shamelessly sci-fi… But they did. Don’t wanna be wrong side of history again, so I’m all in on the e-scooter renaissance!
Follow Michael on Instagram
Watch his films on MUBI
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