One Indie Pioneer to Another

Jon Moritsugu

Jon Moritsugu

We’re pleased to have critic and artist Daryl Chin, a pioneer of the Asian American film movement of the 1980s and one of the founders of the New York Asian American Film festival, to write about another legend of indie cinema, Jon Moritsugu. Watch Moritsugu’s films Terminal USA, Mod Fuck Explosion, Fame Whore and Scum Rock.

Jon Moritsugu burst on the cinematic scene with his notorious idol-smashing screed Der Elvis, made while he was a student at Brown University when he was all of 16 years old. Since then, he has moved onto satiric deconstructions of many popular genres and formats. With Terminal USA, he took on the family sit-com, with typically scabrous and pointedly garish results. Working with a larger budget than usual (Moritsugu is a whiz at no-budget filmmaking, making his features with a maximum of inventiveness and a minimum of funds), Terminal USA showed how Moritsugu can work the edge of acceptability within heavily imposed constraints, in this case, Corporation for Public Broadcasting funding through ITVS. (Actually, what edge? With Moritsugu, any imposed limit is only a means for his imagination to work overtime in order to go over the edge.)

In his subsequent features, such as Mod Fuck Explosion and Fame Whore, Moritsugu was back working the scrapped together, ragged edged, furiously impacted independent/underground beat, where his acutely disaffected sensibility flourishes in aggravated dissections on the whole myth of disenchanted youth (where posing is more important than an actual position) and the obsession with celebrity (as opposed to achievement). Scum Rock showed Moritsugu returning to the genre of the rock-and-roll movie, a genre he treated (roughly) in Der Elvis and My Degeneration, only to uncover further layers of rot, delusion and hysteria.

What’s unsettling about Moritsugu’s work is that his proto-punk satires, frequently sour and always focused in disaffection, about the inherent corruption of the show business worlds of rock-and-roll and celebrity, have become a harbinger of a world now inundated with the likes of reality television and instant fame. In the current universe of Paris Hilton, Jon and Kate Gosselin, and American Idol, Moritsugu’s righteous anger, which two decades ago seemed extreme, has come undone by the incessant degradation of sensibility which is part and parcel of contemporary American society. But perhaps he is a visionary, who foresaw the current American culture with a clarity (even though his aesthetic is one of wildly unstable grunge) that remains fiercely funny and oddly precise in its perceptiveness.

– Daryl Chin
March 2010

Daryl Chin is a writer and artist in Brooklyn, New York; he is a Fellow of the International Research Institute: Interweaving Performance Cultures of the Freie Universitat Berlin, where he had a residency from October 2009 to July 2010.

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