Beth B’s Film Serves Up Lydia Lunch Retrospective

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The label “underground icon” seems paradoxical. But so does Lydia Lunch — the musician, singer, spoken-word artist, writer, child sexual abuse survivor, self-empowerment activist, amateur beautician, and, yes, underground icon who penned the memoir “Paradoxia: A Predator’s Diary.”

Lunch is the subject of Beth B’s unapologetic documentary “Lydia Lunch: The War is Never Over,” which records the self-proclaimed confrontationalist’s abrasive and empathetic views on sex and control, and her need to personally and professionally challenge the patriarchy’s cycle of violence and corporate greed.

Decades before the #MeToo Movement, Lunch told women to speak up for themselves and “say ‘f*ck you!’ as loud as any man” while simultaneously asserting less blame on fathers who repeatedly molest their children than the mothers who, in her case, are away working the night shift at the time of the crimes. Such views are questionable, but Lunch’s influence on the alternative music scene is not.

Shot in 2017 and released in 2021, the film offers a retrospective of the provocateur’s pre-Riot Grrl career, which began when she fronted the no wave group Teenage Jesus and the Jerks in the late 1970s and spans to a recent tour with her band Retrovirus.

In between, Lunch formed 8 Eyed Spy, TKK, and performed with Sonic Youth on “Death Valley 69.” Her many other collaborators include singers Exene Cervenka, Nick Cave, Kim Gordon, and Henry Rollins; film directors such as Asia Argento; plus other visual and performing artists who are interviewed in the film.

Among those offering insights and anecdotes on Lunch are Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, performance artist Kembra Pfahler, Teenage Jesus bass player Jim Sclavunos, L7’s Donita Sparks, DJ/musician Nicolas Jaar, art critic Carlo McCormick, and filmmaker Richard Kern. The movie also presents performance clips of Suicide, DNA, and the Contortions.

For four decades, Lunch has moved from band to band, man to man, and project (1990’s spoken-word release “Conspiracy of Women”) to project (2012’s cookbook “The Need To Feed: A Hedonist’s Guide”), yet the one throughline is trauma.

As filmmaker Beth B explains, “it’s shocking, realizing that it was the early ’80s and Lydia was having to battle to be heard, to talk about the abuse and the power from her father, to God, to the patriarchy — that structure was so huge, we couldn’t open our mouths to question it. She was doing it before Oprah — nobody was speaking about it, it was forbidden. Some of my work has been about women and hysteria. Sometimes we have to become a little hysterical, because when you’re not being heard it just sits like a knot tied within you, and it can come out in these very disturbed ways. With Lydia, it came out in the beautiful form of poetry.”

“Lydia Lunch: The War is Never Over” can be seen via Music Box Theatre’s Virtual Cinema. Rentals are $12 ($8 for Music Box Members). For more information, visit MusicBoxTheatre.com.

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Retrovirus featuring Lydia Lunch in “Lydia Lunch: The War is Never Over”
Photo by Kathleen Fox
Image courtesy of B Productions and Kino Lorber

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Ms. Arvia is an online columnist and critic; entertainment ghostwriter reaching nine million visitors per month; award-winning artist; grant-winning filmmaker; and Janet-of-all-trades. Press releases on Chicago cultural events and links to screeners can be sent to reeljanet@live.com.