What if they opened the door for transgression and nobody came? This 1990 film borrows much from the NYC underground of the ’80s, but holds back from delivering more than cut-out characters expressing tentative emotions. That this was written by Lydia Lunch, directed by Babeth and features music by Feotus is about the only thing shocking or visceral about the movie.
Lunch is in her alluring, predatory persona as Hedda, wife to Neal (writer Dan Bajema), who escapes to a mansion in the Netherlands to find some peace and maybe rekindle a little romance just before the birth of their first child. Hedda herself sabotages the venture by inviting over Jackson (Henry Rollins), an ex-boyfriend seething with as much rage and lust as, well, Rollins’ normal persona. Therein lies the tale, as Hedda cozies up to both men who fight each other once in awhile in a tussle of jealousy and in odd sympathy for their slavery to the wiles of the woman of the house.
Allusions to the mansion having once been the scene of a disastrous love affair by Napoleon are made explicit in flashbacks and in somewhat silly period-piece scenes — distraught specters of the past walk by a distraught Hedda. It all ends in something approaching a violent climax with poetic resolution, but not really.
Lunch, as usual, packs a wallop just standing there, but she seems subdued in her dialogue, not stirring much of the implied passion. Bajema is close to fully human, at least when he is being pathetic and sad. Rollins is as wooden and believable as a smoldering home wrecker as Fred Gwynne would have been. Nice tats, though.
Babeth’s direction emphasizes the haunting possibilities of the mansion, and some shots of dusty, empty rooms are evocative. But the acting just sinks any concern the viewer might have in person or place. The rather incongruous shot of a bald guy sitting calmly in the bathroom while pushing a power drill into his skull reminds us of what Richard Kern might have done with this material.
The disc contains two featurettes. Paradoxia & a Predator’s Dairy is a fifty minute documentary on Lydia Lunch, her spoken word performances, and her philosophy. The inherent dangers in choosing the rant as one’s medium are obvious: the targets are easy, and there isn’t much new insight to add, and, yes Mick, it does get kinda creepy to hear the over 50 set recount sexual prowess. Still, her passion and dead-on seriousness has always helped her rise above, and her contribution to the underground of the past 30 years is beyond debate. The interviews rehash ground already covered in her work, while it is always a treat to hear someone fearless throw down. A five minute, grainy bootleg snippet from 1989 called It’s a Mad World isn’t as successful, seeming no more than a pointless rant.
For its historical value and the Lunch extras, Kiss Napoleon Goodbye is desirable if you are of a certain age and still remember some of Nick Zedd’s manifesto. Here’s hoping there aren’t many who will want it because it features that cool talk show host Henry and will wonder who are the other actors.
Kiss Napoleon Goodbye is available from Cult Epics.