Digital Dystopias

Ian Kerkof's "Wasted"

It's too bad -- and also hard to believe -- that Ian Kerkhof isn't an American. He'd have made an ideal fifth member of the infamous "NEA Four." The sensibility evident in his films, with their mix of digital technology, agitprop, performance art, and porn, seems to speak to, and of, America, even if the latter won't listen. Kerkhof, who fled his native South Africa for the Netherlands at age 19, wears many masks: pioneer of digital video, chronicler of disreputable demimondes, satirist of fascism. "Wasted" is the title of both his corrosive portrait of the Dutch rave scene and the Yerba Buena Center's retrospective (his first in the U.S.), but it's misleading. Regardless of how "wasted" are the ravers, serial killers, performance artists, and porn stars of his films, Kerkhof's aggressive, vertiginous visuals bring them to harrowing life.

For Shabondama Elegy (1999), Kerkhof collaborated with Japanese "pink movie" producer Suzuki Akihiro. Keiko (Japanese porn queen Mai Honisho) and her Dutch boyfriend are being chased by yakuza, but like other works in the Kerkhof canon, this unsettling hard-core film spends most of its time linking rape and violence against women to men and their institutions. The versatile Kerkhof tackles the musical in Nice to Meet You, Please Don't Rape Me (1991). Audiences, at least in Burkina Faso, resisted the temptation to sing along, instead stampeding toward the exits. Unfortunately they missed a singular vision of an apartheid-era South Africa in which "rape is the only growth industry." Ten Monologues From the Lives of the Serial Killers (1994) is a collage-critique of the West's culture of sex 'n' death, dotted with such luminaries as Charles Manson and J.G. Ballard's Atrocity Exhibition. Kerkhof also works to great effect in more narrow forms. He's most effective in the 24-minute The Dead Man 2 (1994), which envisions Western civilization as a weak, slobbering, wild-eyed old man begging for degradation. Kerkhof obliges.

Ian Kerkhof touches Japan's grittier side in Shabondama Elegy.
Ian Kerkhof touches Japan's grittier side in Shabondama Elegy.

"Wasted: An Ian Kerkhof Retrospective" starts Friday at 8 p.m. with Shabondama Elegy; Nice to Meet You, Please Don't Rape Me screens Saturday at 8 p.m.; on Wednesday, March 22, Ten Monologues From the Lives of the Serial Killersplays at 8 p.m.; Wasted! screens Friday, March 24, at 8 p.m. Kerkhof appears at all screenings, which are at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission (at Third Street), S.F. Admission is $3-6; call 978-ARTS.

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