Tom Rubnitz: Sexy, Wiggy, Desserty

Feeling… peckish?

“I wanted to make things beautiful, funny and positive – escapes that you could just get into and laugh through. That was really important to me. I felt like good could triumph over evil.” –Tom Rubnitz

Glory be to the man behind the pickle, not to mention Strawberry Shortcut, Frieda the “Living Doll”, the original Wigstock:The Movie, and dozens of other delectable tidbits. Rubnitz died tragically young of AIDS in 1992, but his amazing video shorts have survived, and they’re such a joy to see.  Via Golden Age:

An expert in genre manipulation and campy hilarity, Rubnitz’s films could only have come from the eccentric East Village during the ‘80s New York art scene. Having grown up in a generation of television junkies as opposed to museum-goers, Rubnitz felt compelled to appropriate more from the mass media than the art world. He mixed drag queens with cooking shows, saluted motherhood with Frieda, the wholesomely creepy “living” doll, and consistently offered us a portal into unique and comical escapism.

Rubnitz worked with many talented musicians and artists in his films and videos, including the late John Sex, Happi Phace, the B-52s, Lipsynchia, Ann Magnuson, Quentin Crisp, Michael Clark, and Lady Bunny. Viewers will surly be enthralled by John Sex’s unique musical talent and sock-stuffed crotch as he performs with the Bodacious Ta-Ta’s in two music videos and is uncovered in a rockumentary called John Sex: The TrueStory. Rubnitz loved Drag Queens, which many of his films are a testament to. Wigstock: The Movie documents Lady Bunny’s annual event, “storywig-in,” a parody of Woodstock (particularly noteworthy is the rendition of Janis Joplin). And in the Drag Queen Marathon participants are pitted against each other to see who can endure relentless photo opportunities.

These glitzy, hallucinogenic shorts paint a loving portrait of the East Village, a regular of nightlife hot spots like Club 57 and the Pyramid Club. Since we live in an equally politically bleak time, Rubnitz’s films may feel strangely contemporary to us as they offer a glimpse into the repressed underground hedonism of the New York underground scene during the Reagan era. Alternative artist spaces, which were characteristic of the East Village, weren’t simply stepping-stones to becoming commercial galleries. They fostered a genuine alternative to the dominant culture of the time.

Still from Strawberry Shortcut.

A while back, the time-honored Chicago-based Video Data Bank institution started offering Sexy, Wiggy, Desserty— a compilation of all of Rubnitz’s most beloved underground hits. I have a feeling it must have been a limited release, because it’s currently selling on the Golden Age website for a whopping 50 bucks! I’m not finding it anywhere else for less. If any of you guys have better luck, please give me a shout. Otherwise I may just bite the pickle and shell out fiddy clams… happily! Rubnitz & Co are totally worth it.

Also see:

4 Responses to “Tom Rubnitz: Sexy, Wiggy, Desserty”

  1. fortheloveofthestars Says:

    God I love that video. It never fails to cheer me up!

  2. Charlotte Says:

    I’ve always wondered where the hell that video was from…apparently I didn’t wonder enough to google it, but thank you, nonetheless.

  3. Jeffrey Wengrofsky Says:

    That is some great, wacky stuff !! LOVE IT !

    Wigstock is a documentary, not nearly as bizarre as this darling film.

  4. Mer Says:

    I ruv Rubnitz. :)

    Jeff– are you talking about the original 20 min doc, or the more mainstream film about Wigstock, made 10 years later?