Suddenly Last Summer is the second installment in John Aes-Nihil’s trilogy of Tennessee Williams adaptations, the other titles being The Drift and Boom (which as far as I know is not currently available). Now, having never seen any of Williams’ original plays nor any of the numerous film and television adaptations myself, I can only judge his work from the interpretations of Mr. Aes-Nihil which, to say the least, are utmost bizarre.
The narrative centres on wealthy widow Violet Venable whose son Sebastian, a poet, has recently died while on vacation with his cousin Catharine. The film opens with a twenty minute monologue from Mrs. Venable addressed to a Dr. Sugar (aka Cukrowicz) endeavoring to convince him to perform a lobotomy on her niece in an attempt to stop her spreading the scandalous circumstances of her son’s death.
The rest of the film’s runtime is taken up with melodramatic bickering and familial in-fighting as Catharine’s mother and brother make an impromptu visit to the Venable estate hoping to snag some of the inheritance rumoured to be up for grabs. But when Dr. Sugar injects Catharine with truth serum, the fantastic reality of Sebastian’s death finally comes out and all illusions are shattered.
Shot on video in black-and-white with a cast consisting of – amongst others – drag queen / performance artist Vaginal Davis, Warhol star (and Beck’s mother) Bibbe Hansen, and Aes-Nihil regular the Goddess Bunny, Suddenly Last Summer invokes a warped vision of 1930s New Orleans where old rich widows are played by hulking black drag queens and Nuns by disabled transvestites.
As is typical with an Aes-Nihil production, all traditional notions of “acting” are thrown out the window in favour of overblown histrionics, unashamedly flubbed lines and just a general air of authenticity. This is filmmaking in the raw. If anyone could be credited with “stealing the show” it would undoubtedly have to be Ms./Mr. Vaginal Davis as his run-on monologues, screaming fits, wardrobe choices and scenery-chewing performance is just jaw-dropping and ultimately makes the film what it is.
Mention must be made of the soundtrack here, too, as it ranges from baroque organ music, free jazz saxophone and guitar to a high pitched drill-like effect that is explained away as the sounds of Mrs. Venable preparing her afternoon daiquiri (?!). Despite (or more likely because of) sounding slightly schizophrenic, a very effective score.
With its themes of incest, cannibalism and covert homosexuality, Suddenly Last Summer is the perfect vehicle to accommodate Aes-Nihil’s fetishistic attention to detail and outsider cinema perspective, thus works as one of the more interesting stage-to-screen adaptations I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing.
- Director: John Aes-Nihil (USA, 2007)
- Studio: Aes-Nihil Productions
- Runtime: 75 minutes