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Cult Vault #14: Ry Ruso-Young on Abigail Child's Mayhem

Killer pulp recommended by American indie director Ry Ruso-Young

Taken from the May 2011 issue of Dazed & Confused:

Director Ry Russo-Young was feted at festivals across the globe last year, and picked up a Gotham award at Sundance for You Won’t Miss Me. Starring Stella Schnabel and featuring musical performances by the Stylophones and The Virgins, its unique vision mixes non-actors and professionals, staged pieces and film verite to paint a kaleidoscopic portrait of 23-year-old “contemporary rebel” Shelly Brown, recently released from psychiatric hospital. Russo-Young is currently working on a new film project, Nobody Walks, which she co-wrote with Lena Dunham. 

“Abigail Child’s 1987 film Mayhem is from a larger series of seven films called Is This What You Were Born For? The series title was taken from an etching by Goya from the Disasters of War series and is concerned with dismantling social conceptions that are given to us before we’re conscious. It’s a violent critique using sound, dismantled narrative and deviant image association. 

Mayhem uses found footage from a wide variety of sources – everything from Japanese porn to film noir to footage that Child shot herself. The 16-minute film reassembles associated meanings to generate a new idea, something less clearly defined by values. Two detectives with a light, a woman in a chair with a telephone in her crotch, a strip search, blindfolds… all the erotic connotations without the clarity of story or moral meaning. When watching a classic noir like Sunset Boulevard or Double Endemnity, there is often a wonderful wickedness that lurks just beneath the surface. Mayhem is like opening Pandora’s box on film noir. The film takes all the pieces and their darker shades and violently rearranges them – unleashed without restrictions.  Mayhem feels handmade and assembled on instinct, passion and anger. It’s worthy of being seen many times over again.”