Longform

AUTEUR DE FARCE

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Those gross ingredients also figure heavily in a couple of Wilson's earlier and most widely seen works. As its name suggests, Roach Clips is a semicomic collage of repellent scenarios in which cockroaches assault humanity at every turn. In one scene, a man toweling off after a shave discovers he is smearing his face with sewer-roach entrails; later, a woman wielding a three-foot cockroach runs amok in a restaurant as shrieking diners flee in horror.

Another title from Wilson's "gag-reflex" period is Ina Reams, the profile of a matronly coprophiliac who sees herself as a one-woman human-waste recycling plant. ("I'm constantly eating it--and I'm constantly producing it, as well," philosophizes Reams in midmunch. "I fancy myself as a cyclical unit in a never-ending process mode.") Although nearly unwatchable, the execrable opus proved such a hit on the local art-gallery circuit that Wilson eventually produced a predictably repulsive sequel; in the second go-around, medical problems have forced his heroine to switch to what might politely be described as a "liquid diet."

Explaining that he's gradually phasing these sophomoric crowd-pleasers out of his more recent efforts, Wilson admits, "I guess there's still a part of me that is drawn to cockroaches and all this childish stuff. Why, I don't know--I'm bothered by real cockroaches as much as anyone. But when I realized how much power cockroaches wield over people, I knew I had to celebrate and exploit that in my work."

So what if some other filmmakers discovered the same sort of things early in their own careers? For instance, years before moving into the mainstream with Hairspray and Serial Mom, director John Waters employed nearly identical scatological shock tactics in his 1970s midnight classics Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble.

But with the exception of Wilson's intentional film parodies, the video auteur maintains that any resemblance between his work and that of any other filmmaker is not only coincidental but almost miraculous.

"I'm always very interested when someone sees something in one of my tapes and assumes I was influenced by some well-known director who'd evidently done something very similar," says Wilson. "Actually, I've always been so busy with my own stuff that I've never seen or even heard of some of these motion pictures I've supposedly been influenced by. To tell the truth, I learned a lot more from watching The Carol Burnett Show on television than I ever did sitting through 'classics' like Potemkin in a college film class."

And what can we learn from the videos of Paul Wilson?
"My stuff is made solely to indulge myself, and maybe share it with a few friends," says the artist, adding that he doesn't expect to be recognized in his lifetime.

"I didn't like Ed Wood's tragic ending," he says, referring to that late director's boozy slide from near obscurity into total oblivion. "It seemed too predictable, winding up penniless and not being recognized until he was dead. That's the unfortunate trauma of a lot of artists. Da Vinci, all those people--it wasn't until years later that their stuff is worth anything. And I have a feeling that's what's going to happen to me--only I don't want it to be so squalid.

"I figure my brother or my friends will inherit all my videos, and that in the year 2099, someone will find these ancient things and restore them," Wilson theorizes. "I don't know exactly how it will happen, but I imagine way after I'm dead, somebody other than my friends will finally enjoy them." And when that time comes, Wilson says he wouldn't be at all surprised if his own life is immortalized on-screen.

"I think it'd be very interesting to see how a director in the 21st century would handle my story," he says. "The biggest challenge would be to figure out a way to show me re-creating the Fifties within the context of a re-creation of the Nineties--it'd be like a picture within a picture within a picture. And, of course, they'd have to show me in high school being driven to the wig store by my parents because I wasn't old enough to drive--my parents figured if I was buying wigs, at least I wasn't buying drugs."

Realizing how outlandish his life's scenario must sound, Wilson laughs. "If they ever make a movie of my life, it will be like Ed Wood. Nobody's ever going to believe it."

As his immortal heroine Ina Reams might say, "No shit!

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Dewey Webb