A new mondo from Kansas Bowling
This essay is about Cuddly Toys, a feature premiering at NPC Fest. - A.M.
There’s something fucked up about Kansas Bowling, the 25-year-old blonde premiering Cuddly Toys, a mondo throwback about fucked-up girls. She’s wide-cheeked and twiggy and has big blue eyes and something childlike and confused about her, like she’d be a good target for a cult. And indeed, her sister and she were Manson girls in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. She’d proposed to Tarantino when she was fourteen. When she was sixteen, she wrote B.C. Butcher, a B-movie about sexy cavewomen slaughtering each other. When she was seventeen, she filmed it in her dad’s backyard in Laurel Canyon. Troma Entertainment put it out, billing it “the first prehistoric slasher.” The girl gets killed for fucking Kato Kaelin. Rodney Bingenheimer has a role, too, the spikey-haired LA deejay who started spinning on KROQ in 1976. Kansas and he started dating when she was eighteen. He was seventy-four. He retired the next year.
Her second feature is a Faces of Death-style anti-real mondo, mixing rough documentary and pure, nasty fantasy, presenting it all in a weird-scientist-educational tone between medicine and threat. What’s it about? Dr. Kansas Bowling is a PhD student studying “the young girl”—a pretty stacked one, lecturing in a paprika sweater, big bleached curls, and a white coat—and she’s warning parents about the danger that’s ravaging young girls across the country: “early onset male attention.”
How does she warn you? With really, really pretty 16mm. There are flared-out scenes of little girls in ice-cream dresses, jumping rope and chanting, “I like the boys and the boys like me.” There are leathery men in aviators that leer at a nine-year old pageant girl as she spins around in her Pocohontas look. There’s a pink-haired hitchhiker in Daisy Dukes and fur who tries coffee for the first time and gets raped. The camera closes on her sea-green eyes that sparkle in the sun. There’s another hitchhiker that gets raped at a campground, pulled down into a car, her Skittles-colored nails scraping against the window. There’s an anorexic who sits on a toilet for six months because her boyfriend cheats on her. There’s a Catholic who puts out so her boyfriend will stop calling her names. There’s a model that frowns at a mirror and says, “Life is easy when you shut up about it.” A thirteen year old brags to her diary about how boys are already paying attention to her. Cutesy folk guitar plays. Another girl writes in her diary about getting raped with a PB&J in her mouth. The same music plays. A girl OD’s and her friends yell at her. She shits her pants and dies. A girl cheats on her boyfriend and God tells her to pop her eyeballs out. And then there’s Kansas, in the last scene, pushing a near-death groom’s wheelchair up to the altar, smooching him, and turning to the camera to say: “Maybe we’re just asking for it.”
What’s going on here? I tried to ask Kansas, over the phone—she doesn’t have WiFi in the Nevada mining town where she lives with her guitarist boyfriend and pet tortoise, digging out their gold claim—about what she was trying to accomplish, about why people might not like the film, might say it fetishizes pain, trivializes it. There are four rape scenes. Two girls thank their rapists.
Kansas didn’t really seem into my questions. She said she didn’t care what anyone thought about her film. She just wanted to make it.
I didn’t really know how to talk to Kansas. I have a hard time talking to visual artists; they can make beautiful things, and all I can do is talk. An Italian once told me, in the sort of generalizing sweeps of a fluent foreigner, that “everything you know is theoretical.” Visual people, like Kansas, know real things: how to make these two hours of rushing beauty and wordless energy and grace, like a runner on a track, speeding up. How to use gels and lights. Kansas has skill, a lot of it.
Here’s what I wanted to say: I wanted to say, Kansas, if early onset male attention fucks girls up, are you okay? When you mention, a few minutes into the film, a very young model who grows older, “finding people less and less often calling her ‘special’ and ‘wise beyond her years,’” you’re talking about yourself, right? Like, when B.C. Butcher came out, every single piece was about how you were only seventeen—and you’re never going to make a film at seventeen again! How does it feel to do so much, so well, and so young, and have your youth consume the conversation? When you talk about beautiful teenagers sleeping with celebrities (“He said if I loved him, he was allowed to fuck my asshole”), well, don’t you date celebrities? I mean, aren’t you dating a guy from a 90s band now, living in the mountains with no WiFi? What’s that like? What’s it like being this stunningly beautiful, small-chinned girl with the arcane taste and the 16mm camera and constantly surprising people with your youth, and knowing that with each passing year, your skill at old-fashioned filmmaking will become a little less of an oddity, converging to normal, until eventually you are a beautiful but grown-up woman with big blue eyes and a 16mm camera?
You’re right. You’re asking for it. And you don’t hide it! You’re a pretty girl that everyone loves, especially old guys, and you’re filming pretty girls in pretty ways, and having a lot of fun. And you know women are supposed to feel powerless. You know we're supposed to feel “exploited,” “used,” “objectified.” We're supposed to feel that our boyfriends have had a “power imbalance” over us, have “groomed us.” We’re supposed to feel bad for ourselves. To think we're the victim.
But you’re not the victim. You’re the star.