Motherfucker I'd Like to Film

A new doc touts New York nightlife as it should (and might not always) be

The documentary opens on the train. Director David Casey and crew are headed to the apartment of Motherfucker's Michael T, who answers the door in a robe and leads them to the bathroom to witness, in his words, "the transformation of Michael T." It involves a confidence that his party has become known for: a queeny, cocksure swagger that comes from the decision not to take the shit you took as a kid, he says. It also involves assloads of blush.

To hear his fellow Motherfuckers tell it, Michael T is the "mother" of the group, which has been producing balls-out dance parties where guests dress to impress—like, really, if they want to get past Thomas Onorato at the door—in Manhattan eight nights a year for the past six, specifically on national holidays, for New Yorkers who either can't afford to leave the city or just don't want to. And to hear Michael tell it, Johnny T is the father—or at least the "cool uncle who does a lot of good stuff but sometimes screws up." Georgie Seville serves as peacemaker. Justine D represents the scenester. Together, the quartet serves as the muse for Casey's latest film, Motherfucker: A Movie, which debuts at the CMJ Festival next week.*

According to Casey, who recently moved from New York to San Francisco to work for Al Gore's cable-television network, Current TV, the project grew out of a failed attempt to document the "rock 'n' roll genesis of 2000"—the musical takeover by the Strokes, Interpol, etc.

"Within 18 months, that whole movement had been swallowed up—they'd all gotten pushed out or signed," says Casey. "But I was hooked on doing something regarding the immediacy of New York. I'd interviewed Justine D in regard to the earlier project, and Motherfucker made so much sense. We would be able to shoot amazing, beautiful, really professional stuff in a short amount of time—in seven months, from New Year's Eve 2005 to July 3, 2006, we shot four parties. And then I also conducted 152 interviews myself. I wanted to talk to everybody I could about the changing landscape of nightlife in New York: Moby, Andrew W.K., Tommie Sunshine, Tricia Romano, etc. They had to be done quick, because with documents of nightlife, you either want immediate or 20 years down the road. You know, look what you could be doing now—or look at what you missed."

In this case, it's the former. Motherfucker is still going strong: The most recent party took place at Eugene on Labor Day. And the movie, which clocks in at just over an hour and a half, succeeds in showcasing its continued spirit—the drag queens, the drugs, the dancing. But the administrative obstacles faced by New York's nightlife crafters continue to grow, and despite all the look-how-fun footage, that sense of gloom provides an undercurrent for many of Motherfucker's interviews.

There's also an obvious frustration apparent when talking with Casey, who says he wasn't prepared for how challenging the project would be. "Finally, my executive producer just had to tell me to stop," says the Hunter College grad. "We had over 200 hours of footage—he was like, 'You've got to make something with what you've got.' I would have liked to do more interviews, had a little more time, taped a couple more events. But you can only do so much. If it's going to be a slice of life in 2006, then that's what it is—you can't make a definitive statement in just six months."

Casey fears, however, that he missed a chance or two to do just that. "At the 2006 Halloween party, we filmed a screener of the doc, and the next day when I went to pick up my projector, the doors were locked," he says. "The Roxy didn't reopen for 10 more days. On the day they finally let me pick it up, I walked in and nothing had been cleaned up from that night. There were, like, those giant blow-up lawn decorations, like those pumpkins, still blowing by the front doors. Bottles, trash, and vomit everywhere. Michael had performed a scene from Carrie on the stage, and it was covered in fake blood. Nothing had changed from that night. I felt like I was witnessing the aftermath of the end of the world. I was like, Fuck, this is the most perfect end to the film, and the police wouldn't let me go get my camera. It was so frustrating."

Then there are the challenges presented by the medium: Regardless of how beautiful the footage is, Motherfucker's audience will still never be at the party. The music and the booze are missing, and the experience simply can't be replicated two-dimensionally. "Michael T is just this craftsman of moments, but when you're visually capturing a party, the camera stands between yourself and the fun," Casey says, pausing. "That was hard—trying to depict what I saw as the truth versus what the Mofos feel they see. If someone had been in the basement of Studio 54 with a camera, you probably would have seen that it's just a dingy basement with leaky pipes and rats. But when you read about it, you don't visualize that stuff. You're just like, David Bowie was there."

That's not to say Casey isn't happy with the finished product, as he should be—hearing what the four producers are willing to admit about each other is alone worth the price of admission. (Justine on Johnny: "I don't like how Johnny deals with certain matters, and I don't really like how he deals with me. He can be a real asshole." Michael on Justine: "She can be a little ... just adolescent-like." Johnny on everyone: "We don't always love each other.") Casey says that his first Motherfucker party—2002's Andrew W.K. fete at the Roxy—opened him up to a world he'd never experienced as the typical "downtown/Brooklyn hipster," and that his documentary is a love letter to the city he'd never seen before that night.

"Motherfucker might not necessarily be the most original idea, but it's the most true to what New York can represent in terms of nightlife—it's willing to be seedy and play great music, but also to be free," he concludes. "There's not a crazy amount of security, there's no bottle service, there aren't tons of drink specials. Those four hold fast to the old New York legacy. There's just nobody else like them."

Postscript: I’ve since learned that the Motherfucker movie has been pulled from the CMJ Music and Film Festival lineup. Says director David Casey: “It was the festival directors’ decision—not ours. Unfortunately, we could not accommodate their unwarranted expectations, which were far greater than delivering the film we submitted for acceptance.Motherfucker: A Movie will have to screen for its NYC family and friends another day—in a much more welcoming setting.”

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