“I’m fascinated by the limits of shock value and the purpose of shock value,” says Flux Gourmet writer-director Peter Strickland. “Does it serve anything beyond your own bravado? Or does it mine something deeper in a social sense? Does it liberate something in society?”
Flux Gourmet examines those questions through the lens of a performance art collective whose bizarre act involves the creation of ambient music through cooking. The collective is led by Elle di Elle, played by Fatma Mohamed, who has starred in all of Strickland previous features, including 2018’s killer dress tale, In Fabric, and the 2012 Giallo tribute Berberian Sound Studio.
It’s clear there aren’t deeper ideas behind Elle’s physically-revolting performances. She simply aims to elicit a reaction from her audience.
Strickland calls her “an opportunist,” but doesn’t lampoon her audience.
“As someone in the audience, I still grapple with: how do I differentiate between someone who hasn’t really thought this through?” he says.
Strickland’s interest in shock value dates back to the 1980s, and New York’s No Wave and Cinema of Transgression movements. Those included in this scene occupy a wide swath of artists, filmmakers and musicians, including Lydia Lunch, Richard Kern, Nick Zedd, Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey, and bands like The Velvet Underground, Sonic Youth and Suicide.
“Growing up as a middle-class suburban kid, New York just seemed so incredibly exotic and decadent,” the British-born Strickland says.
Though he was too young to experience this ’80s art scene at its peak, Strickland found himself in New York a few years later. He met future Joker director Todd Phillips, who at the time was running the New York Underground Film Festival. Phillips introduced Strickland to Kern, who introduced him to fellow filmmaker Zedd. Zedd and filmmaker Tessa Hughes-Freeland became Strickland’s mentors. Zedd, who passed away earlier this year, starred in Strickland’s first film, 1996’s short “Bubblegum.”
Strickland has been developing a project on the ’80s art scene for over a decade. Its status? “I don’t think it will ever come out. It’s difficult to finance,” Strickland says.
Does he think something that’s shocking for its own sake has merit? Even with Flux Gourmet in theaters and available on demand, Strickland admits he is still unclear on the answer.
“There is something very intuitive when you can detect if someone is just shocking for the sake of shocking,” he says. But he says catharsis is an unexpected benefit of experiencing authentic transgressive work.
“If you look at Gaspar Noé’s Irreversible, it’s deeply unpleasant but there is a kind of masochistic impulse when you’re in the audience,” he says. “That bowel-quaking subliminal frequency he uses with the camera movements which makes you vomit. I was feeling sick watching that movie — just physically sick. But there’s something quite gratifying to being pounded by a film like that.”
Flux Gourmet, written and directed by Peter Strickland, is now in theaters and on demand.
Main image: Fatma Mohamed, Asa Butterfield and Ariane Labed in Flux Gourmet, from Peter Strickland. Photos courtesy of IFC Films.