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When watching an experimental film it’s important to meet the movie on its own terms and view it through that lens. There seems to be a knee-jerk impulse in mainstream culture to immediately label films without a conventional narrative as nonsensical, images of violence as gratuitous, and unsimulated sex as pornographic. This kind of thinking is incredibly reductive and limiting, especially when art in other mediums such as paint and sculpture are more frequently praised as “bold” and “daring” for containing similar depictions. Artists should be free to use any item in their toolkit to make a creative expression that is genuine for them and true artistic freedom means anything and everything that happens between consenting adults must be allowed to be expressed. Art that pushes boundaries must be approached with an open mind and a strong stomach and it is with that mindset that I evaluate the unconventional, provocative collection that is Blood Tastes Like Perfume: The Short Films of White Gardenia.
The band White Gardenia is headed by musician Daniel Valient and are well known in certain underground circles for their shocking fetishistic mutilation and blood drinking short films that are underscored with their original music. White Gardenia’s work primarily exists online but has been featured in some films that received a physical media release such as XXX: Dark Web and Vore Gore, both of which were put out by Tetro Video. Blood Tastes Like Perfume marks the first time the band has received a proper home video release on their own (this time courtesy of Bizarre Theatre) and the collection features eight of their videos including Blood is Sweeter than Honey, Akasha Drinking my Blood, and A Perfume Made From Blood and Tears.
The most pertinent question here is how well this collection works as a showcase for the work of White Gardenia. While this is by no means a complete collection of their work, the eight shorts do provide a solid representation of what White Gardenia is all about and gives viewers a glimpse into their twisted world. Still, I was a little disappointed by the omission of their most provocative film (and my personal favorite) A Midnite Snack which was one of the segments featured in XXX: Dark Web. What stuck out the most as a strange choice as far as the Blu-ray release itself goes however was the occasional references to additional White Gardenia videos online that appeared after some films. I understand the thought process here but the biggest problem with the execution (aside from sometimes neglecting to put in the web address) was that the text after one film advised that “full and uncensored” clips can be found online. Given the explicit nature of the scenes that are shown, the film is clearly not censored for content but that message seems to imply that some of the most interesting parts may be missing. Fans shelling out for a Blu-ray release like this should feel like they are getting the definitive collection, not a tease for more info that has to be found through a series of confusing links. It’s not clear at this point if there will be additional volumes released with more of White Gardenia’s output but if this is to be the only physical release then it is a glaring oversight to not include all the best, nastiest content in its full and uncensored glory.
Like any short film collection the quality varies from film to film as some are inevitably more compelling than others. The couple of bondage themed scenes that were included were actually the least interesting part of the collection as the scenes felt quite tepid and restrained for BDSM play and were further weakened by their juxtaposition to the far more intense scenes of real cutting and blood drinking. Even though it may have been a little repetitive I would have still preferred the inclusion of some of their other cutting and blood play videos in lieu of these to have a more cohesive and consistent experience.
Where this collection really shines is in its ability to showcase boundary-pushing art as Daniel and the rest of the performers go to extreme levels to create spectacle that is beyond the limits of what you will find in most films. Aesthetically, there are some strange choices such as including flubs and outtakes that could have been easily trimmed out but they do have a way of adding to the gritty, cinéma-vérité style of the production. The minimum production values of the scenes where shaky hand-held footage reveals genuine mutilation and blood drinking add to the dangerous, provocative feeling of voyeuristically consuming taboo acts that are shunned within mainstream society.
Another thing I really appreciate about this film is that it is far from simply being a collection of shocking content created to illicit a cheap reactionary response. There is a genuine surreal quality to the footage (especially when consumed all in one sitting) that make for an engaging and unique experience. This is thanks it large part to White Gardenia’s experimental and at times wonderfully discordant music and sound design that underscore most of the film. It is also due to some fantastic editing choices that heighten and enhance the scenes in very interesting ways. Probably my favorite moment occurred in Akasha Drinking my Blood when a constructed shot resulted in a scene so minimalist yet so perfectly unsettling that it felt straight out of Lynch’s Inland Empire. So, in the end while it’s not a perfect release, it is still a damn good one and will provide viewers with a unique experience that is provocative, unsettling and legitimately boundary-pushing.
Blu-rays can only be purchased through bizarretheatre.com while supplies last. Not available to stream.