NYC Foetus DVD

Published on July 30th, 2009 in: Art, Documentaries, DVD, DVD/Blu-Ray Reviews, Issues, Movie Reviews, Movies, Music, Reviews |

By Less Lee Moore

For a discussion of the music on Limb, please read my review here.

For a discussion of the design elements of the 48-page Limb booklet, please read Ann Clarke’s review here.

JG Thirlwell has been making music since 1978. . .
He is a singer, a producer, a musician, a composer and a graphic artist.
From the intro to NYC Foetus, directed by Clément Tuffreau

When asked to provide a verbal portrait of JG Thirlwell, friend Brian Emrich hesitates. “That’s a tough one. . . . let me come back to that one.” This brief statement might seem to contradict the opening titles of this documentary, which detail so much of what JG Thirlwell does. Yet, it is precisely the dichotomy between these two descriptions of Thirlwell that is at the heart of this film and in fact, his entire career.

foetus doc still
Still from

Because this is a documentary about a musician, there is a lot of music featured, some of it Foetus, some of it Steroid Maximus, Manorexia, Wiseblood, and the other musical personalities JGT has inhabited over the years. Tuffreau makes excellent use of Thirlwell’s music and various video clips (both staged and live) to illustrate the points raised throughout the film. For example, there is great contrast between a performance clip of the fuzz-heavy noise of “The Need Machine” and scenes of Thirlwell conducting a live orchestral performance of Manorexia. In addition, the music provides a wonderful (and very skillfully edited) accompaniment to the segments filmed for the documentary itself.

There are many location shots which elucidate how New York City has inspired Thirlwell’s work, including some bits that were shot inside his home and home studio. We get a strong sense of the environment in which he lives and works, but also some insight into his aesthetic choices, since so much of Thirlwell’s aesthetic is (and always has been) a direct influence of his residence there.

So, who is JG Thirlwell exactly? There are some terrific personal insights (and stories) from friends and collaborators like Matt Johnson, Richard Kern, Michael Gira, Alexander Hacke, and Lydia Lunch, who states that if you think you know what JG Thirlwell is like from his music, you’ll be wrong. Indeed, Thirlwell seems uncomfortable talking about himself at times, as if he does want to let his music speak for him. Yet, if we cannot discern who the man is from his music, what are we supposed to do?

So much of Thirlwell’s appeal is (and always has been) the mystery. Those who have never seen him in person might be shocked at how a soft-spoken person with such a slight frame can perform with the terrifying power of a Balrog. And in yet another one of those Thirlwellian contradictions, he is both stunningly prolific in his creative output yet maddeningly elusive. He is not so elusive, however, that we don’t get to see a few glimpses here of his sense of humor, one which is well known to those fans who have been following his career.

And for those of us who have been following the clues he’s been dropping for so many years, this documentary is a great payoff. It doesn’t reveal all, but it does provide much to enjoy and think about. JG Thirlwell is someone who absorbs many influences and inspirations (“thirsty” like a “sponge” he says at one point) so this film is a must-have for those of us who find influence from and inspiration in his life and career.

NYC Foetus is available exclusively with the Limb DVD, and it can be purchased directly from


The Venture Bros., The Music Of JG Thirlwell, Popshifter May/June 2009 issue

JG Thirlwell’s Best Of 2008 List, Popshifter January/February 2009 issue

Crushing The Mold: An Interview With JG Thirlwell, Popshifter March/April 2008 issue

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