Nadie es inocente (No One is Innocent)

Sarah Minter

This video is no longer available

Unreformable: Week #3 Nadie es inocente (No One is Innocent)
Sarah Minter

57 Minutes

Artist Cinemas

Streaming till November 30

An arresting portrait of the Mierdas Punks, a group of youths living in the outskirts of Mexico City who are devoted to the fringes and the “unacceptable.” Minter’s approach, intuitive and improvised, is reflected in the film which was written in collaboration with the group, as they venture around Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl, otherwise known as “Neza York.”

The film is presented alongside a text response by Olivia Crough.

Nadie es inocente is the third installment of Unreformable, an online program of films and accompanying texts convened by Adelita Husni Bey as the eighth cycle of Artist Cinemas, a long-term, online series of film programs curated by artists for e-flux Video & Film.

Unreformable runs in six weekly episodes from October 18 through November 28, 2021, streaming a new film each week accompanied by a commissioned interview or response published in text form.

No hay futuro
By Olivia Crough

A kid of around seventeen walks through a train station in ripped jeans, canvas Súper Faro sneakers, and a tight red Cancun tee. Without buying a ticket, he jumps on a train and sits by a window. His face silhouetted against the passing industrial landscape, he begins a voiceover monologue:

Goodbye, Neza. Goodbye to all you damn freaks in the street. Goodbye to the gang, to the pickpockets, to the pigs, to the damn cops who do nothing. Goodbye to the government that raises the prices. Motherfuckers! See you later Neza, and the Mierdas gang. It was fun hanging out with you guys.

Mexican video artist Sarah Minter (1953-2016) shot Nadie es inocente (Nobody is Innocent), her first feature-length work, on analogue U-matic cassette tapes between 1984 and 1986 in Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl (“Neza”), an unplanned working-class municipality northeast of Mexico City. In the partially scripted hybrid of documentary and narrative film, Juan Martinez “el Kara” and other members of the young Mierdas Punks (“Shit Punks”) play themselves: drinking, hanging out, and hurling verbal abuse at the state, the Catholic church, and the cops. “I hate Mexico. I shit on it and I spit on it. I vomit on it.”

El Kara’s trip out of Neza and into the countryside, with an existential monologue that becomes more feverish after he takes a psychedelic, frames the film’s protean scenes as his memories and hallucinations. In other words, the trip is one of Minter’s means of playing with the categories of “documentary” and “fiction” as she experimented with video, the then-new medium whose subsequent formats she would practice within until her death in 2016 at age 63.

Between the 1940s and 1970s, a government-led shift from an agricultural to a manufacturing-based economy drove urban-to-rural migration. Amid the “Mexican Miracle” of state-led capitalism, Neza and other poor suburbs were built with little infrastructure, planning, or public services. The “Miracle” faltered with the student massacre of 1968 and ended definitively in 1982, when a widespread debt crisis devalued the peso, and loans from the IMF and American banks stipulated austerity and free market reforms.

The Mierdas Punks came of age during this so-called “lost decade” of wage stagnation and neoliberal policymaking. With focused militancy they flaunt the liberal chimeras of development, private property, and the family. “It will be a revolution…. we’ll make all of society vomit.” Minter’s camera traces the massive drainage pipes radiating from the city’s center, used by residents as raised paths. In one scene, el Kara passes a long line of women and girls waiting with buckets to carry water. He tells us that his grandparents' and parents' generations benefitted little from Mexico’s industrialization and economic growth. “We’re just following their example.” But to “stagnate” is passive; they insist on their active decay, yelling, “Me pudro!” (“I’m rotting!”).

How can you waste time if you see no future? El Kara boards the train, reversing prior generations’ inward migration, because he sees no exit but death. His archetypal death drive brings to mind the titular protagonist in Victor Gaviria’s Rodrigo D. No Futuro (1990) and Autumn Moon in Fruit Chan’s Made in Hong Kong (1997)—like Nadie es inocente, both films star non-actors and are as much narratives as portraits of their locations (Medellín’s poorest comunas, subsidized housing in post-handover Hong Kong). I also think of Kid and his gang of “Scorpions” in Samuel R. Delany’s 1975 science fiction novel Dhalgren, fucking, partying, and stealing in a ruined city loosened from physical and temporal coordinates, and liberated from the nuclear family, law enforcement, and linear time.[1] At the end of Nadie es inocente, when el Kara reaches a village and learns from a local kid that there are no cops, he smiles. “Cool, you live like kings.”

Minter portrays styling as an intimate ritual and non-monetary economy, young and overwhelmingly male, that replaces the tenets of church and family. Before a concert, kids expertly dye and spike each other's hair. At a dump, they sift through mounds of clothing and score Sergio Valente jeans, a plaid Dior jacket, and a Spiderman costume (“He can climb the wall when the cops chase him!”). A boy bends a piece of scrap metal into a bracelet around his friend’s wrist. With spit and phlegm the group “baptizes” a new member. Along with slang and vernacular (mostly lost in the subtitles), they build a language of appropriated symbols, painting swastikas and anarchist A’s on leather jackets.

Like cops, pope John Paul II, and politicians, love and sex are subjects of violent mockery. “You know Sid Vicious? He killed [Nancy] by stabbing her pussy.” With mohawks and leather they emulate Vicious, but their vein of anarchism overloads an imported style of negation. In Minter’s 2010 film Nadie es inocente: 20 años después (Nobody is Innocent: Twenty Years Later), in which she revisits the surviving Mierdas Punks, one of them, Pablo Hernández “el Podrido” describes their “movement” as alive, ongoing, and generative. “The movement is more than just resistance against all the inequality in the country. The rest of the world is not like us. We’re trying to transform it…. There are lots of progressives, but few anarchists.”[2]

At the time, fearing these energetic ranks of disaffected kids, the local government would ban most rock concerts and large youth gatherings. Minter’s shooting coincided with a major 1986 police raid of a concert, when many of the punks were sent to Neza’s La Perla prison. The unscripted scene appears in the middle of Nadie es inocente: The Sex Pistols’ “Rock Around the Clock” starts and a girl snarls at the camera; with each beat, the camera cuts to another kid. Edits are rapid, stuttering. Someone pisses at the camera. Minter cuts to the live show, the “real” footage slowed as kids howl and thrash. A boy with a bloodied nose tumbles and the footage falters and briefly runs backwards, as if the video cassette jammed. Sirens pierce their rapture. Footage now sped up, kids stream past the camera. The sirens fade and we see the film’s most rebellious image: In three brief frames, a kid smokes and watches a cop car silently burn.

Rather than lean on the documentary “immediacy” of video, Minter plays with conventions of editing, mixing unruly jump cuts and disorienting cutaways. As ‘70s punk rock gives way to Vicente Rojo Cama’s synth-heavy new age score, which tracks el Kara’s psychedelic trip, edits become irregular and discordant and intensify in flickering waves. Layered, often asynchronous sound further fragments and unsettles assumptions of the medium’s a priori objectivity. Minter’s staccato, kaleidoscopic editing recalls Soviet director Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera (1929), a film she cites as a foundation of critical, experimental, and collective filmmaking. “This eye that travels everywhere and gathers images, creating diverse visions of reality … [is] an essential reference point.”[3]

Cheap and “low,” and easier than film to shoot, edit, and screen, video appealed to a punk sensibility. And for Minter and other video pioneers in Mexico (Pola Weiss, who merged dance and video and whose final subject was her own death, and Zapotec artists Martha Colmenares and Álvaro Vázquez), the new medium offered means of feminist, anti-capitalist, and Indigenous critique outside of established art and film scenes. Preoccupied with, in her words, “the ethics entailed by the gaze toward the other,” Minter experimented with feedback loops, surveillance, self-portraits, and multi-channel installations.[4]

Minter’s gaze is not innocently “neutral” or “objective,” her portrait of the Mierdas Punks not fully “authentic” or without romanticization–but none of this is her aim. Rather, she approaches what theorist-filmmaker Trinh T. Minh-Ha calls a “politically made film.” An artist cannot merely gather political content, but must “begin by shaking the system of cinematic values on which its politics is entirely dependent.”[5] Trinh articulates the difference between “documentary” and “fiction” not as a binary of real/unreal, unstaged/staged, but as movements, respectively, of outside-in and inside-out.

I also see in Minter’s videos the influence of her training, in the early 1970s, with the radical theater collective Ergónico.[6] A “theater of provocation,” they based their first staging, Tú propiedad privada no es la mía (Your Private Property Isn’t Mine, 1972) on Engels’s critique of the monogamous family unit, The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State (1884). In their intense physical exercises, as described by Minter, the group would routinely thrash and pummel one another until exhaustion, when they would slip into a spoken exploration “of, through memory, the ‘I.’”[7] I think the Mierdas perform a version of this exercise. Pouring through the ceiling and doorways of a building destroyed by the 1985 earthquake, they announce, “Here is the gang! The rotting of the mind.” The ruin becomes theatrical, the collapsed concrete a proscenium, as they leap and wrestle, tumbling across piles of trash. Falling, exhausted, they hold each other, drinking and discussing the differences between hippies and punks, peace and “horror.” They sing, “No hay / No hay futuro / No hay / No hay amor / No hay / No hay cemento / Hey hey / Los Mierdas soy yo.”[8]

Minter shot Nadie es inocente while making the short video Sabado de Mierda (Shitty Saturday, 1986) with her partner and collaborator Gregorio Rocha. Set in Neza in the year 2000, warring groups of punks and “rockers” unite against their common enemy, the police. In the final scene, an explosion destroys Mexico City. Sabado de Mierda, Nadie es inocente, and Minter’s subsequent video, Alma Punk (Punk Soul, 1991-1992), all reject the documentary trope of the innocence of a disenfranchised or endangered human subject. The children we see on screen are not emblems of “pure” or “essential” humanity, but complex subjects playing a scripted version of themselves, with a grasp of their positions in history and the larger political economy. Every image is a fiction, and no one is innocent.

[1] Raised in Harlem, Delany modeled Dhalgren’s city of Bellona on postwar America’s inner cities. For more on Bellona’s hip gangs and the novel’s möbius strip narrative structure, see Bryce Wilner, “All at Once,” in Source Type 1, forthcoming January 2022.

[2] El Kara died before the second film.

[3] Sarah Minter in conversation with Cecilia Delgado and Sol Henaro, in Cecilia Delgado and Sol Hernandez eds., Sarah Minter: Ojo en Rotatión. Images en Movimiento 1981 - 2015 (Mexico, D.F.: Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo, UNAM, 2015), 147. This bilingual exhibition catalog is the only monograph on Minter. For more on Minter’s punk films see Jesse Lerner, “Subcultures, Marginal Media, and the Underground: The Punk Videos of Sarah Minter,” in Sarah Minter: Ojo en Rotatión, 130-137; Ivan A. Ramos, “Aimless Lives: Amateur Aesthetics, Mexican Contemporary Art, and Sarah Minter’s Alma Punk, in Third Text 34:1 (2020), 190-205.

[4] Sarah Minter in conversation with Cecilia Delgado and Sol Henaro, in Sarah Minter: Ojo en Rotatión, 147.

[5] Trinh T. Minh-Ha, “Questions of Images and Politics,” in When the Moon Waxes Red (New York: Routledge, 1991),148.

[6] The group formed around the theater workshops of leftist Argentine theater and film director Juan Carlos Uviedo.

[7] Sarah Minter in conversation with Cecilia Delgado and Sol Henaro, in Sarah Minter: Ojo en Rotatión, 141.

[8] There is no future / There is no love / There is no cement / Hey hey / The Shits are I

Olivia Crough is a writer and PhD candidate in Art, Film, and Visual Studies at Harvard.

For more information, contact program [​at​] e-flux.com.

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Sarah Minter (1953-2016) was one of the pioneers of experimental film in Mexico and a central figure in Mexican video art. Emerging from a period of experimentation with stage work that left a powerful impact on her, she decided to adopt the moving image as her principal language, a journey she embarked upon in the early 1980s and one she continued to pursue throughout her career. Minter began producing 16mm films in the early 1980s, including San frenesí (1983), Nadie es inocente (1987), Alma Punk (1991-1992), and El Aire de Clara (1994-1996). During the 1990s, in parallel to her artistic production, she embarked on a number of initiatives to promote the teaching and dissemination of video, such as La Sala del Deseo at the Centro de la Imagen and the video workshop in Mexico City’s La Esmeralda art school.

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