The Toxic Offender

Lloyd Kaufman keeps pumping out the celluloid sludge and sleaze

Though the word auteur gets tossed around in the film industry like a salad (Vincent Gallo?!), many seem to overlook the real progenitors of filmmaking. Lloyd Kaufman not only defines the label, but over the past 30 years, he has mutated its commercialized confines with a button-pushing, all-out motion picture assault known as Troma Films.

Since the late '60s, Kaufman and cofounder Michael Herz have been consistent thorns in the side of Hollywood's gigantic shadow while maintaining mainstream cred. This is surprising since Kaufman has been a vocal opponent of the FCC's increasingly rigid policies, while Troma has flourished with classic titles such as Sgt. Kabukiman, early sex romps like Squeeze Play!, and of course 1984's breakthrough, The Toxic Avenger. A benchmark in moviemaking, at least in B-movie fans' eyes, the tale of a mop boy turned hideously deformed avenger known as Toxie became the most iconic of all Troma films, mutating (pun intended) into comics, cartoons, and several sequels. Sure, he wasn't Spider-Man or even Encino Man, but Toxie touched a nerve and set the wheels in motion for Kaufman and his studio's gradual success in film.

Soon, the blueprint was set for Troma's way of filmmaking. A mélange of fantasy, over-the-top action, comedy, eroticism, and elements of horror culminated in tour de forces such as the Class of Nuke 'Em High trilogy, the aforementioned Kabukiman, the blitzkrieg camp of Terror Firmer, and the modern-day rendition of love and lust lost, Tromeo and Juliette. Each character has virtually unfolded into its own worshiped identity, and Kaufman couldn't be any happier. Forever maintaining their against-the-grain ethos, Kaufman and Co. recently crashed the revered Cannes Film Festival to promote their film, Troma-style. Though initially this was frowned upon by the Riviera crowd, Troma has turned this event into a tradition that would be missed.

This is one of the more glaring examples of why Troma's gut instinct and self-reliance have garnered them admirers from the irreverent side of the spotlight, including Kevin Smith, Mike Judge, South Park co-creator Trey Parker, and (real) auteur Quentin Tarantino. Kaufman once said in an interview that "the biggest problem is that the communication industry has become so consolidated, and everything is done on such a giant scale that there are very few independent movie studios left." Despite the difficulty, Kaufman has not only survived the conglomeration but prospered. Now, the Yale grad brings his DIY tale to the textual world, promoting his third book, Make Your Own Damn Movie, and the DVD release of Toxic Avenger 4: Citizen Toxie. Don't miss your chance to meet one of the true purveyors of independent spirit.

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Kiran Aditham