April 4, 2022 By Johnny Knollwood
A legendary filmmaker whose studios are headquartered in Queens is scheduled to screen his latest film at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria on April 8.
Lloyd Kaufman has been making movies for over 50 years. The New York City born and bred filmmaker originally studied Chinese at Yale, where his classmates included the likes of Oliver Stone, George W. Bush, and Michael Herz, the latter of whom would go on to co-found Troma Entertainment with Kaufman in 1974.
Troma, which is headquartered in Long Island City, is known for producing a unique, signature blend of comedically violent, almost surrealist, low-budget horror films. The company is perhaps best known for producing 1984’s “The Toxic Avenger,” which solidified Kaufman’s status as a cult film auteur. The movie is currently being remade with “Game of Thrones” star Peter Dinklage stepping into the titular role.
On April 8, Kaufman, who helped launch the careers of industry titans that include James Gunn (“Guardians of the Galaxy”), Matt Stone (“South Park”), Trey Parker (“South Park”), Marisa Tomei (“My Cousin Vinny”), Samuel L. Jackson (everything) and more, will screen his latest directorial effort, “#Shakespeare’s Shitstorm,” at the Museum of the Moving Image in the Kaufman (no relation) Arts District of Astoria. After the screening, the legendary filmmaker will hold a Q&A and meet fans, offering audiences a peek behind the blood soaked, slime ridden curtain that encapsulates a Troma production.
“#Shakespeare’s Shitstorm,” is not Kaufman’s first foray into the world of classic literature, as evident by 1996’s “Tromeo and Juliet,” which told the well-known tale through a “Tromatic” lens. “Shitstorm” is Kaufman’s interpretation of “The Tempest,” and sees the film mogul stepping into the role of Prospero, a former pharmaceutical scientist, jaded with social media, big pharma, and society as a whole.
Fans of Troma’s previous films will enjoy every second of this violent, gross, laugh out loud, work of Shakespearian proportions. The key word here is excess, a directive the studio has become all too familiar with. “Shistorm” is in a way the culmination of all of Kaufman’s films before it, packing in enough cameos, jokes, and gruesome death scenes to satisfy die-hard horror fans, while staying true to various elements of Shakespeare’s original story.
“Unlike 99 percent of the mainstream movie industry,” Kaufman told the Queens Post last week, “I’ve actually read some books! I know more about Shakespeare than Baz Luhrmann or, what’s his name, Leonardo DiCaprio. They didn’t know the words they were saying.”
Over the last two weeks, Kaufman has traveled the country screening the film, most recently stopping in parts of Texas and Ohio. Audience reactions have been positive thus far.
“Saturday night there was a screening in Cincinnati that had about 600 people, and they loved it,” Kaufman stated.
Throughout the entirety of their existence, Kaufman has remained uncompromised in his approach to creating films.
“I think the key is, it’s an art,” Kaufman began, “You should do what’s in your heart, and your brain and soul – “to thine own self be true,” a phrase coined by William Shakespeare, who as you know wrote the best-selling book, “101 Money Making Screenplay Ideas,” otherwise known as, “Hamlet!””
Kaufman’s movies have often been known to tackle social issues. In the past he has taken jabs at corrupt government officials, the fast-food industry, and most recently with “Shitstorm,” big pharma and social media culture. There is no subtlety in his work, and his messages are explicitly stated for all to bear witness.
“[The major studios] don’t want to take any risk…they’re all chicken,” Kaufman stated. “We live in an age where we have freedom of speech, as long as we don’t say anything…they’re afraid, scared they’re going to lose their job or get canceled.”
This philosophy has allowed Kaufman to remain independent but has also subjected the filmmaker to budgetary restraints. Asked if he could recall any instances where limitations in budget or otherwise sparked a moment of creativity, Kaufman recalled, “Certainly, in the special effects department.”
In “The Toxic Avenger” the effects guys wanted to do a “head cast,” like in Hollywood, when we had to have a car run over a child’s head. It was going to cost too much, and Michael Herz said “look, get a melon or a cantaloupe, put a wig on it and a happy face, get a torso and run over the melon.”
In an artform that is usually reserved for big budget studios and productions, Lloyd Kaufman is living proof that the medium of film is accessible to regular folk too.
“I’ve written 7 books and 5 are about movie making.” Kaufman stated. “Now it’s accessible because of the digital revolution. People are making movies for $25,000, $5,000, $2,000, the money’s not an issue.”
Kaufman is a champion of independent art. For nearly 50 years, Troma has stood for sticking to your guns, despite the challenges you may face. So how did a Chinese studies major at Yale end up delivering the world some of the most outrageously gruesome and comedic B-movies of our time?
“I bought into the auteur theory of filmmaking which the French created after WWII,” Kaufman stated. “Freshman year at Yale they roomed me with the guy who ran the Film Society. Our beds were very close together, it was a tiny bedroom. At night I’d inhale his feet, and the “Aroma de’ Troma” was born.”
Visit www.shakespearesshitstorm.com for more information on “#Shakespeare’s Shitstorm” and tickets for the upcoming screening at the Museum of the Moving Image on April 8.