Sunday, September 28, 2014

Comedy etiquette: How to be a good joke recipient

Harvey Kneeslapper and his frequent victim, Mr. Johnson, on Sesame Street.

Most of us know what to do in case of a knock knock joke. If you're not the one telling the joke, your responsibility is clear. You have two lines, both questions: "Who's there?" and "________ who?" Those are easy enough to remember. But what happens if the joke itself is in the form of a question? Are you supposed to actually answer it in an intelligent fashion, like you've really put some thought into, let's say, how many Christian Scientists it takes to change a lightbulb? The answer is no. Most likely, the joke teller just wants you to say, "I don't know." Practice saying that with me. I don't know. Good. If you really want to participate in the joke-telling process, you can say, "I don't know" and then repeat the original question, often with an emphasis on the second word. An example: "I don't know. What do you get when you cross a goat and an owl?" And then the joke-teller will tell you the punchline. That's how jokes work. Don't try to guess at the answer. You're just wasting further time and making an already-unpleasant experience worse. In fact, don't even bother with the "repeating the question" thing. Just say, "I don't know." Follow these simple guidelines, and you, too, can be an effective joke recipient.

By the way, it takes one Christian Scientist to change a lightbulb. He just prays for the old bulb to start working again. And the unlikely crossbreeding of an owl and a goat would yield a hootenanny.

Good day.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

I hate, envy, and fear morning people

I might have to punch this spoon.

"I never get enough sleep. I stay up late at night, 'cause I'm Night Guy. Night Guy wants to stay up late. What about getting up after five hours sleep? 'Oh, that's Morning Guy's problem. That's not my problem. I'm Night Guy. I stay up as late as I want.' So you get up in the morning. You're exhausted, groggy. 'Oooh, I hate that Night Guy!' See, Night Guy always screws Morning Guy. There's nothing Morning Guy can do. The only Morning Guy can do is try and oversleep often enough so that Day Guy loses his job and Night Guy has no money to go out anymore."
-Jerry Seinfeld

Good old Æthelred
I get up at 5:00 every weekday morning. I also get up at 5:15, 5:30, and finally (for keeps) at 5:45. I am the King of the Snooze Button, a modern-day Æthelred the Unready. Literally, the word "SNOOZE" is worn out on my alarm clock radio. It just says "S   ZE" now. It's currently set to a point on the dial where it picks up two very staticky stations simultaneously (both in Spanish), and the volume is turned up all the way. The sound is, to put it mildly, not pleasant. Imagine two rival announcers yelling ads at each other in Spanish. And yet I'll still remain in bed, listening to that grating, cacophonous noise for many consecutive minutes to avoid getting up. I have a second, battery-powered alarm clock which I refer to as my "fail safe." Occasionally, that faithful little device has been the only thing which has kept me from missing my train to get to work on time. Usually, my morning routine involves staying in bed and negotiating with myself, as I decide which important, unskippable steps I'm going to skip before running to my car at the last possible minute. Breakfast? Screw it. I'm not even that hungry. Maybe there'll be donuts at work. Shaving? Eh, I shaved yesterday. Besides, stubble is "in," right? Shower? Hmmm. Let me smell my armpits. Not too terrible. No one'll notice. And finally, the last concession: Brush my teeth? Hell with it. I've got wintergreen-flavored gum.

Are you starting to get the idea that maybe I'm not a morning person? Friends, I thought I would get used to waking up early after more than a decade at my current job. Nope. I'm still dazed, disoriented, and completely exhausted at the beginning of every workday. At that hour, I can fall asleep standing up while resting my forehead on the towel rack in the bathroom. That's happened a couple of times. At 5:45, I might as well be Keith Richards in 1974 at the depth of a narcotics binge. I try to read on the train, and I inevitably doze off after a paragraph which I've attempted to finish three times without success.

Despite all of this, I have no real desire to become a morning person, even if such a conversion were possible. I'm a confirmed night owl by nature, and I'll be damned if I'm going to oppose nature. Left to my own devices, I would actually go to sleep at around 5:00 in the morning, i.e. the same time I'm supposed to be waking up. I find that my most productive, creative hours are between midnight and four. That's when most of the Ed Wood articles are written... only on Friday and Saturday nights, of course. On weeknights, I usually have to take Tylenol PMs to force myself to get some sleep, and even then I'm up until at least eleven or twelve. My self-imposed bedtime is 9:30, but I never make it. That's the time of day when I want to do stuff. Writing during daylight hours feels "off" to me -- not impossible, but not totally comfortable either. Like milk a day past its expiration date. Sure, you can still pour it on your cereal, but it somehow isn't as fresh-tasting as it ought to be. I don't even know where I'm going with that analogy, and a big part of that is because I started writing it when the sun was still out. The point is, I've dealt with insomnia for virtually all my life, but maybe the problem is that I'm just wired the opposite of most people.

For virtually my entire life, I've lived in suburbia, the natural habitat of the morning person. The 'burbs shut down at night. Everyone goes home and watches Dancing with the Stars or whatever. (By the way, did I ever tell you my idea for a cheap knockoff of that show called Prancing with Celebs? Well, I just did.)  Even in Chicago where I work, the financial district is pretty dead by six in the afternoon. Recently, however, I made a pilgrimage to Manhattan, and there I found a world which was like the Bizarro version of my normal reality. When I got there in the afternoon, I thought the neighborhood was a shithole. Nothing was happening, and nobody was out except for the bums. The place didn't come to life until the nighttime. That's when the bars, restaurants, and other businesses really started hopping... and this was going on during the middle of the week! That's absolutely unheard of where I live. New Yorkers may find this to be all very commonplace and "boojwah," but it blew my mind. I had no idea people lived like that. It's a funny old world, isn't it?

Any thoughts you might have to share on this topic are welcome in the comments section. Night owls? Morning people? Make yourselves heard! Me, I'm going to drink some warm, just-expired milk.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 49: 'Take It Out in Trade' (1970)

Ed Wood also published an unrelated  short story in Trois magazine (1972) with the same title as this movie.

"An extraordinary performance."
I have been wanting to see Ed Wood's Take It Out in Trade (1970) for -- dear Lord -- twenty years now. Last week, thanks to the good people at Manhattan's Anthology Film Archives, I finally did. Like many of my fellow Wood-ologists, my interest in Take It Out began with Rudolph Grey's unorthodox biography of Ed, Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr. In Grey's introduction, he talks about what he learned about the director while researching his life. "Particularly exciting," he says "was finally locating a print of one of Ed Wood's last feature films, Take It Out in Trade (1970), a surreal sex comedy that proved to be a major discovery." Later in the book, Ed's widow, Kathy, talks a bit about the film's origin and production, as do cast members Nona Carver (ex-burlesque dancer and former girlfriend of Kenne Duncan) and Michael Donovan O'Donnell, who actually appeared in some legitimate flicks (Paint Your Wagon, Dick Tracy)  as well as many prominent "B" movies (including Russ Meyer's Vixen and Greydon Clark's Satan's Cheerleaders and Black Shampoo) over the course of a 22-year Hollywood career. Towards the end of the book, in the annotated filmography, Rudolph Grey gives a fairly thorough, blow-by-blow description of Take It Out in Trade. Among his observations there:
This movie marked Wood's return to directing after a hiatus of ten years. [...] Visual puns and slapstick are intermingled with conventional softcore sex scenes. [...] There are odd touches of para-psychedlicism and surrealism. [...] The most remarkable sequence is a seven-minute segment featuring Ed Wood (billed under the name "Alecia") decked out in a lime-green dress, fluffy orange sweater, white plastic boots, and a blonde wig in an extraordinary performance.
SWV's version.
Now, tell me, what kind of Ed Wood fan could resist such a movie? I simply had to see it. The problem was, I couldn't. Even after Nightmare of Ecstasy was published in 1992 and became the basis for Tim Burton's Ed Wood in 1994, Take It Out in Trade did not appear on VHS or DVD for public consumption. After the big buildup it received in Nightmare of Ecstasy, Take It Out basically disappeared for two decades. Those of you who have been following "Ed Wood Wednesdays" for a while may remember that I once reviewed a Something Weird Video compilation tape from 1995 called Take It Out in Trade: The Outtakes, which consists of about an hour's worth of silent bloopers and unused shots from Wood's long-lost movie. In that article, I also provided a thumbnail sketch of Take It Out's convoluted history and supplied a rundown of its principal cast members. TIOIT: The Outtakes gives you an idea of the basic outline of the plot: wealthy Frank Riley (Duke Moore) and his snooty wife are unaware that their daughter, Shirley Riley (Donna Stanley),  has become a high-priced prostitute and is living and working in a brothel, so they hire a sex-crazed private detective named Mac McGregor (O'Donnell) to track her down. The outtakes also give you a pretty good idea of what the sets, costumes, hairstyles, and actors look like. But even though it's interesting as a historical curio, the Something Weird tape does not even remotely convey the experience of watching the real Take it Out in Trade. This, then, I will try to convey to you. Keep in mind that I have only watched this movie one time and am writing solely from memory:

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Pop culture made specifically for me

Kate "Oates" McCucci and Riki "Garfunkel" Lindhome in their IFC series. Also: a baby.

That's all of us. We're all jerks.
We all start out from a place of pure and perfect narcissism. As babies, we first acquire a sense of our own existence, and only later do we realize that -- hey! -- there are other people in the world, too, and they have thoughts and needs and opinions, just like we do. Theirs aren't as important as ours, but we have to care about them anyway or at least pretend to care for reasons of social convenience. That's the entire basis of human civilization -- people acting like they give a shit about other people. It's an extremely precarious situation; society could topple over in a light breeze, folks. Selfishness is our natural state. It's our eternal default. Sympathy and empathy have to be learned, and we have to work on them our whole lives... and that's only if we want to! Sometimes we forget. Sometimes we try and fail. And sometimes, we don't even want to try. That's why I say I'm a believer in what I call "the essential rottenness of the human race." The rottenness is easy to understand, and it's the root cause of wars, crime, bigotry, and all sorts of cruelty. If you're lucky, you have five working senses with which to take in information about the world and one functional brain with which to process that information. You'll never see with anyone else's eyes, hear with anyone else's ears, or think with anyone else's brain. It's only natural, then, that there will be many, many occasions in which we misunderstand each other or disregard one another's needs in favor of our own. I see it in my own life all the time. I can be a completely selfish, nasty, and inconsiderate bastard... and with very little prompting, too. It's not that I want to be one, mind you. Even at my worst, I'm trying to be a good guy. I just don't always (or even often) make it. Other people make niceness seem easy and natural, i.e. not a herculean effort. I envy them. I'll fess up to being a jerk, but I take no pride in my jerkishness. At the same time, I try to forgive others for their jerkishness. That's why I avoid using the term "self-indulgent." Whom can we indulge if not ourselves? Ultimately, no matter what you do, there's some internal motivation for your actions, some need or desire within yourself you are trying to satisfy. Who knows? Maybe Mother Teresa was being self-indulgent when she worked with lepers.

These are basically me at ages 10 and 8, respectively.
As a self-described narcissist , one of my persistent fantasies is that there are certain pop cultural artifacts -- mainly movies, but sometimes books, TV shows, or albums -- which are created specifically for me. The target demographic for these things is Joe Blevins and no one else. If other people like it, great. But Joe is the person we're trying to reach. I realize this is an absurd notion. If a movie or show reaches the public in any kind of mass-produced way, it's because some corporate weasels somewhere think there is a market for it. And this hoped-for market consists of multiple people, ideally thousands or millions of them, not one individual citizen. But, still, its a comforting, reassuring daydream. And it really does explain a lot of pop culture stuff that I enjoy. Before the music industry collapsed and people stopped buying CDs, I can remember long, leisurely trips to a (now long-gone) hipster record store. I'd stroll up and down the aisles, just browsing through the merchandise and occasionally being stunned by what I found. That process led me to the Orgy of the Dead soundtrack album, compilations by forgotten 1950s novelty acts like Nervous Norvus and Patience & Prudence, and two collections of quiz show themes, not to mention the entire canon of the faux-greaser gimmick group Big Daddy. I figured, who else but me would even want this stuff? Naturally, this delusion extends to motion pictures. Every year, I try to select one movie which is geared so specifically to my tastes, interests, and fetishes that I like to pretend it was made just for me. Past honorees of this nature include Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Femme Fatale, Punch Drunk Love, The Royal Tenenbaums, Frost/Nixon, and Room 237. I don't even care what you thought of these. They weren't for you; they were for me and me alone. I knew Tenenbaums was "mine" from the second I saw the poster, because Ben Stiller's two sons look exactly like what I looked like as a kid. It was like seeing a family photo in the marquee of a multiplex. How could I not endorse that movie? This year's most likely candidate for the award? Probably the criminally underrated Muppets Most Wanted. No lie. That film is an incredible achievement.

All paranoid delusions aside, there were two cases in 2014 which made me feel like maybe pop culture was being made specifically for me.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 48: 'Rudolph Grey Presents: Short Films, Home Movies, and Other Miscellanea' (2014)

Add caManhattan's Anthology Film Archives: My gateway to the 10th Dimension?ption


Well, folks, I guess there is going to be an "Ed Wood Wednesdays" column this week after all, but it's not the typical sort of heavily-researched, carefully-constructed piece I usually do for this series. Instead, while the memories were still semi-fresh in my brain, I wanted to record some thoughts and feelings about attending the penultimate night of The 10th Dimension: Edward D. Wood, Jr., a week-long retrospective currently running at Manhattan's Anthology Film Archives (AFA). The AFA is not your typical movie theater. Instead, it's a nonprofit center for the preservation and exhibition of offbeat and rare films.

As its name suggests, in addition to holding screenings, the AFA is also a vast storehouse of films and videos, preserving these artifacts for future audiences. This year, in addition to a slew of other programs, the center decided to honor the work of Edward D. Wood, Jr. They've shown films both famous (Plan 9 from Outer Space) and obscure (Nympho Cycler) from Ed's entire career, with selections from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Tonight, Wednesday, September 17, was a very special show -- the linchpin of the entire festival, in fact -- because it was an assortment of rarities hosted by Rudolph Grey, author of Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (1992).

In order to give this article some semblance of structure, I'll break down my reflections by sub-topics.



I. ANTHOLOGY FILM ARCHIVES itself

The Internet was a good friend to me this time around.  Though the Comfort Inn where I'm staying is not exactly a five-star luxury resort, it is within easy walking distance of the AFA. So thank you, Internet, for finding this place and suggesting it to me. And special thanks to Google for providing easy-to-follow walking directions, even though I somehow managed to get lost several times on the way there and the way back because I have no innate sense of direction. You know that inner compass that most people seem to have? Mine was removed surgically at birth. New York City doesn't give you much help either, by having "1st Street" cross "1st Avenue" and "2nd Street" intersect with "2nd Avenue." I had to traverse all four of these similarly-named arteries to get from my hotel to the Archives.

I actually passed the AFA a few times because, with its red brick exterior, it looked more like a church or a school than a cinematheque. In fact, according to Wikipedia (which is never wrong about these things), the building used to be a courthouse before the film archivists moved in during the late 1970s.

This picture gives you an idea of what the AFA's screening rooms are like.
Once inside the building, I noticed how humble and unprepossessing the lobby was: just a small waiting area and a lonely ticket booth with a bearded, horn-rimmed glasses-wearing dude inside. The biggest thrill for me, at least initially, was seeing that they had the New York Times article that mentions me displayed at poster size in the lobby. I mentioned this to Mr. Beard-O, and he just kind of shrugged and said, "Cool." He told me he hadn't bothered to read it and didn't really know which poster I was referring to. What can you say to that? It takes the wind out of your sails a bit, certainly.

I was getting a "semi-amateurish, mom-and-pop" kinda vibe from the Archives, but I could see traces of professionalism there as well. They show movies on at least two screens, for instance. One theater was located up a couple of flights of stairs, while another was on the ground floor. Every Wednesday seems to be devoted to showing the work of new filmmakers. I got there in plenty of time to see this week's chosen newbie: Shawn Batey's hour-long documentary, Changing Face of Harlem. The crowd was polite but very sparse. Unperturbed, Ms. Batey herself was there to introduce and explain the movie, which chronicles the rise and decline of Harlem, along with the gentrification that threatens to dilute the neighborhood's identity and drive away poor and middle-class African-Americans. Batey said she'd been working on the modest but provocative documentary for about 14 years now. The screens at the AFA have an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, but they are large, and the picture and sound quality are both quite good. Provided they promote the screenings themselves, young directors might well consider the New Filmmakers night at the AFA as a viable showcase for their work.

But this was all happening upstairs. Downstairs was where the real fun was brewing. A decent-sized crowd turned out for the program I'd come there that evening to see -- Rudolph Grey Presents: Short Films, Home Movies, and Other Miscellanea. There were enough spectators on hand to fill up the ground floor theater at the AFA. Let us now venture into the dank, humid depths of that exhibition.


II. RUDOLPH GREY, host/curator 

Rudolph Grey as he appears in Dad Made Dirty Movies.
I'd never met Rudolph Grey, musician and author, before this. But I'd certainly read his book, Nightmare of Ecstasy, countless times and seen him in documentaries like Jordan Todorov's Dad Made Dirty Movies (2012). So I recognized him instantly. I'd describe him to you as a combination of Tom Waits, a 1940s film noir detective, and mid-1980s Bob Dylan. Giving off an air of jaded, world-weary cool, he seems to hide behind his fuzzy hair, scraggly beard, and crumpled posture. But he's not imposing or intimidating in any way. He looked benign enough, so I thought to myself, "What are the odds that I'm ever going to be in the same room as this guy again? I have to say something."

This turned out to be a miscalculation. When I walked into the AFA screening room, Grey was seated in the first row, puffing on an e-cigarette and resembling a new millennium Philip Marlowe or Sam Spade. I approached him with a smile on my face, told him how many times I'd read his book, and then stumbled through some semi-coherent explanation of who I was and what "Ed Wood Wednesdays" was all about. He was anything but interested and gave me the dreaded Queen Victoria "we are not amused" look. So I backed off, humbled, and went dejectedly back to my seat. Whoops.

Despite this initial setback, Rudy's presentation was funny and informative nevertheless. This is a man who has clearly done his homework (hundreds of interviews, he claims), and once you get him started talking about a topic that interests him, he can be downright effusive. But he can become taciturn or inscrutable at a second's notice, too.

The evening was co-hosted by a film historian somehow connected with the Anthology Film Archives -- a well-spoken, professorial, middle-aged guy with a neatly-trimmed beard and rimless glasses. (His name eludes me. Sorry.) I got the impression that he and Rudy were friends or at least had some history together. Generally, he asked open-ended questions, and Rudy either answered them or tried to answer them. You could tell, though, that the professorial guy had to do a little work to coax the answers out of Rudy, and there were a few times when the proceedings threatened to grind to a halt. Odd conversational hiccups abounded, you might say. Rudolph Grey doesn't say reassuring things like "yes" or "definitely." Speaking with a heavy New York accent, somewhat reminiscent of Peter Falk as Lt. Colombo, he's more likely to cut you off with "sure" (his favorite expression) or "right" or "of course" and then not say anything else after that unless you give him more prompting. (A typical exchange might go: "Is your apartment full of tapes from old interviews?" "Sure.")

Still in all, the conversation was chock full of valuable information for the aspiring Wood-ologist. Some highlights:

  • Rudolph Grey first became aware of Ed Wood in the early 1960s when Plan 9 from Outer Space and (later) Bride of the Monster started airing on local television in New York. But back then, he had no idea about the man behind the movies. "It was just a name to me."
  • Grey believes that Eddie's reputation as "the worst director of all time" started in the 1960s with such horror magazines as Forrest J. Ackerman's Famous Monsters of Filmland and Castle of Frankenstein, which would run stills from Eddie's movies like Plan 9 with derogatory captions. Despite this, Eddie considered Ackerman a friend. These film magazines, aimed at what Grey called "nerds," were where the "bad movie" cult around Ed really began.
  • Harry and Michael Medved's Golden Turkey Awards book brought Ed a lot of negative postmortem publicity and made Grey's work difficult in the early 1980s when he began his research into Wood's career. Nobody connected to Ed wanted to talk to Rudolph Grey because they didn't trust him or didn't understand his motives. Kathy Wood, Ed's widow, was especially hesitant to talk to Grey but eventually relented. 
Richard Bojarski's book.
  • Ed died, Grey said, just as Glen or Glenda? was catching on in a few cities as a cult movie. "Bad timing," he concluded. Grey didn't realize that, during the late 1970s, he could have just looked up Ed's name in the Los Angeles telephone directory and found him that way. By December 1978,, Ed was dead, and it was too late. Rudolph Grey never got the chance to meet or interview Edward D. Wood, Jr. One author who did was Richard Bojarski, who talked to Wood in 1977 as part of the research for his own book, The Films of Bela Lugosi (1980). Bojarski generously shared his archival material with Grey. I believe some the taped interviews that Bojarski did are excerpted in the movie The Haunted World of Edward D. Wood, Jr. 
  • Grey bristles at the term "oral history," even though that's what Nightmare of Ecstasy really is. He says he chose the format of the book -- which consists of a string of quotes from Wood's friends and associates with very little commentary from Grey himself -- because writing a straight prose biography had not worked and, besides, he wanted to preserve the speech cadences of the people he interviewed. He modeled Nightmare of Ecstasy after Jean Stein's Edie: Girl on Fire, a book about Warhol superstar Edie Sedgwick.
  • One of Rudy's first big accomplishments in his research was landing an interview with Ed's mother, Lillian Wood. Grey speculates that Lillian did not really understand what her son's life or career were like. When Grey showed her a picture of Bela Lugosi, for instance, she said, "Oh, I know him!" Wood also had a sibling, a brother, who was always jealous of Eddie and didn't want to talk about him. In deference to Lillian, Rudy left the brother alone.
  • Vampira, he says, started out as something of a snob. But he talked to her for hours anyway, and eventually she admitted that she had misjudged Ed Wood.
  • Since the initial publication of Nightmare of Ecstasy, most of the interview subjects have died. The plus side to this, Grey contends, is that he can now publish an updated, expanded version of the book with anecdotes that would have given people heart attacks back in '92. Pressed for an example, Grey mentioned a blabbermouth starlet who claimed to have been Ed Wood's lover.
  • The material being shown in this evening's presentation came from a group of films discovered at Los Angeles yard sale several years ago. Some Wood-related documents were also found at this sale. It was quite an extraordinary cache of Wood memorabilia. And speaking of those precious artifacts, let's get to them now.

III. THE FILMS









Tonight's program consisted of : two complete television productions, Final Curtain (1957) and The Sun Was Setting (1951), plus an extremely rare outtake reel from The Sun Was Setting with dialogue that didn't make it to the finished version; the generic but lovable Story-Ad television commercials (1949); about 15-20 minutes worth of Ed Wood's personal home movies; and finally the hysterical, Wood-narrated trailer for Fugitive Girls (1974). I have already done thorough write-ups on most of this material, so please follow the links to the appropriate articles to read my thoughts on these.

It was tremendously satisfying seeing all of these rare movies on a big screen with an audience. People came to this evening for a variety of reasons. Along with the die-hard Wood-ologists, including your humble narrator, there were those who simply wanted to watch something "weird" or "campy" or "so bad it's good." I even heard a few people behind me talking about other Wood films they'd seen and speculating that Crossroad Avenger (1953) must have been either written or edited by someone else because it wasn't offbeat enough to be Eddie's work. I refrained from correcting them on this point, but the truth is that not everything Eddie did was like Glen or Glenda? or Plan 9 from Outer Space.

One thing I learned from this evening, however, is that Edward D. Wood, Jr.'s work inspires laughter to this day. That's just a fact of life. Even though you may not want to mock or belittle Eddie, it is difficult to keep a straight face throughout the entire running time of Final Curtain, in which Dudley Manlove's apoplectic and absurdly flowery narration is juxtaposed with shots of bulldog-faced Duke Moore pretending to be bug-eyed with fear. The film moves so incredibly slowly, with Moore obsessing over each little detail in the darkened theater where the entire story takes place -- the lights, the windows, the seats, the stairs, the railing, the hallway -- all to compensate for the fact that virtually nothing is happening onscreen.

The same is true for The Sun Was Setting with its hambone acting and soap opera dialogue. The essential premise -- that the heroine, who seems perfectly fine, even vigorous, is so delicate that going nightclubbing in "the Village" for an hour would kill her -- is so stilted and unbelievable that the audience cannot help but giggle a little.

The berserk trailer for Fugitive Girls may have been the biggest hit of the night, with its nonstop barrage of shameless ultraviolence and hopelessly square references to "flower children" and "lesbians." Ed Wood's own narration contains a truly staggering number of sensational adjectives. The descriptive words just keep coming without mercy! Eddie must have written his copy with a thesaurus by his side!






IV. AFTERTHOUGHTS

Ed Wood at home.
On a more reflective note, the home movies are an incredible find. I'd seen some of this material before, but nothing like what was shown tonight. It was mostly from celebrations and holidays -- a string of birthdays and Christmases, all in the warm California sun. Along with the expected shots of Ed and Kathy Wood, you get glimpses of Valda Hansen, Kenne Duncan, Duke Moore, David Ward, and Tom Keene, along with many other unidentifiable folks -- friends and neighbors, most likely. There are many minutes of footage of Ed Wood in drag, both "camping it up" at parties and trying on various dresses, girdles, and sweaters at home.

Grey said that these films were probably made for Eddie's own private amusement and that the late director probably would not have wanted them included in a retrospective of his work. But here we were, watching them in New York City in 2014. Initial laughter gave way to awed fascination. These home movies give the modern viewer some insight into the private life of the Woods and show that the couple indeed had some happy times before those tragic last years of theirs. One recurring motif, for instance, is dogs and the happiness they bring to the lives of humans. The Woods and their friends were seemingly all "dog people," judging by these movies. Above all, they loved to see dogs imitate human behavior, whether that meant hopping around on their hind legs or eating birthday cake with a fork.

Everyone's smiling and laughing in these silent movies. Most of the time, they appear drunk, and they probably were. But there's something melancholic about them, too, because they seem like relics of a world that has passed away and cannot be recovered. Once again, I am reminded of Roger Ebert's so-called "8mm omen," which states that movies that begin with old home movies are rarely about happy lives. Ain't it the truth, brother?

Jesus, New York City, did you lose a war or something?

Thank you, James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain, for helping me kill two hours.

"Now I'm back in Manhattan. New York, this is your last chance!"
-Rhoda Morgenstern (Valerie Harper), Rhoda

"Wow. That's a pretty big JCPenney. Not the biggest I've ever seen, but still... pretty big."

Those were among my thoughts, friends, when I got my first glimpse at the Big Apple in over a decade. I am here now, and the voyage was largely a nonevent, even a little dull. I chickened out at the last minute and decided to take a cab from my apartment to O'Hare rather than drive there and leave my car in overnight parking. This meant getting up at 4:30 a.m., but I must say I handled it like a champ. I arrived 90 minutes early, like you're supposed to do, but getting through security only took about four minutes for me. Hey, that's what your life is like when you're a part of the least-discriminated-against demographic in America.

So I waited at the Delta terminal in Chicago for a while before boarding. The airport was a lot like a very tidy, orderly shopping mall at that hour of the day. Everything is grey. Grey walls, grey carpet, grey-haired businessmen. It's just a functional, impersonal kind of place. I boarded the plane with no problem whatsoever, and the flight was equally uneventful.

This was my first voyage by airplane in a decade (at least), and it felt like a big nothing. It seemed like it was over before it even started. It takes much less time to travel from Chicago to New York by plane (one-third of the country) than it does to travel from Chicago to Indiana by train (one state over). One young lady behind me had a brief panic attack when we took off, and the flight crew had to give her an oxygen mask and assure her that everything was going to be juuuuuuuust fine. By the time we got to LaGuardia, which looked exactly like O'Hare, she was giddily taking pictures out the window of the plane and trying to spot the Statue of Liberty. Quick healer, that gal.

Click here for an article (on another website) about my previous trip to NYC. It was another cinema nerd pilgrimage. Back then, I headed East to see some of John Waters' rare movies and his art. Am I predictable or am I predictable, huh? For more about John's art career, visit this site.

Once I got to LaGuardia, it was surprisingly easy to get a cab. The cab ride, though, seemed to take a small eternity. Traffic was pretty darned heavy. I saw the same previews for Jeopardy!, Jimmy Kimmel, and something called Selfie (a new sitcom starring either Harold or Kumar) many times over on the little monitor in the back seat, along with a public service announcement urging us all to bump fists rather than shake hands because of the spread of germs and communicable diseases.

Once we finally got to the hotel, I realized I was staying in a pretty dumpy-looking neighborhood. Not post-apocalyptic or anything but nothing photogenic or memorable either. I mean, there are some gentrified-looking folks here with skinny pants and overpriced headphones. But there are also some lost souls wandering around outside: bedraggled folks who look like God just shat in their mouths.

When I got to the Comfort Inn on Ludlow, I was a little disappointed to see only two employees, a maintenance guy and a desk clerk, on duty in the cramped and dimly-lit lobby. Both looked supremely uninterested in whatever was going on around them, up to and including my arrival. I know that "good customer service" requires a level of completely counterfeit enthusiasm, but that fake cheeriness is kind of reassuring. The dead-eyed young lady behind the front desk, on the other hand, seemed to be doing a spot-on Kristen Stewart impression and just told me in an affectless voice to come back in a few hours. I tried asking her about the location of the Anthology Film Archives, but this was a total flop. After three unsuccessful attempts at spelling the word A-N-T-H-O-L-O-G-Y to her, we both agreed it was futile and gave up.

Starring Jessica Chastain's hair!
But what the hell was I going to do until the room became available? Here is where my inexperience as a traveler comes into play. I'm in (allegedly) one of the greatest cities in the world, and I have no idea what to do here. I just wandered aimlessly around the neighborhood (lower Manhattan), trying to get the lay of the land. In a way, this was comforting to a person who almost never travels.

You know what New York City has? The same exact stuff every place else has. People. Cars. Restaurants. Stores. Sidewalks. Hotels. More people, some on bikes. That's it. It just has a bunch of that stuff piled up in one place. That's all. In my travels today, I crossed at least two thoroughfares whose names I recognized from popular culture: Delancey and Bowery. And you know what these are? They're streets. Cars drive up and down 'em, and there are buildings on either side. Same as anywhere. Same as where you probably are now. "Oh, look, it's a different CVS! And a different Whole Foods!" Meh. Travel, I can take or leave. I don't genuinely feel like I'm "missing out" on much.

Anyway, to pass the time until my room became available, I did what any good movie geek would do. I went to the movies. The one theater within easy walking distance was a place called Sunshine Cinema. I decided to see whatever was playing closest to the time I showed up at the theater. That turned out to be something called The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them with Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy as a miserable married couple who spend two hours pouting and sulking, both separately and together. It's one of those "bad things happening to pretty people" movies, complete with wishy-washy ethereal music on the soundtrack and cinematography that makes everything look like a high-end mail-order catalog. Boilerplate indie stuff. (Highlight the next sentence for spoiler alert about the plot: After the couple's infant son dies, the wife attempts suicide and leaves her husband without further explanation. The movie is mostly about the aftermath of those events.)

William Hurt is in it, if that helps. He has a beard this time and squints a lot. Nobody actually sings "Eleanor Rigby," but that song does come up in conversation a few times. There are apparently two more movies' worth of this material: a Him version and a Her version. Neither sounds too tempting, since both of these folks are kind of petulant, entitled twerps; but given a choice, I'd take Him, because James McAvoy's half of the movie has Bill Hader in it.

On the other hand, Her would have even more of Jessica Chastain's incredible red hair. With such fiery locks and such pale, pale skin, you might think she was in danger of looking like Ronald McDonald. But she pulls it off. So majestic is the Chastain mane that there's a poster for this movie that literally features nothing but her hair. Not even her eerily perfect face. Just her eerily perfect, shampoo ad hair.

In fairness, I suppose I should say that the movie is well-made or at least well-constructed. It certainly looks attractive, and the actors seem to be truly committed to the material, especially Chastain. But the entire affair felt stagy and scripted to me, as if the characters knew darned well that we were listening in on their conversations. That's a downside for what's supposed to be a slice-of-life drama.

And a lot of the characters, well-acted, though they may be, seemed cliched, e.g. Viola Davis as Chastain's "sassy black friend." Davis plays an accomplished and worldly college professor in this movie, but her relationship with Chastain is still a distant echo of the Vivian Leigh/Hattie McDaniel dynamic from 1939's Gone with the Wind. You know what this picture needed? Guidance from the ghost of Ingmar Bergman. Ingmar could have made something special out of these ingredients..

Okay, time to get serious. Tonight's the night -- the event I flew 800 miles for. Wednesday is Rudolph Grey's once-in-a-lifetime presentation of rare Ed Wood movies. If only I could find the darned place.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Ed Wood Wednesdays temporarily delayed by research for Ed Wood Wednesdays

Perhaps this eye-catching photograph will distract people while I'm away.

A little programming note is in order, people. Normally, I post a new Ed Wood Wednesdays article every two weeks, but that's not going to be possible this week because I'll be out of town. Way out of town, you might say. Ironically, what is preventing me from working on my Ed Wood project is the project itself. Or rather, one aspect of the project is muscling out another aspect of it. Tomorrow, folks, I'm flying to New York City so that I can attend the final two days of the Ed Wood retrospective currently going on in Manhattan. I'd be lying if I said I weren't a little nervous about all of this. Not that I'm afraid of flying. I'm just really, really bad at traveling. I have no knack for it whatsoever. I hate having to make arrangements and show up at certain places at certain times. I simply do not possess the organizational skills necessary for travel. So tomorrow will be a high stress day. Today has been a high stress day, in fact, because I've been dreading tomorrow. I feel like I'm going to take the SATs or something. It's been that kind of day. Anyway, I'm about halfway done on the next Ed Wood column. I'll be posting it in the near future. This one is exciting (I hope) because it's about a mystery movie which I did not plan on covering in this series. To quote an ad campaign from the 1980s which has stuck with me much longer than it should have, BE THERE! In the meantime, please wish me luck on this trip. I'll tell you all about it when I get back home.

P.S. - How do you like the new look of the blog? I spent some time this weekend making it over and have added some extra features to make it easier to find past content. I hope you like it.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

This is just one of my favorite things: a Cisco Kid tin whistle

(left) My Cisco Kid tin whistle; (right) Vintage illustration of the Cisco Kid.

Behind those trees is the Beaver Island Toy Museum.
"It's funny how one can go through life, as I have, disliking bananas and being indifferent to cheese, and then be able to eat, and enjoy, a banana and cheese sandwich like this." So said Michael Palin as "Mr. Pither" on the "Cycling Tour" episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus. I kind of know how he feels. I have no particular interest in either tin whistles or the Cisco Kid character, and yet one of my prized possessions is a Cisco Kid tin whistle. I suppose a lot of my affection for this little trinket comes from the manner in which I acquired it. In the mid-1980s, my family started vacationing on a place called Beaver Island, a scenic but isolated tract of land located 32 miles off the coast of Northern Michigan. I'd estimate I was about 10 or 11 when we first started going there. Before then, most of the Blevins family vacations were to more obvious tourist spots like Mackinac Island and Cedar Point. Beaver Island is quite a departure from those. The appeal of the isle is that there's almost nothing there: just a few humble restaurants, residences, and small businesses. The rest? Beaches, forests, and unpaved roads. It's the kind of place you go to when your goal is do nothing in particular for a week or two. If you're so inclined, you can visit the Beaver Island Toy Museum while you're there. The fact that it looks like a private residence from the outside tells you a lot about the culture of the island. Inside, you'll find vintage dolls, model cars, and wind-up robots behind glass cases or suspended from the ceiling. But there are bins of stuff you can actually buy, too. That, as you may have already guessed by now, is where I acquired the Cisco Kid tin whistle. Like I said, I have no particular nostalgia for that character. A Mexican caballero first created by American writer O. Henry, the Kid appeared in multiple formats (film, TV, radio, comics) from the 1910s to the 1950s, returning briefly in a 1994 made-for-TV movie with Jimmy Smits. I have experienced little to none of this. But I still have the whistle, and it still (pretty much) works. I mainly use it as a bookmark these days. Lately, it's been saving my place in The Real Frank Zappa Book. Anyway, I have been't back to Beaver Island or the Toy Museum in well over 20 years. Wonder how (or if) the place has held up? In the meantime, I think I'll rekindle those fond childhood memories by listening to the one other bit of Cisco Kid-iana which has managed to breach my perimeters, namely the 1972 song by War. The lyrics apply manifestly to my life. The Cisco Kid really was and is a friend of mine.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Birthdays are still a thing, so I guess I'm having one.

This ritual happens each day across America and other countries where Facebook isn't blocked by the government.

This comment is about a creepy Dennis the Menace panel.
A congratulatory message from my insurance agent in my voicemail . An Amazon gift card from my sister in my e-mail inbox. A much-reused banner reading H-A-P-P-Y  B-I-R-T-H-D-A-Y stretched across my cubicle at work. The clues are all there. Doesn't take Mycroft Holmes to put 'em together. Another year went by, and I didn't die. And now, as a result, it is my birthday. Personally, the allure of birthdays wore off for me about twenty years ago, around the same time as the allure of Christmas. They were fun once; now they mean virtually nothing. You might think that a birthday is at least a chance to take stock of one's life. Nah. I'm too tired for that shit right now. I had to wake up at 5:30 this morning to get to work on time. I was filling in for my boss today, which meant there was no time for lunch or breaks. Just work, work, work, then leave. It's cold here in the suburbs of Chicago, 48 degrees currently, overcast, and drizzly. Not the kind of day which makes you wanna go out into the world and give life a great big bear hug. I think I'm gonna curl up on the couch and watch some of the shows that have accumulated on my DVR. It's Friday, so there should be new episodes of Married, Garfunkel & Oates, and Black Jesus from last night. Good shows all. By far, the best thing that happened to me today was that I was awarded Comment of the Week on Josh Fruhlinger's Comics Curmudgeon blog for my review of a rather disturbing Dennis the Menace panel. That's always an honor. In other news/life updates, I have booked my flight and my hotel and, barring the direct intervention of God (in whom I do not believe), I am headed to New York City to attend the last two days of the Ed Wood retrospective at the Anthology Film Archives in Manhattan. I'm genuinely excited about that. Or I would be if I weren't so cold and tired. What this situation requires is an episode of Black Jesus, some root beer, and a good night's rest. In the meantime, I'd like to leave you with a song I've been listening to a lot this week for some reason. Maybe it just came up randomly in shuffle mode and I got stuck on it. It's called "Leave My Kitten Alone," and it's a catchy little R&B number from 1959 by the great and tragic Little Willie John, who died in prison in 1968 at the age of 30. As of today, I'm nine years old than he ever got to be. Go figure, huh? "Kitten" has been famously covered by both the Beatles and Elvis Costello, but for my money, there's no beating the original. Give it a whirl, huh? If you promise to listen to this song even once, that's the best birthday present you could give me.

Monday, September 8, 2014

'Comic book movies' do not exist. Stop using that stupid, stupid term.

This is a scene from a movie, not a comic book.

Guardians of the Galaxy is the movie success story of both the summer and the year. I'll admit, I haven't gotten around to seeing it yet. (I know, I know. I'm the worst.) But the reviews and the word of mouth have both been excellent, and I've enjoyed previous Marvel movies in the past. I don't begrudge Guardians its box-office bonanza. My problem is that the film's commercial triumph has meant that I've had to endure a spate of articles and podcasts lately which use one of the dumbest cliches of pop culture criticism: the term "comic book movie." Guardians of the Galaxy is a movie based on characters and situations originally seen in comic books, so people are referring to it as a "comic book movie." This is, with all due respect, utter horseshit. Comics are a medium. Movies are another, separate medium. Calling Guardians a "comic book movie" is about as logical and helpful as referring to something as a "solid liquid," a "day night," or an "apple orange." If director James Gunn had taken an actual, printed issue of Guardians of the Galaxy and literally filmed its pages for 90 minutes, then it might almost make sense to call it a "comic book movie." But from what I've seen, he seems to have hired actors like Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana to, you know, say stuff out loud and move around. Like you would in a movie.

A  comic book movie?
Plenty of movies each year are based on text-only novels, yet we don't call these "novel movies," do we? Movies based on plays are not called "play movies." So why is Guardians of the Galaxy a "comic book movie?" I fear it's because people mistakenly think of comic books not as a medium but as a genre, and they feel that adding the descriptive "comic book" to the neutral word "movie" communicates something about a film's plot, characters, and tone. Now, it is true that the medium of comics has some longstanding relationships with a few specific genres, specifically superhero stories and so-called "funny animal" stories. And Guardians of the Galaxy (the movie) has elements of both of those genres. But those longstanding relationships I mentioned are not mutually exclusive by any means. There are plays and TV shows and even prose novels about both superheroes and funny animals. Moreover, comics can and have been used for a wide variety of purposes, far beyond superheroes and funny animals. Comics are an extremely versatile medium which can be used for any number of things: drama, comedy, action, romance history, surrealism, horror, biography, autobiography, education, etc. From Hell, 300, Ghost World, and Persepolis are among the movies based on comics, and yet we don't often refer to these titles as "comic book movies" because they don't fit the traditional "superhero"/"funny animal" mold. The rather silly term "graphic novel" is sometimes used to describe such works as Alison Bechdel's autobiographical Fun Home or Art Spiegelman's Maus simply because the public has a strong association between the perfectly good term "comic book" and images of super-powered musclemen flying around in tights or wisecracking mice who walk upright and speak English. Yes, comics can be used for these things -- and very effectively at that. But they can do so much more, and it's a mistake to confuse medium and genre.

For a brilliant and entertaining exploration of comics and their potential, please read Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics. In the meantime, at least stop saying "comic book movie." It makes you sound like a dumbass.

P.S. - "Video game movies" don't exist either. But you probably guessed that by now.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Is Stanley Kubrick selling Nissans from the Great Beyond?

Top: A banner ad for Nissan. Bottom: (left) the carpet from The Shining; (right) a scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The power was restored a little after eight this morning, and I immediately got back to the hard work of mindlessly bumming around the Internet in search of entertainment. One of my first stops, of course, was YouTube. And it was there I discovered an intriguing banner ad for the Nissan Altima. Apparently, they have some new model with what they're calling "zero gravity seats" or something, and their marketing wizards have cooked up a little animation involving a floating spaceman looking at various glowing information screens. I couldn't help but notice the resemblance between the ad and a couple of Stanley Kubrick movies. The astronaut himself (or herself; it's tough to tell under those suits) looks like something from 2001: A Space Odyssey, while the background pattern seems to resemble the carpeting from the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. I wonder if the homage was intentional. Look at the images above and draw your own conclusions.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Powering down: My harrowing struggle with temporary loss of wifi

This is pretty much what it's like in my apartment right now.

It rained very heavily for about 10 to 15 minutes early Friday afternoon in the town where I live, a mid-sized suburb north of Chicago. That was enough to knock out the power for several days. There's still no power there now. I'm writing this from my cubicle at work. I actually commuted into the city on a Saturday for the privilege of being somewhere with air conditioning, hot water, and Internet connectivity. I'll probably come back here tomorrow, too, because the power's not supposed to be back on at home until late Sunday or early Monday. Remember that Louis C.K. routine about how, because of our reliance on technology, we've all lost "the ability to just be yourself and not be doing something?" Well, that's where I'm living, baby. I live alone in a one-bedroom apartment. Without power, this place really sucks. I wish I could escape into Imagination Land or something and be happy just sitting on the couch doing nothing. Just existing. But I can't do it. I suck. Hey, even that kid from The Never-Ending Story needed a book, right? He didn't just sit there and think all that stuff up. See how I had to explain my situation in terms of pop culture references? That's how addicted to media and technology I am. I am as soft as a freshly-made eclair. Hell, it's probably a pretty nice day out there, and I'm inside blogging about my petty problems. Am I not aware that there's an outbreak of the Ebola virus right now? Yes. And that's happening to other people. People who aren't me. I feel badly that people are dying of Ebola, but that doesn't lessen the fact that I can't tweet for a couple of days or even watch a lousy DVD. I have Ed Wood movies to review!

Anyway, this is an opportunity to talk about some of my online ventures which readers of this blog may not know about. I don't think I've mentioned it here yet, so let me give a plug for a project called Both of Them, Mary Worth! I basically took this Mary Worth comic strip, mutated it in a bunch of ways, and made a Tumblr out of it. Here's a recent example, which took the form of a Psycho parody:

Wouldn't you scream under these circumstances, too?

Speaking of Tumblr, if you haven't checked out edwoodwednesdays.tumblr.com, you really ought to. I've put some extra stuff there that's not part of the regular "Ed Wood Wednesdays" series. Think of the Tumblr as being the special edition with unrated, value-added bonus features. I've been tweeting more often lately, too, so maybe you want to follow @Joe_A_Blevins.  I'll try to make it worth your while. And this is as good a time as any to point out some of my past, failed attempts to win YouTube: songs, monologues, impressions, you name it. Nothing really got any traction there, but (god bless me) I kept trying. An example follows:



I guess that's all I really have to say right now. God, I'm bored.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 47: 'Nympho Cycler' (1971)

Awesome poster or misleading representation of the movie it's supposed to be advertising? Can't it be both?

"It's not a big motorcycle, just a groovy little motorbike.
It's more fun than a barrel of monkeys, that two-wheel bike."

-The Hondells, "Little Honda"

"It's hard for me to get used to these changing times. I can remember when the air was clean and sex was dirty."
-George Burns


Heady times for Ed Wood.
Nineteen-seventy-one must have been a discombobulating year for Edward Davis Wood, Jr. Mired in an ever-worsening alcohol addiction and approaching 50 in a world that increasingly idolized and fetishized youth, Ed was adjusting as best he could under those unpromising circumstances to then-recent paradigm shifts in the entertainment business.

In such a fickle, volatile field, the brass ring tends to go to people who can either successfully predict where the industry is headed or those who can use their ingenuity and/or clout to change the industry's course, redirecting it the way a diversion dam changes the direction of a river. Instead of just "giving 'em what they want," the successful producer can give 'em what they're going to want or something they didn't even know they wanted.

But that's not how Ed Wood operated. Though the writer and director left his personal mark on nearly every movie and book he churned out over the course of his 30-year career and infused those works with his own peculiar fears and desires, he was neither particularly an innovator nor a tastemaker. The highly idiosyncratic and personal Glen or Glenda? (1953), his debut feature as a director, was an anomaly for Ed with its forward-thinking plea for transvestite tolerance and its combustible stylistic mix of woozy surrealism with sober documentary-style reportage.

Instead of making movies as difficult to categorize as Glenda, Eddie spent most of his filmmaking career trying to keep up with popular (or once-popular) trends and seemed to have a knack for showing up at parties just as they were breaking up. He had gotten into the motion picture game in 1948, for instance, with the intention of making the kind of simple, moralistic "cowboy movies" he had enjoyed as a child in Poughkeepsie, NY in the 1920s and 1930s. But by the late 1940s and early 1950s, these types of "white hat/black hat" films were already falling out of fashion and were being supplanted by "kiddie Westerns" on TV (cf. The Lone Ranger [1949-1957]), while theatrically-released Western features aimed for more thematic and stylistic sophistication (cf. the films of John Ford).

Still clinging to his dream of being the cut-rate Orson Welles, Ed's backup plan was to assay such crowd-pleasing and potentially lucrative genres as horror, science-fiction, and crime drama, which he did from 1954 to 1960. Even here, though, he was a man out of time, with plots and characters more suited to the Great Depression than the Fabulous Fifties and cast lists teeming with such past-their-prime performers as Bela Lugosi, Kenne Duncan, Lyle Talbot, Tom Keene, Johnny Carpenter, and Bud Osborne. Forget the future. Ed could barely keep up with the present.

Richard Nixon on Laugh-In.
The 1960s were, arguably, the most dramatic years of social and moral change in this young, dynamic country's history. By 1970, America barely resembled its innocent 1960 self. The nation had been transformed by political assassinations, large-scale riots, an unpopular foreign war, shifting tastes in music and fashion, and rapidly evolving opinions toward sex, drugs, and race. A seemingly irreparable schism had developed during this time between the young (the counterculture) and the old (the establishment). These bickering generations could not even agree what "entertainment" was, let alone what was "good," "bad," "acceptable," or "unacceptable." Hollywood didn't quite know what to do during all of this, but the suits knew there was money to be made from it.

One of the major showbiz trends of the decade was the attempt of the so-called establishment to capitalize upon, co-opt, and generally commercialize upon the counterculture in ways that simultaneously placated kids without offending their parents. Think The Monkees, Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, and Bob Hope in hippie drag. The 1968 presidential election of Richard Nixon, who had served as Vice President under Eisenhower in the 1950s and who memorably guest-starred on Laugh-In, can be interpreted as an attempt by the older and more conservative factions to restore America to its rigid, pre-JFK state of moral turpitude. The pendulum was swinging back to the right, so to speak.

Ironically, despite his unconventional lifestyle and the fact that he made his living from pornography, Ed Wood would probably have applauded this return to Eisenhower-esque values. In his books and scripts, Eddie demonstrated little to no affinity for the counterculture and likely longed to go back to the 1950s, the time when he was making the movies for which he is still best known.

One particularly thorny issue that divided the nation in the late 1960s and early 1970s was a basic one: Is sex dirty? America's young people said no, but their parents said, "Oh, yes it is!" President Nixon agreed with the moms and dads. He was famously appalled by the lenient stance on pornography taken by the Presidential Commission's report on obscenity and declared with characteristic humorlessness: "So long as I am in the White House, there will be no relaxation of the national effort to control and eliminate smut from our national life."

I thought about Nixon's words -- and the deeply unhealthy feelings behind them -- when I discovered this interesting and insightful quote from a Buzzfeed op-ed by Anne Helen Petersen about the recent Jennifer Lawrence nude photo leak: "Sex is only dirty when suppressed." By suppressing sex, Nixon was actually making it dirtier and inadvertently playing right into the hands of the pornographers of the era, who thrived on their audience's sense of guilt.

The members of the American counterculture were trying to remove the social stigma from sex and spread the message that it was simply a natural and normal part of human existence, nothing to be ashamed of. While they were doing this, sexually-explicit material was becoming an increasingly prominent part of the American way of life. But the so-called "smut racket" wasn't peddling its wares to the hippies. Hell, those freaks were giving it away! What did they need with movies or books when they were living it? Though these crazy kids may have been starring in porno films, they weren't necessarily the ones lining up to buy tickets to see these shows. The infamous report on obscenity made it clear that the audience for porn consisted mostly of middle-aged, middle-class white males -- the fathers of the counterculture kids. These were married men who had fought in WWII, held down respectable jobs, and sought refuge from their problems in booze rather than pot and acid.

In other words, these were Ed Wood's people. And it was for them, not the hippies, that he made this week's movie, a curious little biker film with plenty of female nudity and awkwardly-simulated sex. Though it evoked the counterculture, it was squarely aimed at the squares.

NYMPHO CYCLER(1971)

The opening titles of Ed Wood's Nympho Cycler starring the lovely Casey Larrain.

The brand new DVD.
Alternate titles: Misty [working title]

Availability: Thanks to the good people at Alpha Blue Archives, this movie is now easily available on DVD as part of the Lost Sex Films of Ed Wood series. Purchase it from Amazon or directly from Alpha Blue. In addition to the main feature, the disc contains three more Casey Larrain movies (Caught in the Can; Hedonist Hypnotist; and Scent of Love) along with an excerpt from the documentary Lovemaking USA, which repurposes some footage of Ed and Casey from Love Feast and adds some new narration.

Those wishing to see Nympho Cycler on the big screen will have the chance to do so on September 14, 2014 at 6:15 PM Eastern, when the film plays at Manhattan's Anthology Film Archive as part of a double bill with Necromania. This may well be Nympho Cycler's first theatrical engagement in over 40 years. In years past, Nympho Cycler was available in the UK as a Betmax tape through a company called Dapon, which seems to have specialized in adult films.

Additionally, Nympho Cycler will also be part of After Hours Cinema's upcoming release Ed Wood's Dirty Movies, which is due in November 2014.

The backstory: How does it happen, citizens? How does a movie allegedly made by Edward D. Wood, Jr. and undeniably featuring the man himself in full drag completely escape the attention of all the diligent, detail-oriented biographers and film historians in the world?

And yet that is precisely what happened to Nympho Cycler, a biker-themed softcore movie from 1971 that reunited Wood with his Love Feast co-star Casey Larrain. Originally released by a company called Valco Productions, which has no other movies to its name (at least none documented so far), this film has eluded all those who have lovingly chronicled Ed Wood's career. Rudolph Grey's Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr. does not even mention the movie once. Neither does Rob Craig's Ed Wood, Mad Genius: A Critical Study of the Films or David C. Hayes' Muddled Mind: The Complete Works of Edward D. Wood, Jr. Though Wood historian Philip R. Frey tells me he is in the process of revising and updating his site, The Hunt for Edward D. Wood, Jr., even this exhaustive online compendium did not contain even a single fleeting mention of Nympho Cycler previous to the film's recent DVD release.

So where did it come from? I decided to go right to the source and ask David Naylor, the owner of Alpha Blue Archives. Here is his reply:

The credits that so intrigued David Naylor.
I purchased a collection of about 200 adult feature films from the early 1970s to mid '70s from a Southern California film dealer in 2007. I did nothing with the collection until the winter of 2013 when I started to check the films for potential release. It was then I located prints of Nympho Cycler, Necromania and The Young Marrieds. I have more films from the collection to go through but don't expect to find any more Ed Wood films, but perhaps something with the name "Valco" will turn up or recognizable cast members from Nympho Cycler. It was the name "TV Edwards" in the beginning credits of Nympho Cycler that caught my eye and then Ed Wood's role in the film that keyed me in to the idea that this must be another of his lost productions. As well [as the fact] that there had already been two other Ed Wood films in the collection [with] Casey Larrain in the cast as well. I found no mention of the film anywhere but thought that this must be an Ed Wood production and prior to the DVD release added the listing to IMDb.
California girl Casey Larrain
Naylor is to be commended for successfully decoding Ed's pseudonym in the film's opening credits. "TV" is a common abbreviation for "transvestite," while "Edwards" is a subtle variation on Ed's own real first name. "TV Edwards" also bears a strong resemblance to such verified Wood aliases as "Dr. T.K. Peters," "N.V. Jason," and "T.G. Denver," not to mention the title of Ed's 1977 novel, TV Lust.

As for Ed's leading lady, like most in her profession, Casey Larrain went by a variety of monikers during her relatively brief but prolific film career, which seems to have lasted from 1969 to 1972. Apart from "Judy Brooks," a name she only used on Richard Robinson's Adultery for Fun and Profit (1971), her other screen names were variant spellings of the same basic handle. The Internet Adult Film Database has her as "Casey Lorraine," for instance, and the IMDb lists her as "Lorraine Casey" and "Kasey Lorrain," too. Ed Wood fans will know the comely, slim-bodied brunette from her role in Joe Robertson's Love Feast (1969) as Linda, the gullible lass whom Eddie's lecherous Mr. Murphy cons into modeling a line of "invisible clothing."

Larrain must have made a positive impression on Eddie, as he cast her in his own X-rated detective film, Take it Out in Trade in 1970. According to the scant biographical information I can dig up, the actress was born in Hollywood in September 1946 and currently lives in Chatsworth, a neighborhood in LA's San Fernando Valley. A California girl through and through, she attended Cal State and was most recently employed by a real estate company in Encino. Her show business days are long behind her now, and she appears to be living a quiet, peaceful life out of the spotlight. In that respect, she is doing far, far better than many other adult film stars of this era.

It is important to note that there is no factual evidence to corroborate the theory that Ed Wood personally directed Nympho Cycler. He certainly acts in it, and the script has all the earmarks of his work as well, but it is dubious (at best) that he was at the helm of this particular production.

One reader of this column, Joe Rubin, feels that legendary X-rated filmmaker Joseph F. Robertson (a pal of Ed's) is a more likely candidate for that position. Rubin points out that Robertson directed Love Feast, Lovemaking USA, Caught in the Can, and Tomatoes, all of which feature Casey Larrain. Interestingly, Caught in the Can may have been written by Wood, Rubin feels, as it features two men who dress like women and practice walking, talking, and acting in a feminine manner. Rubin further feels that the alleged 1971 release date is inaccurate as well and that the film more likely came out in 1970.

Meanwhile, faithful reader Douglas North (aka hifithepanda) has reminded me of the fact that Joe Robertson actually mentions working with Ed Wood on a film called Misty, which would be a logical alternate title for Nympho Cycler since that's the name of the main character. In Nightmare of Ecstasy, Robertson is quoted as saying: "In Misty, he was in a Jacuzzi and all dragged out." There is indeed such a scene on the Nypho Cycler DVD.

Furthermore, although the movie is missing from the filmography, Nightmare does contain a reference to Misty in the section entitled "Edward D. Wood, Jr.: A Chronology," a year-by-year timeline of Ed's career and life. To wit:
1969        Wood writes and stars in Joe Robertson's The Photographer, Misty (uncompleted) and Jacques Descent's Operation Redlight (from Wood's novel Mama's Diary).
This also clears up another recent mystery, i.e. why a recent New York Times story about Ed Wood referred to Nympho Cycler as "unfinished." Based on my viewing of the film, I'd say that the film could possibly be incomplete and yet seems to have achieved release anyway. We'll get into this later in the article, but there are definitely times where the movie skips a few vital plot points and tries to compensate for their absence with narration.

Man and wife: Ed Wood and Casey Larrain.
As for the movie itself, all we can glean about it is what's up there on the screen. Running just shy of an hour, Nympho Cycler tells the story -- or, more accurately, offers a sketchy portrait -- of Misty (Larrain), a twentysomething free spirit, occasional model, and motor enthusiast. Despite the title of this film, I wouldn't necessarily classify her chosen mode of transportation as a motorcycle. It's more of a motorbike, and several characters even refer to it as a "scooter."

Whatever the vehicle is called, she's first glimpsed riding it through the scenic, tree-lined Hollywood hills while wearing nothing but a black bikini, the top half of which she doffs after the opening credits when she approaches her attractive-looking home. Misty narrates Nympho Cycler and introduces herself to us with the following, unmistakably Wood-ian monologue:
Have you ever met a nymphomaniac? Well, allow me to introduce myself. I'm Misty. I get especially horny riding my bike. They call me "the nympho cycler." This is our little shack in the Hollywood hills. Actually, it's Francis Edwards' place. But we're married... uh, sort of. Sometimes, a dip in the sauna pool calms me down. Mostly, though, when I get my clothes off, I keep wishing some nude guy would be there with me. 
Soon, a fully nude Misty is enjoying the benefits of the sauna and is joined by that "sort of" husband of hers: a mincing transvestite named Francis Edwards, portrayed by Ed Wood himself, complete with a blonde wig, a knee-length dress, falsies, and a fuzzy green sweater. Despite the comical incongruity of their union -- a sexually insatiable young tigress shackled to a queeny, dilapidated, middle-aged sot -- the two seem to coexist peacefully.

It helps that Misty and Francis (whom she tellingly addresses as "Ed") regard each other with giggly amusement, as if neither can believe what an incorrigible goofball the other one is. They interact like a Bizarro World equivalent of Stiller & Meara. "Your taste in clothes is atrocious," she says, lifting the hem of his admittedly frumpy frock. "It's your slip, dear" is his retort. They even frolic in the water a little, though Francis refuses to remove his underpants.

Man at work: Ed gives Casey some direction.
A more troubling aspect of their relationship is soon revealed, however, as Misty tells us through additional voiceover narration that her husband is a successful pinup photographer and that she married him solely to further her career as a model. There is a remarkable scene in which Ed Wood bossily "directs" Casey Larrain through a photo shoot, and even if it's a fictional scenario, it still feels like getting a glimpse of the eccentric director at work. "Tired or not," he tells her, "you're gonna have to come across, look, if you wanna pose for me."

In addition to photographing Misty, Francis also pimps the poor girl out to his middle-aged friends and professional associates. ("I'm in show business, all right," she cracks. "In fact, I'm about to show my business, if you'll pardon the joke.") Being a nymphomaniac who "loves sex," Misty doesn't necessarily mind this arrangement, but it's clear that her heart isn't truly in it. As evidence of this, we in the audience endure an uncomfortable, phlegmatic scene in which she dully "entertains" one of these soft-dicked Lotharios to the strains of a syrupy instrumental version of Donovan's "Sunshine Superman." (Later in the film, we'll hear a Muzak version of "Some Velvet Morning" by Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra. Throughout, the film's groovy uncredited score really lends it the flavor of a bygone era.)

It should be noted that this and all other "love scenes" in the movie are strictly softcore. As in the movies of Stephen C. Apostolof, the put-upon performers in Nympho Cycler must arrange themselves in a variety of silly positions in order to obscure the fact that no one is actually penetrating or fellating anyone. And, naturally, Ed Wood has to point his camera carefully in order to maintain the illusion, too. In truth, the difference between hardcore and softcore is subtle sometimes. Like football, it can be "a game of inches."

Misty doesn't feel like going on any more of these prearranged "dates" set up by her husband, so she hops on her bike and hits the road. Now, on paper, this may sound like a Thelma & Louise-type act of rebellion by a fed-up wife; but in the movie, it plays more like a spur-of-the-minute decision on Misty's part with very little forethought or emotion behind it. Again, Wood tries to give Misty a little more complexity through the voice-over, with the audio giving us information that the video alone doesn't supply. "It always soothes me," she explains as she rides her bike down a winding road. "Well, soothes isn't exactly the word. The wind seems to blow away the cruddy sham of my phony marriage. The powerful machine between my legs, I can make it go where I want when I want."

From this point onward, Nympho Cycler is mainly a series of vignettes in which Misty meets and casually fucks attractive strangers. First is a pair of lesbians who pick our heroine up after her motorbike runs out of gas. (Some original setup, eh?) They waste precious little time in divesting our heroine of her duds as they take her back to their pad and give her (gasp!) a joint as a prelude to lovemaking. Ed seems uncharacteristically squeamish about the depiction of Sapphic love, and the all-girl three-way is shown through a series of rapid-fire close-ups through a reddish-orange filter.

Mystery date: Carl the Sailor Man
After this bit of fun, the lesbians return Misty to her bike with a full can of gas. Is she grateful? Not exactly. "They wanted me to stay with them, but I was frustrated and, very frankly, needed a man. After I changed my clothes again, I went on the prowl." This narration, again demonstrating Ed Wood's unease with lesbianism, is necessary because Casey Larrain has indeed traded her customary sundress for a pullover and slacks, even though Misty apparently brought no luggage with her on her trip.

In any event, the young lady's next dalliance is with Carl, a grinning Norwegian sailor with a bald pate, muscled arms, goateed chin, and ever-present knit hat. When she first spots him, the Nordic seaman is astride a real motorcycle, a powerful-looking machine that makes a convenient metaphor for his sexual potency. And Misty takes the hint! Just a few minutes after their first encounter, Misty and Carl decide to pull over to the side of the road for some open-air fornication. "What's your name? Just for the record," she asks him before they engage in sexual intercourse by the freeway.

Barely taking time to savor the afterglow of amour, Carl and Misty then decide to ride with a co-ed biker gang for a while. This leads, predictably, to a nighttime fireside orgy replete with fuzz guitar music and lots of enthusiastic thrusting by all involved parties. The fellows in this motorcycle gang look suspiciously clean-cut, in my opinion, but a few of them do wear grungy ponchos.

After the biker sequence eats away a few precious minutes of screen time, we are treated to a montage in which Misty and her new temporary beau go sight-seeing in Hollywood, including glimpses of such recognizable landmarks as the Capitol Records Building, Grauman's Chinese (now TCL Chinese Theatres), and the market on Olvera Street, where a sombrero-wearing shopkeeper (seemingly not an actor) scolds Misty and Carl for climbing on his stall.

A skeevy-looking scoundrel.
Many Ed Wood movies take what I would call "unsignaled left turns" in their final stages, and that is precisely what happens with Nympho Cycler. As Carl and Misty romp through Tinseltown, they are unaware that they are being watched by a balding, skeevy fellow whose long, thin face is framed by a ratty-looking beard. He watches them with an unnerving intensity, but Misty is too focused on the pigeons and drinking fountains to notice. And the Norwegian sailor is too fixated upon his companion. This, sadly, spells disaster for them both.

"Going through an alley," Misty explains on the soundtrack, "three guys jumped on Carl. They started beating him. They must have been hired by my husband. It was terrible." In the movie's only real "action" scene, we see three punks working Carl over with a length of chain. Ed Wood actually splurged and got some credible-looking stage blood for this. As the sailor is left bruised and bleeding in an alley, the thugs take Misty off to be raped.

None of this is in keeping with anything we've seen before in the movie. Francis was exacting as a photographer, but he certainly didn't seem like the jealous type. He even told Misty point blank that he didn't care what she did on her own time, and it seems like her unscheduled motorbike excursions were common events. The idea that he would hire three goons to terrorize her is far-fetched to say the least. Furthermore, in a movie that is otherwise devoted to the joyous exploits of a sexually voracious young woman, why spoil the mood with a downbeat sequence in which she is humiliated and punished?

Perhaps this plot twist is included to appease the men in the audience who might be uncomfortable with the idea of a woman defying her powerful husband and finding sexual fulfillment in the arms of another man. Having Misty raped by one of Francis' hired hands is a way of "putting her in her place." That's an ugly sentiment, I realize, but it expresses the tenor of the times in which this movie was made.

Once again, however, there is a severe disconnection between the audio and the video. The narration tells us that the strange man is raping Misty, but the actors do not seem to have been informed of this and play the scene quite gently. To explain the rapist's suspiciously delicate manner, Misty says: "This last guy must have been some kind of a fruit or something. He nibbled around, trying to have sex. It seemed to go on forever." It almost seems like the director filmed a consensual sex scene with some very light bondage play, then realized how dull it was and tried to impose a different narrative, that of a rape, on the footage through Casey Larrain's voiceover. Misty's escape from the men is not documented. All she tells us is that she "finally got away." How? We never find out.

In the finale, a barely-worse-for-wear Carl and Misty are happily reunited, just as it's time for the beaming sailor to board a train for San Diego. ("The hospital patched him up pretty good," Misty tells us. "I wonder if they got his hat off.") The movie makes strong use of location footage throughout its entire running time, and true to form, the last scenes of Nympho Cycler take place at Los Angeles' striking Union Station. (This Depression-era building has also been depicted in such films as Blade Runner, Silver Streak, Pearl Harbor, and The Way We Were.) As she watches Carl depart from her life, perhaps forever, Misty is philosophical:
He's the only guy of the whole bunch I'd like to ball again. Must be because he's the only one I picked out for myself. I wonder if we'll ever meet again. With my luck, he's probably got a wife in Norway.
These are Misty's final lines in the movie. The last we see her, she is standing alone on the platform next to the train tracks, looking absolutely forlorn. This is as close as you'll come in the Ed Wood canon to the last scene from Anna Karenina. 

Although it's unfortunate that a character as fun-loving and full of life as Misty ends the movie on such a down note, the finale at least treats her with sympathy and stresses the importance of letting women make their own sexual choices. One cannot help but wonder what is next for this young lady. Obviously, she is not going to return to Francis. Or is she?

The literary progenitor of this film?
The viewing experience: Quintessential Ed Wood. There is no point in claiming that Nympho Cycler is a hidden gem or that it's "good" in any traditional, film critic-y sense of that word. It isn't.

From a storytelling standpoint, it barely coheres into a unified whole. The ragged plot, thin as it is, relies heavily on Casey Larrain's narration to smooth over many narrative rough patches. As in Crossroads of Laredo (1948), Ed's first-ever filmic venture, the existent footage alone is not sufficient to tell the tale, so the soundtrack has to work overtime to compensate.

 Aesthetically speaking, Nympho Cycler is club-footed and tin-eared. The production is haphazardly photographed, sloppily edited, and lurchingly paced. The dialogue, as is common to the movies of Ed Wood, strangely feels as though it has been translated inexpertly from another language. The plot may as well have been constructed through one of those party games in which someone starts a story and then hands it off to the next person to continue. Why else would there be such a tonally discordant third act that clashed so violently with the rest of the movie?

This, though, is the soul of Ed Wood. I keep having to resort to terms like "dreamy" and "dream logic" to describe many of the films in this project, because that's truly how Ed's movies feel to me. Events flow into and out of one another but without the strict cause-and-effect relationship we expect from "normal" movies.

In a way, then, Nympho Cycler is vaguely reminiscent of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking Glass (1871) with Casey Larrain as Alice and Ed Wood as a combination of the Mad Hatter and the Queen of Hearts. By the way, before I conclude this article, I cannot properly convey to you the experience of watching Nympho Cycler without sharing its indelible, organ-drenched theme song, which both opens and closes the film. Here, then, is that piece of music.



Sung from the perspective of (but not sung by) the movie's main character, "They Call Me Misty" offers some insight into the mindset of a deeply confused woman who is clearly dissatisfied with her lot in life and yet cannot break out of her self-destructive habits. The world defines her as an erotic plaything, essentially a sentient sex toy with little value as a person, and she has begrudgingly accepted that definition. And yet she seems to yearn for some other, more satisfying life. Reliant on clumsy rhymes and tortured syntax, the theme from Nympho Cycler invites easy dismissal as mere doggerel. And yet, when considered in isolation, there is something naively poignant and sadly desperate about it. Though I doubt Ed Wood had any hand in its creation, the song nevertheless seems to channel the spirit of both the man and his filmography:

They call me Misty, all those who kiss me. 
Though they abuse me, they always choose me. 
Sometimes I wonder what fate I'm under.
Dreams torn asunder. My life's a blunder.
I always cry, "Say goodbye to all that's wrong! Sin be gone!"
Though I try, here am I with Satan's song.
Come, dear, and kiss me. How sweet can bliss be? 
You'll love it with me so don't resist me. 
Come to your Misty.

Thanks to Scott Huntley on Facebook for helping me discern the lyrics of this song, Joe Rubin and Douglas North for filling me in on some vital historical data, and Alpha Blue Archives' David Naylor for supplying some background on his company's release of Nympho Cycler.
In two weeks: "Start spreadin' the news! I'm leavin'... well, not today but soon." Friends, the time has come for Ed Wood Wednesdays to go on its first-ever field trip into the great wide world in search of knowledge and enlightenment. As regular readers of this column will know, the Anthology Film Archive in New York City is holding an extensive, week-long Ed Wood film festival between September 11 and September 18. 
Though I cannot be there for the entire event due to other responsibilities, I felt I owed it to myself as an American to see at least some of this unprecedented event. And so, in that spirit, I have decided to make the great trek Eastward. By this time in a fortnight, if everything goes according to Hoyle, I will be in the city that never sleeps. I don't know if I'm going to file any reports from there or not. I guess you'll just have to wait and see.