Saturday, June 27, 2015

Some Ed Wood fan art: Duke Moore in 'Night of the Ghouls'

Some rare Duke Moore fan art.

Originally, I had planned to do more original fan artwork to accompany my Ed Wood Wednesdays pieces, but it never panned out that way. I do, however, have this one attempt at a moody, black-and-white portrait of Duke Moore as he appeared in Final Curtain and Night of the Ghouls. It's the same footage in both movies, so you can decide whether this is Curtain Moore or Ghouls Moore. There's just something about Moore I like, and I tried to capture that here. Enjoy.

Ed Wood extra! 'Chiller Theatre' (1965) and 'Oh! Those Bells' (1962)

Vampira and Dr. Tom Mason in the intro for WPIX's legendary Chiller Theatre.

If you don't mind, I'd like to share with you some Ed Wood-related TV treasures from the early 1960s. The first dates back to 1965 -- a half-century ago.

While Eddie was toiling on Orgy of the Dead, clips of his 1959 epic Plan 9 from Outer Space featuring Vampira and Dr. Tom Mason were being used in the opening montage of the legendary Chiller Theatre on New York's Channel 11 WPIX, an independent station, along with snippets from The Cyclops and Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. WPIX had been running horror movies under the Chiller Theatre banner since 1961, but the Wood-centric opening did not turn up until 1965, coinciding with the departure of host Zacherly "The Cool Ghoul."

WPIX had a strong signal and was well-known in those days to viewers throughout the so-called "tri-state area," encompassing New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. It is conceivable, then, that Chiller Theater had a major impact on the baby boomers who grew up in that area of the country, introducing them to the joys and terrors of horror films. The Saturday night show might have scarred some kids for life.

One such victim/beneficiary was New Jersey-born writer Rob Craig, who grew up to be the author of the exhaustive study Ed Wood, Mad Genius: A Critical Look at the Films. In an extensive interview included in the newly-published The Cinematic Misadventures of Ed Wood, Craig talks at great length about the Chiller Theatre intro and the impact it had on his life. He began watching the WPIX show when he was eight years old and became entranced with it. "Like any self-respecting baby boomer," he said, "I was completely enamored of monster movies." The Chiller Theatre intro became such an object of fascination for Craig that, fifty years later, he could easily rattle off all the movies quoted within it.

But one particular excerpt stood out among the rest, as Craig explained to the Cinematic Misadventures authors:
"However, the one clip which really resonated with me -- and which I would not identify for many years -- was a very strange scene showing a sexy young woman with a tight black dress, long black hair, heavy makeup, and long dark fingernails. This sexy/creepy monster woman was walking towards the camera in a menacing way, with a deranged grimace on her face. Now, to an eight-year-old monster movie buff -- it may sound funny to say now -- but I found that clip extremely creepy. The woman's grimace indicated some sort of madness or evil which really unnerved me. It was an interesting combination, I think, of sex and horror."
You can probably guess the rest of the story: Rob Craig finally saw Plan 9 from Outer Space years later and had an epiphany when he finally recognized the mystery woman who had been haunting his dreams since childhood. Watching the intro, which was retired in the late 1960s, I can definitely see why the WPIX show affected Craig so strongly. The Plan 9 clips are right at the beginning of the montage -- unmissable, unmistakable.

Removed from its original context, the footage is genuinely unsettling and provocative all at once. It's darker and grainier than the current DVD version, which makes it a little more sinister. Furthermore, WPIX has added its own bombastic library music to the montage, underlining the sense of dread. Perhaps most importantly, the Plan 9 footage only lasts three seconds. A shot of Vampira standing still in the graveyard. A shot of Tom Mason standing still in (apparently) the same graveyard. Then back to Vampira, who approaches the camera with her arms out in front, as if she's reaching for the viewer directly through the TV screen. There's no time to process any of this. It's almost subliminal. Did I just see that?

Here, more so than in the full-length movie, the ersatz Dracula is as scary as the real thing. It really helps when you don't get a good look at him. And Vampira is sex and death made flesh, Eros and Thanatos in one body. The viewer is simultaneously attracted and repelled. I want to fuck her! She's going to kill me! So many conflicting thoughts, so little time.




Ed Wood's favorite show?
The second clip for today is the intro from a very obscure, extremely short-lived sitcom called Oh! Those Bells, which ran on CBS from March 8, 1962 to May 31, 1962. According to The Complete Directory of Prime Time Network TV Shows 1946-Present by Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh: "This series was a loosely structured attempt to bring contemporary slapstick humor to television. The Wiere Brothers, an internationally known trio of slapstick comedians, portrayed the last living members of a family with a long history as theatrical prop, costume, and wig makers."

Veterans of the vaudeville circuit, the three Weire boys -- Herbie, Harry, and Sylvester, all born in Germany and Austria-Hungary in the early 1900s -- had a long-running, free-wheeling comedy and music act which kept them afloat for decades in show business. The Pathe newsreel cameras captured their onstage antics a few times in the 1930s in films which still exist today. The boys started appearing in feature films in the late 1940s, working with stars as diverse as Roy Rogers and Bob Hope, before moving into television in the 1950s and 1960s, where they turned up on The Merv Griffin Show and Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In. The anarchic act came to an abrupt, sad end with the death of the youngest brother, Sylvester, at the age of 60 in 1970. Perennial guest stars, the Weire Brothers were perhaps too aggressively madcap to be the main attraction in any TV series or film. Oh! Those Bells was their one big shot at stardom, and it lasted a mere thirteen low-rated weeks.

The show's creator, Jules White, was famous for having directed dozens of Three Stooges shorts at Columbia. I guess he thought he'd try his luck with another knockabout trio. Eh, they can't all be winners. Oh! Those Bells, in fact, did garner comparisons to the Stooges, some positive and some negative. Brooks and Marsh again: "When things started to go wrong, their world looked like it had been taken over by The Three Stooges in their prime" But in their book Harry and Wally's Favorite TV Shows, critics Harry Castleman and Walter J. Podrazik declare: "Oh! Those Bells shows that slapstick died for a reason: It comes across as awfully stupid on TV. Watch an old Three Stooges short instead." Ouch.

Unsuccessful as it may have been, Oh! Those Bells did have at least one major fan: Edward Davis Wood, Jr., as always the patron saint of show business underdogs. Eddie would have needed all the laughs he could get by 1962. That was one of his relatively fallow periods. His last theatrically-released motion picture, The Sinister Urge, had been in the can for two years by then. His most recent directorial efforts were the top-secret industrial films he made for Autonetics Aviation. His screenwriting gigs on Shotgun Wedding and Orgy of the Dead were still in the future, as was his backup career has an author of cheap paperbacks. I can just imagine poor Ed in 1962, sitting in front of the TV and waiting in vain for the phone to ring... if he even had a phone.

Oh! Those Bells must have struck Ed's fancy, because he wrote about it affectionately in Hollywood Rat Race, circa 1965. A chapter boldly titled "Sex -- Hollywood and You" begins with these words:
"What makes an actor or actress? I can't define the magic of acting with any facts or logic. I do know, as do most of you, that if something happens on the screen that I like, then I like it, if it's an actor or actress, then I like him or her. (I liked the television series The Bell Brothers starring the Bell Brothers, but it seemed few others liked it -- the ratings shooed them off the air. Does that make them any less talented as actors? I wouldn't think so, their nightclub dates are at an all-time high.)"
Eddie, though well-meaning, has his facts slightly scrambled. The show was actually called Oh! Those Bells, not The Bell Brothers. The real-life Wiere Brothers portrayed the fictional Bell Brothers on the show. It is true, however, that the Wieres remained a popular live attraction throughout the 1960s, even if they weren't able to translate that popularity to steady TV success.

But now, dear readers, pretend that you are Ed Wood in the spring of 1962. It's Thursday night, you've just done an uncredited script polish on Married Too Young, and it's time to kick back and watch the ol' tube, most likely with a glass of Imperial Whiskey in your hand. You tune to KNXT Channel 2 (the CBS affiliate in Los Angeles at the time), adjust the rabbit ears, give the cabinet a few whacks for luck, and wait for your favorite new show to flicker into view. And here is what awaits you:



Ed Wood's affection for Oh! Those Bells is instructive to the aspiring Wood-ologist. A person's television-viewing habits say a lot about him. You are what you watch. As an experienced stage actor and playwright, Ed likely would have appreciated Bells' theatrical setting. And the focus on wigs, costumes, and props would have been a selling point, too. (Wood rhapsodizes over these things in his short story "Final Curtain.")

But more importantly, this little biographical detail gives you an idea of what Ed found funny. From the antics of Paul Marco's bumbling Kelton the Cop in Wood's '50s films to the Bazooka Joe-worthy groaners in One Million AC/DC, it's clear that Ed Wood had a taste for low comedy. He liked his jokes corny, obvious, and old-fashioned. No wonder the Wiere Brothers suited him to a T. This is a sticking point for some viewers. Both Ed Wood, Mad Genius and The Cinematic Misadventures of Ed Wood gripe about Eddie's attempts at cornball comedy. I don't mind it, personally. I even find it kind of sweet, because it attests to Eddie's inner sincerity and naivete.

Since that Oh! Those Bells intro up there is rather brief, I thought I'd include the following clip to show you more of the Wieres' vaunted nightclub routine. Here, then, are the Wiere Brothers performing in the late 1960s on a Jerry Lewis TV special. A very tan, tuxedo-clad Jerry describes them as "three men who follow in the great tradition of the Marx Brothers, the Ritz Brothers, and the Smith Brothers." Lewis obviously had some lingering respect for the Wieres, because he cast middle brother Herbie Wiere in his film Cracking Up in 1983. That was the last major public appearance of any of the Weire Brothers. Sylvester, of course, was long gone by then. The eldest of the trio, Harry, died in 1992. Herbie followed in 1999. And that, as they say, was that.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 62: 'Swedish Erotica' (ca. 1973)

Standard logo for the Swedish Erotica loops of the 1970s.

Jinny: Would you like a beer? 
Howie: I'd like something else. 
Jinny: Now what in the world could that be? 
Howie: I'll show you. 
-subtitled dialogue from "The Virgin Next Door (Part One)"
Hindenburg over the Hudson: Early inspiration for Ed.
There's a common element in nearly every biography of a famous filmmaker of the 20th century, from Grade-Z schlockmeisters to Hollywood royalty: the story of getting that all-important first home movie camera. From those old, hand-wound 8mm jobs right up through VHS camcorders, the story is always pretty much the same. A kid would get ahold of one of those magical devices, and synapses would start firing in his brain. He'd get ideas. "That could be my movie playing at the local movie house," he'd think. And pretty soon, he'd start rounding up the neighborhood kids to start acting in his little pint-sized Westerns and war pictures, shot on location in the backyard.

In his 1998 book The Big Lebowski: The Making of a Coen Brothers Film, writer William Preston Robertson devotes several amusing pages to the early filmmaking experiments of Joel and Ethan Coen, two siblings who grew up in the suburbs of Minneapolis in the late 1960s. Joel, the elder Coen, decided that he and his brother should mow lawns and use the proceeds to buy a Super 8mm home movie camera and film stock. Eventually, the plan succeeded, and the Coen boys did actually purchase a Vivitar camera and some film. The historic purchase did not immediately yield cinematic greatness, as Robertson details:
"Their earliest explorations were, to be sure, uninspired, if not disgracefully lazy. Setting the movie camera up in front of the television, they simply let it run -- filming, at least in part, a Raymond Burr jungle movie. It was an act of artistic lethargy that shamed even the boys, and they soon carted the Vivitar outdoors to see what might be worth filming there."
Eventually, the Coen boys did become more ambitious with their Super 8 extravaganzas, especially once they'd found a neighborhood star their own age, one Mark "Zeimers" Zimering (later an endocrinologist in East Orange, NJ), and crafted around him such homemade epics as Zeimers in Zambia and Ed... A Dog, their surreal update of 1943's Lassie Come Home. This era of the brothers' lives culminated in what Robertson deems their "pinnacle": a surrealist mini-epic entitled The Banana Film.

A Kodak ad from 1934.
Though he started nearly four decades previously and half a country away, Ed Wood's origin story was not too different from that of the Coens, minus the dogs and bananas. Edward Davis Wood, Jr.'s earliest films in his native Poughkeepsie were just as humble as what young Joel and Ethan were doing in the suburbs of Minneapolis.

In one of those fortune-shifting accidents of history, Ed Wood happened to be born during an era when affordable home movie cameras were first being made widely available to the general public. Though little Eddie did hold down several jobs in his hometown as a youth, the fateful movie camera that changed his life—ultimately for the worse, it sadly seems—was a gift from his postal worker father. In his 1994 Ed Wood-based musical, The Worst!, singer-songwriter Josh Alan Freeman attributes the cinematic gift to Ed's mother Lilian instead. The camera and young Eddie's obsession with it form the basis for a plaintive song called "Kodak City Special." Sample lyrics: "Look at me, Ma! I've got a camera! What in the world have you given your son? Let us pray!"

Several interviewees in Rudolph Grey's Nightmare of Ecstasy speak with a certain amount of knowledge about Eddie's primordial work. A witness named Fred Robertson, seemingly a friend of Ed's father and quoted nowhere else in the book, makes this tantalizing statement:
"Years ago I had some of Ed Jr.'s films, 100 foot, 16mm, that he took himself. Scenes of him playing G-man with cap pistols, black and white, the typical thing that a kid would have taken -- a couple of guys playing cops and robbers, just clowning around, about four minutes."
Meanwhile, Kathy Wood, Ed's wife of twenty-plus years and perhaps the person who knew this unknowable man best, shared the following info with Grey:
"His dad bought him this movie camera ... and the Hindenburg was coming down the Hudson, on the course where it crashed in New Jersey and went up in flames ... and Eddie filmed it, he said it was thrilling, exciting, he was so proud that he shot it before it crashed. He was always so proud of that. [...] Ed would stage plays in his backyard, all the neighborhood kids would join in, he would stage them, write little stories and then film them. He was always filming things ... and that's all he wanted to do from the time he was four or five. He'd run around taking pictures. That's all he wanted to do."
Kathy's account gives you some insight into the life and mind of Edward D. Wood, Jr. Simply put, the boy was camera-crazy. He never got over that gift from his dad. It must have seemed like magic. But he was hardly unique in that respect. The "my first camera" story appears in many directors' biographies. I doubt, though, that such tales will crop up in the life stories of future filmmakers, who won't actually be using film in their endeavors. In the age of YouTube and the iPhone, the humble yet all-important camera has utterly lost its mystique. So, too, has the moving imag. It's now a magic trick anyone with a smartphone can accomplish.

I'm dredging all this up because, this week, we are discussing perhaps Eddie's least prestigious work: the pornographic, hardcore loops he made in the early 1970s under the auspices of producer Noel Bloom. By this point in his life, Ed was making his extremely meager living from a typewriter, not a camera. His only steady, reliable source of income during those dark years was Noel's dad Bernie Bloom at Pendulum Publishing, for whom Ed wrote novels, short stories, non-fiction articles, all manner of pseudo sex manuals and tawdry textbooks. Kathy Wood was fine with this arrangement. Money's money, after all. But Eddie couldn't deny his first love, cinema, and was determined to stay in the motion picture game in any way he possibly could, no matter how lowly the assignment.

That's a constant theme throughout Eddie's thirty-year tenure in Los Angeles. When he couldn't get a feature film going, he'd do what he considered "the next best thing" or "the next best thing to the next best thing," be it commercials for Wesson Oil and Pyequick, unsuccessful Western and horror pilots, bone-dry industrial films for Autonetics Aviation, local TV programs like Criswell Presents and The Sam Yorty Show, and even sports shows—the latter despite Ed's seeming lack of interest in athletics. Anything that would keep him behind a camera. As Ed Wood worked his way down the Hollywood ladder, from horror and sci-fi to to nudie cuties to outright porn, the "next best thing" gigs he took between pictures also declined in prestige.

Which brings us to...

Swedish Erotica (circa 1973)

Linda McDowell greets John Holmes in this bleeped scene from "The Virgin Next Door."

An online directory of porn loops.
Alternate titles: None that I know of, but this is a tricky issue. These films are known collectively as Swedish Erotica, but the individual loops within the series are known by their own individual titles as well, like episodes of a sitcom. A thorough catalog of Swedish Erotica loops is available here. You might find these films posted online under their individual titles, such as "The Virgin Next Door" or "Behind the Ate Ball."

Availability: As of this writing, I am not aware of any official DVD, VHS, BluRay, or digital releases of Ed Wood's Swedish Erotica films. But several, including some of the ones I'm discussing in this article, have been posted to adult sites like Porn HubX Videos, and X Hamster. Additionally, there is an entire, now-dormant blog devoted to Swedish Erotica and additional SE content posted to a blog called Retro Loops. So the material is definitely out there. As for how to get it, take your pick. And if there are, in fact, commercial releases of Ed's Swedish Erotica films, please let me know about them. I'd love to be able to link to them.

The backstory: Okay, here is what we know for sure. Edward D. Wood, Jr. most certainly worked on short, silent, basically non-narrative pornographic films called "loops" for an undisclosed period in the early 1970s. But just which films he made, when he made them, and where to find them today is up for debate. We'll have to tread lightly this time, dear readers. Here is what Rudolph Grey's Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr., still the closest thing we have to a definitive biography, has to say about the topic:
"Wood made an unspecified number of hardcore, 12-minute films in the 1970s for Swedish Erotica. Inasmuch as these films are uncredited, Wood's output in this area is unlikely to be documented. Some of the films he may have directed: Massage Parlour; Girl Friday; The Jailer."
Not terribly promising, I know, especially the "unspecified," "uncredited" and "unlikely to be documented" parts. That's a lot of "un"s in one place. But hold on, readers! Another Wood historian, Philip R. Frey, is on the case, and he has a page from his Hunt for Ed Wood site devoted to the Swedish Erotica films, too. There, he lists 19 titles that Ed Wood "apparently wrote and directed" for the long-running series. Frey's list corresponds to a catalog of Swedish Erotica films at a surprisingly clinical Dutch website called the Adult Loop Database (hereafter, ALDb). These 19 films would be the first of over 500 made under the Swedish Erotica banner from 1973 to 1984, meaning that a venerable porn institution began with Ed Wood himself at the helm.

The ALDb lists no Swedish Erotica films with the titles Rudolph Grey describes. Frey speculates that these films might belong to another series of pornographic loops called Cinema Classics, on which Ed also toiled in the early 1970s. I searched through the database of loops and found no titles, under any series, called The Jailer, and while there were several loops set in massage parlors, I couldn't find any actually called Massage Parlour (or Massage Parlor, for that matter). Meanwhile, Girl Friday is the name of a genuine loop from 1970, but it was made in London, England by the Mayfair Film Society and has no connection whatsoever to Ed Wood.

John Holmes in "Big John Part I."
Here, then, is a list of the first nineteen Swedish Erotica films, the ones supposedly directed by Edward D. Wood, Jr. The ones marked with asterisks are linked to online streaming videos you can watch for free. The others link to vintage advertisements from a mail-order catalog. The hyperbolic, panting plot descriptions below come directly from those advertisements as well. Along with some purple prose, these advertising blurbs give you some idea as to the content of the loops. The casting information comes from the ALDb.

  • The Virgin Next Door (Part One)* - Starring John Holmes and Linda McDowell. "Howie has a thing going for him. He's bored a hole in the wall so he can see into the next apartment ... the apartment of a luscious, vivacious broad ... he likes to watch her undress and jerk off at the same time ... but then he becomes brave enough to visit her ... finds she is a virgin, but willing to try sex with him ... and here he teaches her all he knows with his vast resources of experience ... she takes everything to her head."
  • The Virgin Next Door (Part Two) - Starring John Holmes and Linda McDowell. "The girl, Jinny, has much to learn, and through her virgin attributes Howie is right there to eat her pussy, get her completely turned on, and to show her what else to expect from the sexual world.... She finally learns many of the techniques and devises a few of her own ... and the entire blow off of this twenty-two minute film is the cum scene whereby she uses the cum to wash her own body."
  • School Girl - Cast unknown. "While at the school library, Janice picks up her book and on the way out she meets one of her classmates. After they sit in the park, they decide to go to her apartment to do her homework. She learns more about sexology than she could ever learn at school. See these school kids in all their perverted ways in this film."
  • Western Lust* - Cast unknown. "Duke, watching this voluptuous redhead from the underbrush sneaks up on her and pulls out his weapon and forces her to his shack. At the shack, perversion and lust take over. Put this reel on your projector and see it all."
  • Love-Mates - Cast unknown. "A beautiful woman desires sweetness and tenderness in her lovemaking but lust and passion take over. Look on as she is discovered in her bath and her encounter with her love-mate. This is a film you will want to see over and over again."
  • Wet & Wild - Cast unknown. "Picture Joyce and yourself meeting and going back to her apartment together. Once there, you boy enjoy the lust and savagery that sex can offer. This is an overwhelming and exciting film you will never forget."
  • Park Lovers - Starring John Holmes. "While at the zoo, Debby meets more than she can handle. After looking at the animals her new acquaintance takes her to his apartment where animal lust swings all the way. Unknown to her, he likes it one way; and that is bottoms up."
  • Girl on a Bike* - Cast unknown. "Tina Loves riding her bike after class. Meeting new people is her thing, so hop on while she shows you what love and sex is all about. Leaving nothing to the imagination, this spicy film is a must for your collection."
  • Lusty Neighbor - Starring Cyndee Summers. "Bill, driven by forces he could not resist, goes over to his neighbor's house for a drink. Tantalized by the idea of her in the shower, he cannot control his desires. When Audrey comes down and he sees her beautiful body, it excites him to the point of no return."
  • Hollywood Starlet - Starring John Holmes. A sequel to Park Lovers. "After their meeting at the zoo last week, Debbie is anxious for another date, this time at her home and on her terms, which is to be stripped and made love to slowly and with tender loving care. One of the great action films of all time."
"Two Hot to Handle"
  • Morning Walk - Starring Luther Worth. "After giving her dog a good brushing, Ginger takes it for a morning walk. While out, she meets Mike and Sharon, who are out for a drive and invites them to her house for a visit. Once in the house, all Mike and Sharon have on their mind is to take advantage of Ginger anyway they can. This is a fantastic film and a must to the connoisseur."
  • Big John Part I - Starring John Holmes and Barbara Barton. "This is a top-notch movie where a poolman interrupts a beautiful starlet while she is taking her morning swim. The footage on this film will hold you captive until the very last frame. If you liked Part I, you'll love Part II.
  • Big John Part II - Starring John Holmes and Barbara Barton. "Part II picks up where part one leaves off. While still swimming in the morning sun, flesh and fury erupt. Look in while John and Bridget leave nothing to the imagination in this exotic film. Bright and clear close-ups make this film a winner."
  • Devil Cult - Cast unknown. "Devil cultist Peolzig captures this young virgin and while she is at the altar, her flesh is taken with lust. She was given a potion which sends her into the depths of passion where there are no bounds to the imagination. This film is a must to add to your collection."
  • Behind the Ate Ball Part I*  - Starring John Holmes and Barbara Barton. "Roger brings his naive girlfriend to his house to play a game of pool, but pool isn't the game he really has on his mind. The action is so hot and torrid, you'll need to fan your screen. This film is a must for those who love indoor sports."
  • Behind the Ate Ball Part II - Starring John Holmes and Barbara Barton. "After the game of pool, there is no place to go but into the room of mirrors where all acts are viewed from all angles. Watch her tease his big cue, and rake her fingers over his body. See this young girl ravished, and ohhhh, how she loves it."
  • 15" Commercial - Starring John Holmes and Cyndee Summers. "When Vicky & Tom turn on the TV, they find it is out of order. So Tom decides to turn on Vicky with his 15-inch commercial. Watch these two people as they satisfy their innermost needs. Watch as she goes wild after she sucks down on every incredible inch he gives her."
  • Wives at Play - Cast unknown. "Bright sun and blue water make for an outstanding background for this most unusual sensuous film. Lovemaking between three outstanding females makes for the most stimulating and exciting film ever. Unbelievably sharp close-ups that will make this film your favorite."
  • Two Hot to Handle - Starring Luther Worth. "Two young roommates out for a ride are spotted by a rugged well-hung guy who follows them home. While looking through the bathroom window, he sees the girls making it with each other in the tub. When they finally spot him, they invite him in for an evening of exciting lovemaking. This is an unusual film guaranteed to give you pleasure."
Hot and bothered yet? As you may have guessed from those descriptions up there, with their numerous references to collecting, the Swedish Erotica films were not intended for theatrical exhibition. Rather, they were aimed at erotic hobbyists with their own projectors and movie screens. You were supposed to order these films out of a catalog, have them discreetly shipped to you (in plain brown wrappers, one wonders?), and then play them in the privacy of your own home. In a way, that makes them predecessors of the infinitely more convenient VHS tapes of the 1980s. Affordable VCRs helped to usher in the so-called "home video era." The ability to rent rather than purchase videotapes was a major favor in their popularity, but this was not possible with the Swedish Erotica loops. These you had to buy.

Obviously, the major advantage of the Swedish Erotica loops was the privacy they afforded viewers. If you screened these stag films at home, you didn't have to risk being recognized or maybe even arrested for viewing them in a public place.

The disadvantages? Well, price for one. A single Swedish Erotica reel would have cost you $50 in 1978. That's over $180 in today's money—quite an investment. Though music has been added to the current digital versions, the original reels were totally silent, meaning that you couldn't hear the actresses' moans of ecstasy. Any expository dialogue would have to be conveyed via clumsily added subtitles. Later Swedish Erotica films did include sound, but not the original loops made under the direction of Ed Wood.

Also, projecting 8mm or 16mm movie reels in your own home could be a labor-intensive, frustrating process for the wannabe thrill-seeker. In order to enjoy these forbidden little films, you'd have to know how to thread and focus a film projector and pray like hell that your very expensive $50 loop didn't unravel, break, or, worse yet, melt against a white-hot projector bulb. But the series obviously had some staying power. According to the ALDb, Swedish Erotica lasted from 1973 to 1978, with additional titles produced—seemingly by a different group of people—in 1984.

I Am Curious (Yellow)
As near as I can tell, there is nothing particularly Swedish about the Swedish Erotica movies either. The ALDb identifies the series as US-made. The actors are manifestly American, including porn legend John Holmes, and the loops appear to have been filmed in familiar old Los Angeles. That's a good 5,327 miles away from the native land of IKEA, meatballs, and Tor Johnson.

To understand the meaning of the series' title, we have to venture back almost half a century to a time when American cinema was much more prudish than it is now and when American moviegoers were champing at the bit for some dirty thrills wherever they could find them. In the 1950s and especially the 1960s and 1970s, European art films were more frank in their depiction of human sexuality than contemporary American films, and word of this definitely reached the States. People would eagerly attend European movies and sit through the "boring parts" in the hopes of seeing a little skin. Schlock American filmmakers even talked of adding extra nudity to their own movies for the "European versions."

Swedish cinema gained a particularly strong reputation for scandal in 1969 because of Vilgot Sloman's infamous I Am Curious (Yellow), which was decidedly more sexually adventurous than mainstream American films of the era. Yankee audiences flocked to the somber art film to see its much-ballyhooed full-frontal nudity and simulated sex scenes. The film's financial triumph—a true succès de scandal—brought on the expected legal woes, but the American distributors of I Am Curious (Yellow) managed to beat the rap in court by maintaining that the film had artistic value beyond mere titillation.

Roger Ebert, for one, was unimpressed, giving the film a one-star review in the Chicago Sun-Times in September 1969 and warning his readers that Yellow was "a real dog." As for the film's censorship problems, he was unsympathetic:
"Perhaps the legal defense should have given us warning. The usual parade of literary and movie critics stood up in court and testified (A) that the movie had redeeming social merit, and (B) that, speaking as a healthy adult
honest, judgeit didn't do a thing for me. That's easy to believe. I Am Curious (Yellow) is not merely not erotic. It is anti-erotic. Two hours of this movie will drive thoughts of sex out of your mind for weeks. See the picture and buy twin beds."
Mr. Ebert's misgivings aside, Curious was a box office smash and made a lasting impression in the minds of lustful moviegoers. From that point on, Sweden was synonymous with sex. And did the sleaze merchants in America take notice? You bet they did! Throughout the 1970s, the word "Swedish" was opportunistically slapped on any number of softcore and hardcore erotic films: some made domestically, others imported. I again refer you to Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver (1976), in which the title character ill-advisedly takes his mortified date to see Swedish Marriage Manual (1969). And the hits kept coming: Sweden: Heaven & Hell, Love Swedish Style, Maid in Sweden, Anita: Swedish Nymphet, and more.

Reverberations of the "Swedish invasion" of the 1970s could be felt for years in pop culture. In 1991, for instance, advertisements for Old Milwaukee beer featured a group of scantily-clad, vaguely Scandinavian-looking women dubbed the Swedish Bikini Team. As late as 1993, Homer Simpson could make his wife, Marge, hysterical with grief by telling her he was going on a tour of Sweden with his barbershop quartet. Although the phenomenon may be unknown to younger Americans, "Swedes-ploitation" was a crucial part of 20th century Americana. Swedish Erotica was just one part of a much larger trend.

Speaking of larger trends, Swedish Erotica was hardly the beginning and end of Eddie's career in pornographic loops. In fact, he was incredibly, almost heroically prolific in this field. According to Bob Blackburn, co-heir of Kathy Wood's estate, Ed's personally-curated resume lists a staggering 716 movies made between 1971 and 1973 alone! These amount to 16 full pages of double columned titles. And all of this while he was turning out stories, articles, and novels by the dozens. Surprisingly, though, Bob could not find the Swedish Erotica films listed among these voluminous credits. Below, please enjoy a mini-gallery of related images Bob has allowed me to share with you on my blog. Among these are:
  • A page of Ed's directing resume with some of his short films listed, such as Dick Claims To Be A Stud, Transplanted Lesbian, Clean It Up Good, and Bruce Of Muscle Beach. That last title seems to indicate that Eddie may have made some gay-themed loops, too.
  • A brief excerpt from a Wood-penned article about the pornographic film industry called "That's Show Biz. Note the sly double meaning of "show." (A similar pun is made in Nympho Cycler. "I'm about to show my business.")
  • A couple of pages of advertisements for loops from a 1975 issue of Ace. Bob tells me this magazine had an article by Ed entitled "A Tax on Sex."



A typical Swedish Erotica title screen.
The viewing experience: Not nearly as depressing or off-putting as I was expecting. Especially compared to the sometimes troubling skin flicks Ed made with Steve Apostolof and Joe Robertson, not to mention Ed's own, somewhat unappetizing attempts at directing X-rated features, the Swedish Erotica loops are lighthearted, largely cheerful in tone, and even fairly fun to watch. The always-generous Philip R. Frey, who previously supplied my copies of The Lawless Rider and Mrs. Stone's Thing, sent me a DVD containing several of the existent Wood loops: The Virgin Next Door (both parts), School Girl, Love Mates, Park Lovers, Morning Walk, Behind the Ate Ball Part I, and 15" Commercial. So I can say I've seen about half of Ed's purported work for Swedish Erotica. I'd still like to see Devil Cult, though, as it sounds a lot like Eddie's short stories, "Hellfire" and "I, Warlock." (Both are anthologized in Blood Splatters Quickly.)

In films of this length—generally about seven or eight minutes—there is not much time for exposition or character development. And, true to form, Ed gets right down to business here. After all, the customer just spent half an hour setting up his 8mm projector and home movie screen, both of which he probably had to drag out of the hall closet. He doesn't want to wade through a lot of preliminaries. The formula for a Swedish Erotica  loop is simple: boy meets girl(s), boy has sex with girl(s), boy achieves orgasm, the end. That's about it. The indoor scenes are brightly-lit, and the exteriors are shot in broad daylight. I wonder if this was done because of the limits of home movie projectors. The ads for Swedish Erotica make a big deal of their films being sharply focused and including lots of close-ups. That's to be expected when the viewer, projectionist, and exhibitor are one and the same.

Unlike Ed's feature-length adult movies, which tend to offset the eroticism with disturbing anti-sexual content, there is no undercurrent of darkness in the Swedish Erotica loops I screened for this article. The sex is (generally) depicted as consensual and mutually enjoyable for the men and women. Traumatic rape scenes are not in evidence here. A couple of the actresses have to be coaxed -- gently, by the standards of adult films of the era -- into having potentially-painful anal sex with the famously-endowed John Holmes, but there is no violence or brutality here, as there might be in a Joe Robertson or Steve Apostolof film. Ed Wood's own predilection for necrophilia, an erotic fixation on death and the dead, is also mercifully absent in the Swedish Erotica loops.

But that is not to say that these films completely lack any of Ed Wood's trademark kinks and fetishes. Several of the actresses wear the lacy, frilly nightgowns and black stockings Ed so adored and coveted, and there are plenty of fuzzy pillows, blankets, and rugs nearby, too, which correspond neatly to Ed's lifelong love of angora and other soft materials. In one episode, furthermore, Ed Wood even includes some scratchy-looking footage of a NASA rocket taking off as a visual metaphor for an orgasm, so his penchant for stock footage was not limited to his science-fiction and horror films.

A familiar owl painting in Swedish Erotica.
For Ed Wood superfans, however, the most amazing detail to be found in any of the Swedish Erotica loops occurs right in the very first one: The Virgin Next Door (Part One). Before John Holmes pays a visit to neighbor Linda McDowell, he first spies on her through a hole drilled in the wall and masturbates while watching her undress. (Ed Wood does some crude, not-entirely-coherent intercutting to indicate that Holmes is fantasizing about the woman.) On Holmes' side of the wall, the hole is covered by a painting of a bull -- a properly macho symbol for this well-hung ubermensch. But on McDowell's side, there is a very familiar-looking painting of two owls, and the peeper can look through the eyes of one of the owls into the woman's bedroom. This is a device imported directly from Wood's previous feature film, Necromania: A Tale of Weird Love. From what I can see, it's the exact same prop, merely being recycled!

This is crucial to me, because it indicates that Ed Wood really did direct The Virgin Next Door and, in so doing, worked with one of the most famous male porn stars of all time, John Holmes. In case you had any doubts, Holmes' famous appendage—as impressive for its Coke-can girth as for its length—is showcased frequently in the Swedish Erotica shorts. The phallus is clearly a star, and the director lavishes upon it the kind of admiring close-ups once afforded to Greta Garbo.

As for the man to whom it is attached, Holmes appears very young and naive in these films. He was in his late twenties at the time and had only really been making X-rated films for a couple of years by then, though he'd already played his signature role, lascivious detective Johnny Wadd, at least twice. He is tall, thin, and almost goony-bird gawky. While some have said he looked like Leave It To Beaver's Ken Osmond, leading to a silly urban legend that Holmes actually played Eddie Haskell, the actor reminds me more of an undernourished Donald Sutherland, circa Invasion of the Body Snatchers or Animal House.

If nothing else, the Swedish Erotica films have a kind of time-machine quality to them, since the decor, clothing, and hairstyles of the early 1970s—trendy then, tacky now—are all on abundant display here, along with all the exposed flesh. Here, you will see towering bouffant hairdos, shag carpeting, avocado-colored furniture, wide collars, and unsavory-looking porn mustaches. This will sound counterintuitive to many of you, but I detect some innocence and naivete when I watch the Swedish Erotica loops. They seem to be relics of a less savvy time in our nation's history when, in order to even watch ten minutes of uninterrupted porn at home, you had to send in fifty bucks and wait six to eight weeks for delivery!

Thanks as always to Phillip R. Frey and Bob Blackburn for their invaluable help in assembling this article.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

I'm not so sure I love this Lucy

"Do you pop out at parties?" Clearly, the answer is yes.

I have already expressed my love of wax museums in general and really bad wax museums in particular. I wish sometimes I could work in such an establishment, though it's probably less glamorous than I'm imagining. Well, in my Internet travels, I recently encountered this grotesque approximation of Lucille Ball from the famed Hollywood Wax Museum, one of the great tourist traps in LA. Like the infamous bronze statue of Ms. Ball in Celoron, NY this paraffin effigy is based on the indelible I Love Lucy episode called "Lucy Does a TV Commercial," better known as "Vitameatavegimin." What is it about that episode which so stymies artists? They can't come close to capturing it. While the bronze statue looks like the Golem of Judaic folklore, the wax figure resembles a crazed, possibly murderous Reba McEntire. Why is Lucille Ball so hard to capture? Anyway, for comparison's sake, below is a picture of the infamous statue, juxtaposed with a photo of the real Lucille Ball.

Well, the artist got some details right. Lucy did wear a necklace in the episode.

What is the deal with Father's Day cards? Am I right, people?

Today, there would be sarcastic quotes around the "dear" part.

NOTE: This is a, um, "golden classic" from the vast Dead 2 Rights archives. In other words, it's a rerun from 2011. But since it's Father's Day, I figured I'd try to get some extra mileage out of it. The sentiments it expresses are as true today as they were four years ago.

If you wish to meditate upon our society's ambiguous and sometimes troubling attitudes towards fatherhood, you have an EXCITING opportunity to do so this weekend! Yep, just truck on down to your local grocery store, card shop, or pharmacy and spend some time browsing through their selection of Father's Day cards. Prepare to be astonished and possibly horrified by what you find. Now, of course, you can always go the sappy, sentimental route or the religious route. That's true of virtually every holiday or major observance. But if you want to go the "lightly humorous" route, Father's Day offers its own unique challenges. I'm sure I was not the only person who spent many minutes trying to find a card that I would not be completely mortified to send to my father and have him actually read. The card I wound up choosing this year had the following legend on its cover:
You Made Me the Person I Am Today! 
And on the inside, it read:
How Can You Sleep at Night? 
Followed, of course, by the cheerful tagline:
Happy Father's Day!
In retrospect, this seemingly-innocent little witticism is actually quite barbed and nasty. The implication is, "I am a neurotic and messed-up adult, Dad, and I blame you entirely. I am baffled by the fact that you can sleep while in possession of this horrible knowledge. Any creature capable of emotion would be tortured to the point of sleeplessness over this, but you apparently are a bloodless and unfeeling monster. Still in all, I hope you enjoy this holiday dedicated to you and your tyrranical kind." Kind of harsh, right? But believe me, it was the best one I could find. To peruse the Father's Day cards at the local store is to navigate an emotional minefield, I tell you.

The basic themes of "humorous" Father's Day cards are these:
  1. Dad, you are an alcoholic who cherishes beer more than your own children.
  2. You are a repellent and disgusting troll whose primary modes of self-expression are belching and flatulence.
  3. You are also a perverted old lecher who lusts after younger women.
  4. You use golf, television, and home improvement projects as excuses for avoiding contact with your own family.
  5. At home, you are merely a useless figurehead who serves no real purpose. Knowing this, you choose to spend your time parked in a recliner in front of the television.
  6. Your true importance to the family unit is as a provider of income. Money and work define you. In fact, I would like to use this very card as an opportunity to borrow money from you.
It's a pretty bleak picture, I know. But that's the basic message I get from Father's Day cards. I'm not the only one who's picked up on this. Here's a 2008 article from the Grand Rapids Press on the very same topic. I think the underlying issue with these cards is that we really do have an ambiguous attitude towards fatherhood in this country. The post-Industrial-Revolution male has no well-defined role within his own home. Women are still expected to be the ones who do the actual day-to-day raising of children. Maybe as traditional gender roles break down and new paradigms for family life are established, the public's nebulous opinion of this thing called "fatherhood" will evolve. For a check-up on how we're doing as a society on this matter, I'd suggest keeping an eye on the greeting card department!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Let us ponder the riddle that is Orson Bean

Orson Bean admits to having eaten the baloney.

Orson Bean on Match Game.
Orson Bean. It's very possible that this name will mean little to you, dear reader, especially if you're under 40. You cinephiles out there may remember him as dotty old Dr. Lester, the lecherous, carrot-juice-drinking boss from 1999's Being John Malkovich. ("My spunk is to you manna from heaven.") He was also the voice of Bilbo Baggins in the 1977 animated version of The Hobbit. Connoisseurs of TV reruns may recall him from his appearances on The Twilight Zone, The Love Boat, or The Facts of Life. He did 146 episodes of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman back in the '90s, too, if that's what you're into. (Hey, there's no shame in it. My sister loved that show.) If you were lucky enough to have the Game Show Network back when they showed many of the old panel-style game shows from the 1960s and 1970s, Orson Bean should be a familiar face to you. He logged countless appearances on Match Game, To Tell the Truth, What's My Line, and more. In fact, I think of Orson Bean as a sterling example of a now-dying breed: the all-purpose professional celebrity with no particular specialty. Bean was an actor of stage and screen, of course, as well as a comedian and author, but his real claim to fame was as a "personality." Need a familiar face for your talk or game show? Just call Orson! He possessed numerous traits that made him ideal for television: an impish sense of humor, a vast storehouse of jokes and stories, a winning smile, impeccable diction, and a flair for accents and dialects. The man was born to talk into a microphone.

The Orson Bean discography.
Speaking of which: Like most stand-up comics of his generation, Orson Bean put his act down on wax a couple of times for posterity. He released At the Hungry I, recorded at the legendarily-hip San Francisco nightclub, in 1959. A decade later, however, Orson released the album that concerns us today: a collection of songs, poems, and "street jokes" entitled I Ate the Baloney. I first heard the title track, an irreverent religious-themed anecdote set to the tune of "Pop Goes the Weasel," on The Dr. Demento Show in the 1990s. Just this year, I found the entire LP had been uploaded to Archive.org. For reasons I cannot adequately explain to you, I have listened to I Ate the Baloney in its entirety at least 20 times in the last few months, almost becoming able to lip sync the jokes as Bean tells them. I just like the sound of his practiced voice, especially when he slips into an Irish brogue. There's a vaudevillian old-fashionedness to the entire affair I find comforting and satisfying.

Since this LP comes to us from the 1960s, Bean can still openly acknowledge ethnicity in ways that would draw tremendous fire today. Take a conceptual bit called "The American Restaurant," in which Bean affects a broad, almost caroonish Chinese accent. One might be tempted to call the bit racist because of this, but in fact, Bean is poking fun at racism and stereotypes in a clever, insightful, and even subversive fashion. The Chinese characters in Bean's story talk about Americans in the bigoted, reductive way we Americans too often talk about the Chinese. It's a classic role reversal, as when the speaker ponders an infamous urban legend about sex. "Not look now," the man says to his giggling buddies. "American girl sit a-next table. Ooh, that's a nice lookin' girl! Built like a bamboo house! I don't know... American girl... I always wonder. I don't think so either. That's old Army story!"

But the track from I Ate the Baloney which has really captured my attention has nothing to do with religion or ethnicity. Instead, it's a brief bit of comedic doggerel about the plight of an urban commuter. The poem describes a man's experience aboard the IRT, which is what New Yorkers used to call the subway because it was run by a private operator called the Interborough Rapid Transit Company. I don't have much experience with the IRT, not being a New Yorker, but I do commute by train to and from work each day and can thus sympathize with the hero of Bean's poem. Some of the humor and pathos come from Bean's performance, but I think the words are worthy of study, too. In that spirit, the entire text of the poem is included below:

                         Last week, I'm ridin' in the IRT,
                        And this poor slob is sittin' right across from me.
                        So he's sittin' in the subway, kinda slumped in his seat,
                        Like a tired old dog, so dead, so beat.
                        His clothes, his face, everything looks sad,
                        And I'm thinking what a rotten life he must've had.
                        So I look in his face, and what do I see?
                        He looks like he's feelin' sorry for me!
                        But you don't know the IRT!
                        The windows are filthy. The lights are dim.
                        It was my own reflection, and I am him!

On the LP, this actually leads into entire bit about whiskey ads on the New York subways.  But I will leave that one for you to discover on your own. Bean is so convincing in delivering this particular hard-luck story that he elicited actual sympathy from the audience. Periodically throughout the recording, you can hear a tender-hearted woman in the audience say, "Awwww." Incidentally, Orson Bean is still alive at the age of 86, thanks to all that carrot juice. He worked as recently as 2014 in a parody of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman entitled Dr. Quinn, Morphine Woman. More intriguingly, back in 2008, he recorded a delightful little 10-part series of YouTube videos called "The Art of Joke Telling." Here is possibly my favorite of the ten:



Incidentally, that patch on Orson's shirt commemorates the Flying Goose Brew Pub & Grille in New London, NH. Sounds like a nice place.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

A thumb-sucking article about the whole Rachel Dolezal mess

Rachel Dolezal giving a speech and pretending to be black.

You all know the story. If you're reading this, it means you have a functioning Internet connection, so you could not possibly have missed it. Rachel Dolezal, president of the Spokane, Washington chapter of the NAACP, has been "outed" as white by her baffled biological parents. Apparently, by altering her hair texture and skin color, Ms. Dolezal has been falsely but successfully presenting herself as African-American for years. Now, the truth has come out, and the Internet is up in arms about it. Wherever you go on social media, there is Rachel Dolezal's face, usually accompanied by scolding editorials. Time and again, we see side-by-side photographs which document Ms. Dolezal's shocking metamorphosis from fair-haired, pale-skinned little girl to kinky-coiffed, mocha-complected woman. And then, of course, the questions arise. Why? How? A quick search on Google Trends shows that the previously-obscure term "transracial," which had been seriously waning after peaking in popularity in April 2005, has shot up to unprecedented heights in June 2015. This must be attributable to the Dolezal story. Currently, Ms. Dolezal is being pilloried from one end of the web to the other, from Twitter to BuzzFeed to the Huffington Post.

While I do not endorse Rachel Dolezal's actions, I do think it's worthwhile to pause during this Internet feeding frenzy and ask ourselves a few basic questions. Had you even heard of Rachel Dolezal a week ago? Have her actions directly harmed you or someone you know? Has the Rachel Dolezal story shaken you to your core? Are you truly, in your heart of hearts, outraged by what this woman has done? If you answered any of these questions with "Nah, not really," it might be time to cut Ms. Dolezal some slack. I think this story is less about race and more about our desire to feel better about ourselves by shaming the shit out of someone we don't know. As modern media consumers, we're all like bloodthirsty lions with insatiable appetites. We need a continual supply of fresh meat to keep us satisfied: hippos, antelopes, giraffes, baby elephants, you name it. In that context, Rachel Dolezal isn't a person; she's a buffet. Dig in, everybody! Plenty to go around!

I'm sure you've said and done stupid things, too. My own life is a never-ending blooper reel. The difference is, I'm not famous or important, so the rest of the world didn't really care. But, still, that doesn't change the fact that I did these stupid things. I'll own up to being a moron. Won't you? So before you read -- or perhaps even write -- the latest "Rachel Dolezal is worse than Hitler" article, remember that stupidity is the bond between us all. We are all brothers and sisters under the dunce cap.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Greatest deleted scene of all time? Or just my personal favorite?

"Before you went insane": Parker Posey in Waiting For Guffman.

"A workman is known by his chips and a tailor by his scraps."
-Supposedly an old French proverb

Bruno Kirby in a deleted scene from Spinal Tap.
Deleted scenes are like those little toys you get for the cost of pocket change from vending machines at grocery stores. You know, the ones that come in little plastic bubbles. They're a dicey-at-best proposition. You can't choose what you get; you just put your coins in the slot, turn the little handle, wait for your toy to tumble out of the chute, and hope for the best. So you can't expect much from them. Most likely, they'll be worthless. But sometimes, man... sometimes they're the best damned thing ever. Lemme give you a case in point. If all you've ever seen of This Is Spinal Tap (1984) is the movie itself, well, you've still seen a seminal motion picture which continues to cast a long shadow over film, television, and Internet comedy to this day. So congratulations on doing that. But Tap aficionados know that much more was filmed for that project than could ever fit into a single, 85-minute movie.

Famously, the actors in This Is Spinal Tap, many from the world of improvisational comedy, were working not from a script but rather from a vague outline and thus had a free hand in ad libbing scenes and dialogue along the way. Director Rob Reiner just kept his cameras rolling the whole time. His first assemblage of footage, the fabled "workprint," was four and a half hours long, and that was without the one-on-one interviews which were interspersed throughout the final version. To get Spinal Tap down to a manageable length, a fearsome amount of material -- much of it great -- landed on the cutting room floor. Whole subplots were axed. Characters vanished. Pivotal, revealing moments vaporized. Today, who knows? Reiner might've pulled a Peter Jackson and spread this shit out over multiple movies. We would have gotten This Is Spinal Tap, Book Two: The Desolation of Artie Fufkin. As it happened, the excised moments from Tap have trickled out over the years via laserdisc, DVD, and BluRay releases of the film, while the epic "workprint" has long been a favorite on bootleg VHS tapes. Much of this material is well worth watching, and some of it is as good as or better than what wound up in the actual movie. I have a particular fondness for a scene in which Bruno Kirby's Sinatra-obsessed limo driver, having tried marijuana for the first time, strips down to his skivvies and sings "All the Way" before passing out in full view of the heavy metal musicians he's been driving around.

When Spinal Tap veteran Christopher Guest started making his own mockumentary-style comedies in 1996, he kept the template from the previous film. In the funny and poignant Waiting for Guffman, Guest's actors, again including a number of improv veterans, worked from an outline rather than a script. Like Rob Reiner before him, Chris Guest shot much more than he could ever include in one movie. So he crammed the really essential stuff into an hour and twenty-four minutes, nearly the same length as This Is Spinal Tap, and relegated the best of the rest to the "Deleted Scenes" section on the Guffman DVD. And there, my friends, is where you will find my candidate for the single greatest deleted scene of all time.

In Waiting For Guffman, Parker Posey plays Libby Mae Brown, an extremely laconic, dead-eyed, twentysomething Dairy Queen employee stuck in the bland Midwestern purgatory that is Blaine, Missouri. Libby's only true escape from ice cream-related drudgery is her active involvement in Blaine's community theater program, which has thrived in its own odd way under the leadership of flamboyant, closeted Broadway expatriate Corky St. Clair (played by Guest). On the stage, though somewhat stiff and self-conscious as an actress, Libby becomes much more outgoing and demonstrative than she is anywhere else in her life. As silly as Corky's plays may seem, they mean a lot to Libby and the other people involved in them. The plot of Guffman concerns the production of Red, White, and Blaine, a rah-rah original musical written by Corky to commemorate Blaine's 150th anniversary. Libby Mae is one of the aspiring thespians who wish to be in the show, and the famous deleted scene is the monologue she performs as her audition, which she performs in front of Corky St. Clair along with humorless music teacher Lloyd Miller (Bob Balaban) and a third, unidentified man whose purpose at the event is not immediately clear.



In the finished movie, Libby's audition consists of singing a flirtatious 1958 Doris Day song called "Teacher's Pet." ("Teacher's pet/I wanna be teacher's pet/I wanna be huddled and cuddled/As close to you as I can get.") The reaction of the judges is the same as to her monologue: Corky is utterly enchanted, Lloyd quietly disgusted, and the third man indifferent. Left on the cutting room floor, though, was Libby's brilliant, obviously Flowers in the Attic-inspired audition monologue, which might have taken Guffman in a darker, weirder direction than the director wanted to go, with its tasteless insinuations of incest, rape, and euthanasia. According to Christopher Guest, Parker Posey wrote this deranged soliloquy herself. It certainly gives the viewer new insight into the character of Libby Mae Brown, who in the rest of the film seems almost catatonic and whose speech frequently contains long, uncomfortable pauses as she chews her gum and slowly collects her thoughts. Part of the joy of the audition monologue is the opportunity to see both sides of Libby's personality: the ostentatious actress and the insecure, self-defeating young woman. Before delivering her monologue, Libby gives the panel of judges much more information than they need, and during the performance, she breaks character to give yet more unnecessary exposition.

Happily, though it didn't wind up in the final cut of Waiting for Guffman, Parker Posey's audition monologue has had a modest second life of its own, largely thanks to its popularity among young actresses. Perhaps in Libby Mae, they see a sister-in-arms. I found at least three YouTube "cover versions" of the monologue: here, here, and here. Meanwhile, in case you have any auditions coming up, WhySanity.net offers a full transcript here. And, of course, it's available -- with or without commentary -- on the Waiting for Guffman DVD.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Announcement regarding the future of Ed Wood Wednesdays (UPDATED)

Jeffrey Jones as Criswell in Ed Wood (1994).

"We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives." It was a line Criswell swiped from a 1953 Rock Hudson-Donna Reed flick called Gun Fury. (Rock's version went: "I'm interested only in the future, 'cause that's where we're going to spend the rest of our lives.") Cris recycled this fortune-cookie-ready adage throughout his career: in Plan 9 from Outer Space, on his 1970 album The Legendary Criswell Predicts Your Incredible Future, and even into latter-day personal appearances in his waning days. On the Plan 9 DVD commentary track, Ted Newsom recalls seeing the old faker at one such event and cringing when Criswell nearly forgot the second half of the famous sentence. (To Ted's relief, Cris eventually remembered his own catchphrase.) Though mocked by the Medved-inspired bad movie crowd, there's a certain forehead-slapping truth to those well-worn words. We really are going to send the rest of our lives in the future. Isn't that exciting? In fact, the dull, ordinary day you just had would probably be extraordinary in a thousand different ways to someone who lived a century ago.

Folks, I'll not beat around the bush. I'm here to discuss the future of this blog in general and of Ed Wood Wednesdays, far and away its most popular feature, in particular. Writing about the films, books, and stories of Edward Davis Wood, Jr. is one of the great passions of my life, but it does not pay the bills. On the contrary, it sucks up money and time that could be (presumably) spent on more profitable endeavors. In 2014, while my rent, insurance, and transportation costs all went up, my income actually slipped a little. To quote Arthur Miller: "That's an earthquake." (He meant it metaphorically, as do I.) In order to fix this problem, I have applied for -- and gotten -- a promotion at work. This new role will require more of my time, attention, and energy. Therefore, I will be doing much less writing in the foreseeable future. There is no joy in my heart as I write these words. I'm just telling you how it is, as straight as I know how to tell it.

I am not shutting down Dead 2 Rights or even Ed Wood Wednesdays. Writing is my first love, even if I don't have a single reader other than myself, and just like the song says: "Without love, you're only living an imitation... an imitation of life." I don't intend to live an imitation of life. Here is what I propose for now: Ed Wood Wednesdays will drop back to a once-a-month schedule. Let's make it the last Wednesday of each month, huh? This month's article would appear on June 24. And in between, I'll try to post as much non-research-heavy content as I can, whenever I can.

Stick with me, will ya? Maybe I can turn this thing around yet.

Your pal,

Joe




Addendum to previous article: I wrote that announcement several days ago in a moment of frustration, and I wanted to clarify some points made within it. First off, I don't mean to give the impression that I am in desperate financial straits at all. I'm not. Not even close. In fact, by living extremely frugally and denying myself nearly every luxury, I have managed to save enough money so that I could survive for a year and a half, maybe even two full years, at my current standard of living with no income whatsoever. I pay all my bills on time and have what I'm told is a very decent credit rating. That's the good news. The problem is that, in recent months, my monthly expenses have been slightly outstripping my monthly income, forcing me to dip into my savings just a little. That frightened me. In order to counteract this, I applied to be a salaried, full-time employee at my current place of business, where I have been an hourly employee for the last decade. I won't even be leaving my current department at work, just moving a few cubicles over and doing a slightly-different-but-mostly-the-same job. There is no adventure or challenge to this. It's strictly a financial decision made with an eye toward the future. The upside to this is that, ideally, I can worry a little less about money. The downside is that I will have to curtail some creative pursuits in order to focus more fully on a job to which I have no emotional connection whatsoever. That worries me, too. There's no truly "good" news here, just some half-bad, half-neutral news that I wanted to share with my readers. Thanks. - J.B.