Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Loop Odyssey, Part Three by Greg Dziawer

A compilation of Ed Wood's loopiest work from the 1970s.

Man, across the endless reaches of time, endeavors to bend reality into a shape reflecting his own needs, and his own desires. One of the principle means through which he does this is technology.

In this week's Ed Wood Wednesdays, we're again investigating one such technology: the 8mm home-market porn loop.

Although its lifespan was brief—with peak production lasting just over a decade, spanning and spilling over the edges of the 1970s—the 8mm porn loop enjoyed a historically significant run. New communication technologies before and since have been quickly seized by early adopters packaging and selling graphic sexual content. It happened to Gutenberg many times over, and it happened when VHS tapes obsolesced 8 and 16mm home projectors in the space of just a couple of years. It's happening now, in increasingly complex ways. 

Yet pornography remains startling, because it always seems new. Sudden. And there is a world of difference between having access to billions of pornographic images and millions of hours of pornographic video in the palm of your hand, and buying an 8mm loop via mail order, seven or so minutes long, and silent. You would also feel dirty just plucking the plain-brown-wrapper package out of your mailbox. You probably still feel dirty now. 

That was part of the fun a few weeks ago when I received the CineFear DVD compilation Ed Wood's 8mm Porn Loops. Collecting a dozen of the first nineteen Swedish Erotica loops—now commonly held to have been "made" by Ed Wood—this is a pioneering effort. Grassroots labels have been, since the VHS era, if not earlier, the proving grounds for "cultish" ephemera subsequently proffered to the masses by a cultural middleman. Technology in motion.

CineFear has been nurturing obscurities by providing accessibility since 1990, and its proprietor Keith Crocker explained to me his intent in releasing this collection: "Certainly the point is to prove and shine more light on this being the work of Wood himself."

The back cover of the disc.
The disc itself is a no-frills affair: a completely plain white DVD fittingly packaged in a pink plastic case with a homemade cover. The cover photo is a close-up of Ed smilingly impishly, a nicely-chosen image from Love Feast. The back cover includes a few stills and a brief text, including suitably wow! rhetoric: "Can you imagine these two titans [Ed and John Holmes] working together?"

Given this vintage and available sources, quality is predictably variable, with some loops looking better than others. One title, the most intriguing of the series for many Woodologists, #14 Devil Cult, unfortunately cuts off all but half of the very first caption. And yes, these are all captioned, as were the original 8mm releases. For me personally, it was a first when watching this collection to see a captioned version of #9 Lusty Neighbor and to see #10 Hollywood Starlet for the first time. You'll find these loops floating around on the internet, streaming or links to files in private forums, including foreign releases (sometimes dubbed in German!) under various imprints related to global porn giant Color Climax. Props to Keith for drawing from original sources: "That box of porno that had the initial loops I transferred came from a friend years and years and years ago." 

The simple menu has one option, to play nearly two hours of loops continuously, in the order in which they were numbered and released. Originally silent, the loops are presented here accompanied by jazzy funk and rambling guitar rock from the era. For the record, this collection contains a dozen loops, five starring John Holmes, titles as they appear in the credits:

  • #1 The Virgin Next Door (Part One)
  • #2 The Virgin Next Door Part Two
  • #3 School Girl
  • #4 Western Lust
  • #5 Love Mates
  • #6 Wet & Wild
  • #8 Girl on a Bike
  • #9 Lusty Neighbor
  • #10 Hollywood Starlet
  • #14 Devil Cult
  • #15 Behind the Ate Ball (Part One)
  • #16 Behind the Ate Ball Continued from Part One

A worthwhile collection for any serious Woodologist or fan of vintage porn. And CineFear is soon beginning work on transferring the remaining seven titles of the first nineteen loops from the Swedish Erotica series, supplemented by additional loops from other series that carry the same signatures.

We'll talk more about those signatures, and much more about the loops, right here in future Ed Wood Wednesdays!

Special thanks to Keith Crocker at CineFear for providing a review copy of the DVD.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Magazine Odyssey, Part Twelve by Greg Dziawer

Annette Haven (left) and John Holmes worked for Danish Films. Did Ed Wood?

Prudish & Proper

Even Seka wore the scarf.
While we like to debunk false claims of Ed Wood's authorship around here, every now and then something comes up compelling us to go against the grain and make a claim of authorship of our own. In this week's Ed Wood Wednesdays, we're going the latter route, looking at an uncredited text from a now-obscure magazine.

The Danish Films loop series, a brief series running for roughly 20 (currently known) titles, was related to Swedish Erotica. These loops are clearly the forerunners of the next wave of Swedish Erotica loops: cast members, aesthetic, even the de rigueur candy-colored chiffon scarves the girls wear tied around their necks. Often all they are wearing, and done for branding purposes, those trademark scarves appear sporadically through SE loop #132 in 1978 and remain standard from that point forward right into the videotape era. It all carries over. Even an expert would be forgiven for mistaking a Danish Films loop for a Swedish Erotica loop. And there were corresponding magazines that featured images and on-set stills from the loops accompanied by anonymous text, just like the Swedish Erotica film review magazines.

Of course, the majority of these loops were neither Danish or Swedish, but rather shot in '70s SoCal and often featuring the biggest stars of Golden Age hardcore. The Swedish Erotica loop series, as is now generally agreed, kicked off with Ed Wood making the first 19 loops circa 1973. I could go into far greater detail, and will in future articles, but for now it's only necessary to sketch these highlights for context. 

What we're really interested in is answering this question: Did Ed Wood write the following text?

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Loop Odyssey, Part Two by Greg Dziawer

You'd need your own projector and a screen to see much of Ed Wood's work in the 1970s.

"When Caballero first started [as Cinema Classics], they just did 8mm movies. They'd put one-liners, captions, on the bottom of the screen, just like silent films. They gave Ed a hundred bucks to write ten movies. There had to be fifty lines in each movie, minimum."
-Phil Cambridge
Pendulum-family magazine artist and friend of Ed Wood
(source: Rudolph Grey's Nightmare of Ecstasy)

The Swedish Erotica logo in purple.
The general consensus these days credits Ed Wood as writer/director of the first 19 (likely beyond) Swedish Erotica loops. First sold via mail order to the home-market in 8mm, circa 1973/1974—in my estimation, some of the loops were shot a year or two earlier—the series laid the first foundational stone of one of the paramount brands of the so-called Golden Age of porn. In this week's Ed Wood Wednesdays, we're taking a closer look at one of these loops, endeavoring to discover a fingerprint or something like it.

And that matters because, beyond this series, Ed may very well have worked on 800+ loops in some capacity, as early as 1968, through the mid '70s. Editor. Director. Writer. Actor. Boxcover summaries. And, perhaps his mainstay in this channel, onscreen captions.

The seventh loop in the Swedish Erotica series—following Wet & Wild and preceding Girl on a Bike—-Park Lovers stars John Holmes and a female performer commonly misidentified as porn actress Eve Orlon, whose credits include The Undergraduate and Fugitive Girls. (More on her later.)

There are 32 captions in this particular loop, totaling 115 words. That's an average of 3.59 words per line, these captions ranging from one to seven words in length.

I gave my plain-jane handwritten transcriptions of the captions to my partner Kitten just minutes after I had completed them. She reacted with disdain, and pointed out to me what should have been obvious: the reductionist, cro-magnon level of sheer pornography. The inherently discordant cinematic presentation, with its relatively elaborate pans and candy-colored sets, ossifies into an, at best, outmoded past. The worst of it enters the sad realm of "It only hurts at first."

Buck up! This is porn!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Musical Odyssey, Part Two by Greg Dziawer

Ed Wood as he appeared in a theatrical program for The Blackguard Returns in 1949.

A yellowing photo from Ed's acting days.
When you think about Ed Wood's work, it's likely that film comes to mind, and possibly even his paperbacks and short stories. Theater? Not so much.

But, in fact, Ed caught that bug early. As an usher at the Bardavon Theatre, he saw movies and fell in love. But the Bardavon was also a live performance venue. Although the dates are unknown—it seems likely it was the late 1930s or early '40s—Ed also joined a band, singing and playing drums. And he learned to play a number of string instruments and started his own singing quartet, Eddie Wood's Little Splinters (as detailed in the 2015 book Dreaming in Angora: The Life and Films of Ed Wood by Pablo Bendix III). Even more nebulous, he also had a band named The Sunshine Mountaineers. You'll also find the occasional reference to Ed being part of the Drama Club in High School. 

Perhaps written during the war or just after, Ed penned a comedy for the stage titled The Casual Company—now presumably lost, but he also novelized it and that survives, reprinted serially in four issues of Cult Movies magazine back in 1994. Although The Casual Company played very briefly to negative reviews in Hollywood in 1948—recall the opening scene of Tim Burton's Ed Wood—it played dozens of times on military bases after the war. Ed tried, apparently unsuccessfully, to get it off the ground in Poughkeepsie in 1946.

After the failed production of The Casual Company in Hollywood, Ed landed a role acting in the stage play The Blackguard Returns in 1949. If you are reading this before November 17, 2016, a variety of items related to this production are on auction, estimated at $4,000 +. (Thanks to Woodologist and uber-memorabilia collector Dennis Phelps—who exhaustively chronicled the work of Wood make-up artist Harry Thomas—for letting us obsessive Wood fans know about this auction in a private Wood forum.)

In the years since Ed's passing, as his cult fame grew, a variety of theatrical productions have come along, some based upon his work, and some on the man and his life. What promises to be one of the very best of these is Ed Wood The Musical.

We covered it here briefly last week, and earlier, definitively by this blog's creator, Joe Blevins. Containing a whopping 21 songs by totaling 74 minutes—all incredible, with the ominous number "Glen or Glenda" my personal favorite—by composer Rick Tell, Ed Wood The Musical brilliantly interweaves these songs through high and lowlights from Ed's life, which any serious Woodologist will certainly view as very knowing. Travel back to Ed's upbringing in Poughkeepsie. Visit his final years in North Hollywood, with Days of Wine and Roses-like scenes played out in squalid apartments, between Ed and Kathy Wood, his second wife, remaining with Ed for over two decades until his sad demise. I could go on, but that will spoil the fun of seeing Ed Wood The Musical on stage for the first time. 

Ed Wood The Musical in its Myspace days. Note the inclusion of "Dale Evans" on this track list.

With Rick Tell nurturing this project for over a decade now, the 21 songs are its heart and soul. Rick has graciously given us the gift of releasing all of them. You can even find an old Myspace page (remember that?) initiated in 2008, with a number of tracks. The musical then briefly went under the title Ed Wood's Monsters of Hollywood (with a book co-written by Rick), and then apparently another iteration titled Dreamer. At the time, the track "Dale Evans 'Queen of the West'" was a part of Monsters of Hollywood, highly reminiscent of the song "Dreamer" in the current set of songs for Ed Wood The Musical.

Rick Tell's ultimate goal is to see Ed celebrated with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. As awesome as that will be when it becomes a reality, the time is nigh to make Ed Wood The Musical a reality. Depending on when you read this, the current crowdfunding campaign to stage The Musical is slated to end on November 17, 2016. If you are reading this prior to that date, what are you waiting for? Get over to Indiegogo and donate now!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Musical Odyssey, Part One by Greg Dziawer

Overture! Curtains! Lights! This is it, the night of nights!

"I've worked really hard at what I love - I even raised the money for my first film." 

-Ed Wood, Hollywood Rat Race

It's an old tradition in the arts.
Perseverance. As any artist knows, and Ed Wood surely understood, perseverance is a key ingredient to success. Although he left behind a number of unrealized projects—which is the critical stress point separating those who hit walls and give up from those who retrench—he still dreamed of future projects right to the end. 

There's an inevitable, pragmatic side to it. You've got to fund your art. In days of yore, wealthy patrons supported writers and artists. You could, of course, be expected to have to paint your patron's bratty teenage son. Or, if you flash-forward to the mid-20th century, you might have to cast friends and associates of the patron in your film, no matter their degree of talent. 

Thanks to the internet (seriously), an artist today can solicit patronage via crowdfunding websites. There's equity here, as your project is in fair competition and stands on its merit. You don't need connections, the whole world in reach. And your patrons won't meddle. 

Joe Blevins (superbly and exhaustively) covered Ed Wood The Musical previously at Ed Wood Wednesdays. That was in 2014, when it was an active crowdfunding campaign. And earlier this month, on Ed's 92nd birthday, a new campaign for the musical launched at Indiegogo

Since he first dreamt up the musical in 2004, ultimately composing twenty-one amazing songs and co-authoring the book, composer Rick Tell has remained a tireless champion in pursuit of bringing it to the stage. I recently asked him (via email): why?
Well first, I am the kind of person who hates to give up on a good idea or cause. Second, I really think the Ed Wood story is a story that should resonate with many different people and has a universal message of following your dream and of being true to yourself. Also I love the fantastic characters in his life and feel my score and book truly evoke the fun and tragedy of the Ed Wood story. Ed Wood who ironically escaped oblivion by winning the Golden Turkey Award for being the worst director of all time deserves to be honored and his life celebrated. 

Composer Rick Tell.
Rick went on to eloquently tell me about the roots of his artistic affinity to Ed:
Ed was a dreamer but he was also a doer who wasn't afraid to fail. I applaud his courage and I, along with many other creative people, understand the pain of rejection, the elation of success, and the feast or famine existence we endure for the love of our art. 

And I wondered, finally, how Rick has managed to fight through the frustration of working so long to bring the production to the stage. I should have known better, as Rick's reply reminded me:
Frustration? Show biz ain't for the timid. Seriously, the work is its own reward if you truly love what you do. 

My question was assumptive, and wrong. Which is why I'm not an artist. I can, though, be a patron, and so can you, by making your donation NOW!

The campaign is slated to end in mid-November. I'm going to tell you a little more about the musical, as it moves into its final week. (Or better still, celebrating it having reached goal.) The brilliant device of Criswell as Virgil-like guide through Ed's life. Ed Wood The Musical's previous iteration as Dreamer. I could go on and on, and I will next week right here at Ed Wood Wednesdays.