Wednesday, December 14, 2016

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

A shadowy moment from one of Ed Wood's 1970s porno loops.

The one and only John Holmes
In a recent installment of Ed Wood Wednesdays, we shared the onscreen captions from one of Eddie's early 1970s pornographic loops, specifically Swedish Erotica loop #7 Park Lovers, starring a young John Holmes. This week, we're providing the same service—literally, as you'll see—for SE loop #10 Hollywood Starlet, and using that loop as a springboard to some larger related topics.

Hollywood Starlet was originally released circa 1974 on 8mm silent film to the home market as well as to adult arcades. Its box cover/catalog summary describes it as a follow-up 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. 
It also stars Holmes and the same unidentified actress as in Park Lovers, a woman often misidentified as porn star Eve Orlon. The most compelling correspondence, though—which tells us quite a bit about the miserly nature of adult pornography in its nascent years—comes courtesy of the film's own captions, Swedish Erotica's clumsy substitute for audible dialogue:

Girl: OHHH BABY....


Girl: OH MY GOD....


Holmes: SUCK BABY.




One o
f the sparer sexual haikus of any captioned loop I've seen, Holmes is quite taciturn here, uttering a mere third of the loops scant ten captions, totaling just thirty words. These two lovers had, in fact, hooked up at Holmes' place previously, so they really cut the small talk here down to its essentials. 

An early Swedish Erotica logo.
As was a common practice for a brief period in the early '70s, many loops were released with onscreen captions spelling out obvious actions, offering terse dialogue, and even comically translating the grunts and groans of the performers. It's only recently that I've begun to notice—among a startling number of signatures connecting a veritable multitude of West Coast loops—that captions are shamelessly recycled over and over through the early Swedish Erotica titles, as well as related loop series. (More on the latter in a future edition of Ed Wood Wednesdays.)

As I'm sure observant audiences noted, every last onscreen caption in Hollywood Starlet appeared verbatim in the earlier Park Lovers. (Hey, if Holmes' bold come-on worked once, it'll work again!) I'm being facetious, of course. It's unlikely anyone noticed, as these captions were, like every other aspect of these loops, secondary to the depiction of graphic sex. Recycling material was commonplace in the loop series produced by Bernie Bloom and his son Noel. The same set decorations appear again and again, for instance. Entire loops were sometimes re-released in other series, sometimes re-titled, sometimes not. The opening establishing shot of Hollywood Starlet itself is reused for the same exact purpose in SE loop #17 15" Commercial, again with Holmes (whose character is now called Tom) visiting a different girl, this one played by porn star Cyndee Summers. 

It's worth examining the way that particular establishing shot is used in Hollywood Starlet. Under the title card, the camera makes its way through brush and trees, up a hillside to a house at the summit. The image fades to black, then fades up on a couple walking away from the camera into a bedroom, arm in arm. 

The opening titles from Hollywood Starlet.

Reverse shots like this are common in the Bloom-related loops. Characters are typically shown walking toward the camera (and into blackness) at some exterior or set-up location. The director then cuts to a shot of the lovers walking away from the camera, usually toward the bedroom where the action will take place. This kind of shot magically transports the characters to and from this hermetically-sealed world, giving the loops a surprisingly dreamlike effect overall. 

Once we are in the theatrically minimalist room—the furnishings consisting of a mere couch or bed, plus some token bric-à-brac, e.g. lamps, wall hangings, pillows, etc.—the action is filmed in a space roughly 4' x 8'. If the filmmakers moved the camera a tad too much in such tight quarters, the audience would have noticed that the action was unfolding on a cramped set. 

But getting back to that aforementioned establishing shot: Hollywood Starlet doesn't forget its starting point. At the loop's end, as Holmes climbs off the girl, the camera to his left and then zooms in on an abstract painting. This dissolves to a reverse zoom of the exterior of the house, an exact mirror of the opening shot. Clever, no?

Another logo for Swedish Erotica.
This level of care, executed via a handful of common and effective tropes, give these loops a feeling of artistry beyond what the material requires, if not beyond the notice of the intended audience. But what do I know? Either way, the Swedish Erotica loops would ultimately win out as the Blooms' most important series, and artistic quality was one of the franchise's principal selling points. One of the longest-running and most-popular loop series of all time, Swedish Erotica catapulted the Blooms into the stratosphere of porn mavens after close to a decade of cycling through brands and imprints across paperbacks, magazines, and film. 

And this is where Edward D. Wood, Jr. collides with the loops in this evolution. A longtime magazine staffer for Bernie Bloom, Eddie also directed and wrote a trio of full-length features for Cinema Classics, the film arm of Bloom's multimedia porn empire. He worked for Bloom, on and off, for the last full decade of his life in various X-rated enterprises. As mentioned in Rudolph Grey's Nightmare of Ecstasy, artist Phil Cambridge, a friend of Ed's and a fellow Bloom mag staffer, noted that Ed was paid to write loop captions. Another friend and fellow staffer, editor and writer Charles D. Anderson, tells of co-directing socio-sex loops for the home market with Ed circa 1974. Considering that Ed's own resume listed over 700 so-called "short picture subjects" spanning 1971 to 1973, it all potentially adds up to a huge body of work in pornography.
A portion of Ed's busy resume.

The general consensus today is that Ed Wood actively made the first nineteen Swedish Erotica loops around 1973-1974. I haven't seen the evidence supporting this level of involvement on Ed's part, but the mere prospect of Ed working—in any capacity—on 700 loops in three years makes me scratch my head. How could anyone have shot so many loops while maintaining a prolific writing career (penning magazine stories, articles, paperbacks, and screenplays) and doing occasional feature film work (acting, directing, editing, narrating trailers) on the side? Ed did possess a superhuman creative speed, however, so I can't totally discount it. 

At this point in the Wood Loop Odyssey, it's reasonable to infer that Ed authored captions for these short pornographic films. The box cover/catalog summaries often have a familiar ring, as well. Did Ed write them? Was he also involved in the editing? How about the set decoration? Cinematography? How far did his participation in these films extend? 

We'll dig deeper into the loops and related matters again, right here at Ed Wood Wednesdays.