Wednesday, December 20, 2017

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

Author James Pontolillo has been delving into Ed Wood's war record.

The work of a true Woodologist.
As we approach a new year, it seems as good an opportunity as any to introduce a new Odyssey. In the 2+ years that I have been writing articles here, my research has led me to cross paths with a number of folks who, like me, are more than just casual fans of Edward D. Wood, Jr. The most seriously afflicted of these people can even be affectionately termed Woodologists.

Just what does being a Woodologist entail? To my mind, it means possessing not only (1) an abiding interest in Ed, the man and his work, but moreso (2) a desire to learn more about Ed than we previously knew. Most critically, a Woodologist will (3) endeavor to take action upon that desire to learn more. People like Rudolph Grey, author of Nightmare of Ecstasy, and Joe Blevins, who started this very series way back in July 2013, are just a few folks you will surely recognize as Woodologists. I aspire to be one some day, and as I continue being privileged enough to meet many of them, I decided to introduce them here to the world as such.

First up, I am happy to introduce my friend, author and researcher James "Jimbo" Pontolillo, who has graciously agreed to be my first willing subject.

Before getting into James' answers to my 10 questions, however I must issue a spoiler alert for those who have yet to read Pontolillo's book The Unknown War Of Edward D. Wood, Jr.: 1942-1946. While the following interview is short on details, the overarching direction of the work can be clearly inferred from James' answers nevertheless. Stop now and return here later if you plan to read it. I suggest you go over to Amazon and get yourself a copy. Containing Ed's full military record and a superb editorial apparatus throughout by Pontolillo, this is and will doubtless remain the foundational work regarding Ed's years in the military during WWII. For more on the book, you can read an overview here

10 Questions With James Pontolillo
The author as a young man.
1. Have you ever worn an angora sweater? 
No, I have not. Although I did briefly entertain the idea of writing my Ed Wood book while wearing an angora sweater. I went onto Ebay, and the variety of angora sweaters available was so overwhelming that I quickly dropped the idea. Probably for the best; sweaters don’t do much for my figure nowadays. Cross dressing is a slim, young guy’s game. I would just look like a scary extra from the movie Wigstock.

2. You expressed to me, before the publication of the book—and addressed your initial worries in the book itself—that sharing documentary proof of Ed's wartime activity might piss people off. Have you received any angry missives since publication?
Not yet. The Ed Wood community has been incredibly supportive so far. At worst, some people have said they are somewhat saddened by my deflation of the Ed Wood combat legend. But there is still plenty of time for angry responses. After all, my book has yet to crack the New York Times bestseller list. LOL. 
3. Why Ed Wood? 
I’ve always had an interest in idiosyncratic visionaries and extremists—people who chart a course way outside of the mainstream. You have to be someone special to decide to run far off the rails in a new, unusual, and interesting way. Eddie was nothing if not an idiosyncratic visionary. I first saw Plan 9 when I was a kid and knew nothing about Eddie. Years later, I discovered him through the Medved Brothers' Golden Turkey Awards book, and the rest is history. 
4. The book contains Ed's entire military record, from mundane to starling and new. What startled you most? 
Well, what was most startling was the night and day contrast between what he did during the war and what he claimed to have done during the war. The contrast could not be much starker. While I was expecting some of the received legend to be BS, I was not expecting it to be virtually complete BS. But when you look at his wartime story as a whole, it is understandable why he manufactured the legend that he did. 
5. If there is one mystery about Ed or his work that you would love to solve, what is it? 
Well, there is a certain scene that recurs in many of Ed’s short stories and novels. You know what I’m talking about—a very unusual type of reveal that occurs to the sound of a camera shutter going off. It is such a constant element of his work that I’m convinced it must be based on a personal experience. I’d really like to know the true story behind that scene. God, I hope that it’s not another one of his fanciful inventions.
6. You've also interrogated Ed's paperbacks with a combination of incredibly knowing discernment and predictive analytics, effectively answering questions about Ed's authorship. Beyond what he wrote, did you garner any insight into who he was? 
I read Eddie largely for sheer enjoyment without giving too much thought to what the text may be telling me about him. This is true for other authors that I am stuck on like Philip K. Dick, H.P. Lovecraft, etc. When I read, I place myself inside the work. I don’t stand outside and try to examine it. 
7. How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? 
You think I was born yesterday? I see what you are trying to do here. This is the low IQ version of the famous Zen koan, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?" You are not going to lead me into a Rorschach dead end that easily. Let’s see how this grates your carrot. Let’s talk Ed Wood gematria. Coincidence or not, by full reduction gematria "Edward D. Wood Jr." equals: 
Dantes Inferno
Symbolic logic
Gender neutral
Screw magazine
Alien invasion
Drunk driver
Ruby slippers
8. What's next on your personal Woodology horizon? 
I have been collaborating with a renowned Woodologist on a revised and expanded reissue of David Hayes’ classic Muddled Mind. Not sure when that will come out, though. Other than that, I have no other Eddie projects going on. I’m actually in the midst of a writing break at the present time. After publishing four books in as many years, I am overdue for an extended research and writing break.  
9. You self-published The Unknown War on Amazon, among numerous other scholarly publications. Based upon those experiences, Universal Access or Penetration? 
When online print-on-demand publishers (Amazon, Lulu) tell you that their distribution network will increase your sales, don’t believe it. From a sales perspective, there is usually no substitute for releasing your book through established channels. The real advantage of POD is being your own boss and editor. For better or worse, you get to publish exactly what you want irrespective of commercial viability. However, if you manage to hit a popular vein and sell in any quantity, like the short-lived dino-porn fad on Amazon, the POD publishers pay much better royalties than traditional publishers. I haven’t answered the question yet, have I? Let’s go with Penetration. 
Belinda in cold cream.
10. Glen or Glenda? 
Definitely Glenda. After all, women’s clothes are designed for their comfort. Hats that give no obstruction to the blood flow, hats that do not crush the hair. Interesting thought, isn't it? Hell, back in the day I went to a Halloween party as Belinda Carlisle off the cover of the first Go-Go’s album. You know, wrapped in a bath towel with cold cream on my face. As far as I know, pictures (thankfully) do not exist! 

Special thanks to author James Pontolillo, for subjecting himself to our first 10 Questions. Check out more of his diverse and challenging work here.  I can definitely relate to his last answer. For Halloween 2005, two friends and I attended a party as the group TLC. I was T-Boz. When I was a much younger man, I briefly entertained a crush on Belinda Carlisle, during the savage and tumultuous throes of puberty.

Apart from those correspondences, my friend Jimbo and I initially connected via our shared love of Ed nearly two years ago. As we began talking, I mentioned that I was working on revising David Hayes' invaluable index, Muddled Mind: The Complete Works of Edward D. Wood, Jr. Thanks both to the internet and the increasing number of serious (and seriously obsessive) Ed Wood fans, knowledge about Ed's life and work have continued to expand four decades after his passing. David graciously invited me to update his index to reflect this newfound information.

While that revision continues to challenge me, Jimbo and I began talking about his interest in using text analysis to solve the problem of identifying exactly which books were written by Ed Wood. After a burst of amazingly creative and scientifically rigorous work, Jimbo—I initially called him the "Mad Scientist"—quickly submitted to me a series of such reports to supplement the index I was compiling. Now is not the time to get into his full methodology. Suffice it to say, Jimbo utilized four software text analysis tools as well as his own ridiculously big brain in the process. He deployed a battery of predictive analytics to Ed's known and suspected work, solving outstanding questions of authorship. This has helped me avoid mis-Ed-tributions while also making new discoveries.

James Pontolillo has been charting Ed Wood's work.

Additionally, he and I have dug deep into researching Ed's early years in Poughkeepsie, and it was Jimbo who first noted to me the common narrative element he mentions in his answer to Question #5. He and I have privately referred to this Wood-ian trope as "the boner in the face." If you've read your fair share of Ed's short stories and paperbacks, you know what we're talking about.

Although he says he is not currently and actively working on anything regarding Ed, I advise readers to stay tuned. A certain self-styled foreseer, a friend and associate of Ed's who more primitively employed predictive analytics of his own, might just be on Jimbo's periphery.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

This is just a bunch of comics parodies and remixes, okay?

This book never existed, but don't you kind of remember it in bookstores anyway?

Look, I'll level with you. I was going through the images saved to my hard drive, deciding which ones to chuck, and I found some  comics parodies that I hadn't posted here yet. So I wanted to collect them in one big post before deleting them from my computer forever. That's what this post is. There's nothing else to this, so don't expect any incisive commentary.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Loop Orbit, Part Twelve by Greg Dziawer

Skulls and shackles figure into this week's article. Enjoy!

As supernaturalism of a wide variety crops up regularly in Ed Wood's films and writings, it stands to reason that it would also appear in the 8mm silent porn loops produced and distributed by Noel Bloom. Particularly if it were a loop with strong ties to Ed in other ways. This week, we submit a specimen for your consideration, certainly within the orbit of Ed's work, and suggesting his possible involvement.

When I first viewed the loop Sex & Magic, a number of things immediately jumped out at me, literally from all sides. The loop commences with the title spelled out in small plastic letters on an undersized pegboard. This is immediately recognizable as the same board used in just about every other Cinema Classics loop I've ever seen. Sometimes, as in this film, the board is filmed as part of a larger scene. At other times, shot in close-up, it is authoritative, the titles looking like an industrial grid of some sort, belying the nickel and dime nature of the actual prop.

This week's loop is quite a find.

The title board sits atop a table, a white skull to its right and shackles in front of it, hanging over the front edge of the table. The title and props quickly conspire to create intrigue. The skull, naturally, is the very same one that appears in Necromania and dozens of other Bloom-family loops. This identifies the set as Hal Guthu's studio on Santa Monica Blvd, where interior sets for Necromania were shot. The shackles, no doubt, were a prop easily found lying around. My friend Jack Descent had been at Guthu's studio at the time, and recalls that he had two soundstages on the ground floor of the facility, and two dungeon sets on the basement floor.

The altar, featuring two skulls, an inverted cross, and shackles.

The film opens with a medium shot: the same table, skull and shackles now joined by a second white skull and an inverted wooden cross. The cross, spray-painted a different color, also appears in Necromania. A blonde woman in a black leather dress enters from the right, a book in her hand. In close-up, as she leafs through the book, we see captioned hardcore photos on the right-hand facing pages and text on the left-hand pages, the images showing all variety of sex. I knew right away that this was a Pendulum/Calga illustrated sociosex paperback. As she places the book on the makeshift altar, we can briefly see that it is part of Calga's Everything You Wanted to See and Read series of six paperbacks, part of the larger Sexual Enlightenment Series credited to T.K. Peters. 

The second book in the series.
The first three entries in this series carried the title Everything You Wanted to See and Read About Love and Sex. That name is briefly visible here on the cover. I have Book Three, which has a red cover, but the one in this loop appears yellow. Book One and Book Two in the series I have not seen, but images of Book Two have an orange cover. Book One, unfortunately, I can find no trace of, save its copyright listing. Although the more appropriate pick at this altar may have been A Study in Sexual Practices and Black Magic, as we'll see, any T.K. Peters book will do the trick! 

In any event, the volume seen in Sex & Magic is either Everything You Wanted to See and Read About Love And Sex, Book One, or the film print I viewed is faded enough to distort the color and it's really Book Two. For the record, those paperbacks were penned by, respectively, William D. "Bill" Jones and Robin Eagle, who commonly used the pseudonym "Robert Elgin." Both books were filed for copyright on the same day: October 7, 1970. At that time, in addition to Jones and Eagle, the Pendulum magazine writing staff, who wrote these paperbacks for bonuses, also consisted of Leo Eaton and Ed Wood. Although Ed Wood did not write the Love and Sex book that appears here, he likely penned the photo captions in it. These captions remain consistent throughout two lengthy T.K. Peters series of illustrated sociosex paperbacks and contain enough stylistic signatures to surmise that Wood was their author.

But back to the film. After placing the book on the altar, the woman gets on her knees and bows and prays in front of it. The actress (as identified by an eagle-eyed viewer in a private forum) is Lynn Holmes, whose smattering of known credits includes the 1971 feature The Undergraduate, produced by Jack Descent from a script by Ed Wood. Holmes picks up the shackles and one skull and takes them into a bedroom with deep pink and fuzzy blankets not only on the bed, but even up the wall behind the bed where the headboard would normally be. Simply and cheaply, the set succeeds in creating an otherworldly atmosphere. She places the shackles and skull on the bed and steps back to conjure. As she does, her hand movements Lugosi-like, we cut to a close-up of the skull. It disappears, and in its place, a naked man appears, one hand shackled and chained to another shackle around his neck. While a simple effect, it works, again the sort of economy of means Ed was accustomed to employing.

Lynn Holmes in action: (a) Casting her spell; (b) Drinking from a wine glass.

She removes the shackles, and you can guess what happens next. After this carefully crafted build-up—relatively speaking, and largely superfluous given the intended audience—the two have sex in the usual manner, nothing very magical about it. 

Judging by the spartan sets and functional camerawork, this is certainly one of the Blooms' first-phase loops. And, as with many of these very early films, the female lead is given to overacting. The male is a near-total cipher, also purely functional. The actress' black leather boots remain on throughout. We are almost six minutes in before actual intercourse begins. We get little more than a minute, and just one position, before returning to oral sex and soon after the literal climax. He ejaculates into a wine glass, and she drinks from it, savoring it, the purpose of her ritual. (Otherwise we'd have gotten the typical facial.) She rises, and conjures again, turning him back into the white skull. She lies back and begins masturbating as she makes out with the skull.

The final title card of the film. Note the logo in the upper right corner.

We then cut to a title card reading The End in a fanciful font that anticipates some Swedish Erotica loops that were just around the corner. In the upper right sits the second and final logo used by Cinema Classics, Bloom's flagship series of loops, which ran for approximately 100 installments between 1969 and 1971. The series started as softcore but quickly transitioned into hardcore, just in advance of the hardcore feature industry. By the time the series ended in '71, other series had begun to appear and the Cinema Classics line disappeared for good. Sex & Magic is a later title in the Cinema Classics series, shot no earlier than late 1970. 

With this film, we are on the cusp of the second phase of loops, which not only feature the subtitles and signature artistic tropes of the series  but also include numerous items of set dressing recycled from Ed Wood's final two features as a writer director, Necromania and The Young Marrieds. Sex & Magic stands at the doorstep of Ed's more certain involvement in the loops. Could he have been on set, personally arranging the altar and providing stage directions from offscreen? We may never know for certain, but for me, the answer is a confident yes.