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.