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.