Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Set Decoration Odyssey, Part Six by Greg Dziawer

A relic from the heyday of 1970s porn.

Prop of the week: a bronze statue.
When we examine the films Ed Wood worked on in some capacity during his final decade—plus the ones we think he might have worked on—we see how often they intersect through their set decorations. There are distinctive props, furnishings, and wall hangings that turn up again and again in these 1970s adult movies.

I've already covered several of these decorations previously. For instance, there are the Chinese guardian lions and the lion's head door knocker that show up in Necromania and The Young Marrieds, two feature films directed by Ed, as well as in numerous silent 8mm loops. Then there's the black velvet painting of a panther descending a stone staircase. And let's not forget the infamous gold and white skull

Some of these set decorations serve as signposts to the alert viewer that a particular movie was made at Hal Guthu's studio set on Santa Monica Blvd. That's not always a guarantee, though, that Ed Wood was involved. I've seen some films and loops that feature items from those sets but likely have nothing to do with Ed. However, the lion's share (no pun intended) of these set decorations strongly suggest that Ed Wood was involved in a production.

This week, I'm going to follow an item I first noticed in Necromania. I traced this item first to another one of Ed Wood's features and finally to a mysterious but intriguing loop.

Ed's feature film Necromania is rife with items that turn up in other movies. It was only recently, while watching the outtakes of Take It Out In Trade, that an item from Necromania I had not spotted previously caught my eye. In Necromania, when Danny (Ric Lutze) and Shirley (Rene Bond) enter Madame Heles' place at the outset of the story, there stands a small piece of bronze decorative statuary just inside the door, sitting on the floor in the lower right corner of the screen. It's a squat, bulbous thing maybe about a foot and a half high. In the Trade outtakes, during a shot of a travel poster, two such bronze statues appear in the bottom left and right corners of the screen, indicating they were a pair.

Bronze statues in (from left): Cafe Lust, Necromania, and Take It Out In Trade.

Mere days later, I was screening some 1970s adult loops, and—sure enough—there it was again. The loop in question, Café Lust, takes place on a cheap strip joint stage set. The cast consists of two gals and a guy. One of the aforementioned bronze statues sits atop a table in the corner of the set, just to the left of the stage. The stage itself uses a piece of zebra-striped fabric as a backdrop. I've seen this same fabric repurposed again and again in these movies: as a blanket, as a wall hanging, as decorative bric-a-brac, and even as a carpet! Café Lust gave me my best view yet of this faux zebra skin. Up close, it looks like it is indeed a carpet.

Café Lust is also fascinating in that it dates from the brief era when the porn industry was transitioning from softcore to hardcore, placing it circa 1970. (Meanwhile, the clapperboards visible in the outtakes from Take It Out In Trade indicate it was filmed in mid-January 1970.) Lust survives today, ID'ed as "White Box Productions #23." This is another example of a loop that was packaged anonymously in an effort to protect its makers. The filmmakers obviously took some other precautions. There are a few halfhearted attempts to block out genitalia with objects in the foreground, and an oral sex scene is clearly entirely faked, with the act itself obscured throughout by the actresses' hair.

Aesthetically, the sparse strip show stage in Café Lust makes the stage in The Young Marrieds look ornate by comparison. But that could be owing strictly to the lighting and we could be on the very same set. Also worth noting: the stripper's dance moves are extraordinarily similar to those of the stripper in The Young Marrieds.

The real question, as always, is: Was Ed Wood involved in this loop? The circumstantial evidence suggests that he was, but that's still just an inference. We're close, without a doubt, but there remains more work to do.