Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Woodologist Odyssey, Part 2 by Greg Dziawer

Buried under that film is Keith Crocker, presumably.

There are casual Ed Wood fans, and then there are Woodologists, the true obsessives for whom an annual Halloween screening of Plan 9 from Outer Space simply will not suffice. But who are these strange people? Well, to reiterate what I said when I last visited this topic, a true Woodologist must possess the following traits:
  • An abiding interest in Ed Wood, both the man and his work
  • A strong desire to uncover previously unknown information about Ed
  • (most critically) The willingness to act on that desire
Rare birds, these Woodologists, and few are more deserving of the title than cult cinema auteur, film professor and 'zine publisher Keith Crocker. A veritable Ed-vangelist, Keith takes Ed directly to the people, as a prolific community arts lecturer and presenter. And through his boutique label Cinefear, Keith has released two DVDs of Ed Wood's (alleged) 1970s pornographic loops, transferring these rare films from his own 8mm originals.

Recently, I sent Keith a modest questionnaire about his experiences as a Woodologist, and his answers were entertaining, enlightening, and occasionally startling. 

10 Questions With Keith Crocker

1. Have you ever worn an angora sweater? 
Keith Crocker
No, I have never worn an angora sweater. Not that per se I wouldn't wear an angora sweater, but my wife is allergic to angora. No joke, she breaks out just being near to it. And I doubt she's going to start allergy shots all over again if suddenly I decide to start sporting Ed Wood fashion. I'll leave well enough alone. 
2. You found loops likely involving Ed Wood in your basement, and ultimately committed to releasing two pioneering discs of these short pornographic films on your Cinefear disc label—now operating in its 29th year, one of the few surviving cult video boutique labels. How did you become so sure of Ed's involvement? 
Interesting story regarding how I ended up with so-called Ed Wood loops. The cameraman I used when I shot my film Blitzkrieg: Escape From Stalag 69 (2008) had a box of old porn loops in his crawlspace. He knew I was transferring old 8mm loops and selling them via Cinefear Video. So he offered me this collection and I took it, but other than transferring the titles that featured porn star John Holmes, I put the rest away and never really bothered to watch them.  
Flash forward at least ten years. I read Joe Blevins' article at Dead 2 Rights regarding Wood's involvement in the first 19 Swedish Erotica loops. When he listed the titles, it was like a lightning bolt had struck me. I had seen those titles; I even remembered the box art, but where and when?! Boom, I ran downstairs into the basement and there they were. The titles were in the collection I received from my cameraman. And a few of them had already been transferred for a John Holmes compilation I was offering at the time. 
Regarding how I was confident of Ed's involvement, it's actually very simple. The way those loops were staged is just about identical to the staging of the Ed Wood directed TV spots of 1949. At the point that I realized I had these loops, I had also recently seen his TV commercials. With the addition of hardcore sex, these loops were his commercials only with nude people. So it was the staging that really clued me in. Otherwise, everything Joe said in that blog was dead on, from props to wardrobe and of course the use of the "Owl Eyes" wall decor from Necromania (1971).  
Honestly, it was all laid out to see in one neat package consisting of the first 19 Swedish Erotica's, but certainly Ed didn't stop there. I believe he carried on with them a tad longer before launching off into other series such as John's Girls and Garter Girls 
3. And what do you infer was his level of involvement? 
There is no question in my mind that he is the director/writer of these loops. How much writing actually occurred is in question. He may have made the scenes up as the loops went along, but he certainly wrote the subtitles and box summaries. Because he didn't have to worry about special effects or any of the "bells and whistles" associated with the more mainstream cinema he was associated with, a creativity came out of him and he took time to craft some fine 8mm loops.  
In fact, it's my belief that he actually shaped this particular genre of filmmaking. Prior to his involvement, there were no rules for what a loop was to show other than, of course, hardcore penetration. Wood took the time to try and bring a lyricism to these films. They featured dissolves, fades, and even split screen. In some cases they involved loving couples. In others there was rape, which quickly turned over to pleasure as so many of these sexual fantasies do in this type of film. Some deal with the supernatural.  
But they are all staged or shot in such a similar manner as to attest to the work of one man. That man being Ed Wood. In fact I'll go on record to say that the most original material Ed Wood ever offered us was those loops and, of course, Glen or Glenda (1953). Wood was the first example of a "fanboy" filmmaker. His horror films offer little in the way of originality; they are loaded with tropes from older films. While they do reflect the times they were made in, as a whole they regurgitate horror film rhetoric. However with the porn loops, no rhetoric was in place. Wood helped create a rhetoric that laid down an industry standard that many tried to imitate.  
4. Why Ed Wood? 
One of Ed's novels.
Wood, all his life, was grappling with sexual identity issues. Hence, so much of his imagery was steeped in fetish. In some way shape or form Wood was screaming out his confusion and obsession. Certainly his alcoholism did not help his career, but it isn't the sole reason Ed ended up working in pornography. The porn novels he wrote, and later the loops he worked on also provided an outlet for his obsessive sexual compulsions.  
I have no doubt that he felt he should have been in a better place as far as filmmaking is concerned, and if he could have managed his alcoholism, he might very well have achieved a better stardom. But his sexual compulsions are just as much of an example of addiction as was alcoholism. As we very well know, most folks in the porn business are addicted, to something: sex, booze, drugs, money. You already had Ed as a centerpiece of addiction, so the business he was in certainly suited his current situation.  
Yet, because Ed thrived in this type of environment, he had a far easier time working it rather than running around trying to find investors for his own films. That was fine when he was younger; as he got older it was easier to just be employed instead of creating your own employment. [Porn publisher] Bernie Bloom more than likely realized he had one of the best workers he ever had in Wood. Wood was a willing conscript. He wasn't a victim per se. 
5. If there is one mystery about Ed or his work that you would love to solve, what is it? 
Like all of us following the later career of Ed Wood, I want one of the people involved in the production of these loops to step forward and confirm 100% their memories of having worked with him on these films. A nice still photo of Wood on set directing would be fantastic! I'm confident that those working on these loops at that time had no clue just who the hell he was. Other writers working for Bloom didn't know who he was, and if they did, they felt he was delusional in his tales of having worked with Bela Lugosi. Certainly, if the late John Holmes was still alive, he'd be able to flat confirm what we all think we know. Certainly some of the actresses from those loops are still with us. The talent behind the camera, not so much. 
We really need closure on this. Some people love a mystery. These are the same type of people who never really want to know who Jack the Ripper was. Not me, I don't like open ends. 
6. You provided me the privilege of presenting what is likely Ed's last feature as writer/director, The Young Marrieds, from an original 16mm print, for a private audience in the late summer of 2017. You present and as a film professor teach Ed yourself. How do audiences generally react?
The group you presented to was a private film class that I teach out of my house. It's an advanced course on the history of horror, science fiction, and fantasy. I gave the class the option of seeing an Ed Wood adult motion picture and those who wished to see that side of Ed Wood's work came to attend. Historically, it fascinated them. In other ways, the film was far more prehistoric than his so-called "so bad they are good" films from the '50s. It was certainly less sophisticated than the loop work that was to follow.  
I offer a seminar on Ed Wood that questions the concept that he was "one of the world's worst filmmakers." He certainly wasn't. When I present that seminar at, say, a library or community center, I explain about his later career, but other than a clip from Orgy of the Dead (1965) I can't really illustrate more than that. I gave the presentation at a prestigious art cinema a few years back and I was able to show more salacious clips without going into hardcore. I also have a wealth of memorabilia that I use for examples.  
Audience attendance and reaction to these Wood seminars have been very good. I honestly believe more people leave respecting the man far more than when they first arrive. His story is fascinating, and it makes you wonder about so many other filmmakers whose career took a similar path but yet they fell between the cracks and we never really get a chance to appreciate their work. I look at all of this as archaeology. When I was a kid, I wanted to be an archaeologist. Now I am one. 
7. Sexploitation and vintage hardcore intersect with cheap gore films and low-to-no-budget sleaze. Why? 
Sexploitation, gory horror films, and ultimately hardcore porn were the last taboos to be broken. They were the last holdouts of the old Hayes Code, which at one time forced filmmakers to be more creative and actually make good films. That said, the later era filmmakers that broke these taboos in the early '60s tended to be the same filmmakers who got into hardcore porn in the later era of the '60s and '70s. Again Wood being one such example. Others being Dave Friedman and the Findlays and Joe Sarno.  
When the fanboys discovered their favorite trash film directors also did porn under pseudonyms, they ran out and tried to acquire the porn flicks because they wanted to see how their gore and sleaze heroes handled the XXX material. This was mostly during the early days of video when porn was king and tons of it was released to fill video store shelves.  
The first ever hardcore 8mm loop I had seen was a Swedish Erotica with John Holmes and Nanette Peters called "Lustful Shower" (SE #28). This had to be around 1978 or '79. I was the only kid on the block to have a 8mm projector, so people brought these types of films to me to see them projected. I was most likely 13 or 14 at the time, and that little loop had a profound effect on me. 
Cover for a Swedish Erotica loop.

At around the same time I was seeing films like Count Dracula and His Vampire Brides (aka The Satanic Rites of Dracula, 1973) in the theater, and that film also had nudity and eroticism. So somehow the two genres started to crossbreed. Porn and horror with the new gods of that decade. HBO and video brought it all into our homes in the early '80s. Both horror and sex films were thought of as easy genres to make and actually draw an income from. Folks from the horror and sexploitation world went hardcore when that was the new trend, and then later it was visa versa when horror went hot on video.
8. Being your friend, I am admittedly biased, considering you Long Island's premier schlock-teur. But The Bloody Ape and the sadly little-known Valley Stream Slut were released a while back. Beyond Wood, what's next? 
DVD of The Bloody Ape.
Haaa! Greg, you make it sound so bleak. LOL. Actually I've been quite busy. For the past six plus years, I've been working on a documentary regarding Long Island grind houses. I've been interviewing projectionists who worked them, plus I have celebrity interviews with personalities such as Carter Stevens, Joel M. Reed, Jamie Gillis, and Gino Colbert.  
Bloody Ape was shot in 1993 but released on video in 1997. In 2009 it came out on a deluxe DVD. In between those years I made Blitzkrieg: Escape From Stalag 69, a WWII-based exploitation title that had theatrical play in 2008. It also had a deluxe DVD release in 2009. In fact both Ape and Blitz are slated for DVD re-release this spring. They are currently available from Wildeye Releasing, a company I help found.  
Now, of interest to Ed Wood fans, Conrad Brooks almost had a small part in Blitzkrieg. My co-creator Keith Marurro wanted to have a scene involving Winston Churchill working on a painting while thinking over military strategy. We were going to use Brooks as Churchill and have someone else dub over the thought narrative. I ended up nixing the idea because I didn't want to pay Brooks, who I thought was a lousy actor. In fact, I knew Brooks because my cameraman was also the coordinator of the Stoneybrook Icon festival held yearly on Long Island. Brooks and I were both guests there. Brooks was loud and obnoxious. He did have some great funny stories, but his whole gig was based on his threadbare connection to Ed Wood. On top of that he had done some lousy shot-on-video garbage, and in all honesty his name on a video insured that it was going to be crap. Hence why I didn't want his name on Blitzkrieg 
In 2010 I shot promotional trailers for two upcoming films I hope to make: Three Slices of Delirium and Rasputin on Campus. In 2014, I did a mock trailer with my wife for a festival held in Boston. It's called The Librarian and it was actually very much inspired by Ed Wood's Night of the Ghouls (1959), which is actually my favorite Ed Wood horror film. The trailer advertises a fictitious film that's a lot like Night of the Ghouls only if it had starred The Marx Brothers.  
Now, regarding The Valley Stream Slut (1992). When the then-functioning Cinefear crew got out of college, we were all desperate for work. At the time, porn films were dying because the fear of AIDS had taken all the fun out of the films. The only porn that had fire was the amateur material. Made by couples and swingers, the sex in those videos was far more inventive than the sterile porn being perpetrated by the industry. So we decided to make an adult flick using amateur stars.  
Of interest, this video was supposed to have been videotaped by the legendary Joe Marzano, director of Venus in Furs and Cool It Baby (both 1967). Marzano wanted to be paid upfront instead of waiting for us to sell the project. This pissed me off and I kicked him off the film. In the long run, he was right. Also in the long run, his being involved in this would have made no difference for us, so we were right as well for kicking him out. Hence we broke even.  
Anyhow, this video, which was supposed to be the story of an oversexed widow and her husband who is now a ghost, had strong influence from Wood as well. By the time I got the project shot, some cast members got cold feet and pulled out. I drastically had to cut the video down. We sold the finished result to a company that specialized in amateur porn. In the short run, we made shit money. I was so pissed I tried selling it under a different title to another distribution company but I got caught in the process. If it looks like I have no respect for adult film distributors you're right, I don't. People in that industry are thieves, so I have no regrets about trying to hoodwink them. I just wish I had done it better and pulled it off. In the long run I made much more on that video selling it off my website. So good for me. LOL. 
9. The Wood loops were transferred from 8mm originals from your personal collection. Tell us about the process. 
I basically use what was once described as a "cinechain" process. Early on, my former cameraman used to do the transfers for me, and those were done through projecting the image and recording it with a video camera. For the past six plus years, I've been doing all the transfers with a similar process except that I record the image with my digital camera, the same camera I used to shoot Blitzkrieg, and I take the image directly into my computer, where I can do some editing and color correction if needed. I'm not looking to do too much clean up. I want the purchaser to feel like they are watching the loop like it was being projected in their own house. It may sound odd, but the most intimate experience is seeing it like it was meant to be seen, projected! 
Two discs from Cinefear.
10. Tell us about the 8mm Wood homage you are shooting this summer. 
Haaa! If my memory serves me right, a devious gentleman by the name of Greg Javer actually came up with the idea upon seeing my hot tub. Since many of the Wood loops involve pools or baths it was suggested I should shoot a tribute to Wood's loop work utilizing my hot tub. LOL. The fact that I have four rolls of sound super 8mm cartridges chillin' in my refrigerator made this all seem like a must do!  
Bear in mind that loops were shot on 16mm film, and while I do have a 16mm camera, truth be told shooting on 16 would be a waste. Now of course one would ask at this point, "What will you do with a super 8mm adult film made in the Ed Wood style?" Well, both Greg Javer and myself are hoping to make a documentary on the later adult film world of Ed Wood, and if we do make this documentary, this loop would be a fun little supplement to go with it. Yes, the concept is tacky but who cares? When it all goes down, the reader of this interview will wish he or she was myself and Greg. LOL.  
You know, of course, what the biggest headache will be in making this loop? Finding a dude like John Holmes and a gal like Barbara Barton. If any of the readers here feel they can fill these requirements certainly touch base with Greg or myself! LOL! 
The infamous hot tub.

Bonus Question: Glen or Glenda? I know you have an early VHS copy with the title I Led Two Lives on the cover.
Ahhh, the old Video Dimensions tape I have of Glen or Glenda actually does bear the credit of I Led Two Lives. Now, I haven't studied this version yet, so I can't say if it contains any different footage, but it does contain the alternate title. In answer to my thoughts on this film itself, all I can say is it was perhaps his most personal film. It's not per se his best film, but it is so personal and about as up close to Ed Wood as anyone was ever going to get. It's an essential watch if you want to ascertain the man and not just know him for his horror/sci-fi output. Glen or Glenda is the real deal. 
POSTSCRIPT: I recollect discussing the loop homage differently. Keith mentioned shooting a vintage Wood-style loop on actual film in his hot tub, and I offered that it could include subtitles all actually penned by Ed, culled from the vast family of loops. Moot points, in the end. Some of our other favorite set decorations will be on hand! 

Screening The Young Marrieds with Keith's film class was one of the highlights of my Wood obsession. And we'll await Keith's dissection of that old VHS tape, a surviving print under that title a true rarity. Finally, it's worth noting that the Swedish Erotica loop "Lustful Shower" recollected by Keith featured a box cover summary that may have been written by Ed and subtitles that undoubtedly were. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood/Dziawer Odyssey, Part 10 by Greg Dziawer

Who's that man sitting at the bar?

Last weekend, I indulged myself in a common pursuit, slowly scanning through a film situated squarely within the orbit of Edward D. Wood, Jr., on a lark hoping to spot Ed. I scoured the backgrounds of a very busy 1949 variety musical B-feature called Square Dance Jubilee. A relatively early effort for editor turned director Paul Landres, Jubilee is mainly a showcase for country music acts of the day, including the infamous Spade Cooley, Smiley and Kitty, and The Broome Brothers. The film was co-written and co-produced by Ron Ormond (of Mesa of Lost Women and Yes Sir, Mr. Bones fame), and the cast includes cowboy actor Tom Tyler (from Crossroad Avenger).

At the 50:41 mark, during a performance of a novelty number called "Joan of Arkansas," there appears—for a few fleeting seconds—a character on the left periphery of the frame. He's seated at a bar, so his back is to us as he enjoys the music. But then, at 50:52, an old timer taps him on the shoulder, so he turns his head and gives us a profile view:

Who's that at the left? Is it Ed Wood?

There are myriad reasons why I was looking through this particular film in the first place, and we'll get to them in future installments. Until then, watch the film for yourself and see what you think. A vague resemblance? No way? Is this mysterious barfly our Eddie?


Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Another roundup of comics parodies by Joe Blevins

Remember these?

Well, folks, it's that time again. The long-running comic strip Mary Worth has just wrapped up another glacially paced story, so I figured it was time to do another assortment of comics parodies, takeoffs, and spoofs. I've accumulated quite a few of these over the last few months.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Loop Odyssey, Part 10 by Greg Dziawer

Did Ed Wood's words wind up in a classic film from 1975?

A few days ago, in a private forum devoted to adult movies, someone asked the source of the loop excerpted in the 1975 Lee Frost feature A Climax of Blue Power. Forty-four minutes into this classic roughie, the main character—a psychotic security guard posing as a cop—spools up an 8mm loop in his bedroom. We can see that the loop is on a red plastic reel. That's consistent with the handful of 8mm loops produced by the Bloom family (Ed Wood's employers for most of the 1970s) that I have. For the next several minutes of Blue Power, we watch an excerpt from this subtitled loop, with a few cutaways back to the protagonist's reactions.

A moment from A Climax of Blue Power. Note the white box.

Until about 1973, 8mm pornographic loops were usually distributed in white boxes, exactly like the one seen in Blue Power. Each box would typically feature a photocopied image from the film and a text summary. The characteristically silent footage features a male-female scene shot on an indoor set. The visible subtitles, which give a pretty clear indication of what's transpiring onscreen, are as follows:

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 79: The 10 Most Shocking Stories in 'Nightmare of Ecstasy'

Ed looks very pink on this book cover.

Lillian Wood and Rudolph Grey (1984).
Memories can be tricky bastards. Most of us can barely recall in precise detail what we were doing last week, let alone 10 or 20 years ago. Over time, our memories of the past get blurrier and blurrier. Plus, as we try to make sense of an often chaotic and unpredictable world, we tend to take the events of our lives and shape them into meaningful, coherent stories. Often, that means exaggerating, eliminating, or flat out inventing certain details. These stories may not bear much resemblance to the truth, but we tell them to others and to ourselves so often that they become somehow stronger than the truth.

Rudolph Grey's Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (1992) is truly a book of memories. In compiling the first (and still only) full-length biography of notorious filmmaker Ed Wood, Grey assembled the book largely out of quotes from Ed's friends, relatives, and professional associates. Though Grey does not annotate his sources whatsoever, most of these quotes presumably came from his own extensive interviews. Since Ed himself was already deceased by the time this book was being assembled, his quotes derive from old letters and vintage interviews. 

Nightmare is a great source of raw data and provided the foundation of Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski's script for the 1994 biopic Ed Wood. Some passages from the book made it directly into the movie, almost word for word. But none of this means that Grey's book is factually accurate. The author was more interested in compiling colorful anecdotes about Eddie than in curating the objective "truth" about the man.

Which is to say that some of Nightmare of Ecstasy is likely bullshit. But it's bullshit that I haven't tired of reading and rereading, even though I bought my copy 25 years ago. In fact, while scouring its pages, I keep finding stories that shock me even today. Ed Wood, let's not forget, was an emotionally volatile alcoholic operating on the fringe of the movie business, so a little seediness is expected in a story like this. But there are a few anecdotes that are sordid even by the standards of this book, and those are the ones I'd like to highlight. These are the ugly, uncomfortable stories that didn't make it into Ed Wood.

These are presented in no particular order. And, again, if I haven't made it clear already, I am not declaring these stories to be true or untrue. But I can verify that each one appears in Nightmare of Ecstasy. Let's dive in.