Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Loop Odyssey, Part 11 by Greg Dziawer

Who's that portraying a Mexican jailer in a '70s porn loop? You know who.

Ed in a sombrero.
Rudolph Grey's 1992 book Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr.  alerted the world to Eddie's participation in a 1970s pornographic loop in which he played a Mexican jailer, complete with "a dildo and a big sombrero." That intriguing film, identified by Grey only as The Jailer, seemed to have been lost to time. But readers of this column will remember that I screened and reviewed a copy of the obscure loop under the title Prisoners Lovemaking (aka Prisoner Love Making) back in August of 2017. The video was blurry and black-and-white, but it was an important part of Ed Wood history nevertheless.

If you'd asked me, even a week ago, if an original, full-color 16mm master of Prisoners Lovemaking would ever show up, I would likely have waived my hand at you and scoffed. Not that I am an asshole by nature, but such an event would have seemed immensely unlikely to me.

But then, last Friday night after work, I sat down at my computer, cracked open a beer, and relaxed. No sooner was my butt warm than I went to one of my favorite places, a private Ed Wood forum on Facebook, and saw that a miracle had occurred earlier that afternoon. A new member to the group, a movie fan and collector from Oregon, announced that he'd come into possession of a high-quality 16mm print of Prisoners Lovemaking. But how?

This collector graciously allowed me to share his incredible story here:
I bought this years ago for $1. I watched it once, set it on a shelf, and didn't make the Ed Wood connection until reading a piece by Will Sloan a few months back. Even then, I thought it was such a long shot that I didn't take the film out and give it another look until today. It's fate, I tells ya!

I'd actually already read your article today and loved it. I was a wee bit sad to find that the film had [already] surfaced online, but I felt better when I saw the other print. The copy I have is 16mm, in color and super-crisp. It looks great.

I bought this with a bunch of other films and was really looking more for more tame burlesque things, cheesecake reels, etc. I'd always wondered about the very remote possibility that Ed Wood might have been involved in some of these things, mainly because I believe one of them was put out by [Ed Wood's employer] Pendulum. It was set on an airplane, if I remember correctly. Mainly, I'm blown away by the weirdness of this happening. I mean, this thing had to be found by someone who had some interest in Ed Wood, had to live in Portland, had to have read articles by folks like you, etc., etc. The stars lined up or something.

I live in Portland, OR where we've always had our fair share of strip joints and adult bookstores. The place where I found this has since been demolished, but for most of my time in Portland, there was an especially terrifying porn shop downtown called Cindy's—The Adult Bookstore. So, years ago, maybe in the late '90s or early 2000s, I began to wonder if there was any chance that a store such as Cindy's would have any of its old 8mm stag films lying around. It didn't seem likely, but I was buying/selling a lot on Ebay at the time, and I was up for finding any type of collectible. 
The infamous Cindy's, once a landmark in Portland.
Also, I had bought a few 8mm films from an older gentleman who used to show up at antique shows in town. I'd picked up some older cheesecake/burlesque films from him: one by Russ Meyer, a Bettie Page film. Good stuff at amazing prices. So I knew that some of this stuff was out there.

So I convinced a friend to go with me to Cindy's but really expected nothing more than a sketchy experience. We walked in one night to find a crummy, low-rent joint with a grubby floor, too much light, and a scary biker-type guy working the counter. It smelled like Pine-Sol. Completely old school. But to my absolute amazement, sitting on the racks among the modern sex mags and DVDs were rows and rows of 8mm and Super 8 films. And they were priced at $1 each. 
A familiar smell.
I tried to play it cool and not come off as too excited, and I asked the scary biker guy if they were really a dollar each. He said they were. This was mostly your basic stuff—plenty of Swedish Erotica and lesser-known series. The biker guy was actually friendly enough, and when I asked him if they had any more, he said, "We got boxes of 'em in the back. You can look if you want." So why not? If you're invited to go to the back room of a terrifying porn shop, you can't really say no.

He took me and my pal to the back room where there were indeed boxes of old films. I began to go through them and spent maybe 10 minutes digging through and choosing things that looked interesting. I snapped up any burlesque stuff I found—not much—but really grabbed anything that looked interesting or collectible. The cheaply packaged films in white boxes with just a color photo glued onto the front. Super 8 films with sound. One from Pendulum specifically because I knew of the Ed Wood connection. There were just a few 16mm films, so I grabbed some of those, too.

So I took home my big box of films and began screening them, one by one. Nothing against the full-on porn stuff, but I was a little uncomfortable selling it on Ebay. I did sell quite a few of these things, but I just stashed several away and figured I'd sell them or toss them eventually. But one film that stood out just a little was the one set in a prison with a jailer wearing a very tall sombrero. I thought about selling it but just never got around to it, honestly. It sat in a box for years.

Then, just a few months ago, I was reading a little about Ed Wood online. I'd always wondered if he'd directed the Pendulum film I'd found. I didn't find any reference to that, but I did learn how involved he'd been with Swedish Erotica. I'd probably owned and sold films he made without even knowing it. But the bit I read that really caught my attention had to do with a lost film in which Ed played a Mexican jailer. I wondered if there was any chance that it could be the film I had, but considered it an extreme long shot. I figured I'd give it a look at some point, but it was months before I even bothered to take it out and screen it.

So that's the story! As I mentioned before, it's a miracle that this thing didn't end up in a dumpster by the early '80s, and I have no idea why it made its way to an adult bookstore in Portland. I'd bet that companies that made these films just didn't know what to do with their masters after a while other than to sell them off or throw them away.

I did go back to Cindy's a few times, so I made a fairly good haul. But the majority of the films I found were really just the sleazy version of white elephants. There are plenty to go around for collectors, and there seem to be very few of any real historical or monetary value. I knew that some of these were good finds but that most weren't. I also wasn't keen on having boxes of this stuff sitting around my house. And honestly, I did feel a bit unclean about going into Cindy's. Even by scuzzy old porn store standards, it was a scary hellhole of a place.

One of the last times I went there, the terrifying biker guy behind the counter informed me that someone had died there that day—some junkie shooting up in one of the booths. Note that I said it was "one of the last times." A really good find keeps you coming back well beyond the point of reason.
Quite a saga, don't you agree?

Interestingly, this rare loop is extant in two versions, both sourced from 8mm. One is in color, the opening loop in a VHS compilation from 1985, a treasure-trove of Cinema Classics loops very likely directed by Ed Wood. The other was drained of color, almost sepia-toned, and likely from a B&W source, also on a VHS-era comp. The loops were commonly sold in both color—fifty bucks, no drop in the bucket in the early '70s—and a more affordable B&W version. They were originally shot in color 16mm.

The discovery of this 16mm master of Prisoners Lovemaking promises to shine a new light on Woodology, and I'm confident my new friend from Oregon will diligently shepherd the film into accessibility at the highest quality by today's standards. The color and detail we'll see will finally and firmly ensconce Ed Wood in the world of early '70s West Coast porn loops, more vividly than I ever imagined.

Next: We'll delve into the VHS compilations in which Prisoners Lovemaking previously appeared and detail the Pendulum magazine photo feature with text accompaniment by Ed Wood that ran concurrent to the loop's original release. Yes, you read that right.