Friday, April 5, 2019

Ed Wood's ANGORA FEVER: "Florence of Arabia" (1971)

This isn't a David Lean movie, that's for sure!

NOTE: This article continues my coverage of Angora Fever: The Collected Short Stories of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (BearManor Bare, 2019).
Is this poster a turn-on?
The story: "Florence of Arabia," originally published in An Illustrated Study of Voyeurism, vol. 2, no. 3, November/December 1971.

Synopsis: Johnny Torrance, otherwise the picture of virility, is having trouble achieving an erection. The only thing that gets him excited anymore is voyeurism. But the people he watches have to be ignorant of his presence. Otherwise it doesn't work. Johnny's not having much luck in the big city, spying on people through a telescope from his fifteenth story apartment. (Smaller towns held more opportunities for peeping but also more risk of getting caught.) Unfortunately, the people Johnny spies on all seem to be too busy watching TV to make love. Either that, or they have their shades drawn. He's about to give up and move to the other side of town when he spots a lovely young lady whose kink is stripping in front of her Lawrence of Arabia poster. This seems to be the find of a lifetime, until the woman reveals something that sends our man right over the edge.

Wood trademarks: Punning title (cf. "Missionary Position Impossible," "Captain Fellatio Hornblower"); voyeurism (cf. Wood's abandoned project The Peeper); sweaters (cf. "Super Who?"); winos and alleys (cf. "Hitchhike to Hell"); gender switcheroo (cf. "Super Who?"); euphemisms like "dork" and "dong" (cf. many stories in Blood Splatters Quickly).

Excerpt: “But somebody behind all those windows must be doing it. How in hell do they propagate the race around here? They are always telling in the papers that the big city birthrates are higher than anywhere else in the world. Then how in hell do they make babies if they sit in front of their televisions all night?”

Reflections: Pornography's a funny business. For some people, the basics are enough. Give them some female nudity and some no-frills intercourse between attractive people, and they're satisfied. Late night cable TV is full of that stuff. But for certain individuals, it takes something extra, maybe something extremely specific, to satisfy them. A kink. A fetish. A very particular set of circumstances. And this is where people can get into trouble. What if your particular fetish is dangerous, illegal, or extremely impractical? What if it's simply very rare? And what if, like a drug addict with a high tolerance level, you wind up needing something more and more extreme each time in order to achieve release?

That seems to be what's happening to poor Johnny Torrance. Voyeurism is his game, and I think he'd be the first to admit that the game sucks. "Florence of Arabia" isn't one of Ed Wood's horror stories, but Johnny's life as a peeper has turned him almost into a vampire, a predatory creature of the night always worrying about that next fix. Dracula craves the taste of blood; Johnny craves the sight of flesh. But, just as with being a vampire, there are all these inconvenient rules for being a true voyeur. Pornographic films, for instance, don't do it for Johnny. And he gets no kick from "swinging societies" either. What fun is watching when the people want you to watch?

I have to wonder about the intended readers of this story, though. If they're buying something called An Illustrated Study of Voyeurism, they're obviously into peeping themselves, if only theoretically. But would they be satisfied by reading about someone else's experiences? Johnny wouldn't be. And what about that surprise ending to the story? Is that a fetish within a fetish, or is Ed just being a little stinker and ruining everyone's orgasm?

P.S. According to Rudolph Grey's Nightmare of Ecstasy (1992), Eddie planned to make a movie called The Peeper in 1960. It was to be a sequel to The Sinister Urge. The abandoned script "once again featured the detectives of The Sinister Urge, Lt. Matt Carson and Sgt. Randy Stone, as they attempt to crack a series of sexually motivated murders of attractive women. The culprit is a homicidal peeping tom." Wood went to work for Autonetics instead of making this movie, but he got to return to that theme with this story over a decade later.

Next: "So Soon to be an Angel" (1971)