Thursday, April 18, 2019

Ed Wood's ANGORA FEVER: "That Damned Faceless Fog" (1971)

These two people seem to be enjoying their time in the fog.

NOTE: This article continues my coverage of Angora Fever: The Collected Short Stories of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (BearManor Bare, 2019).
An issue of Young Beavers.

The story: "That Damned Faceless Fog," originally published in Young Beavers, vol. 6, no.1, March/April 1972. Credited to "Dick Trent."

Synopsis: Country boy Josh, running away from his abusive father, is freshly arrived in the big city by bus, and he doesn't like it. He's too young to get into any of the bars (which he calls "Honky-Tonks"), and the fog makes it impossible to see much of anything. He thinks back to his hometown and his sexual initiation at the hands of his cousin Brenda. He wonders if he'll ever make it back home. More pressing, though, is his need to find shelter for the night. He only has $9 in his pocket. And that's just when he's approached by a smooth-talking streetwalker who says she can "help" him.

Wood trademarks: Fog (cf. "Out of the Fog"); women's underwear or lack thereof (cf. "Gore in the Alley," "The Hazards of the Game," "The Hooker"); color pink (cf. "Gore in the Alley," "The Hazards of the Game"); "tied up in knots" (cf. Glen or Glenda); hillbilly character (cf. Shotgun Wedding); fur (cf. "The Hazards of the Game"); prostitute (cf. Orgy of the Dead).

Excerpt: "And he knew exactly what they did when they went to the rooms. He'd seen pictures, and he’d had the same thing done a few times by his cousin Brenda. Damn she was a good lay…. And damn she knew a lot of tricks that could turn a young boy's body on like it was fire, and when that final minute came she would spring up and hit that thing with all her might and would leave him all tied up in knots wondering when the next time would be. He never had to wait long when Brenda was around. She was damned hot for his young body."

Reflections: John Schlesinger's Midnight Cowboy was one of the movie sensations of 1969, and the very next year, it became the only X-rated film to ever win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. By 1971, it was inspiring naughty parodies like Bethel Buckalew's Midnight Plowboy. Actually, in retrospect, 1969 had a plethora of movies that drew on cowboy and Western iconography in one way or another. Besides Midnight Cowboy, you had Easy Rider in which Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda actually played characters called Billy and Wyatt (as in Billy the Kid and Wyatt Earp) who traveled across America on motorcycles that stood in for horses. Meanwhile, Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch was a hyper-violent, revisionist Western about over-the-hill desperadoes witnessing the end of an era. While more traditional, even crowd-pleasers like True Grit and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were not the kind of Saturday matinee cowboy flicks that Ed Wood had been weaned on.

"That Damned Faceless Fog" strikes me as Ed Wood's somewhat belated response to Midnight Cowboy. Josh, our hapless hero, has made the classic mistake of leaving the old homestead in search of seeking something better in the city, only to find the place cold and unwelcoming. Note the references to prostitution and long, lonely bus trips, both important to the Schlesinger film. Even the name Josh is similar to that of John Voight's Joe Buck. But Ed's take on this material is even more despairing than Schlesinger's. There's no Ratso Rizzo here, just an unnamed "painted lady" who runs off with Josh's last nine bucks, leaving him to die of exposure in the streets of the city. Like a rat.

A native New Yorker, Harry Nilsson had a Top 10 hit with "Everybody's Talkin'," the catchy theme song from Midnight Cowboy. But I think the song in his catalog that best matches "That Damned Faceless Fog" is "Cowboy" from Nilsson Sings Newman (1970). "Cold gray buildings where a hill should be," Nilsson moans. "Steel and concrete closin' in on me/City faces haunt the places/I rode alone." Josh can definitely relate to those words.

Next: "Once Upon a Gargoyle" (1973)