Wednesday, August 28, 2019

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

This week, Greg orbits around Ed Wood.

If you had told me, when I began writing articles for this series back in 2015, that within a few years I'd embark upon the post-production of a lost, never-completed film shot in 1974 by an associate of Ed Wood, I would not have even remotely believed you. But now, after two years of work, that film is finally complete and will soon see the light of day via VOD and a deluxe Blu-ray disc from Darkside Releasing.

It all started with Operation Redlight, another seemingly lost film and something of a Holy Grail for Ed Wood obsessives. Wood wrote and stars in the 1969 film. Just weeks into writing these articles, I found a profile for Redlight's co-producer and cinematographer, Jacques "Jack" Descent, on Facebook. I messaged him, inquiring about the film, and was ecstatically surprised to hear back from Jack with previously unknown details about Redlight

Jacques Descent and Greg Dziawer in September 2017.
We became fast friends, Jack eagerly answering every little question I could think of. Then in his late 70s, he was enthused to go back in time to his years in the film industry, a quarter century after retiring from that pursuit. A little-known figure despite his nearly three decades in show business, Jack played a role in close to 50 feature films. He was a talented cinematographer and producer. Sadly, many of his projects, like Redlight, have faded into obscurity. Some, in fact, never even made it into post-production. One such unfortunate project was a softcore sex film from the early '70s he vaguely recollected as A Girl For All Seasons. He remembered nothing else, and my research efforts turned up nothing.

In late 2016, I received an email from Jack informing me that an archivist had contacted him, having found the original 29 reels of raw 16mm superneg footage and corresponding 1/4" Nagra reels for a film the archivist could not identify. In the first reel, the archivist noticed a poster hanging in the background for the 1967 softcore film Watch the Birdie...Die! Painfully, Birdie is another lost film. Like Redlight, it was directed by Don Doyle. On the poster, the archivist astutely noticed the producer credit for Jacques Descent. 

Just a handful of images from that first reel were enough for Jack to recollect that the film was A Girl For All Seasons. Produced and shot by Jack in Hollywood over three days in June 1974 under the working title 4 Dames 4 Dreams, the film wrapped production and then disappeared. Unable to raise the funds for post-production, Jack moved on without looking back, another lost film in his wake. 

Until now, that is! I requested the raw film materials from that archive, and they agreed to send them. We then had the audio digitized and the film reels scanned in 4K. Jack and I debated at length how the film should be edited. We had no script, just five and a half hours of raw film footage. Although the clapperboards suggested a linear narrative, we finally agreed upon it being non-linear, a blend of fantasy and reality. While the result is not quite Pirandello, it proved to be an ambitious and arty film for its genre, budget, and era. 

Jack engaged a few editors before finally landing on the right post-production crew, Rev13 Films in Montreal. When Jack passed in June of last year, the footage had been assembled into a rough cut that approximated the complete restored version.

While all of this was transpiring, I continued writing articles here on a (mostly) weekly basis. Through my research for those articles, I learned about Ed Wood's myriad connections within the sex film industry of the early '70s. Ed crossed orbital paths with the people, places, and things in that milieu far beyond what had previously been known. I realized that Dames & Dreams—Jack's final title for 4 Dames 4 Dreams—was rife with Woodian intersections. The following are just a few of them.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Loop Odyssey, Part 14 by Greg Dziawer

This week's film has that touch of mink.

As the 1970s wore on, hardcore pornography deepened its roots as a mass cultural object. This was a pioneering era that can never be replicated. We know now, more than ever, just how active Edward D. Wood, Jr. was in the sex film industry during these crucial years. And although we have a great deal more to learn, it's widely accepted that Ed played a role—multiple roles, really—in the production of 8mm silent porn loops.

The SE logo as it looked in 1978.
More than any other, the brand that led the charge of pornography into America's bedrooms was Swedish Erotica. I'll refrain from repeating myself and instead direct you back to previous articles in which I've obsessed over the ephemeral details in these short erotic films. Swedish Erotica loops were marketed directly to consumers rather than theaters or arcades. You had to supply your own projector and screen, and the films originally lacked sound, but at least you could watch them in the privacy of your own home.

Until the late 1970s, Ed Wood worked for a company called Art Publishers, Inc, which released Swedish Erotica films and tie-in magazines. The company was run by Noel Bloom, son of porn publisher Bernie Bloom. A decade earlier, Bernie had hired Ed to work in the West Coast office of Pendulum Publishers, Inc., which initially specialized in adult magazines and paperbacks. When Noel began producing adult loops in the early 1970s, he naturally recruited old pro Ed Wood to work on them.

The Swedish Erotica loop series arguably peaked in 1978. Well over a hundred loops were released to the home market that year. Ed passed in December of that year, but he had been penning subtitles for Bloom-family loops at least as far back as 1972, and he continued receiving paychecks from Art Publishers, Inc right into the final year of his life.

I've been transcribing the subtitles from dozens of loops for the last few years. These subtitles are odd throwbacks to an earlier, more primitive era of cinema, almost like the intertitles from silent movies. I've increasingly come to believe that the subtitles for the Bloom-family loops were written by Ed Wood himself. He likely wrote box cover summaries and even loop titles as well.

And that brings us to our next specimen: Swedish Erotica loop #146: "Blond Mink." This film, released near the end of Ed Wood's life, may not feature the most stellar set of subtitles I've come across, but it deserves some attention nevertheless.

The loop begins with a title card and credits. Three crew members are listed, but their names are different from those credited in earlier Swedish Erotica loops. A rather straightforward sex scene then ensues. Prolific porn performer Paul Thomas, a talented adult director in his later years, stars alongside blonde-haired Sindee Moore, who appears here without her usual colorful neck scarf. While the earliest Swedish Erotica loops developed narratives and characters and were shot with a careful artistry, those pretenses had almost completely evaporated by 1978. In "Blond Mink," the guy simply shows up at the girl's place, and they immediately get it on. Strangely, though, one last pretense was hanging on by its fingertips—the subtitles.

We are getting close to the end of the subtitled loops by Swedish Erotica #146, and the evolution of the subtitles through the mid-'70s mirrors the evolution of the narratives and artistry. The subtitles are so superfluous by 1978 that their existence seems utterly unnecessary. You'll see what I mean as you read the following transcript.

Girl: OHHHHHH...GOD... 

A pair of mink stoles.
That's it—a measly 14 words spread across four lines, totaling about ten seconds of screen time during this seven-and-a-half-minute loop. Incredibly, the last line appears while Paul and Sindee are still engaged in oral foreplay, loooooong before the loop's literal climax. In the earlier Swedish Erotica loops, that moment would have been accompanied by plenty of panting UMM's, OHHHH's, and AHH's. 

For those keeping score, "Blond Mink" has an average of 3.5 words per line. It's not the lowest average I've seen (that's 2.6), but by far, it's the least number of lines. As with other latter-day Swedish Erotica loops, the subtitles appear fittingly in purple.

Why even bother with the subs at this point? Old habits die hard, apparently. The subtitles died, too, roughly around the same time Ed passed. It's plausible that this is his work, but the text is so scant that there's too little evidence of Ed's unorthodox, highly distinctive writing style. That said, we do have two ellipses in the third subtitled line, punctuation oft-employed by Ed. And in 14 words, "tongue" appears twice. Ed's adult paperbacks and magazine short stories are rife with slashing, piercing, and darting tongues, either when his characters are kissing or when (as here) they're engaged in oral sex. The OHHHHHH, meanwhile, is just exemplary.

The title, too—and I'm again suggesting it was likely Ed's invention—is productive to interrogate. Knowing Ed's penchant for grammatical errors, I first thought it odd to see the word BLOND without an E. Upon further study, used as an adjective, Ed may have been right to utilize the masculine form of the word, especially in the United States. 

And then we come to the word MINK. Minks are carnivorous mammals related to otters, weasels and ferrets. We know them best for their fur. I have two of my grandmother's mink stoles, the old-fashioned kind with the heads still on, in my attic right now.

The blonde—the word is feminine if used as a noun and generally derogative—does, in fact, eat meat in the film, so perhaps being carnivorous is the reference. Given his angora affliction, it's also possible that Ed Wood had fur on the brain. Somehow, though, I don't think so. In one of his blond(e) moments, Eddie seemingly confounded "mink" and "minx." 

Urban Dictionary defines a minx as "an alluring, cunning, or boldly flirtatious girl or young woman. [She] has unusual seductive powers such that she could commit acts that would otherwise be considered inappropriate, while still maintaining an air of class or poise." That perfectly describes this film's leading lady. Surely, this is what Ed meant the title to reference. 

Ed Wood could very well have penned the box cover summary for this film as well. Though characteristically overheated in the most generic manner of porn, the word "luscious" jumped out at me as a word Ed used often for a full decade, going back to his magazine work at Pendulum.

A summary of the film. Note the spelling change in the title.

You can watch "Blond Mink" here. And keep watching this space for more dizzying updates as the Wood Loop Odyssey continues to spin out of control.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

The saga of Rex Morgan and Brother Almonzo

Rex gets a little handsy in this latest adventure.

There's no easy way to say this, so I'll just say it. I read the comic strip Rex Morgan, MD every single day. Yes, I know that this is shameful. Yes I do it anyway. There's not much to this strip. Rex is a doctor. He's married to a woman named June. He has some really creepy kids. The cast is rounded out by various patients, people who work in Rex's office, and assorted friends and relatives.

Anyway, in his most recent adventure, Rex is investigating some phony spiritualists who claim to be able to heal people. He attends some kind of vaguely New Age seminar and recognizes one of the con artists, Brother Almonzo, as being Rene Belluso, an art forger from a story that happened several years ago. Rex takes Brother Almonzo aside and tells him the jig is up. In his desperation, the conman tries to bribe Rex. And then this happens:

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 87: "What Would We Have Done Without Them?" (1975)

This week, Eddie takes us back into nudie movie history.

A coin-operated peep show.
Edward D. Wood, Jr. is, for better or worse, still known primarily as a filmmaker rather than a writer. Even though Eddie's books and articles represent a vast and colorful body of work, rich in themes and ripe for rediscovery, most documentaries about the man make only passing references to his writing career. A typical doc might show a couple of paperback covers from the 1960s before going back to talking about Ed's movies. Cue the umpteenth clip of model flying saucers dangling on the ends of strings.

If people haven't read Nightmare of Ecstasy or Muddled Mind, they may have no idea that Ed Wood was a writer at all, other than his screenplays. Part of the problem has been availability. Due to rights issues, only a few of Ed's dozens of novels (Killer in Drag, Devil Girls, Death of a Transvestite) are readily available on sites like Amazon today. The rest are expensive collectors' items. In recent years, the anthologies Blood Splatters Quickly and Angora Fever have made nearly a hundred of Eddie's short stories easily accessible to his fans. But this represents merely a tiny fraction of Wood's written output

And Ed Wood's nonfiction remains even less known than his fiction, if that's possible. While Eddie's short stories and novels have been somewhat neglected over the years, his fact-based articles and books, nearly all of them sexual or sex-adjacent in nature, have been basically abandoned. Almost no one writes about this material, voluminous though it is. So, today, I thought I'd shed some light on one of Eddie's lesser-known nonfiction works from later in his career.

The story: "What Would We Have Done Without Them?" Originally published in Body & Soul, vol. 8, no. 1, May/June 1975. Anthologized in Short Wood: Short Fiction by Edward D. Wood, Jr. (Ramble House, 2009).

A "camp" classic.
Synopsis: Though the porno film may seem like a relatively recent phenomenon, it's actually part of a heritage that goes back to the earliest days of filmed entertainment. In the old days, there were arcades with hand-cranked machines that allowed the viewer to flip through photographs. Then there were primitive "peep shows" that displayed brief filmed striptease routines. Eventually these shows evolved, adding color and full nudity. Many of these shows focused on nudist camps, since that setting allowed filmmakers to present nudity in a non-sexual way. Eventually, the appeal of these nudist films wore off, and the coin-operated machines weren't profitable enough for film producers or arcade owners.

The next step was projecting these films onto a big screen for an audience, rather than showing them to one viewer at a time. Nudity started becoming commonplace in theatrically exhibited films made after World War II and shown at burlesque theaters. Some of these films had stories, but many were simply the same old strip shows of the past. Patrons back then would sit through live strippers and old newsreels before getting to see the films. Even though these films were cheaply made and shown in black-and-white, they initially attracted long lines of curious spectators.

But this, too, lost its novelty, and producers realized they would have to invest more money in these movies. Some of that money came from theater owners who depended on the producers to stay in business. By the mid-1960s, the movies featured some "petting and kissing" between boys and girls. And, at long last, color became standard. But the stories were still "weak." Ultimately, knowledgeable audiences simply demanded that the films include actual sex. And this practice continues now, despite the efforts of "pressure groups," who have only succeeded in making sex films into a thriving multi-million-dollar business.

Wood trademarks: Sex film industry (cf. "Sex Star"); strippers (cf. "Flowers for Flame LeMarr"); jollies (cf. "Insatiable," "Never Up-Never In," "Blood Drains Easily"); ellipses (Ed's favorite punctuation).

Excerpt: "Sex simply had to rear its purple head… and that meant sex with no holds barred. The people in the audience weren't going to take any more of this kidding around. When they came to see a sex show that’s what they were going to see or they were going to cut up the seats, tear down the screen and jam the projector where it would do the most good."

What a difference seven years can make!
Reflections: By 1975, if you consider Orgy of the Dead his debut in the genre, Ed Wood had been working in the sex film industry for a decade when he wrote this article. And that decade happened to be a very tumultuous and eventful one for adult entertainment. It's a long way from Orgy, which features topless dancers but no bodily contact between men and women, to Deep Throat (1972), which features full nudity and real intercourse captured on film. The public profile of the sex film had risen as well, with Linda Lovelace and Marilyn Chambers becoming nationwide celebrities and "respectable" couples attending pornographic films without shame. The very idea of "porno chic" would have been unthinkable in 1965.

It's interesting to me that Ed was already looking ahead to the future. "Where the business can go from the movie projector is only up to the scientists who might invent something else," he writes. Note that phrase "from the movie projector." Remember, as of this article, the greatest technological advancement in the history of nudie films was showing them in movie theaters rather than peep show booths. The rise of the VCR was still in the future. Did Eddie sense that something like this was on the horizon? While this article makes no mention of the 8mm home-market loops such as the Swedish Erotica series, the very existence of these films may have suggested to Ed that "home entertainment" was the next frontier for pornography.

Ed Wood was a famously speedy author, cranking out manuscripts as fast as possible to get that quick cash to buy booze. That meant he was probably not doing a great deal of research on his nonfiction pieces, instead relying on his own memories and that old Wood standby, simply making stuff up. There is a noticeable lack of specific dates and proper names in "What Would We Have Done Without Them?" He mentions a few basic time periods ("the late 1940's, just after W.W. II" and "the middle of the sixties") along the way, and gives some sample titles for peep show booths (A Day In The Life Of A Nudist, Nudist Fun,  and Life At A Nudist Camp), but he otherwise skimps on specifics. In general, Eddie seems to view the progression of the adult film as occurring on a few basic fronts: economic, technological, and legal/moral. And on all counts, Ed Wood finds, the nudie has made great strides.

Readers may shun Ed Wood's nonfiction because they feel this work will not offer the author as much opportunity for artistic expression as his short stories and novels. But rest assured, Ed manages to put his personal spin on every topic he covers. Here, for instance, is his description of nudist films:
And as advertised the films did depict the goings on at the nudist camps. Mother and father bouncing a ball around or playing tennis in their all-together. There were always the scenes of extremely fat people as well as the more handsome of bodies and this was called taking the curse off. It was thought, at the time, that in showing only the youthful bodies of the males and the females having their nudist fun, that some label of pornography might be put on them and the place would be busted. But by showing all the types of figures which visit such places then the little film remained art.
The tone is rather similar to that of Ed Wood's how-to-break-into-showbiz manual Hollywood Rat Race. Ed was well aware of the legal gamesmanship necessary to stay afloat in the adult movie industry. I can almost hear the producers now. "Pornography? Why, no, your honor! This is art! I mean, just look at all those extremely fat people up there on the screen!"

Friday, August 9, 2019

It's an old-fashioned summertime comics roundup! (Part 2)

Which one's Mutt and which one's Mindy? I can never remember.

Comics. We all love them. And you know what they say. You always hurt the ones you love.

That said, let's continue with our survey of comic strip parodies, mashups, and pastiches.

It's an old-fashioned summertime comics roundup! (Part 1)

Sadly Priscilla's Pop is not one of the strips covered in the following article.

Hey, y'all! How's your summer going? That's nice.

I don't know about you, but I'm in the mood to throw some more newspaper comics onto the rusted-out Weber barbecue grill in the backyard and char them to cinders. Does that sound like fun? Okay, then. Let's get to it.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Set Decoration Odyssey, Part 8 by Greg Dziawer

Connecting some weird, weird dots this week.

It's been years now since I first began spotting the same pair of distinctive Chinese Guardian Lions in numerous films related to Edward D. Wood, Jr. Not only do these statuettes show up in two of the adult features Ed directed, Necromania (1971) and The Young Marrieds (1972), they also appear in literally dozens of silent 8mm adult loops that Ed likely worked on during the first half of the 1970s.

Here there be lions: Dunn in Bride of the Monster.
But these lions aren't limited to Ed's pornographic work. A little while back, for instance, I also noticed them in Bride of the Monster (1955), standing guard in both Kelton and Capt. Robbins' offices. In the film, these two offices are edited to seem like they're adjacent to one another. But since these interiors were shot in a studio and the statues look identical in both rooms, I believe the same lions were used to dress both sets. (I'd recommend watching the colorized version of Bride of the Monster to see them most clearly.)

Since Bride was shot at Ted Allan Studios in Hollywood in October 1954, these humble sets are seemingly far removed in time and space from Hal Guthu's studio on Santa Monica Blvd. where the loops and adult features were lensed. Is it possible these are the exact same lions? I find the visual evidence inconclusive, as there are many styles of Guardian Lions with subtle variations, and the lions in Bride are hard to see clearly. They certainly look very similar and the size is about a match. 

The fact that there are any Guardian Lions whatsoever in Ed Wood's movies is nonetheless intriguing. And, come to think of it, Ted and Hal's studios were both in Hollywood, just a few miles apart. The films themselves were separated in time by little more than a decade and a half. A blip, really. Now add Ed Wood's presence to the mix, and it really makes you wonder.

Just little more than a week ago, I was Googling Wood regular Lyle Talbot, and found him credited in a 1959 sponsored short called The Road to Better Living, made at the behest of the Mortgage Bankers Association of America. Intrigued by that title, I decided to investigate further. Lionizing (har har) mortgage bankers, this film at times seems perilously close to canonizing them. When I shared it with the proprietor of this blog, he referred to it perfectly and perhaps not uncoincidentally as "mortgage porn."

The film is a treatise on the mortgage banking industry and how it has helped to build America. Talbot is top-billed in The Road to Better Living, essaying a key role as public, I mean banker, Jim Chandler. Talbot brings the same level of earnest empathy to the character he employed as Inspector Warren in Ed Wood's Glen or Glenda (1953). The film's final line, delivered by the narrator, has a familiar ring: "Together, with men like Jim Chandler, we are steadily building our own road to better living, now and for the future." May God help us.

I'm not suggesting that Ed Wood had anything to do with The Road to Better Living. The film was shot in Hollywood by Jerry Fairbanks, a prolific producer of polished industrial films. What is interesting, though, is that in the film's very opening shot, as narrator Art Gilmore takes his seat, we get a clear shot of a Guardian Lion on the shelf in the left background. When we return to Gilmore periodically throughout the film, he is in medium close-up and we only see partial shots of the lion's bottom half. It's my surmise that this is the female lion, representing nurture, but it's hard to tell from this side view. 

Two shots of the lion in Better Living.

Lion at Grauman's.
Fittingly, the lions symbolically represent wealth and prosperity. If you study the shots of the lions in Bride with those in Better Living, you will notice how strikingly similar they look. Could the very same prop have shown up here five years later? I don't know what set it was shot on, but undoubtedly we are somewhere in Hollywood. Ted Allan's studio, worth noting, was primarily used in low-budget features and documentaries. 

Could this, in fact, be the same pair of lions throughout, or just curious clusters of coincidence? We may never learn the truth, but—who knows?— we just might! I'll continue to keep my eyes peeled and share any lionspotting right here!

Speaking of which, reader Bob Blackburn commented via Facebook:
You made me think of the two guardian [lion] statues outside of Mann's Chinese Theater on Hollywood Blvd, [which] used to be Grauman's, about oh, maybe a half mile from [Ed Wood's apartment at] 6383 Yucca, and I wouldn't be surprised that Eddie might not have wandered down there when folks were getting their handprints or whatever done, or maybe to see the tourists and dream of someday getting his handprints in the cement forecourt.
That places the lions ubiquitously in his everyday world throughout his adult life, so he would have recognized them on the sets of Bride and the adult loops and features as more than decoration, but emblematic of Hollywood aspirations.

Extra: While you have your detective hat on, studying the lions, take a peek at this sponsored short, an epic about salt. Yes, you read that right. And while you are watching it, listen carefully to the narrator. Is that an uncredited Lyle Talbot?