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.

The Location Orbit

Serena peddles her way through Griffith Park

At one point in Dames & Dreams, adult film legend Serena, in her first feature, rides her bike through Griffith Park, under the shadow of the Hollywood sign. If the paths look familiar, perhaps you recognize them from 2016's La La Land, still looking the same. Or, if you are a Wood obsessive, you might recognize those paths from the finale of the Wood-scripted The Class Reunion from 1972. 

Griffith Park as it appears in The Class Reunion.

Griffith Park is one of the seminal Wood locations. Ed shot scenes for Bride of the Monster (1955) and The Sinister Urge (1960) there, and in his book Hollywood Rat Race, he suggests that readers sleep there if they have nowhere else to go!

The Collaborator Orbit 1

Actress Margie Lanier, who mostly appeared in softcore productions, is best known for her role in Stephen C. Apostolof's women-on-the-run thriller Fugitive Girls (1974). Ed Wood co-wrote the screenplay for that film and plays two onscreen roles while voicing a third. He also served as Fugitive Girls' assistant director and narrated two trailers for the movie as well. Lanier is the film's wrongly accused protagonist, Dee. Not long before, she had starred in the 8mm silent loop "Girl on a Bike." Shot circa 1972, it was an early entry in the sprawling Swedish Erotica series. Eddie certainly wrote the subtitles and box cover summary for that loop and may have been on set in a key creative role, too.

Ed Wood and Margie Lanier in Fugitive Girls.

Margie is one of the four titular dames in Dames & Dreams. Perhaps not coincidentally, two insert shots in Dames are culled from Fugitive Girls—the "Liquor Delicatessen" sign and the nighttime Hollywood driving footage featuring a billboard for a Rare Earth performance. As we moved through post-production, it was obvious that we needed some transitional inserts that would have been included if the film had been completed. I mentioned this at the time to Joe Rubin at Vinegar Syndrome, and he graciously offered to supply inserts sourced from low-budget Hollywood sex films of the era. He gave me a few titles to check out. I found some suitable shots, and he supplied them.

Two shots borrowed from Fugitive Girls (1974).

The Zoom Lens Orbit

Jack Descent patented an augmented zoom lens for a 16mm Arriflex film camera circa 1967. As he explained its function to me, it accomplished closer close-ups from farther distances, expanding the range of his zoom capability. That artistry is clearly in display in the aforementioned bicycle scene in Griffith Park featuring Serena. Watch the Dames & Dreams trailer here to see what I mean.

This could very well have been the lens with which Jack shot Dames, as well as Operation Redlight five years earlier.

A genuine Descent & Co. zoom lens.

The Neighborhood Orbit

The Cinema 35 Project Center on Hollywood and Western was a full-stack studio and lab run by Jack Descent from the late '60s through the mid-'70s. The angora sweater that Eddie wore in Operation Redlight hung in the front office.

As Ed moved from apartment to apartment over the course of 30 years, this neighborhood was his proverbial stomping ground. The Hollywood Walk of Fame was never beyond walking distance. This location shot from Dames depicts Margie Lanier with the stars literally under her feet.

Margie Lanier on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

The Collaborator Orbit 2

Sexploitation regular Tallie Cochrane is a featured performer in one of the four episodes comprising Dames & Dreams. She, too, was in Fugitive Girls, essaying the role of aggressive bull-dyke Kat, antagonist to Margie Lanier's innocent, bewildered Dee.

As it happens, Tallie made her film debut in Operation Redlight, performing a sex scene with an actor named Patrick Wright. Their steamy sequence was shot in Hollywood at the fabled Talmadge Mansion in a bathroom with a powder blue tub. Wright and Cochrane connected in real life, too, and were married from 1970 to 1983. Patrick Wright appears in Dames & Dreams in a brief yet menacing and fated role as a limo driver.

Tallie Cochrane and Patrick Wright in Dames & Dreams.

These are just a few of the orbital paths Ed crossed with Dames & Dreams.
Special Thanks: To all of the readers of this column and all of the great "Wood" friends I've made in recent years. Thanks also to Joe Rubin at Vinegar Syndrome for supplying insert shots and to Stephen Apostolof's son Christopher for allowing us to include shots from Fugitive Girls in Dames & Dreams. My involvement in this blog would not exist without the partnership of Joe Blevins, the founder and proprietor of this series. His copy edits and layouts of my articles always blow my mind!