Wednesday, February 26, 2020

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

This week, Greg's got your back.

Classic smut from the past.
I spend a lot of my free time scanning through pornographic loops, specifically the 8mm silent ones shot on the West Coast in the early 1970s. My principal impetus is scoping out the geography where Edward D. Wood, Jr. likely toiled in various capacities.

In previous articles from this series, I've discussed a loop in which Wood himself appears as an actor. I've also transcribed the subtitles of dozens of loops that Eddie feasibly wrote and shared box cover summaries that Ed probably penned. I know a few Woodologists who also suspect that Ed edited some—possibly even many—of these hardcore shorts. We can also be reasonably certain that Ed Wood was present on set for many of these films, serving as what we'd call a director. Note that, other than the performers, there would be roughly three to five people in the crew for these films.

That brings us to an obscure loop called "Sexretary's." At least I think that's the title. That's the way it's listed on the back cover of the 1995 tape compilation All Lesbian Peepshow Shorts #587. The Peepshow Loop series released by Blue Vanities ran past 600 volumes, with a dozen or so loops per volume, from the late '80s right through the demise of the VHS era. It's a staggering collection of adult shorts. Early '70s West Coast loops, hundreds upon hundreds falling into the orbital path of Ed Wood, are a particular staple of the series. 

The ninth loop in the collection, "Sexretary's" opens with a medium shot of actress Alice Friedland sitting behind a zebra-striped table, writing. She's wearing glasses—a rarity for her. A Chinese Guardian Lion sits in front of her, parked on the right side of the screen. Yes, it's one of the same lions that appears in Ed Wood's final directorial feature, The Young Marrieds (1972). There, it's a prop in the bedroom shared by the unhappily wed Ben and Ginny, the latter being another of Alice Friedland's screen roles.

While Alice was a stripper and would soon go on to dance at the fable Body Shop on the Sunset Strip, she would later deny having ever performed hardcore sex on film, despite having done so in The Young Marrieds. And she does likewise in "Sexretary's." The loop consists of two girls having sex. It graphically depicts oral-to-genital contact, digital rubbing and insertion, and finally penetration by dildo.

It looks to me like a late-era Cinema Classics loop, made not long before the arrival of subtitles. "Sexretary's" features editing techniques that were common in films produced by Noel Bloom during this era. For instance, it includes dissolve wipes at both the beginning and end. (Coincidentally, wipes are also prominent in the 1965 Wood-scripted softcore feature Orgy of the Dead.)

Noel headed Cinema Classics, the film offshoot of his dad Bernie's publishing arm, Pendulum. At that time, Eddie's day job was toiling at the publishing firm. He wrote every conceivable kind of text for Bernie—including short stories, photo captions, editorials, and nonfiction articles—with his work appearing in upwards of a thousand adult magazines. Bloom père et fils would rapidly evolve their multimedia porn empire into the mammoth Swedish Erotica brand, in which Ed Wood played a key but overlooked part.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 96: The voice of Edward D. Wood, Jr.

This article takes you where we've never taken you before -- into Ed Wood's larynx.

DISCLAIMER: This article is strictly for fun. Apart from one linguistics class in college, I have no training in any of what I'm about to discuss. If you want or need to correct me, please get in touch. This is meant to start a discussion, not settle one.

Performance or party trick?
When an actor portrays a real-life figure from history, he must decide whether or not he is going to do an impression of that person. Audiences have come to expect actors in biopics to mimic the vocal and physical mannerisms of the people they're pretending to be. And it's well known that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has a weakness for uncanny impressions. A few weeks ago, for instance, Renee Zellweger brought home an Oscar for her studied portrayal of Judy Garland in Judy, just as Rami Malek had done a year earlier for channeling Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody.

A lot depends, I suppose, on whether the subject of the biopic is a celebrity (or at least a public figure) and whether there are sufficient audio and video recordings of that person upon which to base a performance. As an example, people know what the real John F. Kennedy looked and sounded like, so an actor portraying JFK is obliged to study the man's speeches and press conferences.

But at what point does this leave the realm of acting and simply become a party trick? If you slavishly imitate every little tic of a real life person, you don't have much opportunity to make the character your own.The great thing about Shakespeare's historical plays is that the people being portrayed in them are long dead. Who's to say what the real Richard III sounded like? The actor, then, has a little more breathing room when it comes to inventing the character.

The question of imitation is one that must have faced nearly every cast member of Tim Burton's 1994 biopic Ed Wood. After all, this is a film about people in show business -- public figures, each and every one -- and there is sound footage of just about all of them. A couple of supporting characters, including Eddie's grouchy boss Mr. Kravitz at Universal and skeptical Mr. Feldman at Warner Bros, are fictional. But just about everyone else is based on an actual human being.

Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood.
Martin Landau faithfully impersonated Bela Lugosi and won an Oscar for his troubles. Lugosi must be one of the most mimicked actors in Hollywood history, so Landau's path was clear when he took this iconic role. The miracle of that performance is that it does transcend the status of party trick. Even within the confines of doing a Lugosi impression, with his face slathered in makeup by Rick Baker, Landau manages to imbue his character with genuine pathos and vulnerability.

But what of Landau's co-stars? With the exception of George "The Animal" Steele as unintelligible Swedish wrestler Tor Johnson, most of the actors in Ed Wood basically use their own, natural speaking voices. The infamous prognosticator Criswell spoke with a breathy, slightly sing-songy Indiana drawl, but actor Jeffrey Jones simply gives him a deep, stentorian tone. Late in the film, Burton uses some archival audio from Plan 9 from Outer Space and we get to hear the melodious voice of the real Criswell. The difference is a little jarring. If you'd only seen Ed Wood and not Plan 9, you might not know this is supposed to be the same guy.

Similarly, when Sarah Jessica Parker says the name "Glen," she doesn't elongate it to "Glee-yun" the way Dolores Fuller did. Notoriously, Parker opted not to spend any time with Fuller while preparing for Ed Wood. But I can't say that it would have mattered much. Max Casella did meet Paul Marco, yet it didn't really affect Casella's performance in any noticeable way, at least not audibly. Elsewhere in the film, Lisa Marie and Bill Murray sound more like themselves than they sound like, respectively, Vampira and Bunny Breckinridge.

A special exception must be made for Vincent D'Onofrio as Orson Welles. His entire performance was post-dubbed by cartoon voice mainstay Maurice LaMarche, whose Welles impression is legendary. Burton must have felt that this was a case in which the public would expect a spot-on impersonation of a celebrity's voice. For what it's worth, D'Onofrio reprised the role of Orson Welles in a 2005 short called Five Minutes, Mr. Welles and provided his own voice.

But at the center of this film is Johnny Depp in the title role. Johnny obviously found a voice for the character, but was it anything like Eddie's real voice? Well, let's refresh our memories a little. Here is the real Ed Wood talking for four and a half minutes straight. I've taken this audio from two sources: the 1953 film Glen or Glenda and the 1974 trailer for Fugitive Girls. This way, you get to compare and contrast Eddie's voice from two different eras of his life. I think that, in the Fugitive Girls voice-over,  you hear the accumulative effects of 21 years of rotgut whiskey and California smog in Eddie's delivery.

So, having listened to that, how would you describe Ed Wood's voice?

 In the Glenda excerpts, he sounds low, smooth, and gentle. I'd say that Eddie's voice is oral rather than nasal and almost musical in nature, marked by occasional quick inhalations of air and a slight sighing tone. His accent is vaguely East Coast, but I don't hear any traces of the stereotypical "New York" accent. Ed is definitely a rhotic speaker, meaning he pronounces his r's in words like "before" and "after." If a word starts with h, he'll propel it forward with a little extra breath, as in "I hope not. I really hope not."

By the time of Fugitive Girls, Eddie's voice had a little more grit to it, and his diction was less precise. Most English speakers pronounce the word "girls" with a z sound at the end, i.e. "gurlz." When Eddie pronounces it, he ends the word with a hissing sound: "gurlssss." The musicality was still there in his voice, though, perhaps even more so than in Glenda.

The truly strange thing is that Ed Wood's voice is very recognizable to me by now, yet I'm having difficulty describing or categorizing it. If I were trying to do an impersonation of Eddie, I wouldn't know where to start. Ed's voice is tough to pin down, let alone mimic.

Given that, I'd say Johnny Depp captures the essence of Ed Wood's personality without doing a precise imitation of the man. Depp has cited numerous inspirations for the voice he gives to Eddie. In this interview, he describes the character as an amalgam of Ronald Reagan, Casey Kasem, and Jack Haley's Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz. Meanwhile, he denies the longstanding rumor that the voice is based on Jon Lovitz's lying "Tommy Flanagan" character from Saturday Night Live. "I wouldn't be that blatant," Depp explains.

I'd like to suggest another, perhaps subliminal influence on Johnny Depp's performance. Obviously, in prepping for this film, he must have watched Glen or Glenda numerous times. About six minutes into the film, there's a voice-over monologue delivered by Patrick/Patricia, the suicidal cross dresser played by Walter "Mr. Walter" Hadjwiecyz. ("The records will tell the story.") I've assembled a brief side by side comparison, so you can hear how Johnny Depp talks in Ed Wood and how Patrick/Patricia talks in Glen or Glenda. Listen for the little tremble in the voice and the intimate, almost whisper-like tone.

I don't know if Walter Hadjwiecyz recorded that voice-over himself or simply played the part of the dead body. But I don't think it's too fanciful to suggest that the monologue had an influence on the way Johnny Depp played Ed Wood.

By the way, if any of this article interests you, I'd suggest you check out a series of videos made by Wired featuring Hollywood dialect coach Erik Singer. They offer a truly astonishing breakdown of various actors portraying real-life people. So far, Erik hasn't gotten to Ed Wood. Here's hoping, though.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Woodologist Odyssey, Part 5 by Greg Dziawer

Angel Scott poses in front of 6383 Yucca St. in late 2019.

As I continue obsessing over Edward D. Wood, Jr., my research has led me to cross paths with a number of folks who, like me, are more than just casual fans of the writer-director. The most seriously afflicted of these people can even be affectionately termed Woodologists.

Being a Woodologist means possessing not only an abiding interest in Ed's life and work but also a desire to learn more about Ed than we previously knew. Most critically, a Woodologist will take action to learn more.

I first encountered Angel Scott in a private Ed Wood forum on Facebook. She self-describes as a fan of Ed—both his films and his writings—and is interested in learning more about Ed as a person. She humbly admits that she has no educational background in film or the arts but enjoys studying these subjects in her free time.

Angel is also a pastor/chaplain to people of different faith backgrounds, especially those at end of life. "I knew I would work with end of life from early on," she told me. "I didn't choose it. God planted me there. And I at times find joy. Sadness. Laughter. I get to meet some really cool people."

She made the pilgrimage to Hollywood late last year to visit locations associated with Ed and is currently writing a book about him.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Set Decoration Odyssey, Part 10 by Greg Dziawer

This week, Greg takes a look at a rare Rene Bond loop from 1971.

Never a dull moment in 1971?
On October 12,1892, American schoolchildren began reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in classrooms for the first time. Seventy-nine years later to the day, Rod Stewart's "Maggie May" topped singles charts around the world, its lyrics ironically referring to a young man missing school to be with an older lover. Funny how values change over time.

But October 12, 1971 was a day like any other at a building that stood at 7428 Santa Monica Blvd. in Hollywood. At the time, a small studio was situated there, run by talent agent and cinematographer Hal Guthu. For Ed Wood obsessives, Hal's name doubtless rings a bell. He served as the cinematographer on two pornographic features directed by Ed, Take It Out In Trade (1970) and Necromania (1971). Interiors for both of those films were shot at Guthu's studio, as well as hundreds of silent 8mm loops destined to be exhibited in peepshow arcades or in the privacy of customers' homes.

I've spent a lot of time identifying the set decorations that were common to those features. These same decorations also turn up in another of Wood's late-career porno flicks, The Young Marrieds (1972), and they're ubiquitous in numerous other West Coast loops of the era, many of which likely featured some involvement by Ed Wood.

That day in October 1971, prolific adult film actress Rene Bond, the female protagonist in Necromania, arrived at Hal's studio to shoot a loop punningly titled "Lady 'Dike'tor." Guthu was Rene's agent and friend, so the actress worked at Hal's studio often. He rented out his sets to a variety of film companies. It was a smart setup by Hal, with multiple revenue streams. He provided both the girls and the sets, and he could even get behind the camera if needed. His clients shooting there that day were a pair of unknown and forgotten filmmakers, director Herb Redd and cameraman Marv Ellis.

In fact, Redd and Ellis' names might have been lost to time entirely if two of the loops they shot at Hal's studio that day hadn't survived, containing the original clapperboards at the head of the reels. I recently spotted "Lady 'Dike'tor," featuring a pre-breast-enhancement Rene Bond (another clue this is 1971), as the first loop on the Blue Vanities compilation All Lesbian Peepshows #562, released in 1994. A vast trove of vintage loops from the era, the Blue Vanities compilation series started in the '80s and ran to well over 600 volumes, eventually totaling upwards of ten thousand loops. It's a lot to sift through, admittedly, but over and over I always find some little gem connected to Ed Wood.

I was happy to note, for instance, that "Lady 'Dike'tor" was shot on the very same set as the climax of The Young Marrieds. The same blue wall is adorned by recognizable set decs like the lion's head door knocker that greets visitors to Madame Heles' abode in Necromania. And perhaps most awesome of all, as I have rarely seen it elsewhere, the white brick fireplace prop is visible at the right edge of frame.