Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Ed Wood Extra: Keith Crocker on the Ed Wood loops

At 13, Keith Crocker saw a John Holmes loop that changed his life.

NOTE: Recently, film archivist and lecturer Keith Crocker contacted me and asked if he could write a few articles for this site about the career of Edward D. Wood, Jr. Naturally, I said yes. This is the first of those articles. In it, he reflects on Ed's pornographic loops from the 1970s and how those films have affected him personally. Hope you enjoy. - J.B. 

Guest author Keith Crocker
This series is all about archaeology. As fans of Edward D. Wood, Jr., we're looking to fill in information about Eddie's so-called "missing years." Those of us in the know realize that there actually were no missing years in the man's life, just years when he was working under pseudonyms and on the fly. In fact, when Wood was in the worst stages of alcoholism in the 1970s, he was still remarkably one of the most consistently employed men working in adult publications. He brought that skill with him into the world of 8mm porn loops.

In previous articles, Joe Blevins and Greg Dziawer have gone to great lengths to prove that Ed Wood may be the man to have laid down the foundation of the pornographic loop. These loops were short adult films you could watch in the privacy of your own home or even see at an arcade featuring peep shows that you'd watch in a booth for the price of a quarter. And that means lots and lots of people over the long years have seen these films. 

After reading Joe's article about Ed Wood's involvement with the first 19 entries in the long-running Swedish Erotica series, and this claim having some validation by Conrad Brooks in Rudolph Grey's book Nightmare of Ecstasy (1992), I set about compiling as many as possible 8mm loops in which Ed may have been involved in some way or another. I released those films via Cinefear Video, a "buy demand" DVD business I've been involved with for 30 years. I was very lucky to find that the bulk of the said loops were in a collection of films I'd had in my possession since the late 2000s.

You already know where Joe, Greg, and I stand in relation to those Ed Wood loops, the consensus being that Ed not only wrote the subtitles and box cover summaries but also directed them. I've based my argument on the staging of these films. I could go so far as to say choreography, since Ed claimed to have studied under Martha Graham. Believe it or not, this odd choreography would remain a signature of these films long after Ed's involvement.

But the big question really is: what importance did these 8mm films really have? In other words, what impact did they have on the viewing public? A while back, Greg asked if I would share my experience of having seen a silent Swedish Erotica film back in 1978. I was only 13 years old then, and it was the first pornographic film I had ever seen. I will share this experience in the hopes that it will highlight just how difficult it actually was to obtain pornography back then. Furthermore, this story illustrates the long-term impact Ed Wood had on this series, even when he was no longer involved at all.

Keith Crocker's epic first film!
I've loved films all my life. In the late 1970s, a family friend gave me the long-term loan of a Super 8mm camera. This would fulfill my obsession of wanting to be a filmmaker, which I pursued vigorously. In fact, in 1978, I made my first 20-minute Super 8mm spectacle, a film called Dracula is Alive and Well and Living in Hewlett. (Hewlett was the Long Island, NY town where I grew up.) By 1978, I also had my first Super8/8mm dual projector. It was an Argus 866Z and it was a cheap, all plastic projector, affordable to just about everyone. Because I had this projector, it was not unusual that folks would find film reels in their house often belonging to grandparents and would bring them to me for screenings.

One early spring afternoon, my older brother and his friend showed up with a Super 8mm film in a bold and audaciously colored box that boasted the Swedish Erotica logo. The silent film on the inside of this box was called "Shower Beauty." The stars were John C. Holmes and Kitty Shayne. The copyright on the box claimed 1978. It was fresh product. I was 13 years old. I had seen nudie magazines, but I had never seen hardcore pornography. My eyes were about to be opened like never before. And Lord say a prayer for my future girlfriends. Life was never going to be the same.

Kitty Shayne, goddess. 
The plot synopsis on the box boasted: "John Holmes does his girlfriend a favor by mending her plumbing. And he is repaid when his cock finds heaven in her voluptuous body." Short and sweet. Far less evocative than when Ed was writing out the descriptions of the earlier Swedish Erotica shorts. Also, the action in the film tells a different story. For one thing, even though Holmes isn't in a plumber's uniform, it's evident he's there to repair something. When water from the pipe he is fixing gets him wet, he seems annoyed and looks to see what the problem is. He enters through a floor door, which takes him right into the bathroom. Miss Shayne is showering up. He watches her like he's never seen her before. Once Holmes enters the bathroom, Shayne tries to conceal herself. She is clearly not his girlfriend. As usual, Holmes charms her right into the bedroom. This, naturally, leads to the expected fucking and sucking, culminating with one of Holmes' trademark load-on-the-face shots.

Bear in mind that, throughout the whole loop, there's an odd choreography in the way the actors are staged. Not only does the film maximize the limited space in which the scene is shot, but it also adds an odd grace and greater presence to two performers who more than likely lacked grace and presence in any sort of manner. To me, at 13 years old, Kitty Shayne seemed like a Greek goddess. Her body seemed beyond attainable. My heart felt like it was going to burst out of my chest as the film unfolded.

And what can I say about Holmes that hasn’t already been said? He was larger than life, both in endowment and in size. His hair was in a 'fro, a style he had been wearing regularly during the later half of the '70s. There was something suave about him, yet he was an everyday male. Hence, the reasons for his broad appeal. The five-inch film reel played itself out in less than 15 minutes. My innocence (phase one) was gone.

Okay, let's take a look at the landscape here. Videotape was just beginning to emerge. It was beyond affordability. I wouldn’t have my first Betamax until the summer of 1983. Though we lived on Long Island, for some odd reason my brother had picked the film up in an adult bookstore on Staten Island. What he and his friend were doing in Staten Island, I haven't a clue. Don't ask, don't tell. But here's the real interesting thing: my brother had the option of returning this film, paying only an additional $20 and getting another. And he could continue to do this. And he did, for a while anyhow. It was a form of rental. Yes, that’s right, they were renting Super 8mm porn, long before the video boom of the 1980s!

This little Swedish Erotica flick got a lot of play. I had to run it for friends continually, and it even sneaked into some late night projection for my brother's girlfriends. (I came from a big family of six children, three brothers and two sisters.) I remember the girlfriends laughing and covering their eyes during specific scenes, all while the underage projectionist continued to run the film. Yes, this would go over like a lead balloon in today's environment. I'm thankful I grew up in the '70s, dysfunction be damned.

The chicks were a lot cooler back then, too. Some of the old hippie nonsense was still kicking around. In 1979, I got my first tongue kiss from a topless dancer, and my whole body tingled. By 1981, I had my first girlfriend and I could play out what I learned from that Super 8mm film in real time. My apologies for being so open. I'm older and nostalgic, but I also really believe in painting a vivid portrait so you can see and feel what I went through at the time. If I gave you anything less, I'd be cheating you.

The legendary John Holmes
So what does all of this have to do with Ed Wood? Without Wood’s involvement with Swedish Erotica, we would never have had the style that we associate with California-shot porn. New York porn in 1973 was nothing like this. It was just grimy and cheap—shot in one room and usually from one camera angle. Wood was given the opportunity to up the artfulness, and in the first 19 Swedish Erotica loops, he did just that. His impact on the loop series was so strong that the franchise was unable to turn away from the template he had laid down. In those early films, Wood experimented with different genres, including a Western scenario and a supernatural scenario. He also opened up the scope of the common loop, doing outdoor shooting, utilizing gorgeous houses and locations, and trying even to give you narrative in the short time that the loop allowed. This film, "Shower Beauty," was one of Ed’s cinematic grandchildren. And it starred his cinematic son John Holmes. Holmes' career was in many ways founded by Wood. Six degrees of separation but all roads do indeed lead back to Rome.

Within about eight months of my first seeing this loop, Ed Wood, Jr. would die on December 10, 1978. I remember hearing of his passing. I knew who he was. Anyone who owned Heroes of the Horrors, a 1975 book by Calvin Thomas Beck, knew who Wood was because the Bela Lugosi chapter ended with a reference to Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959) being Bela Lugosi's final film. I had yet to see a Wood film, though. I wouldn’t have that opportunity until I had a video machine and I could rent Plan 9, Bride of the Monster (1955), and Glen or Glenda (1953).

In my wildest dreams, I couldn’t imagine that Ed Wood had any type of involvement in that dirty little movie that ran through my projector. Of interest, I wouldn't even attempt to suggest Wood had a hand in the loop I had seen. I know of no 8mm version, and I know of no subtitles being available for this film. (Greg Dziawer, please correct me if I'm wrong.) Yet Eddie's influence is so clearly there, and for this to have been my first viewing of a pornographic film, I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. Some things are just meant to happen, I guess.

Anyhow, I do hope this painted a portrait of what it was like accessing pornography long before the internet. Next time I contribute, I'll be discussing my VHS print of Glen or Glenda under the title of I Led Two Lives. I'll be comparing it to the existing DVD of Glen or Glenda and looking for any differences print-wise. Archaeologists never give up!