Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Loop Odyssey, part 27 by Greg Dziawer

A lad and lass get to know each other in Nightclub Rendezvous.

Just prior to the launch of the Swedish Erotica loops in the early 1970s, adult movie honcho Noel Bloom produced a number of X-rated loops under the Danish International Films imprint. These short erotic films were among the first of their kind to be subtitled. This is significant, since I believe that Edward D. Wood, Jr. penned some or all of these subtitles and provided similar services for other loop series. 

Although Swedish Erotica would ultimately become his company's primary loop series, Noel Bloom continued to push the Danish angle throughout the decade. In 1975, just a few years after Danish International Films, Bloom et al. launched the Danish Films series. An early title in this franchise, Nightclub Rendezvous, was not only subtitled, but was also featured in issue two of Danish Films magazine. (There seems to have only been two issues of this publication.) The Danish films loops are strikingly similar to the Swedish Erotica loops—running concurrently and seemingly made by the same creative principles.

Interestingly, Nightclub Rendezvous—labeled #1006 and designated the sixth entry in the Danish Films franchise—opens with the same "logo" as some of the earlier Danish International Films: a young lady licking a large swirled lollipop as she enticingly looks back over her shoulder at us.

From the text in the magazine, we learn that the male and female protagonists are named Larry and Billie. In the loop itself, the only other character, a bartender, is referred to as Duffy.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Podcast Tuesday: "Just Break Up Already, You Two"

Erin Moran and Scott Baio on Happy Days.

As I wrote last week, Happy Days was in flux at the start of its ninth (and antepenultimate) season in 1981. With Richie (Ron Howard) and Ralph (Donny Most) long gone and cool guy Fonzie (Henry Winkler) becoming a grownup with responsibilities, the sitcom was in danger of losing touch with its roots. From the first season onward, Happy Days was mostly about high school-aged kids and their various triumphs and tragedies. It was a happy-go-lucky world of sock hops, malt shops, and double dates. How do you keep that going after nine seasons?

The obvious answer was to shift the show's focus to its younger characters, Joanie (Erin Moran) and Chachi (Scott Baio). Never mind that these two were already supposed to be college-bound high school seniors during Season 8. They were given a second senior year in Season 9. Anything to keep the high school setting. Naturally, Joanie and Chachi's budding, troubled romance became a major source of storylines. Younger viewers could tune in each week to see if J&C were breaking up or making up.

The problem is that Joanie and Chachi are a fundamentally bad couple. When Chachi joined the show in Season 5, he was a  sleazy little schemer, always selling something or trying to con people out of a little money. He brought that dishonesty and insincerity to his relationship with Joanie. He's also a petulant and selfish little twerp, prone to temper tantrums. And Joanie, apparently lovestruck, forgives him for his many, many flaws. The relationship turns her into a weak character when she'd previously been the show's resident firebrand.

These issues are on full display in the episode we're reviewing this week, "Another Night at Antoine's." The plot has Chachi breaking up with Joanie so they can date other people for a while. Sort of a sexual Rumspringa. But then he decides he wants her back, and it all leads to a big, public kerfuffle at a fancy French restaurant. (No points for guessing that it ends with a reconciliation.)

So Joanie and Chachi are a bad couple, but does that make "Another Night at Antoine's" a bad episode? Find out by listening to the latest installment of These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 135: Let's create some Ed Wood fan art with AI

An image that unites Wood, Spielberg, and Kubrick.

If you've been conscious for the last year or so, you've probably seen a lot of art (or "art," depending on your point of view) that has been created (or "created") by artificial intelligence or AI. Look, I'm not here to debate the ethics of AI or even define what is and isn't art. I'm here to take this awe-inspiring and terrifying newish technology and apply it to Edward D. Wood, Jr. 

I've done this kind of thing before. Back in 2019, I ran some screenshots from Jail Bait through a colorization app. In 2020, I used a site called Preference Revealer to rank my favorite and least favorite Ed Wood movies. Now it's 2022 and AI art is the hot thing, so let's do some of that... with Ed Wood.

I chose a service called Midjourney to do this project. Why? Because I'd seen it in this video by a YouTuber called Mighty Jabba and thought the results looked cool. Very quickly, though, I realized I was in over my head. I don't know a damn thing about how to generate AI art. My first prompt was: "Ed Wood as drawn by Al Hirschfeld." (I assume you know who Al was.) Here are the results:

Prompt #1: "Ed Wood as drawn by Al Hirschfeld"

I'd say that falls somewhere between success and failure. It's not Hirschfeld, but it's not not Hirschfeld either. My second attempt at a prompt was: "Ed Wood made out of Legos." Here's how that turned out:

Prompt #2: "Ed Wood made of Legos."

I don't know what's happening with the top left image, but the other three are at least in the ballpark. I then went on to Wood's repertory players. Folks, I tried and tried to get Midjourney to generate some Tor Johnson fan art, but that stupid computer had no idea who Tor was. None of the artwork even came close. So I ditched Tor in favor of Vampira. More specifically, I tried "Vampira on the beach at night." Even Midjourney knew who Vampira was, and it dutifully belched up these lovely images:

Prompt #3: "Vampira on the beach at night."

What else? What else? Oh yeah. I tried "Elderly Bela Lugosi in the style of the French impressionists." 

Prompt #4: "Elderly Bela Lugosi in the style of the French impressionists."

And I brought it all home with one last, simple prompt: "Ed Wood and Bela Lugosi holding hands."

Prompt #5: "Ed Wood and Bela Lugosi holding hands."

At that point, I realized I had enough for a single blog post and ended my experiment. How did I do? Good? Bad? Indifferent? You probably think you could do better, and I agree. In fact, I urge you to go do just that. There are plenty of AI art sites out there. Make your own stuff. Or, more accurately, get a computer to make stuff for you. You don't have to use Midjourney. Are we at the beginning of a new era in creativity or is this just some dumb internet fad that'll fade in a year? Time will tell.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Podcast Tuesday: "Chachi's Mom Has Got It Going On"

Scott Baio and Ellen Travolta on Happy Days.

When Happy Days came back for its ninth season in the fall of 1981, the show's focus had obviously shifted to brash teen lothario Chachi Arcola (played by then-heartthrob Scott Baio). Chachi's off-again, on-again relationship with Joanie Cunningham (Erin Moran) was at the heart of the season-opening two-parter "Home Movies," while the next episode, "Not With My Mother, You Don't" focused on Chachi's sometimes strained relationship with his widowed mother Louisa (Ellen Travolta). By the next episode, "Another Night at Antoine's," the show had already returned to Joanie/Chachi relationship drama. With Richie (Ron Howard) absent and Fonzie (Henry Winkler) getting older and less relatable to kids, Chachi had essentially been promoted to the status of protagonist

Chachi is an irritating character in a whole host of ways and typifies what many viewers dislike about the later seasons of Happy Days. His rise coincides with the show's fall. Having only debuted in Season 5, the wisecracking Arcola boy felt like an interloper, a usurper, a carpetbagger. I'll admit that I'm a Chachi hater myself. I hate his smug face, his arrogant personality, his nasal voice, his very '80s haircut, and that stupid bandana he wears around his leg in most scenes. I especially hate the way he treats Joanie, turning her into a simpering fangirl who forgives him time and again for his indiscretions and his insensitivity. Where's the firebrand Joanie from the early seasons of Happy Days?

This week on These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast, we're reviewing the aforementioned "Not With My Mother, You Don't." Blessedly, this one sidelines Joanie for the most part and turns its attentions to Louisa. Her husband, Chachi's father, has been dead for several years, and she is now gingerly reentering the dating scene. But she is doing so behind Chachi's back, leading some some tense moments. First, Chachi publicly shames his mother in front of the Cunninghams, then he seeks out his mother's boyfriend, a very pleasant obstetrician named Walter Danzig (guest star Michael Byron Taylor). It's all very awkward.

But does it make for a good episode? Find out by listening to the latest installment of These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast!

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Promo Odyssey, Part Nine by Greg Dziawer

They actually do boil; it just takes a while.

The perils of looking for evidence of Ed Wood texts within the vast reaches of 1970s porn are many. I am assuming that there are more texts out there than currently accounted for. As I mentioned here last week, I recently came across two summaries of early '70s adult films that pricked up my ears for a moment and made me wonder if they could have been penned by Eddie. (Check them out here before proceeding, if you haven't already.)

First off, let me say that we have no evidence that Ed wrote box cover summaries for adult videotapes, which is where at least one of these texts comes from. The IMDb credits its summary of The Candy Store (1972) to VCX, an early and prolific purveyor of porn videos. The summary for Million Dollar Mona (1973) is credited only to Anonymous. I'm already surmising—before even getting to the question of Ed's possible authorship—that this synopsis comes from a box cover or perhaps a catalog.

I am confident, though, that Ed did write box cover summaries for the 8mm loops produced and distributed by Noel Bloom. Noel, you will remember, is the son of Bernie Bloom, Ed's boss at Pendulum/Calga Publishers, where he worked as a staff writer for the better part of the last decade of his life. There is a demonstrable correspondence between Noel's loops and Bernie's magazines, with the latter giving generous press coverage to the former.

VHS arrived in my home in 1981. My dad liked being the "first on the block" with new tech and was an early adopter to the new format. It's worth noting that this was three years after Ed Wood's passing, so it seems on the surface that there's no way Eddie could have written the summaries for The Candy Store and Million Dollar Mona.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Podcast Tuesday: "8MM"

Erin Moran on Happy Days.

Happy Days is not usually thought of as an innovative or experimental series. And for good reason: it's a very safe, predictable, mainstream show, meant to appeal to the widest possible audience. Many of its viewers were young children who simply wanted to see their hero, ace mechanic and ladies' man Fonzie (Henry Winkler), in action. Producer Garry Marshall was not really interested in pushing the limits of the prime time sitcom, at least not this time around. (He and director Jerry Paris had both previously worked on the more daring The Dick Van Dyke Show.) The only way Happy Days truly stands out from its competitors is that it's set in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Over on CBS, meanwhile, M*A*S*H (the other big 1950s-set show of the era) was constantly testing the boundaries of the sitcom genre. The very subject matter, i.e. the Korean War, meant that violence and bloodshed were major elements of the series. The plots freely mixed comedy with drama, sometimes veering into outright tragedy. Stories didn't necessarily come to a tidy resolution after 30 minutes. And the producers were even experimenting with the very form of the half-hour comedy, sometimes formatting episodes as pseudo-documentaries or dream sequences. Aesthetically, Happy Days and M*A*S*H were polar opposites.

But Happy Days did occasionally break out of its rut and do something unusual. There are the history episodes, for instance, like "The First Thanksgiving" and "The Roaring Twenties," where we get to see what the characters would look and act like if they'd lived in other times. There are musical episodes like "Be My Valentine" and "American Musical," in which the actors get to show off their singing and dancing skills. And then there's "Home Movies," the two-part episode that starts Season 9. Not only does this one have a rare multi-story format, it's all presented as a home movie that Joanie (Erin Moran) is sending to Richie (the absent Ron Howard). It's about as M*A*S*H-like as Happy Days ever gets.

But does that mean it's any good? Find out on the latest installment of These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast.

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Promo Odyssey, Part Eight by Greg Dziawer

Wood fans, it's time to put your knowledge to the test!

Ed's type of gal? Candy Samples in fur.
I often opine about this or that chunk of text and wonder aloud if it could have been written by Edward D. Wood, Jr. The endeavor is predicated, of course, upon the notion that there are works by Ed out there yet to be attributed to him. The challenges inherent in this are many, and it is easy to lose my way.

When I make such surmises in articles like this one, I often ask rhetorically, "What do you think?" This week, however, I really do want to know what you think.

A few months back, I was looking through the IMDb page of adult superstar Candy Samples (who had cameos in Drop Out Wife and The Cocktail Hostesses) when I found a couple of intriguing summaries of her early 1970s films. One such summary was credited to the video company VCX, the other simply to "Anonymous." In both cases, the promo copy had just enough panache to make me scratch my head and wonder aloud if Ed could have written it. Apart from more details about the provenance of these summaries, which I'll share next week, I'd like to truly hear your thoughts and share them here.

First up, the summary for 1972's The Candy Store:
Seldom seen Candy Samples plays a bordello madam who loves to show her ladies how to please her customers. Candy's fans will be delighted by this full-length feature film, which showcases both the mature beauty and remarkably erotic personality of the legendary bust queen. Her "house" features a bevy of stunning young girls, trained by Candy Samples herself to perform feats of sexual magic with their hot, luscious bodies and moist, hungry mouths. The non-stop hardcore action encompasses a wide spectrum of adult sexuality, from the traditional to the bizarre. 'Madam' Candy sees it as her duty to personally instruct and even assist her lovely girls in satisfying the many exotic demands of her clientèle. Bust lovers will thrill to the stiff-nippled antics of Candy and her girls. The oral interludes are bountiful and intense, especially when Candy demonstrates her own personal sperm-simmering techniques. The buxom superstar even wields a whip in the interest of maintaining house discipline! Variations to please every sexual taste are contained within this hard-hitting Candy bonanza.—VCX

Next up, we have 1973's Million Dollar Mona:
The reporter Jimmy Ryan is pleasured under his blanket by his lover when his angry editor calls to break his day off. Jimmy is told to report why does famous Mona von Groana hide in a hotel. Going there, her maid Nympho Mania casually jumps to his arms before sending him to Mona's bedroom. Mona herself is even more harassing. Eventually she exposes her buxom figure to make him forget his interview. She then ties him up in bed until he leaves. Mona then goes to her bathtub, where her maid gives her a breast massage which leads to bed. Mona tells her maid she wants to peep on her with Jimmy if he returns. Her wish comes true when Jimmy's editor angrily sends him back. But as Mona hides due to stealing her husband's inheritance, his men break in and kill the maid and her. Jimmy, who hides in Mona's clothing, gets fired but finds the money. He can therefore finally have his lover pleasure him under his blanket without interruptions.—Anonymous

Now that you've read these summaries, do you have a guess? You can message me privately on Facebook (I'm Greg Dziawer there) and let me know what you think and why. You can also tell me if you'd like me to credit your conclusions or share them anonymously.

Join us next week, and I'll share your thoughts as well as mine!

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Podcast Tuesday: "The Immigrant Song(s)"

Scott Baio and Erin Moran on Happy Days.

The eighth season of Happy Days was not a disaster. That, in and of itself, is a minor miracle. Most lighthearted family sitcoms of this caliber would be running on fumes after 160+ episodes. Besides, two of the show's stars, Ron Howard and Don Most, had left the cast when their contracts expired, and even the writers seemed to be tiring of the nostalgia gimmick that had originally driven the series. But ABC and creator Garry Marshall were determined to keep the saga of the wholesome Cunningham family of Milwaukee, Wisconsin going. And keep it going they did. For the (strike-shortened) 1980-81 season, Happy Days did decent if not spectacular Nielsen numbers, and the overall quality of the show did not plummet precipitously.

When I look back on the 22 episodes that constitute Season 8 of Happy Days, I see a few real gems, a couple of well-intended misfires, and the usual assortment of middling efforts. That's very typical for this show. Yes, Ron Howard and Don Most are sorely missed, and Anson Williams and Lynda Goodfriend seem stranded with little to do, but Ted McGinley and especially Cathy Silvers make welcome additions to the cast. I'm not sure about the new gang of quasi-Sweathogs (including Denis Mandel and Harris Kal) who now attend Jefferson High, but they're growing on me, week by week.

Happy Days ended its eighth season on ABC with a truly oddball episode called "American Musical." As the title suggests, this is a full-fledged musical with lots of singing, dancing, and costume changes. The subject is immigration, a topic that would be handled very differently today. At the time, Neil Diamond was rocketing up the charts with his patriotic, pro-immigration anthem "America." ("Everywhere around the world/They're coming to America/Everywhere that flag's unfurled/They're coming to America!") I guess Happy Days got caught up in the spirit. Reagan had just been inaugurated. It was a very optimistic time.

What did we think of "American Musical"? Find out by listening to the latest installment of These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast.