Monday, September 8, 2008
Doris Wishman Double Feature: Bad Girls Go to Hell (1965)/Another Day, Another Man (1966)
dir. Doris Wishman
"I know how unhappy you are because I'm working. But soon you'll be well again and I can go back to being a dumb old housewife"
In the sixties, Doris Wishman, one of the most prolific female American directors, helped blaze a trail for perverts and degenerates everywhere. Beginning her career with nudie pictures (Nude on the Moon, Diary of a Nudist, Blaze Starr Goes Nudist [side note: for those interested in the affair between stripper Blaze Starr and Louisiana Governor Earl K. Long, Ron Shelton's entertaining Blaze is well worth a watch.]), Wishman soon moved into the more violent world of sex-ploitation cinema (by the way, it's a proven fact that using the word cinema instead of the word movies, makes anything sound classier). Her career presents an interesting chapter in the history of sleaze cinema. Thought of by many as a boy’s genre (other luminaries of the form include Russ Meyer, Joseph Sarno, David F. Friedman, and Harry Novak), sex-ploitation pictures gained a unique if no less sleazy voice in Wishman. In a genre often derided as, at best, a further sign of the downfall of Western Civilization, and, at worst, an incitement to violence against women, Wishman made some of the trashiest pictures of the bunch.
It would be disingenuous to imply, however, that Wishman (or indeed, any of these directors) blindly catered to the trenchcoat clad demographic with titilatingly lurid depictions of sex. No doubt, sex was the selling point for these films but these directors were also interested in making entertaining pictures that viewers could enjoy on a level other than that of sexual stimulation. In the words of Jack Horner, "when they spurt out that joy juice, they just got to sit in it until they find out how [the movie] ends."
Thanks to the distribution of large swaths of these movies by the folks at Something Weird Video, it is possible to study these films as parts of a larger whole in the cinematic underbelly's cultural and aesthetic development, and make clearer assessments of the artistic merits of directors such as Wishman [In the estimation of this humble writer, Something Weird Video ranks right alongside Anchor Bay and Criterion Collection as one of the most important home video distributors]. The drive-in double feature discs, in particular, have formed the backbone of the Something Weird output, and with the Bad Girls Go to Hell/Another Day, Another Man double feature disc, Something Weird has assembled two of the more interesting pictures in the Wishman catalog.
Bad Girls Go to Hell concerns a woman's attempts to survive a traumatic experience. Meg Kelton (Gigi Darlene) is a housewife who is sexually assaulted by her apartment building's janitor (Harold Key) after her husband Ted (Alan Feinstein) goes to work. When the janitor tries to violate her a second time, she bludgeons him and leaves him for dead. Unable to face her husband and knowing that she will be hunted by the authorities, she decides to go to New York where she can get lost in the crowds. Little does she know, her troubles are just beginning. In the city, she has run-ins with more unsavory men and aggressive, yet tender, lesbians. When she finds refuge with a kindly old woman, Meg soon discovers that this woman's son is a detective who is hot on her trail. [Spoiler Alert!]It is then that she wakes from her horrible dream only to repeat the film's opening. It turns out the entire movie was a prophetic nightmare. Despite (or maybe because of) its hackneyed snake eating its tale structure, the ending works surprisingly well. [End Spoiler Alert]
Bad Girls Go to Hell depicts the plight of the modern American woman as a Kafka-esque nightmare. Meg is plunged into a violent world that she can neither control nor understand. When she does stand up for herself, in her killing of the janitor, her problems only get worse. Although she experiences moments of peace twice throughout the course of the movie, they are short lived. The first is in the comforting bosom of Della, an attractive woman who spends her time lounging around in her unmentionables and seducing Meg. Although Meg is at peace here, she feels inexplicably pulled away. This is a forbidden life and she feels that she has no place here. When she follows the rules, she is doomed. It is only in subverting society's norms that true happiness can be found. In this film, women can be truly liberated only after engaging in hot, hot lesbian sex.
Another Day, Another Man has a similarly simple plot. In it, Ann (Barbara Kemp) gets stuck between a rock and a hard place after her husband Steve (Tony Gregory) falls ill and is unable to go to work. Since she can not go back to her previous office job as she ran afoul of her former boss, her only other option is to enter the world of prostitution (yes, in this film, prostitution is presented as her only other option). Although she returns home from work each morning with massive wads of cash, her husband is not the least bit suspicious that she is earning her money through unsavory means. After Steve becomes aware of Ann's real job, he kills himself.
In stark contrast to other sex-ploitation flicks such as Friedman's nihilistic, sadistic The Defilers, Wishman's films, obviously enough, come from a distinctly female perspective. Wishman is more concerned with the effects that male violence has on the female victims, than on the motives and psychology of the male attackers. These films were born of a time, paradoxically, of both a burgeoning sexual revolution and a, although slowly evolving, still stringent set of gender roles. Wishman shows that, in this world, as sexually liberated as the times seem to be, women are still boxed in by a suffocating set of rules and roles. This rather bleak statement on female power stands in stark contrast to the she-woman exploits of the protagonists of Russ Meyer's female empowerment/wish fulfillment film Faster, Pussycat! Kill Kill (a thoroughly awesome movie by the way).
All of this is not to say that Wishman shies away from the sorts of gratutious displays of flesh present in the films of her male compatriates. Far from it, she lingers on shots of women in various states of undress, well past the point that any other trash director would find necessary. This creates an aesthetic that is damn near Warholian. In lingering on these images for such extended periods of time, she abstracts the female form, almost (but not completely) to the point of separating it from sexuality.
Wishman pictures are almost avant garde in their ineptness. Like many of the Italian directors of the time, Wishman shot her movies silently and dubbed the dialogue in post-production. Whereas a director such as Fellini would have his actors mouth random lines and then match the dialogue to the actor's lips, Wishman rarely shot her actors speaking. Most likely in an attempt to mask the post sync sound, she rather showed objects or other characters' reactions when dialogue was spoken. Rarely is a character in a Wishman film seen speaking. Needless to say, this creates a surreal experience.
Although it may not have been Wishman's intent to destruct the sex-ploitation genre, there is no denying that this is the effect her films had. She was a woman who was the product of her times and it influenced her take on the genre. Her male peers would not be concerned, for instance, with depicting the struggles that a woman must go through when balancing work and family, as Wishman does in Another Day, Another Man. It just goes to show that you can sneak in any kind of message you want if you have enough tits on the screen.
Bad Girls Go to Hell trailer:
Another Day, Another Man trailer:
[Side Note: Something Weird Video fanatics will recognize the music in this picture as that used in the opener for Something Weird Video dvds.]