Formerly "Dave's Blog About Movies and Such"

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Freakmaker (aka The Mutations) (1974)

dir. Jack Cardiff

"Well you don't believe all that stuff about total genetics. He makes it sound like bad science fiction."

When Tod Browning unleashed the seminal, disturbing Freaks, on a Depression era audience, his film was met with a collective shocked gasp. Although this film is remembered by many as being exploitative of people with deformities, it is, more than anything, an examination of the deformed human psyche, the ugliness within us all. A nation already reeling from the worst financial crisis this country has ever known, not surprisingly, was not in a mood to witness the depiction of humans at their most base. Rather, it preferred the more escapist fantasies depicted in Busby Berkeley Musicals, Westerns, Shirley Temple films, and Gangster Pictures (in their rags to riches stories of financial success, Gangster Pictures were about as escapist as thirties movies got). Although Horror pictures also boomed during this period, these films worked to reassure folks that the sinister "others", seemingly at the root of America's problems, would ultimately be vanquished. The reigning sentiment in Hollywood at this time was, "We can make it through this if we all pull together."

was a wholly different beast, however. In this story, a woman attempts to seduce a circus midget, whom she is repulsed by, in order to kill him and steal his large inheritance. When the unaware folks in the circus freak-show announce their acceptance of her, she is horribly repulsed and openly mocks them. What horrible fools they must be to think that she would be one of them. After her murder plot is revealed, the circus freaks have their way with her in the most vicious, disturbing manner possible. Freaks seemed to be saying that morbid and rapacious greed, central to human nature, would be humanity's undoing. There are no depths to which people will not sink for the prospect of money. The setting of this film in a circus freak-show works only to enhance this theme. The very existence of freak-shows, after all, is predicated on the exploitation of and morbid fascination with human suffering, all for the purpose of making a few bucks. All are culpable. (One can only imagine how a depression era audience would have reacted to Browning's planned adaptation of Horace McCoy's They Shoot Horses, Don't They?)

Of course, it would be disingenuous to imply that Freaks was a crowning achievement in the advancement of societal acceptance of the deformed. Not so much fully realized characters, the "freaks" in this movie, rather, act as metaphors. The emphasis remains on the otherness of these people (the difference being that the others win in this movie). In this way, Browning is not far removed from a carnival promoter. This is most evident in the brutal revenge scene, as the "freaks" are presented as rapacious, inhuman creatures. Appropriately enough, Freaks, although later becoming a cult hit, has had a mixed critical reception over the years, and banning in certain countries.

It is indicative of Freaks's sordid, disturbing reputation that it was not until the counter cultural sixties that this movie gained enough of an audience that imitators started to pop up, such as the David F. Friedman produced She Freak. When the British decided to take a stab at the subject matter with The Freakmaker, who would choose to direct this movie but the legendary cinematographer of such classy movies as Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes, Jack Cardiff. Although society had undergone major upheavals in the years between Freaks and this British homage, it would seem that when it came to the depiction of so called freaks that attitudes had advanced only so slightly (Incidentally, despite his well earned reputation as a master cameraman, Cardiff opted not photograph this film, instead he employed the services of Paul Beeson.)

The Freakmaker centers on a latter day Dr. Moreau, Professor Nolter (Donald Pleasance), who, possibly inspired by The Thing from Another World, attempts to create a super-race of human/plant hybrids. One would think that a cross between a human and a super powerful animal would make an ideal candidate for inclusion in an army of super beings, but according to Nolter the ability to photosynthesize is much more impressive (not to mention exciting!). To gain the human specimens necessary for his experimentation Nolter enlists the aid of the Elephant Man-esque Lynch (Tom Baker), one of the leaders of a circus freak-show, who kidnaps Nolter's victims. Coincidentally, Lynch just so happens to kidnap students from Nolter's biology class.

As is the case with all mad scientists, Nolter makes a few mistakes on his road to the perfect being. Because he is a charitable fellow, however, Nolter donates these unusable specimens to Lynch's sideshow. When he is finally able to create the perfect specimen, this creature runs amok, eating people in order to live. When fellow scientist Brian Redford (Brad Harris) uncovers Nolter's plans he attempts to put an end to Nolter before he can cause any more havoc.

Like Freaks, The Freakmaker uses many real life circus freaks in its cast. Also, as with Freaks, these people are frequently used in an exploitative manner. The film features, for instance, an extended scene in which a few of Nolter's students attend a freak show and gawk at the human oddities on display. We the viewers are made to be voyeurs in this circus show. This film does, however, attempt to imbue these characters with a certain amount of humanity. Lynch, for instance, although abusive of the other freaks for much of the movie, is later shown to be a complex figure. It is revealed that he is depressed about his lot in life and takes it out on the other freaks, whose presence reminds him of his own disfigurement. He is a self hating freak. However slight an attempt that this movie makes at affirming the humanity of society's outcasts, Elephant Man it ain't.

Indeed, in the film's story of a man's many attempts to produce genetically different killer mutants, the non-normal are meant to be viewed as, at best, pathetically disturbing, and at worse, inhuman killer creatures to be feared and hunted. At the risk of sounding like a PC whiny-baby, I should point out that it is a sad statement on the state of the movie industry in general that the few times in which the so called different people are used in movies, it is in horror movies (less so nowadays, of course).

Incidentally, the Netflix disc I received of this movie was so scratched that I missed a couple minutes worth of the movie. Who knows what happened in the section that I missed? Perhaps it was a scene of transcendent beauty and intelligence, justifying the exploitative depiction of human oddities in this movie. I am going to assume, however, that it is within these few minutes of missing footage that the freaks reveal their plans to eradicate all normies from society in a massive genocide. To put their plan in motion they ritualistically sacrifice three virgins and a puppy and then swear a blood oath to Satan. It is during their black mass that the head dwarf, Burns (Michael Dunn), delivers the following eerie monologue:
Oh benevolent and mighty dark Lord, it is to you that we look for guidance and vision as we are made in your powerful, wretched image. We are but humble servants in your vast army of the unholy. Give us the strength, oh Lord, that we may carry out your sinful designs. Our slaughter of London's infants will be the first step toward completion of your mighty plan. Let it serve as a harbinger of the dark days that lie ahead for all the God fearing normies. Let all who look upon our ghastly visages cower in fear. Thy will be done.
More likely, however, the scene that I missed was one of a plant person offing Donald Pleasance.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

R.I.P. Paul Newman

A true master has died. It would be futile to attempt to sum up Paul Newman's work in one of my simple posts, so I will be brief. Throughout his career, this iconic actor was the embodiment of both cool and quiet rebellion. In so many of his films he portrayed the self assured anti-hero. Even when his characters' attempts to buck the system proved futile, he convinced us that their fights were not in vain. This was no truer than in his portrayal of chain gang member Lucas Jackson in Cool Hand Luke. Growing up, there were few movies I watched more than this one. This movie, like no other, spoke to my inner rebel. In Luke's defiance of authority, Newman expressed a moral authority and charmingly fuck-it-all attitude that remains infectious.

Perhaps even more, however, I will remember Newman for Slap Shot. This movie was Newman's final collaboration, not only with director George Roy Hill, but also with character actor Strother Martin. Although some might dismiss it as just another sports comedy, Slap Shot is the kind of sports movie that is sorely absent today. Playing the coach of a second rate hockey team in an economically depressed factory town, Newman imbues his vulgar, opportunistic character with a humanity that is downright endearing. As opposed to the typical saccharine, uplifting sports films viewers have become accustomed to, Slap Shot proudly dwells in the gutter. Few other actors were as comfortable and charming in this setting than Newman.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Day of the Dolphin (1973)

dir. Mike Nichols

"Pha love pa."

If Hollywood has taught me anything, it has taught me these two simple facts: 1. that the untalented siblings of deceased comedians can build careers by soaking up and corrupting any of the goodwill and/or prestige associated with their family names just as vampires drain the life-force from the soon to be undead, and 2. that animals will one day enslave all of humanity. Although we may be powerless to prevent the inevitability of fact number one, we still have a fighting chance as concerns animals. Thankfully, certain members of the political establishment have heeded Hollywood's warning and fought to diminish the threat posed by these supposedly noble creatures (yes, this may be an unnecessary dig at Sarah Palin in a non-political blog, but it's just too easy. And seeing as I have just about as much political knowledge as the Alaska Governor it seems appropriate).

Because of the threat posed by legions of man-hungry animals, many exploitation filmmakers have generally taken to the subject with the urgent tone necessary to wake a sleeping populace (Willard, Night of the Lepus). When the mainstream eventually became caught up in this important issue, it couldn't help but approach the subject with a similar fervor (Jaws). With Mike Nichols' The Day of the Dolphin, however, a more thoughtful and nuanced (blog-speak translation, boring and gay) approach was taken [side note: I sure am link happy today]. Concerning the relationship between Dr. Jake Terrell (George C. motherfucking Scott) and super intelligent dolphin Alpha, this film is more concerned with the subjects of cognition, political assassination, and post Watergate paranoia than with the thoroughly awesome, tried and tested theme of animals fucking shit up.

Nichols opens his film with the power and authority of a master. Set against a black background, a sweaty George C. Scott addresses the camera on the subject of dolphin cognition. Intercut with this are images of: shadowy Government agent types watching a dolphin perform tricks for its trainer, and scientists performing lab tests on a dolphin. Over it all, Georges Delerue's beautiful, haunting score plays (see clips of the score below). We soon see, as the camera pulls back on Scott's character Terrell, that he is giving a lecture to college students. The mysterious figure from the earlier scene, Curtis Mahoney (Paul Sorvino), is sitting in this lecture hall. The somewhat abstract, avant garde opening is now brought into reality.

Scripted by Nichols collaborator Buck Henry from a book by Robert Merle, The Day of the Dolphin has hints of comedy, intentional and otherwise. When one of the students in the lecture hall questions Terrell about the alleged use of super-intelligent dolphins by the military, Terrell quickly dismisses it as nonsense. To this student and many others in the room, however, this seems like a perfectly legitimate fear, and the subject is approached in this manner. Perhaps the absurdity of this theory is a comment on the paranoia concerning overreaching Government power at the time. Would it be much of a stretch to believe that the same Government responsible for Vietnam, Watergate, and Kissinger's wacky antics would also train killer dolphins? (answer: maybe) More likely, however, this scene serves as a play on a common trope of movies of this sort -- namely, that the seemingly ridiculous is approached with stone sober acceptance by non-skeptical characters eager to latch onto any wacko, later to be proven true, conspiracy theory. "Of course the Rand Corporation in conjunction with the saucer people, under the supervision of reverse vampires, is forcing parents to go to bed early in a fiendish plot to eliminate the meal of dinner. That's just common sense."

It soon becomes apparent, however, that Nichols and Henry are more interested in the human/dolphin drama at the heart of this story than in the political thriller/killer animal components of this story (to be sure, these genre elements do play an increasingly significant role as the film unrolls). Few filmmakers would include scenes in this sort of film, for instance, of beautiful pseudo-lovemaking between George C. Scott and a dolphin. Few directors, of course, were Mike Nichols. By this point in his career, Nichols had amassed a certain degree of artistic credibility, if not consistent financial gains from his films. There is no doubt, for instance, that Catch-22, a beautifully shot and acted, if cold, film, is the work of an auteur. Perhaps because of its association with a classic novel and its paltry box-office showing, many have labeled this film as Nichol's first failure -- the work of a cocky young director who bit off more than he could chew. To paraphrase Pauline Kael's review of De Palma's Bonfire of the Vanities, if Catch-22 is a failure it is the kind of failure that only a master could make. [Side note: Of course, I haven't seen this movie in half a decade so my views may have changed.]

After an arduously long training process, taking place over the span of almost five years at his lavish island science facility, Terrell teaches the dolphin Alpha to speak in a rudimentary form of English. He had originally chosen Alpha as his subject because it was clear from an early age that he exhibited almost human-like cognitive abilities. Much like a human, Alpha soon grows restless and horny after years of isolation. To remedy the situation, Terrell introduces a mate for Alpha, Beta. Also much like a human, when Alpha starts getting laid on a regular basis, he becomes less interested in all that learnin' and shit. When Terrell becomes aware of what is happening, he decides to isolate Alpha from his mate, refusing to reunite them until Alpha speaks again. An initially impudent Alpha eventually relents and talks to his trainer -- typical killer animal movie fare.

Thrown into this mix is a nameless foundation headed by Harold Demilo (Fritz Weaver). Demilo's foundation provides the funding for Terrell's secret research, research so secret, in fact, that Demilo is unaware of what Terrell is doing (or so we think). The benign Terrell is suspicious of all intruders because he fears that any news of his work would turn his island research center into a circus freak-show. A mysterious reporter, Curtis, soon blackmails Harold, who reluctantly gives him access to Terrell's island. Although it initially seems that Curtis is intent on destroying Terrell and his work, it is soon made apparent that Curtis is investigating the evil foundation. The foundation, it is soon revealed, had earlier planted a mole in Terrell's compound to learn of the experiments. With their newfound knowledge of the super-intelligent talking dolphins, the foundation kidnaps and trains the two dolphins to carry bombs that will be used to blow up the President's yacht (yep, that's right). It is up to Terrell and his cohorts to stop the dolphins before it's too late.

Tone-wise, The Day of the Dolphin is a muddled mess. Having never read Merle's novel, I cannot attest to whether the source material is similarly confused but it is apparent that Nichols attempted to achieve too many things here, to varying degrees of success. The Day of the Dolphin, during its first half, employs a leisurely pace and meditative tone as Scott bonds with and teaches Alpha. Midway through, of course, Nichols attempts to speed things up as the movie turns into a political thriller/killer animal movie. Because of the tone shift and subsequent killer dolphin angle, The Day of the Dolphin feels ridiculous in this respect, however seriously intended. Parallax View it ain't.

What keeps this film from devolving into an absurdist lark, however, is that the Terrell/Alpha relationship is played serious throughout. One can't help but be moved by their bonding. Also of importance is the fact these are not the killer animals of legend. In keeping with the political tone and climate of the time, these animals are unwitting stooges of devious assassins, patsies, if you will.

As must be obvious, The Day of the Dolphin was born of a bad acid trip screenwriter Buck Henry was experiencing while watching copious amounts of "Flipper", the Watergate hearings, the Zapruder footage, and reading Merle's novel (yes, he did all of this simultaneously. Buck Henry is that awesome). Henry previously worked with Nichols on The Graduate and Catch-22, both book adaptations. Like Stanley Kubrick, Mike Nichols built his career making adaptations of other people's work, be they novels or plays. His first non adaptation, Carnal Knowledge (filmed from a screenplay by Jules Feiffer that was originally intended as a play), was a brilliant work and modest box-office success. The next time he directed an original movie, 1975's flop The Fortune, Nichols was left in such a dismal state that he didn't make another movie for eight years. Nichols tends to be most creative and artistically assured when he works with known commodities (not that there's anything wrong with that). Despite the relative shortcomings of The Day of the Dolphin, there is no denying that it is a strangely moving and compelling work.

Because The Day of The Dolphin marks the last time that Henry and Nichols would collaborate on a movie, many would see this as an instance of a relationship gone sour after successive failures. My theory is that Nichols and Henry realized the impossibility of topping themselves. As the saying goes, "always leave on a high note."



End Music:

Monday, September 15, 2008

Little Murders (1971)

dir. Alan Arkin

"I don't say I believe in God. The question is wide open. But with me it's not a matter of belief in God. It's a matter of belief in institutions. I'm a great believer in institutions."
-Mr. Newquist

When Alan Arkin portrayed the meek George Aaronow in David Mamet's gloriously profane Glengarry Glen Ross, it was a surprise to those accustomed to the unhinged performances that had become Arkin's trademark (see also Arkin's roles in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter and Edward Scissorhands). In this film he is allowed just one scene of helplessly desperate mania before being shooed away by a condescending Kevin Spacey. Although this performance seems like a departure for Arkin, a closer examination of his films shows that the Aaronow performance is one of a piece with his entire body of work. Even with deliriously manic roles in such films as Catch-22, The In-Laws, and Simon; Arkin frequently exhibits the quality of a coiled snake. Indeed, he has always been at his most interesting during the moments just before he explodes, when the intensity boils just under the surface. Because these moments are fleeting, one knows that Arkin is always on the brink of giving in to the id. The difference in Glengarry Glen Ross, of course, is that it takes the entire length of the movie for this side of his persona to come out, however subdued it may be.

With his feature directorial debut Little Murders, Arkin made a movie that was the tonal equivalent of the typical Arkin performance. Adapted by Jules Feiffer from his own play (a play which tanked after only one week), Little Murders found a director in Arkin who knew only too well how to articulate the film's theme of a country slowly devolving into a massive nervous breakdown. Set against a backdrop of assassinations, urban decay, and political/cultural upheaval, this film examined the ever shifting and seemingly obsolete natures of sanity and morality in a decaying society.

It is in this atmosphere that photographer Alfred Chamberlain (Eliott Gould) has resigned himself to detaching emotionally from the world around him. Constantly a target for muggers and thugs, Alfred accepts the inevitable beatings because, as he explains, "There's no way of talking someone out of beating you up if that's what he wants to do." Fully giving in to apathy, Alfred sees no reason to fight against the system and the status quo, much less muggers. He accepts a world that he cannot change, a world that, according to him, lacks any standards. To prove his point, he decides to make a career of taking pictures of shit. To his surprise, these pictures become the most profitable work that he has ever done.

After meeting Alfred, Patsy Newquist (Marcia Rodd) considers it her duty to marry this man and mold him into a man who sees that life has some value. Because of his passive, apathetic nature he agrees to marry her, under the condition, of course, that God is not mentioned in the ceremony. In their search for someone who will marry them without mentioning the Deity, they meet Judge Stern (Lou Jacobi), who lectures them on what he sees as the faults of this new generation of jaded, over-privileged youngsters:

It is soon obvious to this couple that Judge Stern agreed to meet with them only for the opportunity of inculcating them with the importance of God, hard work, and tradition. Like many scenes in this movie, the Judge's tirade is an excuse for Feiffer to write an overly wordy monologue. As with other plays turned films, this movie bears the unmistakable mark of its source. It is talky in a frequently entertaining, if non-subtle, way. Whereas many writers would define their characters through actions, Feiffer makes no bones about having these people verbalize, in great detail, their philosophies on life and the human condition. This technique would have turned me off if the dialogue weren't so frequently funny. Indeed, quotations made up the majority of the notes that I took on this movie. Here are a few:

"I didn't call my own father dad."
"What did you call him?"
"I didn't call him anything. The occasion never came up."

"I married you because I wanted to mold you. I love the man I wanted to mold you into."

"What do you want out of life, just survival?"
"And to take pictures."
"Of shit?"

Exhausting all other options in their search for a preacher, Alfred and Patsy enlist the services of the hippie Reverend Dupas (Donald Sutherland in a role not too dissimilar from his work in Kelly's Heroes), who performs the service at his church of The First Existential. What follows is the kind of chaotic circus sideshow that would have been right at home in a Marx Brothers movie or a Monty Pthyon episode.

Again, all subtlety is abandoned. Nothing is sacred here. During the ceremony, Dupas states that most of the marriages he has presided over have failed. He knows that most people will wonder whether this marriage will succeed. As he states, "I know no one likes to say these things, but it's all in the back of our minds." This line pretty much sums up the theme and style of the movie. The characters in this movie state the obvious shared sentiments of a disillusioned citizenry, ideas that most would rather keep buried. The culture had become so numbed and accustomed to the massive upheaval of this period that Feiffer felt the need to state in obvious and bold terms the problems staring an unresponsive society right in the face.

Because of its deadpan tone; offbeat characters; dark, yet quirky, humor; and simple, though elegant, camera setups, this film's resemblance to the work of Hal Ashby is quite striking. Although this might seem like an instance of a first time director (Arkin) aping the work of another whose films he admired, Little Murders was released a few months before the release of Harold and Maude, Ashby's second film, and the one that most closely resembles Arkin's film. The similarities between the works of these two directors come, rather, from a similar mindset born in the cauldron of this chaotic era (Of course, both of these directors have more than a little debt to the work of Mike Nichols). Unlike Ashby's films, however, Arkin and Feiffer's work makes no attempt to ingratiate itself to audiences. Little Murders is defiantly vitriolic. We are rarely allowed moments to sympathize with and care about these characters.

Indeed, as dark as this movie is, it somehow manages to take an even darker tone two thirds through. [MAJOR FUCKING SPOILER ALERT!] After Alfred has an epiphany regarding his apathy, he decides that he wants to change into a man who sees that there is value in life. Alfred and Patsy embrace, and a sniper in another building shoots and kills Patsy (how's that for subtlety?). A distraught Alfred visits Patsy's family. He realizes then that the only way to live in this world is to join the insanity. He buys a rifle, and he and the Newquist clan take turns sniping citizens from their apartment window. This is the only moment of true joy that any of the characters experience in this film. Of course, in Little Murders, the idea of a happy ending is strictly subjective.[END SPOILER ALERT]

This movie begs the question, "what constitutes a comedy?" Although, technically, this film is a comedy, it is not one that produces hearty gut laughs (the wedding scene being a notable exception, of course). The laughs are usually of the nervous nature. This is not to say that the movie fails. It is a comedy of the most anarchic sort, one that attempts to deconstruct everything it means to be a comedy, including the inducement of laughter. Its attempts to upset the audience must be admired on a certain level, whether it is a work that begs to be rewatched is another question.

the trailer:

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

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.]

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

R.I. P. Don LaFontaine

Today marks the passing of Don LaFontaine. Although most would not recognize this man by name, LaFontaine's voice had become synonymous with modern American movie going. Having lent hist talent to over 5,000 trailers, the throaty voice-over artist had a career that spanned five decades. Future movie trailers will not be the same. [Side Note: this is the only obit for laFontaine that does not include a certain phrase beginning with the word "In" and ending with the word "World".]