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Wednesday, Feb 7, 2007


As part of a new feature here at SE&L, we will be looking at the classic exploitation films of the ‘40s - ‘70s. Many film fans don’t recognize the importance of the genre, and often miss the connection between the post-modern movements like French New Wave and Italian Neo-Realism and the nudist/roughie/softcore efforts of the era. Without the work of directors like Herschell Gordon Lewis, Joe Sarno and Doris Wishman, along with producers such as David F. Friedman and Harry Novak, many of the subjects that set the benchmark for cinema’s startling transformation in the Me Decade would have been impossible to broach. Sure, there are a few dull, derivative drive-in labors to be waded through, movies that barely deserve to stand alongside the mangled masterworks by the format’s addled artists. But they too represent an important element in the overall development of the medium. So grab your trusty raincoat, pull up a chair, and discover what the grindhouse was really all about as we introduce The Beginner’s Guide to Exploitation.


This week: Producer Harry Novak moves flesh out of the nudist camp and into the realm of mainstream comedy.

Kiss Me Quick



During the late 50s and early 60s, nudity was forbidden on American movie screens. The Hays Code, an offshoot of the MPAA’s battle with trade unions over how best to manage Hollywood’s talent, had set up strict limitations on what could and could not be shown in the country’s theaters. Along with the typical strictures – hardcore sex, extreme violence, etc. – former Postmaster Will Hayes and his confab of censors took the notions of motion picture morality to ridiculous extremes. Couples could not be shown sleeping in the same bed. Illegal drug use of any type could not be shown. And most importantly, the exposing of the body – specifically, the FEMALE body – could not be featured. To challenge these or any other “indecency” determination was to run the risk of being blacklisted…or even worse.


Of course, there were those in the cinematic underground who made their living attacking these Puritanical pronouncements. The pornographers, the makers of stag and smoker reels who worked in shady back alleys far off the path of legitimacy, taunted the treatment of taboo material at the hand of Hays, though they never really considered themselves part of mainstream moviemaking. And since the MPAA more or less buttered their daily bread, the conventional artists of Hollywood gladly accepted the rules and went about their sexually illogical business. But those looking for a compromise between vice and va-va-va voom wanted a way to show the human body and not end up on a wrong side of the celluloid – or the law. For these pioneers, there had to be an answer to the perception of skin as indignity.


Said solution came in the package of the nudist camp film. Thanks to a Supreme Court ruling which made it clear that nudity, by its very nature, was not inherently pornographic (especially when it was featured as part of a “medical or health” ideal), members of the exploitation racket hit upon a novel inspiration. Since nudist camps were considered private spas for wellbeing and fitness, abiding by principles proposed by their European medical counterparts, a nice fat fleshly loophole was discovered. Filmmakers flocked to the nation’s sun worshipper facilities, bringing with them willing models, mediocre storylines, and more than enough ‘exposable’ film. Before long, the circuit was overloaded with scantily clad volleyball players and shuffleboard sharks, each one sporting a carefully positioned towel or accessory (to blot out the still scandalous groin area).


It wasn’t long before the novelty of nudity set within an amiable, outdoorsy location – along with the obvious dichotomy between the professional models and the rather wrinkled, sometimes repugnant actual nudists – took a toll on the rapidly fading nudism fad. If the financial aspect of flesh was going to prosper, someone had to move it into a whole new realm. Luckily, producer Harry Novak knew just what to do. Recognizing that horror films held as much sway over the drive-in crowd as the suggestion of sin, he decided to combine the two. Even better, he would employ comedy as part of his ploy to avoid suspicion and keep his efforts from raising the reservations of the nation’s ethical watchdogs.


Thus the nudie was born, a combination of vaudeville level humor and burlesque oriented bodkin bearing. Though others had employed a similar stance within this new found gimmick guided gratuity – such surreal set-ups as magic cameras that saw its subject naked, special glasses that provided a similar scintillating view, etc. – Kiss Me Quick remains a milestone, since it pushed the limits of lewdness while simultaneously showing that there was nothing really ‘dirty’ about ladies bouncing around, bare-assed. Employing exploitation expert Bethel Buckalew (under his ‘Peter Perry’ nom de plume) and casting strippers from LA’s best nightclubs, the result was a sparkling slap in the face for those who felt nudity was naughty, or worst still, personally depraved.


The storyline was, by nature, desperately simple. In a lonely cardboard cutout of a castle, during a strobe light storm, Dr. Breedlove (actor Max Gardens in a bad fake nose, eyeliner pencil wrinkles, and hip John Lennon granny glasses) attempts to perfect his Sex Fizz, giving portions to his Sex Bombs in order to get them gyrating and undulating. Enter Sterilox (actor Frank A. Coe doing an impression of Stan Laurel on Quaaludes), an alien from the planet Droopeter in the Buttless Galaxy, who engages the doctor in a quest for the perfect female specimen. After giving the Sex Bombs (Boobra, Barebra, and Hotty Totty – otherwise known as Natasha, Bibi, and Claudia Banks) a sip of his Fizz, they begin a wigged out dance to some rather scathing proto-punk surf rock music.


Nonplused, Sterilox asks to see more women, and Dr. Breedlove cheerfully agrees by switching on his Closed Circuit Television Tom Peeper Device. We are then treated to 66 minutes of women undressing, undressed, and cavorting in exercise rooms and swimming pools, all the while making sure that their best features are front and center. Frankenstein, Dracula, and a strange Grand-Mummy kind of thing round out the cast in a nod to the time period (‘64 was a huge year for movie monsters in US popular culture). In between the men’s magazine style sequences, incredibly bad jokes are delivered by professional pratfallers who, in essence, should know better.


Devoid of anything remotely disgusting, and barely reaching the heavy breathing level of vulgarity, what we have here is an extended Burly-Q act made even more memorable by the outrageous acting and backdrop. Buckalew, who would go on to work with Novak on several sensational skin flicks including The Secret Sex Lives of Romeo and Juliet and The Dirty Mind of Young Sally, does a brilliant job of staging the nakedness, using an unusual approach to his considered camerawork. During the Sex Bombs marvelous dance numbers, he simply sets up the lens and lets the ladies shimmy and shake. Occasionally, he will move in to get a close-up of a fawning face or wide-eyed gaze. But mostly, it’s point and shoot time.


Then there are moments where, in a more private setting, he will let the viewfinder slowly pan up and down a gyrating lass, developing a kind of carnal intimacy that XXX movies would learn to utilize – and abuse - a decade later. It’s fair to say that the level of wit, with its T&A tendency toward the tawdry and tasteless would make grade-schoolers wince in acknowledged juvenilia. In addition, if you’re interested in something beyond exposed breasts and retarded sexual references, Kiss Me Quick fails to deliver much of anything else. But as a monument to the moment when filmmakers found the chutzpah to challenge the wildly unconstitutional claims that kept movies in the decency Dark Ages for several decades, Harry Novak’s horror hijinx were instrumental in paving the way for greater cinematic openness. In essence, he moved nudity out of the camp and into the realm of ordinary comedy. As entertaining as Kiss Me Quick remains, its industry significance cannot be understated. Indeed, it was monsters that helped make nakedness a non-issue for the grindhouse gang. 


 


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Wednesday, Feb 7, 2007
by PopMatters Staff

It was PopMatters#1 album of 2006, remember?


Gnarls Barkley
St. Elsewhere

(Downtown)


It begins with the click of a film reel. Then, it explodes into a manic gospel-circus fronted by a multi-octave ringmaster. Two minutes later, this year’s most infectious single cuts through the cacophony. In case you slept through 2006, that album is St. Elsewhere and that song is “Crazy” by Danger Mouse and Cee-Lo, a.k.a Gnarls Barkley. Who knew that existentialism with a go-go beat could be so catchy?  Like the album cover’s voltaic mushroom cloud, the songs on St. Elswehere captured small slices of life, death, love, fear, and joy.  Gnarls Barkley penetrated the collective psyche of its listeners and uncovered the angst underneath all the “bling” and bravado permeating popular culture. Remarkably, the album crossed over to an unlikely mix of hipsters, rappers, glitterati, boomers, yuppies, indie kids, and suburban dwellers to prove that St. Elsewhere is, in actuality, everywhere. Christian John Wikane


 


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Wednesday, Feb 7, 2007

A few days ago PsyBlog reported on a study that revealed that people just getting to know one another frequently talk about music and that music serves as a powerful means of signalling personality traits. Here are the details of how the study worked:


participants were asked to judge people’s personality solely on their top 10 list of songs. This was compared to participants results on a standard type of personality test measuring the big five personality traits: openness to experience, extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness and emotional stability. Overall the results showed that music preferences were reasonably accurate in conveying aspects of personality. Of the five traits, it was a person’s openness to experience that was best communicated by their top 10 list of songs, followed by extraversion and emotional stability. On the other hand, music preferences didn’t say much about whether a person was conscientious or not.



The study led me to wonder, though, if you couldn’t develop an iTunes plug in that would interpret your personality to yourself by analyzing what you are currently playing or have played most often most recently along the lines of how Pandora analyzes music and makes recommendations. (I need something to tell me why I am listening to so much Jandek.) It would work like a horoscope, perhaps, making oracular pronoucements about how you are feeling and what you seem to need. When iTunes inevitably becomes a social networking tool, this horoscope could link you to other people who might be especially compatible with you. If music is proxy for personality, it seems a cinch to make networked iTunes libraries into a kind of dating service.


Still, I found the specific findings of what music makes for what personality a little suspect:


What some music preferences mean for personality:
  * Likes vocals: extraverted
  * Likes country: emotionally stable. On the face of it, this is bizarre really because country music is all about heartache. Either the emotionally stable are attracted to country music or it has a calming effect on the unstable!
  * Likes jazz: intellectual


These correlations seem entirely contingent on popular associations, not some intrinsic quality of the music, and will likely change as the public perceptions of these genres change. Also the signalling power of these genres diminish the more they are understood as sheer signals, and the authenticity of a person’s preferences become questionable in light of their obvious instrumentality. If everyone knows you can say you are into the Shins to establish some kind of indie credibility, then liking the Shins no longer signifies that. The music’s usefulness as signal empties it of the specific quality it originally conveyed. That’s why this is such a poignant and powerful PSA. Music preferences become subject to the rational expectations critique—the alleged coolness of the preference is already built in by the time you choose to like something, so you get no added coolness out of the choice. You have to choose to like something uncool and hope the zeitgeist blows in that direction. Likewise, jazz signals not that you are intellectual, but that you were aware that it would make you seem as though you are intellectual at the time the choice was made. The more obvious the signal, the less authentic the choice seems, and the less it seems to reflect your true personality as opposed to the one you are scheming to convey. I don’t think this study undermines this, because music selection and personality test taking can both be games of projecting who you want to be rather than measuring something that’s there and beyond your control. This, in fact, may be why it is always a waste of time to try to determine what someone’s “true” personality is—it is always ad hoc, contingent on choices in the moment, on what one seeks to stress and minimize.


Perhaps this is why I find the question of what music I like a really annoying one to answer, because it has nothing to do with, well, what music I like. I secretly resent the question; it’s another way of asking, “Who the hell do you think you are?” It’s like the spot on social networking profiles that encourage you to list what books and records and movies you like; this is impossible to do honestly. Generally I’m very reticient to disclose my personality (why I wear a de facto uniform), which, New York magazine tells me, places me in a moribund demographic. I just strongly suspect that anything I say about myself, no matter how well-intentioned, will eventually be made into a lie by my actions, what people should probably judge me by. Which raises this question: Is forming tastes about consumer-culture product now the only form of public action left open to us?


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Wednesday, Feb 7, 2007

While it might seem amazing that Apple’s Steve Jobs is now speaking out against DRM (digital rights management) attached to sales of online music, CNET has a good article that tries to parse his logic about taking this tact in this article.  One thing’s for sure, the market is becoming so unwieldy that the labels and Jobs don’t have clear answers now about how to keep making money so they’re scrambling around for solutions.


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Tuesday, Feb 6, 2007

Women hold a sacred place in Indian cinema. Pre-Christian rituals of worship are imbued on a screen projecting images of full-lipped goddesses. The inherent beauty of the female figure, the agility of the dancer, the playful sauciness, and above all, the promise of sex, is what endears these eight women to billions of moviegoers. Sex is less taboo and dirty in Indian cinema when rendered in a certain artistic, quasi-religious sort of way. Indeed, its procreative potential and its ability to excite the human consciousness grants it a divine status. Audiences don’t just drool and fantasize over these goddesses. Like their more cerebral Hollywood counterparts, Marlene Dietrich and Sharon Stone, they’re admired for their charisma, craft, elusiveness and unpredictability. As mutable as the Apsaras they recreate onscreen, these actresses grow more complex with each new film, tantalizing us with a spirited song sequence or surprising us with a new side of their acting, nuanced and original, that we didn’t expect to see.


Four of the eight actresses hail from South India, the heart of classical Indian dance. Dance is a vital aspect of worship in Hinduism. Shiva created the universe through dance, resolving and sustaining the cosmos via a sinuous ballet. A woman who is accomplished in the technique and discipline of classical dance is deeply respected for her beauty and her intelligence. South India’s starlets remind one of the primeval goddesses represented in cave sculptures: woman in its original, undiluted form.


One of the most popular stars of the 40s and 50s, Vyjayantimala, was the first big star from South India, no small feat in a North Indian-dominated film industry. With her astounding virtuosity at Bharatnatyam, her classical Earth Mother beauty, and her sensitive performances she paved the way for the other South Indian actresses. Hema Malini, the darling of the 70s, shared Vyjayantimala,’s talent for dance and arresting good looks, though she defined her persona as a wise-cracking, brassy skeptic along the lines of Jean Harlow. Sridevi, the reigning movie queen of the 80s (the most prolific of all eight, she sometimes had up to 10 movies out at the same time) upped the ante on slapstick and sex appeal—the Carole Lombard of Indian cinema. Rekha, the last of the South Indian beauties, a star of the 70s and 80s, seems to become more fascinating with age, starring in provocative roles that challenge the existing norms of India’s sometime hypocritical policies.


In the 70s, India like the rest of the world, was swept up in the tide of cultural revolution that came with political dissent.  As the Women’s Rights movement spread internationally, Zeenat Aman and Parveen Babi embodied modernity. While the Indian heroines thus far wore tasteful, conservative saris and bindis, Aman and Babi were unashamed to show off their lovely figures in bikinis and mini-skirts. They were looked upon as “Western” heroines whose rejection of conventional attire and attitude (the subservient wife or fiancé) stunned and titillated audiences who were unaccustomed to seeing an Indian woman so unapologetically cosmopolitan.


By the time Madhuri Dixit entered the scene the ideal of the screen goddess began to unravel. Actresses struggled to be seen as artists and not merely as nubile, plastic dolls. The late 80s and 90s, when more Indians were working abroad and longed to return to India, tradition and ritual came back full-force in Indian cinema. Dixit was the phenomenon of those years. A spirited dancer and vivacious personality she possessed a homespun beauty of Miss Middle India, a glamorous homebody equally at ease in an evening gown or cooking at home. She enjoyed the popularity Rita Hayworth did in the 40s, her picture emblazoned on every man’s wall in all far corners of the world. But the overwhelming celebrity as an international sex symbol became too much for Dixit, who retired from movies seven years ago to marry an NRI doctor and live a quiet life as a soccer mom near Denver, Colorado.


Kareena Kapoor is the most of recent of the lot and the one who seems to have the most fun. A star of the new millennium, when Indian society enjoyed more progressive liberalism and more respect for an independent, sexier woman, Kapoor is less inhibited than her predecessors, and less pretentious She dances, not classically, with enthusiasm and abandon. Her love of the limelight is inherited; the granddaughter of Bollywood founding father, Raj Kapoor, Kareena Kapoor combines the Old World glamour with New World attitude.


All of these women realize that being a sex symbol in India, a country that reveres sex but is still reluctant to talk about openly, is a challenging mantle to assume. As the object who graces the dreams of the both rickshaw driver and the Sultan of Brunei, she bridges men together with collective longings. But eroticism aside, the Bollywood sex symbol’s true talent is cerebral; she tantalizes with what’s left unseen, with fantasies unanswered. It takes a clever woman to realize that her sex appeal is half of what she has and half of what everyone thinks she has.



Vyjantimala circa ‘50s

Hema Malini circa ‘70s

Rekha circa ‘70s


Sridevi circa ‘80s

Zeenat Aman circa ‘70s

Parveen Babi circa ‘70s

Madhuri Dixit circa early ‘90s

Kareena Kapoor circa ‘90s


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