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: Doris Wishman gives us two nudist colony classics.
Blaze Starr Goes Nudist (1962)
Screen star Blaze Starr (who, oddly enough, only made a couple films) is tired of the grind of Hollywood and the celebrity lifestyle. She is also tired of lugging around two, huge bowling ball-sized breasts in a series of elaborate chestical infrastructures. She wants to get away from the pressure. She wants to get away from the endless nightclub appearances and pasty fittings. And she especially wants to get away from her greasy agent/fiancé/manfriend, if only to avoid getting oil stains on her fashionable gowns. After accidentally seeing a nudist camp film, she is captivated by the lifestyle, and before you can scream “don’t let them out,” Blaze is running around a local sun worshipper resort, under the shoulder boulders blowin’ in the wind. And there she falls for camp director Ralph, a swarthy tree stump in oversized shorts who seems to appreciate Blaze for her less…obvious assets.
Quite frankly, this movie is comically disorienting. It is not because director Doris Wishman moves away from her standard nudist colony film format and tries something new. Far from it. Doris is in perfect form here, shooting lamps on tables during conversation, and looping dialogue in over shots of people with glasses or phones covering their mouths. And it’s not because the nudists here are any more or less attractive. It’s the usual grab ass bag of beautiful people and those who should never, ever be shown clothed in public, let alone sans pants or panties.
No, there is something more devilish going on here, more fiendish and frightening. Honestly, the feeling of unease exists because of Ms. Starr’s chest…her mounded mammaries, her incredibly goofy gazongas. There is just something…how should it be said…freakish about them. Odd. Weird. Disturbing. By the time Blaze made this film she was far from the salad days of her early Burlesque career. And she obviously visited a back alley plastic surgeon to get her hooters to properly lift and separate. Unfortunately, she must have visited a passageway near a lunatic asylum, because some demented doc saddled our red headed beauty with a set of jugs so substantial that even a skilled milkman could not contain them. They sit on her clavicle like two misshapen reflecting garden orbs, and pounds of pancake makeup, literally, are swabbed all over them in a mad attempt to make them look less manufactured. Part of the fun of Blaze Starr Goes Nudist comes from serious contemplation of just what the hell is going on with her bust. Or what it resembles. Heads of genetically mutated cabbage? Overdeveloped Jiffy Pop popcorn? Pink Balloons stuffed to bursting with cottage cheese? It boggles the brain pan.
In the DVD department, Something Weird Video gives Blaze Starr Goes Nudist
an absolutely gorgeous transfer, with only minimal scratches or age defects. The color is vibrant, especially in the all important flesh tone area. For extras, we get some archival footage of Ms. Starr in all her early blazing glory that intensifies the obtuse qualities of her new, late in career, cinematic bosom. We are also offered the “generic” trailer for the film. There is no title mentioned or offered, so that various permutations could be dubbed in later, to suit audience taste (or perhaps to fool the rubes into thinking they were going to see something different). It’s a true scarcity when a film can offer a bit of bare bawdiness, and address serious issues surrounding breast enlargement and enhancement procedures. Blaze Starr Goes Nudist
does for silicone and saline what Doris Wishman does to cinema and directing: turns them into a puzzling, entertaining enigma.
Nude on the Moon (1961)
Jeff is a sexually frustrated scientist who pumps all his testosterone into space travel and a planned trip to the Earth’s satellite with the Professor, an arch associate with well-marbled hair. Unbeknownst to our obsessed lunar loon, his incredibly fertile secretary Cathy is willing to let him juggle her moon rocks - anytime, any place. Well, as with most plots involving far-fetched ideas, a relative drops dead and leaves Jet Jeff Jaguar enough greenbacks to search for intergalactic cheese whiz. So he and the Prof drop by Buck Rodger’s rummage sale, purchase some silly space togs, and blast off into the Milky Way. Being the first men on the Moon, they claim the scientific discovery of the ages (and something that Neil Armstrong would, oddly enough, never mention): everyone on the planet is nude, playing volleyball and/or sitting on rocks. Jeff immediately falls for the Queen, who resembles his undersexed secretary except without all those annoying Playtex accessories. Will Jeff stay with his newfound moon doll? Or will he return to earth, and teach Cathy about docking and re-entry?
Those who believe that Gene Roddenberry and Star Trek set the tone for serious science fiction are completely wrong. Doris Wishman, well known for her future shock foresight and space sensibilities, made many a male want to wander into the heavens in order to boldly grope what no man had groped before with Nude on the Moon. This is one of the best of the Doris Wishman nudist camp classics. It maximizes the inherent weirdness of Wishman’s unreal directing style with the indubitably bizarre surroundings of the only South Florida nature lover’s resort that looks like a combination Mayan spa and Morlock granary. Add to this grindstone as grindhouse plenty of wrinkled and sun-leathered bodkin bearers and several semi-striking model/actresses, apply pipe cleaner antennae, and you can tell ILM to kiss your asteroid. The result is a true alien landscape, one that seems recognizable and yet completely exotic and unsettling.
As for the all-important moon mission footage, Doris didn’t require complicated computer animation or difficult optical effects. Just borrow Captain Video’s backdrop and impose a flaming tampon over the vast cardboard galaxy to simulate a rocket launch. Shazam! Instant outer space opera! You don’t need Kubrick and his heavy handed 2001 philosophizing when Doris can offer the “feel” of galaxy surfing without any of the unnecessary realistic effects shots or talking computer pontifications? You may not rendezvous with Rama, but you will definitely feel spaced out.
As one of the earlier DVD releases from Something Weird Video, Nude on the Moon
offers a spectacular full screen transfer but little else. The additional archival short subject is nothing more than a fake lunar landscape and a middle aged burlesque queen exposing her aurora borealis for the world, and the leering moon men, to see. Aside from the trailer and some poster art, that’s it. However, one can actually imply
a special feature, if one wants. Wishman was one of the few exploitation directors to understand the importance of musical underscoring, since she wasn’t going to be bothered with frivolous soundtrack items like dialogue. So one can sit back and enjoy the brassy be-bopping, hip, happening lounge lizard strip show meets The Man with the Golden Arm
style of cosmopolitan cool urban jazz constantly playing in the background as an imagined additional audio track of the isolated score. And the theme song is just the ginchiest. Nude on the Moon
is the perfect kinky DVD cocktail. It takes a fifth of flesh, a splash of Angora sweater bitters, some rocket fuel, and just a hint of va-va-va-voom, and creates a truly intoxicating interstellar highball. It may not unlock every secret of the universe, but it does explain why Darth Vader is doing all that heavy breathing.
Image Entertainment’s‘s DVD Double Feature of Nude on the Moon and Blaze Starr Goes Nudist was released on 9 January, 2007. For information on this title from Amazon.com, just click here
A whole bunch of movies you’ve never heard of will be debuting at the Sundance Film Festival, which runs for 10 days in Park City, Utah. A year from now, some of them may be among your favorites for 2007.
Here’s how a sampling of last year’s Sundance premieres fared:
Little Miss Sunshine. This was the rare Sundance comedy loved equally in and away from the mountain air. After its rousing premiere, Fox Searchlight paid a reported $10.5 million for it (a Sundance record), and it has gone on to gross close to $60 million in North America while racking up so many end-of-the-year kudos that it’s a probable Oscar best picture nominee. PopMatters review
An Inconvenient Truth. The Al Gore global warming movie, picked up by Paramount Vantage (nee Classics), became the year’s most popular documentary ($23.8 million gross)—as well as the most honored and talked-about. PopMatters review
The Illusionist. This Edward Norton-starring magician movie was pooh-poohed at its Sundance premiere, and its primary financier, Bob Yari, wound up releasing it under his own banner. Nice move: It became one of the year’s sleepers, grossing close to $40 million. PopMatters review
Wordplay. This crossword puzzle documentary was warmly received at the festival and beyond, drumming up a decent $3 million for IFC Films.
Half Nelson. Respected by festivalgoers though ignored by the awards jury, this drama about a crack-addicted schoolteacher grossed a modest $2.7 million for ThinkFilm. But Ryan Gosling’s performance has received much end-of-the-year recognition and could be Oscar nominated. PopMatters review
Quinceanera. The festival jury and audience gave top honors to this ensemble drama about the mostly Mexican-American and gay residents of a changing Los Angeles neighborhood. Back in the real world, reviewers liked it while art-house audiences nudged the box office up to $1.7 million.
God Grew Tired of Us. Winning the top jury and audience documentary awards was this emotionally potent depiction of Sudanese “lost boys” who wind up in the U.S. It opens, finally, Friday.
The Science of Sleep. Director Michel Gondry’s dreamlike follow-up to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind never broke out, grossing $4.7 million after Warner Independent paid a reported $6 million to $7 million for the rights to English-speaking territories. PopMatters review
Sherrybaby. This drama about a recovering drug addict mother made a measly $199,000 but did earn Maggie Gyllenhaal a Golden Globe best-actress nomination.
A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints. Despite mostly positive reviews, a couple of Sundance awards and a cast topped by Robert Downey Jr. and Rosario Dawson, this New York mean-streets drama barely cracked $500,000 at the box office.
Right at Your Door. This much-hyped, post-9/11, dirty-bombs-in-L.A. thriller didn’t kill ‘em at Sundance but nonetheless reportedly fetched almost $3 million from Lionsgate. The distributor has yet to give it a U.S. opening date despite releasing it in the UK last September.