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Wednesday, Jan 31, 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: Doris Wishman redefines “the roughie”.

Bad Girls Go to Hell



It’s the lure of the city that calls them, the bright lights matching the twinkle in their eyes and the sparkle of their high hopes. Sensible shoes wear a groove into the pavement as deep as the despair in their hearts as they learn that their fantasy easy street is actually a bleak boulevard of broken dreams. Few survive, and even fewer stay. For those with drive and determination, something close to a living can be squeezed out from in between the hustle and bustle. For others, it’s back alleys and underground clubs filled with sleazy users just waiting for the new crop to rotate in.


And it’s these lost, lonely and desperate women that become the focus of the urban roughie movies of Doris Wishman. In a career that fluctuated between innocent nudist colony films and all-out hardcore pornography, no one understood the metropolitan landscape and its ability to steamroll one’s soul better than Doris did. Her bleak, brave tales of big city seduction and violent passions reflected the times and tenure of America circa 1965-66 better than any mainstream movie or filmmaker. Bad Girls Go to Hell is a masterwork of miscreant behavior and a lost love letter to a social era where men feared the sexual power of women and would do anything to keep it neatly in check.


In the film, our heroine Meg Kelton goes about her daily chores. As she is cleaning the kitchen and taking out the garbage, she is attacked and savaged by the brutish landlord of her apartment building. When he later threatens to tell her husband about the incident, she meets him at his apartment, where she is again assaulted. But this time she bludgeons the bully to death. Frightened and alone, she heads to New York, where she encounters a series of good Samaritans, each with seemingly innocent offers of help. But sooner or later, each situation turns indecent and Meg finds the lecherous landlord’s murder catching up with her.


The creation of the so-called “roughie” is a complicated and critical step in the forward momentum of drive-in and grindhouse adult entertainment. Prior to its appearance as part of the exploitation oeuvre, sex on film was either naughty or nice and usually a little of both. The nudist camp saga showed skin as part of an imagined scientific examination of the lifestyle (mixed with a little tabloid titillation). The nudie took it one step further, making the location insignificant and the amount of body bared ample.


Later, tease would turn into flat-out fornication, where no one shed their clothes unless they meant to press and prod the flesh. These soft-core sexcapades would even veer off into wild and warped “ghoulies,” where gore and murder were added to spice up the sordidness. The roughie, however, existed in that strange middle zone between the tame and the tawdry, in an arena both twisted and tantalizing. The formula was simple enough: feature the man/woman or woman/woman dynamic as a seedy balance of lust and violence, where a man would slug a woman as soon as kiss her, and the woman would sheepishly respond to both.


In these urban decay dramas, sex was power, used to control and contain. Women who understood or flaunted this knowledge were shown the back of a hand or a belt. Only men were allowed to exploit the act for any interpersonal gain. But sex was also seen as comfort, a means for lost souls to find that temporary moment of connection, where loneliness concedes to lingering caresses under the sheets. However, these acts of sensual salvation were always punished. Men did not want women comprehending the power and the glory that existed as part of their physical make-up, aspects never to be explored together.


Socially, it is understandable where this cinematic philosophy comes from. The ‘60s were a time of great sexual and personal liberation, where women came into their own as sensual and political beings. Gone were the meek mousy housewives of the ‘50s. In their place were ripe, passionate pieces of erotic fruit. Before the games of suburban roulette, where husbands took back control and traded vows (and wives) for keys to the kinky kingdom, the roughie marked a time when men attempted payback for the loss of sexual and gender power. And in the soiled, soggy streets of the metropolis, within the walls of its catacomb like apartments, the battle of the bruised sexes played out.


There is no denying that director Doris Wishman understands this metropolitan landscape, aware as to how to translate its power and pulse into a raw cinematic sensation. She focuses on the little moments, the small slices of the city that exemplify and accurately paint a portrait of life in New York. She refrains from long shots of Manhattan, or perfectly framed compositions of tall buildings scraping the sky. Instead, she leads us down back streets and into tiny neighborhoods and boroughs where people struggle to exist. We linger in the city’s few remaining open spaces, desolate and serene as large monolithic apartment blocks overlook the fertile land like greedy developers. In these sequences she captures the city as simultaneously oppressive and infinite, the cell structure living rooms opening onto streets of endless seduction and sin. And like the magic that only the movies can provide, the monochromatic color scheme creates the only sense of black and white that will exist in this world filled with gray areas. There are no winners or losers in this Gotham, just the walking wounded, waiting for someone to dress their battered bodies and shattered lives.


As a director, Wishman never cast for beauty or good looks. She wanted her actors to embody the desire, the defects, and the destinies of their characters. She picked men who exuded Scotch and cigarettes, wearing their wounded male pride on rolled up shirtsleeves stained with blood, nicotine, and lipstick. As for the women, they all had hair piled high on their head like a bouffant crown or frame, and bodies bound under fishnet unitards and undersized brassieres. Their aura silently screamed desire and fertility from beneath their weathered unusual attractiveness, their glamour and good looks offset by the sharp edges of a life unfulfilled and the severe vogue of the current fashion. Everyone seems exhausted, as if beaten down so hard by the world that Hell was still somewhere high above. Acting talent or temperament was of no concern. As long as they looked the part on screen, Doris would find a way to make the performance work. It has been noted that, like Fellini, Wishman never recorded live sound with her films. Everything, from effects to dialogue, was dubbed in later during post. While this is not always true, it does exist here and it adds another layer of foggy, depersonalized confusion as to who and what we are watching. Characters become moral enigmas, too astray to speak in their own voices, too dulled and sullied by life to own a distinct, individual personality.


In her films, Wishman employs standard melodramatic plot lines and then inverts the parameters to impose illicit acts and criminal vice into the fray. Bad Girls casts our heroine as a carnal Candide, living from one sexual misadventure and debasement to the next. No circumstance is safe for her, not the kindly couple with the room for rent, not the lesbian hooker with a gold plated dime store heart. For Meg, men and women are a constant threat, one looming over and ogling her in ripe desire for defilement. She finds herself caught in a never-ending pool of prurience that comes when one forsakes their virtue for a life of vice. While this may be reading too much into what should be a standard exploitation narrative, Bad Girls does have something to say about the social and biological politics between man and woman, between the so-called weaker sex and the caveman king of the castle. There is no courting, no sweet talk or handholding. It’s a story of men looting women like sexual candy stores, stuffing their mouths and grabbing goodies by the fistful. And all these unlucky ladies can do is grind and bear it for another vanished day.


Newcomers to the genre may wonder what all the amateurish fuss is about. After all, there are probably 75 shots of shoes in Bad Girls Go to Hell alone. Wishman loves to move away from the action, from the groping and humping and onto inanimate objects like a fruit basket or a clown wall hanging. Some will argue that this is done to avoid the decency and censorship laws, but a trained eye looks deeper, and sees a message. These are not acts of love. This is not an erotic exchange. This is violent, rough sex play for authority, and no one needs to see it directly. Wanting to watch means acceptance and compliance. The extended shot of a desk set symbolizes the deplorable nature of what is going on. But what about the continuity errors, the bad dubbing, and the horrendous under/over acting? Again, all of it exists to set a tone and tarnish the tales being told. Doris Wishman was a woman making movies about the corruption of woman. Her celluloid crime scene is riddled with the evidence of honor usurped, of dignity fouled.


 


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Wednesday, Jan 24, 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: A pair of perverted takes on technology and extortion.

Electronic Lover (1966)



Buried somewhere deep in the heart of Manhattan, a sadistic voyeur named “The Master” sends his sibling slave (who he refers to as “Brother”) out to spy on the ladies of New York. Hoping to catch them in flagrante delicto – in other words, naked and naughty as the day is long – Brother stumbles around the city with what looks like a vacuum cleaner attachment in his hands. Turns out, it’s a high tech camera, allowing the perv to pry into the privacy of the numerous nasty girls Master has his erotica eye on. As he aims his plastic probe into the windows of his prey, our technological Peeping Tom sits back in his burlap-covered bungalow and monitors the collection of lady lumps from a screen on his room-sized computer. When Brother mucks up and messes with the image, Master shouts out long, laborious monologues, peppering his rants with various demands for more, MORE, MORE!!! When the women get wise and confront him, Master goes all moist, proving that his dysfunction is more emotional than erectile. Indeed, he is an Electronic Lover, only potent when transistors and a ‘motherboard’ are involved.


In the annals of exploitation, it is hard to find a film as outrageously bizarre as Electronic Lover. Granted, it’s not as surreal as The Godmonster of Indian Flats, and can barely hold a craven candle to Confessions of a Psycho Cat or foreign freak-outs like My Baby is Black or When Men Carried Clubs and Women Played Ding Dong, but in contrast to the rest of the raincoat canon, this creepy peeper exercise is mighty malfeasant. Besides, any movie which features a man making out with himself (thanks to a well placed wall mirror) and relying on some simulated self-service to get his repugnant rocks off is already illustrating its grand depraved delusions. The sickeningly incestual conceit between Master and Brother – he of the wealthy erotic eccentricity, the other a mute doormat who prowls around town looking for lewdness – is accentuated by the random bits of babe burlesque, each of our well-known sleaze screen queens (including Uta Erickson and Linda Boyce) exposing their epidermis for the sake of some slick exhibitionist’s wet daydream. Since most of the movie follows along the thinnest clothesline of a plot – Master wants Brother to find the realistic replicas of his nightmarish fantasy fodder – director Jesse Berger does little more than offer up various vignettes of simulated slap and tickle.


Indeed, the best parts of Electronic Lover aren’t the groovy grindhouse gals going gonzo in their bare ass brazenness. No, the moments that will have your cinematic synapses in an uproar arrive whenever Master has one of his certified nutty nervous breakdowns. Desperate to find the vice in his icky internal visions, he yells at Brother in long, hilarious harangues that sound like outtakes from a pervert’s primal scream sessions. Face scrunched up like it’s smashed against a window, eyes wide open (the better to catch the profuse sweat flowing off the loathsome lothario’s face) and mouth mimicking a grimace, Master (played by nobody Mike Atkinson) could give Rev. Jim Jones a run for his Messianic madman money. So convinced he owns the world that he feels free to spy on it, Master makes the crucial mistake that most deviants do – he lets his lust dement and destroy his life. That’s why we buy the odd living arrangements, the frequent hallucinations, and the ending that twists everything onto itself until the narrative shouts “Uncle” and finally falls apart. One of those heralded “has to be seen to be believed” efforts, Electronic Lover is a brazen bit of binary ballyhoo.


The Spy Who Came (1969)



Harry Harris is one of New York’s finest – and slimiest – vice cops. When he’s not wowing his superiors with his evidence tampering skills, he’s “pumping” his suspects for potential information. One day, after several long hours of framing hookers, Harry heads off to a local bar to drown his sorrows. There he meets a very odd young lady, so robotic in her expressions that automatons are jealous of her rigidity. Turns out she’s a plant, a way to get Harry into the hands of a drug addled Arab sheik who wants to blackmail most of the UN. Seems they have pictures of Harry humping the citizenry, and will show them to the lawman’s future bride if he doesn’t cooperate. With the fuzz on his side, the Middle Eastern madman has that much more extortion emphasis on his possible targets. Naturally, Harry agrees, and soon discovers the unholy horrors of the operation’s white slave situation. Luckily, his boss finds out about the set-up and sends in a French detective from Interpol to help break up this cabal. The rest of the movie is made up of shots of women being whipped, stripped and clipped, all in hopes of being the bait for The Spy Who Came


Unlike Electronic Lover, a film that constantly wants to remind you of the entire Master/Brother dynamic, The Spy Who Came sets up its storyline, and then quickly abandons it for more garish girlie gawking. Once we’ve established that Harry is a letch, that the Arab is insane, and that the broken down castle that acts as a hideout is really nothing more than Olga’s House of Shame minus Audrey Campbell, we settle in to enjoy what director Ron Wertheim has to offer. Sadly, it’s more of the scripted strip show routine, women baring it all for the sake of some salacious skin flicking. It starts when our entranced tart shows up at Harry’s favorite dive bar and begins seducing him. Her vacant stare must have some sort of aphrodisiacal powers, since our hero hops into bed with her PDQ. It’s only later than we learn that this is Harry’s miscreant MO. A funny scene has our villainous Arab presenting the police officer with photos of his dalliances, and actual film of his faux fornicating. No wonder he’s so willing to help out the criminal cause. Harry’s seed has been spread from one end of the Big Apple to the other.


Thankfully, the film fails to follow up on the whole UN/diplomatic immunity/international scandal plotting and instead turns into your typical episodic erotica. One of the highlights here is a sequence where a ‘sex slave in training’ is educated on how to pleasure a man. Practicing various positions – doggy, reverse cowgirl – to an instructional recording seems strange enough. Now add in her partner, a particularly bizarre looking male mannequin (complete with absent eyes and dislocated arms) and you’ve got some of the most hilarious sensual slapstick ever caught on celluloid. Our unknown actress deserves some kind of amorous acknowledgment for making feigned frigging with a wooden doll seem totally plausible. As for the rest of the narrative, it’s a deranged downward spiral into more nudity, more nonsensical plot turns, and a final action sequence that features our Arab antagonist naked, the worst armed guards in the history of criminality, and a bunch of toga wearing girls chasing a topless temptress as she tries to escape. Wow! Though the title is a tad too clever to actually link directly to the story, The Spy Who Came is still a sensational head scratcher of a film. Its purpose is as cloudy as its morals.


As they do every so often, Something Weird Video (via their distributor, Image Entertainment) unleashes these unknown exploitation gems on an already jaded fan base. Including lots of interesting supplements (trailers, archival short subjects, educational films and groovy grindhouse galleries) and the best tech specs available (in this case, 1.33:1 monochrome images and Dolby Digital Mono mixes) the leading company in taboo-busting temptations really delivers this time. Even the jaw dropping late ‘60s look at science (a surreal slice of Americana called “The Philosophy of Computing”) adds to the overall success of this strange presentation. While there are far more definitive examples of what made the skin and sin genre famous, Electronic Lover/ The Spy Who Came are two terrific bawdy brain busters. Each example of freakish flesh peddling is as crazy as it is carnal – for better and for worse.



Image Entertainment’s‘s DVD of Electronic Lover/The Spy Who Came was released on 23 January, 2007. For information on this title from Amazon.com, just click here


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Wednesday, Jan 17, 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: 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


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Wednesday, Dec 27, 2006


Before the complaints come pouring in, let’s clarify the ground rules for this particular year-end list, shall we? Many of the movies referenced were indeed made BEFORE 2006. At least one dates as far back as the late ‘60s/early ‘70s. A few are DVD-only releases. Others had a limited life in theaters before making their way to the home theater arena. So, in essence, the criteria for appearing on this list is that, in general, the titles discussed must have arrived on the digital domain sometime in this calendar year. Granted, we could be dealing with a double dip, a new release of an out of print presentation, or a major distributor pick up of a previously independent offering. In any case, there is a twofold purpose to making such an annual assessment—to raise the profile of some criminally overlooked efforts and to make a broader determination of what a year like 2006 had to offer.


You’ll notice that the list is weighed heavily toward two distinct categories—comedy and genre efforts. Indeed, at least five of the films listed have humorous underpinnings, while six carry horror/fantasy/sci-fi elements as part of their make-up. The reason for this is self-evident—your big budget Hollywood hit machine is incapable (with rare exceptions) of making this kind of film work and work well. Instead, they go for the easy high concept or the limited lowbrow gross out as part of an overall demographical devout business model. In addition, many of these films have a homemade feel to them, a clear indication that DVD, and the decreased costs of moviemaking technology, are investing the common man with the true means of creating cinema. This does not mean their quality is compromised. In fact, almost every title here easily eclipses much of this year’s Tinsel Town’s tripe.


So grab a pen and make note of SE&L’s Top Ten Films of 2006 That You’ve Never Heard Of…until now:



1. Lollilove
Amazingly enough, Troma’s release of this mock-documentary classic came out all the way back in January. Still, we here at SE&L have yet to see a comedy as clever, biting, and insightful as this look at the convoluted clash between celebrity and charity. Jenna Fischer, famous for her role on NBC’s Office, hooked up with famous hubby, silver screen scribe James Gunn and delivered 2006’s funniest film.




2. Period Piece
Another Troma title, this time from genius outsider auteur Guiseppe Andrews. In this scatological Short Cuts, Andrews addresses the way in which sex scars and subjugates us. Using his typical acting company of trailer park residents and a vignette like approach that resembles Paul Thomas Anderson on peyote, this astonishing social commentary only gets funnier—and fouler—with repeat viewings. Andrews is indeed a cinematic savant.


 



3. New York Doll
One of the best experiences a viewer can have is going into a movie cold, not knowing anything substantive about a story, and coming away mesmerized and moved. This is what happened when director Greg Whiteley discovered that Arthur “Killer” Kane, bassist for the New York Dolls, was a fellow Mormon. Following his rise and fall from star to street person, we get an experience both uplifting, and devastating.




4. Marauders/ SNAK—Sensitive New Age Killer/ Defenceless (Savage Cinema from Downunder)
Though a couple of these titles were released years ago, the work of Australian Mark Savage was more or less unknown to US genre fans. Now, thanks to an impressive box set from Subversive Cinema, we get to experience this divergent trio of terrific films in all their independent artistic glory. From senseless spree killers to a ghostly woman’s revenge, Savage cements his position as an inventive and important filmmaker.



5. Rock and Roll Space Patrol: Action is Go!
Our third Troma title is the equivalent of fan fiction. It’s a labor of dork love, a ballad to Roddenberry and a sloppy French kiss for individuals obsessed with their multi-sided dice. Everything here is DIY and duct tape, from the Amiga-esque CGI to refrigerator experiments in “ice box fusion”. A lot like watching the Three Metaphysical Stooges spoofing Star Trek, this glorified Geeks Gone Wild is stellar sci-fi schlock.



6. Small Gauge Trauma
For over 10 years, Canada’s Fantasia International Film Festival has been on the cutting edge of up and coming genre greatness. They discovered such macabre masters as Takashi Miike and introduced J-Horror to a ‘desperate for something different’ Western mentality. This year, they released a DVD collection of their most novel and creative contributions. Combining live action and animation, the results are remarkable, easily one of 2006’s most compelling compendiums.




7. Bleak Future
It is hard to get a real handle on this surreal sci-fi stunner, a piece of potent post-apocalyptic chaos that plays like a long lost Douglas Adams novel. Bleak Future is simultaneously smart and stupid, realistic and retarded, inspired and insipid, wholly original and a complete and utter rip off. It’s the kind of craziness that Netwads will go nutzoid over for decades to come.



8. Freak Out
Like a Monty Python derived movie macabre, this slasher spoof is out to imitate favorite fright films while simultaneously sending up the genre every step of the way. Combining a little Benny Hill style slapstick, a healthy dose of Goodies era goofiness and more than a few nods to TV dynasty Dallas, what we end up with is a compendium of styles and a wealth of worthy material.



9. Magdalena’s Brain
Leave it to narrative novices Marty Langford (producer/writer) and Warren Amerman (writer/director) to merge the speculative with the sinister to create a marvelous sci-fi/ horror hybrid. More dread-driven than straight ahead scary, this oddly effective film features strong performances and an equally powerful narrative force. Complete with a twist ending that actually works and a strong central performance by Amy Shelton-White this is an excellent indie entertainment.




10. Let Me Die a Woman
As an update to the old Roadshow movie of the 40s and 50s, the legendary Doris Wishman was behind this deranged docu-drama. Part hygiene exposé (the subject—transsexuals!) part Christine Jorgensen riff, all wanton weirdo wackiness, this corrupt combination of sex change surgery footage and post-/pre-op tranny treats is so downright bizarre, it could only come from the lunatic lens of the raincoat crowd’s favorite femme.



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Wednesday, Nov 8, 2006


In my opinion, wasted potential is at the top of the list of a filmmaker’s greatest disappointments. When a great director, or at least a director of great potential, seizes a topic - especially one filled with richness and vigor - it is assumed that he or she will dive into it greedily, basking in its power. The result should be the creation a cinematic vision that will remind the viewer of the power of film. But when that individual instead takes such sound subject matter and prefers only to graze the surface, favoring sloth to imagination and assumed self-importance rather than deference to the craft, it is truly a tragedy. And in this particular case, the disaster in question is called Heading South (“Vers le Sud”), Laurent Cantet’s French/English film from 2005 that explores sex tourism in 1970s Haiti.


More specifically, the film follows Brenda (Karen Young), Sue (Louise Portal) and the queen bee herself Ellen (Charlotte Rampling), middle aged white women who come to Haiti annually. There, they provide cash and gifts to young, impoverished Haitian men in exchange for sexual favors and their company. Legba (Menothy Cesar), the resident hottie and particular favorite of both Ellen and Brenda, becomes caught (naturally) in between the growing feelings of each woman. As I watched the story unfold, I became increasingly disillusioned as Cantet. Here was a filmmaker quite content to create a story set in late ‘70s Haiti, and yet never once did he even attempt to explore the nation’s rule by Jean Claude Duvalier.


A determined despot, Duvalier and his crew ruled the island with a violent, bloody fist. Colonialism, poverty, class, race, and political oppression are all salient themes for a film of this nature. Sadly, each is barely addressed within the confines of the story. It makes me question why Cantet would prefer to sell his subject short, creating a film that is in many ways equally insensitive and offensive to Haiti’s heritage. He could have made a film that created a nuanced portrait of a topic riddled with dimensionality. Instead, he chose the easy way out.


Not only did Cantet - whose previous films Ressources Humaines (“Human Resources”) and L’Emploi du Temps (“Time Out”) received immense critical acclaim - feel content to bask in the glaring omissions in his art but so did The New York Times. In a review of the film, Stephen Holden makes no mention of the issues of race and class, when he should recognize that said subjects are implicit in the very nature of the film. Neither is there a mention of the overriding issues of colonialism. What then is the duty of the filmmaker to his/her subject? Can art fail? What is the burden of the creator? Heading South is only one example of many of promise wasted and inherent richness taken for granted.


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