Reviews

The Stewardesses 3D: 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition

David Camak Pratt

For those who enjoy movies for their sheer improbability, this is a goldmine of work poorly done but richly rewarded.


The Stewardesses 3D: 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition

Director: Alf Silliman, Jr.
Cast: Michael Garrett, Christina Hart, William Basil
Distributor: Shout! Factory
MPAA rating: R
First date: 1969
US DVD Release Date: 2009-01-27

The Stewardesses was never really intended to be good by any usual standards. The Stewardesses was supposed to be sexy, but it was not simply pornography. With its 3D effects, copious nudity, and intermittent psychedelics, The Stewardesses was designed to be an all-around cheap thrill ride. Forty years after its initial release, it largely fails as such.

At best, viewers today are left with the possibility that the film might be so misguided and inept that it achieves the kind of senseless wonder of, say, Plan 9 from Outer Space. Indeed, while The Stewardesses is sometimes wincingly bad, it is also laughable often enough to make this DVD worth seeing at least once.

Though not as widely remembered today as other early sex movies like Deep Throat, The Stewardesses was a major cultural phenomenon in the early ‘70s. The film opened in San Francisco in 1969 and enjoyed significant commercial success. The demand for the movie spread across the country and beyond.

During the film’s run, scenes were shot and added to the film to beef up its storyline and make The Stewardesses more widely palatable. Despite how obviously spliced-in these scenes are—they shift the tone of the film jarringly and completely—the tactic seems to have worked. The Stewardesses eventually grossed over $6 million, making it one of the biggest box office successes of the day. Perhaps audiences just needed the excuse of a plot, however lame, to publicly watch women’s legs stick out of a movie screen in eye-popping 3D.

If three-dimensional sex scenes are indeed all that audiences lined up outside theaters to see, they got much more of The Stewardesses, most of which they could probably have done without. Of course, without all the extra ineptitude, the movie would not be worth watching today. Fortunately, the movie offers cheap, amateurish delights from just about every aspect of its production.

The repetitive soundtrack is comprised of flute-driven muzak. The cinematography is simple and non-specific (any shot with the actors in the frame seems to have been sufficient for the director). Often, minutes will go by without a change of perspective, and when the change finally comes, the cut is not likely to be a clean one. In several instances, actors self-consciously look directly into the camera.

The film’s dialogue is painfully awkward, reaching the apex of cringe-worthiness during an ad-libbed lesbian seduction scene. The same can be said about the sex in the film: the actors are often visibly uncomfortable with their love scenes.

The full cheesy/sleazy potential of The Stewardesses is realized in a subplot involving one of the stewardesses who never couples with a lover. This girl heads to her parents’ house during her layover in Los Angeles only to find a note saying they have gone away on a trip. “The whole place to myself”, she thinks in a voiceover. “Hmm...Maybe I should take a trip, too. I’ll take some acid!”

If a DJ has not yet sampled this line, someone’s not doing his job. Under the influence of acid, the stewardess gets naked and makes out with a lamp in the shape of a man’s head as she imagines the rest of the lamp-head’s body making love to her. Was this scene ever considered sexy? Perhaps. But instead of sex, the scene made me think of Steve Carrell in Anchorman announcing “I love lamp!”

This DVD release of The Stewardesses includes three versions of the film, two of which are in 3D (one in color and one in black-and-white) and one of which is two-dimensional and in color. A proper DVD release of The Stewardesses is obligated to include a 3D version of the film, as the 3D spectacle was one of the film’s major draws back in its day. Unfortunately, the 3D versions included here are very hard on the eyes. The color version is unwatchable, and while the black-and-white copy is better, it still left me with a headache.

Everything worth seeing in this set is on the second disc, which includes the 2D version and most of the bonus features. Watching the 2D version, it is painfully obvious what would be popping out of the screen were one to be watching the movie in 3D, a fact that is lampooned in the SCTV sketch included as a bonus feature.

Other worthwhile bonus features include two brief documentaries on the history of 3D film and the specific process that went into presenting The Stewardesses in Stereovision 3D. The collection of interviews with cast and crew is enjoyable and sometimes humorously enlightening. Some of the film’s creators insist that the The Stewardesses should be taken seriously, but Christina Hart, the film’s leading lady, delightfully does not.

One funny story that comes out of the cast and crew interviews involves the film’s marketing. Many posters advertising The Stewardesses during its run in mainstream theaters claimed, “The Unpublishable Novel is Now America’s Most Controversial Film!” Apparently, the novel was “unpublishable” because it didn’t exist.

Indeed, anyone who takes the time to watch The Stewardesses will see that the film could not possibly be a book adaptation. It’s fairly amazing that the film exists under any circumstances, especially as a former mainstream smash. The film has, of course, lost its mainstream appeal, but for those who enjoy movies for their sheer improbability, The Stewardesses is a goldmine of work poorly done but richly rewarded.

4

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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