(1965) dir. Doris Wishman
With two of the great directors of European cinema passing away in quick succession, Michaelangelo Antonioni yesterday and Ingmar Bergman the day before, I turn to the other side of the pond, the other side of cinema, to watch the late Doris Wishman’s (1912-2002) film, Bad Girls Go to Hell, which actually made a sort of nice twisty finale for my Lindsay Lohan double feature.
I got introduced to Doris Wishman in the early 1990’s by skimming the shelves at San Francisco’s video institution, Le Video on 9th Ave. I saw her classic Nude on the Moon (1961) for title alone. It’s a fantastically bad movie and Wishman could have come to mind as a female Ed Wood, Jr. if that was all she made. She is an interesting figure in Exploitation cinema, primarily for being female, which is actually very unusual, particularly for that time. But Wishman is not interesting simply for her gender. She made a lot of pretty hilarious films, starting with nudist films and then transitioning into Sexploitation films, which Bad Girls Go to Hell could be so classified. At the time, I’d also seen her 1973 film Deadly Weapons in which the noted stripper Chesty Williams smothers men to death with her 73-inch chest. High camp indeed!
The interesting thing, though, is that Bad Girls Go to Hell is not only less gimmicky, but it’s actually a fairly good film. It’s somewhat surprising, if you really get down to it. Perhaps the most key elements are its low-budget and shaky and strange at times black-and-white cinematography, which is, despite certain elements, is almost profound and beautiful. And the sound editing, which was obviously recorded post-production and badly dubbed, is played out very interestingly indeed. Characters are rarely caught lip-synched. Most of the dialogue happens when characters are turned away from the camera, or shot just in part (images like legs walking on the pavement rather than a full shot of the person), or often when the camera is turned on someone else or something else, occasionally bizarre visual asides like a stylish clock or a plant, and sometimes even contextual. It gives the cinematography a very specific tone and character, a feeling that is almost avant-garde, something that could play alongside a Godard film from the same period.
The story, about a young wife who is raped by her building’s janitor when her husband is at work, has been noted to be somewhat proto-feminist and is highly sympathetic with the woman. She kills the janitor and then leaves Boston for New York City, which is nicely captured, especially a scene in Central Park. As she roams lost through the city, she encounters people who exploit her, beat her, and completely are compelled to use her sexually. And interestingly, her journey begins when she attempts to assert herself sexually for her husband and is rejected. In a sense, her attempt to be sexual triggers the cycle of brutalization that she undergoes. Is Wishman critiquing a woman’s place in society, punishment and exploitation are the only sexual roles available?
The gorgeous Gigi Darlene spends much of the film either naked or in sexy undergarments or lingerie, a sex object clearly, and her objectification and exploitation is the crux of the narrative. Actually, this film is ripe for all types of critical analysis, its portrayal of sexuality and the roles for female in 1965. There is irony in a feminist exploitation film about exploitation, while still remaining exploitation and playing the exploitation circuit.
I have to say that this film was surprising. It’s mixture of camp and near high art, low-brow, but almost high-brow, really does make it possible to consider it Outsider Art, as people have classified her work. This is certainly no Nude on the Moon. I look forward to watching the “b-side” of this double feature disc, Another Day, Another Man (1966).