A Night to Dismember (1983)

A Night to Dismember (1983) title

director Doris Wishman
viewed: 02/05/2018

I don’t know how this movie was put together but A Night to Dismember is absolutely the ultimate outsider art cinematic masterpiece.

Doris Wishman already had two decades of Exploitation filmmaking under her belt, but maybe her style was always some form of Naïvist art. Taking her post-sync audio aesthetic into the 1980’s is as bold a move as I can imagine. Were any other movies made in the 1980’s with non-sync sound?

Whatever the intent, whatever the story behind it, A Night to Dismember is a surreal experience, a cinematic psychotic break, in which the lulling narration is almost as disjointed as the images.

Stunning.

Diary of a Nudist (1961)

Diary of a Nudist (1961) movie poster

director Doris Wishman
viewed: 01/25/2016

The skimpiest plot for a Doris Wishman nudist film.

A local newspaperman sends his not-so-thrilled Nellie Bly to a nudist camp to develop a real, *ahem* exposé, only to find that she comes to really appreciate the life of a “sun lover”: “After one week of nudism, I, Stacy Taylor, girl reporter am now Stacy Taylor, girl sold on nudism.”

Another staff member questions his ethics and gives us a pithy: “This isn’t sensationalism!  It’s exploitation!”  This sends the newspaperman to go and investigate the issues first-hand himself.  What he finds…will not shock you.

Like other Doris Wishman pictures of this period, Diary of a Nudist features a fun, jazzy theme song penned by Judy J. Kushner, Wishman’s niece.  “Sun Lovers Blues” is sung by Rosemary June and is actually the film’s most charming component.

Considering there are no bank robbers (Hideout in the Sun (1960)) nor lunar exploration (Nude on the Moon (1961)), all you’ve really got here is the not so hard hitting look at the healthy choices and positive lifestyle of nudists (mostly actors and models and dancers brought in to improve the overall “shape” of the nudist colony.)

Skimpy, I say.  Skimpy.  Still an interesting cultural artifact.

Nude on the Moon (1961)

Nude on the Moon (1961) movie poster

director Doris Wishman, Raymond Phelan
viewed: 09/12/2015

Nude on the Moon was my introduction to cult film-maker Doris Wishman.  I picked it up at San Francisco’s famed Le Video in the early 1990’s, in my first exposure to their wondrous “Cult” film section, VHS tapes of movies I’d only ever read about, so many titles to linger over and waste time trying to make a decision.  Nude on the Moon didn’t disappoint!

And then again, it did.

The nudist films are of course very tame by even the standards of the early 1990’s (probably for that matter the late 1960’s), and there isn’t really a whole lot going on in the films.  Lots of nude swimming and volleyball, but that doesn’t really hold one’s interest for too long.  And in this case “Nude” is a bit of an over-sell.  The ladies are only topless.

Of course what makes this film great is the utter absurdity of its entire concept.  Two rocket scientists bypass the government with private money to build the first rocketship to the Moon.  And what do they find there?  A nudist colony, of course.  The residents all have antennae.  And the film features the somewhat glorious song, “I’m Mooning Over You (My Little Moon Doll)” sung by Ralph Young, which according to Wikipedia was written by Wishman’s niece.

This was the third and final film in my little “solar system” film fest.  It was getting late.

Hideout in the Sun (1960)

Hideout in the Sun (1960) movie poster

director Doris Wishman
viewed: 06/07/2015

“Filmed in Gorgeous Eastman Color in Nuderama,” Doris Wishman’s first feature film, Hideout in the Sun tells the tale of a pair of robbers who kidnap a woman who lives in a nudist colony and try to lay low while the naturalists let it all hang out.

For a low-budget affair, with a lot of, if not all of, the dialog shot with non-sync sound like many of her later films, it’s got real style and character.  In fact, the non-sync sound gives the camera other things to look at than people just moving their mouths in the act of talking.  Wishman turns what could be considered a cheapened element into a true flare of style.

The healthy lifestyle of the naturalists wins over the less hardened of the criminals, that and his love for their good-hearted captive, and he decides to turn himself in and reform for love.  This, while the other criminal gets on the wrong end of a cobra at the Miami Serpentarium.  Crime doesn’t pay, but nudism does!

With strategically placed beach balls, towels, or picnic baskets, the film is really quite chaste.  Lots of swimming and badminton, bums and boobs, it’s quite the advertisement for the lifestyle.

Oh, and you’ve gotta love the title track, crooned by Ralph Young.

Indecent Desires (1968)

Indecent Desires (1968) movie poster

director Doris Wishman (as Louis Silverman)
viewed: 02/11/2015

Doris Wishman, “Queen of the Exploitation Film”.  Great moniker and all, yet it really fails to do her justice.

Several years back I watched Wishman’s Bad Girls Go to Hell (1965) and Another Day, Another Man (1966) and was utterly blown away by the low-budget black-and-white exploitation film that could almost pass for a European art film of the same time, particularly the style achieved through post-production sound synching and the strong feminist themes.

Now available on Fandor streaming, Indecent Desires is another film of this style and period from Doris Wishman and her cinematographer C. Thomas Smith.  Fandor has just added a handful of additional Wishman titles, including her 1960 nudie cutie Nude on the Moon, which was my original introduction to her in the 1990’s.  But these B&W films are a total revelation.  It’s odd and ironic to have a feminist sexploitation film, but these films of this period truly amazing.

Indecent Desires is about a man named Zeb (Michael Alaimo) who finds a child’s doll in the garbage of a park and takes it home with him.  Along with a discarded ring, he plays with the doll, fixating on it as a representation of an office worker named Ann (Sharon Kent) whom he doesn’t know but has fixated upon.  Every time he touches the doll, Ann feels it in real life, like an unknowing and perverse voodoo victim.  Zeb’s perceived rejections by Ann in real life turn his affection for Ann and the doll to cruelty, including putting a cigarette out on her face and whipping the doll with a belt.

While Wishman’s camera lingers on Kent and her co-worker Babs (Jackie Richards) while they exercise or lounge around the house in the nude or in sheer negligees, the crux of the film is Zeb’s sexual objectification, obsession, and cruelty to an unwitting and undeserving victim.  Zeb’s violence by proxy is as metaphorical as it plays out in literal terms to the beautiful young woman.

One writer compared the film in ways to Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965), which may be an interesting point of comparison.  I have no idea whether Wishman was really aware of the European avant-garde of the time, though she was living and working in New York City, but the parallels, whether naivist or intentional, echo throughout this film and her other black-and-white films of the period, Bad Girls Go to Hell and Another Day, Another Man.  And the feminist themes abound in these otherwise titillating sexploitation flicks.

Indecent Desires itself didn’t strike me as powerfully as Bad Girls Go to Hell, but it’s fascinating in the context of her work of the time.  I’m quite curious to know if there has been deeper analysis written on her work in this regard.  It would be hard for me to believe that it hadn’t been the subject of such writing and criticism because the material is so ripe for such a reading, if potentially complex and problematic as well.

Still, it’s quite remarkable stuff, and I am keen to see more of Wishman’s oeuvre.

Another Day, Another Man

Another Day, Another Man (1966) movie poster

(1966) dir. Doris Wishman
viewed: 08/02/07

The b-side to cult Exploitation director Doris Wishman’s Bad Girls Go to Hell (1965), shot probably in close succession with the earlier film with a similar style of editing and cinematography by uncredited cinematographer C. Thomas Smith, is not as impressively profound as Bad Girls Go to Hell, but it certainly could work in an auteurist analysis of her treatment of women and women’s roles in society, following up aspects of Bad Girls.  The filming locations (and occasionally actual footage) are straight out of Bad Girls.  The unsynched, voice-over post-recording style is a little less obvious, and therefore, somehow less interesting.  But it’s again, a story that is a melodrama, less “tititlating” but something ripe for feminist/post-feminist/Freudian/post-Freudian/you-name-it analysis.

The narrative follows Ann, a young office worker, who has hidden her marriage from her bosses because they don’t want any “married” women working in the office, as she moves in with her young husband, who has just gotten the promotion he needed to get an apartment and allow Ann to quit her job.  Shortly thereafter, however, her husband takes ill, and Ann takes to prostitution to pay the bills.

The portrayal of prostitution isn’t as lurid, though one of the prostitutes is beaten badly and emotionally abused by her pimp.  Ann’s attitude about prostitution is very practical and non-demeaning to her self-image, though she yearns to move back to an office job or quit when her husband is well.  However, when her husband is given a clean bill of health, he discovers Ann in a compromising situation (unclear if he knows it’s prostitution or simply adultery) and then stabs himself to death.  The film ends as Ann finds his body.  It’s tragedy and melodrama, with a fair amount of women in lacy undergarments and body-stockings.

Again, the cinematography, an aesthetically pleasing black-and-white, with a strange affinity for houseplants and other bland objects of a room, not to mention the obligitory leer at the bosoms out of context of the narrative, is somewhat striking.  C. Thomas Smith worked with Wishman a lot in her career and it’s unclear how much of this is him and how much of it is her, from the visual perspective.  But the combination is surprisingly effective, especially when taken from the feminist or proto-feminist perspective.

Bad Girls Go to Hell

Bad Girls Go to Hell (1965) movie poster

(1965) dir. Doris Wishman
viewed: 07/31/07

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).