Monday, March 28, 2016

Gutter Auteur: The Films of Andy Milligan - by Rob Craig

Review by Steve D. Stones

After the Medved brothers published their Golden Turkey Awards book in 1980, it became hip, if not sophisticated, to poke fun at "bad movies." The hit 90s TV show, Mystery Science Theater 3000, took this a step further by poking fun at bad movies while the films were shown on TV. Cult movies writer Rob Craig has never jumped on board this bandwagon. In fact, he shows great respect for his cult movie subjects, particularly the grindhouse films of Andy Milligan.

In his 2012 book - Gutter Auteur - The Films of Andy Milligan, Craig gives a sweeping analysis of the films of low budget director Andy Milligan. Milligan literally made films for peanuts, usually for less than $20,000, and shot them on 16mm stock film. The films were blown up and shown on movie screens on 42nd Street in New York, giving them the appearance of a 19th century Impressionist painting, as Craig points out in the book.

Milligan was able to employ a number of stock actors in his films from Caffe Cino in New York, a small coffee house that produced plays. Playwright Robert Patrick once described the Caffe Cino as a theatre, flop-house, dope ring, temple and brothel. This gives the reader an idea of the eccentric kinds of people who spent time there. Future stars who perfected their craft at Caffe Cino are Harvey Keitel and Bette Midler.

Craig's analysis of Milligan's films clearly points out the recurring themes that the director explored, such as the emptiness of the sexual revolution of the 60s, a deconstruction of the traditional heterosexual lifestyle, and the family unit portrayed as dysfunctional and evil. Craig also points out the connection Milligan makes in his films of violence and sex, and the controlling nature of the matriarch in a dysfunctional family. Milligan's mother was very controlling of him, so this theme is often expressed in his work.

Milligan was also fond of creating period pieces from the Middle Ages to the Victorian era of the 1800s. Costumes were sewn together by the director himself. He gives his costume screen credit as Raffine, Milligan's Greenwich Village dress shop.

I particularly found Craig's section in the book on the lost films of Milligan to be the most intriguing. Craig discusses such lost classics as - The Promiscuous Sex (1967), The Naked Witch (1967), The Degenerates (1967), Depraved (1967), The Filthy Five (1968) and others. Film critics at the time seemed to praise these works. It's unfortunate that these films were thought to have been destroyed by William Miskin's son, Lew, who had an on-going feud with Milligan. Miskin served as Milligan's producer for many of his films. Fans are hopeful that prints of some of these films surface someday.

Craig mentions the stylistic trait of Milligan's "cinema verite" style of guerrilla filmmaking. His films come across as gritty, random and experimental. He also employs the "swirl camera" technique in which the camera turns in a full circle as it zooms in to its subject, as it does in the opening beheading scene of Torture Dungeon (1969).

For any fan of grindhouse films and the films of Andy Milligan, Rob Craig's book Gutter Auteur is a must. Happy reading. To purchase Gutter Auteur, please contact McFarland at and their order line at 800-253-2187.

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