Friday, April 26, 2019

Films of Ed Wood covered in depth in book

By Doug Gibson

The first thing that grabs me while reading the new book, "The Cinematic Misadventures of Ed Wood," by Andrew J. Rausch and Charles E. Pratt Jr. (BearManor Media, 2015) is that there's virtually no contributions from Wood's "old guard," the folks that were around him from the late 1940s to the early 1960s. There's nothing wrong with that, in fact it's a strength of the book, to bring new blood to Wood study. We've heard too many of the old stories in print and screen.

But there's another bittersweet reason for the many omitted. Kathy Wood, Lyn Lemon, Paul Marco, Dolores Fuller, Gregory Walcott, Vampira, Loretta King, Norma McCarty, Don Nagel, David De Mering, Bunny Beckinridge, Mark Carducci, Valda Hansen, and others. They're all dead, some in the last few years. The main Wood friend of that long-gone era still kicking is Conrad Brooks and he's barely mentioned. Even Wood's initial stepladder to fame, Bela Lugosi, keeps a small presence in this volume. (Editor's note: Brooks has died since this review's initial publication).

"Cinematic Misadventures ..." is far from perfect, but it is a valuable book. Its ability to gather a collection of younger, eclectic characters to go on the record about their associations and obsessions with Ed Wood is evidence of the lingering influence of Wood's movies, and yes, legacy, folks. This man's going on 40 years dead and people are still talking about him while others, say, Samuel Arkoff, are interred into the cemetery of footnotes.

The strongest part of Rausch and Pratt's Ed Wood book is the interviews (there's 89 pages of Q and As, and bookended forwards and afterwords by Wood "scholars" Ted Newsom and David C. Hayes. The former did the still-awesome "Ed Wood: Look Back in Angora," and the latter examined Wood's fiction career in the book "Muddled Mind: The Complete Works of Edward D. Jr." (Since then, Bob Blackburn, one of Wood's co-heirs, has published two extensive collections of Wood's short fiction).

The interviews are great reading. There's one with Rudolph Grey, who still has written the best Wood book, "Nightmare of Ecstasy." He provides the interesting nugget that it's likely that portions of a lost Wood film, "Cry of the Banshee," are tucked into Wood's "Night of the Ghouls." I'm inclined to believe Grey, and assume he's referring to the exterior stock footage of ghost Jeannie Stevens, who harasses Valda Hansen in the film.

Speaking of stock footage from "... Ghouls," there's a fascinating interview with a pair, including Marco's nephew, who discovered and had restored the once-lost "Final Curtain," a long scene of which is stock footage in "Ghouls. It has Duke Moore, in tuxedo, roaming an old stage and discovering ghost Stevens. I've always loved the improvisation of Wood, how he manages to make that insert work by having "Night of the Ghouls" policeman Moore in tux readying to go to the opera. It's also interesting to learn from the interview that decaying film smells like vinegar.

There's an entertaining interview with Rob Craig, who wrote an eccentrically interesting criticism of Wood's work a few years ago, and has since tackled Andy Milligan. I don't always agree with Craig, but I appreciate his taking the time to deconstruct the filmmakers who worked far away from the roads covered in tinsel.

I have a hard time sitting through 10 minutes of Andre Perkowski's $500 film homages to Wood's previous works, but the interview with this micro-micro budget filmmaker was extremely interesting. He says he's read about 50 of Wood's novels, so for about $25,000 maybe we'll see 48 or 49 more Perkowski Wood homage films.

And former Apostolof/Wood actress Brenda Fogarty is just brilliant in responding to a theory the authors have that the content of Wood's films must have reflected his personal, cultural and political beliefs. (That's like claiming Stephen King is a racist if he has a character use the "N word.) Fogarty points out that the misogyny and male fantasy rape in the turgid, offensive porn that Wood and Apostolof produced was grinded out to appeal to the dysfunctional, maladjusted audience for that cinema sewer, and cannot be ascertained as the filmmakers' personal beliefs.

The same argument is applicable to the author' criticisms of Wood's moralistic stance in "The Sinister Urge," the "anti-pornography" hypocrisy in that film, and the overly moralistic tone in "The Violent Years." Those films were pre-porn-era  titillation, which regularly used "moral lessons" as a hook to bring in the peepshow crowd. Heck, "Orgy of the Dead" used faux morals too to present bad strip acts! To sum up: you can criticize Wood for making depraved films, but you can't definitively tag him as that in real life, no more than you can tag George Orwell as an anti-Semite for statements in his classic novel "Down and Out in Paris and London," or Charles Bukowski as adopting what his characters in novels say, and the list goes on.

The movie summaries of Ed Wood's resume are the weakest part of the book. There are, however, much-needed and appreciated pages on three Wood-scripted films that have not been covered much. They include the early 1960s' films "Shotgun Wedding" and "Married Too Young," and the really interesting "Venus Flytrap," from 1970. I've got to see this film via amazon instant video, because it seems like a gem based on its description. There's also tidbits of interesting new info such as learning that "Jail Bait" star Clancy Malone previously delivered Wood's groceries, or that Apostolof was so fed up with Wood's drinking during the "Orgy of the Dead" shoot that he didn't use him again for several years.

Also, there's a long chapter on the 1998 "I Woke Up Early the Day I Died," scripted by Wood and directed by Aris Iliopulos, who attracted a good cast and budget. The authors tag this as "Wood's masterpiece." I'd like to test that theory but legal problem have kept this film from U.S. distribution. There is also an interesting interview with Iliopulos. (Look at the cast of "I Wake Up ..." It's incredible.)

The book's chief flaw is that far too many pages are devoted to Wood's mediocre pornography efforts post-"Orgy of the Dead." Films such as "Necromania," "For Love and Money," "One Million AC/DC," "Young Marrieds," "Nympho Cycles," "Snow Bunnies," etc. could have all been dispensed with one or two paragraphs. The only two Wood-involved films that merit chapters after 1965 are the aforementioned "Venus Flytrap" and "Fugitive Girls," a Wood/Apostolof R-rated film that almost, the authors appropriately note, reaches the level of AIP drive in fare of the 1970s.

The porn chapters are boring, the authors despise the turgid quality of the films and pay homage to such poor quality by offering the worst writing of "Cinematic Misadventures." I never, ever want to read this again in any Wood-themed book: In the chapter on "Necromania," the authors write: "... the women's vaginas are so grotesquely hairy that they look like they've got bear heads in leg locks."

That simply jumps the TMI shark,

Despite all, this is a valuable addition to Wood's films study, and well worth buying for genre fans (it's available via Kindle too). Rausch and Pratt have accomplished what was clearly a goal; to find new information on Wood's career and legacy. The interviews and the film chapters accomplish that, with wide variances of worth and quality in the wealth of information gathered.

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