Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Davie Allan and the Arrows interview 2001

Injuns, fuzz & Wild Angels in the streets: DAVIE ALLAN & THE ARROWS interview

[2001 email interviews with Davie Allan & PSYCHOTRONIC MAGAZINE's Michael J. Weldon previously unpublished]

Andrew: This part of Arrows prehistory is always a little vague - how did you go from high school choir in 1961 to releasing your first single on Curb’s label in 1963?

Davie: I met Curb in the Grant High School choir and we immediately started doing demos and then began writing some tunes together. “War Path” was the first release under my name and it also marked the first session with drummer Larry Brown. As you may know, those first two tracks were recently released on the Ace Records comp “Rare West Coast Surf Instrumentals”. To say the least, it’s a shame that those are the only two recordings of mine from the 60’s that he doesn’t own!

Here’s a long one: I guess surf music had already peaked after 1963 so instrumental bands were looking for a different image (I’ve got The Routers album full of football cheers!!!). Did you ever see the Arrows as a true "surf" band like The Ventures? Was the "Jan And Dean" image the kiss of death for instrumental bands in ‘64? Why did you guys come up with the "Indian" image?

I never thought about being labeled anything. After being inspired by Duane Eddy and Nokie Edwards (and somewhat by Link Wray), all I wanted to do was make instrumental music. The Indian image came about after “War Path” followed by “Apache ‘65”. Curb and I agreed on using the name “The Arrows” and went on to use that theme on a few of our first album’s song titles.

What did Curb play in those days? When did he take over as producer and manager?

Curb played piano on a few of the early tracks and was the producer from day one. Regarding managing, I think the 40 year lack of it has put me where I am today (wondering what to do when I grow up!).

"Apache ‘65" may be notable for the lack of distortion, but your distinctive lead playing and sense of melody is already there. What’s your feelings about the album now?

I’m proud of some of the tracks on the album such as “The Rebel Without A Cause”, “Commanche”, “Twine Time” and even “C’mon Do The Freddie” (that was recorded during a major recording session). Much of it was just thrown together. One of the tracks had been a vocal (“Indian Giver”) and you can even hear the vocal leaking throughout.

You list Duane Eddy and the guitarist from the Ventures as your guitar heroes. Were Link Wray and Dick Dale much of an influence? Did you have much to do with them in the 60s?

Link got me started on the road to “Grunge” but I didn’t get much into Dick’s recordings except for the classis “Misirlou”.

"Fuzz" was a real shot in the ass for the 60s, like a taste of things to come...can you think of anyone using it to the same effect before you?

I got into the sound after hearing Marty Robbins’ “Don’t Worry” and Travis Wammack’s “Scratchy”. Maybe Jeff Beck was first?

How did the job scoring "Skaterdater" happen? What can you tell me about the film?

Curb made the deal on doing that soundtrack. It was recorded in one afternoon with no overdubs. My drummer Larry Brown was on the session along with some studio musician heavyweights (Larry Knechtel, Joe Osborne, Al Casey and Jim Horn). When I did the recent “Skaterhater” with “The Phantom Surfers”, we tried to get the lead actor involved but he wanted no part of it.

So Corman heard your music on "Skaterdater" and went nuts. Did you ever meet Corman? Was he personally involved with the Wild Angels soundtrack or was it all through Curb?

I didn’t meet anyone back then (as a matter of fact, I didn’t meet Peter Fonda until 1994). The music was all done through Curb as were all the soundtracks. The Wild Angels was all “Arrows” but then Curb started doing the “big union session” trip with the aforementioned heavyweight types. I liked it much better before but Devil’s Angels did come out nicely with the hiring of Hal Blaine on drums and Carol Kaye on bass.

You’ve said in interviews "Blue’s Theme" was an attempt to sound like a Harley engine! Why do you think it hit such a raw nerve and became such a hit?

We definitely went for as nasty a sound as we could get. That brings to mind a show we did in 1994. We were doing a sound check when the soundman (who had no knowledge of me or my sound) asked “Can we do something about that buzzsaw effect?” Regarding it becoming a hit: I don’t know. All I know is that the film was a hit and “Blues Theme” marked Peter Fonda’s entrance. Also, “Theme From the Wild Angels” was the single until “Blues Theme” was forced from the album by popular demand.

Was Nancy EVER going to appear on the soundtrack album?

I was kept in the dark about many things but I don’t believe she was ever approached about singing the title tune. That was Barbara Pittman who did the vocal. She had gained fame in the 50’s on the Sun label. By the way, a “Wild Angels” reunion was being planned for this year to mark the 35th anniversary and the release of the DVD but the idea was dropped (no, Curb wasn’t involved).

Wild Angels Volume 2 is a weird one. Was that Curb’s first obvious attempt at recycling tracks? What was the band’s reaction?

Actually, that had started even earlier. “FUZ” magazine has a great feature titled “Curbside Recycling” that is really a hoot (although a little ridiculous). Even one of the tunes on “The Wild Angels, Volume 1” is recycled: “The Unknown Rider” was originally recorded as part of a Hondells session and released as “Sidewalk Surfing Scene” on the “Go Go With The Buddies” album.

"Angel With A Devil’s Heart" is one of those great 60s singles that could have been huge. What went through your mind when it was shelved? Who did the vocals?

You must have the 1997 bootleg CD “Bullseye” to know about that? I wrote that tune with Drew Bennett (bass) and I sang lead on it. We invited Curb to the studio to hear it and it was the most excited I had ever seen him get! He immediately pressed up a few copies and played it for a couple of radio stations calling the group “The Connection”. He didn’t get the reaction he had hoped for. Maybe if he had used our name it would’ve made a difference and it would have been the follow up to “Blues Theme”.

Sounds like one of the biggest career regrets is the disappearance of the Devils Angels multitrack tapes. How did the music rate, in your opinion?

Actually, all the multi-track tapes are apparently gone. Can you imagine a stereo version of “Cycle-Delic”? It makes me sick to think about it. Those cheap (expletives go here) must’ve re-used the tapes.

What’s your opinion of the Big Four biker films (Wild Angels, Devils Angels, Born Losers, Glory Stompers)?

Not a classic in the bunch but don’t get me wrong, it was a thrill to be involved in those and I’m still making new fans because of them.

Even the non-soundtrack Arrows albums "Blues Theme" and "Cycle-Delic..." have the biker tag. In those days did you think it was a curse, or a useful tool in getting your music out?

I loved the whole act and we really had fun with it back then. I was just looking at some photos in “FUZ” and it’s so funny when you realize we weren’t anything like we appeared. Even funnier is the fact that my rhythm guitarist (Wayne Allwine) became the third official voice of “Mickey Mouse” 10 Years later! Even today, some of the tunes I write and record could easily fit into a biker flick.

Why did you only tour the once in the 60s? Any good war stories?

We did quite a few short trips and the one tour was almost a month. We hit a different state everyday but unfortunately, the party only had a year to go. The most positive aspect of the tour was playing “Cycle-Delic” for a month and then coming home to record it.

I always thought it was amazing that the definitive 60s "freakout" ("Cycle-Delic") was made by short-hairs NOT on drugs. How did you guys work yourselves into such a wigged-out state (long hours in the studio...)? What was it like on the non-drug side of the 60s, watching the rise of the freaks?

“Cycle-Delic” was a disaster at first but after a couple of months of “live” performances, it started coming together. It really is amazing to me that we weren’t “high” when we recorded it (and “Mind Transferral”). We were just a bunch of boring, non-drugged out guys having a ball. I didn’t think much about the drug freaks, we weren’t involved in that scene or even the biker scene except for the image.

Can you describe what it was like holed up in the studio every day during the monstrous soundtrack sessions?

I really enjoyed every minute of it. A couple of times we would do 24 hours straight. It wasn’t just the soundtracks. I worked on countless sessions for other artists that were just as exciting. I can’t look on it too fondly today because I made very little money but I was too busy to notice. Also, I was so sure my efforts would pay off.

What happened to The Trip soundtrack? It could’ve been amazing...

That was a major disappointment. I thought we would’ve been a shoo-in for that one. I even wrote tunes for it but we had nothing to do with it. I don’t know what happened.

Keeping the fuzz out of Wild In The Streets sounds like a decision made by someone in a suit, totally removed from the culture the film is aiming at. Who were the robots?

Well, I guess I was the robot. I can’t listen to that album at all, what a stupid mistake! Once I got into the “fuzz”, that’s all I wanted to use and then I found myself agreeing to do an album without it! Aaaaarrrrgh!

Did you end up friends with Casey Kasem?

We never really became close but I’ll never forget how much he helped make “Blues Theme” a hit. The credit also goes to George Sherlock who was the “Tower Records” promotion man he was also the photographer on the “famous” band shots.

Did you have much to do with The Standells and Chocolate Watchband around Riot On Sunset Strip?

Nothing with The Chocolate Watchband and all we did with The Standells was a few appearances.

Curb is listed as co-writer on a suspiciously large number of tracks. What were your feelings at the time?

I think he may have written as much as 90% of the tunes I recorded. He always had to be the control freak. He did write some great stuff though as did Jerry Styner and Harley Hatcher.

Changing the band’s name to "Sidewalk Sounds" sounds like Curb elevating his position of importance by renaming it after his label/company, while deleting the "Davie Allan" part of the Arrows. You don’t have to respond, just an opinion!!!

Actually, there were other fake names such as “The Hands Of Time”, “The Visitors”, “The Back Wash Rhythm Band”, “The Streamers” and others. I felt it was ridiculous and I guess their thinking was to make it look like the roster was bigger than it really was.

FUZ describes your music as "surf fused with psychedelic garage punk". Were you aware of all of those bands around in the mid 60s, playing primitive caveman rock, that ended up on the Nuggets and Pebbles compilations?

I knew very little about the “garage” bands from that era. Besides Elvis, I was really into the English groups, especially “The Beatles”. Speaking of “Nuggets”, thanks to Rhino Records for including “Blues Theme”. I’ve actually made some money as the co-writer but all my artist royalties for it and all the other comps in which “Blues Theme” appeared have gone to the producer.

At what point did Curb lose interest in promoting the bands and records, and start concentrating on promoting his own career?

It was basically all Curb from the beginning. I elaborate on that in the book I’m trying to put together. I was there from the start but by ’68, things had changed drastically. I did sign with Curb again when he was at MGM but after a few unpromoted singles I was dropped from the roster.

How did your guitar survive all these years?

I just couldn’t give up as frustrating as it has been at times. I guess the main thing that kept me on track is the fact that the bulk of my writing has come since 1993. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because of having a producer who was able to get a lot of my product out there. The guitar is my Fender “Jazzmaster” from 1965 (with a few changes).

Did you ever need to hack up an amp to get the sound you needed?

A number of times I’ve used various distortion boxes with the distortion setting on a particular amp or as in the case of “Blues Theme”, the amp was on “10” and filled the room and all the other mics.

How long did you have the double-necker? What was the sound like?

We had been given a supply of Mosrite guitars in 1967 and that double-neck was such a great showpiece. A major mistake was selling it in 1970. It was too heavy and the sound was a little thin but I would loved to have used it once in awhile during my latest so-called comeback.


Andrew: How old were you when you first heard the Arrows on the big screen? Can you describe the feeling?

Michael: I NEVER heard The Arrows on the big screen. The movies he worked on did not play at the neighborhood theaters I attended as a kid and I didn't attend a drive in until around 1970 when I was in high school and some friends had cars. By then his movies were pretty much gone from the screens. I first heard Allan on top 40 radio (Blues' Theme) when it made the charts then on local drag strip commercials - but that was ALL I heard at the time. That hit seemed to fit in with the garage/"punk" rock scene at the time. It was up there with Louie Louie, Wipeout, Hey Joe and Gloria. Those movies (bikers, teen rebellion...) also usually did NOT play on TV often or at all. I think I saw cut versions of BORN LOSERS and DEVILS ANGELS on TV but I didn't see most of them until video in the 80s. As far as the LPs go - during the 60s, I was scraping together hard earned cash to buy the latest releases by the many top rock acts of the day - not soundtracks or instrumental albums! The only instrumental albums I had back then were The Ventures from the earlier 60s. I started buying Davie Allan LPs in the 70s when they started showing up (real cheap) in cut out bins - in drug stores and what they used to call five and dime stores. I still had to imagine what most of the movie were like then.

How would you describe the "Davie Allan sound" to the uninitiated?

Some of it was fairly tame and lame music for hire but the best tracks were an untamed grungy mixture of mind bending guitar techniques, many new at the time - like twang, wah wah, sustain, echo, and feedback. I'd compare some of his prime stuff with Dick Dale, Link Wray, Jeff Beck, Lou Reed and John Cippolina and his music was perfect for biker, drug and teen rebellion movie scenes. You should remember that when people were freaking out over the great but more blues based paying of Hendrix and Clapton and the more psychedelic guitar sounds of SF - Allan was hardly noticed or taken seriously. Even today some people seem to consider him a surf guitarist for some reason.

What's your opinion these days of the "Big Four" biker flicks that Davie scored?

I think THE WILD ANGELS is an important movie in many ways. It started the whole biker movie trend, made more people notice Roger Corman and led to EASY RIDER. Parts of it are still kind of shocking and ahead of its time when you consider when it was made.

I like DEVILS ANGELS and BORN LOSERS (which led to the whole BILLY JACK phenomena) both almost as much, but both are more "normal' movies than THE WILD ANGELS. All three are very different movies. THE GLORY STOMPERS is complete trash but you gotta love seeing Dennis Hopper in it.

What do you see is Davie's contribution to psychotronic culture?

He helped make some important movies much better than they would have been and he made some great music without much recognition at the time. And like Dale and Wray, he's still out there making great music. - Michael J. Weldon

American Movie: Chris Smith & Sarah Price interview

AMERICAN MOVIE interview with Chris Smith & Sarah Price

[Originally published in Macabre magazine #2, University of Queensland, Autumn 2000]

Easily one of the best documentaries on Brisbane screens in years, American Movie suffered from a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it season at the Dendy last month. It’s a warm and funny portrait of Mark Borschardt, a goofy-looking flannel-shirted slacker (on the surface at least) from Milwaukee Wisconsin, who happens to be possessed by the fierce spirit of independent movie-making. For two years filmmakers Chris Smith and Sarah Price followed Borschardt, his bemused family and friends, and whoever else Mark smooth-talked in front of or behind his 16mm camera, through an almost quixotic journey to finish his 40-minute b&w horror opus Coven. Chris and Sarah were both in Brisbane on a promotional junket last month to talk about a dude named Mark...

Andrew: I read an interview with you that said probably the worst review you've had was about two and a half stars.

Chris: Yeah, but that was until we saw this list of all the reviews from the year, and there were a few below that too.

Sarah: This one place, they had a range of solid stars up to... we got an empty star! Like, a hollow star?

Chris: But that was from Vogue magazine, I mean what do you expect from Vogue magazine? It's like, they're fashion, and then you have people like Mark and Mike, that are so real, and it's like two worlds, you can't expect for them to work together anyway.

They're staring at wall to wall flannelette shirts...

Chris: Exactly. Can you imagine the colour of their faces?

Although I did find the other night one review, from an Internet movie magazine, and they gave it a D-minus. Because they said Mark was just so...(long pause) They just didn't get it.

Chris: If you don't get it, it would be a painful experience. And I think it's that way with any film. If you don't buy into what the movie's about, and you don't understand where it's coming from or what it's really about, you're not going to ever come around to seeing it. And then I think it's that you're just wondering why you're watching this movie. I mean, if you look at any movie made, it's hard to find one that has a unanimous consensus, that this movie is good or bad. But in general the people that we met that liked the movie and we do interviews with, we find we get along with them well and they actually seem like interesting people in their own right. And it seems that like gravitates to like, in that sense.

It seems from what I've read that it's pretty much a universal theme, about a character trying to drag himself out of the shit.

Chris: I think it related to anyone who had a dream in their life and tried to follow it, has gone on that kind of journey that you take when you follow something like that, I think they can definitely relate to the movie in that sense.

Sarah: I think also because it's pretty contemporary, in the sense that this isn't something Mark did a long time ago. What people are finding really inspiring about him is that he's trying to lift, get over some of the personal flaws that he thinks he has, and then also juggle his adult life, having kids and getting money and paying the rent, with still being able to take that energy of when he was younger, going out into the woods and shooting Super-8 movies, maintaining that energy into his adult life, so that that's what makes him happy and that's what he wants to continue doing. I think people connect to that.

I wanted to talk to you about what you guys did before American Movie. Now, American Job, that was your first...

Chris: That was my first film. It was a narrative film that I did in the mid-nineties that had documentary elements in it. But it was basically a narrative film that was centered around working crummy jobs in the States and how that can kind of steal your soul and everything else. So it was a world that I knew at the time, and a lot of my friends were working for below five dollars an hour. So the movie was basically dealing with that. And American Movie was kind of in reaction to that. It seemed great because here you have someone who's in that situation but really trying to take control of their situation and get themselves out of that world.

You both worked on American Job.

Sarah: He did it, it was Chris's film, but I helped with the editing a little bit at the end. I was supposed to be in it, but I had to work. That's our big joke.

Were you guys were in film school together?

Sarah: Yeah, we met taking film classes. You were majoring in art a bit more, and I was majoring in film. But I was doing more experimental documentary type of stuff, just student work. But that was where we met, and we just started helping each other. That was in 1991. So we were friends for a long time before we moved up to Milwaukee. Chris moved up there to have facilities to continue or finish editing American Job, and I'd come up to visit a little bit. But we both had a professor, a visiting artist professor, who was from Milwaukee and was talking a lot about it, saying it was a great place, and if we wanted to stay in the mid-West and continue trying to do filmmaking that we should consider that as a place to go. Because it was a larger city than where we were at the time. And so Chris went up to finish that. I went up and visited, I liked the city and stayed doing some graduate work in film production up there. And that's where we started filming Mark.

So where was Mark at this time? Was he in a class with you?

Chris: I was actually teaching an independent study class; I wasn't really teaching, I was just chaperoning this group of people that wanted to use equipment over the summer. Because I was there working on my own film, and basically I just had to show up and this handful of oddball people from around Milwaukee would show up because they just wanted to use equipment, and somehow Mark ended up in this class. And ironically Mark was the student that showed up, and then couldn't afford to pay for the class so he dropped out, but his name was still on the register so I kept thinking he was in the class. But anyways... I saw him over that summer, working on Coven and doing his thing, and by the end of that summer he told me he was going to make this movie called Northwestern. And that's when I asked him if we could start, if I could go with him and start a documentary on his process.

So what started as a documentary on Northwestern ended up being a documentary about him finishing off Coven.

Chris: That's what it is on the surface, but really it's a documentary about his family and friends and their lives, more than either of the films in general, it's kind of about everything.

Sarah: And also in order to do that, Northwestern has always been his big dream film, that he's worked mentally on and in script form for fifteen years. So the idea that in order to do something, in order to approach your goal, you may have to finish other things or go through other things in order to get there.

On the strength of American Job, you were contacted by Michael Moore to work on The Big One.

Chris: Right, we both worked on that.

It just seems so perfect, because we've had The Awful Truth out here for probably going on a year now, and just about everyone I know is absolutely hooked on that show. From reading about American Job and then seeing the connection between that and The Big One, it seems obvious that Mike Moore saw American Job and went, "That's the sort of approach that I want to take."

Chris: Well yeah, but he did a lot for independent film in making Roger and Me, because it gave a lot of people inspiration to say, "I don't need to know anybody, and I can grab a 16mm camera and go out and make a movie that can get seen nationwide or around the world." And I think he gave a lot in that sense to the independent film communities. Especially with documentaries.

Sarah: He was Michael Moore before he ever saw American Job. But it was in his book, 'Downsize This', that he listed it in his 'Movies to Rent' - it wasn't actually available at the time, but he obviously saw the movie and really liked it. And it was the book tour for that specific book that he was going to go on and he wanted to document it, and we happened to have a friend that was working with him and she knew that at the time we'd already been filming for a year on American Movie, so she knew that we were working as a team and they were kicking around the idea of just having a team of documentary people OR having a larger crew, they didn't really know what. So she recommended us and then he remembered, "Ah, American Job, I loved that film." So it worked out well. But as it turned out there was a little bit of a larger crew. Quite interesting though.

So getting to see Mike Moore's guerrilla techniques up close in the flesh, that must have been -

Chris: Yeah, because you assume that he's so calm and collected while it's happening, and it's all just like routine, but every time we'd walk into one of those big companies it's like totally exhilarating and you never know what's going to happen and I think everybody's equally nervous about the whole thing and it was kind of an amazing experience to be a part of.

Sarah: But he plays it off so well, I mean that's what was so interesting to watch is, you don't know what you're going to get into and when you're inside this building, and here comes the security guard and there comes someone else, to see how he plays it off, to see exactly what he says and who he's talking to and how he gets himself in and out of these situations, it's really incredible.

Well, you get that just watching the TV show, you just get that RUSH following the camera following him through the building...

Sarah: Yeah. So that was interesting. People have asked about, did we learn anything in terms of style, did we take any of that style or whatever. But we've both always said that although we were both influenced by Roger and Me, The Big One was a very different film stylistically and had different motivations behind it. He's just a personality who has a lot of political motivations to try to right the wrongs. And whether he does that through films, books, TV shows, films are just another outlet for him.

So you guys are now a working team?

Sarah: For this film we were.

So you don't see yourselves as carrying on as a...

Sarah: No.

Chris: If the project is right. But right now we're doing different things. I'm setting up an Internet television station that's going to come up in May. And then doing some commercials in the States and different things like that. I think after doing a project this big we're excited at trying different things. So my energy is focused more at doing this website called Zero-TV, which is going to be kind of interesting and freeform. You know, things are going to have a quick turnaround, rather than something you spend four years on, rather something that you shoot in an afternoon, edit that night and post in the morning.

Sarah: And I'm finishing a film, trying to get back to editing, another documentary that we started shooting the first year that we were shooting American Movie, but this is one that I was doing camera on and Chris was doing sound on. So for one year we were a documentary team on two films, and then after one year of filming, that one was stopped, and I tried to do editing on it here and there, but it was pretty obvious that got pushed to the wayside, so now I'm going back and trying to, I haven't seen it in something like two years, but I'm going to try and finish it. And let it have its life!

You're trying to tie up all the loose ends as well.

Sarah: Exactly. It's more a closure for me rather than starting, I can't even imagine launching anything, I just don't have any, there's nothing that's new that's coming to me right now. And that's just because I need to dedicate my time and finish that film. For this film it made sense. We both said that everything had to fall into place with Mark and his friends and family. Had we met Mark two years prior, two years later, we wouldn't have got him at this point where he was 29 and on the brink of turning thirty and really was feeling an urgency, that he had to really buckle down and start creating his reality in a sense. He wasn't where he saw himself being. And Uncle Bill, he was there, everything had to fall into place in order for this film to become what it is. And I think that was the same with Chris and myself, we happened to be there, we happened to come together for this as well.

I think Uncle Bill was an important part of the film, too. Cos that really roots the character, it really gives Mark his humanity. No matter what his mouth is saying, there are those scenes where he's bathing his uncle in the bathtub. All that sort of stuff, it's really touching. And then that final card at the end, where it says Bill left him fifty thousand to finish Northwestern...

Sarah: It makes you tear up.

It does! Because the thing about the documentary is, it starts off painting Bill as a miser.

Chris: He IS a miser!

Yeah, but slowly, like the bit where he's dragging out his songbook, it turns you completely around.

Chris: It was amazing, he had all these love songs and he'd just start breaking into them while we were over there.

Sarah: And then also through that, the sense of humour that he had, it was like this amazing poetic touching love song that suddenly ended up in this very warped sort of place. But it was a sense of humour that both he and Mark shared together. We always said they were like kindred spirits or kindred souls, they shared the same ideas about life and everything.

When my girlfriend was watching it with me last night, she said it was really cool that Mark treated his uncle like a person. Instead of a problem, or a doddery old fool.

Chris: That was one thing that always impressed us, he treated everybody the same, whether you were his five year old kid or his eighty year old Uncle Bill, you still got talked to the exact same way. He talked to you like you knew what he was talking about, and you were a smart intelligent person, that was down with the program.

Sarah: And he'd call you "man" or "dude", regardless of whether it was Bill or his daughter. "Man, dude, what are you talking about?" He has a lot of real respect for everybody, I think that's also the feeling we got from Mark and what other people get when they meet him and hopefully that's what they got from the film, is that he respects everyone and he's respecting himself and he's respecting his times.

It must feel weird now that you don't have him in your pocket.

Chris: Well, it's nice not to have a camera on your shoulder. People have asked, are you continuing with this whole second part, the celebrity part of it. And it's something we thought about, before it started to happen, but then just... you can't continue doing that forever, it's just so taxing and it's just such a grind, to be on call 24 hours a day. So I think that that's someone else's movie, if they want to do it.

But that would turn into a mammoth series...

Sarah: Yeah! Maybe it could be like a 7 Up type of thing, every seven years check in. It'd be crazy. But that's what the website is for, putting on little updates and stuff of where he's at with Coven, where he's at with Northwestern.

From what I heard, it did really well in England as well.

Sarah: It hasn't been released there yet, supposedly.

Chris: It's played there a lot though, at a few festivals and stuff. Oh, it did actually go on that tour, it did go on a British tour too. But it hasn't been, the theatrical release hasn't happened. But it did go on that tour, so it has played there.

Sarah: They want us to do press they think in June for it. But yes, it's doing well on the festival circuits, internationally, and now it's still playing. It was released in the US in November, and it's now dying down a little bit, but it's still on in the US and Canada in what, fifteen theaters?

I first heard about it by seeing Mark on Letterman. And they played chunks of American Movie on it, this must have been last October.

Chris: November 13th. Or 17th, actually.

I was watching Letterman in the background, and then all of a sudden this character comes on. I was drawn to the TV. And I thought the amazing thing was, you know, he really kept up his end, and didn't let Letterman get the better of him.

Chris: It's funny how far reaching that show is.

Sarah: It's really nice, because we like David Letterman. But you know, people were worried because Letterman can be cruel to people. But he's only that way to celebrities that set themselves up in some way or other. So the only reason why Mark was even on is because David Letterman saw the film, he watched the tape and loved it. And I think he felt a connection, not just because he's from the mid-West, but because he ropes his mother into some of his stuff sometimes, like being a correspondent or something. But either way I think he felt very honestly and genuinely happy for Mark and wanted to help the film and so had Mark on, which was great. And that went really well, had him on a second time. And now he's asked him to be his political correspondent for the campaign elections! So when we get back to the US, he's leaving in about three days or something to go interview the candidates that dropped out and then work his way up to Gore and Bush. So that's the big thing, keep watching because it should be pretty hysterical. But guess the first thing he said - "We've got to get Al Gore in a Coven shirt, man!" Even the second time he was on, he wanted to find out when Sony was doing another push of the film and that's when he had Mark on again. So he really was helping in that way.

That's pretty cool, but that also marks the difference between the independent film scene in the eighties, around the time that Roger and Me came out, and now, where Sony can fork over money and say, "Here, we're going to push your film." And actually have it playing in cinemas, instead of languishing on the direct-to-video shelf.

Chris: I mean, it's amazing to think that a film like this would have a company like Sony and Columbia Tri-Star behind it.

But the whole studio monopoly thing of the eighties, that's just gone. Now you've got people like Miramax, who are competing with the big companies.

Sarah: And are becoming their own giants now, so you've got to have other upstarts now, filling it there. It's like a big circular wave of companies. That's cool.

What haven't you been asked about?

Chris: We've been asked about everything! It's been a year and a half.

Sarah: We've done a lot of press. The one thing, in the US we set up a six week tour for us. We were going to a different city a day, and there was one stretch in the beginning, like this eight or nine day stretch where we were literally flying to a different city every day, we had ten hours of press, radio, TV, we would go to a screening at night, then a Q and A, then they'd have a party, we'd go to the hotel and go to bed at two, get up at six and then fly to a different city. And we were completely out of it, but then it got a little easier. But that was with Chris, myself, Mark and Mike, the four of us were traveling together. Even when it was grueling, it was hysterical, I mean they're so much fun to travel with. So it was great. It just helps when you meet people, and you're able talk to them about the film, and especially with Mark and Mike, because everybody feels that they can ask them what their perspective is, having been followed around for a couple of years, what do they think of the final film. It's been lots of fun.

So what's Mike's reaction to the whole thing?

Sarah: He loves it. He's totally enjoying it. I don't know if you saw the website, there's a telephone number where you can call him, we put a phone in his basement, because he loves talking on the phone, so the phone number is 4-66-MIKE (laughs) and if he's home he'll pick up and he just loves people calling all the time, and he talks... He would have come here, but they pulled him at the last minute, I don't know why he wasn't able to come. But we had a re-opening in Minneapolis, so Mike went up by himself to do a Q and A and sign autographs and stuff. He loves it. He's having a really good time with it.

I think I read an interview with you where you said you weren't entirely happy with the marketing.

Chris: That was more with the ads. The poster we had a big hand in, it was our own photo shoot, Sarah picked the colour for the background, we worked with them and were involved with that. The problem we had at a few places were just with the quotes that they were putting on the ads, that painted it as this slapstick comedy, a hilarious movie, and we felt that it was much more than that and that people want to see an intelligent film that is funny but is also much more than that, and the marketing campaign seemed very geared towards, like they had "Hilarious" on there nine times.

So that's what you meant about pushing the freakshow angle.

Chris: Yeah, taking quotes like that is kind of disheartening when you think your movie is about so much more than that, and I know that personally if there's a movie that's billed as 'hilarious', one I know it's usually not funny, and two, that it's definitely not intelligent! And so it's like a little disheartening. But again it's like they do their job and we do ours, and you make that decision when you sell the film and you just have to go with it at that point. But they were open, if we saw stuff we didn't like we'd tell them and they'd try to switch it and so it was a push and pull in that sense. But definitely as far as the posters were involved we definitely got our hands into that, and the trailer.

Sarah: They actually cut the trailer, and we were preparing to cut a different one ourselves if we didn't like that, but actually they did a good job. That was pretty good. The only thing about the freakshow thing is that's not how we feel about anybody in there. I don't feel that any of those guys are freaks! I feel like they're my friends and neighbours. And they're just mid-Western, and we are too, and that's where we live.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Sexploitation reviews


[Written for Something Weird Video catalogue, never published]

The Notorious Cleopatra (dir. “AP Sootsberry”/Peter Perry, 1970)

History is warped yet again by Box Office International, in this lavish, lewd and ludicrous epic by producer (Mantis In Lace) and occasional director (Secret Sex Lives Of Romeo & Juliet) Peter Perry. According to Perry’s version, Julius Caesar is a corpulent grump, lamenting the drab quality of orgy talent while a concubine drapes herself across his royal presence. At the mention of Cleopatra as an exotic addition to his carnal menu, he orders his cohort Mark Anthony (“Rome’s greatest lover”) to Egypt to check out the talent - with a strict hands-off policy. Cut to Mark Anthony, whose hands are anywhere but off the Nubian nuptials. After a ringside seat at a virgin sacrifice and multi-racial orgy, Anthony and co return to Rome understandably knackered; Cleo and her handmaiden (!!) follow them incognito. She has a thing for Mark Anthony herself, but ambition gets the better of her, and finds the way to a Caesar’s heart is through his stomach. Mark Anthony meanwhile becomes the patsy for Caesar’s murder, and discovers her treachery while on the run. Exit Cleo, exit Mark Anthony, and historical accuracy is flushed down the aqueduct once more for good luck.

Absolute stunner Sonora proves “Black is Beautiful”, in a rare example of an Afro-American lead in a sexploitation flick, while Mark Anthony aka Johnny Rocco (Exotic Dreams Of Casanova) manages both the cheapo one-liners and gut-wrenching melodrama without moving his teeth. But it’s Caesar (Jay Edwards, also from Casanova) who gets the best lines - “Cleopatra or not, you sure are a stacked bitch!” - while he’s not cramming grapes into his portly gob. Definitely more than a mouthful, this tantalizing titbit.

We All Go Down (dir. Gerard Damiano, 1969)

“You’re all a bunch of bastards!” the desperate young bisexual Nancy moans to men all over when she finds her boyfriend has sold her for a bag of junk, in an early sleazie from Gerard (Deep Throat) Damiano. Filmed in sordid black and white, it follows a group of fallen souls on a downward trail to nowheresville. Nancy needs Pete, but first he’s “gotta do sumpthin”. He scores in a bar and shoots up in the bathroom, while Nancy takes refuge with Peggy, who thinks Pete is an asshole. Pete and Rick later escape from Rick’s hysterical girlfriend, and their other buddy Burt invites them to a pot orgy, but Pete’s too far gone, and his other girlfriend, the innocent Carol, wrings her hands over him. Pete invites everyone to their beach house for the weekend, where their collective sanity unravels in a drug-fueled concoction of lust, geed, jealousy and betrayal. Pete escapes to his dealers apartment for some “A”, only to find “tonight is acid night”. He starts to go psychotic, and imagines himself handcuffed to the ceiling while Nancy plunges an enormous hypodermic into his stomach. Points are deducted solely for the uncharacteristic upbeat ending (nowheresville, my ass), but the rest of We All Go Down is suitably grimy, tightly filmed and as close to the bone as the 60s allowed. Damiano delivers the whole enchilada, and doesn’t skimp on the hot sauce. Yowee!

The Touchables (dir. Jay Sheridan & Monte Mann, 1961)

Early nudie-cutie set on a fat farm instead of a nature camp, crammed with sped up sight gags and cornball vaudeville routines, and one of the earliest in Box Office International’s garden of earthy pleasures. First up we’re treated to a swimming costume parade around a swank poolside as a singer croons, “You’re so...Touchable”. Our narrator, self-proclaimed schnook Fred Bart, takes us back thirty years, when affable lowrent gangsters Monk and Louie (alias Smith and Jones) threaten schnook accountant Fred to cook their books. This inflames his moral sensibilities, sending the uncooked books (and their $65,000 tax bill!) to the IRS. Now on the run from Monk and Louie, the schnook is sneaked unknowingly into the ‘Fat Chance’ Rejuvenation Center, and does all manner of bug-eyed double takes from the bushes and behind exercise machines, as he ogles a pornucopia of showgirls and society dames in various states of undress. ‘Fat Chance’ worker Jessie (Claire Brennen, later in She Freak) takes pity on the schnook cowering in a panty hamper and helps him escape from Monk and Louie, now disguised as the two ugliest broads at the clinic, and an army of showgirls who have discovered what’s under Fred’s towel. The film rests squarely on TV comic (???) Billy Holms’ spindly frame, which serves as the main target of the cheapshots - a masseuse, thinking he’s a she, looks down at his chickenbone ribcage and says “You poor thing! No wonder you didn’t want to take off your towel.”

The Exotic Dreams Of Casanova (dir. Dwayne Avery, 1970)

Between the defrocked costume romps like Notorious Cleopatra and the drugged excesses of The Toy Box lies this curious entry in the Harry Novak Hall of Infamy, a flipped-out frat party free-for-all with Perry Mason overtones. The curtains open on a picture-book “jousting” with famed lover Casanova (played by swarthy Vegas type Johnny Rocco) and a more-than-willing participant. Credits roll, and it turns out to be a stag performance by modern descendant and current spaghetti western star Joe Casanova, part of the Valentine orgy for “Swingers International”. Joe quickly tires of the self-promoting president, and offers a thousand clams to any swinger who can keep up at his private party till dawn. His house instantly becomes a squalid playground: go-go dancing, spanking, whipped cream, all accompanied by a whacked-out duo on guitar and bongo. Things turn nasty when his overzealous guests push Casanova off his flying trapeze. He’s knocked unconscious, and imagines himself in the Gomorra County courtroom loaded with party perverts, a camp judge, and a Keystone Cop, where the name ‘Casanova’ itself is on trial. To illustrate his case for free love, he peppers the proceedings with fantasy sex scenes between courtroom members (including Uschi Digard, credited as “Brigitte”), but discovers amidst the rampant horndoggery the one-woman man within. Maybe this isn’t what us would-be cocktail shakers want to hear, but then there’s always the rewind button. So in the immortal words of Joe Casanova, “Let’s everybody swing!”


[Originally appeared in Trash Video's Trash Confidential zine, 1999-2000]

HAWAII FIVE-O WITH HOOTERS: The Danish Connection (dir. Walt Davis, 1970)

Porno filmmaker Bob Chinn is the basis for Burt Reynolds’ Boogie Nights character, and is responsible for popularising the long-running Johnny Wadd series starring “Big” John Holmes. In one of the earliest Johnny Wadd superdick adventures, Chinn is reduced to an oriental cutout supporting role for director Walt Davis, but The Danish Connection delivers everything Dirk Diggler promised - shithouse dialogue from crinkle-cut John Holmes delivered with all the charisma of Chuck Norris, and the fighting prowess of a cheese sandwich. An impotent businessman with a yen for his secretary hires Johnny’s partner Eric Jensen (Rick Cassidy) to find an elusive hardon formula from Denmark. But Johnny Wadd, missing and presumed dead in Hawaii, is also on the case! He gets captured by the Chinese, who torture him endlessly with sex for the location of the formula, but Johnny won’t budge. I suspect the film was made earlier than 1974 as 1) The film may date from the earlier pairings of Holmes, director Davis and producer Manuel Conde (1970’s Sex Psycho, 1972’s Evil Come Evil Go), and 2) The French Connection was released in 1971, and porn producers making parodies don’t usually have a good long-term memory. Besides, later Wadds (China Cat, Jade Pussycat) are more porno than action and are nowhere near as hopelessly inspired as this. According to the Ballad of Big Bad John, “he’s got a head that he uses, and his meat is Grade A”. Right on, John.

Behind Locked Doors (aka Anybody Anyway; dir. Charles Romine, released 1976)

Weird-assed softcore sickie from Harry Novak and his Boxoffice International, who also brought you the equally bizarre The Orgy Box (1971). Two swingers looking for gas are trapped in an ex-mortician’s country home, along with his sister and warpo servant, and end up as ‘research’ for his vile experiments. Perverse American gothic with a hallucinatory ending reminiscent of Maniac, and some surf-a-go-go muzak gone horribly wrong. God bless the seedy Seventies.

Dandelions (dir. Adrian Hoven, 1974)

Hoven, German director (Mark Of The Devil II) and sometime actor (Jess Franco’s Sadisterotica and Succubus), must have been instructed by the money men to duplicate the success of Paul Verhoeven’s 1973 Continental sex hit Turkish Delight/The Sensualist. So he hires Sensualist star-on-the-rise Rutger Hauer as a drunken rake and a complete asshole to women, trying desperately to forget his tragic marriage to a girl turned drug addict and prostitute. Rutger’s a power- house in both these early Euro features, long before his Hollywood rise and fall to B-grade tough guy. But whereas Verhoeven’s film is a brilliant black comedy with frank sexuality, Dandelions is, well, just another sex film.

Emanuelle’s Daughter (aka Sexy Moon, Emanuelle Queen Of Sados, Emanuelle Queen Bitch; dir. Ilias Milonako, 1979)

“That girl” Laura Gemser was permanently plastered across adult cinema screens in the 70s. Hardly a great actress but an absolute stunner, the Javanese-born former model came to international attention in the 1975 smash Black Emanuelle (that’s one M to avoid prosecution). She also guested with Sylvia Krystal the same year in Emmanelle 2 as a masseuse, then made five more “official” Black Emanuelle sequels for the notorious “Joe D’Amato”/Aristide Massaccesi, including the Cannibal sleaze of Emanuelle’s Amazon Adventure, reviewed last issue. Countless other titles in Gemser’s 50-plus filmography have been retitled to cash in on her fame. Emanuelle’s Daughter started out as “Sexy Moon”, certainly not one of Gemser’s best - our pick is Divine Emanuelle (aka Love Camp, 1980), a ludicrous Jonestown-style musical (!).

An often turgid softcore soap opera and travelogue, it was filmed in Cyprus at the height of the Euro-disco craze (you can see the Village People perform “YMCA” on a TV set!). A rich industrialist dies under mysterious circumstances, and his widow ‘Emanuelle’ returns to his estate in control of his fortune and his young rebellious daughter. It appears Emanuelle was subject to her husband’s perverted whims, amd now seeks revenge on his partners-in-crime with the help of the vicious womanizing disco king Mario (Gemser’s long-time husband Gabriele Tinti). The film explores the daughter’s budding sexuality; Cyprus must have a lower age of consent, as she looks about 14 with her gear off. Familiar face Gordon Mitchell, former muscleman and star of countless westerns and Hercules films, plays one of the husband’s cronies, and is dubbed by the voice of Bud Spencer - I keep expecting him to down 14 hotdogs and clock Gemser on the nut! Passable disco tail-waver.

Mustang (dir. Robert Guralnick, 1975)

Lurid must-see peepshow behind the closed doors of the infamous (and at the time only recently legal) desert cathouse. The owner, an Italian nouveau-riche cheesepuff named Joe Conforte, takes us on a guided tour through his garish Vegas-style decor and crucifix collection, and endlessly justifies to the camera how a good Catholic boy could become the self-proclaimed King of Nevada pimpdom. Closeups of puffy acne-scarred features at cattle call as the girls tell their pathetic tales of sexual burnout, while greasy johns make feeble conversation pulling their pants up. Remember Rule 11: “No eating in the parlor”. Ugly, ugly.

Naughty! (dir. Stanley Long, 1971)

When smut-peddlers make a film about smut-peddling, you don’t look for a hidden agenda. It’s all there in the immortal words of Al Goldstein, editor of Screw Magazine and guest of the world’s first porno festival in Amsterdam, where he waxes lyrical about the “inalienable right to jerk off”. It’s freedom, baby, according to British pornographer Stanley Long (keep it clean, people) as his team takes us on a part-doco, part-reenacted romp through the history of erotic literature, via Victorian hypocrisy to the new-found Euro-swinger’s paradises. Like the greasy little man who makes spank films with his wife in the suburbs says, it’s all about kicks, and I’m sure the little girl at the zoo watching a primate spank his monkey will agree. A time capsule of sexual mores, and part of a rash of British imitations on the racier Sex Report films from the Continent. See also: Groupie Girl, Permissive, On The Game, The Wife Swappers, Suburban Wives, Commuter Husbands.

Secrets Of Sweet Sixteen (aka What Schoolgirls Don’t Tell; dir. Ernst Hofbauer, 1974)

Healthy dollops of Bavarian cheesecake from sleazemeister Hofbauer, who practically invented the Schulmadchen (“Sex Report”) film in the late 60s. Sex Reports were a staple of grindhouse fare for those requiring their cheesy entertainment disguised as a documentary, framing the softcore shenanigans with a stern moral lesson from a social worker, psychiatrist or other authority figure (we’re still trying to track down Hofbauer’s hilariously misguided Girls At The Gynecologist). Secrets... is a product of a more liberal era than the early Sex Reports and tones down the moralizing, though keeps in a running debate between a doctor and a priest. The vignettes range from comic to the bizarre (virgin sacrifice) to the outright unpleasant (an early episode involving a child molester). Schizo and very strange.

Cry Uncle (aka Superdick; dir. John G Avildsen, 1971)

Fans of Rocky and The Karate Kid probably don't know this, but the Oscar-winning director responsible for both mainstream cocklewarmers vvas making some very weird shit in the early 70s. Before coming down with a terminal case of Good Taste, Avildsen had cranked out the superior sex comedy Guess What We Learned In School Today? (1969) and the classic Summer of Hate film Joe (1970), starring Peter Boyle as a blue collar hippie-killer, and Cry Uncle, a totally whacked-out and very black private-eye spoof marketed as a sex film since you couldn't do much else with its then porno-only X rating. Tubby Jewish comedian Allen Garfield (you'll recognize the face, guaranteed) plays the "Super Dick” hired by a millionaire suspect in a murder case. The investigation soon becomes a trail of dead bodies, including one Garfield has sex with, thinking she's a comatose junkie! Troma president Lloyd Kaufman was production assistant, as with all early Avildsen films from Joe onwards, and plays the bearded hippie on LSD in a motel room. A bad taste masterpiece, Troma later distributed the film, displaying a rare flash of good taste on their part! (TC #3)

The Erotic Three (aka Scratch Harry; dir. Alex Matter, 1969)

Described in a pre-credit disclaimer as an amphetamine 'fantasy", Cannon released this arty, confusing, absurdist pseudo-underground feature made in the wake of Warhol's film factory explosion, and turned by proxy ad campaign hatchetry into a skin flick. Which it ain't. The main character Harry, a penniless rake with expensive tastes, believes he is abandoned in his empty mansion by his rich wife Erica. Together with the omnipresent narrator, a weird beatnik in sunglasses (imagine Peter Fonda playing Lou Reed) known only as 'Shadow’, Harry picks up a freewheeler called Christine in the city and takes her back to the mansion. Erica returns home and the two vvomen turn on him, further fuelling his paranoia. Wordplay, parlour games, mindfucking and blackmail prove to be a lethal cocktail in a very strange ending. Is it all a dream? An hallucination? Do wide angle lenses, sped-up footage and bogus surrealism pass as true psychedelia? Does anybody still care? (TC #3)

The Devil's Garden (dir. Bob Chinn, 1970)

Pioneer pornographer Bob Chinn, best knovtn for his John Holmes/"Johnny Wadd” X-rated superdick series, went to Jamaica to make this weird sex-horror opus. And I mean weird. The film starts with a girl escaping in a car from an unknown assailant and recounting her strange tale to the local police: her filmmaker husband had disappeared while scouting locations, and she had followed him to Jamaica as the guest of the rich and mysterious St Jermaine and his partner Chang (played by the longhaired oriental Chinn himself). She is drugged and forced to act as sex slave for the lascivious desires of the mansion's strange inhabitants, then is convinced afterwards she had dreamt the entire sordid affair. The police think she's screwy or on heat, so she heads to a voodoo ceremony in the hills to uncover her husband's horrifying fate - or does she? Inept on every level, the film is compulsively watchable thanks to ex-film school graduate Chinn, an enthusiastic hamfisted auteur who actually tries to make a movie instead of a flimsily constructed series of sex scenes. The music’s weird, the sex is weird (St Jermaine wears a Balinese mask and screams like a monkey with its ass on fire) and the film is filled with flashbacks and flashbacks within flashbacks. For us connesseurs of the smutty, the inane and the truly insane, it's a pathologically watchable treat. (TC #3)

Not My Daughter (aka Like It Is; dir. Jerry Schafer, 1970)

Beads, bongs, bongos, love-ins and the Generation Gap are dished as hokey titillation for jaded non-swngers. Not My Daughter is a weird hybrid of the traditional 'Youth Gone Wild' exposes (from Reefer Madness to 1968's Mary Jane) with misguided hand-wringing liberal sentiment. Our young heroine is blonde, seventeen, and is unhealthily close to her father. She catches him and her stepmother doing the horizontal rhumbah, then has a psychedelic sex dream about her teddy bear. Like most girls her age she wants to "live" - when her wayward friend introduces her to pot, she takes her first drag and squeals, “Ooh! Far out!” Her new-found hipness gravitates her towards the student "in" crowd, and soon she's smoking pot every day and having sex with a hair freak called Monk, while her father keeps checking her eyes to see if she's “high, or whatever they call it". Sick of her square Daddy-O spoiling her action, she runs away from home, gets into pills and free love, then finds herself in trouble when Monk is busted for possession. Daddy won't cough up his bail, so she answers a casting call for a lesbian “art" film (“Show Miss Beverley your boobies"). Meanwhile her father and his middle-aged football cronies settle down in Squaresville to watch a stag film ... The end credits say “Like It Is!" A heartwrenching lesson in moral decay, and a genuine plea for understanding. Thus endeth the lesson. (TC #3)

The Bang Bang Gang (dir. Van Guyider, 1970)

In the wake of Bonnie And Clyde (or Bonnie Does Clyde?) comes a classy period nudie gangster flick from exploitation greats Manson International. Two would-be-robber no-hopers stumble on two brash broads during a holdup, and after some cheap yuk-yuks and several Russ Meyeresque nudie runs through the woods, they team up on a double date crime spree. Things turn nasty half way through and go from robbin' and rompin' to rape and retribution, after the two guys shoot a local Mexican called Chico while saving a chicita from a brutal gangbang. Chico naturally wants revenge and turns up the sex and violence quota for the inevitable bloodbath. Surprisingly well-shot comedy/melodrama, and a real find. (TC #3)

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY GLORIA? So Young, So Lovely, So Vicious (dir. Silvio Amadio, 1975) & To Be Twenty (dir. Fernando Di Leo, 1977)

Ignore the Anglicized cast listing on the video cover - So Young... is an Italian sex drama loaded with manipualtion and mind games, in which bored spiteful heiress Angela (Gloria Guida) engineers the downfall of her new stepmother Irene (Dagmar Lassander). She initially uses her hippie gigolo boyfriend Sandro (Fred Robsham), who resembles a young Klaus Kinski, to attempt to seduce Irene. Angela then discovers a lesbian shadow in Irene's past and exploits in to the full by showering in front of her, showing her nudie pictures of her with other girls, and finally pouncing on her at the shorefront while Sandro takes polaroids. Angela has an attack of conscience later but Sandro doesn't, revealing the gory details to Irene before the devastating finale. Gloria Guida was Miss Teenager in Italy in 1971 before she went on to specialize in frothy sex comedies or sleazy dramas like this, and preens, pouts and plots her way through the role like a Continental Linda Hayden. In 1975 alone she was in over 7 films, including two more for prolific director Silvio Amadio, best remembered for the ultra-violent giallo Amuck (1973) with Barbara Bouchet and Farley Granger. But Euro-sleaze fans tend to agree her best role was in To Be Twenty (1977), a seedy piece of nihilism from director Fernando Di Leo.

In the original Italian version Guida and a fellow hitchhiked leave the liberated confines of a hippie commune and end up raped and murdered in the woods; in our English language version the film begins with the girls running through the woods pursued by would-be rapists, then stops abruptly with a freeze frame and the sounds of police sirens to the rescue. Next shot is the girls back on the highway, meeting the hippie commune leader (a nutty German who calls himself 'Shining Ray') they later bunk down with while cruising Rome looking for action. Guida generates an amount of sympathy for her character and proves herself to be more than just eye candy; I'm sure this makes her demise in the original Euro version all the more shocking. As for Guida herself, not much was seen of her after the late 70s, and in To Be Twenty it appears high living was taking a toll on her Miss Teenager features. Fortuately for her and her friend they both survive their Rome vacation and are last seen hitting the open road, in what must be one of the weirdest re-edits in the history of exploitation. (TC #3)

PLUGG review

[Originally appeared in More Tales From The Idiot Box zine, Townsville October 1998]

I’ve started to notice how the now defunct Aussie airline TAA sounds suspiciously like T&A, and you will too. Lewd puns and double entendres litter the script of Plugg, a bizarre no-budget and almost surreal mix of British sex films, Leslie Phillips bedroom farce and Pink Panther parody (!) filmed in Perth, Western Australia and strung together with endless references to bums, tits and “Capital Pussies” that will scar you for life.

Following the animated credits a la Clouseau and co, Noel (Turkey Shoot, narrator on Pacific Banana) Ferrier’s voice-over gives us the fruity lowdown on Plugg, a seedy private investigator on the case of the controversial Pussycat Escorts. Plated by Peter Thompson, a bald badger who walks into rooms whenever breasts present themselves, Plugg represents the bumbling raincoat-clad voyeur in all of us. He is closely followed by Inspector Closer (veteran Sullivans TV series personality Norm Yemm), forever peering down a pair of binoculars and desperately wanting a piece of the Pussycat action. The film ends in a nude aerobic free-for-all in a swanky swimming pool, two Pussycats slung over Closer’s shoulders, and Plugg in magistrate’s court charged with excessive ogling in a built-up area.

The cumulative effect is culturally jarring to say the least, in the absence of cockney accents or the odd “phwoar!” from Harry H. Corbett, but famed 70s centerfold Cheryl Rixon as prime Pussycat Kelli Kelly is a knockout. Keen-eared voyeurs will pick up the voice of a much younger Bill Collins (Golden Age of Hollywood presenter) on Plugg’s TV, perhaps his only entry in sexploitation’s Hall of Shame. I wonder if he now hears “boing-g-g-g” whenever a set of hooters pop out of a halter top?

Like I said, scarred for life...

Interview with ONG BAK director Prachya Pinkaew 2005

Interview with ONG-BAK director PRACHYA PINKAEW

[Originally published in Rave magazine, Brisbane 08/03/05]

Two kinds of punters are going to emerge from watching Ong-Bak in a state of shellshock: the white-faced World Movie crowd, for whom no amount of subtitles will erase the mountain of broken bodies, and the House Of Flying Daggers crew who prefer their martial arts films “wistful” and “arty”.

Make no mistake, punters. Ong-Bak is bone-snapping, skull-splitting, popcorn-spitting UBER-CARNAGE. Listening to the pounding synth score and watching the relentless violence open up on screen like flowers of flesh and blood, I was reminded of the films I grew up on. Glorious R-rated Chuck Norris bloodbaths like Force Of One and Silent Rage, or the Filipino chop-sockey gorefest Naked Fist from Cirio H. Santiago. Long before the House of Flying Wires, these films were about grown men beating the living shaizer from each other in gratuitous close-up. I almost wept tears for my lost misspent youth.

You get the impression Ong-Bak would have remained in a Phuket fleapit if it weren’t for Luc Besson. A man of infinite taste and refinement (see his own films Subway and the heavily Hong Kong influenced Leon: The Professional), Besson caught Ong-Bak at Cannes and forked out the francs then and there for the international rights. He trimmed the film by three minutes and added the very Eighties and VERY Euro electro-score, and before you could say Sacre Bleu, a minor cult masterpiece was launched to the world.

On the phone from Bangkok, I spoke to Ong-Bak director Prachya Pinkaew and with the help of a translator (who had luckily seen the film) I congratulated him on the international success of his film. Five minutes later his reply came back. At least give me full marks for persevering.

I asked Prachya which films inspired him as a child to become a filmmaker. “Normally I like Spielberg’s films, but in particular with Ong-Bak I was inspired by Hong Kong films like Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan movies.” I noticed in one scene you scrawled a hello to Spielberg on the wall - has he called you yet? (Prachya laughs) “I haven’t been contacted by him yet, so he might not have seen the film.”

A guiding light for Prachya was even closer to home. Phanna Rithikrai, regarded as the Thai Bruce Lee from his local kung fu hit Born To Fight, jumped on board as Ong-Bak’s producer. “We used the same team as Born To Fight for Ong-Bak. Mr Rithikrai is a good friend of mine and he has done so many films, and I know his talent in this area. With Ong-Bak, it is a very low budget film, and not many people have been impressed with it in Thailand.” Which is hard to understand - maybe Thai audiences would rather go to a kick-boxing fight than watch it on the big screen.

The film is essentially four or five long and incredibly complex action setpieces, linked with a hokey premise of a young Muy Thai initiate (Tony Jaa) heading to Bangkok from the countryside to recover his village’s stone Buddha head from the city’s most violent gangster. Ong-Bak took three years to prepare, so Prachya used the time wisely and would videotape each action scene, adjusting the multiple camera setups and fine tuning the storyboards so that the actual filming could maximize its shots. An early scene is a breathtaking ten minute chase through a busy market alleyway, and has Tony (in a brazed attempt to out-Chan Jackie Chan) using every possible piece of cookware as a weapon, before skidding underneath a moving car and jumping six feet in the air to walk over the regulation thugs.

Even more jaw-droppable is the spectacular chase scene down a busy highway involving a dozen or so motorized three-wheel scooters (or “tuk-tuks”). “It took a longer time than usual,” Prachya says. “That particular scene took more than ten days.” It reminds me of the hyper-action scenes from the Luc Besson-produced hit Taxi (2000). Would that have possibly influenced Besson to champion Ong-Bak? “I have seen that film,” says Prachya diplomatically. “Luc is a very good producer of action films, and he has a very good understanding of martial arts.”

The film gradually loses its chuckle factor and becomes more intense as it hurtles towards the grim and suitably blood-soaked finale. Was that deliberate? “Yes, that thought has been intentionally set up. Because we have good humour in our culture, and you can see the sidekick who plays with Tony (Petchtai Wongkamlao), he’s a first class comedian in Thailand. But I wanted to show the techniques of Thai boxing. So that’s why the movie becomes intense later on.”

Just to prove there’s no wires, the same shot is repeated from two other angles in ultra-slow-mo. “We used the old technique from Hong Kong movies,” Prachya confesses. “Secondly we liked to show how genuine the actions of Tony Jaa were who played that role.” It’s true that Tony Jaa might not have the on-screen charisma of Jackie Chan or current Asian superstar Stephen Chow - at this stage in his career he’s still a mass of tics and his dialogue scenes have an awkward school musical feel. But when the shirt’s off, there’s no mistaking his command of the human body as a killing machine. It’s the same with Prachya’s direction. The plot and character development are clumsy, but when you get to the bare meat of the action, and thankfully that’s MOST of the film’s screen time, Prachya’s quite considerable talents as a genre filmmaker emerge and the film goes into hyperdrive.

As a counterpoint to the action there are some beautiful cinematic moments, such as an underwater scene where Tony finds scores of stone Buddha heads in lobster nets. “For the Thai audience it was quite unexpected. They have been well aware of the illegal selling of Buddha heads but they didn’t have the idea that it was that extreme. However that scene was from the imagination of the producer.” The film’s opening sequence shows a mastery of montage, in which the young men of the village scramble up a tree like spider monkeys, throwing each other off branches onto the hard ground (no effects here!) to claim the prize: a single ribbon. “It was the old Thai game from the rural area of Thailand,” notes Prachya. “Usually they used a tree next to the river bank, so anyone who fell would fall in the water!”

Prachya spent last November in Sydney with Tony shooting a more comic follow-up to Ong-Bak. Tony Jaa may yet become an international star; already Luc Besson is in deep discussion, as is Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino? “There hasn’t been a clear idea about that, but there is the idea that they might be working together in the future.” If Quentin manages to single-handedly revive the Shaw Brothers empire, be sure that Tony Jaa will be there to drop-kick someone’s ass into oblivion.

PRACHYA PINKAEW interview uncut

Congratulations on the international success of your film.

Thank you very much.

I was very impressed with the scene where Tony sees a whole series of Buddha heads in lobster nets underwater. Did that strike a chord with Thai audiences?

For the Thai audience it was quite unexpected. They have been well aware of the illegal selling of Buddha heads but they didn’t have the idea that it was that extreme. However that scene was from the imagination of the producer.

How long did the complicated fight scenes take to film - eg the tuk tuk chase?

It took a longer time than usual. That particular scene took more than ten days.

I liked the technique of shooting a scene from three different angles and slowing down the footage - it’s very much like classic 70s kung fu movies.

First of all we used the old technique from Hong Kong movies - secondly we liked to show how genuine the actions of Tony Jaa who played that role.

I thought the first scene in the tree was quite beautiful, what inspired that scene?

It was the old Thai game from the rural area of Thailand - usually they used a tree next to the river bank, so anyone who fell would fall in the water.

What kind of films inspired you as a child to become a filmmaker?

Normally I like Spielberg’s films, but in particular with Ong-Bak I was inspired by Hong Kong films like Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan movies.

I noticed in one scene who say hello to Spielberg - has he called you yet?

(laughs) I haven’t been contacted by him yet, so he might not have seen the film.

I believe you were particularly influenced by Phanna Rithikrai (the Thai Bruce Lee) and his film Born To Fight.

This film Born To Fight, we used the same team for Ong-Bak. Mr Rithikrai is a good friend of mine and he has done so many films, and I know his talent in this area. With Ong-Bak, it is a very low budget film, and not many people have been impressed with it in Thailand. Also the scene wasn’t filmed in or around Bangkok - it was shot in the provincial areas.

How did Luc Besson find out about the film?

Luc saw the film at Cannes and he liked it very much. He bought the movie and promoted it in Europe and America.

Did Luc change the film at all?

Yes, he did cut some scenes, about three minutes, and also changed the soundtrack.

Have you seen the Luc Besson-produced film Taxi? Did that have any influence on the tuk-tuk scene?

I have seen that film. Luc is a very good producer of action films, and he has a very good understanding of martial arts.

I understand many of the action scenes are videotaped to work out camera angles etc - how long would you videotape a scene like the Circle of Death sequence?

It took a long time, and in the preparation for the film we had several problems, and it took us three years to start to shoot the scene. So we used those three years to adjust and review...

In one scene you see blood spraying from the top of someone’s head when Tony’s elbow connects with the top of someone’s skull. Was that real?

(laughs) It wasn’t real, it was a CG technique.

I noticed you’re making a film with Tony in Australia?

Yes, it took about one month in November. We shot in Sydney.

Has there been any interest for Tony to work in an overseas production?

There are many producers and directors that have contacted us to work with Tony. For example Quentin Tarantino, and a number of agencies. Including Luc.

Did Quentin say what he had in mind for Tony?

There hasn’t been a clear idea about that, but there is the idea that they might be working together in the future.

The market scene - the camera setups are quite complicated, did you carefully storyboard the sequence or shoot with a number of cameras so you could cut between shots?

We used both techniques.

The film was quite humerous at first, and then the humour disappears and the film becomes much more intense. Was that deliberate?

Yes, that thought has been intentionally set up. Because in the Thai character we have good humour in our culture, and you can see the sidekick who plays with Tony, he’s a first class comedian in Thailand. But I wanted to show the techniques of Thai boxing. So that’s why the movie becomes intense later on.

The guy who plays the Big Bear sounds very Australian - is he one of our home-grown talent?

I wasn’t sure whether he was Australian or not. He happened to be traveling through Asia at the time. But in my next film I know which ones are Australian and which ones aren’t.

I hope you realize all Aussies are like the Big Bear.

I’m well aware of that. When I went to work in Sydney everyone was nice and lovely. (???)

Do you plan on shooting in Australia again?

Yes, if possible. I have made a number of new friends, particularly those in the production team.

Thank you for the interview, and I really enjoyed your film.

Thank you very much.