Posts Tagged ‘Women In Prison Films’

My Favorite Year

In Film on December 30, 2011 at 5:06 pm

I try to go through life with equal amounts optimism, realism and pessimism. That said, this past year was something special. Here’s a brief re-cap of 2011, take one.

February saw the limited theatrical release of my documentary American Grindhouse, after nearly a year of film festivals both in the United States and abroad.  On July 27th, Kino/Lorber Films released the DVD with our jam-packed and lovingly assembled wealth of extras. With all of the criticism that the film receives (some of which I agree with) I can safely say that it’s the movie that it was meant to be; A documentary that contextualizes the business of exploitation in American cinema. A sort of pop-film history lesson that never goes too deep, but rather acts as a gateway drug for exploitation movie newbies.

It’s one thing to get a movie made, but it’s something else entirely to get it seen all over the world. Thanks to my best friend Danny Greene for making it with me and Andrew Goldenberg and Garrard Whately for their help in the final stages of the editing and sound mix.  If I learned anything while making this (and there were dozens of harsh lessons), it’s that to describe a movie as Grindhouse isn’t fully accurate.  It’s not a style, nor is it a genre. It is, however, a word that boils down a 20th Century phenomenon when filmmaking and film viewing was dangerous. Grindhouse is a word that we associate with battered-up old prints with missing film reels and optical pops and hisses on the soundtrack — something that audiences may be having limited opportunities to experience in the future — as studios begin getting rid of their aging prints (and no longer striking new ones of older films) and moving steadfast into digital projection. (So perhaps these films are even more important now, than they were when we started making the doc?)

Grindhouse is about embracing the flaws of physical film exhibition, relishing in missing frames at the end of a reel change and how some of these films (and their tattered appearance) reflected 20th century America.  I accept the g-word and I love that it turns people on to old films that they should see anyway, but just know that it means more than a bad movie on faded film stock and started well before (and reaches far beyond) 42nd St memories. Thanks to everyone who sought it out and/or watched it completely on accident.

By the spring, I became involved with DistribPix and their release of The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann. For this release, I worked with the fantastic DistribPix team and helped produce interviews with adult film legends Eric Edwards and Georgina Spelvin. As a major fan of Radley Metzger/Henry Paris, it was a pleasure to work on this release and meet him during the commentary recording of Naked Came The Stranger. Around the same time, our retrospective pieces for Subkultur Entertainment’s DVD release of The 4D Man was released in Germany. Featuring interviews with producer Jack H. Harris and former Miss America (also cinema’s first Catwoman), Lee Meriwether. Our partnership continued with a retrospective documentary on the making of Dinosaurus! and with the first official German home video release of Kinji Fukasaku’s Message From Space. Interviewing Sonny Chiba for this release was a major highlight of my year. Thanks to Stephanie Paris for her sublime camera work and to Atsuko Kohata for conducting the interview. Stuart Galbraith IV helmed the Japanese production for me and snagged interviews with Kenta Fukasaku, special effects director Nobua Yajima and model creator Shinji Hiruma. I have the feeling that this is not the last Japanese-languae documentary that I produce. Arigatou gozaimasu!

Sonny Chiba discusses making "Message From Space"

As summer rolled around, some of the work that I provided for Shout! Factory and Severin Films were released. First up, was our contributions to Bloody Birthday, The Baby and The Stunt Man. These simple featurettes were fun and a great chance to continue working with David Gregory – the man responsible for getting me started with Dark Sky Films and producing the DVD or Spider Baby back in 2007.

With as much fun as it was to contribute to these releases, my greatest sense of accomplishment came with Shout! Factory’s DVD and Blu-ray release of The Women in Cages Collection, for which I was able to delve deeper into the story behind the making of two of my very favorite films, The Big Doll House and The Big Bird Cage. It’s been a life long duty of mine to get the oral record of filmmaker Jack Hill on all of his films and present them to his legion of fans. For nearly 10 years now, I have been cataloging his photos and making sure that his legacy is documented, and it has been a pleasure to meet actors and colleagues who have worked with him over the years. One of my favorite experiences while working on the The Women in Cages Collection, was to seek out some of the actresses that I’ve always wanted to meet; Teda Bracci, Candice Roman and Anitra Ford.  It’s been nice to see this presentation so warmly received by fans and ending up on a few Best Of 2011 lists for the year. It was made by a fan and for the fans.

Anitra Ford discusses her role in "The Big Bird Cage"

Besides this project for Shout!, I was fortunate enough to helm a duo of featurettes for the company on their DVD release of  Take a Hard Ride and to produce the commentary sessions for Streetwalkin’ and Too Hot To Handle. Working with Streetwalkin’producer and director team of Joann Freeman and Robert Freeman was an absolute treat, and I strongly encourage any indie filmmakers out there to listen to their commentary track. It’s inspiring and completely honest. I also had a great time moderating the commentary on Too Hot To Handle, so here’s hoping that this is not the last of Cheri Caffaro DVD releases that she and I can contribute to…

Cheri Caffaro is "Too Hot To Handle"!

Considering all the projects that I worked on in this year, it’s the work I’ve done that must wait until 2012 that keeps me excited. Projects that are ready and waiting for release and others that are snowballing into larger and more involved than originally planned. Thank you, 2011. I’m not asking to repeat or even top you in 2012, just please keep my rent paid and my dog from going hungry.


Big Doll House

In Film on April 6, 2011 at 1:13 am

For my upcoming work on Shout! Factory’s Women In Cages Collection, I finally get to share more of the radiant charm of actress Judy Brown. Shot on June 17th, 2006, the interview was originally planned as part of a larger Jack Hill documentary that will probably never be finished — at least as a stand-alone project. The veteran actress of over one dozen films, selflessly gave us about 2 hours of her time on a Saturday afternoon, it felt criminal to use a mere 20 seconds of that day in what later became American Grindhouse. I was still thrilled to include her, even if only for a brief moment.

But now, I am happy to say that more of our interview will be included in From Manila With Love — an all-new retrospective documentary on the making of Big Doll House and The Big Bird Cage being released in the Women In Cages Collection on June 21st as part of the ongoing Roger Corman Cult Classics Series. Additionally, an interview with actress Roberta Collins is also included in this new 2-part documentary. Shot seven years before her death, the footage has remained unseen until now.

Roberta Collins, Jack Hill, Judy Brown and Brooke Mills

Judy Brown was one of the last of the contract players for Universal Pictures during the decline of the Studio System. In 1970, she made her controversial debut in Threesome as Ursula, an American student in Denmark who becomes the object of an obsessive lesbian love affair. To the shock of both she and her family, a body double was used for more explicit scenes (it also lead to the suspension from her Universal contract). Although she never sued, Judy did manage to get an injunction against the producers and place a disclaimer at the end of the film which stated the bait and switch. It was this brouhaha that lead to her casting by director Jack Hill in Big Doll House.

Following BDH, she did a second stint in Corman County Jail with Women In Cages (which was shot on the same Manila prison set). Her ubsequent roles in Slaughter’s Big RipoffHot Potato and Willie Dynamite ensured that a legion of admirers would fall in love with the auburn hair-colored beauty. During her impressive career, she dated the likes of Henry Kissinger and Elvis Presley before retiring from show business in the early ’80s to raise her family.  “I have no regrets about the films I made. I was in it for the adventure.”, says the actress during our interview.

I leave you with “Heaven and Paradise” performed by Judy Brown when she was just fourteen years old and released on the Fifo label in 1961. A dreamy, pouty-voiced, doo-wop ballad that reached number two on the regional charts — the song feels like something from a Scorsese soundtrack and I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if Judy continued with her musical career. Next up, you can catch her in Mark Hartley’s Machete Maidens Unleashed!, which Dark Sky Films will release later this summer.

Women In Cages

In Film on July 13, 2010 at 1:49 am

Hollywood take note: Lindsay will soon be hotter than ever. On July 6th, Lindsay Lohan was sentenced to 90 days in the slammer for repeatedly violating the terms of her parole, stemming from a 2007 drunk driving incident. Lindsay Lohan in prison?! The script writes itself. I for one, have never been against the Hollywood Remake Machine and I pray to the Tinseltown Gods that someone cast Li Lo in a Women In Prison Film remake.

I nominate any one of these classics as a new starring vehicle for Li Lo, each ripe with potential to rekindle Hollywood’s never-fail formula; Women In Prison.

Ladies They Talk About (1933)

Based on a play written by a Hollywood actress who spent time in the San Quentin, Dorothy MacKaye, Ladies They Talk About helped launch Barbara Stanwyck to stardom in the early 30s. Chock full of sapphic overtones and some of the bawdiest humor this side of Stanwick’s previous boundry-pusher Night Nurse (1931),Ladies They Talk About was remade in 1941 as Lady Gangster with Faye Emerson in the starring role. But that should not stop anyone from putting Li Lo in the lead role for a third time. She’s done sassy, no-nonsense before, now lets see her do it in prison stripes.

Caged! (1950)

Elenor Parker was the perfect victim. Hope Emerson was the perfect tough-love head matron. Both actresses received Oscar nominations for their roles in this, the greatest of all WIP films. Caged! is all at once melodramatic, campy, emotional and  breathtaking. Add to the mix Carl Guthrie’s stunning cinematography and a heartfelt supporting cast (including Jan Sterling and Agnes Moorehead), Li Lo would be perfect to play the naive young lead who learns how to survive in an unfair penal system. Just let her keep that kitten!

I Want to Live! (1958)

OK, so it’s not technically a WIP film, but Robert Wise’s stylish, beat-noir melodrama speaks volumes about America’s love for crime and fame. Even after 50 years, the message in this film (both on the Death Penalty and the media) has lost none of its impact. Susan Hayward won the Oscar for Best Actress as Barbara Graham, the two-bit petty criminal good-time girl who gets framed for murder. She’s never done it before, but I think Li Lo could pull off a sexy, never-say-die, sympathetic middle-aged woman.

This is easily, my favorite scene in the movie. Johnny Mandel’s electrifying jazz soundtrack is also well worth seeking out.

99 Women (1969)

A crucial benchmark in the evolution of WIP films. Spanish filmmaker Jess Franco and legendary British exploitation producer Harry Allen Towers added a few more elements to the mix of WIP trademarks that would identify the genre for decades to come – sex, color and jungles. Featuring a bewildering plot and even more bewildering cast (Herbert Lom and Mercedes McCambridge!), 99 Women finally showed all the lesbian innuendos, cat fights and shower scenes that were tip-toed around for decades. It also served as the inspiration for Roger Corman to produce his own string of WIP films in a tropical setting for cheap. For sheer lunacy, I nominate Li Lo to take on McCambridge’s whip-yeilding head matron role.

The Big Doll House (1971)

At the time of its release, The Big Doll House was the most profitable independent film ever made, playing both drive-ins and hard top theaters. Directed by exploitation maverick Jack Hill (Switchblade Sisters) and featuring a stellar cast (Roberta Collins, Pat Woodell, Brooke Mills and Judy Brown), The Big Doll House was also semi-responsible for the cross over success of subsequent blaxploitation films of the era, all thanks to Pam Grier’s scene stealing antics and the theme belted out by the mocha-skinned diva herself. Based on an original screenplay by James Gordon White (The Tormentors), Hill was forced to re-write the film while on location to suit its jungle surrounding and even re-named the evil head matron after a Swiss producer that he just finished working with. Casting Li Lo as the star in this film is a no-brainer. She even shares a charming similarity to Judy Brown.

Caged Heat (1974)

Writer/director Jonathan Demme breathed new life into the Corman cycle of WIP movies, by relocating the action back to the United States and returning some of the social messages of earlier WIP films. Casting Russ Meyer starlet, Erica Gavin in the starring role was inspired and Barbara Steele as the wheelchair-bound head matron was an equally marvelous casting coup. Caged Heat is probably one of the least conventional of all Corman-produced WIP films, most likely due to Demme’s taste and talent as a filmmaker. As with The Big Doll House, Li Lo could easily slip into the lead role originated by Ms. Gavin.

Reform School Girls (1986)

A partial remake of Caged!, Reform School Girls is without a doubt, my favorite of all WIP films. Writer/director Tom DeSimone infuses the genre’s conventions with remarkable confidence, resulting in a feeling that is fresh and invigorating.  A perfect cast also helps (Pat Ast and Wendy O. Williams of The Plasmatics have  a wonderful chemistry together; campy but never overboard). Sybil Danning returns to the genre, but her deadpan delivery of lines leads me to suspect that she was not in on the joke. Tom DeSimone was also known as Lancer Brooks, director of many gay pornography films throughout the 70s. For Li Lo, I recommend taking on the smaller role of one of Charlie’s girl gang shower mates. Stay strong, little one. The world will be waiting for you once you make Freeside.

Update 7/21/10

Black Mama, White Mama (1973)

After discovering Lil’ Kim’s advise to Li Lo on prison time, it occurred to me that these two would make a killer onscreen duo. Jonathan Demme and Joe Viola’s revisionist take on Stanley Kramer’s The Defiant Ones resulted in this Pam Grier/Margaret Markov WIP classic. Li Lo and Lil’ Kim would positively light that motha’ fuckin’ screen on fie-ya if they appeared together in this updated version. Even there names together on the poster would look perfect. And don’t shake your head at me, either. You know that I’m right.