Sound like a porno? Sound like an Ed Wood film? Why not both?
Thanks in part to the help of a New Orleans resident, Ed Wood has never been, ahem, hotter. Fleshbot Films -- a subsidiary of Gawker Media -- has released the first of three DVD versions of Wood's later, not-so-illustrious film canon. The first, 1971's Necromania, was released last month, and already has received coverage in The New Yorker and on CNN.
New Orleanian John d'Addario is the editor of Fleshbot.com, which is an entertaining, hilarious and informative Web site on sex culture, and he was recruited to write the liner notes for the DVD releases. It wasn't exactly like getting the call to do La Strada for The Criterion Collection, d'Addario concedes, but it did offer him a chance to take a second look at the man who gained his greatest fame when film critics Michael and Harry Medved dubbed him "the worst director of all time."
Fleshbot's debut release features two versions: soft-core (or "Hot!") and hardcore ("Hot! Hot! Hot!"). Watching the hardcore version with d'Addario and his partner, Running With Scissors co-founder Richard Read, at their home is something like being a part of a Mystery Science Theater 3000 viewing; the one-liner potential is endless.
"Ah, a face made for radio."
"She looks like one of the Wayans Brothers in White Chicks."
"I think I'm going to be sick."
When the viewing is over, d'Addario laughs when he's asked how much fun he'd had researching the liner notes. Like the average indie-film lover who's dabbled in camp, he'd seen the two staple Ed Wood films, Glen or Glenda and, of course, Plan 9 From Outer Space (featuring posthumous footage of Bela Lugosi), as well as Tim Burton's brilliant 1994 film based on Rudolph Grey's biography, Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood Jr.
"The last time I saw this, when they sent me the two versions and the other two films to watch (The Only House in Town and Shotgun Wedding), I was like, What the f--k?" says d'Addario. "I hadn't seen any Ed Wood films in a while. I hadn't seen the Tim Burton film in a while. So if you're approaching this without knowing who Ed Wood was or the kind of films he did, it's hard to make any sense out of it. You see it as a really badly done, early-70s porn film."
However, d'Addario says, the more he revisited Wood's work and learned about Wood's collaborators -- and talked to Rudolph Grey -- the more he appreciated the unconventional filmmaker. "If you come to this expecting to see something groundbreaking or a hidden classic, it's not any of those things. But it is what it is, and what it is, I think, is something pretty special."
Wood was well past what could be politely called his prime (the mid-1950s) when, running out of more legitimate backers, he started turning first to softcore and then hardcore grindhouse porn. And if Necromania is any indication, Wood never lost his "touch." In the plot, such as it is, a sexually unhappy couple pays a visit to a house at the invitation of Madam Heles (as in "heals," of course), who promises to cure what appears to be the male's erectile dysfunction. (Something the viewer is subjected to more than enough.) Why they sweat the fact that they've lied about not really being married -- this being a pretty swinging house, after all -- is one of a handful of unexplained plot points, but no matter. Soon enough the couple tries to pair up, the girlfriend pairs up with another woman in the house (one whose moans are obviously dubbed) while the boyfriend pairs up with the hostess' horny assistant. But it's not until the boyfriend is subjected to what could best be described as some tough coffin love that the couple (and viewers) enjoy their "happy ending."
Kitschy? You betcha. But this is porn at its worst lit, in all its cellulite and pre-wax era glory. But more seriously, it shows Wood trying to explore the same psychosexual terrain that made Glen or Glenda such an oddly compelling work. In other words, he's trying to make a real film here.
"I think with any kind of kitsch, it's seeing beauty in something that's done very badly," d'Addario says. "And you could laugh at everything we've been laughing at, like all the sets and bad dialogue and strange camera cuts, but there's an earnestness in everything that Ed Wood does that forces you to look at it in a very different way. He was completely sincere that he was making this psychologically deep porn film that was supposed to raise it to a different level than these loops you could see in dirty film theaters in Times Square. "And I think that gives it a charm and a depth. The more you think about who Ed Wood was and what the rest of his career was like ... he never lost that earnestness between Glen or Glenda and Plan 9 to this -- Which is what? Twenty years later? -- he still kept at it. I think that's pretty admirable."