"It wasn't the greatest picture in the world, but it had sprocket holes and it could run through the machine." - Dave Friedman on "The Living Venus," the first 'film' he made with his equally legendary partner Herschell Gordon Lewis, the 'Godfather of Gore.' Frank Henenlotter, a story in his own right, directed this fast moving and enthralling documentary on H.G. and the phenomenon he created. H.G.'s films are truly awful, committed to celluloid with a decided taste for money and disregard for art, which makes him the ultimate Dada hero with an incredible 'oeuvre' to show for it! The doc gives you a play by play in the often told story of how H.G and pals cultivated this most disreputable, but highest grossing side of horror cinema. They don't talk about the live Grand Guignol theater he ran in Chicago for a time, but do interview the late Daniel Krogh, who worked on Lewis' later films and wrote "The Amazing Herschell Gordon Lewis, and His World of Exploitation Films," which is where I read about the live stage stuff. Another great quote surfaces when Lewis cinematographer Andy Romanoff talks about the shoot of "A Taste of Blood," H.G's calling card to Corman that almost got him hired up to the second tier of b-movies. Andy's romance with a starlet led to his attempt to light her stylishly, taking his time in doing so. Lewis then retorts: "The problem I had with Andy Romanoff was, he wanted to make a good movie!" This doc is of key interest to anyone who gravitates to the cult, the horror, the underground, the depraved, the weird, and the outre, especially in terms of films and filmmaking. Should have been made 20 years ago at least! Thank you Something Weird for making this happen, and all the cast, crew etc. Highlights include H.G.'s son Robert talking about his father, like the story he tells about how pops was nearly beheaded while filming at a demolition derby when a stray tire missed him by an inch and how 'hilarious' it was. And also every time earnest "Blood Feast" star Mal Arnold is on screen to tell his tales with innocent abandon. Surprise revelation that almost deserves a whole other documentary is the pieced together story of Lewis' erstwhile star Bill "Rooney" Kerwin, a career b-move actor, bit-player, alcoholic and "sex maniac" who eerily mirrors Bob Crane as described in Paul Schrader's "Auto Focus." Allow me to add that for all his seeming ineptitude, H.G. knew what he was doing every step of the way, whether you liked it or not. Cinematic quality was not his main goal of course, and when you consider what he was after and how he achieved it, you realize his brilliance. Moreover the side product of all this, believe it or not, is that some of these films, from "Blood feast" to "2,000 Maniacs, "She-Devils on Wheels," and especially "The Wizard if Gore" are actual masterpieces in their own rights, for a variety of reasons, intentional, or not! Long live H.G.L., who celebrated his 83rd b-day last Saturday, June 15th, 2013.
Sunday, June 16, 2013
Finally saw this fabled biker movie, and I was floored. Some had hailed it as 'batshit crazy' and while it's not exactly EL TOPO or POSSESSION, it definitely has an odd tinge. Case in point, the opening visual gag that sets the tone where the biker gang surrounds the car of an old couple that suffers a flat tire (when you see it you'll know what I mean). The plot plays with our expectations, as does the (decidedly low-budget) sound design. And it tells us that all is not as it seems. The bikers, who are usually anarchistic bad guys, here while still chaotic are in fact the downtrodden pariah of an oppressive society. Turns out the town, well really the cops, are the evil empire, and those said pigs, actually one of them in particular, frames the bikers for a heinous crime that was actually committed by that cop ~ stand in for the establishment, in turn - the fucked-up system, man! It is quite bummer-inducing that the bikers have Nazi swastika flags at their hangout (if it had been Buddhist symbols then it would have been okay), but granted, that's a biker movie trope, so I'll give the filmmakers a very lenient break. Anyhoo, when the baddies hoodwink an otherwise upright citizen to join in on their knee-jerk reactionary assault on the bikers, all hell breaks loose. This leads to a crazy double-edged revenge showdown. The finale is super violent, and executed cinemeatically in tone with all the layers of text and subtext, perfectly capped with an ambiguous, ultimately philosophical ending that leaves you, well, uh, dumbfounded. I believe the DVD is out of print, but you can watch the whole thing on YouTube: