Thursday, June 19, 2008

Exploitation Directors a Go-Go (or is that Boo Boo?) The Incredibly Strange Film Show

Forget Hulu. Forget these uploading sites that try to compete with YouTube, offering us major-corporation sanctioned movies and TV episodes. Some of it is indeed worth watching, but for the true scavenger of pop-culture, and “everything from high art to low trash… and back again” (our Funhouse motto, which I haven’t used in this blog since I started the damned thing), the site of choice is still YT.

And why would that be? Well because posters like PaulKuk, as he is known, have uploaded some major must-see programs onto the site. There were a few milestones in the study of crazy exploitation — the Kings of the Bs, the first Psychotronic publications (Xeroxed and then mag-ged), and yes, even the Golden Turkey book by the now intolerable Michael Medved and his brother (although the last-mentioned simply roasted the flicks and offered little info of substance). The finest guide to way-out exploitation was the Incredibly Strange Films book by the Re/Search folks, which I believe has remained in print in the quarter-century since it first came out. That particular book was never built upon in American culture, but it did spawn (without residuals for the original writers including V. Vale, I believe) a British TV documentary series that, for exploitation fans, has never been equaled in terms of offering an introduction to the filmmakers who are must-sees for those about to embark on a regimen of innovation-trash viewing.

The host was Jonathan Ross, who when the program appeared in the early ’90s was a charmer, at least to American viewers who hadn’t been exposed to his snarky, witty British chat show (which I do wish was on BBC-America in place of Graham Norton). The people interviewed and profiled on the program were a very good first sampling of the best of the weirdest low/no-budget filmmakers out there. Paul on YT has uploaded the entire series of shows, which aired here in the States on the Discovery Channel (if memory serves) and have never been rerun to date, and have never been issued as a DVD set over here. They are all indispensable viewing, and I’m glad they are now readily available for free on the Net (I think only the Mexican wrestling episode is missing).

The show offered profiles of gents who have of course bobbed into the mainstream like John Waters, George Romero, Sam Raimi, Stuart Gordon, Jackie Chan (when he was awe-inspiringly terrific, the episode is superb), and one of the greatest Hong Kong filmmakers of his generation, Tsui Hark. Also, low-budget moviemaker Fred Olen Ray put in an appearance, right after his Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers had hit video shelves over here. The programs that desperately cry out to be seen, however, are those covering the Old Masters of exploitation. An Ed Wood profile gave us the brass tacks about our favorite Angora-wearing auteur, while Ross and company also delved into the work of Funhouse guest Herschell Gordon Lewis:

He also drew back the veil on the mystery that is the great Ray Dennis Steckler, madman comedian and frightmaster from the old school, creator of the uncategorizable Rat Fink a Boo Boo.

We got to see the legendary Doris Wishman, the best known female exploitationer of the era, a woman whose utter lack of interest in depicting sex in a sexy fashion (and radically weird incompetent editing style) made her one of the most outrageous softcore directors of all time.

I have to single out, of course, the hour-long portrait of the mighty Ted V. Mikels, a man who has lived a few lives in his time on this planet and is still cranking out low-budget features from his home base in Las Vegas. I interviewed Ted in the mid-90s on the show and did my best to convey the complexities of his story; I also wrote a piece for on his way-out oeuvre. The Ross documentary is a good quick primer for those who want to see him in his element, supplemented by interviews with his "castle ladies."

Perhaps most importantly Paul has uploaded the Russ Meyer episode, which was NOT shown over here, as Russ has holding on tight to his copyrights at that time, and didn’t want the many clips included by the British producers shown on American TV (at least that was the story that circulated ’round these parts).

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