Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Set Decoration Odyssey, Part Two by Greg Dziawer

This distinctive door knocker plays a key role in Ed Wood history.

The Kitchen Sink

A kitchen sink from Two's Better Than One.
I confess. I'm obsessed with porn loops. Specifically 8mm porn loops from the early '70s that share commonalities with the last two feature films (that we know of) that were directed by Edward D. Wood, Jr. Necromania and The Young Marrieds were both produced by Cinema Classics, headed by Noel Bloom, son of publisher Bernie Bloom, who was Ed's boss at a variety of magazine imprints for the better part of the last decade of Ed's life. The set decorations in those two films overlap frequently with each other. They also overlap with dozens if not hundreds of porn loops from the early '70s.

While Swedish Erotica remains the best known of myriad series of Bloom-related loops, a sister series called Danish International Films not only shares set decorations with the early Swedish Erotica loops and those two features, but also a common language of cinematic tropes. The dissolve edits and, especially, seemingly endless shots of characters walking into and away from the camera—or even sometimes thrusting objects into the camera, handed to a receiver in the reverse shot.

The very first loop in the Danish International Films series, Two's Better Than One, opens with a pretty, young, long-haired brunette at a sidewalk fruit and vegetable market. Clearly shot guerrilla-style, with unwitting folks in the background of the shots soon to appear in a porn film, she continues moving through the crowd to a sidewalk café. She approaches two young hippies at a table, having a bite to eat, and after a very brief exchange—alas, there are no subtitles on the version of this loop I viewed—she hands one a piece of paper and walks away.

We cut to her entering her apartment with a grocery bag. She enters the kitchen and sets the bag down on the sink. There's a cylindrical red lamp on the sink. Odd place for a lamp. But wait! That lamp looks familiar. And there's a wall hanging above the sink, a large number 5 in a white circle, a la a billiard ball, against a red background. That wall hanging looks familiar, too, from other loops. Hmm. The left-hand wall of the set is brown paneling and also appears familiar.

The kitchen sink from The Young Marrieds.
Then it finally dawned on me: The kitchen sink itself is the very same dark brown sink, shot from a near-identical angle, as the sink in Ben and Ginny's kitchen in The Young Marrieds. It's the very same set, as a matter of fact, just dressed differently.

The girl picks up a black rotary phone, also oddly on the sink, and dials one of the gents from the café. If you assumed she had given them her number, you were wrong. Perhaps she gave them her address. How did she obtain their number? The gentlemen on the left in the sidewalk scene picks up a small piece of paper from the table as she hands him the same, fished from her purse. Was he meant to give that to her, an exchange of numbers, and flubbed the scene? As it stands, we can only surmise that she knew them previously and already had the phone number. The black rotary phone is a common prop in these loops, the means by which this new breed of sexually free creatures arrange their no-strings-attached hookups. Omniscient, no?

Of course, this is merely the lead-in to any porn loop's raison d'etre: sex. In this case, as the title implies, it's a threesome. The two gentlemen show up, they move to her bedroom, and the action ensues. There in the bedroom, we spot more familiar set decorations: a painting on the wall, a pillow, a blanket. We even get two money shots.

A metal grate from Necromania.
But let's go back a second to that kitchen. There's something missing. In The Young Marrieds, there's a decoration on the left-hand wall, a lion's head. Where did it disappear to? I know! It's also hanging on the door of Madame Heles' place in Necromania, there serving its actual purpose as a door-knocker.

And that number 5 wall hanging above the sink, repurposed elsewhere, is also missing. In The Young Marrieds, there's a metal grate above the "window" with beautiful pink curtains matching Ginny's lingerie. Where did it go? I know! My friend Dimitrios Otis, self-styled porn archaeologist who put two and two together and Ed-tribute The Young Marrieds to Ed Wood, reminded me that it's there in the hallway at the beginning of Necromania. It shows up elsewhere, too, in the Bloom-related loops.

We've asked a lot of questions this week, most of them rhetorical. And we'll continue asking questions. Where were these loops shot? And who made them? Who printed them and who distributed them? And, most importantly, just how does Ed Wood fit into the picture? We'll answer these questions and more, as we continue falling headlong into the loops, right here at Ed Wood Wednesdays.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Fun times with the Armadilloid!


The current storyline in the Spider-Man newspaper comic strip has Peter Parker teaming up with his old foe, Mole Man, who is being pursued by a horrifying creature called an Armadilloid. There's more to it than that, but those are the basic facts as of now. What's really important for you to know is that the Armadilloid is absolutely adorable, especially as depicted in the June 19 strip. So, naturally, I had to come up with new adventures for him. Enjoy. If I come up with more, I'll add 'em.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Letterbox: More mail order oddities from They Might Be Giants

They Might Be Giants had an active mailing list for over a decade.

I wrote yesterday about my early experiences as a fan of They Might Be Giants and how the band communicated with its fans by means of a mailing list through the late 1980s and '90s. Today, I thought I'd share with you some more TMBG related goodies from the past. Here, for instance, is a letter from 1988 announcing the formation of a fan club, then called The Official TMBG Correspondence Department. This endeavor would later become known as The TMBG Info Club.

A letter from Melony V.W. (1988)

That particular missive was xeroxed, but the following postcard is handwritten. It's from Glenn Morrow, the head of Bar/None Records, TMBG's label at the time.

A postcard from Glenn Morrow. (1988)

The "new TMBG album" he's referring to is Lincoln, released in September 1988. By June of the next year, the band was still releasing singles off that sophomore LP. "Purple Toupee" got its own music video, but a promised EP never materialized. But the group did send out a press release concerning the song. I'm showing you the envelope it came in because of the purple stamp on the outside.

"Purple Toupee" press release envelope. (1989)

And here's the press release itself, printed on now-faded purple paper. The letter explains some of the historical references in the song and encourages fans to request the Adam Bernstein-directed video on MTV. I don't remember the clip getting a lot of play there, though.

"Purple Toupee" press release. (1989)

Naturally, a big part of the TMBG Info Club was promoting official Giants merch. And to do that, you need a catalog. Here's one of the earliest I can find, probably from 1989. Back then, "The Whole They Might Be Giants Catalog" could fit on a single sheet of paper, front and back. Lincoln was a new album back then, and the group only had a small selection of T-shirts. The most interesting item in the catalog is the TMBG fez, which I never actually purchased.

TMBG merchandise catalog. (1989)

"TMBG approved headgear": The $15 fez. (1989)

Note the address: "TMB Productions, Dept. PPFNP." That abbreviation stands for Pure Pop For Now People, a reference to a 1978 Nick Lowe album. I must admit, I bought my fair share of merchandise from these catalogs over the years. The EPs (or maxi-singles) were mainly available on cassette and vinyl in those days, but TMBG also experimented with putting them out on absurdly tiny 3" CD singles. The format never caught on, for good reason, but I still have a few of them. The CD versions all came out, I believe, in 1989. As you can see from the catalog above, the "Hotel Detective" single quickly became a collector's item.

"Don't Let's Start" CD single. (1989)

"(She Was A) Hotel Detective" CD single. (1989)

"They'll Need A Crane" CD single. (1989)

I think I'll close out this survey with a couple of miscellaneous postcards from the past, both advertising the TMBG offshoot Mono Puff, a side project for John Flansburgh. Here are some cards advertising the group's albums Unsupervised (1996) and It's Fun To Steal (1998). You might want to click on this image to see it at full size.

Postcards advertising Mono Puff. (1996-1998)

Wait, just one more thing. I thought I'd share with you this red stamp from an envelope that once presumably contained a TMBG fan club newsletter. As you can see, the mailing came from Newark, NJ. You can see the familiar "melting snowman" logo and the old Dial-A-Song number.

A TMBG fan club mailing (1988)

Friday, June 16, 2017

TMBG: Postcards from the edge (UPDATED!)

John Linnell and John Flansburgh of TMBG before they became ubiquitous.

TMBG's debut album from 1986.
This will seem completely ridiculous to anyone in 2017, but it used to be kind of difficult to get information about your favorite bands. Like, really difficult. Especially if your musical tastes were even slightly outside the mainstream. In the mid-1980s, for instance, my favorite band in the whole wide world was They Might Be Giants (TMBG), the pioneering New York nerd rock combo originally consisting of John Linnell and John Flansburgh. (The group's lineup would ultimately grow as its sound evolved.) At the time, apart from reviews of the group's albums, the press paid little to no attention to this band. TMBG wasn't "serious" enough for Rolling Stone -- a publication then in the thrall of earnest, message-driven bands like U2 and R.E.M. -- and not quite "cool" enough for, say, Spin. (Though the latter did publish a few fleeting features about the group. Thanks, Spin.)

That would all have been okay, but there wasn't really any internet to speak of back then either. By the early-to-mid-1990s, there were some primitive Usenet newsgroups, and TMBG fans used to congregate there somewhat. But in 1986? Zilch. Nothing. Diddly squat. You had to rely on newspapers, magazines, and television for your information. If those outlets didn't choose to cover They Might Be Giants, you were out of luck.

And so, oddball bands had to get the word out themselves using the slowest, most unreliable medium known to man: the United States mail. I can proudly say I was on TMBG's first-ever mailing list, eventually known as the TMBG Info Club. I was even proud that my fan club number, #36, was so low. From the mid-1980s to roughly the late-'90s, when the internet finally supplanted the postal system, I regularly received newsletters, postcards, and catalogs from the group. For some reason, I saved pretty much all of it, probably thinking that it might one day be used in a book about the history of They Might Be Giants. Now that information about TMBG is plentiful on the internet, however, I don't think my humble little collection has much historical relevance. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame hasn't exactly been beating down my door.

Nevertheless, I'd like to share at least a few postcards from my rather vast collection of TMBG-related ephemera. Enjoy.

Ad for the "Hotel Detective" single and video. (1988)

"Ana Ng" inspired this whimsical card. (1988)

Promotion for "Santa's Beard" from Lincoln. (1988)

Promo for "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)." Note the mention of 1-800-Dial MTV. (1990)

Naturally, Apollo 18 got its own postcard. (1992)

"The Statue Got Me High" was the lead single from Apollo 18. (1992)

A new album meant a new tour. Note the expanding lineup. (1992)

Promoting the Back To Skull EP. (1994)

TMBG was the first major act to record for eMusic. (1999)

Long Tall Weekend was TMBG's groundbreaking digital-only album. (1999)

One of the last TMBG postcards was this one for Working Undercover For The Man. (2000)

And, seriously, if you're ever doing that book about the history of They Might Be Giants, drop me a line. I have so much more of this junk. Not just postcards but all kinds of stuff. Remember when you could buy an official TMBG fez for $20? Good times. Wish I'd bought one.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Loop Orbit, Part Seven by Greg Dziawer

A popsicle plays an an important role in this week's loop.

The familiar Swedish Erotica logo.
I can't help it. I keep watching 8mm porn loops from the '70s for hours a day. I stare, transfixed on the cinematics and set decorations, watching everything except the sex. The sex, of course, was the purported raison d'etre. At least as far as the businessmen were concerned. The creative principles who made the films—aka the "artists," and I use that term advisedly—seemed to have possessed another motive up their sleeves.

What I'm hoping for is an epiphany. Some grand moment that reveals, once and for all, the extent of Ed Wood's involvement in loops. Ed listed 716 "short picture subjects" just from 1971 to 1973 on his resume. One of Ed's two patriarchal mentors in the last decade and a half of his life, Stephen C. Apostolof being the other, publisher Bernie Bloom kept Ed in his employ for the better part of Ed's last decade on Earth. Bernie's son Noel began producing and distributing loops circa 1969-1970, on the cusp of the availability of hardcore pornography on film as a mass cultural object. 

While I loathe mis-Ed-tributions, i.e. false claims of Ed's work, I'm speculating this week, thinking out loud, because nothing grows in a comfort zone.

The consensus in Woodology now maintains that Ed "made" the first 19 8mm hardcore loops released under the Swedish Erotica label. He wrote subtitles. He edited. He was on set and "directed." He wrote the box cover summaries for the loops. 

Against my mis-Ed-tribution principles, I'm speculating yet again that Ed continued working in some capacity on the Swedish Erotica loop series for years. Noel Bloom produced/distributed hundreds, even thousands, of loops across dozens of labels, and we know Ed was there all along right into the summer of 1978, the year of his passing, still receiving pay stubs from Art Publishers, Inc., a company responsible for Swedish Erotica-branded magazines and paperbacks. By 1978, the Swedish Erotica series had coalesced into its still-legendary brand. Even if you aren't a porn fan, you have still likely heard of Swedish Erotica 40 or so years on. 

Related loop series include Fanny Films, John's Girls (the "John" being Holmes, of course), and Garter Girls. As I delve deeper, the flagship Swedish Erotica series itself ran for over a decade to upward of a thousand individual loops and myriad spin-offs. I selected one randomly for study this week, admittedly because the title turned up the corners of my mouth. 

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Revisiting Monty Python's cautious first album

The wacky Monty Python boys early in their career, minus Terry Gilliam.


Python's semi-forgotten 1970 debut album.
Though its origins were in television, Monty Python quickly became a multimedia phenomenon. The British comedy troupe produced numerous films, stage shows, books, and albums between 1969 and 1983. If the 2000 documentary From Spam To Sperm: Monty Python's Greatest Hits is to be believed, the boys were never too keen on making the records, with only Michael Palin (my vote for Python's all-time MVP) possessing the necessary patience for it.

And yet, despite this utter lack of enthusiasm, Monty Python managed to create a string of inventive and funny LPs, including Another Monty Python Record (1971), Monty Python's Previous Record (1972), Matching Tie And Handkerchief (1973), and The Album Of The Soundtrack Of The Trailer Of The Film Of Monty Python And The Holy Grail (1975). All keepers. I'll even vouch for Python's little-loved Contractual Obligation Album (1980). These albums, which generally combine new and repurposed material, can be enjoyed at full length, but 1988's double-disc The Final Ripoff is a good distillation of their audio-only work. In that aforementioned 2000 documentary, Steve Martin confesses that he originally thought Python was a recording act before he saw their TV show or films.

The group's 1970 debut album, simply titled Monty Python's Flying Circus, is a decidedly modest affair, released purely as a promotion for the eponymous BBC series. The material on it comes directly from the TV show, with almost nothing prepared especially for the album. The reason it was not included in The Instant Monty Python CD Collection (1994) or a subsequent series of reissues is that Monty Python does not own this album. The BBC retains the rights to it, nearly half a century later.

The 1989 book The First 200 Years Of Monty Python by Kim "Howard" Johnson indicates that the 1970 album is simply audio taken from the TV show. So I was initially not very interested in it, but I bought a used copy on vinyl anyway. It turns out that the LP was actually recorded live at the Camden People's Theatre in London. So why does it have a laugh track? Well, the audience was not terribly lively that night, Whoops.

Ian MacNaughton, madman.
The now largely forgotten album was produced by Ian MacNaughton (1925-2002), who directed most of the episodes of Flying Circus on the BBC, as well as Python's debut feature, And Now For Something Completely Different (1971). He also wrote the surprisingly straight-laced, joke-free liner notes, briefly explaining how the troupe and the show came into existence. Like And Now..., this album appears to be a collection of "greatest hits," designed mainly to introduce Python to newcomers.

Is the damned thing any good? Surprisingly, yes. The audience may have been sitting on its collective hands, but the Python boys really do their best to sell this familiar material anyway. The troupe members had plenty of stage experience by this point, going back to their days at Oxford and Cambridge, and seem comfortable in front of a crowd. John Cleese, especially, seems energetic and displays great range, playing everything from a shy, hesitant young man ("The Mouse Problem") to a bombastic drill sergeant ("Self-Defense"). Palin, too, is in fine form, belting out "The Lumberjack Song" as if he'd been performing it for years. Keep in mind: The now-famous bit was still new back then.

The track names are not particularly helpful. The sketch widely known as "Crunchy Frog" is here called "Trade Description Act." Cleese's infamous "Albatross" routine is merely "The Cinema." And there are tracks called "Television Interviews," "Interviews," "and "More Television Interviews." The first is about an otherwise unremarkable man (Palin) with three buttocks. The second is about filmmaker Sir Edward Ross (Graham Champan, misidentified here as "Grahame"), who doesn't like being called "Eddie baby" or "pussycat." And the third is about that poor, harried composer Arthur "Two Sheds" Jackson (Terry Jones), whose nickname has overshadowed his music.

In its studio albums, Python would get better at creating comedy that works without a visual component, strictly through dialogue, sound effects, and music. (No wonder the Contractual Obligation Album was so heavy on songs.) They hadn't really learned how to do that as of this debut album, though. High-concept sketches like "Flying Sheep," "The Visitors," "The North Minehead By-Election," "The Mouse Problem," and "Self-Defense" do lose a bit of impact here when deprived of pictures, and Cleese's explanatory narration in "The Barber" seems like an afterthought. And a supposed "stereo demonstration" by Graham Chapman's Colonel -- one of the few bits prepared especially for this LP -- is spoiled because the album is presented in monaural sound.

And yet, despite these misgivings, the Monty Python's Flying Circus album has a definite, crude charm to it. If Python was comedy's answer to The Beatles, this was its own Please Please Me, i.e. a chance to hear a soon-to-be-legendary group at the cusp of its success.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

If a YouTube video falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?

This is how I feel when I check my YouTube stats.

In case you haven't been following—and I know for a fact that you haven't been following— I've recently been uploading new content to YouTube every single day. That's right. I have a channel of my own right here. Currently, I'm trying to figure out what kind of content works best there. But for that to happen, I need at least some of you out there to actually watch these videos and give me any kind of feedback, be it positive, negative, or somewhere in between.

For the last few days, I've literally been the only one watching my videos. They get no other views. Literally zero views. I don't want to carpet bomb Twitter and Facebook with self-promotion every day. I hate doing that. And I don't want to clog up Dead 2 Rights with idiotic reminders like this one. I just want to know that someone out there can hear me. Is that so horrible?

Anyway, here are a few recent videos. They'll give you an idea of what my channel is like.





There's more, but I'll leave it to you to discover. I was wondering if maybe people might want to see more review-type videos, i.e. me giving my opinion of some movie or album. I could do that, too. Let me know. Thanks.

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Loop Orbit, Part Six by Greg Dziawer

This lady from Danish International Films enjoys a lollipop.

Wood in Bloom: Little Flowers

Late last week, I was sitting around watching porn loops, if you can believe it. Specifically, 8mm loops from the early '70s, by inference part of the larger orbit of short pornographic films that are somehow connected to Edward D. Wood, Jr.

A massive swirled lollipop in Petite Fleur.
For me, it was revelatory to spot another massive swirled lollipop, just like the one from the Danish International logo. Danish International Films was a silent 8mm home-market loop series produced by Noel Bloom, son of Ed's boss Bernie Bloom at a variety of adult magazine imprints from the late 1960's through 1978, the year of Ed's passing. The series initiated circa 1972, by my estimation, running through 1976. Some films were subtitled, some also appearing on the imprints of other related loop series, like Sex & the Gun, which began as a Cinema Classics loop. The bedspreads and furniture and set decorations link up with the first 19 loops produced in the Boom-produced Swedish Erotica series. Those loops are commonly attributed to Ed Wood. The set decorations and associated bric a brac also link up with Necromania and The Young Marrieds, as far as we know the final two feature films Ed directed (though I increasingly doubt this). 

I digress. As I was transcribing the subtitles to the silent loop Petite Fleur, I received a message from a writer named Flash, asking me a few questions about the loops. He is studying those first 19 Swedish Erotica loops generally credited to Ed, and writing a review of Cinefear's pioneering pair of discs collecting them, and we messaged briefly about related matters.

Flash first asked me if I thought Ed padded his resume. Although Ed was, per Kathy Wood and I'm equally guilty as charged here, a bullshit artist—his ballyhoo is there, among other places, in the loop box cover summaries—I don't think he padded his list of accomplishments. I have not seen the full document, but enough has been shared to arrive at this conclusion. 

A skinny, affectless hippie in Petite Fleur.
If anything, Ed's CV was probably too modest. There are likely dozens of paperbacks unaccounted for on the resume, for instance. There are certainly magazine short stories and articles unaccounted for. And there is a whole world of miscellaneous writing and other work, including but not limited to: loop box cover summaries, which also became insert cards/catalogs for chunks of entire series, packaged with the loops; captions for magazine photo features and illustrated sociosex paperbacks; and a seeming multitude of loops falling outside of the resume's listing of 716 "short picture subjects" from 1971 through 1973. Ed's Orbit is staggering, perhaps even across the endless reaches of time. 

Flash asked me if I thought Ed "made" (read: directed) those 716 loops. I don't know, but I'm trying to figure it out. Make smart inferences. Keep emotions in check and override with reason. 2 + 2 does always equal 4, it turns out. A FACT!

The subtitles to Petite Fleur correspond to same across hundreds of other loops in evidently related series. Petite Fleur shows a coupling between a skinny, affectless hippie with a goatee and a hard dick, and a pretty young free-spirit—over-dramatic and rolling her eyes wildly—with a topknot. 

Below, I have transcribed the subtitles exactly as they appear onscreen, along with my interpretation of who is the intended "speaker" of each line.