Behind the Lens, Doris Wishman, Film Media, Florida exploitation, Michael Raso, Mike Raso, New York sexploitation, nudie cutie, Pop Cinema, Retro-Seduction Cinema, sexploitation, third eye cinema podcast
When we spoke with Pop Cinema/Film Media/Camp Motion Picture/Retro-Seduction/Retro Shock-O-Rama impresario Michael Raso at the very dawn of the Third Eye Cinema podcast in early 2012 (or technically, the Winter of the year prior, when we actually met and recorded) and again just this past summer, one of the subjects covered (and also during our short lived “Behind the Lens” segment on Raso’s own Alternative Cinema Podcast) was our mutual love of the films of Doris Wishman.
A New York (and Florida) grindhouse filmmaker most active during the wild and wooly 1960s, Wishman, like her contemporary Herschell Gordon Lewis, both spearheaded and cycled through the cinematic subgenres of the nudie cutie, roughie and…well, ever more tasteless and wild corners of the sexploitation (and arguable “horror”) film.
But while Lewis made his reputation mainly in the realm of horror (well, tasteless gore, but you get the idea), Wishman was more noted for her quirky approach to the roughie (marked by overemotive acting and scripts, entirely post dubbed dialogue and narration, obsessive focus on people’s knees and random plants, pottery and knick knacks)…and her unusually lengthy run of nudies.
Perhaps beaten only by nudie and children’s movie specialist (!) Barry Mahon, Wishman’s version of the nudie was strangely…wholesome? Perhaps due to being female herself, there was often an odd emphasis on “romance” and entire families engaging in the “health culture” of sun, swimming and casual outdoor sports. Booklet author Michael Bowen argues that the filming of her highly entertaining debut Hideout in the Sun, a heist film gone nudie, may even have predated the accepted forerunner of the genre, Garden of Eden, though that’s debatable.
What isn’t debatable is how hilariously stilted and crazy Wishman’s scripts and dialogue are (the two steamy Greek melodramas she merely drafted up new dialogue for are among her most priceless, in fact), or how oddly well lensed her early nudies tend to be – vibrant colors, decent framing and even attractive females for their day.
It wasn’t till she returned to her New York apartment and started filming her roughies (many with cameraman Chuck “C. Davis” Smith, who joins her for the greatest commentary cum old couple bickering you’ll ever hear on the old Elite disc of her otherwise unwatchable A Night to Dismember) that she became the idiosyncratic furniture obsessed auteur aforenoted…these films show the Wishman that could have been, and in fact once was.
Unfortunately, several of her nudies were considered lost for decades – some available only on Something Weird DVD-Rs and Hideout in the Sun only seeing the light of day less than a decade back under Raso’s own aegis. Now, out of the blue comes another of these lost gems – Prince and the Nature Girl, which actually leaves Retro-Seduction bookending this phase of her career – from debut (Hideout in the Sun) to her final of such (Prince and the Nature Girl.)
This print apparently hails from Germany, where they had removed and redubbed both soundtrack and title cards into Deutsche. But fear not – using Wishman’s original script and dialogue (and trust me, you can tell), the fine folks at Retro-Seduction have done one hell of a job at recording a replacement track.
While some of the more absurdist moments are clearly played to emphasize the laugh factor, it’s in a very dry manner – they tend to play it as surprisingly straight and stiff as a 1950s tv show, complete with a smarmy yet authoritative sounding narrator and eager beaver male voice (the female one more obviously goes for the cheap laugh throughout).
You can see just a bit of the compulsive attention to furnishings and even a few random shots of knees and folks facing away during phone calls that would mark her later films, and the dialogue, particularly in combination with the faux po-faced line delivery, results in a few real zingers and literal laugh out loud moments to be sure. But the real joy here is to be found in Wishman’s lovingly filmed, colorful celebration of all things nude and natural in a variety of outdoor locations (apparently this was somewhat cobbled together from unused footage of her earlier films as much as a legitimately “new” picture…but we have and love all those (extant) films and barely noticed, so it’s not quite as blatant and overbearing as one might expect).
Personally, the wife and I could watch classic nudies till the cows come home without getting tired of the threadbare plots, dicey establishments and locations and mind numbingly repetitive “activities” to be found in the early films of Wishman, Lewis, Mahon, Sande Johnson and their British counterparts like George Harrison Marks. But even if these films aren’t entirely to your own taste, Wishman’s versions…particularly when as lovingly restored and entertaining as Hideout in the Sun and Prince and the Nature Girl, are well worth your attention.
Extras include a 4m excerpt from Maryland local show “Atomic TV” covering the 1999 Maryland Film Festival, with brief footage of Wishman, John Waters and of all people, the B-52s Fred Schneider (!),
a 12m silent 50’s semi-nudie short “Nature Girl” (where the feature starlet plays it surprisingly coy throughout, despite taking clothes on and off at an obsessive rate – zero T&A value, even by burlesque standards),
“Nudism, a Way of Life”, a 10m patched together short claiming to be accompaniment to a white coat lecture which prior to the expected nudist camp frolics includes footage from burlesque strip acts, a girl with what appear to be the world’s first breast implants and montages of topless secretaries, kitchen domestics and horseback riding,
and finally “Rock Lodge”, a 15m silent short which appears to hail from the 1930s (if not the late 20s!) and covers the (mostly male-only, though there are a few odd ladies present, and even a few surprising moments of full frontal) activities at the titular nudist camp.
If you’re a fan of Wishman and her decidedly unique approach to cult cinema, or the oddly loveable and innocent, if short lived subgenre of the nudie cutie as a whole, you really shouldn’t be sitting around wasting time – you’ll want to get your hands on this one tout suite.