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As I grow older, slower and more lame with each passing 24 hours, it's easy for me to fall into the grasp of negativity when it comes to my place in the world. The presented status quo would seem to indicate that, at this point in my human experience, I should be at least nearly secure in my purpose. It would seem any normal person my age would be in arms lengths of some kind of life goal, if not already enjoying the fruits of their labor. As far as I can tell, from TV, etc, at this point, I have outgrown the requisites of the late bloomer and have entered a classification more easily labeled “lost cause”. I mean I have always had a job but never a career, and I still hold tight to “goals” that seemed already unrealistic at the start of my twenties. So I am I just fucked? Is higher ambition a game contained to the same age groups as 90s video DJs and the majority of female film roles? I don't really know, but It can make me pretty fucking nervous. It's during these darkened moments of doubt that I can look towards The Patron Saint of Irrepressible Aspirations, Doris Wishman, for inspiration.
In 1958 a newly widowed, 46-year-old Wishman decided making films would be the best way to take her mind off of the recent loss. Inspired by a loophole in New York law that allowed for nudity in cinema and her time spent working for her cousin Max Rosenberg’s film company (in “distribution”), she borrowed some cash (by her account $10,000) from her sister and went about making a “nudist” film. Without any training, and taking up most of the production roles herself, she made eight of these films between 1958 and 1964. As interest in the genre shifted, she too evolved, shifting to various more popular exploitation style films along the way, making a slasher, some porn and even trying comedy. She continued to make films aperiodically until her death in 2002. She gave the world around thirty trashy, sleazy flicks during her time in the business, and her presence can still be felt in low budget filmmaking, as well as some in some more well-known works. If there is some kind of age limit on career choices, it didn't fucking stop her. In fact, she seemed to break every rule she was privy to. She barged her way into a male-focused area of a drastically male-dominated field (not only filmmaking but “male interested” filmmaking in the 50s), doing most of the work on each film herself to avoid the industries patent bullshit. By all accounts, she was the eccentric opposition to the era’s current business climate. There are none of the common schlock filmmaker horror stories of angered/shorted associates or her being overly demanding of her skeleton crew. Any production work she was forced to outsource, was paid for, in full, at the end of the day. She apparently was always courteous to those she worked with, if not a little wearing due to her eccentric personality. The films she made exist in a peculiar place between cashing in on trends and having way to much fun making a movie to care what it looked like, never really falling too far to either side. She was truly unbound by any taboo regarding what she should have been doing or when she should be have been doing it. She is a testament to just not giving a fuck about what other people think, and just going for it. With around thirty grimy, sleazy or trashtastic flicks to her name(s), she has secured a place among the greats and has left behind immeasurable influence. To better illustrate, I want to talk about one of her films that has grown to become my favorite recently, The Amazing Transplant (1970).
In a home, where the walls are adorned in several patterns only manufactured in the early 70s, a woman sits alone, naked playing a lute (at least I think it's a lute). She receives a phone call from an apparent suitor, Arthur Barlen (), who after alluding to some romanticly related trouble between the two, begs to come over for a visit. With a little convincing, she agrees and then jumps straight in the shower (most likely having worked up a sweat during her one person nude jamfest), while the soundtrack gives a few samples of the lively rhythms to come. Soon Arthur arrives, and after confessing his undying love for her, the two make their way to the bedroom for sexy-make-up time. Unfortunately, before they can really get going, he has a little freak out about her choice in earrings and quickly chokes her to death (I mean really fucking quickly, like the fastest strangle ever). Seemingly confused about why he killed his weak-necked lover, Arthur throws on his blazer and bounces the fuck out of there. This puts him on the run from the law, and his mom (who seems to never leave her chair) is understandably perturbed. Unable to believe the news that her quiet offspring is capable of such a heinous act, she phones up her brother Bill (), who happens to be a city detective. He too has trouble believing in his nephew's guilt and assigns himself the case with surprisingly little trouble. Armed with Arthurs contact book, he hits the streets calling upon anyone that might have information about the boy or his whereabouts. It not only turns out that this seemingly timid introvert happens to know only women, but also, prior to the whole strangling thing, he had transformed into a full-on rapist. Each woman interviewed gives the detective an account of his savage assault. Every attack was evidently out of the blue, after having only quick passing interactions previously. In between vivid flashback-inducing accounts from victims, uncle-detective grows suspicious of a doctor () he interviews who had performed a few “procedures” on the young man lately and begins to unravel the strange truth behind the sudden mood swings. It becomes evident that the once timid Arthur has really fucking lost it. But is it all just murderous sexual frustration, or could it possibly be the recent on-the-fly dick transplant the doctor performed a few months ago?
Story-wise the film seems to take a few cues from the Giallo crime dramas of the era, minus the normal twist, as there is no mystery in the killer's identity. The opening gives it all away, completely rendering the familiar dimwitted detective trope’s quest null to the viewer. At best there is a little mystery left in the man's motivation for these sexually charged crimes, that is what's not exposed by the titles or plot notoriety (or given away by a movie blogger). Instead, we just follow the policeman as he consoles his sister and goes door to door hearing fucked up stories about his nephew, each with an extended flashback. The evil dick angle is pure gold, and I don't think we will ever truly know how much of that is satire. It very well could be pure nonsensical sleaze or some kind of manic comment on toxic masculinity and weaponized insecurity among males. Each of the victim's stories involves awkward interactions leading up to the attack and serve as wince-worthy slices of male-female dynamics. Whether or not it is intentional, the film provides ghoulish commentary on our fucked up roles in this regard, and in any case, the concept is the product of a morbid wit. I'm pretty sure it's the first movie to involve a penis transplant, predating Percy (1971) by a year (it was a big decade for penis swapping movies). It was quite possibly influenced by films like Mad Love (1935), The Hands of Orlac (1960) and Hands of a Stranger (1962), as it to seems to be a gruesome variation on the theme set forth by Les Mains d'Orlac, but, again, it's hard to know if that was a fully conscious choice. Even with it’s broken lack of structure plot-wise, it is among the more coherent of Wishman's work, though the story still comes down to a comically inadequate and abrupt ending. There's plenty of nudity, although you don't really get to see franken-dong at any point, and there is no gore. It's all a very silly, unmanageable mess of suspected unintentional humor and Wishman's idiosyncratic, one of a kind, style. But the catastrophe creates an entertainment value beyond human explanation.
Wishman is often likened as a “female” Ed Wood. It is certainly a valid comparison, but I can't help but see Jess Franco (minus the training and resources) in this film as she played with low rent camera effects and focuses on awkward objects to make the audio dubbing easier. There are extended shots that linger on people's feet (one of her trademarks) and at one point a technique that shoots right up the detective's nose as he is being spoken to. In many cases, the view will move sporadically around the room and come to a rest in odd angles pointed at carpet or an arbitrary object. The film’s focus seems to be chosen at random, and shots overstay their welcome defiantly. Rushed foreign cinema imports have better dubbing, that is when someone is actually shown while talking. An inexplicably jazzy synth organ lines the entire film even during it's “brutal” rape scenes. It will come as no surprise that she had no formal training in film, but part of the magic is watching her experiment. Like Edward Wood’s work, the charm of the film is mostly located in its sheer audacity of existence, a creation of pure will, that by all logical means should not be. But there is more there. As with all her films, The Amazing Transplant contains the glow of Wishman's complicated desire to entertain, above all, herself as well as others.
Wishman directed and produced the film under the name Louis Silverman and credited her writing to a Dawn Whitman, another alias. One of exploitation’s many renaissance men, C. Davis Smith, who collaborated with the director on (around) seventeen of her thirty films, handled cinematography. Arthur Barlen, the recipient of the killer member, is played by João Fernandes who has a colorful career dabbling in some early porn acting and mostly working as a cinematographer.  plays the detective, and most likely the strongest actor in the bunch, although that's not saying much. He continued to take part in trashy flicks until the start of the 80s, including playing a role in Wishman’s most notoriously incoherent film, A Night To Dismember. The only other character that sticks in my mind is the doctor who was enjoyably over-acted by . As far as I can tell, his only roles consist of this and another “Doris” flick, Love Toy (1971), and he spends most of the film with his head in his hands.
The Amazing Transplant is one of my favorite types of bad cinema. Whatever it lacks in plot, production or quality, it makes up for in raw, uncut spirit and puzzling entertainment value. It's a disjointed mess that you can never quite pin down, and it's a blast. After living what some would consider almost a whole lifetime, Doris Wishman made up a plan to make trashy, low budget films, and that's what she did. While she was out reaching her goals ( to the world's dismay), she happened to also leave us some great sleazy movies, helped reengineer low budget filmmaking and proved that the aptly proclaimed “proper” order of things is bullshit. She made her own fucking rules. We can look at our Lady of Irrepressible Aspiration as a reminder that it doesn't matter when you do it, only that you do, do it. Along with the fun trash cinema, she left the world some valuable lessons on the art of ignoring the supposed criterion and not allowing the masses preconceived bullshit to get in your way. I assume that works for whatever unfashionable goals you may have in your own life. Now excuse me while I see my bartending sister about a loan.
1h 17min | 1970
 Director: Doris Wishman (as Louis Silverman)
Writer: Doris Wishman (as Dawn Whitman) 


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