Possessed with sex, they know no shame!
It's the lure of the city that calls them, the bright lights matching the twinkle in their eyes and the sparkle of their high hopes. Sensible shoes wear a groove into the pavement as deep as the despair in their hearts as they learn that their fantasy easy street is actually a bleak boulevard of broken dreams. Few survive, and even fewer stay. For those with drive and determination, something close to a living can be squeezed out from in between the hustle and bustle. For others, it's back alleys and underground clubs filled with sleazy users just waiting for the new crop to rotate in. And it's these lost, lonely and desperate women that become the focus of the urban roughie movies of Doris Wishman. In a career that fluctuated between innocent nudist colony films and all-out hardcore pornography, no one understood the metropolitan landscape and its ability to steamroll one's soul better than Doris did. Her bleak, brave tales of big city seduction and violent passions reflected the times and tenure of America circa 1965-66 better than any mainstream movie or filmmaker. Bad Girls Go to Hell and Another Day, Another Man are masterworks of miscreant behavior and a series of lost love letters to a social era where men feared the sexual power of women and would do anything to keep it neatly in check. This is also one of the best DVD's that Something Weird Video has to offer.
Facts of the Case
Bad Girls Go To Hell: As Meg Kelton goes about her daily chores, like cleaning the kitchen and taking out the garbage, she is attacked and savaged by the brutish landlord of her apartment building. When he later threatens to tell her husband about the incident, she meets him at his apartment, where she is again assaulted. But this time she bludgeons the bully to death. Frightened and alone, she heads to New York, where she encounters a series of good Samaritans, each with seemingly innocent offers of help. But sooner or later, each situation turns indecent and Meg find the lecherous landlord's murder catching up with her.
Another Day, Another Man: Ann and Tess have been friends and roommates for a long time. Ann looks down on Tess' career as a hooker and her friendship with sleazy pimp Burt. But when Ann's new husband takes sick and there is no means of paying the bills, she finds herself a part of Burt's call girl stable. As Anne moves from john to john, she tries to balance her concern for her husband with her secret double life. But as Steve gets well, he also starts to get suspicious. Finding a note with an address, he plans to surprise Ann while "on the job." Little does he know the surprise is on him…
The creation of the roughie is a complicated and critical step in the forward momentum of drive-in and grindhouse adult entertainment. Prior to its appearance as part of the exploitation oeuvre, sex on film was either naughty or nice and usually a little of both. The nudist camp saga showed skin as part of an imagined scientific examination of the lifestyle (mixed with a little tabloid titillation). The nudie took it one step further, making the location insignificant and the amount of body bared ample. Later, tease would turn into flat-out fornication, where no one shed their clothes unless they meant to press and prod the flesh. These soft-core sexcapades would even veer off into wild and warped "ghoulies," where gore and murder were added to spice up the sordidness. The roughie, however, existed in that strange middle zone between the tame and the tawdry, in an arena both twisted and tantalizing. The formula was simple enough: feature the man/woman or woman/woman dynamic as a seedy balance of lust and violence, where a man would slug a woman as soon as kiss her, and the woman would sheepishly respond to both.
In these urban decay dramas, sex was power, used to control and contain. Women who understood or flaunted this knowledge were shown the back of a hand or a belt. Only men were allowed to exploit the act for any interpersonal gain. But sex was also seen as comfort, a means for lost souls to find that temporary moment of connection, where loneliness concedes to lingering caresses under the sheets. However, these acts of sensual salvation were always punished. Men did not want women comprehending the power and the glory that existed as part of their physical make-up, aspects never to be explored together. Socially, it is understandable where this cinematic philosophy comes from. The 1960s were a time of great sexual and personal liberation, where women came into their own as sensual and political beings. Gone were the meek mousy housewives of the 1950s. In their place were ripe, passionate pieces of erotic fruit. Before the games of suburban roulette, where husbands took back control and traded vows (and wives) for keys to the kinky kingdom, the roughie marked a time when men attempted payback for the loss of sexual and gender power. And in the soiled, soggy streets of the metropolis, within the walls of its catacomb like apartments, the battle of the bruised sexes played out.
There is no denying that Wishman understands this metropolitan landscape, about how to translate its power and pulse into a raw cinematic sensation. She focuses on the little moments, the small slices of the city that exemplify and accurately paint a portrait of life in New York. She refrains from long shots of Manhattan, or perfectly framed compositions of tall buildings scraping the sky. Instead, she leads us down back streets and into tiny neighborhoods and boroughs where people struggle to exist. We linger in the city's few remaining open spaces, desolate and serene as large monolithic apartment blocks overlook the fertile land like greedy developers. In these sequences she captures the city as simultaneously oppressive and infinite, the cell structure living rooms opening onto streets of endless seduction and sin. And like the magic that only the movies can provide, the monochromatic color scheme creates the only sense of black and white that will exist in this world filled with gray areas. There are no winners or losers in this Gotham, just the walking wounded, waiting for someone to dress their battered bodies and shattered lives.
As a director, Wishman never cast for beauty or good looks. She wanted her actors to embody the desire, the defects, and the destinies of their characters. She picked men who exuded Scotch and cigarettes, wearing their wounded male pride on rolled up shirtsleeves stained with blood, nicotine, and lipstick. As for the women, they all had hair piled high on their head like a bouffant crown or frame and bodies bound under fishnet unitards and undersized brassieres. Their aura silently screamed desire and fertility from beneath their weathered unusual attractiveness, their glamour and good looks offset by the sharp edges of a life unfulfilled and the severe vogue of the current fashion. Everyone seems exhausted, as if beaten down so hard by the world that Hell was still somewhere high above. Acting talent or temperament was of no concern. As long as they looked the part on screen, Doris would find a way to make the performance work. It has been noted that, like Fellini, Wishman never recorded live sound with her films. Everything, from effects to dialogue, was dubbed in later during post. While this is not always true, it does exist here and it adds another layer of foggy, depersonalized confusion as to who and watch we are watching. Characters become moral enigmas, too astray to speak in their own voices, too dulled and sullied by life to own a distinct, individual personality.
In her films, Wishman employs standard melodramatic plot lines and then inverts the parameters to impose illicit acts and criminal vice into the fray. Bad Girls casts our heroine as a carnal Candide, living from one sexual misadventure and debasement to the next. No circumstance is safe for her, not the kindly couple with the room for rent, not the lesbian hooker with a gold plated dime store heart. For Meg, men and women are a constant threat, one looming over and ogling her in ripe desire for defilement. Another Day takes this notion one step further, showing Ann that only through sex and the selling of her body can she ever hope to save her home and her marriage. Without being morally and physically destroyed, she can never be happy. And even then, both women find themselves caught in the never ending pool of prurience that comes when one forsakes their virtue for a life of vice. While this may be reading too much into what should be a standard exploitation narrative, these movies do have something to say about the social and biological politics between man and woman, between the so-called weaker sex and the caveman king of the castle. There is no courting, no sweet talk or handholding. These are stories of men looting women like sexual candy stores, stuffing their mouths and grabbing goodies by the fistful. And all these unlucky ladies can do is grind and bear it for another vanished day.
When all is said and done, these really are two wonderful exploitation films from the 1960s, movies made to make a buck with a flash of flesh and a seedy undercurrent. And they work marvelously. Newcomers to the genre may wonder what all the amateurish fuss is about. After all, there are probably 75 shots of shoes in Bad Girls Go to Hell alone. Wishman loves to move away from the action, from the groping and humping and onto inanimate objects like a fruit basket or a clown wall hanging. Some will argue that this is to avoid the decency and censorship laws, but a trained eye looks deeper, and sees a message. These are not acts of love. This is not an erotic exchange. This is violent, rough sex play for authority, and no one needs to see it directly. Wanting to watch means acceptance and compliance. The extended shot of a desk set symbolizes the deplorable nature of what is going on. But what about the continuity errors, the bad dubbing, and the horrendous under/over acting? Again, all of it exists to set a tone and tarnish the tales being told. Doris Wishman is a woman making movies about the corruption of woman. Her celluloid crime scene is riddled with the evidence of honor usurped, of dignity fouled. Why should it be something pleasant and contiguous to view? Lives have been devastated, so should not the film portraying said also be distressed?
Something Weird Video, fortunately, does not take this mandate to heart when creating the transfers for these films. They are the reigning experts when it comes to the digital restoration of rare black and white reels of raunch from the past decades. Both Bad Girls and Another Day are simply stunning, sharp, vivid monochrome images filling the screen with noir-like contrasts. You see everything, from five o'clock shadow to raging gin blossoms on these magnificent prints. But that is not all. SWV also probes deep into the well of Wishman's filmography and finds gripping trailers for films like Indecent Desires and Too Much, Too Often. But the crowning achievement is the use of the famous (and since they started it, much copied) Drive In Double Feature mode. With a simple click of the DVD remote, you can experience a nearly three-hour, full recreation of a night at the drive-in, from the aforementioned trailers and snack bar advertisements, to reminders to replace the speakers. But the real lost gem is a pitch for inexpensive sex guides for men and women. Those unfamiliar with the exploitation racket will be amazed to learn that, along with the show, the audience usually got a sales presentation (either in person or like here, on film), offering to provide medically explicit and instructional guides on male and female sexuality for some inexpensive price (say, $1 or $2). You could get the books by flipping on your headlights and coughing up the dough. This and other night-out features makes Bad Girls Go to Hell / Another Day, Another Man such a fantastic DVD package that even those not old enough to remember the era of the drive-in will be teary eyed with lost memories.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There is no denying that exploitation films can be fun, but they are definitely not works of art. Bad Girls Go to Hell and Another Day, Another Man are sordid tales of tacky women and the doughy men who want to force themselves on them. Unlike Wishman's nudist camp films, there is barely a breast bared in these supposedly flesh filled feasts. The woman do strip, but all we see are rear ends filled with cellulite and side shots of interesting, but unexposed breasts. There is nothing full frontal, or topless offered here. But aside from the lack of nudity, these films are uncomfortably sleazy and completely non-PC. The men seem driven by the desire to commit a capital offense, not a sex act. And the women hardly fight as they unexpectedly acquiesce. There is lots of physical abuse; slapping, beating, and whippings, and woman are raped and ravaged repeatedly with no rhyme or reason. The "roughie" is probably responsible for 40% to 50% of the initial membership to NOW when it opened its doors in 1966. After all, when woman stepped out of the paternalistic shadow of their husbands' and fathers' extended stay in the corporate and political limelight and screamed "we're as unequal as Hell and we're not going to take it any more," you can sense the work of Wishman and other exploiters fostering the fervor. Even gussied-up in a special drive-in recreation diorama, this is still one disheartening reminder of just how backward and plebian the sexual dynamic was back forty plus years ago.
These films are an exploitation time capsule. They capture a moment in moviemaking time when sex and sin balanced on a knife-edge between racy, raw, risqué and repulsive. They hold, for all time, an imagine of New York City as a soiled, grimy cesspool, ready to swallow innocence whole and spit back broads with broken spirits and bruised bullies eager to manipulate them. Wishman may not be everyone's jigger of Vat 69, but she is also not some white slave merchant selling her actors and actresses like street walkers hoping to turn a theater turnstile trick or two. There is a perverse purpose to her misplaced mise-en-scène. Her recent passing (she died on Aug 10th, 2002) means that one of the true original, pioneering voices in exploitation films has been silenced. And those who rise to condemn her should know one thing. These films did not reflect her ideals or mindset. She merely mirrored what she knew the audience and society would pay handsomely to see. She understood that the male mind circa 1965 was a mess of mixed metaphors and messages. Free love was supposed to mean more sex, right? But the judge or the salesman failed to understand that liberation meant the freedom to say yes AND say no. Bad Girls Go to Hell and Another Day Another Man are the last gasps of the male sex drive as a device for power and control. And as presented by SWV in this stellar DVD package, they are also a lasting legacy to a true torrid impresario.
Bad Girls Go To Hell / Another Day, Another Man is hereby acquitted of all charges. Something Weird Video is commended by this court for preserving both these films, and the experience of going to the Drive-In (if only imaginarily) for decades to come with this must-own DVD.
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