Sunday, January 20, 2013

All Tomorrow's Parties: A Look at Jill C. Nelson's Golden Goddesses

Film critic Mark Cousin's exhausting 2011 fifteen-part documentary The Story of Film serves as a frustrating reminder that mainstream film studies continue to ignore the valuable alternate history of adult, exploitation and genre cinema, as well as many of film's most brilliant fringe filmmakers.  The 'Story' of film belongs as much to what many would label 'bad' cinema as it does to what most agree on as 'great' cinema and until filmmakers as far ranging as Borowczyk, Findlay, Franco and Metzger are given their proper place along such esteemed directors as Ozu, Sirk, Welles and Spielberg then the accepted history of film is false or, at the very least, incomplete.  
Thankfully there are an increasing number of number of film critics, historians and enthusiasts who are becoming more and more vocal about the history of cinema that mainstream film authorities have been spent decades attempting to wipe out.  Author Jill C. Nelson's astonishing Golden Goddesses:  25 Legendary Women of Classic Erotic Cinema 1968-1985 is one of the best in depth studies yet that delves into one of the most notoriously ignored genres in all of cinema and it stands as one of the most important books dealing with an 'alternate' history of film since Pete Tombs and Cathal Tohill's Immoral Tales and Tim Lucas' Mario Bava:  All the Colors of the Dark.  
An epic near 1,000 page book, Golden Goddesses is made up of 25 fascinating, and lengthy, interviews with some of adult and exploitation cinema's greatest actresses.  Beginnning with Ann Perry and ending with Nina Hartley, Nelson offers up portraits of two dozen of the bravest and most intriguing figures in film history that you may, or may not, be overly familiar with.  Golden Goddesses stands in sharp contrast to the endless number of books dealing with recycled information on the same film icons who get covered year after year...Nelson's book is a shockingly new and refreshing work and remains a compulsive read from the first page to the last.  
Golden Goddesses is a noteworthy book due to many factors with perhaps the first being Nelson's incredibly refreshing non-judgmental stand and writing style.  Golden Goddesses isn't presented with the same 'cautionary tale' stand style as most books dealing with adult cinema.  Nelson shows a clear care and love for these talented artists and her goal of just letting them tell their stories (while Nelson puts their tales and work into historical perspective) is inspiring.  Golden Goddesses offers up a startling portrait of twenty-five strong women all with very different stories to tell...some triumphant, some sad but all unique and very, very real.  
While Golden Goddesses operates as a biography on the actors Nelson gathered together, it also operates as the history of this ignored genre film history so greatly deserved and I salute Nelson for her mini-reviews of the film's that come up in discussion throughout the book.  While most authors would have been content in  skirting the films (bad and good) that these actresses appeared in, Nelson understands that one of the most important aspects of each one of these women's lives are indeed the cinematic legacy they left.  
While each chapter of Golden Goddesses stand on their own as truly valuable works, there are definite highlights throughout the book.  Nelson' chat with Georgina Spelvin is quite an eye-opening look at an incredible life that includes cameos by everyone from The Rat Pack to Bob Fosse and the talk with filmmaker Roberta Findlay is, simply put, one of the most important looks at an important cult-filmmaker we have ever had.  Personal favorites include the section on the glorious free-thinking flower-child Serena, actress turned feminist-filmmaker Candida Royalle and the astonishing Veronica Hart, whose razor-sharp wit and intelligence comes through on every page.  Golden Goddesses also includes one of the final interviews conducted with the legendary Marilyn Chambers and what a bittersweet read it is.  
While there are tales (Rhonda Jo Petty, Sharon Mitchell, Kelly Nichols and Amber Lynn's in particular) that detail many of the struggles with abuse and addiction that is so often aligned with the history of adult film the main attitudes that leaps off the pages of Golden Goddesses are defiance, independence, originality and strength.  These twenty-five artists are ultimately not anyone's victims...they remain, for the most part, wonderfully rebellious free-spirits who LIVED a life and Jill C. Nelson has served them up a fitting and powerful tribute with Golden Goddesses

For more information of Golden Goddesses, please visit the book's official blog and Facebook page.   You can also visit the official page of Jill's first incredible book (a co-written work on the life and career of John Holmes) and my own interview with Jill can be read here.  Golden Goddesses can be ordered via its publisher BearManor, at Amazon or any other major bookseller of your choosing.  

-Jeremy Richey, 2013-

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