Thursday, November 14, 2013

A Moon in the Gutter Q&A With Author and Film Historian Casey Scott

Today I am very happy to welcome another one of my favorite writers and film historians to Moon in the Gutter, Mr. Casey Scott.  Many of you will already be familiar with Casey due to his online writing (from DVD Drive-In to The Grrrl Can't Help It) to his work with DVD companies (ranging from Media Blasters to Vinegar Syndrome) to his academic work.  I know Casey as a friend as well and I consider him on of the most knowledgeable film historians on the planet whose work has provided a lot of inspiration.  Casey can now add film-curator to his long resume as he has a truly exciting and important program coming up at New York's Anthology Film Archives called In The Flesh.  To celebrate this event Casey kindly agreed to answer a few questions for us here at Moon in the Gutter.  I hope everyone enjoys the interview, will check out some of Casey's work and, if you are in the New York area, please attend In The Flesh December 5th through the 8th. 

Hey Casey, thanks so much for taking time out of your schedule to participate in this! First off, can you tell us a bit about your background?

      Thanks so much for approaching me for an interview! This is my first time being on the other side of an interview, and I’m honored it’s for a blog I really love. Well, I’ve been a film enthusiast since I was a kid and, like so many of us movie nuts, it stuck with me into adulthood. I dabbled with the idea of making movies for a time during middle and high school, when I shot a few amateur efforts with the family camcorder and took a TV production course, where I really loved the editing process. I still do. But I decided writing and research was what I most enjoyed about the film world, so I pursued my M.A. in cinema studies at NYU and just graduated in May, so watch out, world!
Was there a particular film, song or artist that initially sparked your interest in the arts as a child?

      I can honestly say I was always an artistic child, very into books and music, and film kind of transformed my life after I started digging into the classics from the studio era. All About Eve (1950), Gone with the Wind (1939), the usual big name titles. I’m still a hardcore classic Hollywood fanatic. Turner Classic Movies is my best friend, which may surprise some people who learn I’m obsessive about adult films. Barbara Stanwyck is my favorite actress, Cary Grant my favorite actor, I love Capra and Wellman and Ford, the list goes on and on…
A behind the scenes moment in 1941 with Barbara Stanwyck and Preston Sturges.
     The classic Hollywood films of the sound era are probably the most discussed in the world but lets switch gears and talk about sadly the least discussed, namely the adult and exploitation films of the seventies and eighties.   You are one of the leading film historians on this period in the world. How did you first get interested in the genre?

     Wow, well first of all, thank you for speaking so highly of me. It means a lot! I have had a photographic memory since an early age, and that helps with absorbing and processing so much information about the genre. I just love these movies and the people who made them! My interest in classic adult stemmed from my ongoing fascination with exploitation and sexploitation of the pre-hardcore era. I followed favorite filmmakers from the soft and horror world, like Gary Graver, Roberta Findlay, Doris Wishman, Roger Watkins, and Dave Friedman, into the hard world. Before that, though, the first three adult films I ever saw were Jim Clark’s The Good Girls of Godiva High (1979), Svetlana’s Bad Girls (1981), and Gerard Damiano’s Deep Throat (1972), which were secretly recorded on unmarked Beta tapes a family friend gave to me since he knew I collected them. Based on those three films (though I have soft spots for the first two) I really had no interest in looking further into the genre. It wasn’t until I saw Damiano’s Devil in Miss Jones (1973), Graver’s Coed Fever (1979), and Findlay’s Angel on Fire (1974) that I realized there was so much more to classic adult than what I had previously encountered. Then the floodgates opened and I’ve really never stopped since.
A shot of the lovely Annette Haven around the time she shot Coed Fever.
      This genre and period has typically been all but ignored in film studies and film history in general but this thankfully seems to be changing. Do you feel like the tide is finally beginning to change and that these films, and the artists who worked on film, might finally start to get some long overdue acknowledgement and recognition?
      I definitely think the tide is turning and reappraisals are in store for the genre and specific filmmakers in general. Radley Metzger has been receiving the lion’s share of attention, but other directors like Chuck Vincent, Rinse Dream, and performers-turned-directors like Candida Royalle and Annie Sprinkle have been discussed in serious academic pieces. That said I don’t know yet if we’ll see someone seriously tackle, say, Phil Prince or Alex de Renzy outside of the book I’m working on. I’d love to be wrong! Kevin Heffernan is the man for the job if anyone does a de Renzy project. The big problem with writing about any part of the “golden age” of erotica is it’s a grossly under-documented genre. Where major studio films and even independent commercial films have some kind of paper trail and press coverage, adult films generally don’t. Primary sources are the way to go, and they unfortunately are not always around to present the full picture to researchers, or aren’t willing to depending on how far they’ve moved on from the industry. Plus some writers don’t want to go that extra mile and talk to a large number of people before writing something. The great thing about adult film criticism and scholarship is that there are many different voices out there working with varied approaches to the genre, and frankly I don’t think we can ever have enough people doing that.
      There is of course a lot of mainstream opposition in the critical community to even discuss this genre. Have you felt any of that opposition to your own work?
      Oddly enough, I personally have never felt any overt opposition to my work writing about and documenting the genre except from other similar researchers. But yes, there continues to be general opposition from different corners of the academic and critical community. In the academic world the fundamental argument of whether these films should exist is still being fought decades after Linda Williams’ “Hard Core” established a definition of the genre and why its existence matter. Authors like David Flint and Jack Stevenson, Gloria Brame and Constance Penley, and many others continue the dialogue in important and interesting ways. In the critical world, people tend to equate all adult films with the contemporary state of the industry, which is so different from how it used to be. It’s easy to forget Variety, New York Times, Newsweek, etc. reviewed adult titles when it was considered hip to do so. Now that it’s becoming hip again to like the classic films, maybe they’ll start getting more mainstream respect. Until then, the cult surrounding them is very loyal and dedicated to their favorites, as the filmmakers and performers learn.
      Okay, lets talk up about In the Flesh, the exciting program you a curating at the Anthology Film Archives! Tell us about the program.
      I’m giddy with excitement about this series! It all started when Anthology Film Archives, which is in my opinion the edgiest repertory theater in New York City, scheduled two back-to-back sexploitation series this summer, a Russ Meyer series and a Something Weird Video series. I approached Andrew Lampert, one of the masterminds at Anthology, and suggested the natural progression in the history of sex in cinema was to do a hard series. To my surprise, he’d always wanted to do one! So I offered to program the series for them, working with Steve Morowitz at Distribpix and Joe Rubin at Vinegar Syndrome, since the three of us work really well together and share such passion for these movies and their history. The great thing is that this is not a one-time series. It will be a recurring quarterly series, so in every Anthology calendar, there will be an “In the Flesh” event. Working with Steve and Joe, the possibilities are endless. The March series is already scheduled, featuring four “adult noir” titles, and Joe and I are hashing out the summer series to be a departure from the previous series. Jed Rapfogel, the head programmer at Anthology, has been tremendous to collaborate with on shaping and scheduling the series, and their publicist Ava Tews has been a dream, too.

                                                      Why did you pick these particular films?

      When you’re brainstorming a series like this, of course you have titles that jump to the front of the queue, especially when working with Distribpix and their incredible catalog of films. Two important factors made the job easier: the films needed to be screened on 35mm and they needed to have guests present to provide historical context. So we eliminated any films that were only available on 16mm (sorry, Taking of Christina) and I knew films with cast and/or crew who would possibly attend a serious appreciative screening of their work. High Rise and Through the Looking Glass were always at the top of my list, and thank God 35mm prints exist! Take Off was a major title, and I knew I wanted a Larry Revene movie because his great book just came out, he is a gifted storyteller, and the world needs to be aware of what a treasure it has in Larry. I would have been happy to show his first directorial effort, Fascination (1979), if there was a print of it, but Wanda Whips Wall Street is better-known and just as good, if not better. Veronica Hart and Tish Ambrose always make everything better.
      The program looks wonderful and I so wish I could be there. Through the Looking Glass and Wanda Whips Wall Street are two particular favorites of mine. I hope it is very successful and the first of many. What do you hope viewers take away from the series, particularly those who are newcomers to the genre?
      I wish you could be there, too! The bummer about the series is that it’s not a traveling roadshow. I’d love to take these films to different venues around the country so that all their loving fans could see the classics on the big screen, as they were meant to be seen. Maybe if you or any of your readers suggest screenings at the local repertory or independent theater, we can head to you! I think it’s a strong possibility if the interest is there. The reason I wanted this series to happen was specifically so these films would find a wider audience. Anthology’s audiences tend to be inquisitive and adventurous, and have great taste, so I hope they discover some new favorites and might develop curiosity into what else the genre has to offer. If the audience comes away singing the High Rise theme song, with goose bumps from the ending of Through the Looking Glass, moved by Take Off, and cheering for Veronica Hart after Wanda, I will be a happy man.

      As a wrap-up I was hoping you might share some personal favorites with us. Could you perhaps name ten or so vintage adult films that you think are seriously in need of rediscovery. Also, are there any particular performers of filmmakers that you would particularly like to see rediscovered?
       Wow, that’s a great question, and so different from the expected “list your favorites of all time”! Um…I’m gonna cheat and give you a lucky thirteen.
High Rise (1972) – We’re showing it in the Anthology series and it’s the least-known of the four, but should be wider regarded as the best early adult comedy. The soundtrack is Hollywood-caliber.
Resurrection of Eve (1973) – It’s way better than the Mitchell Brothers’ better-known Behind the Green Door and is also Marilyn Chambers’ best film.
The Seduction of Lyn Carter (1974) – Anthony Spinelli’s most neglected masterpiece, where Andrea True blows my mind as a housewife in an abusive affair with Jamie Gillis that she secretly enjoys.
Easy Alice (1976) – This is a marvelous meta film about the off-screen adventures of a San Francisco adult star, Joey Silvera, who also reportedly directed the film.
Punk Rock (1977) – Carter Stevens is all around underrated, and I think this is his best film tied with Pleasure Palace (1979). See both, they’re quintessential “adult noir”.
Skin-Flicks (1978) – Damiano’s most underrated film, wall-to-wall great performances, with special note made for Sharon Mitchell as an adult star eager for true love.
Tropic of Desire (1979) – Bob Chinn weaves a fascinating story of a WWII-era brothel in Hawaii. A personal favorite of Bob’s and I concur.
Randy (1980) – The one adult film from Phillip Schuman, this sex comedy following a clinical study of ‘anti-orgasmic’ women seeking a solution to their problem is one of the best films you’ve never seen. The theme song is a catchy gem.
The Seductress (1981) – Another of Bob Chinn’s most underrated, out of a filmography that needs more attention in general.
Mascara (1982) – Lisa de Leeuw and Lee Carroll are superb as, respectively, a sexually frustrated working woman and the prostitute she enlists to help her broaden her horizons.
Nasty Girls (1983) – Ron Sullivan’s most unsung “day in the life” film, following a group of people over one night at a bar as their lives intertwine.
American Babylon (1985) – The Roger Watkins film too few people have seen.
Getting Personal (1985) – Ron Sullivan directing Herschel Savage and Colleen Brennan as mismatched con artists. Funny, touching, beautifully acted. One of the last great FILMS in the genre before video took over.

      Performers in need of rediscovery: I mentioned Tish Ambrose earlier and she was a tremendous actress that needs a stronger following. She is easily one of my picks for best adult film actress of all time. So is Sharon Mitchell, who I think many take for granted given her years in the business. She hits all the right notes in her acting performances; so does Lisa de Leeuw. Merle Michaels is a favorite cult icon with superstar quality, and I’d say the same about Sue Nero and Desiree West, Suzanne McBain and Nicole Noir, Misty Regan and Jeanne Silver, the late Arcadia Lake and Kandi Barbour.

The much missed Kandi Barbour, who we lost in 2012.

      I’ll stop there! As a gay man, there are underrated studs like Jeffrey Hurst, Ron Hudd, Mike Ranger, and John Seeman I would follow anywhere. Their wives are very lucky!

      Directors in need of rediscovery: Alan Colberg was consistently great, as was Jeffrey Fairbanks, and both only made a handful of films so their names are not widely known as they should be. Two directors who are big names yet still don’t get the full credit they deserve are Bob Chinn and Ron Sullivan (Henri Pachard). But the most underrated are the French classic directors, like Claude Mulot, Gerard Kikoine, Francis Leroi, Didier Philippe-Gerard, and Claude Bernard-Aubert. Their films aren’t widely available here but they are almost always a guaranteed bargain.

Awesome Casey!  Thanks so much for participating in this and I wish you all the best of luck with In the Flesh and all of your upcoming work.  I look forward to doing another one of these down the road to discuss more of your upcoming projects. 







William S. Wilson said...

Excellent interview! I love that Casey is paving the way for the inclusion of adult films in serious film criticism. And I just got TAKE OFF on DVD!

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks so much for reading and commenting William! It is much appreciated!