Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Film: Kino wie es keiner mag—Die schlechtesten Filme der Welt

(Rolf Giesen, Ullstein Buch, 1984)

Bad German-language crap, this book is actually an example of Bücher wie es keiner mag,* 'cause this book simply sucks. It is one of the few books I have ever actually thrown away after reading, and I usually save everything. On the back jacket it says that Rolf Giesen, or “Dr. Horror,” has not yet written a successful book. Could be, for this publication stands as proof that he can’t write in the first place. The paper should have been better used for toilet paper. Much more than the Medved Brothers, it is obvious in this publication that the author doesn’t even like the subject he is writing about; for the most part he simply blabs away like an idiot. More than most European countries, Germany has a long, rich and varied history of film, and like virtually every country outside of the United States, the darker nether-regions of its Bad Cinema has yet to be properly looked into, studied or documented. Giesen doesn’t even try to do so, he is satisfied simply filling pages with snide comments about easy targets—though his comments about what a loser Schwarzenegger is are pretty funny in light of the actor’s position today—and pointless jokes. His un-funny humor is particular putrid in his unnecessary synopsis of a nonexistent film in a chapter entitled something like “Films that should never be made.” A good writer capable of a clever turn of the phrase impregnated with insightful humor Giesen is not. More so, he is a poor writer incapable of turning a single phrase impregnated in any way with any humor, insight or information. The few films that he finally writes synopsizes of, he fails to give much historical information or insight to whether or not they might be worth watching as a “good” bad film, preferring instead to simply ridicule the projects. And, really, another chapter about Ed Wood and his films? (And a not very good chapter either, purloined mostly from the Medveds.) Giesen obviously hates the subject he is writing about, and it makes for a dislikable book that is painful to read. He should stay home and re-watch his copies of The Wizard of Oz or Bambi again and leave the subject of Bad Cinema to someone who is actually interested in it.
Regrettably, in Europe at least, there doesn’t seem to be anyone who is.

*That translates into "Books That No One Likes"; the actual title of Giesen's putrid publication translates into "Films That No One Likes-The Worst Films In The World".

Before and after photos (taken from the Web) of the man Giesen almost slanderously attacks in his worthless book.

The Obscure: Freaks - Collectie Akimitsu Naruyama

(Toshiharu Ito, Librero, 1999)

Great book, even if it is in Dutch. Anyone who knows both English and German can probably struggle their way through the numerous shorts texts, but in the end, much like Playboy or Hustler, one buys a book like this for the pictures, not the text. (Besides, aside from the introduction, most of the text is relatively short, idiotic and juvenile, hardly revealing any information about it subjects at all.) The photographs are incredible; Naruyama’s accumulation is undoubtedly one of the best collections of photographs of Freaks that exists. This book is perfect for someone who doesn’t give a fuck about political correctness and enjoys this type of stuff. Many reproductions are of photos often found elsewhere, but most are rarities indeed, featuring lesser known or completely unknown mistakes of nature. Good for Fanzines, art and Photoshop manipulations. Yep, aren’t we the lucky ones, despite mortgage payments, mother-in-laws, car insurance, premature ejaculation and nagging girlfriends.....

Celebrity: Wonder Bread and Ecstasy: The Life & Death of Joey Stefano

(Charles Isherwood, Alyson Publications, 1996)

Isherwood might have the vocabulary, but oddly enough, considering the subject matter, his book remains oddly superficial. Despite its 200+ pages, the reader learns little about the actual inner-mechanics of once famed and now mostly forgotten gay porn star (and bottom) Joey Stefano, born Nicholas Iacona on New Year’s Day 1968. Isherwood cops out early and, in the books first chapter writes, “As befits a legendary beauty, the early days of Joey Stefano are somewhat shrouded in obscurity.” Considering that much of Stefano’s familyand most likely most of his old, pre-porn friendsare still alive back in his home state of Pennsylvania, many more details of his childhood and youth prior to wonder bread and ecstasy would probably have been available to someone willing to do a little more research (or with a bigger expense budget). Instead, we simply learn that his Dad died when he was 15 and as a result he turned to drugs and sex to gain a feeling of being loved and well-being. Sounds like layman’s armchair psychoanalysis, and it isbut then, who’s to say all the driving forces behind his drug use, porn career and slow but steady downward spiral aren’t due simply to the early death of his Dada?
One thing for sure, Stefano was indeed an attractive, photogenic man with a major self-destructive streak. His acting abilities aside, on film and in photos he always looked good and desirable in a way few do, other than the most famous of movie stars and models. He had more charisma than inches, which is perhaps one of the reasons he remained so popular is a size-dominated industryalong with the obvious enthusiasm he displayed at the receiving end of things. Had he had his shit together, one cannot help but think that even his porn career might not have stopped him from going further as a legit model or B & Z film actor. (Maybe, but doubtful: time has proven that few true adult film actors manage that crossover, especially in a society that essentially always looks down upon gay actors even more so than straight ones; Jeff Stryker has about as much talent as Tracy Lords, but whereas she gets regular parts in bad films, he never made it past one bad Italian Zombie film. [But then Stryker's looks were never as impressive as his size, whereas Lords does have a certain sexy bitchiness that can work on film.] Indeed, even at the time when Stefano was active and vocally gay, the common claim of many a gay porno starincluding Stryker was that they were gay for pay.)
Regrettably, what Stefano had in presence and looks was obviously equaled by a lack of common sense, brains and self-discipline. Be what it may, he did enjoy a brief phase as a popular porn star, gaydom’s first big-name bottom in an industry ruled primarily by tops. A shooting star, to say the leastone that burnt out on drugs, infected with HIV. If one chucks all the judgmental moralistic ballast innate to the American society, what is the actual shame is not the life he lived or the career that he chose, but rather that Stefano simply was unable to survivenot just the business, but the world as a whole.

(Top to Bottom)
1. The book
2. A facial.
3. Demurely all-American
4. The full package

True Crime: Forces From Beyond

(Brian Lane, Avon Books, 1997)
A book that has more than enough flaws, the most obvious one being that Lane often writes as if he was being paid by the word, but which nonetheless holds its own amongst the numerous “crime encyclopedias” available. Forces From Beyond concentrates on true murders connected in some way with supernatural forces, however distant. One of the first cases presented, that of Thomas Henry Allaway, is distantly connected indeed: no psychic was ever actually involved in solving the case, and Lane includes it only because a privately published title makes reference to some psychic who “saw/felt” something that never influenced the outcome in the first place. Luckily, Lane tends to be a bit more on the mark with most of the other cases selected, and even includes a few real doozies that deserve much more recognition than they presently have, such as that of Domingo Ponessa, who killed a transsexual that had convinced him that due to magical powers Domingo became a real woman every time he dressed up as one. Of less interest are the entries dealing with witch trials of centuries ago, which are often simply padded by full excerpts from publications of the day. Likewise, the story of “The Restless Ghost” seems less a legend similar to Sawny Bean than simply a retelling of some early unexciting gothic horror story. In general, the book is at its best when concentrating on the various inane, grisly and often unbelievable murders done by Satanists, witches, weirdoes and misfits. Like most such encyclopedias, the biggest flaw to found is the brevity of the entries, especially those less renowned. A geographical index makes for easy review of one’s homeland events.

Celebrity: The Casting Couch

(Selwyn Ford, 1990, Grafton Books)
Selwyn Ford is the pseudonym of two (dead) stalwarts of the English exploitation scene of the 60s & 70s: director Derek Ford, who died of a heart attack in 1995, and the agent Alan Selwyn, who fell to cancer in 2002. As a director, Ford was responsible for such fondly remembered trash as Groupie Girl (70), The Wife Swappers (70) and Sexplorer (75). He supposedly filmed the X-rated inserts for the overseas releases of his films in his garage. Were it not for Quentin Tarantino’s vocal endorsement of Sexplorer, Ford would surely be a forgotten name today — much like Alan Selwyn and so many others working in the outer-peripheries of film. (Selwyn, by the way, produced a direct-to-video “documentary” film based on and named after the book in 1995 with director John Sealey, but the film is seemingly no longer available.)
The Casting Couch is the second book that Ford worked on after he stopped directing films in the 80s. Dedicated to all the "faceless unknowns" who failed to make it in the motion pictures and on Broadway, The Casting Couch is an entertainingly sleazy read, purporting to be a history of the use and abuse of the legendary casting tradition in Hollywood but actually much more simply another narrative of the industry’s scandals, reading like a better researched and written Hollywood Babylon but lacking the latter’s bilious undercurrent of sadism, Schadenfreude and hate.
Starting with Fred Karno, a sleazily misogynist British stage producer and supposed discoverer of Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel who tended to screw every woman who worked for him, and ending, for the most part, with yet another unnecessary chapter on the murder of Marilyn Monroe, Ford narrates many an interesting tale and more than one Urban Legend, some well-known, others less so, rarely indicating the sources but forever holding all as the undisputed truth. With the exception of a brief interlude narrating the weirdly pathetic antics of Peter Bogdanovich in regards to his murdered Playmate of the Year girlfriend Dorothy Stratton (stuff already found in one form or another in Bob Fosse’s Star 80 or Bogdanovich’s book The Killing of A Unicorn), the fear of slander and libel suits probably kept “Sewlyn Ford” from giving any real attention to modern Hollywood.
Nonetheless, the exclusion or incomplete narration of certain oft told “true” stories is odd, particularly such as that of the death of Latin Spitfire and party girl Lupe Velez, which Ford narrates omitting her headlong dive into the toilet to drown in her own vomit. Such omissions are somewhat un-understandable considering that he is so willing to include many an other equally “true” but distasteful story, such as Carol Landis’s psychopathic nymphomania, William Ince’s “true” end, Louise Brooks’ slow fall into prostitution or Clara Bow’s love for football teams, to name but a few. Still, in a scandal book like this one, nitpicking misses the general point of the publication: the puerile desire to know the misfortune of others, and a chance to revel in the mistakes, disasters and foibles of those more successful and famous than we can ever hope to be, revealing to ourselves that even the perfect not only fuck up or can be fucked up, but that they can be so much more so than we.
A few more pictures would have been nice, as would a bit more identification of the “factual” sources, but all in all The Casting Couch is a fun read despite some noticeable— primarily masculine, though more than one man in Hollywood probably had to do his time on a couch somewhere as well—names missing. A detailed index makes quick perusal easy, and almost every well-known and forgotten female star of historical importance can be found.
Now if only I had a copy of the Joan Crawford’s initial foray into movies, The Casting Couch, a silent porno film from her early days before she got reduced to playing in bad horror films.

(All taken from the web and from

Above: Fred Karno, an early practitioner of the casting couch.

2: A murdered Marilyn Monroe lying on the morgue table.

3 & 4: Carol Landis, before and after her overdose.

5: Lupe Velez's suicide as presented in Jim Osborne’s classic (and wonderfully sick) one-shot underground comic D.O.A. Comics....

The Obscure: Candy

Canary Conn, Bantam Books, 1977

The hard to find autobiography of Candy Conn, nee Danny O'Connor. Danny grew up in Texas and knew deep inside his entire life long that he was meant to be wearing skirts, nighties and make-up. A daddy by the time he was in college, he also won a nationwide talent hunt in 1968 as "Best Teenage Male Vocalist" and had a budding career as a singer and songwriter when he finally decided to give it all up and go the whole nine yards by removing a few inches and growing a few cups. Honestly written, he pulls no punches in narrating the alienation and confusion he felt both as a child, a teenager and an in-operation transsexual. His life had always been tinged with an imbedded unhappiness; her life began and remained for years a never-ending struggle simply to survive. Even if one cannot in any way fathom the feelings of a false sexuality that he narrates as having had, one is forced to accept them as real, thus making his trials and tribulations all the more wrenching and disturbing. Despite the walls he felt as a child, his family proves itself surprisingly supportive once he does the deed. As to be expected, his high-school sweetheart and mother of his child does not.
Canary had brief fame after she crossed over as an early and vocal speaker for the understanding of the plight of the transsexual, appearing on numerous television talk shows playing her guitar and spreading her political message. (I even faintly remember catching her on some talk show as a child.) In the meantime, she has seemingly disappeared from the face of the earth.

Anyone know what has happened to her? Is she singing duets with Wendy Carlos, perhaps? No, seriously: in her book she comes across as an admirable and incredibly brave person. I, for one, would like to know how and why she has so slipped from the public eye and memory after such public exposure in the 70s.

Top: The Book, available at your local Goodwill or Salvation Army.
Middle: Danny O'Connor, daddy and would-be pop singer.
Bottom: Canary "Candy" Conn while she was still in the public eye.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Celebrity: Behind Closed Dors

Diana Dors, Star Books/W.H.Allen & Co., 1979
On the American side of the Atlantic, the name Diana Dors rings few bells, other than to those who have an affinity for peroxide blonde bombshells of the past. Born with unlucky name of Diana Fluck, Dors began her career as England’s version of Mamie Van Doren more or less at the same time as Joan Olander (Mamie’s real name) as a well developed nymphet in the late 1940s. The similarities between the two cannot to be overseen: a limited amount of talent, a lot of bleach, impressive BHs, a variety of memorable and forgettable film roles behind them, comparable reputations (as outspoken, sexual beings), lives and careers that continued long past the deaths of the very stars they were modeled after (Marilyn and Jane, naturally) and, eventually, book contracts for "tell all" autobiographies. Dors foray into the world of letters predates Mamie’s by some 10+ years, first with For Adults Only and then, in 1979, with Behind Closed Dors. Nifty titles with lots of promise, but in the case of the latter, nothing more than an empty promise—100% more so than Mamie’s 1987 Playing the Field (in any given available edition). Whereas Mamie goes for the gusto telling "the full story," Dors tends to meander around her narrations, seldom giving the full names of those involved in the more licentious events, padding the book with uninteresting personal opinions about such things as if the Krays where "bad" or not, expatiating upon such mundane subjects as what Don Rickles said during this or that Las Vegas performance. The book is truly less than scandalous; in fact, it is often downright boring. The most shocking revelation she makes is that Paul Newman has a teenie weenie, but she doesn’t even bother telling how she came to know that.... actually, considering its 208 pages, the book tells very little. Neither shocking nor interesting, Behind Closed Dors also does little to make Diana likable or appealing. Perhaps one may be able to appreciate the fact that she, unlike Ms. Van Doren, was able to take advantage of the unflattering aspects of aging to not only to start a second career as a sitcom queen, but to also achieve some success as a character actress (unforgettable in that truly strange 1971 Jerzy Skolimowsky film Deep End, amongst others), but one has a rather hard time stomaching the complaints she makes about her financial difficulties and tax problems when she drives a Rolls Royce. Books like this aren’t bought for the belly-aching, they are bought for the dirt—and Dors delivers little dirt unwashed. For that matter, most of the little dirt she does deliver, unwashed or not, tends to be about forgotten has-beens, shooting stars, English no-names or similarly dreary people.
Behind Closed Dors: great title, boring book, and now that you know that Paul Newman has a teenie weenie, you have no reason to read it. Go get Playing the Field instead.
Addendum: Ms. Dors, of course died in 1984 at 52 from ovarian cancer. According to Wikipedia, at 20 she was the youngest Polls Royce owner in England.

True Crime: Bound to Die

Anna Flowers, Pinnacle, 1995
Another misogynist asshole gets his rocks off by savagely raping and killing women. In Bobby Joe Long's case, the authorities ended up pinning ten brutal murders on him, and he claims to have probably raped another 100 women. The book is low on psychological reasoning—as to be expected of a supermarket cheapie—and ends with the mandatory chapter assailing the justice system and demanding its reform so that those convicted with death penalties gets their just desserts rather than have the chance to spend 20 years on repeals. Long is one of those cases which makes it hard not to support the death penalty, that is for sure. A normal citizen, if not a bit of a loser, Bobby Joe seemed to be a regular Joe Schmoe up until his motorcycle accident. Thereafter, his sex drive apparently got a dose of steroids, for he seemingly developed a sex addiction, polishing his knob 4 times a day and in constant need of sex. A couple of failed relationships later, all that combined with the bad role models of his youth converted Bobby Joe into a sex-starved women-hater who took what he wanted and then killed what was left.
For all the praise given in Bound to Die to the teamwork between the FBI and local police forces, it is more likely a lot more women would have had Bobby's dick up their butt and throats slit had he not made the mistake of kidnapping 17-year-old Lisa McVey and then letting her go after 26 hours of hostage sex. The details that she gave were the ones that finally led the police to his door and put him in jail. Bound to Die also includes numerous photographs, both the normal passport-style pictures of his victims and a couple of truly gross scene of the crime pictures that white trash like you and me so like to go "ik" over.
: Bobby Joe is still on Florida’s death row, primarily due to his intelligent and slick utilization of the appeals process.

True Crime: Badge of Betrayal

Joe Cantlupe & Lisa Petrillo, Avon Books, 1991
Death in sunny San Diego, "America's Finest City," the type of Californian town in which the first day of tenth grade English class is spent trying to teach surf-obsessed toe-heads what a paragraph is. Twenty-year-old Cara Knott seems to have been one of those rare San Diegan students who probably not only knew what a paragraph was, but could write one too. A blond beauty with a future, she got pulled over one dark night by Californian Highway Patrolman Craig Alan Peyer. A "cop's cop," he was a by-the-book policeman and married man who loved to write tickets and pull hot babes over for any given infraction, by preference having them exit down the desolate Mercy Road off-ramp, a ramp that for all intents and purposes led to a non-existent road. There, tickets were usually accompanied by up to an hour or more of definitely unprofessional conversation and questioning, but he never touched a hair.
The night he pulled over Cara, a perfect, all-American daughter, something obviously went wrong, 'cause by the time she was found by the police—after her family found her deserted car—she was lying broken and dead at the bottom of a deep gorge. Two trials later, Peyer finally paid for his deed. Amongst other things this book shows, is that proving guilt—real or not—has less to do with truth than with competence. The first round in court was prosecuted by a lawyer that was obviously a product of the local school system, the second by someone who must have studied a little bit harder.
Cantlupe and Petrillo do a good job of making both the victim and the killer human beings, delving into both their personalities and lives, all with a minimum of bombast or aggrandizement. The murder was a crime waiting to happen, unluckily Cara was the victim.
Addendum: Despite his continual claims of innocence, with a simple “No thanks” Craig Alan Peyer refused an offer to have DNA testing done on some of the key evidence against him in 2004. That didn’t sit well as his parole hearing, so he is still in jail... where he should be.
1. Cara Knot, bright and beautiful, prior to her fateful meeting with
Craig Alan Peyer.
2. The "cop's cop" in court with his lawyer.

True Crime: All His Father’s Sins

Lt. Ray Biondi & Walt Hecox, Pocket Books, 1990
Another one of those truly unbelievable True Crime books that leaves you with the feeling that there is no hope left for the USA. Co-written by one of the cops that worked on two of the ten murders committed by Gerald Gallego and his equally sick bigamous wife Charlene Williams, All His Father’s Sins is the tale of their three year, multi-state crime spree.
Though the book is in theory more about the masculine part of the duo, it is the woman at Gerald Gallego's side who steals the story. Williams, a young lady barely out of her teens, was fresh out of her second marriage when she met Gallego. Her youthful slide into drugs, alcohol, bad grades and friends from the wrong side of the tracks does little to help explain or make understandable her later actions with Gallego, a violent braggart and petty criminal who couldn’t hold a job and often had trouble getting it up. Giving the phrase "stand by your man" a new meaning, she first acted as the lure to entrap a variety of innocent, unsuspecting teenage girls whom Gallego would rape and kill, and then later assisted him in the kidnapping/rape/murder of a pregnant hippie chick, a mother of two and a college student, as well as the murder of the last mentioned girl’s boyfriend. Unlike Gallego, who was a habitual criminal since childhood and the son of an executed cop killer, Williams was of a loving, well-to-do family and had displayed much promise as a child, making her involvement in the murders all the more unfathomable. Obviously a woman with more than one screw loose, she maintained to the end that she was not guilty of any murders because she never actually physically harmed any of the victims. The true extent of her participation is probably closer to that as presented in Michael Newton’s entertainingly concise and lurid encyclopaedia of women murderers Bad Girls Do It, but this book prefers to stay closer to the story as she eventually told it when they were caught and tried. In the end, she does get off lightly—she was eventually pardoned in August of 1997, the first year in which she became eligible—having plea bargained her way into the position of witness for the prosecution, helping to send her man and father of her child to death row. All His Father’s Sins is no literary masterpiece or insightful psychological study, its force coming less from any artistic or literary merit than from the simply disgusting nature of the bizarre crimes narrated.
Addendum: Gerald Gallego was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in both Nevada and California but kept his own state-sanctioned murder at bay through a variety of appeals. He died at 56 of Cancer at the Regional Medical Facility of the Northern Nevada Correctional Center in Carson City in July 2002. He never did admit being guilty.
After her pardon from the Department of Prisons Woman’s Center in Carson City, Nevada, in August of 1997, at forty-year-old Charlene Adell Williams Gallego dropped from the public eye. Who knows where she is now… maybe next door?

True Crime: Abandoned Prayers

Gregg Olsen, Popular Library, 1990
Chuck Kleveland, a good ol’ Nebraskan boy went a-hunting on Christmas Eve in 1985 and stumbled across the frozen corpse of an unknown 9-year-old boy lying off the road in blue pajamas. "Little Boy Blue," as the dead child was named as it slowly gained national attention in the US, remained unidentified for two years before an article in Reader’s Digest finally reached some folks who thought they might know who the kid was. This couple from Ohio led the police to Eli Stutzman, a homosexual man in his thirties who had been living an itinerant life since going on the run after the death of a man named Glen Pritchett. Pritchett, a one-time "roommate" and employee of Stutzman, was found dead in a ditch with his pants down and the back of his skull blown away. (Anyone with a little imagination can picture how Glen had his head blown away from beneath his chin as someone—Stutzman?—blew his weenie.)
Born and bred amongst the conservative Amish, Stutzman left and returned to his familiar roots many a time before finally leaving his past behind after his pregnant wife died in a highly suspicious barn fire. Cursed with a hefty sex drive and an alleged 11-inch dick that supposedly never lost its erection (oh, the poor, poor man), the egotistical, conniving, devious, manipulative and self-centered Stutzman went where his prick pointed, using the contact adverts of The Advocate and other gay magazines as directional markers.
His enviable sex drive and tool aside, Eli Stutzman was one sick puppy, always on the lookout for the next better thing, forever destroying all that he did or touched, most often at the expense of others but, in the end, destroying himself as well. Author Gregg Olsen often seems more shocked by the highly active, pre-AIDS gay lifestyle Stutzman lived than the deaths that followed him, as if his sexuality had more to do with his socially deviant and murderous behavior than his egotism and psychopathic complete lack of remorse. In the end, Stutzman more or less got away with the death of his son and was only sent up for manslaughter, but Pritchett’s death resulted in a murder conviction.
Though he got off on manslaughter for his son's death, for Pritchett’s murder Stutzman was sent to prison in Texas. There, he got to share his hefty meat with other undesirables within the Texan penal system until the Spring of 2005 when he got released on parole. Two years later on 31 January 2007, a 56-year old Stutzman committed suicide in Ft Worth, Texas. Neither his parents nor anyone else of the Pennsylvanian Amish community bothered to claim his body. Currently, now that his DNA samples can be used without his permission, a couple of other still unsolved murders of known gay men in locations where he had once lived are being reviewed.
All in all, if Stutzman's story were fiction, people would bitch that it is too unbelievable to warrant reading. Indeed, Abandoned Prayers almost reads as if some warped puritan with latent homosexual desires went off the deep end while trying to write a depressing pulp murder mystery. Were that the case, the book might have been more entertaining, but as it is the story remains as involving as it does depressing and unbelievable.
Illustrations (top to bottom):
1. The "Little Boy Blue," alive and happy.
2. An example of one of Stutzman's advertisements.
3. The "muscular g/W/m" showing off his body and bulge.
4. Out of jail and over-the-hill, Stutzman awhile befoe he finally did what he should have done long ago.

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