Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Let's Pop Some Tops

One of exploitation cinema’s most prolific filmmakers since the 1980s is the subject of this loving documentary. Jim Wynorski began his professional career working for Roger Corman in the marketing department of New World Pictures. He graduated to writing screenplays for Corman production like FORBIDDEN WORLD and SCREWBALLS and finally directed his first film, THE LOST EMPIRE, in 1984.

Since then, he has directed almost one hundred features, many of them softcore romps lensed in just a few days. POPATOPOLIS takes us behind the scenes of Wynorski’s 2005 opus THE WITCHES OF BREASTWICK, which appears to be amateurish trash far below the skill level of a director with more than two decades of experience. Of course, Wynorski’s zeal to shoot the entire feature in just three days on one basic location has more than a little to do with the film’s (lack of) quality.

As a backstage look at the making of a cheap softcore straight-to-cable flick, POPATOPOLIS is of interest, but as an examination of Wynorski’s career, not so much. You’ll learn little about the man’s personal life, except that he keeps DVDs and VHS tapes in his kitchen cupboards. About his directorial style, POPATOPOLIS director Clay Westervelt reveals that Wynorski is short-tempered, impatient, and a screamer on the set (which comes as no surprise to those who have seen Odette Springer’s documentary SOME NUDITY REQUIRED). Most of the talking head interviews are with the BREASTWICK cast and crew, which don’t give a well-rounded view of the man.

One exception is actress Julie K. Smith, who considers herself a Wynorski friend, but still finds herself often at war with him on the set. According to POPATOPOLIS, their clashes involve Smith’s desire for more time and more thought taken towards making the film better versus Wynorski’s desire to just get the damn thing done. Westervelt shows whose side he’s on by including a long scene of Smith stumbling over a simple line of dialogue, necessitating many takes while embarrassed cast and crew members look on.

Smith does bring up an important point that POPATOPOLIS touches on, but not as fully as it should. Which is that Wynorski, who did show ambition, a modicum of low-budget style, and a sense of humor in his early films, has sold out his desire to make quality films in order to pump out three-day sexploitation wonders using porn actresses and over-the-hill scream queens (many of BREASTWICK’s stars are around forty years old). Westervelt, who clearly worships the crusty Wynorski, is unwilling to delve more deeply into the filmmaker’s career choices, though that may have been a more interesting documentary.

Wynorski is—or, at least, was, earlier in his career—too talented to be churning out garbage like THE DEVIL WEARS NADA and THE BREASTFORD WIVES. So what happened? Did he lose the desire to make better movies? Is he just old and tired? Or does he really enjoy spending a weekend in the country filming THE WITCHES OF BREASTWICK. POPATOPOLIS never tells us.

Westervelt also chintzed out on the clips he chose to illustrate Wynorski’s resume. All look faded and grainy, as if taken from wrinkled old videocassettes, even though some of Wynorski’s films have recently been remastered and look great on DVD. Most tantalizing are the clips from THE LOST EMPIRE, which are presented in their original 2.35:1 theatrical ratio. Since the film, one of Wynorski’s best, is only available on a long-out-of-print pan-and-scan VHS tape from the 1980s, it’s a thrill to see widescreen footage, even though, like the rest of the clips, the video quality is tarnished.


Neil Sarver said...

I'm sorry to read this is disappointing. I agree that a good Wynorski documentary would be interesting and a lot of fun!

sakara said...

I'm...glad (?) I learned about this documentary on your site.

I checked out a clip on youtube, to see a post from a nyc kid in college, who is learning film making, and already a fan of such sexploitation movies!

You need a college degree to make schlock now days?! Even the great hitchcock, ford, and hawks didn't go to college to learn directing.

I wonder if the college kid who loves sexploitation movies is now an occupy wall street protester---cause there aint many openings for directing sexploitation schlock.