To quote Yakov Smirnoff, "What a country." Yes, what a country indeed. With July 4th here, a day celebrating our independence, what better time to reflect on the independent producers and directors that have brought us our greatest films? For as we all know, independent films are far above, in every conceivable way, the mainstream pap the major studios throw our way.
Actually, independent films can suck stagnant goat cheese like the big boys. Heck, sometimes they suck it harder. Sure there's a bunch of sad sacks out there trying to tell us that the independent filmmaker is the real deal, but when you look at who's saying it you often find that it's some whiney entrepreneur trying to get you to look at his latest DV marvel or a disgruntled postal worker, shooting his mouth off. Doesn't matter that many of these "independent" filmmakers are just trying to get in the door to a major studio and that when you "hit" with a film, you can be set financially for life as opposed to when you hit with a particularly good burger and fries, like I do every day - I'm not daydreaming on the job.
That said, independent films can sometimes rock the house and I've got a pants load of my favorite independent entrepreneurs for you to peruse, with or without clothes pin, with the hopes that you'll get off net porn and head to the local video store for a quick rental.
What's that you say? Now I'm being unrealistic.
Russ Meyer [IMG8R](Producer, Director, Writer, Cinematographer)
Russ really needs no introduction, unless you've never heard of him. This man has done more for massive mammarys then a silicon factory. Why, his films barely have enough room for the surrounding action when one of his heroines steps on screen. It's always a big show with Russ, and one of his biggest and best is the children's favorite FASTER PUSSYCAT, KILL! KILL! Now here's one exploitation film that delivers on the title. Three vicious sexpots abduct a young girl after killing her boyfriend and wind up at the house of a depraved old man and his two sons; one compassionate, the other dumb as a post. It's the sexiest good time in sparkling black and white. If you love this be sure to check out BENEATH THE VALLEY OF THE ULTRA-VIXENS and, of course, BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS - you're mother will beat you to death for it.
Is nepotism a crime? Only when it involves Arch Hall Jr. and for that Arch Hall Sr. deserves the death penalty. Only a man with the myopic vision of Mr. Hall could envision his young spud as box office dynamite. An actor, singer and songwriter, Arch Hall Jr. was a triple threat, with accent on the threat. His peculiar lack of talent was never put to better use than in Ray Dennis Steckler's crapsterpiece, WILD GUITAR; produced and co-written by dear old Arch Hall. Here Arch Jr. plays Bud Eagle, a down on his luck musician down on his luck for about five seconds until he's discovered on a TV talent show within minutes of showing up in LA. See WILD GUITAR and know why millions of home viewers are saying, "That was the worst thing I've ever seen... let's watch it again."
Mr. Perry is a pretty prolific director, though you'd never know it by the billings of his films. More often than not this delightful cinematic genius would use a pseudonym, such as Bethel Buckalew, for the movies he helmed. One of the few times Mr. Perry used his real name was on the rambling, dated, un-hip MONDO MOD. See one of the most mind-numbing time capsules of the sixties that actually dares to suggest that hippies did such lame things as dirt bike and karate. We all know no stoner would get within fifty feet of those activities (though many a pot head will profess an unmatchable knowledge of karate if you take away his/her munchies). See MONDO MOD and know why Peter Perry hid his name and went on to better films like THE PIGKEEPER'S DAUGHTER and SASSY SUE. Now them's the good stuff baby.
David F. Friedman
When asked what religion I subscribe to, I hesitate not and say the church of Friedman. In the annals of independent films, no one stands as tall as Friedman. From carney to filmmaker nobody knew how to make a buck off a rube and leave both parties smiling like Friedman. Take for example his shameless BILLY JACK rip-off JOHNNY FIRECLOUD (directed by William Allen Castleman). Same thing - Native American pushed too far gets revenge on the man but Friedman's film is better. Better pacing, better acting, a better and more daring story. It's a grand old time from the king, who, along with his other tricks, knew how to get the most bangs for his buck. Be sure to look for other Friedman classics like THE ADULT VERSION OF JEKYLL AND HIDE and THE EROTIC ADVENTURES OF ZORRO. Classy.
From skin flicks to kids flicks and no we're not talking about Herschel Gordon Lewis Barry Mahon is the bomb. Though responsible for the immortal classic HOT SKIN AND COLD CASH, let's instead look at one of this maestro's earlier gems, PAGAN ISLAND. Here a poor suck of a sailor gets stranded on an island of topless women yeah, I know, you'd rather be dead. Well that's you for ya whereas he quickly falls for the only woman he's prohibited from falling for, just like an American. Featuring lei covered breasts, you'll watch PAGAN ISLAND and say, "58 minutes and I could barely see anything." After PAGAN ISLAND we recommend you check out Mahon's classic addition to the OZ canon, THE WONDERFUL LAND OF OZ, the movie hyped as "never before shown anywhere." Gotta love that Mahon.
Al Adamson [IMG9R](Producer, Writer, Director)
In recent years Al Adamson has come to be thought of as the late '60s and '70s Ed Wood Jr. He's not. He is, however, a remarkably gifted filmmaker in terms of being able to turn un-watchable or unfinished or foreign product into rather huge moneymakers. One of the few times Adamson directed something that was his, and his alone, he created a masterpiece, SATAN'S SADISTS. Featuring Russ "SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS" Tamblyn during his bottoming out period, this movie's got it all; homicidal bikers, motorcycle chases, Regina Carrol and a soundtrack that's excellent in spite of itself ("I was born mean/by the time I was ten/I was killing/killing for Satan"). Ed Wood Jr. could never make anything this competent. After Adamson wins your heart, be sure to check out some of his other classics like HORROR OF THE BLOOD MONSTERS and DOCTOR DRACULA. You wont forget them, even after therapy.
Harry H. Novak
In my book there is only one guy who comes close to Friedman as the best of the independent visionaries, and that's Harry H. Novak. Why? Well because he produced WHAM-BAM THANK YOU SPACEMAN and if you haven't seen this, you haven't watched a raunchy soft-core film with a UFO theme and a disco score. STAR WARS may have won your heart, but WHAM-BAM THANK YOU SPACEMAN will win a place under your mattress. Novak is also responsible for bringing the world my all time favorite movie, COUNTRY HOOKER, and such family fare as FRANKENSTEIN'S CASTLE OF FREAKS and HITCHHIKE TO HELL. Mr. Novak, the world would be a worse place without you.
What's a list of independent filmmakers without the obligatory "artist?" Filling the void is none other than the truly awesome Jean-Pierre Melville, an independent from France who could tell a good story with class and wit. BOB LE FLAMBEUR is a loving homage to the American gangster picture that through its own particular twists and turns manages to throw expectations to the wind and wind up the better for it. Cool, calm and with the best jazz score, this is the French movie for people who hate French movies like the French. After one viewing you'll be tearing up your local video store looking for more Melville. Might I suggest DIRTY MONEY before you wind up killing somebody.
Mike Vraney (The Man Behind Something Weird Video)
Sure, some of these visionaries' works would have made it to the next millennium without Mr. Vraney, but the sad truth is that before he stepped in many of these directors/producers were in danger of throwing their films in the trash. Mr. Vraney is probably the most important man in the field of film preservation if for nothing more than the sheer volume of films he's salvaged and re-distributed through Something Weird. (Sure they don't always look the best, but what are the chances of finding a mint copy of SCARE THEIR PANTS OFF?) Always generous with his wealth of material, both his Something Weird VHS tapes and DVDs (the latter released through Image Entertainment) are always chock full of extras relevant in some way (sometimes cryptically) to the main features. If you only give to one film preservation company this year, give to Something Weird, and make it a big check, stingy.