Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Honeymoon Killers: An Explotative Serial Killer Classic

        A classic low budget film from the 1970s that has since accrued cult status. And while the main actors are good at their roles, many of the extras were brought onboard for dubious reasons- perhaps just because they were willing to work for free- and the acting shows this. While much of the acting may be tough to get through, I am under the impression that it translates well into the romance languages, as it was much more popular outside of the United States. In fact influential director François Truffaut called it his favorite American film.
        It was banned for seemingly trivial reasons in various countries. The Australian censorship boards banned it due to obscenity. An attempt was made again in 1972, after the introduction of Australia's R 18 rating, but it was banned for "violence and indecency". A very odd decision as there is only one real scene of violence in the entire film.

Raymond Fernandez's mugshot
        The film is loosely based on the Lonely Hearts Killers case from the 1940s. A rare serial killer couple Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck killed up to 20 women between 1947 and 1949. They earned their moniker by their method of selecting victims, ie via the lonely hearts ads in big city newspapers. Fernandez, a former British intelligence agent, suffered a head wound which damaged his frontal lobe leading to his to aberrant sexual behavior. While in prison for theft, his cellmate taught him voodoo and black magic. He later claimed black magic gave him irresistible power and charm over women.
Martha Beck mugshot
         Beck was a nurse, sexually abused by her brother, with significant weight problems. She was also a hopeless romantic, devouring junk romance novels and films. She met Fernandez using the same lonely hearts ads that she lured other women in. She became absolutely devoted to Fernandez, even sending her own children away to be raised by the Salvation Army so she could further assist his criminal enterprises. She often posed as Fernandez's sister, to lend him a much needed air of respectability. Their victims, feeling more secure knowing there was another woman in the house, often agreed to stay with the pair. Beck also convinced some victims that she lived alone and that her "brother" was only a guest. Beck was violently jealous and would go to great lengths to make sure Fernandez and his victim never had sex. But when it did happen, she subjected both to her vicious temper.
          Their end came in Grand Rapids, Michigan where they met and stayed with Delphine Downing, a young widow with a two-year-old daughter. Eventually the pair ended up drugging and shooting the mother, then later drowning the child when she wouldn’t stop crying. They buried the bodies in the basement, then inexplicably stayed at the house several more days. Suspicious neighbors reported the Downings' disappearances, leading to Beck and Fernandez’s arrests.
          It was, of course, a sensationalized story. Apart from the three murders that could be positively attributed to them, the state of New York (where they were eventually extradited to) slapped another 17 murders on them, all of which the pair denied. Whether they were guilty or not, the solved crime statistics went up in New York City that year. The pair’s last words before execution were of their undying love for each other. Beck stating, “"My story is a love story. But only those tortured by love can know what I mean. I am not unfeeling, stupid or moronic. I am a woman who had a great love and always will have it. Imprisonment in the Death House has only strengthened my feeling for Raymond." And Fernandez going out with the shorter, "I wanna shout it out; I love Martha! What do the public know about love?"
          The film plays fast and loose with many of the events and characters from the real life story, despite what the opening credits claim. Some of that was for dramatic effect, others due to a lack of budget. Most notably would be beck’s contrition at the end, the historical Beck had absolutely no remorse. But a viewer can still get the general gist of the case from this sleeper.
          One additional note, apparently the initial director of the film was supposed to be Martin Scorsese, but was fired a week into shooting. This was because Scorsese was filming every scene in master shots and not shooting close-ups or other coverage, making the film impossible to edit.
          The entire film is below. Enjoy and Caveat Emptor.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Early Egyptian Sexual Poetry

          These poems only survive on papyrus scraps, bits of pottery, and flakes of limestone from the later part of the New Kingdom, though they must have descended from an oral tradition. From the decorations on the tomb walls, with nearly nude girls singing and dancing, we can assume that these songs were performed with music and dance at banquets and festivals.
          They often use the term “brother” and “sister,” which in ancient Egyptian are terms of endearment, as we would call a person “baby” or “honey”. Many poems imagine situations in which the lovers might meet. The boy might wrestle a fish from the water (an erotic symbol in Egyptian times). The girl would make her dress transparent and expose her charms to entice the boy.
                                    Am I Not Here With You?
Am I not here with you?
              Then why have you set your heart to leave?
                         Why don’t you embrace me?
Has my deed come back upon me?
If you seek to caress my thighs.
Is it because you are thinking of food
              that you would go away?
                         Or because you are a slave to your belly?
Is it because you care about clothes?
              Well, I have a bedsheet!
Is it because you are hungry that you would leave?
              Then take my breasts
                         that their gift may flow forth to you.
Better a day in the embrace of my beloved
              than thousands on thousands anywhere else!

                                      I Wish I Were Her Nubian Maid
I wish I were her Nubian maid,
              her attendant in secret,
                         as she brings her a bowl of mandragoras.
It is in her hand,
            while she gives pleasure.
In other words:
she would grant me
              the hue of her whole body.
I wish I were the laundryman
              of my beloved’s clothes,
                         for even just a month!
I would be strengthened
               by grasping the garments
                         that touch her body.
For I would be washing out the moringa oils
              that are in her kerchief.
Then I’d rub my body
                with her castoff garments,
                         and she . . .
O how I would be in joy and delight,
              my body vigorous!
I wish I were her little signet ring,
              the keeper of her finger!
I would see her love
              each and every day,
And I would steal her heart.

                              I Passed Close By His House
I passed close by his house,
              and found his door ajar.
My beloved was standing beside his mother,
              and with him all his brothers and sisters.
Love of him captures the heart
              of all who walk along the way—
a precious youth without peer,
              a lover excellent of character!
He gazed at me when I passed by,
              but I must exult alone.
How joyfully does my heart rejoice, my beloved,
              since I first saw you!
If only mother knew my heart
              she would go inside for a while.
                         O Golden One, put that in her heart!
Then I could hurry to my beloved
              and kiss him in front of everyone,
                         and not be ashamed because of anyone.
I would be happy to have them see
              that you know me,
                         and would hold festival to my Goddess.
My heart leaps up to go forth
              that I may gaze on my beloved.
How lovely it is to pass by!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Bad Dating Films from the Swell Age

The 1940s and 1950s were an odd time in the development of education. Particularly in the development of the very affordable 9mm film projector, meaning that school across the United States could afford to own multiple units. Once this occurred the educational film industry began to boom. Much like the development of computers and most currently smartboards, the use of educational shorts was considered to be the magic wand that would transform education into something easy and affordable. The educational films were often touted at the time to be  the ultimate font of knowledge for students to suckle at.  
Which of course it turned out not to be. Eventually various companies found that they could not compete with topic covering the normal range of academic subjects: Literature, science, mathematics, etc. They decided to branch off into  social guidance areas. This essentially began with Sid Meyer's classic The Dangerous Stranger, a short about being wary of people you don't know. Students at the time took these with the required pound of salt, but administrators thought they sent an "important message" so they kept ordering them.  
Among the topics covered the ones about relationships and dating are the most hysterical. As sex was a taboo subject, the films tended to flit around the subject in a ham-fisted manner, sometimes eliminating it entirely. Often the "bad relationship" or the "wrong girl/boy" are depicted as the ones having the most fun, while the good youths are boring, drab, and ultimately lifeless.  
            Below for your amusement, we have four examples of dating social guidance films. Enjoy and Caveat Emptor. 

                                                Dating Dos and Don't (1949) 

                                              Beginning to Date (1953)

                                            The Prom: It's a Pleasure (1963)

                                           Better Use of Leisure Time (1950)

Monday, September 12, 2016

Conversation on Matters Best Left Buried

“So I’m down in New Orleans right and I rent out this prostitute…”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“Who else am I gonna talk to? So I’m down there for my friends Ian and Rachelle’s wedding. Actually I’m performing the ceremony.”

 “You’re performing the wedding?”

“Right yeah. Remember I got that mail order ordination certificate from the back of the Weekly World News, back when it put out paper issues.”

“I uh…”

“Yeah yeah. I was ordained by the World Christianship Ministries and got an honorary Doctorate in Divinity for only an extra $10.” 

“But that’s not real.”

“Yes it is!... Well the state of Louisiana recognized it at least, so I could do the service.”

“I’m sure that it was truly special for them.”

“Right! So we’re out the night before…”

“The night before?”

“Before the wedding. The hotel was right on Bourbon Street so we didn’t have to drive anywhere and could just go out and get wrecked all day.”

“You know I’m not really interested.”

“No listen listen, it’s important. So at the end of the night a whole bunch of us are staggering back and the streets are filled with nothing but reeling drunks and street hookers and they all want to go back to the hotel and go to bed, but I must’ve drank myself sober because I’m still raring to go.”

“Uh huh.”

“I mean I kinda felt tired earlier on in the night, but when I get that I just drink on through it with determination and it goes away.”


“So, they go upstairs and I’m stuck out in the street by myself. What am I gonna do?”


“You there?”

“Yes, I’m listening.”

“There’s this strip club across the street right? And I figure why not? It was called the Pussycat Club or something like that…. I don’t know. It was like that but not that.”

“I wouldn’t know.”

“I didn’t think you would <Burp>.”


“Anyway, I sit there and there’s only like one other guy in there but me, and there was this stripper on stage and she was nice.”

“I don’t need the details.”

“I don’t mean nice in some bullshit Hollywood idea of beauty, but like I mean a real woman. Not some blonde stick figure with a couple of beach balls stapled under her skin. She had you know… curves.”


“Real curves and she looked soft. Like it’d be real nice to lay down with her and have her flesh caress you, and not have to worry about being poked by a tibia or a rib bone. And she had a big  beautiful nose, which accented her face, and you know how much I like those right?”


“You there?”



“YES! I’m just listening to you.”

“Okay. So after her, set she comes over and sits down and starts talking to me. I can tell she’s good because she pretends like what I have to say is interesting and that I’m real funny and stuff and it’s great, it’s great. We have a couple more drinks and then it reaches that point. You know that point?”

“No, I don’t.”

“It’s that point in the conversation when you’re talking to someone of the opposite sex when you either have to take it to the next level or it will be shut down. It’s like a chemical pheromone thing that you both just sense instantly. And if you don’t seize it, it will be gone forever.”


“So we get there and I say, why not? Right? Why not?”

“I DON’T KNOW! Why not? Why not do it and then go around and tell everyone?”

“That’s my point though. That’s my point. There was this room in the back and…”


“Okay it was paid for, but that’s not even the issue. Look remember when Charlie Sheen got busted with all of that coke and hookers. His attitude was like, ‘You don’t pay for hookers to have sex with you. You pay for them to go away afterwards.’ It’s just sex. It’s like nothing to be ashamed of, right?”

“Uh huh.”

“Right, so it’s just like it’s illegal because of society’s opinions, and those can be changed. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the act itself. And it needs to be changed….”


“I… I think that this is something that is true and we can all do something about it. It’s like the hypocrisy of the world. We can do this, we can do this, we can change people’s perceptions, if we’re all honest.”


“Honest that’s all we need to be.”


“Okay? You understand?”

“… I understand.”

“Good. Look I’ve got to go. I’ll talk to you later.”

“Okay. Bye then.”

“Love you, mom.”

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Three Ancient Chinese Drinking Songs- Li Bo

Li Bo (also known as Li Po and Li Bai) was a classical Chinese poet during the Tang Dynasty also known as the “Golden Age of China”. He never attempted to take the civil service examination, which was the primary but not sole venue for advancement for the middle class in imperial China. Thanks to his connection with an influential Daoist at court, Li Bo gained a post at the eminent Hanlin Academy, an institution founded by Emperor Xuanzong to support alternative academics and literary gifts. But Li Bo’s drinking habits and caustic personality caused him to be dismissed after two years. During the An Lushan Rebellion he joined the cause of a prince who attempted to establish an independent regime in southeast China, and after the rebellion was suppressed he was arrested for treason. Sentenced to exile, he was pardoned before he reached his remote destination. He died a few years later.
There are many legends about Li Bo’s life, aided by the blasé stances of his poetry. According to one legend, he drowned while drunkenly trying to embrace the moon’s reflection on the water. For someone who claimed in his poetry to converse and drink with the moon such an end is a very poetic story, if completely ridiculous. Most likely his death was caused by a degeneration of his body due to massive alcohol consumption and his known use of Daoist longevity elixirs, which often contained mercury, very probably had more to do with it.
The poems were models for celebrating the camaraderie of companionship and the joys of drinking wine. Author John C. H. Wu observed that, "while some may have drunk more wine than Li, no-one has written more poems about wine." Classical Chinese poets were often associated with drinking wine and Li Bai was part of the group of Chinese scholars in Chang'an his fellow poet Du Fu called the Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup.
Presented below are three of my favorite of his poems about drink. As they were originally written in was is called Middle Chinese and I’m afraid might lose some of its beauty in the translation. Enjoy and Caveat Emptor.
Drinking Alone with the Moon
A pot of wine among the flowers.
I drink alone, no friend with me.
I raise my cup to invite the moon.
He and my shadow and I make three.
The moon does not know how to drink;
My shadow mimes my capering;
But I’ll make merry with them both—
And soon enough it will be Spring. 
I sing—the moon moves to and fro.
I dance—my shadow leaps and sways.
Still sober, we exchange our joys.
Drunk—and we’ll go our separate ways. 
Let’s pledge—beyond human ties—to be friends,
And meet where the Silver River ends.
Waking From Drunkenness on a Spring Day
Life in the world is but a big dream;
I will not spoil it by any labor or care.
So saying, I was drunk all the day,
lying helpless at the porch in front of my door.

When I awoke, I blinked at the garden-lawn;
a lonely bird was singing amid the flowers.
I asked myself, had the day been wet or fine?
The Spring wind was telling the mango-bird.

Moved by its song I soon began to sigh,
and, as wine was there, I filled my own cup.
Wildly singing I waited for the moon to rise;
when my song was over, all my senses had gone.
Bring in the Wine
Look there!
The waters of the Yellow River,
coming down from Heaven,
rush in their flow to the sea,
never turn back again
Look there!
Bright in the mirrors of mighty halls
a grieving for white hair,
this morning blue-black strands of silk,
 now turned to snow with evening.
For satisfaction in this life
taste pleasure to the limit,
And never let a goblet of gold
face the bright moon empty.
15Heaven bred in me talents,
and they must be put to use.
I toss away a thousand in gold,
it comes right back to me.
So boil a sheep,
  butcher an ox,
make merry for a while,
And when you sit yourself to drink, always
down three hundred cups.
Hey, Master Cen,
  Ho, Danqiu,
Bring in the wine!
Keep the cups coming!
And I, I’ll sing you a song,
You bend me your ears and listen—
30The bells and the drums, the tastiest morsels,
it’s not these that I love—
All I want is to stay dead drunk
and never sober up.
The sages and worthies of ancient days
  now lie silent forever,
And only the greatest drinkers
have a fame that lingers on!
Once long ago
the prince of Chen
  held a party at Pingle Lodge.
A gallon of wine cost ten thousand cash,
all the joy and laughter they pleased.
So you, my host,
How can you tell me you’re short on cash?
Go right out!
Buy us some wine!
And I’ll do the pouring for you!
Then take my dappled horse,
Take my furs worth a fortune,
50Just call the boy to get them,
and trade them for lovely wine,
And here together we’ll melt the sorrows
of all eternity!

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Marat/Sade: A Play About a Play About the Marquis de Sade

            The full title of this truly unique film is The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade. For obvious reasons it tends to be shortened to Marat/Sade. This play is without a doubt one of the finest commentary on revolutionary politics and man’s inability to resolve the critical issues of our existence. It fully captures the unending struggle between the politics necessary to obtain freedom versus that which enslaves, and demonstrates how one could easily become the other.
Set in the historical Charenton Asylum, Marat/Sade is almost entirely a "play within a play". The main story takes place 15 years after the French Revolution, when de Sade was indeed committed to the insane asylum. It depicts the assassination of Jean-Paul Marat by Charlotte Corday.  The actors of the play within the play are all meant to be inmates of the asylum, with various nuns and guards around who occasionally step in to maintain order when the action gets out of hand. It is directed by de Sade himself, who take parts in it- offering up his philosophies and debating with Marat on the merits of his claims (or lack thereof) and revolution in general. It is overseen by the bourgeoisie director Abbé de Coulmier who occasionally steps in to object to some of the material presented in the play.

This is all based on actual events (though the substance of the play was entirely created by the author Peter Weiss. De Sade did perform plays with the inmates at the asylum at Charenton (now called Esquirol Hospital), encouraged by Coulmier- who viewed it as a form of therapy. Coulmier incidentally was widely praised for his new revolutionary ideas of asylum reform, as opposed to the old ways of just locking them up.
The Death of Marat (1793)
Jean-Paul Marat was one of the most radical voices of the French Revolution. His first political work, Chains of Slavery: A work in which the clandestine and villainous attempts of Princes to ruin Liberty are pointed out, and the dreadful scenes of Despotism disclosed was hailed and hated throughout France, depending on your social status. His other works contained many radical ideas, including the argument that society should provide basic needs such as food and shelter if it expected all its citizens to follow its laws, that the king was no more than the "first magistrate" of his people, that there should be a common death penalty regardless of class, and that each town should have a dedicated "avocat des pauvres" and set up independent criminal tribunals with twelve-man juries to ensure a fair trial.
During the revolution he started a newspaper championing it, after he continued attacking (and promoting violence against) those he considered too moderate or those he deemed counter-revolutionaries. Advising, "five or six hundred heads cut off would have assured your repose, freedom and happiness." During the turmoil that occurred after the execution of Louis XVI, Marat was arrested, acquitted, arrested again, acquitted again and the political landscape shifted from one dictator to the next. His life was eventually cut short by Charlotte Corday, who gained admittance to his home under false pretenses of having information on his political enemies. She stabbed him to death in his bath, where he spent much time due to a skin disease.
Donatien Alphonse François, the Marquis de Sade- from whose name the word sadism is coined- was a proponent of extreme freedom, unrestrained by morality, religion, or law. He was one of the seven prisoners freed when the Bastille was sacked by the crowd and numbered among the few aristocrats to survive the French Revolution. During his imprisonment in the jail he had been working on his magnum opus The 120 Days of Sodom (which was made into the film Salo). To his despair, he believed that the manuscript was lost during his transfer, but he continued to write. Indeed for a time he even thrived, acting as a judge, part of a hospital reform committee, and was elected to the National Convention as a member of the far left.
His works were, and still are, provocative to say the least. He often dealt in terms of sex, rape, and the abuse of power by the wealthy elite class. These were applauded by the founders of the revolution, then condemned by those same men after they took power, realizing that the vilification of the powerful now applied to them. He eventually was committed to Charlenton by Napoleon after the printing of Justine and Julliet- which were published anonymously. He stayed there until his death, apparently having an affair with the 14 year old daughter of an employee. After death his skull was removed from his grave for a phrenological examination. The bumps on his head showed nothing of interest.
The use of music in the film comments on themes and issues of the play. Unlike a traditional musical format, the songs do not further the plot or expositional development of character in the play. By contrast they often add an alienation effect, interrupting the action of the play and offering mocking historical, social and political commentary. Richard Peaslee composed music for the original English-language production of Marat/Sade directed by Peter Brook in the film below. There is no official score to the play in any language.
Marat/Sade is the best example of avant garde in the style known as “theater of cruelty” ever put on film. If you are looking for something truly different then you can do no better than this.
 The entire film is below. Enjoy and Caveat Emptor!

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Shock Corridor- Exploitation in a Madhouse

            Shock Corridor is a low budget film of a journalist going undercover in a mental institution to uncover the facts surrounding a mysterious murder. He achieves this by getting himself committed by his girlfriend, who poses as his sister, claiming that he has been trying to sexual assault her.
            If you think this is a little extreme for a 1960s picture, you are correct. But controversial is a stable diet for director Samuel Fuller’s films. The director started off writing pulp novels before moving onto films. The term “narrative tabloid” was used by critic Grant Tracey to describe the director. He never shied away from topics of prostitution, child molestation, mental illness, incest, racism, police corruption, etc. All somewhat taboo topics at the time. And while his films were not highly praised at their initial release, time has given them a second life. The French New Wave claimed his work as a major influence.
Though there certainly are noir elements
            There has been a discussion for years on whether Shock Corridor should be classified as film noir or exploitation, or both. While it certainly does have that striped down film noir feel, the sexual element- very shocking for the time- is often played here for shock value. Particular a scene where the protagonist accidently stumbles into the ward dedicated to the treatment of nymphomaniacs and is nearly torn apart by a dozen in a violent sexual frenzy. Not only was it ridiculous, but also totally unnecessary to the plot.  It is touches like this, and the reason he’s committed, which tip the balance towards to exploitation.
            Apparently the director wrote the original draft of the screenplay in the 1940s, while working for Fritz Lang, under the inferior title Straitjacket. The filming itself was incredibly cheap. It was shot over ten days. There was only one set and no exterior locations. Which helps to give the film a closed in claustrophobic feel. In fact the sound stage was so small, Fuller hired midgets to walk around in the distant section of the corridor to give the illusions of depth.
            As the film progresses, the protagonist comes into contact with the three witnesses to the murder, each suffering from bizarre delusions. The first is Stuart. Who was captured in the Korean War and was brainwashed into becoming a Communist. Stuart was ordered to indoctrinate a fellow prisoner, but instead the prisoner's unwavering patriotism reformed him. Stuart's captors pronounced him insane and he was returned to the US in a prisoner exchange, after which he received a dishonorable discharge and was publicly reviled as a traitor. The character imagines himself to be Confederate States of America General J.E.B. Stuart.
            The second is Trent was one of the first black students to integrate a segregated Southern university. The constant barrage of bigotry drove him over the edge. He imagines himself a member of the Ku Klux Klan, and stirs up the patients with white nationalist dogma and attacks the other black inmates. Third is Boden, an atomic scientist scarred by the knowledge of the devastating power of intercontinental ballistic missiles. He has regressed to the mentality of a six-year-old child.
Now while the protagonist is trying to get information out of each one, they eventually lapse into sanity and begin talking about the murder. While this is happening, the film shot in black and white, is spliced with hallucinogenic color footage. This is the part that actually makes the film, which causes it to stand one. One little artistic touch. The hallucination sequences include footage shot on location in Japan for House of Bamboo (1955), and footage shot by Fuller in Mato Grosso, Brazil for the unfinished film Tigrero.
After a hospital riot, the protagonist is straitjacketed and subjected to shock treatment. He begins imagining that his girlfriend really is his sister, and experiences many other symptoms of mental breakdown. He learns the identity of the killer and violently extracts a confession from him in front of witnesses. He then sits down and writes his story. Immediately afterwards he lapses into a catatonic state from which it is believed he will not recover.
Shock Corridor is a bizarre film that rises high above its low budget. In fact, the lack of budget is what caused the director to try innovative new techniques to make the film stand out. Which he succeeds at brilliantly.
The entire film is below. Enjoy and Caveat Emptor.