Friday, July 12, 2013

POPATOPOLIS Or, How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love B-Movie Bombs

Heya! As you probably figured, Netflix nixing the community aspects of the site made the original intent of this site impossible. So with that said, I actually have some free time and Netflix Instant in front of me for a while, so I'm using this space to explore one of my favorite finds:

POPATOPOLIS, dir. Clay Westervelt, 2009. "Popatopolis follows veteran B-movie auteur Jim Wynorski as he attempts to produce the soft-core film The Witches of Breastwick on a three-day shoot. Working with a tight budget, he focuses on his filmmaking philosophy: 'A Big Chase and a Big Chest.'" - (I like imagining super serious English professors writing Netflix summaries of stuff like this as a sidejob.)

I was thinking about Andy Sidaris when I thought of re-watching this, fyi. As you do.

By the way, this is the current IMDB score of the movie. You kids!

So we begin the film with our hero waiting in a parking lot. A woman was supposed to meet him for an audition, and she's 40 minutes late. This has to be a meter in Hollywood for success: You keep the talent waiting, you got the power. The talent keeps YOU waiting, nobody has any power and they probably stopped at a Jack in the Box on the way there. So I say that, but then Jim says this:
Wait for it...

Wait for it...

Wait for it...
... what's the lesson, Jim? You said nothing prior to that, and nothing following. The actress seemed to show up shortly afterwards, and the only feedback we see is that he may not be a big fan of her heels. So... is the lesson that as stupid as the chicks in Hollywood may be, they can keep the director of THE BARE WENCH PROJECT waiting in a parking lot? Is the lesson that the promise of big boobs can tame even the grumpiest of hairy straight-to-video auteurs? Loud n' clear, Big Jim.

WHATEVER, WE GOT ROGER CORMAN TALKING. You know how everyone trots out names like Ron Howard, Joe Dante, who's-his-face and Sir EtcEtc when talking about who Corman helped to start out? Well count in Jim "Heavy Metal Parking Lot" Wynorski in that list, pal. (How great would it have been if he married Mary Woronov? Then she could have been Mary Woronov-Wynorski. Say that out loud, if you do it right you'll sound like an old timey ghost.) 
So Roger tells us about this young exploitation kid hanging around and learning the trade, while Jim gives us a tour of his Home of Nary-A-Chick. He says he has videos everywhere because he doesn't live with a woman, but I am a woman and I have the same issue so maybe the problem is us, Jim.

(I did notice he had a poster for the young Jennifer Love Hewiitt vehicle "Little Miss Millions" in his room. I'll admit it creeped me out, until I found out he directed it! That movie came out when I was 9, so I feel I can now claim I was watching Wynorski since childhood. I am going to get laaaaaid.)

You know what I love about Lloyd Kaufman? Everything. Moving on.
Tom Savini is in every documentary ever that has any kind of tenuous link to movies, have you noticed that? He is, and he loves EVERYTHING. If I got to be Tom Savini I'd be in a pretty good mood too, I suppose. Well he's here and like all of us, he is appreciative of dinosaurs and babes in loincloth.

There is a sadness I feel in this film, and it's a sadness that isn't connected to "creative people having to hustle for money" or "creepy directors treating everyone like meat", although that is there. No, this sadness starts to lick at my heart when we see clips from Wynorski's early films like THE LOST EMPIRE, and the brightness in his eyes as he shows us the film posters...

We were so innocent then.
... and starts full-on biting me when the main thrust (HAHAOK) of the film appears. This is not just a look back at a fun, low-budget career; this is about a thing. This is the thing. 

This is the kind of thing where we're supposed to sit back and whoop, "Wooo! Maverick! Throw that fucked up shit together!" The people he's grabbing to work on it, however, are collectively dreaming about shooting themselves in the face. See, you aren't in college anymore. You are expected to pull nothing together to make a something that will actually turn a profit, because now you all have kids and need health insurance and have house payments. On top of that is a simple recipe: Three days + no money= everyone gets treated like shit. 

Monique Parent comes on, and ohmygawd I hope I look that good five years ago. Anyway, she has the exact expression and tone of a single mom who's sitting in a parent-teacher conference, explaining to a bad teacher that the reason her son acts up in class is because his dad ran out on them a few months back and she has to work 16-hour days and they can't always swing the money for the kids medication. In short, she's wary, tired but has a shred of hope that BREAKS YOUR HEART because sometimes lovely women end up getting used and the whole world is a toilet, ya know?

Her and other actors explain to us that low-budget films usually take three weeks or a month to film. "Then it became two weeks," Ms. Parent says. "Then they started shooting them in a week..." Oh boy, eh? Keep in mind, these are (nearly) full-length movies, not Youtube clips. Then her voice shakes and cracks a bit when she delivers this: 

You don't even bother to clean your room for her, do you?
What are you, a human? Gross! Back to Big Jim, who tells us all you need a Big Chase and a Big Chest in your movie and you're a winner. Smart then, that he named the movie THE WITCHES OF BREASTWICK. Witches tend to chase things, and Breastwick makes someone think both of big boobs and a possibly tasty breakfast sandwich so why isn't this guy a billionaire already?

If you're anything like me, you sometimes look at a massive list of credits on a film and wonder, "How do they keep them all straight? Does a director really control all these people? Where are my keys?" When I was waiting at the end of IRON MAN 3 I actually kind of panicked that so many people actually existed. Well Jim has thought of you and I, unseen chum, because he just needs a 2-person crew for this nonsense.

He ain't gonna feed nobody.

So he tells people to get "lights that light breasts really well" lol then to make up for the low payment they "get to be around beautiful naked breasts all the time" lol. I KNOW he's aping this up for the camera, but how much? Maybe he's pulling back? I always thought that while Russ Meyer was obviously attracted to well endowed women sexually, he seemed to tire of talking about them and was probably pretty cut and dry around them on set. Otherwise he'd overdose, and hate boobs forever. Don't let that happen to you, Jims- them boobs are your bread & butter if you had space in your kitchen for bread and butter.

Maybe I'm wrong, because it'll be an adventure! He's getting a cabin that can hold 12 people, and they all get to share! He calls it an "experiment", which would be fun if you weren't working for someone who seems to be completely disinterested in the people around him. Oh, also there's no food. Let's see how Monique Parent takes that news, shall we?

She's so classy. I'd be punching him to tenderize the meat, screaming, "WE CAN EAT YOU, JIM. WE CAN EAT YOU."
No towels are there, just two washcloths. Nobody knew they had to bring towels, so they actually borrow some from the people from the towns bar. They tell this to Jim's face while laughing good-naturedly. You hope Jim would laugh back, and say "I'm sorry guys, I'll take care of that." Well, he DOES laugh! Then suggests each washcloth can cover a breast, hugs the actress and says "Hey, nice to see ya." We don't see Monique in this scene, so I assume she's in a closet, putting the finishing touches on a Wynorski voodoo doll.

So the actors share pretty funny stories about Jim's low criteria for auditions while we wait for Stormy Daniels, who I appreciate having the kind of name where I don't have to Google to figure out she's worked in porn. (No judgements... except some of those names. Adorable?) When she finally arrives, she has the kind of complaints I don't really sympathize so much with. Yeah, actors get used to a certain amount of pampering- even with a low budget- but these are concessions that I think would be pretty obvious you'd be making. 

"I had to drive myself... and I'm BLONDE." I'm sorry, I blame this movie.
I'll admit, I am surprised that actors on porn films and low budget horror/exploitation flicks get driven to the set. I guess it'd suck if it was far away... but a three-day Wynorski movie? Sorry, Stormy, but half the cast has already licked the side of the oven for some kind of sustenance, so you'll have to work on your complaints a bit. Oh, there's no makeup artist? Stormy, you innocent baby unicorn.

I have two favorite scenes of this film, and of course one involves Monique Parent. (The other I love because it's freakishly uncomfortable, so stay tuned!) Here's #1, which is on the heels of us finding out one of the characters is a "hooker witch":

"So a couple of rum and cokes and the anger comes out, eh?" Julie K. Smith says. Then Jim yells, "Guys, we're making a movie back here, ok?"
Jim is one of those guys who you meet at a convention, and he seems cool. You could totally have a beer with the guy, if beer wasn't so gross but with such a fascinating history. He's the kind that can turn on the charm, and while he's no George Clooney, he's pleasant to be around. 

That all changes when filming starts. It's no secret that filmmaking is frustrating and tough, but when you mix a three day shoot with expecting things to run smoothly with a two-person crew and no money? COME ON. SERIOUSLY. DON'T BLAME THAT ON THESE PEOPLE, THEY'RE STARVING AND USING BAR TOWELS AND EVERYTHING SMELLS LIKE TANNING LOTION IN THIS EMPTY CABIN AND ONE MIRROR ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?!?
The actors back this up, saying he's rough when things don't go well. Some people deal with frustration by being cruel to those around them, and Jim is that kind of guy. Why take my word for it when you have it from the Penthouse Pet of the Month for February 1993?

Jim Wynorski has Chuck Klosterman hair. This came to my attention when he was throwing a tantrum with a phone. Sadly?, he didn't go into a spiel about KISS and baseball afterwards.
The best line of the picture pertaining to Jim belongs to Langston Ball, the sound mixer. "His directing style is sort of an angry Gandalf meets Gary Coleman." Haha, nice nightmare fuel there, Mr. Ball!

To give you a taste of how obviously sloppy this operation is, we have two actors in a small scene. Jim says "Great, let's move on." The camera guy says "Uh... oh, did you want that?" Jim never said "roll camera" so they had to do it again. Sound had no idea he had to record, either. Way to save time, Jimbo.

Ooo, a montage! It's of Jim saying "I hate it", "I beg of you", "Fuck it, here it goes", "Pop those tops" and "Here's something the whole family will enjoy." (You see him saying that to little Jennifer Love Hewitt too, right? He was snickering in his mind. Now she plays a lady of the evening on television. THANKS, JIM. I used to idolize her on Kids Incorporated and now what?) It ends with Julie Strain (Swoonsville, Population: Everybody) telling us about him screaming "Run you fucking monks, run!" on the set of!...

I just really wanted to post this, forgive me. 

Aw, now we meet his sweet mom... I can't say anything about the guy now. They even showed his childhood book collection! I can't hate on someone after seeing their book collection, unless it has (insert whatever thing you hate so you think I'm cool here.)

She mentions that he has "The Hungarian Temper", man... I bet Joe Ezterhaus has that too! I can't be mad at any of these guys. She's so cute, I love her. She just barely knows that her son is a director. "All he ever told me was, 'Mom, this movie is coming out. Don't go to see it, you won't like it.'" Cue clip from 976-EVIL II. Then we see a scene from THE CHEERLEADER MASSACRE, and it turns out when one of the cheerleaders calls her mom, they were actually calling Jimmy's mommy. "Have you heard? There's a killer on the loose!" So, SO cute.

She HAD seen CHOPPING MALL, calling it a "wonderful picture." That's my favorite Wynorski too, Mama Jimmy, and I agree. It's also an important piece of the Kelli Maroney Mall Trilogy, along with NIGHT OF THE COMET and FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH.

Then a hero comes along...
This is getting too gooey, isn't it? Well lucky for us, it's time for my other favorite scene! Here we find out that Jim is NOT sexist, he is an equal opportunity exploiter of people.

Joe Souza is our lead man, and has been affable and easy-going the entire time. Now he has a big love scene against a tree with Stormy Daniels, who is having a bit of trouble with knowing how much she's allowed to do and show. That in mind, everything is going fine until... Joe's face ruins Jim's spank bank image. He ruins it by having a face.

Jim sounds SO disgusted at Joe for not facing his head towards the woods that it's kind of hilarious. Stormy tries to take some blame off him, but to no avail. Jim wants a faceless dude in this sex scene, and Jim's gonna get it. Start from the top, which is already popped. (I probably would have teared up if someone talked to me the way Jim talked to Joe, so props to him.)

We talk a bit more with Julie K. Smith, who's known Jim for years. Her and Julie Strain note that he goes more softcore now for financial reasons, and while he can sleep at night, part of it kills him that he's not as creative as he once was. I believe that, because I've seen his early films and I'm good at reading faces; his face during this betrays an unfulfiilled, stressed out guy. As cheesy as you may think his early stuff was, it was fun, original, and you could tell care was behind it. He wasn't making brilliant stuff, but he knew how to make them fun. You can see that things like THE WITCHES OF BREASTWICK are made out of frustration and sometimes desperation, else it would have been done as something like a comedic short film with improv elements. 

The taste of sadness comes back when they show how clever Wynorski was with editing and using stock footage bought wholesale off Paramount. He was having fun being creative, and that came through on screen. Everyone is miserable making WITCHES, and no amount of celluloid boobs can detract from a bad time.

I like enthusiastic, passionate people to the point that I'm still rooting for Wynorski. At the end of this documentary, Corman says, "Jim is a better director than he thinks he is", and I actually agree. Nobody has any expectations for a movie called "Witches of Breastwick" beyond... well, breasts. If Wynorski was given a great script, money, time, a real crew and a seasoned cast? That would be even more pressure then a quick low budget piece. He could do it, though, but he may be too good at underestimating himself at this point. Also, maybe some anger management classes?

So he finishes his "experiment" on time and on budget, so I can really go jump off a cliff for all my jibber jabber.

Julie Strain lays out that there are only A-movies and C-movies now, and that we're missing the middle rung to the ladder. She didn't just appear in these films for a quick buck, she really cares and knows what she's talking about. Cards at the end announce a few of the actresses retirement. The end of this seems to shrug and say, "at least we have everything on tape."

Damn right.

Now he's making stuff like PIRANHACONDA for SyFy, and I think that's perfect. Push the man back towards the weird stuff... there can still be busty ladies in it, but don't make them carry the thing.

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