In 2018 I was invited to curate a 3-month volume of content for Nicolas Winding Refn’s expansive culture website, ByNWR.com. Each month’s programming had to spring from – directly or otherwise – a particular film Nicolas had recently restored for debut on the site. In my case this trio was Bob Clark’s She-Man: A Story of Fixation (1968), Joseph Mawra’s Olga’s House of Shame (1964) and the Ed Wood-scripted Orgy of the Dead (1965).
Working with editor Jimmy McDonough, I brought together writers, filmmakers, sound artists, collage artists, photographers, scholars and collectors and urged them to investigate bizarre threads that strayed from the obvious but could be tied back to these films in some way.
As I wrote in my intro for the volume on the site:
By way of its connection to Bob Clark’s She-Man, the first chapter necessarily investigates notions of deviancy, largely through fluid representations of gender, through exploiteers’ tactics for evading censorship by blurring the line between education and exploitation, through regional space – geographically and psychically – and through the fetishization of banality, itself a statement of deviancy – what could be more perverse than finding ecstasy in something designed to squash sensation?
Darker obsessions take hold in chapter two, as Joseph P. Mawra’s New York roughie Olga’s House of Shame (1964) provides a launching point for investigating taboo, often violent desires. Whips, knives and stockings hit visual and aural pleasure-centers, acting as an unexpected complement to the subversive potential of romantic mid-century nurse novels. Likewise, the kind of cultural detritus assigned to films like Mawra’s is contrasted with very real and dangerous forms of waste promulgated by the Establishment. And again, the perceived boundary between high and low art is obliterated, here by The Wooster Group’s infamous mashup of Olga and Gertrude Stein in their experimental stage play House/Lights.
Chapter 3 is perhaps the most evocative of all, spawned from the Ed Wood-scripted Orgy of the Dead (1965), a sexploitation oddity steeped in the occultism of Weird, Old Hollywood and inviting a series of diverse meditations on stardom, glamor and spiritual transcendence. Wood also novelized the film after the fact, prompting twin pieces on the short-lived explosion of adult film tie-in paperbacks, while the psychic Criswell’s starring role in the film inspired an epic audio journey through spoken word occult records. Even houseplants get in on the act, their murder mystery-solving skills caught between two seemingly oppositional schools of thought that, as it turns out, might not be so different after all.
I myself wrote several pieces for the volume, including Hygiene and Hokum – a piece on square-ups (the best part of which was digging into Dwain Esper’s personal papers at the UCLA archive); Olga’s House of Sludge -in which I look into the nefarious history of the Olga’s House of Shame‘s central location (this was my favourite because it started out as an innocent film nerd pilgrimage piece and took me into some dark and unexpected terrain); Murder Season: The Strange World of Vegetal Detecting about crime-solving plants; and finally, The Most Beautiful Woman in the World, uncovering the history of the ill-fated adaptation of Irving Wallace’s 1974 gang-rape drama The Fan Club.
My volume appeared online in June-July-August of 2019. See the entire volume HERE >>