Friday, September 13, 2013

Popatopolis (2009): The state of the B-movie through behind-the-scenes

Popatopolis (2009)
dir: Clay Westervelt

"To do a low budget movie would take three weeks or a month.  Then, it became two weeks. And then they started shooting them in...a week..." - Monique Parent

Jim Wynorski.  A name which would live in infamy, if only he didn't have so many damn pseudonyms.  This is a man who has directed a minimum of 94 movies in 30 years.  He started out doing amazing schlock like yesterday's Chopping Mall, and The Lost Empire (a Ninja/Woman In Prison/Cop/Sci-fi/Killer Ape movie) and went through a decent B-movie phase noted by Dinosaur Island where a lost tribe of women worship a dinosaur.  Finally, he ended up in ultra-low-budget z-movie hell doing soft-core Skinemax porno the better part of the '00s.  The b-movie market had bottomed out, there was no money, and so Wynorski, with his love of the breasts, found himself doing the late night movies like The Bare Wench Project series, or The Breastford Wives.

In 2005, Jim had accepted a deal to make a movie in 3 days.  This movie would be The Witches of Breastwick, another softcore porno of negligable quality, mainly so due to budget and time constraints.  See, in Wynorski's ultra-low-budget hell, there is only time for minimum crew, minimum auditions and casting, minimum script writing, minimum equipment, and even sets.  This movie was filmed in 3 days around one house which did not have food or towels, and was out of range for cell service.

Popatopolis takes us behind the scenes of The Witches of Breastwick to show us that...making a softcore porno movie in three days with no towels and food really really sucks. Jim Wynorski doesn't care about this movie.  He cares about getting it done.  The movie is just a product, or a challenge, to him.  Which is a vast difference from when he used to care about his movies.  Or, at least when they seemed like he cared.  In 1994, he started making and releasing movies in bulk.  First four a year, then 6 a year.  His last movie not released among 2-4 others of his year was 1997's Against the Law starring Richard Greico and Kelly LeBrock.

Due to the time constraints, Wynorski is a short-tempered agitated, quippy man.  He is like a less tempered, but more rigid version of low-budget director Lloyd Kaufman of Troma fame (if you've ever watched one of those behind-the-scenes).  Unlike Kaufman, Wynorski knows where to direct his frustration, and how to finish a movie.

There are significantly memorable scenes in Popatopolis, such as the opening scene of Wynorski getting frustrated at an actress being late, and then going on a misogynistic rant about late actresses. Or, Julie K Smith not getting her lines dead on, and Wynorski not pausing to let her learn her line, but feeding it to her and then filming immediately.  He would repeat this for a very uncomfortable long period of time until she landed the line.

The whole process is a painful low budget excursion that really made for a not-memorable film.  But, it shows the state of b-movies in the mid '00s.  There was no channel for b-movies for awhile.  The home video market had dried up, and Netflix schlock hadn't picked up yet.  Syfy (then Sci-Fi) was just starting to come on board with their brand of schlock that has become infamous now with Sharknado.  B-movies were in dire straits.

After The Witches of Breastwick, Julie K. Smith would retire for a couple of years.  Wynorski would eventually go on to direct Cleavagefield (a particular favorite of mine, particularly for the song Pussy Pussy Bang Bang), Dinocroc vs Supergator, and Pirahnaconda.

If you want to see what happens when a man loses his taste for his passion but still has to do his job, this is the movie for you.

But, there's another aspect to Popatopolis that I have been slightly touching on but not delving into.  The undercurrent of misogyny and sexism that regularly occurs in porn, soft-core and hardcore.  At one point, while reading the script, Julie K Smith comments, "Whoever wrote this has a real problem with women." That comment actually has four layers to it: the viewpoint that The Witches of Eastwick is about women who are witches and need a man to survive, that soft-core and hardcore porno regularly objectifies and reduces women and men to sex objects, that Jim Wynorski is actually a misogynist, and that Ms Smith may be projecting part her frustrations with Wynorski onto the script.

In watching Popatopolis, one gets the idea that Wynorski can be a misanthrope when he's working.  He hates anybody who is pissing him off, either actively or not.  He screams at women and men constantly. He has negative things to say about everybody. But, he does have a tendency to also attack women with female-specific targets.  He objectifies women as part of his job on a soft-core porn set, but he also objectifies women in real life too.  It doesn't seem like he was always like this, though.  He used to have movies that contained strong women than didn't go around bewitching, drugging, and raping completely unrelated men for no reason.

The Witches of Breastwick has a plot consisting of a guy (played by Joe Souza) who is haunted by nightmares of three big breasted women who want to have sex with him.  He eventually goes to confront them, and they drug him and his wife before banging them. possibly against their will.  Which has almost nothing to do with The Witches of Eastwick, in which three divorcees share a man, whom they think may be the devil until he marries somebody else and they give her cancer.  Really, the book is truly problematic.

The Witches of Breastwick also has the side problem of being a soft-core porno made by a guy's guy aimed at guys.  It is meant to be a male fantasy aimed at reinforcing male fantasies about women.  In this case, a fantasy about three women who are so needy they will haunt your nightmares and then drug you to have sex with you.  Which leads credence to Julie K Smith's comment's that the writers have real problems with women.  In part, it isn't a healthy movie because it is a completely male point of view, with nothing to withhold the maleness, and even an incentive to maximize the maleness of the movie.

In the end, the movie, like any good documentary, is working on a bunch of different levels.  At the surface its a behind the scenes of The Witches of Breastwick.  Then its a character study of Jim Wynorski, and a review of his career.  Below that is a lament for the state of the b-movie.  And, worked in the edges is the sexual politics that comes with working as a female in soft-core pornography.

It's highly recommended, especially if you're fascinated by behind the scenes and movie making in general.

No comments:

Post a Comment