Sunday, December 15, 2013

Herschell Gordon Lewis' "Linda and Abilene"

I was always weirdly fascinated by the work of Herschell Gordon Lewis. I read an interview with him, and he was proud of having filmed everything in 35mm color. He was angry about art filmmakers shooting with handheld cameras. He always had his camera mounted on a tripod. And he always used very bright, even lighting no matter how inappropriate it was. His movies were completely artless, and he seemed proud of that, too---the fact that all he was doing was grubbing for money.

He generally filmed in master shots----one shot per scene. If an actor flubbed a line sixty seconds into a ninety second shot, he said he would cut, move the camera and start filming again from the point where the line was flubbed. He bragged about how little film he used.

On the DVD commentary on one movie, he claimed to have not wasted any film at all. There were no outtakes He used everything he shot. Obviously untrue since there was a bonus feature on the DVD showing outtakes. I think he said somewhere else that he filmed on a 1.5:1 ratio.

So I was kind of intrigued by a western he made, Linda and Abilene.

The movie starts with Abilene and her brother, Todd, standing over the fresh graves of their parents. They go back to the farm. Later, Todd spies on Abilene while she bathes naked in a stream. They masturbate that night thinking about each other. We know this because we hear their thoughts in voice-over.

One night, Abilene is standing naked in her room admiring herself in a mirror. She hears a wolf howl or something and screams for her brother who rushes in. Then they start having sex. They do this over and over in repeated sex scenes.

Todd begins to suspect that what they're doing might be wrong, especially since it was 1869 and they didn't have contraceptives. So he goes to town, hangs around with a prostitute in a bar. He tells her his sister is home alone at the farmhouse three miles down the road. A cowboy overhears, gets up and leaves the bar.

While Todd is in bed with the prostitute, the cowboy is raping his sister.

When Todd goes home and finds out, he comes back to town to fight the rapist. He beats up Todd and shoots him, but before Todd dies, he shoots and kills the rapist.

The prostitute, Linda, has sex with Abilene. Then they bury Todd and I guess Abilene becomes a prostitute. I stopped playing very close attention by then.

Some of the movie was filmed at Spahn Ranch while the Manson Family was living there. In fact, one Manson follower was a rather prominent extra in the movie (there were hardly any extras in it).

I watched it wondering if it was possible to make something other than a soft core porn film using the same ingredients, but I don't think it's possible.

Okay, you have Lewis who made sex films and gore films. Either repeated disconnected sex scenes with a rudimentary plot, or a series of gore scenes with a rudimentary plot.

Is it possible to make a commercially viable movie that crudely-made today? Is there any niche audience that would be charmed or amused by anything that poorly made? Gore has gone mainstream and with sex you'd have to compete with the massive porn industry.

Lewis started making gore movies because they had to think of something. Hollywood started making sex movies, so they had to figure out something that was in such bad taste that Hollywood wouldn't touch it. Today, I don't think there is anything that would have any commercial potential that Hollywood wouldn't freely exploit.

Linda and Abilene is available for instant viewing on Netflix if anyone's interested.

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