by Dean Brandum
Alighting at the Elizabeth St exit of Flinders St Station, you’ll be greeted with the sort of view that seldom makes the Melbourne tourist brochures. Get past the newspaper hawkers and you’ll be greeted by a run of natty shops on either side of the Elizabeth St intersection. Crossing the wind tunnel of a road (there always seems to be MacDonalds rubbish billowing around your ankles) you can then wander down Elizabeth Street. You won’t see much of interest – it is the type of street not designed for a stroll, you only ever go there if you have a reason to, or on the way to get somewhere else. Some shitty little souvenir stores dot the path, along with those shop fronts that open for a few weeks to cash in on the Grand Prix and other such communal wankfests. Eventually you’ll make it to the motorcycle strip if that is your thing or the backdoor to Melbourne Central (Highpoint with trains). For those of us with a more discerning and slightly devilish bent we can spot Minotaur Books, Inferno Video and that import DVD place I can never remember the name of. Afterwards there is the Stork hotel to enjoy a quiet ale as you peruse your purchases. To most of us that is pretty much it for Elizabeth Street. A bit shabby, pretty grubby and where the rents are cheap(ish). You are guaranteed to be asked at least once for money and you’ll probably have your eyes fixed to somewhere distant – somewhere else.
Most of you have wandered that strip and have probably quickened the step just a little bit more as you pass the Crazyhorse Cinema on the corner of Elizabeth and Flinders Lane. Maybe you have skirted it on the way to Missing Link records and have tried to avert eye contact with the businessman sheepishly sneaking out the pornhouse’s side exit. Its garish neon and peeling grey exterior adorned with panels of pouty-lipped gals have the aura of sleazy delight but you’d never fall for thinking it was a sad shadow of a once proud burlesque house. And it wasn’t. If you take the step and venture down the Crazyhorse stairs you’ll find…not much at all. Greeting you is a ticket booth staffed by the affable manager Steve, who’ll give you change for the peep shows (two bucks a throw…or is that a toss?) or sell you a ticket for a seat in the cinema (valid for 12 hours – better value that a metcard!)The peeps are on the left and the cinema entrance to its right. Seating an exact hundred patrons, its screen is akin to that of one in a a small arthouse multiplex and the seats surprisingly comfortable and without the expected pong of pine-o-cleen. Offering pensioner discounts and generous rates for bucks’ turns, the Crazyhorse operates 24 hours over weekends. This was how I first encountered the cinema, around 20 years back after I missed the last train home one winter’s evening. With only a few quid in my pocket I figured that any all-night café would soon lose patience with me sitting on a couple of cups of coffee over 5 hours so I ended up at the Crazyhorse and dozed off to the grunts and groans of some long forgotten late 80s porn loop (if I recall correctly Ginger Lynn was the star…but wasn’t she the star of all of them around that time?) I tell ya though, a lot of places could take a leaf out of the Crazyhorse’s customer service manual. At 5am I was given a soft tap on the shoulder and told that my first train home would be leaving shortly. I stumbled out into the darkness and managed to knock off a tray of donuts from out the front of a nearby milkbar along with a newspaper from the freshly delivered pile and shuffled off home.
I have never had the occasion or desire to revisit the Crazyhorse. Hardcore porn generally bores me (although Michael Ninn’s stuff interested me for a while) and if I ever have the desire to peruse such material I do so in the privacy of my loungeroom. A few weeks back I returned to the Crazyhorse in preparation for this article and found not much had changed. I had a friendly chat with the manager of 20 years who seemed quite bemused that anyone would be interested in reading about the history of the place. Short-staffed that day he generously gave me a look around, detailing their policies and practices and basically explaining that the Crazyhorse has had to fight pretty hard against an increasingly prudish council and society to remain running. From what I saw during our chinwag it was hardly a clientele of perverted psychopaths lining up for tickets, instead it was a few old pensioners and a couple of jaded guys in suits. Men whose wives or marriages had passed on, getting a brief thrill before returning to their gloomy loneliness. If that makes the whole enterprise sound rather sad and depressing then it is only describing the reality of the adult theatre these days, although it was explained to me that there are often couples purchasing tickets along with footy club groups and even hen’s nights. Whatever is screened is from an anonymous DVD. Almost nothing specific has been advertised in 20 years so the days of being intrigued by a certain title have long gone. Since then it has just been the promise of sex – as to when they went ‘hardcore’ is a hard (heh) fact to pin down. That seems to be a taboo word – ‘non violent erotica’ is the preferred expression and although I was told it is entirely legal I was left with the impression that the whole area could best be described as ‘shady’.
So why devote so much time to the Crazyhorse, an anonymous grindhouse churning out one dispiriting porn loop after another? Surely I have told all there is to tell? Well, it wasn’t always that way. No, the Crazyhorse was never a grand picture palace that has since fallen on hard times. It always took the lowest rung on Melbourne’s cinema ladder, but did you know that this little theatre is the longest running in the CBD? Yes, since 1951 that premises has been operating and it has outlasted all of its contemporaries. The Regent, the Odeon, The Barclay and the Metro have long closed or have met the wrecker’s ball. The Capitol and State were converted in that time and only open now for festivals, Hoyts and Village both built much heralded state-of-the-art multiplexes that have come and gone. Fewer and fewer people venture into the city to see a movie these days – the suburban mall is the venue of choice, yet the Crazyhorse has quietly kept persevering, now into its sixth decade. But let’s start at the very beginning, as it’s a very good place to start.
In 1951 Melbourne had four cinemas specialising is screening newsreel programs. A fifth joined them that year when The Star theatrette (renamed the Crazyhorse in 1985) opened in February of 1951 at 34 Elizabeth Street, in the Basement of Carlow House, a building still intact and renowned for its distinct architecture. From the blueprint of Harry Norris and finally finished in 1939, Carlow House is one of Melbourne’s finest examples of art-deco design. On its opening the building housed the popular Croft’s grocery store at number 32, stretching around the corner into Flinders Lane. The Star took over the premises of the old Carlow House coffee lounge. The managers of the new cinema were the husband and wife team of Tom and Billie Virgona. Tom had been experienced in Sydney newsreel theatres before this venture south of the border and his father had been a well-regarded cinema operator in NSW.
Initially the Star seated 238 patrons and their diet was one of Paramount newsreels and shorts, along with a selection of short films for Warners, Columbia and RKO. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of a newsreel theatre, it operated on a program of around an hour, comprising of a weekly newsreel (highlights of world events), along with a number of cartoons (Tom and Jerry, Popeye etc) and a short film, perhaps a Pete Smith Speciality for a laugh or a Scotland Yard mystery for something a little heavier. Often highlights of a recent prizefight or Wimbledon tennis match would be the main attraction, but for that matter it may be an operatic performance or a tour of a famous art gallery. There were rarely set times for programs and customers could walk in at a whim and stay as long as they wished for a program run continuously throughout the day for the cost of a ticket far below that of a standard cinema program.
Now all of the major chains offered newsreels as part of the program in most of their theatres and they had the benefit of providing local newsreels, giving viewers the chance to see Australian stories and content. This was a luxury unavailable to The Star. Undeterred, the Virgonas improvised by filming the Melbourne Cup themselves one year and running it on the screen. In time they made a deal with British Empire films to provide the Cinesound Review – an Australian newsreel – and they were now on similar territory to the other newsreel theatres a few blocks away.
And so the Star and its competitors (including the Tatler and Albany on Collins Street, the Century on Swanston and the Times on Bourke) continued on throughout the 1950s. News, cartoons and featurettes, week after week. No, this could not last and you don’t need me to tell you that it was television was the culprit. America and Europe had already felt the effects of box and, combined with the break-up of the studio system and the diversity of post-war pursuits favoured by the now expanding and more affluent middle class, the industry was in crisis mode. In 1956 television was introduced to Australia and its effects were immediate and quite devastating. Within a year cinema audience numbers fell by 5 million. By 1961 admissions were down 52% on 1956 figures.
In this atmosphere of panic and paranoia the exhibitors could be excused for their near-sighted and knee-jerk reaction. Instead of a reluctant embrace of their new competitor and the forging of a symbiotic relationship they decided on a course of defence, then attack. Venue numbers were slashed, with the suburbs the hardest hit. 33% of Melbourne’s cinemas had closed by 1959 and many lovely suburban picture palaces met the wrecker’s ball or were converted into warehouses, shops and reception rooms. This streamlining of resources also saw both the massive State and Capitol theatres close in the city, to be later re-opened in smaller, most cost-efficient versions.
Drive-ins were opened across the suburbs with strong appeal to younger viewers and various new innovations were tried to lure back viewers. Some succeeded (stereo sound, widescreen projection) but others found their novelty did not last (3-D). Into the early 1960s the industry kept its head above water and by the middle of that decade the audiences left their loungerooms and began returning to the movies. New (smaller) theatres were built and film production increased. The industry had survived its greatest test.
One of the casualties of the introduction of television was the newsreel show. By the time it had cranked out of a theatrette’s projector, news footage had long since been transmitted into the lounge rooms of the potential audience. The other components of the programs – cartoons and short subjects – were plentiful fodder on the tele. The newsreel theatrette was obsolete within a few short years. Oddly enough, as the grand palaces were turning out the lights for good, all of Melbourne’s newsreel theatrettes managed to adapt and survive. The Tatler led the charge by changing its name to The Curzon in 1961 and initiating a policy of mostly foreign fare – a mixture of critically acclaimed arthouse hits and some rather risqué material. A couple of years later the Albany followed suit, but they seemed to favour more generic tastes, giving a good run to lots of thrillers and sword and sandal yarns. Around the same time Century joined them and they screened a similar output. The Times (located under the Odeon Theatre) stubbornly refused to drop the newsreel policy until 1968 when they leapt straight into the flesh film bin.
The Star had flirted briefly with a non-newsreel program, offering the odd feature length documentary as a main attraction, often with some healthy audience interest. However, for this article I’m going to pinpoint the Star’s changeover to full-time features as September 26th, 1963, for this was the opening date of Varietease, the Irving Klaw strip classic starring Betty Page. I’ll admit I am cheating here a little as when that film finished its run after three weeks the cinema went back to a newsreel program for a further eight weeks, before ditching the format permanently. But gee, how can you leave out a film of this importance in such a study?
This gaze back over the history of the Star cinema will be divided into 4 time periods, beginning with 1963 – 1971 (actually October of ’71) which is the pre-‘R’-certificate era. Further still, each of these periods will be divided again, into discussions focusing on various themes, genres and other such movements found in the films playing during those particular years.
For the Star was a barometer of the public taste in adult cinema. Also, when reading over a listing of the films that graced its screen, one can see definite trends emerging and then evaporating, certain narrative themes being key selling points and various countries being the key suppliers at different times over the cinema’s history. In many ways the Star was a microcosm of adult film exhibition within Australia. Of course the state of Victoria never legally allowed the screening of hardcore pornography and for its duration as the Star cinema (as opposed to the no-holds/holes barred policy of the Crazyhorse) it adhered to the cuts imposed by the Office of Film and Literature Classification. In many cases the uptight little muppets at the OFLC would act like Edward Scissorhands and hack films beyond comprehension. This fate even befell the ‘tame’ cuts imported from overseas, already shorn of much of their explicit nature for prudish markets such as Australia.
Naturally the introduction of the ‘R’-certificate did enable the exhibition of more salacious content (to a degree) within films, but prior to 1971 Melbourne viewers had to make do with just the inference of sexual content. You can imagine the sort of stuff on offer – An attractive woman in her lingerie kissing some lucky fella, then immediately cutting to a scene of her lying in bed with a sheet covering her modesty, smoking a cigarette and asking the man buttoning his shirt when he would return. Otherwise the film would be concerned with an inordinate amount of time spent at the beach or by the pool with lots of opportunities for starlets to be filmed in their bikinis or, for those wishing to push the boundaries a little, topless shots of the gal from behind as she strips off and runs uninhibited into the waves.
So this is the era where we will begin our journey. Henry Bolte was Victoria’s premier, Collins Street still had a Paris end, draconian licensing laws had the six o’clock swill in full swing and Melbourne was a ghost town on a Sunday. An attractive, uptight and rather dull city, this was indeed the home of Edna Everage. Yet ever so quietly the Star Theatrette toiled away – tentatively at first (their early feature programs were mostly a mix of innocuous comedies and tired genre flicks) – but soon they cottoned on to the fact that there was a market for the skin, the strange and the nasty. The story of the films of the Star will be divided into four eras: 1963 – October 1971 (the introduction of the ‘R’ certificate); November ’71 – 1975 (when adult softcore cinema was at its most inventive); 1976 – 1980 (vast changes in the international industry saw the softcore market fade and things take a turn from the sexy to the sleazy) and 1981 onwards (the cinema market for all sex films collapsed entirely).
Countries of Origin (1963 – 10/1971)
USA – 55
ITALY – 35
FRANCE – 25
UK – 21
GERMANY – 5
SWEDEN, AUSTRIA, SPAIN – 3 each
AUSTRALIA, JAPAN, MEXICO – 2 each
DENMARK – 1
Predictably, American films were the most favoured at the Star but the fact that French and Italian films were so popular in this period points to the vibrant international market for those national cinemas in the period and the fact that they were leaders in providing the salacious material that was booming around the world in the 1960s. In time the Americans and the British would also target these markets and by the late 70s they had it cornered.
Initially I had planned a straight chronology of the films the Star screened, however to provide a little cultural and cinematic context I have instead decided to categorise them into genres. Some, such as horror, comedy and science fiction are easily identifiable. However, the Star’s managers quickly recognised that the trick was to lure customers by the promise of skin – whether the content matched the advertising is a different matter altogether. So the most prominent genre was ‘sex’ and that I have divvied into various themes as well.
In 1962 Italian directors Gualitero Jacopetti, Paolo Cavara and Franco Prosperi unleashed Mondo Cane into cinemas. Culled from footage shot across the globe, it was a bizarre hodge-podge of sequences with a theme intending to show that we really do live ‘a dog’s life’ (the film’s literal title translation). So we have hogs bashed to death for a ritual feast in Papua New Guinea, aging Italian sex symbol Rossano Brazzi being mobbed by female fans in New York, gourmets dining on fried beetles at an upscale American restaurant, sexy teenage lifesavers in Sydney, the ruination of the ecology on Bikini atoll, a strange commemoration of the birth of Rudolph Valentino in his Italian hometown and so on and so forth.
There is a pretty primitive effort to tie each clip together, generally on the tenuous notion of irony – juxtaposing native cultural acts with supposed civilised ones to show, I suppose, that the west is just as capable of excessive and weird behaviour. For example, rich Hollywood stars laid their pet dogs to rest in special cemeteries, complete with engraved headstones and plaques. Cut to Hong Kong, where puppies sit in cramped cages, unaware they are to be the main ingredients of a stew much enjoyed by the locals. Or, on a Pacific island potential brides are force fed fatty foodstuffs to attain the obese weight desired by their tribal chief but in America women will go to crazy extremes to lose just a couple of pounds. Sure, it is all a little obvious, but even today Mondo Cane can offer some sensational sights for the first-time viewer. Shot in quite glorious colour and cut together with a rapid fluency, the film is aided no-end by a luscious Riz Ortolani score, which has the lyrical, loungey feel of the jet-setting early 1960s.
Massively popular upon release, this ‘shockumentary’ was actually the recipient of many favourable reviews upon its release and managed a Golden Palm nomination at Cannes that year. Just as successful in America it was nominated for a best song (of all things) Oscar for Ortolani’s “More”, which was also a surprise chart-hit. In Melbourne Mondo Cane had a long run at the prestigious Odeon Cinema before moving down the ranks and onto the suburban circuit.
Naturally a hit of this magnitude would warrant a sequel and Mondo Cane was on the screen within a year. Relatively cheap to produce and assemble, the market was soon flooded with imitators and it has been estimated that around 100 such variations were produced in Europe alone in the 1960s (British, American and even Asian filmmakers also jumped on the Mondo bandwagon during the boom).
It must be stated that, although Mondo Cane was a phenomenon in its day, the lurid documentary had a long established history in world cinema, its appeal rooted in within the notion of the ‘cinema of attractions’ that popularised the medium in its earliest days. The safari film and its variations would see a noted big-game hunter, explorer or (apparent) anthropologist take a camera into one of the dark continents and present a world once only read about to startled western audiences. Savage animals, spectacular scenery, bizarre tribal customs and rituals, exotic costumes and violent acts we in the civilised world would generally abhor. Due to their ‘educational’ purposes and for the fact they contained documented actualities, these films would be allowed a certain leniency by censors. So they would contain (or at least sell to the public) some tame nudity and a smattering of blood. Although a number of these films were sincere efforts, a vast majority were lurid bits of sensationalism and the racist attitudes of the filmmakers leave you wincing when viewing today. Mostly relegated to the seedier theatres of downtown, a number of these early ‘mondos’ played at the Star and were occasionally re-released to cash in on the popularity of the Italian wave.
Eventually the Mondo craze wore itself out and their numbers decreased into the 1970s, as the filmmakers tried their hands at more profitable quick-fire genres such as spaghetti westerns and giallo thrillers. During the 1960s the Star (by my criteria) played 22 Mondos as main features, the following decade, as the theatre’s focused on sex and basically sex only, the numbers fell to a small handful. However the Mondo continued to live on, and finding homes on drive-in screens, delivering content more sadistic and gruelling than Mondo Cane would ever have imagined showing. With the 70s and early 80s providing all manner of savage dictators perpetrating ghastly atrocities across the third world, Mondo filmmakers happily cashed in of the public fascination and audiences lapped it up.
But by this time the Star Cinema had long since moved on and we are getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s take a look at the Mondo films on offer during the first period of the Star’s life as a feature cinema…
Mau Mau (USA: 1955 – Elwood Price). Having a healthy 3 week run in March 1964, this tatty doco was already nearly a decade old when the Star gave it a burl. In the early 1950s the Mau-Mau tribe (correctly known as the Kikuyu) nabbed international headlines when they incited an uprising in their native Kenya against the colonial settlers over land occupation (among other issues). The Brits sent in the troops to quell the unrest, but not before many thousands (mostly rebels) had been killed. Producer Joe Rock, an old time exploitationer knew a good opportunity when it came knocking and threw together a few reels of old stock footage and spliced in some hastily shot sequences (filmed in L.A.) of wild-eyed savages attacking poor white farmers. Designed for a few quick ‘four-wall’ pay-offs, the film did terrific business before the public caught on that they were duped. By that time the flick had moved onto the next city. The true issues behind the uprising were complex with both sides guilty of atrocities, yet also with genuine grievances. Take a look at the Star’s admat and tell me if Mau-Mau’s presentation was going to be even-handed.
Zanzubuku (USA: 1956 – Lewis Cotlow) Director Lewis Cotlow had achieved a degree of fame as an intrepid explorer (pith helmet, safari suit – the whole get up), documenting his adventures in best-selling books and on film. This flick covered his third trip to the Dark Continent, covering some 15,000 miles through Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya and the Belgian Congo over a period of 8 months. Although the film is more concerned with getting up close and personal with dangerous animals, I believe it traverses the confines of the ‘safari film’ and becomes an early forerunner of the Mondo. For Zanzubuku is fascinated with a number of tribal rituals and curiosities, such as headwear, dancing and piercings. Cotlow later used pieces of this film for Vanishing Africa (1969) a film he screened at a series of lecture tours. Zanzubuku managed a solitary week in December ’63.
Karamoja – Land of the Naked People (USA: 1954 – William B. Treutle). Okay how does this grab ya? A Washington dentist (director
Treutle) visits the doctor and is told that he has only six months to live. Bummer. Having always wanted to visit Africa and with no time to lose, he packs up and heads off. In the Belgian Congo he meets an American woman with little faith in western medicine who cannot believe his prognosis. They fall in love, marry and make their way through 17,000 miles of jungle to Karamoja in northern Uganda. There they live among the Karamojans and document their ancient and often barbaric lifestyle. The naked warriors tattoo the number of enemies they have killed upon their arms, there are painful piercings and stone-age dentistry (which no doubt caught Treutle’s attention). Animals are captured and boobies jiggle about in true National Geographic fashion. Oh, and guess what? By the time he leaves Africa, he is cured of whatever disease had ailed him! Back to the dental clinic for William, whether he took to employing the Karamojan practice of smashing out teeth with a rock is anyone’s guess. Karamoja – Land of the Naked People was quite a hit at the Star, lasting 4 weeks from late June of ’64.
Naked Africa (USA: 1957 – Ray Phoenix & Cedric Worth). Bouncing boobs ahoy as once again we journey into the jungle. More piercings and some firewalking are on the menu and much discussion of initiation rites as boys become men. The only notable contributor to the piece is narrator Quentin Reynolds, a popular columnist of the day, who no doubt had a gas bill needing payment when he knocked off this effort one afternoon after lunch. Naked Africa found enough takers to play for 2 weeks from July of 1966 (it then reappeared for a fortnight in March of 1969 as a support for the Raquel Welch sex comedy, The Queens). The co-director of Naked Africa, Ray Phoenix, only has one other filmmaking credit and this is as a cinematographer on The Mating Urge (USA: 1959 – no director credited). He contributed the footage for the South African segment of a travelogue that discusses courtship customs of various young indigenous folk of the world, basically “How native boys get their chicks into the sack”. From Africa to the Orient we see knife-fights, forms of bungee jumping and (naturally) nude bathing. The commentary by Art Gilmore (on a break from providing the narration for “Highway Patrol”) is the sort that refers any couples together as “having a date”. Believe it or not, this film (probably the heavily censored version that played in the UK) turned a lot of coin for the Star, dragged out for three engagements during the period of 4 weeks at a time – in July ’64, March ’68 and July ’70.
Africa Goodbye (Italy: 1966 – Gualtiero Jacopetti & Franco Prosperi) After the success of Mondo Cane , its sequel and Women of the World, Jacopetti and Prosperi embarked on their most ambitious project, Africa Addio. Now presenting a sideshow of worldwide grotesquities for Mondo Cane is one thing, but purporting to present a thesis detailing Africa’s end to colonialism is another. You have to bear in mind that in the post WW2 era a number of European colonisers were upping their flags and moving back home, leaving the continent in the hands of its original owners. When this film was released in 1966 it was both topical and contentious and believe me, it is an understatement to describe Africa Addio as controversial. Now as this particular article is only a basic roundup of the films to play at the Star during a certain period, I do not have the scope to provide an in-depth review of this film and man it needs one. Banned in all of Africa, except South Africa where it broke box office records (that may tell you something) and withdrawn from screens in Europe and the USA after public and official protest (that may tell you something more) it is an extraordinary piece of cinema. There is sex and there is (lots of) gore all woven into a most touchy polemic that many took to be endorsing the most orientalist and reactionary views of African independence.
In a few weeks I will (hopefully) get around to submitting a proper review of this film. Suffice to say that if one conducts an internet search one may find certain grubby far-right websites raving about its merits. A disaster for the filmmakers that harmed their bank balance and destroyed their reputations, it limped into the Star for a single week in September of 1968, under the clumsy title of Africa Goodbye (if you take a look at the admat you can see the slipshod alteration of the poster). In 1970 it was shorn of around an hour and re-released as Africa Blood and Guts. With must of the polemic left in the editor’s bin this version was a minor hit on the drive-in circuit. In the face of the initial resultant criticism Jacopetti and Prosperi withdrew for several years, finally returning with an attempted apologia entitled Farewell Uncle Tom in 1971 which, they declared, would show them to be sincerely sympathetic to the plight of Africans at the hands of the white man. Sadly the road to hell is paved with good intentions and that film was a disaster that caused riots in Times Square but broke box office records in Melbourne. But that, as they say, is a story for another time….
West End Jungle (UK: 1961 – Arnold L. Miller). Running just under an hour this feature takes an undercover look at the seamier side of London after the Street Offences Act of 1959 supposedly cleared prostitutes from the streets. Focusing on the sexual urges of men in general whose desires create the demand for the sex industry. Strip clubs, massage parlours and grubby bars are explored, along with peep shows of ‘photographic models’. The tone is one of outrage at an underside that demeans and destroys vulnerable girls. The BBFC refused to pass the film as suitable for screening (and never has) and the London City Council would not issue approval either, meaning West End Jungle was basically banned in the city it depicted. One consolation was that this controversy (its content was even discussed in the House of Lords!) made for a juicy tagline in the advertising. More than likely the censors were more concerned with some of the staged sequences with actors that purported to be ‘real’. It had a healthy 4 week run at the Star from September of ’67 with Naked in the Deep (a nudie doc) rounding it out to an acceptable session length. West End Jungle was the work of director Arnold L. Miller and producer Stanley A. Long. These two entrepreneurs had began the Stag company in 1958 producing 8mm striptease flicks and nudie photos for the Soho trade. Although they made industrial films to keep the cash flowing and an attempt at a crime flick (1962’s The Skin Game), sex was their stock in trade and the Mondo variety proved mighty popular.
In 1964 Miller and Long delivered London In The Raw to a grateful public. This time they had the backing of Tony Tenser’s and Michael Klinger’s Compton-Cameo Films, a burgeoning British production and distribution company that had hit paydirt with several low budget exploitationers. Although it had been pre-dated by West End Jungle, Mondo Cane was the film creating queues around the block in late ’63. With that in mind the producers hit upon the idea of a local version which, if shot on the quick, could be in theatres before the Italian film had left the screen. Miller and Long were then signed to complete this task. Joining Miller as co-director in London in the Raw was Norman Cohen (later to helm a number of the very successful Confessions… sex comedies) and Long handled the camera work. Depicting 24 hours in the life of the city, the film gave us strippers, drunks, beatniks and most controversially, an actual hair transplant in all its gory glory. By all accounts this sequence created headlines due to horrified punters fainting in the theatres. A smash hit in its homeland, it managed three weeks in September of ’66 at the Star and an encore appearance of a week in December ‘68.
Originally titled London in the Raw 2, Primitive London premiered in March of 1965. Once again made for Compton-Cameo, Miller was sole director and Long shared producing duties with Klinger. A little more ambitious than their previous efforts, Primitive London began with a child birth, gave us mods, rockers and beats and showcased martial arts. There were wife-swappers and strippers and even recreations of the murders of Jack the Ripper!…oh, and there was an unfortunate sequence with chickens. This was apparently the ‘Swinging London’ the world did not see, but local audiences did and it had a very tidy release at the Windmill Theatre which paraded noted dancer Vicki Grey dressed in leopard skins and leading a cheetah on a leash around the district for some eye-catching publicity. Unfortunately, receipts tapered off and it was decided that the London shockumentary had had its day. After one more film together Long and Miller went their separate ways, although remaining predominantly within the sexploitation field. However Miller gained some lasting respect for producing a couple of films for director Michael Reeves, including the classic Witchfinder General. The Star Theatre managed to squeeze only a week out of Primitive London in November of ’67, but left us with some quite startling artwork to remember it by.
Oddly enough, for a nation often pilloried for is excess, the USA was rarely the focus for the Mondo camera. In fact, the pair I list here could possibly be categorized as ‘sexy’ flicks, but the inclusion of a few weird items in the mix has them inching into Mondo territory. The Americas By Night (Italy: 1961 – Carlos Alberto De Souza Barros & Giuseppe Maria Scotese) was a travelogue through the continent that concentrated on the US with a little time also spent south of its border. Nightclub acts abound, with burlesque and striptease acts interspersed with noted musical performers such as Lionel Hampton. The decadence of the continent is the purported theme of Americas by Night, but the colourful costumes and jazzy tunes were the selling point. The co-directors (and seven producers, for that matter) all toiled away in careers working the lower end of the exploitation market in Italy, from peplums to westerns to crime flicks, with little of particular note. However one the cinematographers, Massimo Dallamano, was later lauded for his forays into the horror & giallo genres, helming such masterworks as A Black Veil For Lisa (1968) & What Have They Done to Solange? (1972). The Americas By Night played a week at the Star in July of 1968 with the 1957 British comedy Carry on Admiral which, belying its title, was not one of the long-running saucy comedy series.
Had it been advertised with its star as the main attraction during its fortnight engagement at the Star in 1969, then Las Vegas by Night (USA: 1967 – Walon Green & Mitchell Leisen) would have probably been discussed later, in the ‘bombshell’ category. However, instead of extolling the virtues of the busty Jayne Mansfield, the admat tells us absolutely nothing. Not a single word of copy, just a montage of Vegas showgals. It is had to fathom the reason for that, but in any case, Mansfield is definitely the attraction of this show and she sings a couple of numbers when showcased at her gigs at the Tropicana and Dunes nightspots. Vic Damone, Constance Moore and Juliet Prowse (who sued the producers for her inclusion) are among the other featured acts. Now one would think that these names would be enough for a low rent musical collage, yet boxing, cockfighting, gambling and other seamier aspects of the Nevadan city are thrown in for good measure, along with requisite showgals and strippers. The pairing of directors is sorta strange. Leisen had been a respected contract director at Paramount in the 30s-50s, working with the likes of Alan Ladd, Marlene Dietrich and Joan Fontaine. Not too many acknowledged ‘classics’ in his filmography, but few duds either. After a decade directing for television he was lured back to the big screen for this, his final film, released in the USA as Spree. Walon Green is now an executive producer on “Law and Order”, but alongside Sam Peckinpah he co-wrote The Wild Bunch (1969). As a director Green made the cult classic The Hellstrom Chronicle (1971) along with a number of nature-related pieces. How he came to Las Vegas by Night is anyone’s guess. Like I said, it is a bizarre combination. Thankfully though, the film’s trashy pedigree can be found with the producer Carroll Case who gave us Billy the Kid Versus Dracula and Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter (both 1966). And for that we are eternally grateful. Filling out the program was the cult classic 1955 car-chase thriller, The Fast and the Furious.
MONDO ORIENT / PACIFIC
It is sorta strange to see how the word ‘Orient’ and its variations have fell from favour in the common usage. This is particularly the case in reference to describing persons and races. There is something a little condescending in the term and it bears too many connotations of a colonial past which no longer holds the pride it once did to we of the west. Within this little sub-section of the Mondo genre we find two films with the word ‘Orient’ in the title and sadly, of the three films within the category, I was only able to track own worthwhile information on a single title.
Italian Roberto Bianchi Montero was a director who had the dubious distinction of having five films play at the Star during the 1963-71 period. Here was a bloke who would leap onto any bandwagon in order to keep working, with peplums, crime flicks and melodramas the mainstay of his career before his first foray into Mondo territory with Orient By Night (1962). Now this may be perhaps classified as an example of the ‘sexy’ film. This offshoot of the mondo will be explored separately in the next part on the Star Theatre, but as a brief description, these were mondo-variations, that concentrated on the female form, usually within the setting of a nightclub, dance or strip act. Eschewing the grotesque angle of the Mondo, the ‘sexy’ films maintained a level of eroticism throughout, without interrupting the mood with nausea-inducing sequence. There were over a hundred ‘sexy’ films produced, from around 1960 to the middle of that decade. As a rule of thumb they did not have the international currency of the mondos and their exhibition was usually restricted to the adult theatres, whereas the mondos could at least claim a (pseudo) anthropological/social value to their content.
In any case, returning to Orient by Night, it appears that this may be a Mondo due to its theme of cultural rituals and traditions with an apparent shock value stirred into the pot. In this case the ‘Orient’ comprises mostly of the Middle-East and its women (uncovered cat’s meat, anyone?) are the usual suspects – dancers, tribe members etc. Montero knocked off nine mondo/sexy films within two years and, reading the winds of exploitation well, jumped ship for a spell in spaghetti westerns and war flicks, caught the horror wave in the 70s and spent his final years in the 1980s directing porn. He’s an overlooked figure whose filmography reads like a timeline of Italian exploitation cinema. Orient by Night was supported during its 3 week run at the Star from May of ’68 by the middling British ship-bound comedy, Not Wanted on Voyage (1955).
The only Asian film to play at the Star in this period was one of the very few Mondos produced by that region, the Japanese It’s a Woman’s World (1964). This was the sole directing credit for Taijiro Tamura, a popular author of pulp fiction. Around the time of this film’s release he was between gigs adapting two of his most popular novels – “Gate of Flesh” and “Story of a Prostitute” for director Seijun Suzuki. The ensuing films have become acknowledged classics. Once again it is difficult to place It’s a Woman’s World, as I am unable to find much information about it. However I will call it a ‘mondo’ rather than a ‘sexy’ for the sole (and perhaps feeble) reasoning that a writer of Tamura’s style and note would include a little more in his film than a travelogue of dancers and strippers. Then again the admat states that we will see the ‘exotic-wierd and wonderful’. When they can’t even spell the second adjective correctly, who knows what the film contained? It’s a Woman’s World scored a single week at the Star, in August of 1968.
Talking of mysterious, if anyone can tell me about Women of the Orient then I’d be pleased to hear it. Unfortunately I can locate nothing on this title, but I have the sneaking suspicion it may be Women…Oh, Women! a title that does not exactly roll off the tongue in its original version. This 1963 Japanese mondo found a way to fit junkies, massage parlour gals and other assorted taboos into the usual parade of pretty young things in various states of undress. That film’s director, Tetsuji Takechi, has his last credit listed as Captured for Sex (1987). A veritable charmer, no doubt. Anyway, for now Women of the Orient will remain a mystery. For now all I can be certain of is that it played for one week in July of 1969 at the Star, with the William Bendix service comedy, The Phony American (actually a West German production from 1961) as its support.
Unsurprisingly, it was not often that the Star Theatre unspooled an Academy Award winning documentary but such was the case in October of 1968 when The Sky Above, The Mud Below (France: 1961- Pierre-Dominique Gaissieu) ran for a week. More akin to a safari-type doco than a true mondo, this film is included for the way it was sold – “Weird Love Rites”, “Girls Offered To Guests as Hospitality” and my favourite, “Savage Brutality as Men and Women Celebrate the Cult of the Severed Head” screamed the ad copy. This flick follows an expedition into West Papua in 1959 where the filmmakers lived with the natives and observed their way of life. An arduous undertaking, three native porters died on the trek and the party had to survive disease, animal attacks and physical exhaustion. A remarkable film for its day, it not only took home the Oscar, but was nominated for the Golden Palm at Cannes. On its first release The Sky Above, The Mud Below was treated with deserved respect. Less than a decade later it became an unwilling mondo by default, when the most sensational aspects of a sincere story were highlighted to appeal to a jaded public. It is an interesting study in how a few short years can so affect the value of popular culture. Joining it at the Star was yet another in the run of low budget British comedies the Star was so fond of, It’s a Great Day starring Sid James in a feature film version of the popular TV sitcom, “The Grove Family”.
Although he would probably not remember much of the experience, Ennio De Concini co-penned the 1959 Italian pre-mondo, European Nights. Just a few years later he would pick up an Academy Award for his Divorce Italian Style (1961) screenplay and over a long and prolific career he worked on the scripts of directors as diverse as Mario Bava, Vittoria De Sica, Monte Hellman and Tinto Brass. I can only gather that he wrote the narration for European Nights and who knows how much was left intact when revoiced for the American market by the acid-tongued Henry Morgan? In any case, De Concini’s co-writer was none other than Gualitero Jacopetti, the big daddy of the Mondo scene who was soon to step into the director’s chair with Mondo Cane (1963). So we can establish this film’s pedigree, although it could well be argued that it would make a better fit into the ‘sexy’ category with its strippers and belly-dancers doing their nightclub thing. However it does also include an interlude with a weird and savage clown act, a few magic tricks and a number of musical performances (including The Platters) so it scrapes into the mondo category by taking a few naïve steps into some odd terrain. The director was Allesandro Blasetti whose long but spotty career had included the epic Fabiola (1949) and some early Sophia Loren vehicles. European Nights clocked up a healthy 3 weeks at The Star in August 1968. As its evening support was the troubled-youth drama, The Girl in Lover’s Lane (USA:1959) which starred Brett Halsey, an actor who would later carve out an interesting career in European exploitation, working four times with Lucio Fulci.
These days, producer Arthur Cohn is accustomed to stepping up to the podium to collect awards for the likes of Central Station (1998), One Day in September (1999) and The Chorists (2004). But it wasn’t always that way. Back in 1961 he gained his first producing credit on the aforementioned The Sky Above, The Mud Below and he followed that with Paris Secret in 1964. A rare French foray into the overcrowded Mondo genre, Paris Secret featured gourmets chowing down on bats, voodoo practitioners, a chap who has a fetish for being covered in bees and a gal who has the Eiffel Tower tattooed on her arse so she can sell the skin at a later date (her date not included). These choice cuts are interspersed amongst the usual parade of prostitutes, transvestites and strippers. A hit in its native France, (beating out Connery’s The Hill for number one box office spot the week they both opened) It was directed by Edouard Logereau who worked the bulk of his career in television. Paris Secret staked out a fortnight at The Star in July of 1968 and it was paired for its evening sessions with the British musical comedy It’s a Wonderful World (1956), directed by Val Guest who would later be highly regarded by fans for his horror and science fiction work.
You really do have to wonder about the appeal of the ‘sex-slavery-expose’ Mondo. For here is subject matter that really should repulse an outrage the viewer an yet here it is playing at The Star, a cinema making a name for itself as Melbourne’s home of the erotic. How do you reconcile that? Then again, we’ll see in later instalments of the history of this cinema that a large number of prostitution and slavery narrative films would advertised for their titillating qualities so it is apparent that there was an audience that found a certain attraction to such material. It takes all types, I guess, that is why the term ‘taboo’ was invented…
When I was a boy things were all very “Andy Griffith Show”. Dad would take me fishing, we’d make go karts together and play catch in the yard. Well no, not really it wasn’t quite like that but nor was it like the relationship between Maleno Malenotti and his son Roberto, who formed a loving father-son bond while co-directing Slave Trade in the World Today (Italy/France:1964). To be honest I would have preferred that experience (“son, always remember, if she has tits then go from medium to close-up”) as being taught how to kick a torpedo punt never really held me in great stead throughout my life, but I digress. Slave Trade in the World Today took the trouble to look for explanations for why, contrary to Article 4 of the Declaration of Human Rights, slaves were still being bought and sold on the world market in the 1960s. With the grand sweeping statement that would make Michael Moore proud, they declared it to be oil. So begins the procession of initiation ceremonies, flagellation, rain dancing, slave caravans and harems and the startling shot of crabs on an island picking at the bones of skeletons. Naturally, if these women are to be treated like commodities, then the Malenottis do us the service of displaying the goods with enough belly dancing, strip-tease and jiggly boobies to pad out the running time. Maleno Malenotti had a rather highbrow start to his career as a producer with a keen interest in films about opera. Slave Trade in the World Today was his second and final shot at directing and he roped his son into the production after the original co-director, Folco Quilici (a long time documenter of the exotic), left the production due to the usual ‘creative differences’. I would guess that Maleno was not overly impressed by the genre and he quickly returned to producing a number of respectable comedies and dramas that featured the likes of Diana Dors, Sophia Loren and Vittorio Gassman. Son Roberto managed a final cinema direction credit with The Sisters, a turgid 1969 melodrama starring Susan Strasberg, before landing a couple of TV credits in the following decades. Slave Trade in the World Today only lasted a week at the Star in July of 1968 with the 1958 prison-break melodrama Revolt in the Big House as its support. The latter would be worth a look just for its top-draw leading men – Gene Evans, Timothy Carey and Robert Blake. The capable R.G. Springsteen kept the director’s chair warm.
After taking on countries then continents, next comes the world. An intended sequel to European Nights, 1959’s World by Night ran a similar course stating its aim to show “night people and their pleasures”. Mostly nightclub and revue footage, like European Night it is neither strictly a Mondo nor a sexy, sort of a combination of both before each forked off into their own sub-genre. This time around we have ballet, strip, dancing whales, gospel, rock n’ roll, cabaret, wrestling and a comedic dog and his trainer. Their film makers had their passports stamped with visits to Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Harlem, Las Vegas and Hollywood. It is no great surprise to see that it was scripted by Gualitero Jacopetti who also provided the spoken original commentary. However for the English-language market dub George Sanders filled in some downtime by providing his caddish tones. Making a brief appearance as herself is Belinda Lee. Now late night viewers of the ABC may be familiar with the breathtakingly lovely Belinda through her roles in numerous British J. Arthur Rank films of the 1950s. By the end of that decade and tiring of being eye candy in British films, Lee moved to Europe where her roles became darker but hardly of better quality. During this time she fell in love with Gaulitero Jacopetti and began a well-publicised relationship. Tragically, it is during the making of Women of the World in 1961 that they are involved in a car accident near San Bernadino in California. Jacopetti breaks his leg but Lee has her head nearly severed and dies at the scene. That film is dedicated to her, a desperately sad ending for a most beautiful and quite talented actress. World by Night was the directorial debut for Luigi Vanzi who, under the pseudonym of ‘Vance Lewis’ later directed the Tony Anthony ‘Stranger’ trio of spaghetti westerns, which were minor international hits. The cinematographer on World by Night was the young Tonino Delli Colli who would later find acclaim for his stunning work with many key Italian directors including Fellini, Leone, Pasolini and Wertmuller. This film, distributed worldwide by Warner Brothers, had a 2 week run at the Star in August 1966.
Roberto Bianchi Montero once again provides us with the Star’s two examples of true mondo – a removal of all geographic boundaries for a focus on the weird. Sex may get a run off the bench but the real attraction is the strange customs, habits and fetishes of the world’s population. This is the very heart and definition of the ‘shockumentary’.
Now Montero, as explained in the description of Orient by Night was a stunningly prolific director of mondo and sexy features and is credited with nine such films in just three years (seven in 1963 alone!!!). How did he do it? Well, there were cannibals in the Italian film industry long before Ruggero Deodato took his camera into the jungle. Basically, Montero would hack up other films – mostly of the documentary variety – and re-edit his own footage into new features complete with an added commentary. So prolific was Montero that his 1963 effort Mondo Infame is not even listed on Imdb. From what I gather it is yet another journey into the more lurid aspects of various cultures and takes in Great Britain, Kenya, Ceylon, India, New Guinea, Indonesia, Ecuador, the Amazon and Colombia among other hotspots. Mondo Infame (AKA: This Vile World) screened for a fortnight in May of 1968 with its support being “The Raffle”, Vittorio De Sica’s segment from Boccaccio ’70 (1962), starring Sophia Loren.
Montero’s last trip to the mondo well came in 1964 with Mondo Balordo (AKA: A Fool’s World), a shopping list of the usual atrocities including transvestites, dwarf romance, women who bathe in camel’s urine, Japanese bondage, strange veterinary practices, drug racketeers, exorcism rituals plus lesbians, strippers and brothels. By the end of the 1960s was there a single strip-club in the world that had not been visited by mondo’s cameras? Now it is pretty obvious that one had best take the claims of these films with a biblical-sized pillar of salt. This is particularly recommended in regards to the Montero collection. Between the cut-n-pasting of the stock footage, the need to be spicier than the previous flick, whatever dialogue has been scribbled for the narration and what is mangled in the English-language dub, you are left with a pretty tenuous notion of veracity in the image. More than likely this matter was hardly helped by the English dub of Mondo Balordo being provided by none other than Boris Karloff (in his most sinister delivery). Boris had previously worked for Montero on the 1954 Italian crime flick, The Island Monster and I would assume that Karloff recorded this in Italy in 1963 on a break from filming Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath. He happily plays himself in this narration, stating that nothing he had played in his film career could be as horrifying as the real-life acts featured in this very film. I would hazard a guess that nothing could be as sleep-inducing either (save, perhaps, for that quartet of rubbish he made for Juan Ibanez at the fag end of his career). At least Boris picked up a pay cheque for his toil. However Mondo Balordo kept the Star’s punters entertained, playing for three weeks in January 1969.
MONDO COUNTER CULTURE
Later on down the track I will work my way up to discussing The Star Theatre’s 70’s screening schedule and that is where you’ll see the name ‘Harry H. Novak’ crop up time and time again. Novak ran Box Office International Pictures, a company that distributed a large number of trash films (violent westerns, nasty thrillers, a few horrors and plenty of softcore porn). BIOP was also a production company and they made a tidy fortune from tapping into the softcore market that had once been the domain of the European import. More specifically they worked their own little niche – hillbilly porn – featuring backwards chicken ranchers and lots of busty gals in tight denim shorts flouncing around in the hay of the barn and the mud of the pigsty. The very titles alone will leave no further explanation required – Tobacco Roody, Country Hooker, Country Cuzzins (all 1970), Southern Comforts, Midnight Plowboy (both 1971) and The Pigkeeper’s Daughter (1972). Yes, they are all pretty inbred and a chore to sit through but I will admit the girls are sexy as all get-up and I am not completely adverse to the odd bit of cornpone humour. All of these flicks were hits in Melbourne and most had a run at the Star (they also were playing at suburban drive-ins into the 1980s) and all were directed by a fellow named Peter Perry. Well, not that you would know, for Perry hid behind the pseudonym ‘Bethel Buckalew’ for the hillbilly sex films. Perry also snuck in a few costume adorned skin flicks during that time (The Notorious Daughter of Fanny Hill in 1966, The Secret Sex Lives of Romeo and Juliet in 1969 and The Notorious Cleopatra in 1970)…and credited himself on those as ‘Arthur P. Stootsberry’.
Peter Perry’s greatest achievement is one of the 1960s most extraordinary American sex films, Kiss Me Quick! (1964 and produced by Novak). Originally titled Dr. Breedlove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love, its title was changed after Novak became paranoid that he would find a letter from Stanley Kubrick’s lawyers in his mailbox. It is a film that has to be seen to be believed – a horror, sci-fi, comedy sex flick. Making claims to be a Freudian fantasy, it is best enjoyed as a whacked-out strip-flick with a lashing of go-go dancing goodness. Oh, Perry filmed this smash hit under the name of Seymour Tuchas (!)
Believe it or not though, Perry did use his own name a couple of times, most notably on Mondo Mod (1967), one of the handful of American Mondo flicks of the 1960s. Now if you think that a film of that title was somewhat missing the boat in terms of 60s culture, then yes you are right. The Mods, as history sees them today, were an English subculture of the late 50s – early 60s. Basically their time was over by the second half of that decade as the hippy movement geared into full swing. However, from an American standpoint of the time, ‘Mod’ referred to the counter-culture in general – a sort of catchall term for hippies, beatniks bums and pretty much anyone with hair lower than the earlobe. Mondo Mod covers all of these bases over its haemorrhoid-inducing 140 minute running time and throws in bikers and surfers for an added bonus. We visit the Whiskey-A-Go-Go nightclub, pop into a dope-den, see go-go dancers in cages, acid trips and girly strips. The filmmakers never depart from Southern California and for the fuck of it we are bombed with statistic after statistic and if they were all made up on the spot I would not be at all surprised. Quite a bore and with far too many staged scenes, one remarkable aspect of the film is that its co-cinematographers were Vilmos Zsigmond and Laszlo Kovacs. Since the early 70s these gentlemen are regarded as among the best in the business. You may find one DOP of this calibre credited on a flick of this ilk, from this period – it does happen from time to time. But two on the same film, sharing the same duties? Amazing stuff. The Star took this one as a first run and it did well enough run for three weeks in October of 1971 (quite a belated release for a first-run). Mondo Mod has the minor distinction of being the very last film to play at the Star before the official introduction of the R-rating in Australia.
I need to make a couple of acknowledgements here. Firstly to Brian Miller and Edward Landsdowne for their article “Star Newsreel Theartette” in Cinemarecord Issue 14; November 1996 for their invaluable early history of the cinema.
Secondly to John Hamilton for his excellent book Beasts in the Cellar:The Exploitation Films of Tony Tenser, which provided much of the background information on the films of Stanley Long and Arnold L. Miller.
So, that’s it for the Mondo-cycle at the Star Theatrette. In part two of The Star: 1963-71 we’ll be looking at sexy flicks and vicesquad sleaze. Catchya then!