Hong Kong sexploitation epic isn't very good, but give it credit for ripping the scab off a historical wound.
Above is a poster for the sexploitation flick Nu ji zhong ying, known in English as The Bamboo House of Dolls, and to get right to the heart of the matter, this one must have set Sino-Japanese relations back a few years. The film stars Danish actress Birte Tove as a nurse in Hong Kong who during World War II gets corralled along with her co-workers into Japanese Women's Concentration Camp 13, there to undergo various indignities before finally deciding that escape is her only option. You know the drill. Tove is the marquee attraction, but the film is largely cast with Hong Kong actresses such as Lee Hye-Sook, Hseih Wang, and others, which means that while the movie resembles entries in the women-in-prison sub-genre—with the scheming wardeness, lesbian sex, group showers, and half-cocked escapees made into examples of what not to do while in a tropical women's prison—the obvious historical context of Japan actually sexually abusing Chinese women during the war gives it an underlying grimness that's hard to ignore.
We suspect that if this were made today it would spark an international crisis, insults traded by high ranking officials on Twitter, and possibly diplomats kicked out of China and Japan, but 1970s filmmakers did not shy away from uncomfortable subject matter—and this is about as uncomfortable as it gets. That isn't the problem, though. Well, that isn't the problem for us. The objective problem is the movie is just bad. Legendary Hong Kong producers the Shaw Brothers (and by legendary we mean Run Run Shaw would be knighted in 1977) wanted to copy Jack Hill's women-in-prison movies The Big Bird Cage and The Big Doll House, but possibly overlooked the fact that setting such films in imaginary Central American hellholes as Hill did was worlds away from making the Japanese villains in a historically laden sexual abuse epic. But what do we know? Run Run got knighted, not us. In any case, Tove's escape plan runs into some snags, but we won't reveal what those are, just in case you're in the mood for politically explosive titillation. Our advice? Give it a pass. Nu ji zhong ying premiered in Hong Kong today in 1973.
I get the feeling there's history here. Since I'm from Denmark, maybe I can I just leave?
Welcome to the school of hard knocks and sharp knives.
How does an interest in bad cinema start? For us it began with Switchblade Sisters. We'd seen scores of bad movies growing up and through college, but after those years we moved toward mainstream movies and well reviewed indie cinema. Sometime after we started our magazine we received a comp ticket to a late night showing of Switchblade Sisters. It was an old b-movie also known as The Jezebels being re-released by Quentin Tarantino's Rolling Thunder Pictures, and we watched it in a landmark cinema packed with people primed to have a raucous time. It was a hell of a night*, and the afterparty was good too.
Plotwise, what you get with Switchblade Sisters is a juvenile delinquent flick about a high school gang called the Silver Daggers and its women's auxiliary the Dagger Debs. Robbie Lee plays the head Deb, while Joanne Nail plays a new girl brought into the gang. Everything is fun and games until jealousy rears its ugly head due to the fact that Lee thinks her man, who's the leader of the Silver Daggers, wants the new girl. Matters deteriorate when Nail sets off a war between the Silver Daggers and a rival gang. These are seriously murderous clans, fully intent on killing each other. Gunplay abounds, blood flows copiously, and the lesson is— Well, we aren't sure. Say no to gangs, we guess.
Switchblade Sisters is atrociously acted in parts, and mediocrely acted in all the other parts, but Robbie Lee deserves special mention for making a three course meal of her role, delivering every line as if she has a case of lockjaw. Someone must have told her tough people speak through clenched teeth. But so do constipated people. Someone should have told her that too. But some movies are more than the sum of their parts, and Switchblade Sisters falls into that category. It's terrible, but uproarious. Dumb, but immensely entertaining. We can't think of many better films to watch with friends. And that's worth a lot in this crazy world. Switchblade Sisters originally premiered today in 1975.
*The best part of that premiere night was actually showing up for the film. The promotional company had reserved a row of seats for local reviewers. PSGP was our magazine's movie critic. He showed up in this packed cinema and took a reserved seat. Some fratboy-looking chump in the row behind him leaned forward and told him, “These seats are reserved.” It's here we should mention that PSGP doesn't look like what most people would think of as a film critic, so he knew exactly what was happening—this moron, who was not anyone of any importance or authority, and had no connection whatsoever to the premiere except he probably won tickets from a radio giveaway, took a look at PSGP and decided to play citizen enforcer.
Fratboy chump got up and told the people running the premiere that someone had invaded the reserved seats. PSGP saw it happen. Fratboy flagged down someone, had a conversation while pointing directly at PSGP, and probably felt full of power for calling the cinema cops. PSGP savored the next moment, when the guy was told the evil seat inavder was in fact one of the invited critics and was sitting in exactly the right place. Fratboy moron, crestfallen, went back to his seat, and PSGP, without turning around, said, “That didn't work out the way you hoped, huh?” He got good mileage from the story at the afterparty. And the fratboy? He wasn't invited.
If you’re looking for mercy you’ve come to the wrong place.
The Big Bird Cage finds writer-director Jack Hill at the top of his form as he sticks star Anitra Ford in a Philippine jungle prison where an evil warden uses the female inmates as slave labor to process sugar. Pam Grier and Sid Haig are revolutionaries who want to recruit women for their cause, so Grier infiltrates the prison and primes the women for a big break out. This is one of the most remembered of 70s B-romps, a sleazefest filled with iconic scenes such as Ford being suspended by her hair, and seven-foot model Karen McKevic slathering her body with grease and dashing naked through camp. The classic poster is above, a brilliant production photo appears below, and if you’re looking for actual reviews, well, there are about a thousand online. Wild, weird, and oh so incorrect, The Big Bird Cage premiered in the U.S. today in 1972.
A new tabloid hits the newsstands with a twist on the usual formula.
In our continuing search for rare magazines of high entertainment value (if sometimes dubious quality), we stumbled across the above gem—the first issue of the self-described sexploitation film graphic Flick. Published in the U.S. out of Libertyville, Illinois, it was basically just reviews of x-rated films in tabloid form. The publishers admit in their introductory editorial that the tabloid market is glutted, but insist America needs a magazine that helps porn consumers separate the wheat from the chaff. They do it with utter seriousness and, as a bonus, also throw in some musings on film history, with discussions of Rudolph Valentino, Douglas Fairbanks, Theda Bara, Jean Harlow, and Hedy Lamarr, who all had pre-Hays Code flirtations with screen nudity.
It might be difficult to imagine actors appearing nude on screen during the 1920s and 1930s, but the idea back then was that, because the medium was considered an art form, motion picture nudity was no different from nudity in sculpture, photography or painting. Theda Bara's and Jean Harlow’s screen nudity was merely implied, but Hedy Lamarr went all the way in her 1933 Czech-made romance Ekstase, aka Ecstasy, in which she ran starkers through the woods, giving audiences a gander at her backside and breasts. She was known at the time as Hedy Kiesler, but it’s her.
There’s also a non-nude love scene containing what some critics believe is the first cinematic depiction of an orgasm. As you can imagine, Ekstase was controversial. Only four-hundred prints were ever made, and most of those were butchered by censors. By the 1940s, the only complete copy known to exist was in Russia. It had first been Hungarian property and had been exhibited in Budapest in ’33, but because the Hungarians had fought alongside Nazi Germany and helped conquer swaths of Russian territory in the early 1940s, when the Russians reversed those gains and occupied Budapest in 1944, they sort of helped themselves to a few choice cultural treasures.
Elsewhere in this inaugural Flick you get reviews of the adult films A Hard Man’s Good To Get, Sisters in Leather, College Girls, and Jack Hill’s first full-length effort Mondo Keyhole. The editors remind readers that their magazine is a collector’s item. At the time—January 1970—they probably imagined it would be quite valuable in forty-one years. Well, we got it for $4.00. But just for the hell of it, maybe we’ll hang onto it for another forty-one years. You never know. By the way, if you’re curious, you can actually see that famous Hedy Lamarr nude scene here. It is not a complete version, though. We doubt a complete one exists. See ten scans from Flick below.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1918—U.S. Congress Passes the Sedition Act
In the U.S., Congress passes a set of amendments to the Espionage Act called the Sedition Act, which makes "disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language" about the United States government, its flag, or its armed forces, as well as language that causes foreigners to view the American government or its institutions with contempt, an imprisonable offense. The Act specifically applies only during times of war, but later is pushed by politicians as a possible peacetime law, specifically to prevent political uprisings in African-American communities. But the Act is never extended and is repealed entirely in 1920.
1905—Las Vegas Is Founded
Las Vegas, Nevada is founded when 110 acres of barren desert land in what had once been part of Mexico are auctioned off to various buyers. The area sold is located in what later would become the downtown section of the city. From these humble beginnings Vegas becomes the most populous city in Nevada, an internationally renowned resort for gambling, shopping, fine dining and sporting events, as well as a symbol of American excess. Today Las Vegas remains one of the fastest growing municipalities in the United States.
1928—Mickey Mouse Premieres
The animated character Mickey Mouse, along with the female mouse Minnie, premiere in the cartoon Plane Crazy, a short co-directed by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks. This first cartoon was poorly received, however Mickey would eventually go on to become a smash success, as well as the most recognized symbol of the Disney empire.
1939—Five-Year Old Girl Gives Birth
In Peru, five-year old Lina Medina becomes the world's youngest confirmed mother at the age of five when she gives birth to a boy via a caesarean section necessitated by her small pelvis. Six weeks earlier, Medina had been brought to the hospital because her parents were concerned about her increasing abdominal size. Doctors originally thought she had a tumor, but soon determined she was in her seventh month of pregnancy. Her son is born underweight but healthy, however the identity of the father and the circumstances of Medina's impregnation never become public.
1987—Rita Hayworth Dies
American film actress and dancer Margarita Carmen Cansino, aka Rita Hayworth, who became her era's greatest sex symbol and appeared in sixty-one films, including the iconic Gilda
, dies of Alzheimer's disease in her Manhattan apartment. Naturally shy, Hayworth was the antithesis of the characters she played. She married five times, but none lasted. In the end, she lived alone, cared for by her daughter who lived next door.
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