Saturday, 30 November 2019

Reflections on ... Too Hot to Handle (1960)

“Under the naked glare of the spots they do their stuff … the girls who rock the night as tease queens!”

"The Sizzler You Read About in Playboy Magazine!"

"In the fall of 1959 Jayne made a couple of shabby British films in her first independent ventures. She played "Midnight Franklin", a Soho nightclub dancer, more accurately a stripper, in Too Hot to Handle directed by Terence Young. Midnight was in love with Johnny Solo, doomed owner of The Pink Flamingo club. The censors refused to release the movie in this country under its American title, Playgirl After Dark. Jayne suggested that someone get a spray gun and cover her offending areas. But the process cost more than the budget of the film."

/ From Jayne Mansfield and The American Fifties (1975) by Martha Saxton /

Recently watched: lurid British noir crime drama Too Hot to Handle (1960), concerning the inexorably violent rivalry between two competing striptease clubs in the underbelly of Soho, London’s neon-lit glamour jungle! Between the two club owners, we’re seemingly encouraged to sympathise with Johnny Solo, proprietor of striptease emporium The Pink Flamingo Club. (The unappealing actor who plays him - Leo Genn - is a total charisma by-pass). Atomic-era sex kitten-gone-berserk Jayne Mansfield is platinum blonde American showgirl deluxe Midnight Franklin, Solo’s glamorous moll and the star attraction at The Pink Flamingo. Rounding out the cast are Christopher Lee as Solo’s untrustworthy thug henchman Novak (of course he’s untrustworthy – he’s played by Christopher Lee and wears a pencil-line spiv moustache!), Austrian actor Karlheinz Bohm (who in the same year would star in chilling cult classic Peeping Tom) and young starlet Barbara Windsor as naïve, doomed underage stripper Ponytail ("the girl with the rock'n'roll hairstyle"). Lee played an extremely similar role in another trashy exploitation film released the same year, also set in the Soho burlesque milieu: Beat Girl (1960).

Slumming American superstar Mansfield – on loan from her Hollywood studio Twentieth Century Fox - made two fairly undistinguished films in the UK in 1960 (the second one is heist thriller The Challenge. Of the two, Too Hot is considerably more fun). The gangster subplot of Too Hot is pretty unconvincing, but the film sparks to life when it embraces sexploitation and switches to the scantily-clad exotic dancers’ ultra-camp musical numbers and their bitchy dressing room confrontations. Mansfield herself – looking lushly zaftig, her waist cinched to almost Vampira proportions – coos two outrageous songs (“Too Hot to Handle” and  the calypso-style “You Were Made for Me”). Both  are sheer sex kitten bliss (and the film’s highlights by a long shot). When we’re first introduced to Midnight, Mansfield is wearing a tight white leotard and busy auditioning new dancers. The camera fixates on her voluptuous marshmallow thighs and butt (Mansfield is “thicc”, as millennials would put it) and she suggests one of cartoonist Robert Crumb’s big-assed Amazonian dream women come to life. Mansfield was 26 here and – although no one knew it at the time – she’d already “peaked” and the “reputable” legitimate stage of her film career was ending. From here on in, she’d mostly star in low-budget European quickies (or “Nudies!” as Neely O’Hara in Valley of the Dolls would call ‘em).

Pre-Carry On movies Windsor is 22 years old here (her character Ponytail is meant to be 16. One of the male characters actually refers to her as “jailbait”). Later Windsor would claim that Mansfield was threatened by her youth and beauty, refused to make eye contact and demanded that Windsor darken her platinum blonde hair so as not to compete onscreen. To which I argue, the age difference between them was four years and Windsor’s hair (and fake ponytail) in the film is the palest albino shade of white-blonde!

/ Young starlet Barbara Windsor as Ponytail in Too Hot to Handle (1960). Check out those brows! /

Too Hot has a complicated history. In the UK it originally received an X rating. A shorter, censored cut was released in the US with the alternate title Playgirl After Dark. Most weirdly, it was originally filmed in gleaming better-than-life Eastmancolor but the current version in wide circulation is black-and-white! Apparently when Too Hot was made available for television broadcast, most people still had black-and-white TV sets and that’s the print that survives. On YouTube you can view Mansfield’s musical sequences in lush, gorgeous colour and it’s a vastly different, infinitely superior experience. Someone needs to sort out a digitally re-mastered full-colour DVD or Blu-ray of Too Hot to Handle!

Watch Too Hot to Handle online here.

/ German-language for Too Hot to Handle in colour /

/ One of Mansfield's musical numbers in colour. This sensational sheer "nude-look" dress is a somewhat tamer version of the infamous gown Mansfield wore onstage in her Las Vegas cabaret act /

Saturday, 23 November 2019

Reflections On ... Hush ... Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)

Attention, Scream Queens! In honour of Halloween, for the October Lobotomy Room film club presentation we’ve scheduled the apogee of the “hagsploitation” genre Hush ... Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964) starring Bette Davis at her most frenzied! Wednesday 16 October! Come and settle-in for an evening of spine-tingling Southern Gothic horror in the Tiki splendour of Fontaine's Bamboo Lounge!

Lobotomy Room Goes to the Movies is the FREE monthly film club downstairs at Fontaine’s bar (Dalston’s most unique nite spot!) devoted to Bad Movies We Love, specializing in the kitsch, the cult and the camp! (Our motto: Bad Movies for Bad People!). Remember: admission is FREE so that you can buy more cocktails! (One drink minimum).

“Millionaire and southern belle Charlotte Hollis guards a deep, dark secret. When cousin Miriam comes to stay with Charlotte, mystifying events begin to occur, driving the latter closer to insanity.”

/ IMDb’s synopsis for Hush … Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964) /

/ "Suspense that starts with a whisper … and mounts to a shattering unpredictable climax!” /

Here at Lobotomy Room we love hagsploitation. For anyone unfamiliar, it’s the disreputable and campy subgenre (sometimes also referred to as Pyscho-Biddy or Grande Dame Guignol) whereby aging,  hungry-for-work leading ladies of Hollywood’s Golden Age swallowed their pride, lowered their standards and slummed it in gruesome horror movies in the 1960s and 70s. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) – which revived the flagging careers of arch-rivals Bette Davis and Joan Crawford - is universally credited as inaugurating the whole cycle, but you could argue that Gloria Swanson as homicidal silent movie diva Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard (1950) was the original hagsploitation anti-heroine. And surely Norman Bates' toxic mother in Psycho (1960) merits a mention?

/ Bette Davis as Charlotte Hollis /

In any case, these horror flicks offered a temporary fillip to the flatlining careers of actresses as disparate as Tallulah Bankhead (Die, Die My Darling, 1965), Veronica Lake (Flesh Feast, 1970), Miriam Hopkins (Savage Intruder, 1970) and Shelley Winters (in multiple Curtis Harrington-directed thrillers like Who Slew Auntie Roo? and What’s the Matter with Helen? both 1971).

With some justification, the genre has been denounced as both misogynist and ageist. It essentially positions the aged woman as inherently horrific, after all. These are horror films about the ravages of time! But on the plus side, these films also offered juicy, demanding lead roles to veteran actresses who’d been otherwise sidelined by their industry for the crime of growing older. It's complicated!

Hagsploitation movies mostly tapered-off by the late 1970s, but it never entirely vanished from popular culture. Note how sixty-something Oscar winner Jessica Lange (whose film career had long been in the doldrums) triumphantly re-invented herself playing homicidal harridans in Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story on television. I’d argue the campy psychological thriller Greta (2018) starring Isabelle Huppert is a prime example of modern hagsploitation.

/ Crawford and Davis promoting Hush at the beginning of filming, before it all went tits up /

Hush, Hush … Sweet Charlotte is the follow-up to the unexpected box office victory of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? It was meant to jubilantly reunify director Robert Aldrich with his Baby Jane leading ladies Davis and Crawford – but as you probably already know (especially if you watched Ryan Murphy’s wildly entertaining 2017 TV mini-series Feud: Bette and Joan) that went catastrophically wrong. Penny Stalling pithily recaps what happened in her 1978 book Flesh and Fantasy:

“Despite the fact that Bette Davis and Joan Crawford had been bitter rivals for years, Jack Warner managed to get them to agree to co-star in his upcoming thriller What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? The press predicted that all hell would break loose when the girls got together, but director Robert Aldrich, keenly aware that his budget couldn’t afford costly delays, kept the girls apart as much as possible when they weren’t working. When the two screen queens were reunited for Hush, Hush … Sweet Charlotte, however, the predicted fireworks became a reality. Riding high as a result of the earlier film’s success, Bette and Joan apparently felt they could afford to engage in some impromptu histrionics for Charlotte’s cast and crew. The hostilities ceased when Crawford became ill. After doctors told her that she would have to bow out, Crawford cried for three days in her hospital bed. When she read that Olivia de Havilland was to replace her, Crawford announced that she was happy for Olivia since she “needed the work.” A victorious Davis posed for on-the-set candids sipping a Coca-Cola.”  

Interestingly, de Havilland was not the first choice for Crawford’s substitution. The character of Miriam was also reportedly offered to Katharine Hepburn, Loretta Young, Barbara Stanwyck and Vivien Leigh first. (Some accounts claim Stanwyck was proffered the role of Jewel Mayhew – the part played by Mary Astor – rather than Miriam). Leigh – de Havilland’s co-star in Gone with the Wind - rejected the opportunity, bitchily explaining, “I could just about look at Joan Crawford’s face on a Southern plantation at 6:00 in the morning; I couldn’t possibly look at Bette Davis’.”

(In fact, Hush was the second film in a row in which de Havilland stepped into a role originally intended for Crawford. Prior to this she played the lead in ultra-lurid shocker Lady in a Cage (1964) when Crawford bowed-out. (This also means Hush wasn’t de Havilland’s first foray into hagsploitation)).

Understandably, a lot of people are preoccupied with what Hush would have been like with Crawford as Miriam. As a great cinematic “What If?” it ranks up there with Judy Garland as Helen Lawson instead of Susan Hayward in Valley of the Dolls (1967). But hell, I love raspy-voiced bitch goddess Hayward hamming it up and growling her way through Valley, and I love de Havilland in Hush. To fixate on Crawford does de Havilland a grave disservice. Why not appreciate de Havilland’s performance on its own considerable merits? In the 1930s and 40s she specialized in exuding sweetness as exemplars of virtuous femininity, most famously as the demure Maid Marion opposite Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) and as Melanie Wilkes in Gone with the Wind (1939). Cast against type, de Havilland is spellbinding in an evil role (sorry – spoiler!), portraying Miriam with purring subtlety. It’s genuinely unsettling when Miriam suddenly betrays her true nature and turns nasty or violent, her usual honeyed ladylike voice abruptly shuttling to a snarl.

(I’m trying to think of other examples of de Havilland exploring her inner bitch onscreen. She’s mesmerizing in the underrated The Dark Mirror (1946) playing identical twin sisters, one good and one bad. The sociopathic one is inevitably far more compelling). It’s also worth noting that de Havilland - now 103 years old – is the sole cast member of Hush still alive and in fact is now one of the very few surviving Golden Age Hollywood-era stars. At this point her only peer is Kirk Douglas (102).

/ Can you say fierce? Joan Crawford as Miriam / 

All the footage shot with Crawford as Miriam has seemingly vanished and to this day remains unseen.  Presumably it was destroyed at the time: if it still existed, it would surely have cropped-up as a DVD extra or in a documentary by now? But watch for the scene where Miriam’s cab first pulls up to the driveway of Charlotte’s sprawling Southern mansion (approximately 28 minutes and thirty seconds into the film). De Havilland is wearing a hat and no sunglasses. In one fleeting shot we get the briefest, almost subliminal but unmistakable blink-and-you-miss-it glimpse of Crawford (wearing no hat and dark sunglasses) peering out of the cab’s passenger window. Presumably this was left-in in error. In all likelihood, this is the sole surviving fragment of Crawford as Miriam.

/ Olivia de Havilland as Miriam /

The film’s original title was to be What Ever Happened to Cousin Charlotte? (the title of the short story it’s based on). But it was decided this was too like What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and it was re-titled (reportedly at Bette Davis’ own insistence).

The painting of young Charlotte displayed on the wall is recycled from Bette Davis’ role as petulant southern belle Julie in the 1938 film Jezebel.

/ See Bette Davis scream and scream again (and again. And again. And then some more. Seriously, she screams a lot in this film!) / 

Hush doesn’t just reassemble Davis and director Aldrich from Baby Jane: the cast of Hush also includes Victor Buono (1938 - 1982), seen in a flashback as Charlotte’s father. (In reality, Buono was young enough to be Davis’ son). Speaking of age: as someone who certainly ain't getting any younger, it’s very enjoyable watching a film in which all the lead characters are on the wrong side of fifty!

The basic premise of Hush (people are conspiring to make Charlotte have a nervous breakdown and pin a murder on her) is essentially the same plot-line as Strait-Jacket starring Joan Crawford (1964).

Think of Hush as the Mercedes Benz or Rolls Royce of hagsploitation. It was made with a luxe high budget, featured a distinguished all-star cast (not just Davis and de Havilland, but Joseph Cotton, Mary Astor and Agnes Moorehead) and was filmed on location on an actual Southern mansion (the Houmas House Plantation and Gardens in Baton Rouge, Louisiana). The sultry Southern Gothic atmosphere simmering with resentments, family tragedies and secrets almost hints at Tennessee Williams terrain. The black and white cinematography is exceptionally beautiful and velvet-y (watch for a haunting shot of de Havilland peering out of a misty window).

In fact, Hush is almost too plush for its own good: hagsploitation is better when it’s starker, nastier and more hardboiled. Baby Jane, for example, was made on a significantly lower budget. I’d argue William Castle’s primal, trashy low-budget b-movie Strait-Jacket starring Joan Crawford is superior, more urgent hagsploitation than Hush, which feels overextended and bogged-down with flashbacks, art-y dream sequences and way too many cliched shots of characters prowling around darkened hallways.  And Hush shamelessly plagiarizes one climactic moment from the French film Les Diaboliques (1955)!

As Paul Roen argues in volume one of his essential High Camp: A Gay Guide to Camp and Cult Films (1994), Hush is pioneering in one regard, though: “the historical significance of Hush … is that it brought graphic gore into the mainstream. There had of course been other gory films before this one, but they didn’t have stars and weren’t nominated for Oscars. (Contrary to popular perception, Psycho contains no gore). Before we even get to the opening titles, Hush … shows us Bruce Dern’s hand being severed with a meat cleaver, blood splashing on a cupid and Dern waving the gruesome stump of his arm at the camera.”

Hush is also one of the shrillest, loudest films you’ll ever watch, comparable to John Waters’ Desperate Living (1977) where everyone screams their lines at full volume. It certainly captures volatile monstre sacree Davis at full screech and at her most abrasive. Look, of course I love Bette Davis. Everybody loves Bette Davis. But in Hush Davis is borderline insufferable at points! Charlotte Hollis is not nearly as nuanced a characterization as her earlier Baby Jane Hudson. Davis seemingly assumed the success of Baby Jane meant she should crank up the histrionics even more. Was Aldrich too intimidated by the volcanic Davis to reign her in? And she’s matched by character actress par excellence Agnes Moorehead as loyal housekeeper Lydia: both ham it up shamelessly. (Odd to think the usually excellent Moorehead – overacting here as if her life depends on it – was nominated for Best Supporting Actress Oscar for this performance). The acting honours in Hush truly belong to the actors who dial-down the hysteria: de Havilland, Cotton and notably Mary Astor. In her last-ever film, Astor makes a haunting impression in a fleeting guest star appearance as Charlotte’s old rival Jewel Mayhew, lamenting “the ruined finery” of her genteelly impoverished old age. Davis’ eye-bulging, jibbering nervous breakdown towards the end reminded me of Divine’s as Francine Fishpaw in John Waters’ Polyester.

Further reading:

Read my analysis of Feud: Bette and Joan here.

Read Ken Anderson's essay on Hush here.

Monday, 28 October 2019

Lobotomy Room Halloween Dance Party 11 October 2019

From the Facebook event page:

It’s creepy and it’s kooky … mysterious and spooky … it’s all together ooky … it’s the Lobotomy Room Halloween dance party! Revel in sleaze, voodoo and rock’n’roll on Friday 11 October at the punkiest, Cramps-iest, kitschiest low-brow Halloween bash this accursed month! Downstairs at Fontaine’s bar (Dalston’s most unique nite spot!).

Lobotomy Room! Where sin lives! A punkabilly booze party! Sensual and depraved! A spectacle of decadence! A Mondo Trasho evening of Beat, Beat Beatsville Beatnik Rock’n’Roll! Campy 1950s and 60s Halloween novelty songs played LOUD, with added Rockabilly Psychosis! Wailing Rhythm and Blues! Punk cretin hops! White Trash Rockers! Kitsch! Exotica! Curiosities! Think John Waters soundtracks and Songs The Cramps Taught Us! Lurid vintage horror films played on the big screen all night!

Featuring special musical guests:

Hailing from New Zealand, instrumental electric guitar duo SPARKLING DUET (aka Shaun Blackwell and Clare McNamara of Night Shades – think of ‘em as the Lux Interior and Poison Ivy of Stoke Newington!) will be playing a special Halloween preternatural edition of their show, covering classic and obscure 50’s and 60’s surf, psych, exotica and rockabilly tunes with a haunted twist!

Admission: only £3.00 on the door (cash only)! Free candy while it lasts!

Blimey! I am painfully aware that I haven’t posted a Lobotomy Room dance party scene report in months. Mainly it’s because life kept getting in the way, but I won’t lie: 2019 has been a challenging year for the club. I’m a veteran at this and it just never gets easier. Take it from me – unless you’re a masochist, don’t become a club promoter. It will break your heart!

Happily, this year’s Halloween shindig was a success. To loosely paraphrase S Club 7: there ain’t no Halloween party like a Lobotomy Room Halloween party. OK we didn’t exactly replicate the massive crowd from 2018 (where did those people continuously pumping down the stairs all night come from?!) but the attendees we did get were stylish, sexy and enthusiastic. And none of them projectile-vomited up the wall, which was a definite bonus. (Read about the 2018 Lobotomy Room spectacular here). You’ll have to take my word for it – unfortunately, I don’t think any photos were taken all night!

/ Cute band alert! Sparkling Duet, Photo by Andreia Lemos /

Another bonus was the spook-tacular surf sounds of vicious instrumental duo Sparkling Duet. It was great to welcome back Shaun and Clare – our own local equivalent of The Cramps! If Lobotomy Room has a spiritual “house band”, surely, it’s these two.  Hopefully Sparkling Duet will be making return appearances in 2020.

/ Vampira-inspired pin-up art by the great Shubina Sveta /

/ Fawn Silver as The Black Ghoul and Criswell as The Emperor conspiring in Orgy of The Dead /

Oh, and once again I embraced the Halloween spirit by projecting the 1965 horror-exploitation flick Orgy of the Dead on an endless loop on the big screen (usually I show a mélange of 1960s posing pouch vintage homo porn and fetish queen Bettie Page frolicking in lingerie). Filmed in “Shocking Sexicolour” (sic) and boasting a screenplay by Edward D Wood Jr (always a sign of quality!), Orgy of the Dead’s cavalcade of nudie cuties go-go dancing in a mist-enshrouded graveyard (overseen by a mummy, a werewolf and clairvoyant Criswell) never fails to enchant. I’m always guaranteed a steady stream of people approaching the DJ booth to inquire, “What am I watching?!” Orgy of the Dead is a Halloween tradition, damn it! 

/ One of the boob-tastic "mondo topless" segments in Orgy of the Dead /

As you can see from the DJ playlist below, the first half of the night was devoted mostly to aggressively kitschy atomic-era Halloween novelty tunes (one of my favourite musical genres. I could happily play Halloween music all year-round), climaxing – inevitably! – with “Monster Mash”.  Later (after the band’s set when people wanted to get down and dance) things turned punkier, messier and more anything-goes, concluding with a finale of Elvis Presley-meets-Sid Vicious-meets Divine. 

/ Above: Bob Mizer of Athletic Model Guild does Halloween! (Don't fall for the old Ex-Lax trick)  /

Anyway, check out my Halloween Lobotomy Room Spotify playlist here to give you an indication of the general vibe. Trust me: you’ll be joyously doing the Werewolf Watusi to Tarantula Ghoul, The Cramps and Screaming Lord Sutch in no time!

Night of the Vampire - The Moontrekkers
Midnight Stroll - The Revels
Monster in Black Tights - Screaming Lord Sutch and The Savages
Vampira - Bobby Bare
Monster Party - Bill Doggett
Sinner - Freddie and The Hitchhikers
Werewolf - The Frantics
 Drac's Back - Billy De Marco With Count Dracula
Bloodshot - The String Kings
I'd Rather Be Burned as a Witch - Eartha Kitt
Frankenstein's Den - The Hollywood Flames
She's My Witch - The Earls of Suave
Do The Zombie - The Symbols
Spooky - Lydia Lunch
Monster Surfing Time - The Deadly Ones
Creature from The Black Leather Lagoon - The Cramps
The Creature (From Outer Space) - The Jayhawks
Rockin' in the Graveyard - Jackie Morningstar
Ghost Satellite - Bob and Jerry
Voodoo Walk - Sonny Richard's Panics with Cindy And Misty
Dinner with Drac - John Zacherle
Scream - The
Mr Werewolf - The Kac-Ties
Strollin' Spooks - Ken Nordine and His Kinsmen
Nightmare Mash - Billy Lee Riley
The Mummy - Bob McFadden
The Whip - The Frantics
It - The Regal-Aires
The Whip - The Originals
Anastasia - Bill Smith Combo
Bo Diddley Meets the Monster - Bo Diddley
I Put A Spell on You - Screamin' Jay Hawkins
Alligator Wine - Johnny Thunders and Patti Palladin
My Son the Vampire - Allan Sherman
Teenage Werewolf - The Cramps
The Munsters Theme - Milton De Lugg Orch
Graveyard Rock - Tarantula Ghoul
Theme From The Addams Family - The Fiends
The Way I Walk - The Cramps
Monster Mash - Bobby "Boris" Pickett and The Crypt Kickers
Pedro Pistolas Twist - Los Twisters
Vampira - The Misfits
Hidden Charms - The Delmonas
Nothing Means Nothing Anymore - The Alley Cats
Your Phone's Off the Hook - X
I Wanna Be Sedated - The Ramonetures
Sheena is a Punk Rocker - The Ramones
Jukebox Babe - Alan Vega
Atomic Bongos - Lydia Lunch
Wipe-Out - The Surfaris
Viva Las Vegas - Nina Hagen
Bossa Nova Baby - Elvis Presley
Jim Dandy - Ann-Margret
Here Comes the Bug - The Rumblers
Tina's Dilemma - Ike and Tina Turner
Esquerita and The Voola - Esquerita
Deuces Wild - Link Wray
Suey - Jayne Mansfield
96 Tears - Big Maybelle
Cha Cha Twist - The Detroit Cobras
One Night of Sin - Elvis Presley
My Way - Sid Vicious
Walk Like a Man - Divine

Further reading:

In August 2018 I spoke my brains to To Do List magazine about the wild, wild world of Lobotomy Room, the monthly cinema club – and my lonely one-man mission to return a bit of raunch, sleaze and “adult situations” to London’s nightlife! Read it - if you must - here. 

Follow me on twitter!

"Like" and follow the official Lobotomy Room page on Facebook if you dare! 

I have serious issues with the frankly homophobic, puritanical, hypocritical and censorious Tumblr these days, but you can follow me on there.

And I'm now spreading my message of filth on Instagram!

Upcoming Lobotomy Room events for your social calendar:

Revel in sleaze, voodoo and rock’n’roll - when incredibly bizarre dance party Lobotomy Room returns to the basement Bamboo Lounge of Fontaine’s (Dalston’s most unique nite spot) on Friday 8 November 2019!

Lobotomy Room! Where sin lives! A punkabilly booze party! Sensual and depraved! A spectacle of decadence! A night of Vintage Sleaze-o-Rama! Beat, Beat Beatsville Beatnik Rock’n’Roll! Bad Music for Bad People! Rockabilly Psychosis! Wailing Rhythm and Blues! Twisted tittyshakers! Punk cretin hops! White Trash Rockers! Kitsch! Exotica! Curiosities and Other Weird Shit! Think John Waters soundtracks, or Songs the Cramps Taught Us, hosted by Graham Russell. Expect desperate stabs from the jukebox jungle! Savage rhythms to make you writhe and rock! Grainy vintage black-and-white erotica projected on the big screen all night for your adult entertainment!

Admission: gratuit - that’s French for FREE!

Lobotomy Room: Faster. Further. Filthier.

It’s sleazy. It’s grubby. It’s trashy - you’ll love it! A tawdry good time guaranteed!

Event page

“In one terrifying moment she realized what she had done … yet it was too late to turn back … too late for tears!”

Lizabeth Scott (1922 – 2015) was the most haunting and memorable of 1940s and 50s film noir actresses. Because of Scott’s languid mane of ash blonde hair, smoky eyes, sultry demeanor and raspy voice “that sounded as if it had been buried somewhere deep and was trying to claw its way out” she’s been frequently (and unfavourably) compared to the more famous Lauren Bacall. In fact, Scott was a much stranger, more intense and harder-working actress than Bacall, and made more interesting choices. And on Wednesday 20 November the Lobotomy Room film club presents her definitive movie - the tense 1949 film noir Too Late for Tears. It stars Scott at her most enthralling, almost serpentine as a suburban Los Angeles housewife with a treacherous and homicidal dark side.

Lobotomy Room Goes to the Movies is the FREE monthly film club downstairs at Fontaine’s bar (Dalston’s most unique nite spot!) devoted to Bad Movies We Love (our motto: Bad Movies for Bad People), specializing in the kitsch, the cult and the camp! Third Wednesday night of the month. Doors to the basement Bamboo Lounge open at 8 pm. Film starts at 8:30 pm prompt! We can accommodate 30 people maximum on film nights. Remember: the film is FREE so you can buy more cocktails! (One drink minimum).

Event page

/ Pistol-packin' mama: don't mess with Lizabeth Scott - the original desperate housewife! - in Too Late for Tears (1949) / 

Sunday, 6 October 2019

Reflections on ... Andy Warhol's Heat (1972)

From the Facebook event page:

Together the inspired trio of pop art visionary Andy Warhol, director Paul Morrissey and leading man / homoerotic beefcake icon Joe Dallesandro collaborated on three notorious underground films. Cinema’s Sultan of Sleaze John Waters has hailed Flesh (1968), Trash (1970) and Heat (1972) as “the trilogy that changed the rules of male nudity in modern-day cinema both underground and in Hollywood.”  While all three movies are gritty, sordid classics of style and substance, I’d argue that Heat (the final and most polished of their efforts) is the most entertaining – and it’s this month’s Lobotomy Room film club selection! Wednesday 18 September!

A freaky and twisted black comedy, Heat is a loose remake Sunset Boulevard (1950) set amidst the desperate low-rent fringes of Hollywood’s underbelly. Dallesandro stars as a coldly calculating wannabe actor and hustler who finds himself caught between an aging washed-up actress (the magnificent Sylvia Miles – who died this June aged 94) and her mentally unstable daughter (doomed Warhol Superstar Andrea Feldman). Trust me - you’ve never seen anything quite like Heat! If you enjoy the squalid early “gutter films” of John Waters, Heat is a must-see!

Lobotomy Room Goes to the Movies is the FREE monthly film club downstairs at Fontaine’s bar (Dalston’s most unique nite spot!) devoted to Bad Movies We Love, specializing in the kitsch, the cult and the camp! Doors to the basement Bamboo Lounge open at 8 pm. Film starts at 8:30 pm prompt! We can accommodate thirty people maximum on film nights. Remember: the film is free so you can buy more cocktails! (One drink minimum).

“The New Hollywood in Andy Warhol’s Heat was a sleazy motel, frequented by has-been hustlers, sadistic lesbians, and moronic porn stars who masturbate by the pool, and run by a grossly overweight, sexually voracious tyrant in a ponytail and muumuu (wonderfully played by Pat Ast, whose couture muumuus were made by her boss, Halston). The only escape from this sun-bleached insane asylum is that haunted Hispano-Hollywood horror on the hill, the mortgaged-up manor of the formerly famous Sally Todd. (Actually, the house was formerly Boris Karloff’s). That’s where Joe ends up, in bed with his hostess. He’s pursued there by her emotionally disturbed daughter played by Andrea Feldman, another denizen of the motel, where she shares a room with her baby and a girlfriend who uses other women’s bodies as ashtrays.”

/ From Bob Colacello’s memoirs Holy Terror: Andy Warhol Close Up (1980) / 

“The film is like an open wound, and Sylvia is a kind of cross between Lana Turner and Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, eating her way through the movie like an emotional barracuda and leaving everyone around her for fishbait. The film is such a milestone in her career that everything else in her life is now referred to as “B.H.” (Before Heat).”

/ Rex Reed’s review of Heat /

“In [Paul] Morrissey’s Heat (1972), Dallesandro is cast as a washed-up child star angling for a comeback amid the hothouse improvisations of Sylvia Miles and Pat Ast. He has moved even further into a kind of waiting catatonia, but even at his most sedentary and unresponsive, Dallesandro signals that he is always on the make, occasionally throwing out a zinger when you least expect it just to prove that he can pay close attention to what’s going on around him when he wants to (but he usually doesn’t want to).” 

/ Dan Callahan's analysis of Joe Dallesandro’s performance in Heat in of The Chiseler /

(The following essay is cobbled-together from my onstage introduction to Heat, plus some additional random reflections)

Heat - the concluding chapter in the groundbreaking trilogy of frankly homoerotic underground films producer Andy Warhol, director Paul Morrissey and leading man Joe Dallesandro made together - is routinely cited as a parodying Billy Wilder’s macabre valentine to Old Hollywood, Sunset Boulevard (1950). It certainly shares the earlier film’s basic premise: a hungry, cynical young hustler (Joe Davis, played by Dallesandro) latches onto significantly older fading actress Sally Todd (Sylvia Miles) against the backdrop of jaundiced dog-eat-dog Hollywood.

But at least Norma Desmond – the deluded silent movie diva of Sunset Boulevard portrayed by Gloria Swanson – had once been genuine Hollywood royalty. In contrast, the seedy realm of Heat is the grubbier, low-rent fringe show business of minor players, losers, has-beens and never-weres, barely clinging-on. This is the toxic, destructive failure-haunted Hollywood of Nathanael West’s The Day of the Locust, Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon, the hard-scrabble existence of Edward D Wood Jr, the website Decaying Hollywood Mansions and David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. Other characters (chiefly her sarcastic ex-husband and Jessie, her wayward daughter played by the doomed Andrea Feldman) derive great pleasure in denigrating Sally Todd as "an aging, practically unknown star," and an untalented one at that. A former child star now unemployed in adulthood, the zenith of Joe’s career was appearing in two TV series: Mousetime USA and the Western The Big Ranch. (The latter evokes Barbara Stanwyck’s 1960s TV Western vehicle The Big Valley, or Bonanza).

For her part, Todd frequently mentions guest-starring on “game shows”, which suggests Hollywood Squares, a kitschy refuge for show business has-beens in the seventies. Can’t you picture Sally slumming it in the square next to fellow panelist Paul Lynde? Todd’s wealth, it is clear, is chiefly as a result of marrying (and divorcing) well rather than her accomplishments as an actress. (This aspect is autobiographical for Miles herself. Married three times, she seemingly scored great divorce settlements and lived in high style in Manhattan in a covetable apartment overlooking Central Park – not the kind of lifestyle afforded by appearing in Warhol films or playing supporting roles in horror movies. After her death, it was reportedly discovered Miles was significantly richer than anyone anticipated).

Rex Reed is astute in referencing Lana Turner as well as Gloria Swanson in his review. Two queens of a certain age with a profound understanding of camp, both Morrissey and Warhol were well-versed in Golden Age Hollywood cinema and wittily draw-upon that knowledge in Heat. To Joe’s indifference, Sally occasionally launches into grand, wistful soliloquies about the demands of being an actress and how it compromised her maternal responsibilities. In these grandiose monologues (tinged with a Tennessee Williams flavor), Sally recalls Turner’s similar speeches in Douglas Sirk’s 1959 masterpiece Imitation of Life (which also covers the fractious relationship between an actress mother and her adolescent daughter, with both vying for the affections of the same man. Also, in real life Turner shared Sally Todd's erotic interest in Italian-American rough trade: recall her ill-fated romance with Johnny Stompanato).

/ Sylvia Miles as Sally Todd. Andrea Feldman as her daughter Jessie /

Interestingly, Morrissey himself has claimed that Heat was primarily inspired by The Blue Angel (1930), Josef von Sternberg’s cruel Weimar Republic-era study of sexual humiliation. In Morrissey’s gender-fucked variation, he positions Sally as a substitute for the pompous professor played by Emil Jannings, whose bourgeois life and stability is destroyed after a dalliance with an amoral heartbreaker (Joe standing-in for Marlene Dietrich’s jaded nightclub chanteuse Lola Lola. The comparison with Dietrich is illuminating: Morrissey’s camera obsessively fixates on Dallesandro’s enigmatic beauty just as surely Sternberg’s did with his glamourpuss muse decades earlier).

One more possible allusion to Sunset Boulevard too delicious not to mention: when she takes Joe on a tour of her mansion, Sally mentions that at one point it belonged to a crazy old silent actress from the 1920s with a huge menagerie of cats. That passing reference can’t help but conjure the phantom of Norma Desmond.

Some further fun facts about Heat: the film was rated X, but – unlike Flesh and Trash – there is no full-frontal nudity this time.  Warhol’s infamous trio of drag queen Superstars (Candy Darling, Holly Woodlawn, Jackie Curtis) are also notably absent.

/ Examining this photo more closely: is it just me, or was Miles originally topless in this shot and a censor scribbled-on a black "boob tube" with a Sharpie marker? /

Sally Todd’s palatial 36-roomed mansion formerly belonged to Boris Karloff (aka horror movie icon and the screen’s definitive Frankenstein's monster).

The soundtrack is composed by John Cale of The Velvet Underground.

Jess’s much-neglected baby is played by Joe Dallesandro, Jr – Joe Dallesandro’s own son.

The filming of Heat took place on location in Hollywood in July 1971 (an anomaly for a Warhol film, which were usually made in New York) and lasted two weeks.

Warhol himself wasn’t present for the filming in Los Angeles (he was occupied with business at The Factory). His creative contribution was to phone the three lead actresses every night to anger them up and pit them against each other. The ploy worked beautifully: their interactions onscreen seethe with palpable hostility.

The emphasis on glistening, rippling sun-dappled blue swimming pools – and beautiful semi-naked men swimming in them – rivals anything found in a David Hockney painting from the same period.

In commercial terms, Heat was a triumph. It cost somewhere between $50,000 - $100,000 to make and recouped a reported $2 million at the US box office alone. But this success never led to any interest from major studios. Perhaps the oeuvre of Paul Morrissey, Andy Warhol and Joe Dallesandro was simply too barbed, abrasively strange and flagrantly queer to assimilate into mainstream Hollywood.

Thoughts on the main players in Heat: bear in mind that the dialogue is improvised. Morrissey would sketch out the action and what was required in a scene, and the actors adlibbed the rest. The performances are genuinely remarkable. Let’s examine the lead actors in greater depth.

Here’s the tribute I wrote online when Sylvia Miles death was announced in June 2019:  

Sad to read that wild, volatile and utterly distinctive character actress and New York scene-maker Sylvia Miles (9 September 1924 - 12 June 2019) has died aged 94. Instantly recognizable for her nasal nicotine-stained rasp, lion’s mane of disheveled bouffant blonde hair and raw-boned jolie laide beauty, Miles could give masterclasses in scene-stealing and had the volcanic, uninhibited disposition of an American version of Mediterranean actresses like Anna Magnani or Melina Mercouri. Like Magnani, Miles is one of those actresses who never seemed to be young: she didn’t get her big break until she was middle-aged and she is forever fixed in the popular imagination as the overtly sexual, borderline shrew-ish “woman of a certain age”. (I joked when introducing Heat, it’s easy to believe Miles was born already aged 42, with a cigarette in her mouth). 

Miles, of course, made an indelible impression (and won an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress) for her six-minute appearance as a brassy middle-aged hooker in Midnight Cowboy (1969). (“I'm one hell of a gorgeous chick!” she furiously raves, correctly). I have no affection for Midnight Cowboy (overrated, sentimental, casually homophobic and misogynistic film with a condescending attitude towards the Warhol underground milieu) but for me Miles slays it! Forget Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman: I wish the film had been all about her!

/ Sylvia Miles in Midnight Cowboy (1969) /

Infinitely superior is the Andy Warhol-produced, Paul Morrissey-directed black comedy Heat (1972), a loose remake of Sunset Boulevard with Miles in the Gloria Swanson role as an aging, insecure actress hustled by unscrupulous young stud Joe Dallesandro. Both Miles and Dallesandro spend long swathes of the film in various stages of nudity, and both are fearless and magnificent. In fact, I need to play Heat at one of my Lobotomy Room film clubs – it’s essential! The last thing I ever recall seeing Miles in was a 2002 episode of Sex and The City as a geriatric borderline bag lady in a diner, sprinkling lithium on her chocolate ice cream. She’s meant to represent a warning to Carrie Bradshaw (if she grows old and single in New York, this could be her fate). I’d argue you could do a lot worse than grow old to be Sylvia Miles! "I have always had the temperament of an actress, which is just an excuse for volatile behavior,” Miles explained to People magazine in 1976. What a woman! If you only read one obituary for Miles, read New York gossip columnist Michael Musto’s frank, funny and affectionate eulogy. He recounts a possibly apocryphal anecdote about Miles at New York’s Russian Tea Room: “a waiter allegedly asked, "How do you like your coffee, Miss Miles?" Sylvia saucily replied, "Like I like my men." The waiter shot back: "Sorry, we don't serve gay coffee.”” 

/ Sylvia Miles as Sally Todd in Heat (1972). Visible in background: Andrea Feldman as Jessie /

As I argue above, Miles is fearless in Heat in multiple ways: she’s unafraid appear nude onscreen – with her lush but mature and imperfect body - opposite the impossibly buff, considerably younger Joe Dallesandro. But she’s also unafraid to risk looking desperate, needy, shrill and even grotesque (see also: Susan Tyrrell). Her performance is a torrent of raw emotion and Heat is Miles’ finest moment.

It’s difficult to conceive of anyone but Miles as woman-on-the-verge-of-a-nervous-breakdown Sally Todd, but apparently at one point desiccated, hard-drinking Golden Age Hollywood casualty Veronica Lake was considered for the part. At the time erstwhile 1940s film noir femme fatale Lake was emerging from her destitute and alcoholic wilderness years (her autobiography was published in 1969. She appeared in her last-ever film – the mortifying low-budget horror movie Flesh Feast – in 1970). Pictured above: Lake at a cocktail party with Warhol, Superstar Candy Darling and Paul Morrissey in 1971, presumably discussing Heat. Fascinating as the thought of Lake as Sally is (would she have consented to the nude love scenes with Dallesandro?), ultimately Miles owns the part. Lake died in 1973 aged 50.

Joe Dallesandro – the Marlon Brando or more accurately, the taciturn Robert Mitchum of Warhol’s Factory – is now 70 and the sole star of Heat still alive. In his youth Dallesandro was dismissed by critics as a male bimbo or mere eye candy, but in recent years he has been reappraised as a genuinely compelling actor. Onscreen he is a gloriously deadpan, utterly casual and riveting presence: just try to tear your eyes from him.  Conventional mainstream actors like Brad Pitt, Ben Affleck or Matt Damon would kill to possess an iota of Dallesandro’s nonchalance and effortless animal grace. In his lyrical appreciation of Dallesandro’s persona, Dan Callahan of The Chiseler notes that “Like Marilyn Monroe and James Dean, Dallesandro knew exactly what to offer to a still camera, assuming all the attitudes from Back Off to Come Hither to Take Care Of Me. And always, essentially, he is distant and removed, which is his real trick, the thing that keeps people coming back for more. Often fully naked on screen, Dallesandro offers all of that bounty to the camera, but he keeps himself to himself.” In contrast to the histrionic performances of the women in Heat, as predatory stud Joe he is an oasis of calm. Dallesandro is far too cool to ever project or emote.

/ Joe Dallesandro and Pat Ast in Heat / 

Briefly: before falling into Warhol’s orbit in 1967, Dallesandro (born 1948) had already endured a bumpily eventful life as a tough Italian-American teenage juvenile delinquent (according to Wikipedia: "at age 15, he was expelled from school for punching the school principal"), who stole cars, clashed with the police and spent stints in foster homes and reform schools. Sigh. Who doesn’t love a bad boy? Of course, Dallesandro was blessed with sensational looks and a muscled physique so exquisite it recalled Michelangelo’s David (but with tattoos, and if David spoke with a surly Noo Yawk accent). No wonder Morrisey and Warhol were instantly awe-struck by him. As a teenager he may have hustled older gay men for money (Lou Reed certainly implies this in the lyrics to “Walk on the Wild Side”. I think Dallesandro has gone on the record to dispute he was ever a sex worker). But Dallesandro certainly modeled nude and baby-oiled for vintage beefcake homo porn photographers like Bob Mizer of Athletic Model Guild. 

/ Dallesandro by Bob Mizer of Athletic Model Guild /

Post-Heat, Morrissey and Dallesandro would collaborate on two gruesome Euro-horror films (Flesh for Frankenstein and Blood for Dracula, both 1974). Then Dallesandro would remain in the Continent, working in intriguing low-budget European art and exploitation films. These obscurities are frequently difficult to see, but I do have fond memories of Je t’aime, moi non plus (1976) directed by none other than France’s dissolute Marquis de Sade of pop, Serge Gainsbourg. Back in the US, Dallesandro would struggle with alcoholism, heroin addiction and periods of obscurity and poverty. (Being an underground film cult figure and gay icon isn’t lucrative – who knew?). In the 1980s when the acting gigs dried-up Dallesandro made ends meet working as a chauffeur. Happily married and now a grandfather, today he manages an apartment building in Los Angeles.

With her snarling, eye-rolling and bitchily acidic line deliveries as Lydia the sexually insatiable hotel proprietoress, Pat Ast (1941 - 2001) strikingly anticipates the shout-y antagonistic acting style associated with the cinema of John Waters.  (Ast would have slotted effortlessly into a Waters film like Desperate Living (1977). Watching her as Lydia, you can easily imagine Divine playing this role). Ast was a character actress and model / muse of the fashion designer Halston in the disco-era (like Divine, Ast knew how to rock a caftan). Aside from Heat, probably her most noteworthy other film is the women-in-prison exploitation film Reform School Girls (1986). (She portrays a sadistic lesbian prison matron, needless to say). Ast more than holds her own in Heat, whether flirting outrageously with Dallesandro or in in her furious show-downs with Miles and Feldman. Sadly, she died aged 59 from diabetes complications. What a fierce presence Pat Ast was! Heat is a testament to her talent and charisma.

/ Not exactly mother of the year: Andrea Feldman as neglectful mommy Jessie /

Andrea Feldman (1948 – 1972) plays Jessie, Sally Todd’s bratty daughter. Like Edie Sedgwick before her, Feldman was a profoundly troubled poor little rich girl with drug and mental health problems whose parents couldn’t cope with her and who latched onto Warhol’s Factory scene as a surrogate family. Also like Sedgwick, she was doomed to die young.  Feldman first encountered Warhol in 1967 and had already played small roles in a few Warhol films before Heat (as a young starlet on the ascent she makes vivid appearances in Imitation of Christ (1967) and Trash (1970)). Off-screen Feldman was a notorious amphetamine-addled exhibitionist whose penchant for black or blue lipstick prefigured punk fashion. As a fixture in the grungy New York nightclub Max’s Kansas City she used to climb atop tables, belt-out “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” and strip naked for attention. She committed suicide aged 24 on 8 August 1972, three weeks before the premiere of Heat, leaping from the 14th floor window of 51 Fifth Avenue in New York at 4:30 pm. Feldman reportedly jumped clutching a Bible and a crucifix (accounts vary: some say she held a can of Coke in one hand and a rosary in the other), so her suicide was evidently staged as a kind of pop  / performance art statement. (Apparently, her suicide note declared, “I’m going for the big time! I hit the jackpot!”).

Warhol, is of course, routinely accused of exploiting his vulnerable superstars and many find Feldman in Heat problematic. Certainly, when we see Feldman very convincingly cracking-up in Heat, it’s hard to gauge whether it’s acting or real distress. What can’t be denied is that the feral Feldman is a genuinely funny, strange and original comedic performer.  That flat, irritating whiny voice! The whiplash mood swings! She’s a freaky naïve “outsider actress” in the same elite tradition as John Waters regular Edith Massey. No drama school on earth could teach someone to act like Massey, or like Feldman does in Heat.  Who knows what Feldman could have achieved post-Heat? Her acting garnered mostly positive reviews (Judith Christ of New York magazine praised her performance as “a mass of psychotic confusion, infantile and heart-breaking”). All these decades later, Andrea Feldman still confounds.

The most disturbing actor in Heat arguably isn’t Feldman, though – it’s the impish Eric Emerson (1945 – 1975) as the most perverse resident of Lydia’s hotel complex. (The cute but seemingly perennially stoned Emerson had already appeared in Warhol’s Chelsea Girls (1967) and Lonesome Cowboys (1968)). As “Eric”, he plays one of two brothers who perform an x-rated nightclub act where they have sex together onstage. The hunky other brother emerges as relatively sane, but Emerson plays his role as a creepily childlike, mute village idiot unselfconsciously jerking-off poolside while wearing knee-socks and a white babydoll dress. (His androgynous little girl attire heralds the “kinderwhore” style that Courtney Love would sport in the 1990s. The golden-haired Emerson is considerably prettier than Love, though). In the context of Heat, Emerson would appear to embody what Morrissey and Warhol interpret as Hollywood’s corrupt id.

In conclusion: in my introduction, I suggested that if there was sufficient demand I'd happily screen Flesh and Trash at future Lobotomy Room film clubs. Considering only four (yes, four) people came to our presentation of Heat, that won't be happening! I'm still glad I showed Heat, though.

The next Lobotomy Room film club:

Attention, Scream Queens! In honour of Halloween, for the October Lobotomy Room film club presentation we’ve scheduled the apogee of the “hagsploitation” genre Hush ... Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964) starring Bette Davis at her most frenzied! Wednesday 16 October! Come and settle-in for an evening of spine-tingling Southern Gothic horror in the Tiki splendour of Fontaine's Bamboo Lounge!

Lobotomy Room Goes to the Movies is the FREE monthly film club downstairs at Fontaine’s bar (Dalston’s most unique nite spot!) devoted to Bad Movies We Love, specializing in the kitsch, the cult and the queer! (Our motto: Bad Movies for Bad People!). Remember: admission is FREE so that you can buy more cocktails! (One drink minimum).

Further reading:

Read my reflections on Andy Warhol's BAD (1977) here.

In August 2018 I spoke my brains to To Do List magazine about the wild, wild world of Lobotomy Room, the monthly cinema club – and my lonely one-man mission to return a bit of raunch, sleaze and “adult situations” to London’s nightlife! Read it - if you must - here. 

Follow me on twitter!

"Like" and follow the official Lobotomy Room page on Facebook if you dare! 

I have serious issues with the frankly homophobic, puritanical, hypocritical and censorious Tumblr these days, but you can follow me on there.

And I'm now spreading my message of filth on Instagram!