Obituaries

DORIS WISHMAN 1912-2002

By • Aug 15th, 2002 •

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The “Queen of Sexploitation” is dead. Long live the Queen.

On Saturday, August 10, Doris Wishman died, possibly bringing an end to one of the most unusual careers in movie history. The word “possibly” is added because Doris often proclaimed that after her death she “would continue making films in Hell.” If anyone had the drive to make this prediction a reality, it would be Doris. In the 1960s, a time when exploitation was a bawdy boys club where a woman’s only role was to be a nudie cutie, Doris Wishman decided to become a filmmaker. She went on to become the most prolific woman filmmaker of the modern era.

Doris Wishman could best be described as an Outsider Filmmaker for she was not unlike the unschooled painters and sculptors known as Outsider Artists. When her husband, an advertising executive, died, Doris looked for work that would consume her time. Although her experience was limited to a few college acting classes and a stint as a film booker in a relative’s movie distribution company, Doris chose independent filmmaking. Completely self-taught, Doris evolved a unique and eccentric style. Almost all of her movies were shot silent with dialogue and effects dubbed in afterwards. Doris attempted to conceal this by oftencutting to a shot of the listener whenever someone spoke. She also indulged a lifelong passion for seemingly illogical cutaway shots. Enormous close-ups of furniture, carpeting, paintings, sky, birds, soap dishes, and especially feet, punctuate nearly every scene. The result is a movie composed almost entirely of reaction shots and cutaways. It is strange but fascinating to watch a film that intentionally leaves out what would be the central focus of most movies. This tendency reached an absurd apogee in Wishman’s 1989 slasher flick A Night to Dismember. After the edited negative disappeared, Doris recreated the film entirely from outtakes and unused scenes.

While using footage from one movie in another is an old exploitation filmmaking trick, Doris took this technique to new heights. She constantly mixed and matched footage from all of her films. A particularly attractive shot of a woman swimming naked underwater appears in three different films. In her penultimate film, Dildo Heaven (2002), Wishman freely combined footage from the 60s, 70s, and present, as well as mixing film and video, without feeling any need to explain.

Doris’ films were further distinguished by her surreal imagination. In the nudist camp classic Nude on the Moon (1962), Wishman’s vision of a lunar landscape, looking suspiciously like Florida, populated by sexy showgirls with pipe-cleaner antennae, has a delightfully fizzy beauty. The film is possibly one of the only watchable nudist camp movies ever made. In Another Night, Another Man (1966), the unlucky heroine has a voodoo-like connection to a Barbie doll. The Amazing Transplant (1970) is an astounding twist on the Peter Lorre classic Mad Love (1935). Instead of having the transplanted hands of a killer drive a man to murder, we get the story of a guy who receives a transplant of his recently deceased best friend’s extremely large penis and finds himself driven to duplicate his friend’s very active sex life with tragic results.

Doris Wishman’s career can be broken down into several definite stages. Her first works were all nudist camp films including Blaze Starr Goes Nudist (1960), starring the legendary stripper. These were followed by a series of black and white “roughies” with lots of nudity and violence. In Bad Girls Go to Hell (1965), a film from this period that many consider her finest work, Doris conjures up a nightmarish journey into degradation where our innocent heroine discovers that every man (and woman) is a rapist under the skin. In the 70s, Doris added color and her plots became more fanciful. It was during this time that Doris made her most successful films Deadly Weapons (1973) and Double Agent 73 (1974), both starring the prodigiously endowed Chesty Morgan whose lack of emotion is only matched by her enormous all-natural 73-inch chest. The explosion of hardcore pornography devastated the market for Doris’ softcore features. Her 1980s attempt to get in on the slasher movie craze with her film A Night to Dismember ended disastrously. In the late 80s, Doris gave up filmmaking, returned to Florida, and got a job in a lingerie store. Everything changed when her films began to be released on videotape. With her work being rediscovered, Doris burst back into action with several straight-to-video features. Her final movie, Each Time I Kill, is expected to be released later this year.

Doris’ life and work were filled with contradictions, particularly about sex. Ironically, the woman who was known as the “Queen of Sexploitation” was profoundly uncomfortable about the subject, a feeling that reverberates memorably through her films. Rather than erotic, many of Wishman’s films could actually be described as anti-sexual. In Deadly Weapons, Chesty Morgan plays a secret agent who is forced to have a camera surgically implanted in one of her colossal breasts. Every time that Chesty needs to photograph a top secret document, she takes off her blouse and squeezes her breast until it goes “click.” She is also racing against the clock because there is a bomb implanted in her other breast. On the surface, this is a standard exploitation excuse for the heroine to get naked, not unlike the magic glasses in Russ Meyer’s The Immoral Mr. Teas. However, in this case, watching Chesty, a woman who is literally defined by her breasts, have those very body parts turned into tools of self-destruction is an unsettling and disturbing experience. Of course, it also doesn’t help that Chesty is filmed in a very unattractive manner; although this is probably explained by Doris’ well-known hatred for her pulchritudinous star.

The most extreme example of Doris’ anti-erotic filmmaking is her amazing semi-documentary about transsexualism Let Me Die a Woman (1978). This almost indescribable combination of heartfelt interviews, ridiculous scientific experts, and bizarre dramatizations, mixed with mind-blowingly explicit surgical and gynecological footage goes far beyond shock value. After watching it, you won’t want to have sex for a month. It’s a reaction that might have pleased Doris. A possibly apocryphal story tells that during the 1970s heyday of porn, Doris directed several hardcore films (something she denied to her dying day) but insisted on leaving the room when the sex scenes were filmed.

The films of Doris Wishman have always offered an easy target for the Golden Turkey crowd to ridicule. Even Doris often treated her own work with disdain. Indeed, they fail almost every traditional criteria for good filmmaking. However, if viewers drop their ironic distance, stop “looking down” at these films and instead enter Wishman’s universe, they will be transported to a strange and captivating world.

It is a place that offers an intriguing and entertaining look at our society\rquote s
sexual anxieties as seen through the eyes of one woman. Doris Wishman wrote, directed, produced, cast, and edited about 30 movies (the exact number is difficult to pin down because she often used pseudonyms) and they were all done her way. With budgets that almost never exceeded $70,000, Doris kept complete control over her films. Nothing would budge Doris from her vision, not even money. Late in her career, Wishman became friendly with Fred Schneider of the rock band, The B-52s. A devoted fan of Doris’ films (the recent B-52s greatest hits collection was entitled Nude on the Moon), Schneider offered to ask his some of his famous musician friends to record songs for her new film. This would have instantly raised the profile of Doris’ film and possibly even guaranteed it a commercial release. She rejected his generous offer. Why? Doris didn’t like rock and roll.

Many of the enigmas that were Doris Wishman will be revealed with the publication of Michael Bowen’s eagerly-awaited biography, “It’s Better Than Sex.” The title comes from one of Doris’ favorite comments about filmmaking. Doris Wishman’s exact age is unknown but is believed to have been in her mid-eighties at the time of her death.

Despite her detractors, the cult of Doris Wishman continues to grow. 35mm prints of her most famous films have appeared on the revival circuit, and many of her movies have recently been released on DVD. Ironically, at a time when the exploitation genre has pretty much died, Doris’ films are more popular than ever. So, next time you’re looking for something different, try a Doris Wishman movie. I can’t guarantee you’ll like it (or be held responsible for any effects these films have on your sex life) but I am certain that it will be unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

–Dylan Skolnick

Each Time I Kill (2002)
Dildo Heaven (2001)
Satan Was a Lady (2001)
Night to Dismember, A (1983)
Let Me Die a Woman (1978)
Come with Me, My Love (1976) (as Luigi Manicottale)
… aka Come with Me, My Ghost (1976) (USA)
… aka Haunted Pussy, The (1976) (USA)
Satan Was a Lady (1975) (as Kenyon Wintel)
Double Agent 73 (1974)
Deadly Weapons (1973)
Immoral Three, The (1972)
… aka Hotter Than Hell (1972)
Keyholes Are for Peeping (1972)
Amazing Transplant, The (1970) (as Louis Silverman)
Love Toy (1968) (as Louis Silverman)
Too Much Too Often! (1968) (as Louis Silverman)
… aka Too Much, Too Soon (1968)
Indecent Desires (1967) (as Louis Silverman)
Taste of Her Flesh, A (1967) (as Louis Silverman)
… aka Taste of Flesh, A (1967)
Another Day, Another Man (1966)
My Brother’s Wife (1966)
Bad Girls Go to Hell (1965)
Sex Perils of Paulette, The (1965)
… aka Paulette (1965)
Behind the Nudist Curtain (1964)
Playgirls International (1963)
Gentlemen Prefer Nature Girls (1962)
Nude on the Moon (1962) (as Anthony Brooks)
… aka Girls on the Moon (1962)
… aka Moondolls, The (1962)
… aka Nature Girls on the Moon (1962)
… aka Nudes on the Moon (1962)
Prince and the Nature Girl, The (1962)
Diary of a Nudist (1961)
… aka Nature Camp Confidential (1961)
… aka Nature Camp Diary (1961)
… aka Nudist Camp (1961)
… aka Nudist Confidential (1961)
Blaze Starr Goes Wild (1960)
… aka Back to Nature (1960)
… aka Blaze Starr Goes Back to Nature (1960)
… aka Blaze Starr Goes Nudist (1960)
… aka Blaze Starr the Original (1960)
… aka Busting Out (1960)
… aka Nature Girl (1960)
Hideout in the Sun (1960) (as Lazarus Volkl)

Many of these titles are available on DVD from Image Entertainment as part of the ‘SomethingWeird’ collection.

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