Friday, March 9, 2012

Shadow Worlds of Cinema: An Interview with Susie Bright

Every art movement worth its salt is going to have its share of detractors and controversies. Chances are if a work of art has caused at least one parent's group ire, then it is something worth checking out. (And if it's caused a riot, then it is a masterpiece. But that's for another article.) The best kind to stoke the fires of status quo morality is often “lowbrow” art. Whether it is horror comics, pulp novels, heavy metal music or fringe cinema, these are often the works that are critically panned, if paid attention to at all, they repulse the ethically insecure and when they're really good, give the social rebel hope.

One of the writers that has been an essential part of these needed fringe worlds of art is the one and only Susie Bright. A name that should already be familiar to most that will read this article, she has been a keen figure in the world of feminism, zines, erotica and LGBT rights. Something that not everyone reading this might know, though, is that she has written a number of great film articles and reviews. It feels like that the cult film world has not given this woman enough credit and that day is changing now, especially with her recent book, SusieBright's Erotic Screen: The Golden Hardcore & The ShimmeringDyke-Core. This e-book is indeed shimmering, making it a must read for anyone who has a deep love or at least, a curiosity, about a time period when cinematic erotica had a number of ambitious artists and filmmakers involved.

If you are looking for something prurient, go elsewhere, since this feast is more focused on great writing, cinematic history and peeking into cultural corners. I loved this, since it fed my inner Murray Head. (“I get my kicks above the waistline, sunshine.”) 

Ms. Bright was extremely kind enough to agree to answer a few questions, via e-mail. Enjoy!

First of all, I love the quote on your blog from Rolling Stone, “Could not be accused of shutting up.” A magazine that toothless should be grateful to have someone smart and with actual informed opinions talking! There is a fine art of the un-quiet, which shines in your book, “The Golden Hardcore & Shimmering Dyke-Core.” Being an open and honest writer, did you ever feel any resistance from editors and/or publishers?

Oh, all the time; but I consider that a healthy tension— to a certain degree. If someone fawns all over you, there’s probably something amiss.

But you are probably asking something more difficult, which is, “Have I ever been discriminated against?”

Yes, all the time. The prejudices are well known.

I rarely hear the blunt rejection to my face-- it’s usually told second-hand, or in hoary euphemisms. I remember one editor got very drunk and called me in the middle of the night to weep and confess every awful prejudice that had been uttered against my work in their publishing chambers. Feminist, whore, queer, nigger-lover, communist, pervert, etc.
And that’s from the “liberals.”

I guess the main thing to say at this point is, “Who cares what ‘THEY’ say?” The old gatekeepers to the publishing empires are irrelevant today.

My latest book in point: No one in mainstream publishing would’ve bought the rights to “Erotic Screen”-- they can’t even wrap their minds around a topic like that, the golden age of porn and the origins of indie erotic film making.

But it doesn't matter. I know who my audience is; they’re eager for it, and I can self-publish and reach them myself. By the time it becomes “big news,” I will have established the beachhead. I already have. 

Honestly, nothing new ever happens waiting for the Big Boys to “discover” you sitting on a soda fountain stool. You have to come up with your own little revolution and then watch and see what happens!

-Also, what kind of reception did you initially get from other writers?

Oh, I’m in a longtime supportive community of working writers. People who’ve been supporting their families for decades with their writing are not prissy about anything. "If you’re working, good for you—" that's the attitude among the craft. There’s few writers that haven’t tackled sexual subjects at one time or another.

Jamie Gillis

-Classic era adult films are the living definition of fringe cinema and like all fringe cinema. A lot of it does not deserve to be put in the back room ghetto. Being an artist and being marginalized because of your own private milieu is incredibly unfair. How did a lot of the actors and directors that you knew in this field handle this critical prejudice?

Well, I think many of the names you know today, like Nina Hartley or Annie Sprinkle--- or the late John Leslie or Jamie Gillis— are household names because they have been outspoken and militant, in addition to prolific.

The people who are articulate, charismatic, dogged, lucky… they’re the minority. But you could say that about every actor working anywhere.

Most people in porn, like everyone else in the Hollywood colony, just drift in and out, rather unheralded, never becoming famous. It is a tough business where you often feel used and thrown out like yesterday’s dishwater, after a very brief period of time. I would say the same holds whether it was TV sitcoms or porn flicks.

People think porn is some nether world that has nothing to do with the rest of show business, but it’s quite the opposite.

 John Leslie

-Any post-Silent film worth its salt will have some sonic goodness and the classic films of this era are no different. (Directors such as Cecil Howard, the Dark Brothers and Stephen Sayadian are especially standout in this arena.) What are some of your favorite soundtracks of the adult era?

Oh, definitely Night Dreams. (Editor Note: Indeed! Any film that features Wall of Voodoo's “Ring of Fire” is something very, very special. Also, Mitchell Froom's excellent soundtrack for Rinse Dream/Stephen Sayadian's Cafe Flesh is worth checking out.)

 Speaking of Cafe Flesh....

-Were there any adult films that you were initially excited about, only to be disappointed with?

When a director is good and does something new, there’s so much pressure to pump up the volume, just churn stuff out. How many people can be Andy Warhol? I really can’t think of any!

Almost all my fave directors got burnt out at some point and did less than stellar work in their later years, unless they had refreshing break!

In that vein, what are some of the most overrated titles? (In my opinion, Debbie Does Dallas would be the ultimate. How titles like FIRESTORM and MEMORIES WITHIN MISS AGGIE are semi-obscure and that smut-for-mongoloids is famous is beyond me.)

Yeah, Debbie is one of those Texas cliches that is “all hat, no cowboy.” It’s all “title” and no film. Someone poured ten times the marketing budget into that film than they did on the actual production.

Actually, it presages the current porn vogue for jumping onto current events and trends, be it the Sarah Palin parody, Nailin' Palin, or Avatar. Debbie was an attempt to jump on the tremendous heat behind the Dallas Cowboys, the biggest thing in the sports world at the time.

Firestorm is one of Cecil Howard’s greats, and luckily, he kept all his rights, kept masters of all his films. Thank god. He and Radley Metzger were unique that way.

If someone made a porn film right this minute starring a Jeremy Lin lookalike, just imagine the pandemonium. I’d go see that!

As for Miss Aggie, that was Damiano’s third film, his followup to the excellent Devil in Miss Jones, and really when he felt like he was moving into mainstream theatrical film territory.

During those times, the money was accessible, and it was a HUGE production— all the stops pulled out. They thought that the Ratings Board and the puritanical rules regarding film were coming to pieces-- that sex and drama put together in professional creative manner was here to stay!

Well, unfortunately, they were wrong. The 70s were the biggest high water creative mark for American films since before the Hays Office meltdown.

And they were crushed. It wasn’t just porn, it was everything that brought indie cinema into fruition in the 70s: Scorsese, Cronenberg, Altman, Fonda, Hopper and the whole bit. Those famous names survived and adapted, but the revolutionary erotic spirit… not so much.

I see it opening up again only now, when technology has just ripped apart the old expectations again.

 The Man, Gerard Damiano.

-On a more positive note, did you encounter any films that you went into expecting the worst and walked out being pleasantly surprised?

Oh sure, all the time. I would say I was surprised by virtually every film I saw theatrically. When I saw video innovators like Chris Rage, and Rodney Werden, and the lesbian stuff my comrades were making, it was "goosebump time."

-One of the titles you have a lot of love for in the book is Smoker, which got a DVD release last year. Unfortunately, VCA, which is also responsible for the substandard DVD release of the sci-fi/art film classic Cafe Flesh, has excised over 20 minutes of footage.

Yes. It reminds me of all the silent films that were destroyed in the 20s. (Ed. Note: Not to mention a lot of the pre-Hays code talkies. See, CONVENTION CITY.) I'm writing about this for Volume 2 of The Erotic Screen.

In the days of the Meese Commission scare, it is halfway understandable, but in these days of the Whitman's sampler of lurid hell you can find on the net and in ones local video store legally, what is your theory of why many film companies are releasing these films censored and with battered prints to boot? Is it laziness or fear or just a complete lack of caring about their archive?

When Russell Hampshire, the owner of VCA (the biggest XXX video distributor at the time) got of of jail on obscenity charges following the Meese Commission bust, he told his lawyers, “I never want to go to jail again. EVER. Tell me what to do.”

His lawyer, Paul Cambria, wrote a memo

Followed to the letter, the advice from the memo would destroy most of their back catalog.

And they did.

There were voices who said, “But this is art! Someday the Criterion Collection is going to want this! Scholars will study it!”

But they were ignored with the same mandate.

This really is just like what happened in the Silent film days after the Justice Dept went after them.

The rest of the companies, besides VCA, hadn’t been forced to send anyone to jail. So they just decided to wing it and see if anything happened. Nothing did. They kept their catalog intact and only VCA destroyed theirs. Since VCA had so many classics, it was a holocaust.

-Working and writing about these films, did you ever receive any backlash from some of the more politically correct members of the feminist community?

Oh yes. See my memoir. Endless, endless, ad hominem attacks, multiple assassination attempts (no fooling), unrelenting smear campaigns. What a complete waste. What did the feminist movement get out of it? Look at the horrible state we’re in now, fighting for fucking birth control all over again.

-Every interview needs at least one fun and semi-cheesy question and this one is no exception. What is your classic era dream team? (Actors, actresses, directors, writers, composers, etc etc)

Oh gee! Well, Radley directing Sharon Mitchell, I’d like that. Jamie Gillis with Robert De Niro. Chris Rage making a Disney movie.

 The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann

-The decline of the classic era is often attributed to the rise of video. However, filmmakers of all types have been able to use professional video equipment to make some unique and good movies. I've always felt that it is more supply and demand. If the public at large demanded better movies (of any genre), then the people with the pocketbooks would be forced to financially back more intelligent and creative efforts. However, that's just me being opinionated, so what are your feelings on this?

You’re right. You see that in gay movies, where there IS a more discriminating audience, and they get better movies.

-Where there any particular artists that you always wanted to meet and/or interview, but never did?

Damiano! Alex D’Renzy. And it’s weird that I washed Linda Lovelace’s car in high school, but never saw her again. When I was 15, I had no idea I’d be covering her career someday.

Andy Nichols in Cafe Flesh

-Any ongoing, new or vintage projects you would like to mention or promote?

I'll be publishing The Erotic Screen, Volume 2, at the end of this year. It will include such classics as "Stalag Porn," and "The G-Spot Fraud Detection Squad." If you'd like to be on the mailing list for its debut, mail me at

I cannot thank Susie enough for taking the time out of her busy schedule to answer my questions. Feel free to check out her Amazon store for an assortment of her available works and of course, her website.

1 comment:

  1. Well done, Heather! Susie is a national treasure.