13 August 2002

Goodbye Doris Wishman

My good buddy Aaron Jarvis, master of all things sleazy, passed on the sad news: beloved wacky b-moviemaker Doris Wishman has died, just after completing principle photography on her 30th film, Each Time I Kill.

If you don't know who Doris Wishman was, deduct at least 100 cool points off your total and read her biography.

About a million years ago, I hit my very first "bad movie craze" when I was a teenager. It was very hard finding such movies, but thanks to my friend the late Kelvin Mead (who collected 8mm "versions" and "trailers" of b-movies) and the amazing (and now gone) Rhodes Theatre in Atlanta, I got to see a tremendous number of what later came to be known as "cult films," "turkeys," and "grade-z pictures" a good while before magazines such as Psychotronic Film & Video and Film Threat made the b-movie a cult celebre.

It was in the throes of this period that I got a chance to see Nude on the Moon. This was heaven for an oversexed teen with a fetish for bad movies!! It was probably on a double-bill with one of Doris' other movies, I don't remember. What I do know is that many years later (1994 or so?) Doris was featured on a show I was addicted to, a British documentary series called "The Incredibly Strange Film Show." I learned a lot from that show, including who was responsible for warping my brain with Nude on the Moon: Doris Wishman.

Doris, it turned out, was a feistly little number cut from the same cloth as Hershell Gordon Lewis and John Waters (deduct another 100 cool points each if you don't immediately recognise those names). Her films were awful -- I mean awful, but each one had something: a gimmick. That made them watchable, and sometimes even brilliant.

After descending into soft porn with films featuring Chesty Morgan, she looked set to make a comeback in 1983 with A Night to Dismember, but bizarre problems cropped up and she retired for nearly 20 years.

It was with great pleasure that we took in her 2001 comeback film Satan Was a Lady at the Florida Film Festival. While over-long, it was a tremendous return to her inimitable form and a much-talked-about hit. Riding high on the good buzz from SWAL, Doris celebrated it's release on video by appearing in one of the most memorable segments of the Conan O'Brien show ever ... even charming film critic Roger Ebert out of his socks!

I was hoping that Doris could be persuaded to come to Orlando to debut her follow-up, Dildo Heaven, for the late-night slate at this year's FFF ... but it was not to be. Hopefully Aaron will be able to sling together a retrospective of this unique filmmaker's work.

Why so many words about a cranky old lady who made weird, bad movies? Because as true individualism dies in corporate America, we embrace what little we have left. Doris will never get an Oscar, but her storytelling was unique, and her films inspiring. Most of us could never say the same.

Goodnight, Doris. We'll miss you.

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