Nude on the Moon (Doris Wishman, 1961)
Moseying about the horror and underground horror fests like I’ve done for years (back when underground fests were actually daring, not the status quo-driven safe houses many ironically have become), I’ve heard of fringe filmmaker Doris Wishman plenty, and about the cult following her films have garnered, over the years… but just have never gotten around to watching her stuff, or admittedly paying close attention to the details of her career.
I was aware enough to know that, like the Godfather of Gore himself, H.G. Lewis (a filmmaker it took an inexcusable amount of time for me to finally, only recently, lay my eyeballs on his influential – and, it turned out, oddball, fascinating and worthy of the love – early lurid gore films), Wishman was one of those early pioneer filmmakers who, with tons of exploitation-hearted chutzpah and little financing (or filmmaking experience), carved an important niche, starting in the early 60’s, as a kind of pioneer of the grindhouse circuit, gaining attention not through international acclaim as some kind of ‘cinematic master’, but by pushing against and whittling away at the censorial boundaries of what was considered the acceptable levels of taste – not done, of course, out of any moral calling, but rather as a means to make an opportunistic buck, gaining attention by showing things no mainstream Hollywood film dared at the time.
Truth be told, up until seeing Nude on the Moon, the only title that came to mind for me upon hearing her name (no surprise, considering my youthful proclivities) was A Night to Dismember, what I knew as Wishman’s gore-strewn attempt at a slasher… and then was surprised to discover that, amongst her entire catalogue of thirty plus feature films directed and produced over forty years (some kind of record or another, I believe, for a female filmmaker – but don’t expect the Oscars to be celebrating her any time soon, though you never know – Conan O’Brien has had her on a couple times, apparently), “Dismember” was her sole foray into the horror genre, as her stock in trade (as was as Lewis’, for much of his career) was sexploitation, from nudist camp, to the later more controversial (and interesting) roughies, to straight out porn (following, I gather, the trends of whatever was pushing the boundaries of the moment on the indie circuit).
One of the great enjoyments of watching such a clumsy, oddly edited early work (though I don’t know how much her skills improved over the years) is the wonderful nostalgic notion that this was a time when there was room in the theatrical landscape for some entrepreneur-ing, not particularly experienced, yet super-savvy and determined weirdo filmmakers to ply their trade… and make a few dollars at it, operating entirely outside the studio system (with no real desire to ‘make it’ in that system, as they thankfully didn’t have to… corporate Hollywood hadn’t yet gobbled up every means of distribution and production).
Celebrating those admirable early indie voices operating outside the system is certainly a good enough reason to revisit works like those of the one-time house frau Wishman, who grew bored and turned filmmaker after her husband died young of a heart attack, but there’s another – watching our two absurdly under-whelming ‘scientist/astronauts’ in their sparse laboratory of boiling liquid test tubes, which is supposed to represent some kind of means of getting ready to travel to the moon, as well as discovering, upon arrival, that the moon has a full on colony of nudists (well, sort of… everyone’s got tighties on, there’s just a lot of flopping around, not exactly Playboy-level, boobs… even Wishman knew it wasn’t a wise idea to go fully frontal at that point) who communicate telepathically with funny lo-fi rabbit ears they wear on their hands.
It’s not only a fascinating time capsule of an innocent and developing time in cinema, but such a highly pleasurable experience to witness the enterprising Wishman, determined to bring the nudist camp films (which the courts had decided were an acceptable way to show nudity on-screen at the time) into the scifi realm, even though she had nowhere near the money to do it right, so just throwing caution to the wind, giving us a green grass oasis on the moon… and the most ridiculous space outfits – with breathing apparatuses that make absolutely no sense – certainly that I’ve ever seen in a movie, low rent actors stiffly delivering their dialogue and off-key editing, story and directing choices borne from lack of knowledge.
I have tremendous affection for a film like Nude on the Moon (and the catchy easy-listening theme song, “I’m Mooning Over You” played in almost its entirety over both the amusingly crude and colorful animated credit sequences that open and close the film to eat up as much of the short running time as possible) and, if I laugh as I watch, it’s at the daring and gall of the filmmakers to go for something even if they don’t really know what they’re doing (and by that very fact, from the drive alone to do it, oft creating something eccentric, sometimes even innovative and worthy of discussion, as “Nude” is and does), not at anything related to diminishing the effort put out by the filmmakers, or to belittle what I’m seeing on the screen. I leave that to the ignorant cackling hyena hipsters (well, that is when I’m not in the mood to verbally shush them into shutting up).
One amusing tidbit, as recounted pre-screening by Dara Jade Moats, head honcho of the monthly female-film celebrating series cELLEuloid, to the eager patrons (who, it gave me great relief to discover, were mostly respectful during the screening, as that isn’t always the norm out there amongst the hipster Mile End-ers that the cinema caters to), Wishman thought she was being crafty with her gimmick of moving the nudist colony to (her idea, anyway) a fantastical setting, to get past the censors… unfortunately, the uptight moralist board saw through her ruse and condemned the movie from exhibition at the time.
Fortunately, it didn’t stop Wishman from continuing, or us getting the chance to enjoy it today.