Sword and Scandal

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I have an unfortunate habit of saying things when I watch the news. A newsreader was interviewing some “expert” about the legacy of music producer Phil Spektor, in the wake of his conviction for murdering B-movie queen/escort Lana Clarkson by fatal gunshot, and …

NEWSREADER: “What is the sound Phil Spektor will be remembered for?”

ME: “Bang!”

I now apologise for that joke. I actually picked up a Lana Clarkson movie for a pound a while back and was going to review it last summer, but there wasn’t that much to say. BARBARIAN QUEEN, produced by Roger Corman, is so nakedly and unpleasantly bad, not only does it make working as an escort seem like a step up, career-wise, it makes getting shot in the head seem like a step-up, career-wise.

Now I apologise for that joke. 

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The fiendish torture device — a glove on a string — which makes no sense and looks like it would be more annoying than agonizing.

BARBARIAN QUEEN is a fairly rancid bit of s&m-inflected sword and sorcery baloney, (slogan: “No man can touch¬†her naked steel.”) shot in Argentina, with American accents all round. The men look and act like bodybuilders, the women look and act like centrefolds. It’s cheap-ish, which is another way of saying that it’s expensive enough to have been good, had script or direction applied the least bit of imagination or sympathy or energy or humour to the creative aspects of the show. Director Hector Olivera apparently served on the jury of the 1998 Berlin Film Festival, which boggles and re-boggles my mind. Hector the director, who displays bare competence in aiming the camera at the action from a distance that roughly makes sense, contributes nothing in the way of artistry or visible enthusiasm to the proceedings. I guess if the movie you’re making is basically rape-revenge, rape-revenge, rape-revenge, that will tend to breed a contempt for the audience. The idea that they might deserve or appreciate anything better than shit might actually seem blasphemous in such circumstances.

(The ever-avuncular Roger Corman, it seems to me, must have a rather more sinister side than appears in public, given the squalid and misogynistic bent displayed in so much of his work from the 80s.)

Clarkson, a 5,11 bombshell known to cliche as statuesque or possibly Amazonian, is a perfectly good actress and gives of her best. She also seems to have been an all-round good person, volunteering weekly at an AIDS charity. It upsets me that she’ll be remembered for BARBARIAN QUEEN and Spektor will be remembered for some of the finest popular music of the sixties. In a well-ordered universe, she would have had his career, or else she would have got to kill him. This just isn’t fair.

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19 Responses to “Sword and Scandal”

  1. Nice piece about Lana Clarkson here:
    http://www.slate.com/id/2078263/

  2. Having read the Slate piece, Clarkson sounds perhaps a bit dim but ultimately likable. Can’t say the same for Corman. How the hell the late Ms. Clarkson found her way into Spector’s life I do not know, or he into hers, but he seems like someone I wouldn’t want anywhere near me, were I man or woman. As gifted as he was musically, he appears to have been just as pathetic personally. Don’t know how many remember Spector as the coke dealer meeting with Fonda and Hopper outside the airport runway. What a hip guy.

  3. Oh, in Easy Rider of course.

  4. Poor Lana walked into Spektor’s life by working as an escort and getting picked up by him. The theory is that she then tried to walk OUT of his life, at which point he drew his gun, which was his classic approach to anyone crossing him.

    And I guess the poor woman HAD to take Barbarian Queen seriously as a drama, because if you viewed it as escapist entertainment pap, it would be despicable: since its sole source of “entertainment” is to show women being abused.

  5. Arthur S. Says:

    Well Spector was always a creep. When he married the Ronettes’ lead singer he forbade her to meet with the Beatles or the Rolling Stones for fear that she would commit infidelity. And he threatened her by showing her a coffin in which he promised to stuff her in and display her outside his house.

    Very Gesualdo di Venosa(on whom Bertolucci plans to do a biopic). Venosa was a 16th Century Madrigal composer who Stravinsky claimed as a precedent for his work. In his lifetime he was remembered for murdering his wife and her lover after walking in on them and then advertising their corpses in coffins outside his mansion gates. As per the law back then, Venosa as a nobleman was perfectly in his rights to do such a thing. And naturally he went on to compose sweet music after that.

    In our modern world we have developed beyond that and Spektor’s future will be behind bars.

  6. Kind of amazing Spektor got convicted… famous people don’t often go to jail in our culture, however obviously guilty.

  7. Arthur S. Says:

    Well Spector wasn’t very big anymore. He’s remembered as a relic of the 60s and 70s. Imagine if it was someone like Donald Trump or Hugh Hefner who got involved in something like this. It’d never even go to court. The media will say what they are told to say by them. Unless of course it gets leaked out.

    Like Mel Gibson’s racket(incidentally his wife is leaving him) was originally intended by the police precinct to be buried but when it got online, they lost all control of the situation and Gibson had to make his mea culpas in public and become the public disgrace that he is.

    Spector was the kind of celebrities that’s fair game, although it should be noted that he got convicted after two trials.

  8. But Gibson recovered from public disgrace with his Jesus snuff film, proving that the United States of Amnesia extends its illimitable dominion over the whole Earth.

  9. As long as we’re dealing in silly and possibly callous jokes …

    Whenever I’ve encountered the title BARBARIAN QUEEN, my immediate mental response has been “… I’ve known several!”

    There was also a recent memorable David Letterman where Teri Garr appeared, promoting her autobiography, and she remarked that the disease MS can have odd an unpredictable symptoms … symptoms such as, say, believing Phil Spector is innocent.

    *

    As for Roger Corman and the Clarkson films … is it the man himself or the *zeitgeist* that’s to blame? ‘Cause in the ’50s, at least, Corman-connected genre films tended to feature strong and disruptive women. Women like, say, Beverly Garland in GUNSLINGER or Susan Cabot in THE WASP WOMAN.

    “Who or what changed?”, one wonders

  10. Well, Barbarian Queen is in the tradition of films like his Student Nurses type movies, or the women in prison films, but a couple of things have changed. The crappy fantasy writing robs the group of women in this one of any identifiable personalities, so character sympathy is abandoned, despite being one of Corman’s golden rules: “Have sympathy for your main characters and translate that into audience sympathy.” And then, the exploitation shifts from plucky women in peril in the westerns and horror films and exploiters, to plucky women getting degraded in the WIP films, to basically interchangeable female bodies going through the motions of being degraded in BQ. And where character sympathy makes the women’s eventual triumph the most important part of Jonathan Demme’s Caged Heat, the lack thereof makes the triumph in BQ seem like a cynical alibi to excuse the rape and torture which precede it.

    It’s a mixture of the zeitgeist, the lack of talent, and Corman not taking due care to prevent the making of a film that’s basically vile. Whatever the failings of his cohorts and the sleaze of the market, he’s still guilty too.

  11. Arthur S. Says:

    David, Gibson’s DUI arrest happened after Passion of the Christ. That”s why it was a big deal because the anti-semitic issues which had been swept underneath for that film came back again from the horse’s own mouth.

  12. I remember it the other way round. I guess Apocalypto is the one that came out then and was a hit in spite of everything. And I guess it’s MY memory that’s defective!

  13. Arthur S. Says:

    Oddly enough, APOCALYPTO has a number of fans. Quentin Tarantino, Robert Duvall and apparently Martin Scorsese, in one of his DIRECTV pages, he pairs it on a double bill with THE NAKED PREY by Cornel Wilde(which might be his way of satirizing the film for all we know).

    I haven’t seen it. All I heard was that it was highly violent and it was deeply criticized by some Mayan historians. And frankly I was done with Gibson.

  14. Fiona saw and says it’s impressive as pure sensation. It doesn’t say anything about violence, it’s just a well-orchestrated cavalcade of atrocities and action. A bit like any other Gibson film.

  15. I first saw and enjoyed Lana Clarkson many years ago in The Haunting of Morella, a remake of the “Morella” episode from Corman’s Tales of Terror, produced by Corman and directed by Jim Wynorski, with David McCallum in the Vincent Price role. In an effort to expand a slim story to feature lengh, the film included a lesbian seduction scene with Clarkson as the seducer. She was the best thing in the film.

  16. Sounds…OK. Wynorski seemed like kind of a jerk, when I saw him interviewed. Corman’s outfit lately seems to have favoured aggressive types over talented ones. Maybe it always did, but back in the 70s the guys who pushed to the top were also prodigiously talented. Don’t think that can be said for JW.

  17. Unlike some of the better known graduates of the Corman school – Scorsese, Coppola, Demme, et al. – Wynorski never seemed to want to do anything BUT make cheap exploitation films. The latest *big* name to have emerged from the Corman factory is Timur Bekmambetov, director of Night Watch and the Angelina Jolie vehicle Wanted. He shot a female gladiator film for Corman in Russia called The Arena.

  18. I was OK with Night Watch. Ridiculously overdone, but in a distinctive way. I didn’t fancy Wanted at all — never cared much for Mark Millar’s comics.

    Wynorski has said that he makes the films he’d like to see as a kid, which would put him in the same camp as Spielberg, or even Truffaut. Except that JW was seemingly a thuggish, dumb kid.

  19. the torture applied in beautiful women, seems an disturbingly seducer art.

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