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in Filmmaking
on Jun 15, 2012

Back in 2009, I interviewed Nicolas Winding Refn about his movie Bronson, and in the course of our conversation he mentioned a director whose name meant very little to me:

The filmmakers I would have loved to meet are more obscure, like Andy Milligan. He’s a very obscure filmmaker who made films for Times Square in the 60s and 70s.

After our conversation, I went to seek out more information about Milligan and discovered that, little-known as he was, there was a book on him by the biographer Jimmy McDonough called The Ghastly One. (This book was, in fact, what got Winding Refn interested in Milligan in the first place.) I found that Milligan’s movies, however, were far from easy to get hold of.

That is seemingly beginning to change, though. The BFI has just recently put out Milligan’s Nightbirds through its excellent Flipside label, and to mark that release Winding Refn has written a great piece for The Guardian about his curious love of Milligan’s work and his involvement in helping it reach a bigger audience.

Here’s an extract:

When I was about 12, I tricked my mother into buying me my first book about film: Splatter Movies, by John McCarty. That’s when I became aware of Andy Milligan and started looking for videos of his films – such as Gutter Trash (1969), Fleshpot on 42nd Street (1973), Guru, the Mad Monk (1970) and The Naked Witch (1967).

When I finally saw them I was taken aback – first by their crudeness, and then by how difficult it was to sit through them. But, at the same time, I realised that here was a man who made films his own way, on his own terms. He used the medium as something he could streamline his consciousness into, and I found that fascinating.

I had moved to New York, aged eight, in 1978, too late to experience anything of the real Times Square. So when The Ghastly One, Jimmy McDonough’s biography of Milligan, came out, talking about the director’s place in that 42nd Street exploitation world, I loved it. Suddenly, I had a different view of this man, and it intrigued me.

Then I began to get obsessive. I would go on eBay and buy anything connected with Andy. One day I came across McDonough himself, selling his collection of Milligan film materials, including a unique print of Nightbirds (1970), about two hippies in love in London, and a few other super-rare titles – $25,000 (£16,000) for the lot. I did a travel commercial to raise the money, and I bought everything.

My wife saw the film cans arriving and said: “Are you crazy? You spent $25,000 on movies nobody cares about?” “But honey,” I said, this could have been me!”

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