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in Filmmaking
on May 24, 2006

Bill Condon may have turned sex researcher Alfred Kinsey into a mainstream movie figure, but underground filmmaker Bret Woods has turned to a slightly more esoteric source for his latest film. According to its new website, Psychopathia Sexualis “dramatizes case histories of turn-of-the-century sexual deviance, drawn from the pages of Richard von Krafft-Ebing’s notorious medical text. Among the cases are a sexually repressed man who discovers an unhealthy appetite for blood; a homosexual man who submits himself to a doctor who promises to ‘cure’ his condition; and a masochist who hires a pair of corseted prostitutes to enact a most peculiar performance. In the final chapter, a woman who has spent her life suppressing her lesbian desires is hired to tutor a sexually curious young woman. These stories are bound together by the thread of an ambitious doctor who not only studies the patients, but uses them as pawns and playthings.”

Woods’ website is hosted by Kino, the tony arthouse distributor which is releasing the film, and it contains downloadable clipsand the trailer from the film. It opens in early June in New York, Seattle and Chicago. Woods’s previous feature was Hell’s Highway: The True Story of Highway Safety Films), which we called it “a Lynchian view of the nightmarish underbelly of middle America.” (That’s from his website too!) He has also written several books on film, including Forbidden Fruit: The Golden Age of the Exploitation Film.

Woods also has an interesting blog in which he talks about his movie but also all his other projects, which include this project about Billy Wilder:

I’m just finishing a project that I’m very excited about. Several years ago, Volker Schlondorff (The Tin Drum) made a three-hour interview-format documentary on Billy Wilder called Billy, How Did You Do It? I’ve been entrusted with the task of reworking the epic documentary into a compact 70 minutes (for American television). Retitled Billy Wilder Speaks, it will air Thursday, June 22 on Turner Classic Movies (consult local listings for details).

The documentary’s pretty amazing. Imagine sitting at Wilder’s desk for more than an hour while he gives you lessons in filmmaking, reveals fascinating details about the making of his films and his clashes with the studios, skewers Hollywood’s pomposity, and constantly spits out the screenplay-worthy wisecracks.

I’ve always liked Wilder’s work, but to be honest, I was always troubled by the melancholy cloud that hangs over so many of his films. Kiss Me, Stupid and The Apartment are great comedies… but they’re also heartbreaking in ways that are not easy to define. There is a sense of lovesick yearning that pervades The Seven Year Itch and Some Like It Hot and lingers well after the movie has ended.

In Schlondorff’s documentary, Wilder talks about how films shouldn’t be neatly stitched up at “The End.” The story should be resolved, but the viewer should be left with the sense that the characters’ lives will continue… and they will live on beyond the closing credits. He resisted the impulse to nail the narrative shut at the end of the movie… and maybe that’s why he and so-screenwriter I.A.L. Diamond ended some of their films with very unromantic, unsentimental last lines (as if refusing to cave in to the neat, tidy meaningful ending). “Kiss Me, Stupid.” “Shut up and deal.” “Nobody’s perfect.”

Once you become aware of that dark lining of malaise, you learn to savor it, because it’s truthful, it’s affecting and it’s something that cannot be found in Hollywood pictures (then or now). I agree with him that love is not about happiness and laughter, but about anxiety and desire and trying to reach a point of emotional security in someone else’s company. Movies that try to sell you on the idea of “Happiness ever after” are pure bunk.

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