Although it seems as if he’d like to do everything he can to disown it and pretend that it doesn’t exist, Oliver Stone’s 1974 directing debut, the low-budget horror film Seizure, is nothing to be ashamed of. It may not be the best film he’s ever made, but it’s certainly not the worst either (U-Turn anyone?).
In terms of cult movie catnip, Seizure boasts stars like Jonathan Frid (“Barnabas Collins” from TV’s Dark Shadows), B-movie queen Mary Woronov, Bond girl Martine Beswick and Hervé Villechaize, the dwarf actor who played “Tattoo” on Fantasy Island (Villechaize, a well-known actor in NYC experimental theater circles, was Stone’s roommate at the time). Frid plays a horror writer who is terrorized by his own fictional creations. The surreal plot that is loosely based on Ingmar Bergman’s Hour of the Wolf.
Here’s what the VHS cover looked like:
Mary Woronov claims that one of the film’s producers was gangster Michael Thevis, who anonymously bankrolled the film to launder money while he was under investigation by the FBI, something also mentioned on IMDB.
Seizure has never come out on DVD, but in the early 80s, it was easy to find on VHS for $2.99. According to Mary Woronov, Stone bought the rights to the film and it would appear that he intends to keep sitting on it. It’s easy enough to find, of course, if you know where to look. Ahem.
Chelsea Girls was Andy Warhol’s first “commercial” success as a filmmaker. Co-directed by Warhol and Paul Morrissey, the film consists of twelve improvised vignettes (two were semi-scripted by playwright Ronald Tavel) featuring the druggy, draggy, seemingly morally-bankrupt freaks who constituted Warhol’s entourage and inner circle.
The film was shot in summer and fall of 1966 in the Hotel Chelsea, at Warhol’s “Factory” studio and in the apartment where the Velvet Underground lived on 3rd Street. Brigid Berlin (“The Duchess”), Nico, Mario Montez, Ondine (“The Pope”), Ingrid Superstar, International Velvet, Rene Richard, Eric Emerson, Gerard Malanga, filmmaker Marie Menken, Ari Boulogne (Nico’s son) a gorgeous young Mary Woronov—who danced with the Velvet Underground as part of “The Exploding Plastic Inevitable”—and others are seen in the film’s three and a quarter-hour running time (the film un-spooled on 12 separate reels). Most cast members are listed by their own names as they were essentially playing themselves.
Chelsea Girls was booked into a prestigious 600 seat uptown theater in New York and actually distributed to theaters across the country. In 1966, it’s unlikely that middle America had any idea that people like this even existed. Cinema-goers in Los Angeles, Dallas, Washington, San Diego and yes, even, Kansas City probably got their first exposure to actual drug addicts, yammering speed-freak narcissists, homosexuals, drag queens and a dominatrix when they watched Chelsea Girls. To Warhol’s delight, the film was even raided by the vice squad in Boston. The theater manager was arrested and later fined $2000 when a judge found him guilty of four charges of obscenity.
Movie critic Rex Reed said “Chelsea Girls is a three and a half hour cesspool of vulgarity and talentless confusion which is about as interesting as the inside of a toilet bowl.”
Tell us how you really feel, Rex!
The film was presented as a split screen, running simultaneously on two projectors with alternating soundtracks. It was a mixture of B&W and color footage. Edie Sedgwick’s vignette was removed from Chelsea Girls at her insistence, but was later known as “The Apartment.” A section originally screened with Chelsea Girls called “The Closet” (about two “children” who lived in one, with Nico and Randy Bourscheidt) was cut and later shown as a separate film.
For what we have here is 3 1/2 hours of split-screen improvisation poorly photographed, hardly edited at all, employing perversion and sensation like chili sauce to disguise the aroma of the meal. Warhol has nothing to say and no technique to say it with. He simply wants to make movies, and he does: hours and hours of them. If “Chelsea Girls” had been the work of Joe Schultz of Chicago, even Warhol might have found it merely pathetic.
The key to understanding “Chelsea Girls,” and so many other products of the New York underground, is to realize that it depends upon a cult for its initial acceptance, and upon a great many provincial cult-aspirers for its commercial appeal. Because Warhol has become a social lion and the darling of the fashionable magazines, there are a great many otherwise sensible people in New York who are hesitant to bring their critical taste to bear upon his work. They make allowances for Andy that they wouldn’t make for just anybody, because Andy has his own bag and they don’t understand it but they think they should
Ebert hits the nail squarely on the head. Chelsea Girls is actually a fucking terrible “movie.” If you view it as “art” or even as an important cultural artifact of the Sixties (it’s both) then you can give it a pass, and should, but if you’re expecting to be “entertained,” you need to re-calibrate your expectations. Only a few parts of the film are actually engaging (Ondine’s speed-freak monologues; Brigid Berlin poking herself with speed; the “Hanoi Hannah” section with Mary Woronov) the rest of it is… boring.
It looks good and parts of it are “interesting” because you can only hear what’s happening on one side of the split screen and so the silent side becomes somehow more intriguing, but, oh yeah, this is a boring thing to watch. It’s still cool, but yeah it’s boring, if that makes any sense.
Chelsea Girls has been next to impossible to see since its original releaseat least until it got uploaded to YouTube—usually screening just a few times a year around the globe. I caught it myself in the (appropriately) sleazy surroundings of London’s legendary Scala Cinema in 1984. There were probably six people there, including me. I admit to falling asleep for a bit of it, but I think everyone probably does.
This video comes from an Italian DVD that was given a very limited released in 2003. Probably the best way to watch this is to hook your computer to your flatscreen and do something else, sort of half paying attention, while Chelsea Girls is on in the background.
Actress/artist Mary Woronov has had a singular career that begins dancing with the Velvet Underground and appearing in Andy Warhol’s Chelsea Girls. Along the way she was in Rock-n- Roll High School, Death Race 2000 and Eating Raoul. She’ll be will be making a special appearance this Thursday night, June 9th, at 7:30p.m. at Cinefamily in Los Angeles:
Not every actor can list both Warhol films and “Murder, She Wrote” in their CV—oh, wait, no actor can claim that but Mary Woronov. There is a cult of M.V., and it’s richly deserved; her performances are so distinct and unique that her mere onscreen presence sharpens each image, and gives every scene a B12 shot in the rear. To admire Mary’s work is to get deeply involved, like you would with a new favorite band: once you’re introduced, you’re hooked, and have to track down every last appearance. She is smart, she is hilarious, she is sexy, and she can convey everything from knife-edge danger to warm familiarity with a single look. Beyond her voluminous career in film and TV, she’s also a painter, a novelist, a a dancer, a college professor—in short, a superstar. Join us in a spirited on-stage discussion with Mary, as we weave a web taking us from her days as a member of Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable, to her stint on a network soap, her award-winning stage work, the Corman years, her kinship with Paul Bartel and beyond!
At 9p.m. there will be a 35mm screening of the classic black comedy Eating Raoul:
“You really get to like Paul and Mary, and want them to succeed, even if they do have to kill some perverts along the way.”—J. Read, Monsters At Play
An outlandish mixture of ‘50s-themed high camp, ‘70s Robert Downey, Sr.-style bizarro satire and ‘80s gross-out sex romp, the indie hit Eating Raoul is Cult Film Director Hall Of Famer Paul Bartel’s finest hour. Bartel and Mary Woronov star as a sexually conservative couple (“Paul” and “Mary”, natch) who, after they need quick cash to open their dream restaurant, devise an makeshift S&M operation to lure rich horndogs to their deaths. Beyond its savagely funny swipes at the Sexual Revolution (featuring squads of lecherous swingers, all whacked out like Mr. Farley from “Three’s Company” on PCP), the film is as much a love letter to our city as a prime Cheech & Chong vehicle, for it’s crammed full of nutty local characters and enough unmistakably L.A. locales to fill an entire season of Huell Howser specials. Woronov easily steamrolls over the film’s population of wackos and sleazoids with aplomb; with her distinct mixture of understated deadpan comedy, soft sensuality and no-bullshit ingenuity, Mary’s radiant heat has ensured that Eating Raoul remains a “classic cult classic.” (Rob Lineberger, DVD Verdict).