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‘Sugar Cookies’: The Discreet Charm of the Swinging, Decadent Bourgeoisie
07.21.2014
07:15 am

Topics:
Movies

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Mary Woronov
Lynn Lowry
Troma
Ondine

Vintage Poster for Sugar Cookies
 
There are few things more dangerous than someone who is rich, gorgeous and bored. New kicks get harder and harder to find, especially when you are someone like art/sex film director Max Pavell (George Shannon) in Theodore Gershuny’s underground-meets-overground psychosexual drama, 1973’s Sugar Cookies.

Opening with Max talking to an unseen reporter about the tragic demise of his superstar actress, Alta (Lynn Lowry), the film switches to a flashback revealing some of the truth behind the young (and damaged) beauty’s death. Waking her out of a more than likely drug induced nap, he starts to seduce her, which quickly turns into a head trip involving a loaded revolver, strange perfume and the handsome but soul-eroded Max pulling the trigger in such a way to make it look like a suicide. The film cuts back to Max talking on the news, his handsome and reptilian image now on multiple screens.
 
Max Pavell on the TV News
 
After the TV sleaze interlude, the film cuts to Camilla (Mary Woronov), bathing in one of the best fedoras ever. She saunters into Max’s living room and starts doing some topless stretching and leg exercises. He walks in and the best part is the near-bored look on her face. She knows she’s majestic and is the true alpha in the room. They do end up having sex, all set to the very sensual audio and inter-cut scenes of Alta’s autopsy report. Are we having fun yet?

There’s a weird subplot involving Max’s estranged wife, the fabulous Teutonic bitch-goddess Helene (Monique van Vooren) and her chubby, supremely awkward negligee enthusiast brother Gus (Daniel Sador). The way she hisses such bon mots like, “I will slit your throat!” at Max is heart-warming.
 
Julie is groomed by Camille
 
Meanwhile, Camille confers with her charismatically acerbic friend Roderick (the inimitable Ondine) about conducting auditions to find Max’s next big actress. (Something Roderick refers to as a “cunt hunt.” Did I mention he was acerbic?) After a genuinely funny audition montage, the last girl walks in. Julie (also Lynn Lowry) is an elfin looking beauty whose eagerness for an acting role is matched only by her lack of experience. Which is summed up with her sole credit of playing Anya in Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, which Julie honestly describes her work in as perfectly terrible. Camille takes a liking to Julie and begins to groom her. The two women bond, first over seemingly benign activities, like shopping, tennis and swimming. But things soon grow more and more co-dependent, with Julie becoming increasingly more submissive to the innately domineering Camille. Is the moody Amazonian grooming Julie to be the next Alta or to be Alta, complete with the tragic ending?
 
Things get weird in Sugar Cookies
 
Sugar Cookies is from a very rarefied period of time where the underground and overground were cross-pollinating. With Warhol Factory stars like Woronov and Ondine, not to mention future Flesh for Frankenstein co-star Monique van Vooren, it has instant art cred. But that said, this is really more than just a cult film curio. Underneath its polished, arty veneer are some mighty strong cynical threads about not just the bourgeoisie but also the dangers of making stars of out of people who are damaged goods right from the starting gate.

Cast-wise, Woronov and Lynn Lowry, two wholly unique and wonderful actresses who would go on to be deigned cult film queens, truly run the show. Woronov is all slinky, sinister grace as Camille, making an interesting mix with the ethereal and fragile Alta/Julie. It’s a bit mind-blowing to realize that Sugar Cookies was Lowry’s first major role. (She had previously appeared as a mute cult member in the incredible horror film, I Drink Your Blood in 1971.) She manages to pull off the two similar but different personalities of her dual roles with conviction, leaving you truly worried for poor, possibly ill-fated Julie.
 
Camille in Max's Pad
 
The rest of the cast, especially Shannon, Vooren and Ondine, are wonderful but are not given enough to do. Shannon, who would go on to shine in Fernando Arrabal’s heart-building and heart-breaking I Will Walk Like a Crazy Horse later that year, is good as the handsome but morally sooted director. Monique von Vooren, who was also a cabaret singer that could boast of having a pre-fame Christopher Walken as one of her backup dancers, is all icy hot anger and blonde glamor as Helene. Her fabulous bitchiness is only matched by the brilliant Ondine, one of my personal favorites from the Factory years. These three are all charismatics and while the film is really terrific, it would have been sweet to have more of them within it. On top of that, you also get to see early sexploitation and adult film legend Jennifer Welles as Max’s aggressive, honey-haired secretary. 

The casting credits are not the only weirdly impressive ones for the film. In addition to a young Oliver Stone (!) as the associate producer, there’s also Mr. Troma Films himself, Lloyd Kaufman sharing both writing credits with director Gershuny, as well as an executive producer credit. Before Vinegar Syndrome spiffed this film up with a lovely Blu-Ray release, Troma had actually released it years before. Other than the fact that there is nudity and Lloyd Kaufman attached to it, Sugar Cookies does not play out at all like a Troma film. If anything, it’s right next to films like Rufus Butler Seder’s criminally underrated Screamplay (which co-starred underground film titan George Kuchar) and Dario Argento’s last truly great film, The Stendhal Syndrome, which are both brilliant and are about as Troma-like as Gil Scott-Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”

One of the coolest coups that Gershuny and Kaufman pulled was landing electronic music great Gershon Kingsley for the appropriately trippy soundtrack. Kingsley, best known for the composition “Popcorn,” was a Moog pioneer and one of those composers, like fellow genius-peers Mort Garson, Wendy Carlos and his musical partner, Jean-Jacques Perrey, whose body of work is just begging for more examination.

Sugar Cookies is a dark, strange gem that is as compelling as its mighty cast. If you love any and/or all of the main actresses and actors or just want to see something different from a point in time where the cinematic lines were thinner and ultimately, more interesting, definitely give this one a go.
 

Posted by Heather Drain | Leave a comment
‘Seizure’: Oliver Stone’s disowned directing debut


 
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.
 

 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Andy Warhol’s ‘Chelsea Girls’: Watch the entire 3-hour film online


The wild movie poster by famed illustrator Alan Aldridge

From the Dangerous Minds archive:

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.
 

 
A young Roger Ebert reviewed it for The Chicago Sun-Times:

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.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Eating Raoul: An Evening With Mary Woronov


 
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).

Get tickets here.
 

 
Below, the (great) trailer for the outlandish cult classic Eating Raoul:
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment