Bret Wood's Efforts and Exploits

An updated guide to film and DVD work.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Tearoom

One of the most unusual cinematic finds in my lifetime was during the making of Hell's Highway. For those who haven't seen the film, my quest for information on the people who made the notorious driver's ed films of the 1960s led me to investigate rumors about the Highway Safety Foundation's side projects.

At the core of one of these rumors was an investigation into homosexual activity in a public restroom in downtown Mansfield, Ohio in 1962. In order to obtain ironclad evidence, the Mansfield P.D. borrowed some of the 16mm equipment of the H.S.F. and filmed the bathroom sex through a one-way mirror.

To make a long story short, I located the actual 16mm footage. Much of it was warped and disintegrating, but almost an hour's worth was in good enough shape to transfer to video. Everyone who sees it is speechless, because it represents an uncensored actual window into anonymous sex in a small town bathroom in 1962. What's truly amazing is that you see men from all walks of life, from different races and economic groups, all ages, freely interacting in the (literally) underground restroom.

And, in this context, what does "gay" looks like? White collar husbands. Blue collar laborers. Hardly the stereotype that the world had in the 1960s. I think everyone involved in the investigation was stunned that so many "respectable, upstanding" men were caught, arrested, and sentenced to prison.

Ohio-born artist William E. Jones has created a series of fascinating works (in photography and video) exploring mass cultural perceptions of homosexuality. His 1991 film Massillon is a haunting diary of alienation in small town America. This weekend, William is debuting Tearoom at San Francisco's Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Tearoom is comprised of the Mansfield footage, recontextualized as video art. The beauty of William's work is that he doesn't try to dazzle you with his own wit or craftsmanship. He has an impeccable eye for detail, and a gift for understatement. His films and photographs are as much about what you're not seeing, as what you're seeing. They're often made more poignant by what is missing, and engage you on a far more profound level that a more overbearing brand of art or cinema.

I own one of William's photographs, and you can look at it and get an idea of what I find so interesting in it.

I think William's Tearoom is the best way in which to view the notorious bathroom footage... because it makes you take it seriously and watch it silently and ponder the lives of the men who went underground for sexual release, and the consequences it had upon their lives.

So if anyone within eyeshot is in the San Francisco area, I encourage you to go to the YBCA this weekend. William himself will be present for a talk on Friday at 8:30, which I wish I could attend.

If you're on the east coast, stay tuned. I'm pretty sure the work is going to be shown at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh -- possibly in an expanded format that includes additional films/videos.

I wish William all the best with Tearoom and hope he finds the support and critical attention he deserves.

Incidentally, the original 16mm print of the bathroom footage was donated to the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Famous Unknown

I should buy a lottery ticket, because this has been a lucky week.

First I find out Hell's Highway has played at a horror film festival in Portugal. Then The Seventh Daughter is named one of the winners of the Atlanta Film Festival Screenwriting Competition. And a couple of days ago I received in the mail a copy of a book that includes an essay I wrote on filmmaker Tod Browning.

Even people who know me well don't know about my the aborted biography I wrote of Browning more than a decade ago. I think the project was jinxed, because it was under contract to two different publishers. One went out of business and at the other, the editor was fired (and the project disappeared with her). Since then, I haven't pursued it much, because straightforward film biographies went out of vogue, and I've chosen to steer my off-the-clock career down a different path. And so, the unpublished Browning book sits in the corner, alongside an unpublished, amateurish novel (Resurrection Blues). From time to time, I've leaked out excerpts of the Browning book. Modified, condensed pieces have been published in the Italian film journal Panta (1994), the French film magazine Positif ("Les passions secretes de Tod Browning," 2000), Video Watchdog ("Hollywood's Sequined Lie: The Gutter Roses of Tod Browning," 1996), and an anthology book on Bela Lugosi (Midnight Marquee Press, 1995).

This latest book is called Tod Browning, fameux inconnu (Tod Browning: The Famous Unknown). To encourage my French-speaking amigos to order the book, I'm posting the English-language version of this essay on my website:

"Slow Fade: Tod Browning's Final Years at MGM"

Maybe someday Browning's films will be given their proper due. They've been a huge influence on me, and my current project is indebted to such seldom-screened films as White Tiger (1923), The Unholy Three (1925), and The Mystic (1925). But then again, maybe it be better for me if I kept them secret.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Just One of the Fellows

It's official. Today IMAGE and the Atlanta Film Festival announced the winners of their first annual screenplay competition, and I'm proud to say The Seventh Daughter was among them.

Here's the complete list of winners, as listed on Access Atlanta:

"Apparition" by Steven Brooks of Suwanee
"The Seventh Daughter" by Bret Wood of College Park
"Molewhackers" by Yarrow Wayman of Tacoma, Wash.
"Pentimenti" by Jennifer Deaton of Los Angeles
"Vera" by Caitlin McCarthy of Worcester, Mass.
"Zeroes and Ones" by Avi Weider of Brooklyn, N.Y.

My fellow fellows and I will be participating in a weekend retreat, where we'll be mentored by industry professionals and engage in discussion sessions. As I understand it, there will be a public reading of excerpts of each screenplay on Saturday Nov. 10. Don't worry, I'll remind you.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Still Chugging

The movie that just keeps going.

I recently got a copy of the program for the Festival Internacional de Cinema de Terror de Lisboa (Portugal). I had almost forgotten... but Hell's Highway was invited to play there!

I'm honored that my film was one of five "Terror Docs."

Seems like a great festival (Sept. 5-9). Wish I could've been there.