Wilbur and the Baby Factory (1970)

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For further proof of how wonky the rating system was prior to when the MPAA figured it all out (meaning that, if the major studios do it, it’s okay but if independents do, we’ll make you slice up your movie until there’s barely anything left), here an interesting picture for you that absolutely did not deserve its X rating.  When I surveyed the trailers on the Something Weird DVD from which Wilbur and the Baby Factory came from, it seemed that all of the films were pornography.  As evidenced by Tanya, the other film featured on this DVD, that would appear to be the case.  However I was delightfully surprised by Wilbur and the Baby Factory.

While no masterpiece, Wilbur and the Baby Factory is a bizarre and intriguing counter-culture thriller with only minimal amounts of sex.  You would think otherwise if you saw the trailer since the trailer only shows you the sex scenes but the sex scenes in the trailer are the extent of the sex scenes in the movie.

Wilbur… is about a genuine “for the people”, social worker named Wilbur Steele (Peter Ford), who leaves his post at a non-prophet organization – the kind which helps old ladies keep their homes from greedy banks, etc. – to be part of a strange experiment where his sole purpose is to sire children.  The program is run by a group of scientists led by Dr. Wednesday (Keith McConnell) and on a Eugenics type mission to control the Earth’s population so it’s not overrun by undesirables.  Their current subject seemed to have lost his mind as evidenced by scenes of a crazy looking guy who takes to strangling women in the heat of passion.  Wilbur, who seems ambivalent to the project at first, questions the scientists about how love and human emotions play into the whole thing.  The answer of course is that they don’t.

What the scientists didn’t anticipate is that Wilbur is ultimately planning a sabotage, hence the footage cut to the guy listening in his van via wire tap.  That doesn’t prevent Wilbur from doing a whole lotta fucking though.  Again, the sex *scenes* aren’t too gratuitous with a few exceptions that might push the boundaries of our modern NC-17 rating but are no worse than say, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.  The majority of the film is actually  a pretty compelling story; from Wilbur’s training sessions to get him “up to speed”, to conversations between Wilbur and the doctors and various other side plots.  The most interesting of these is Karen and Kristine, twin sister played by adorable, German red head Larissa Schubert.  One is normal, the other a nympho who admitted how much she liked getting gang banged when she was 10 years old in the most dry, matter of fact way possible.

Also what makes the movie also watchable is that it’s actually well made and looks nice!  Writer/director Tom McGowen actually knows subtlety with the camera and the scenes just look cool; very 60s, mind you with make shift sets and antiquated, retro-futuristic technology, but cool nonetheless.  The film also uses some neat editing tricks like the aforementioned cross cutting to the spy van and the freak who keeps strangling the women during experiments.  There’s also a few original tunes thrown into the movie for good measure; a mixture of folk and psychedelia to give it that timely feel.

Tanya (1976)

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On a Something Weird double feature DVD with Wilbur and the Baby Factory, the movie Tanya makes me question if the Something Weird guys are really just gussied up porn peddlers.  I mean, come on… Tanya is seriously just wall to wall sex.  There are maybe a couple minute of dialogue or other stuff other than sex.  And, to be sure, these are not soft core scenes.  Okay you don’t see full on penetration, but it’s pretty clear the “actors” in the film are having real sex.

Tanya was inspired by the 1974 Patty Hearst kidnapping, in which a high society girl gets napped by a group of radical, left wing revolutionary types who set out to make a statement.  The only statement they make is how much they like sex.  There are five members in the group, their radical black leader Cinque (B.B. Hinds), an overweight white guy who looks like David Crosby, two white chicks and a black chick.  Then enter Tanya (Maria Arnold), a sexy but innocent woman who is about to be married but very quickly learns that bedding with every other character is so much more fun.

And that’s the plot!  The kidnappers kidnap the girl, she fucks everyone, the end!  There are little bits in between involving a news reporter on a black and white TV, whose role is pretty useless and there are scenes of dialogue, usually your typical left wing mumbo-jumbo, one scene where they kill a police officer – it’s implied that Tanya exerts him to death with sex but we are not exactly sure – one scene where Cinque uses raid to kill some bugs and a few pointless, outdoor training sequences.  But, other than that, there’s just sex and more sex.  In fact, just to show how much fucking Tanya does, there is a montage of the same sex scenes we already saw earlier.  With the exception of one exterior shot and the news reporter’s studio, the majority of the movie takes place in a dingy, wooden hideout.

The sex was somewhat erotic – involving all types of positions and approaches that need no description –  barring the scenes with the overweight, balding David Crosby lookalike.  And that about covers it.

A Band Called Death (2013)

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Well there you have it folks; the poster says it all… but that’s not really true.  Come on.  Maybe some people think that “before there was punk, there was a band called Death”, but we all know the truth; you could just as easily say “before there was punk there was a band called the Stooges, MC5, New York Dolls, Modern Lovers, Dictators, Electric Eels, Mirrors, Rocket from the Tombs, Simply Saucer, Dogs and a bunch of 60s garage bands.”  The fact is that, had Death released their music in 1975, they would have been one of many bands like the Dictators or the Flamin’ Groovies whose pre-punk brand of rock would have won an audience among the hip, “in the know” people of the era while the rest of the mainstream would remain oblivious.

Now that I’ve got the negative part of the review out of the way, let’s discuss why I thought A Band Called Death is a good movie!  Well, it’s a not a good movie or a good documentary.  Our filmmakers Mark Christopher Covino and Jeff Howlett aren’t exactly artistes or have a whole lot of style.  They just stumble their way through the film and are helped by the genuine fact that they’re telling a compelling story.  The work was sort of done for them.  Either way, I liked it.

Death was founded by David, Bobby and Dannis Hackney, three of eight children, who were spiritually awoken upon watching the Beatles perform on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964.  It wasn’t long before David picked up the guitar, Bobby went on bass and Dannis sat behind the drum kit.  At first they played a mixture of funk and rock but, by 1974, they officially coined themselves Death because, as David Hackney said, “death is real” and went for pure rock ‘n’ roll.

As the story goes, Death amassed some wickedly killer material – a hard rock/punk rock hybrid of hard edge Who riffs and Hendrix-y solos – and thrashed it out in their local Detroit ‘hood for a few years, annoyed the local neighbors who probably preferred the sound of Motown over loud rock, recorded a demo, ditched a major label deal because Dave Hackney didn’t want to change the group’s name, relocated to that punk rock central known as… Vermont, changed their name to the 4th Movement and became a Christian rock band. After releasing one record, they broke up, Dave Hackney moved back to Detroit and the rest of the band hooked up with new players and became a reggae band called Lambsbread.

Then, years later, a few savvy record collectors discovered a Death 7″ single for the songs “Keep on Knocking” b/w “Politicians in My Eyes”, which went for a small fortune on eBay and the living members (David Hackney passed away in 2000) dug up the old tapes out of their Detroit attic and authorized their release as the album …For the Whole World to See.  The band toured with their kids’ band Rough Francis in the support and everyone lived happily ever after or something.

Again, let me stress, I like Death a lot.  A lot lot.  Their record is awesome!  They have a second one called Spiritual Mental Physical, which has a bunch of demos on it and that one is also great.  And the story of discovering old tapes is always interesting. But it’s not unique.  In fact, two years ago there was a documentary on Pentagram whose story, though not exactly the same, has similar parallels.  The point is I’m glad the record came out and that Death got their due.  In my estimation though, they should have told brother David Hackney, “listen dude, we’re changing our goddamn name because Arista have a deal for us” or, at very least, they could have moved to New York where there was a punk scene like the Dead Boys did.

As for the movie, we get some neat tour footage, some interviews, some spiced up photos, a tour of the old house, etc., but nothing that will blow you away.  Like I said, the story speaks for itself.  Oh, one last thing; the interview subjects outside Death and their group of close friends/family were Henry Rollins, Alice Cooper, Kid Rock, Mickey Leigh (Joey Ramone’s younger brother), Elijah Wood (?!) and some record collectors.  Come on, kids… where was Iggy, Niagra, Wayne Kramer or any of the underground heroes of Detroit’s rock scene?