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Friday, January 20, 2006

A YOUTH IN BABYLON

Nature's Playmates

A Youth in Babylon is the gabby autobiography of producer/director David F. Friedman, whose ouvre in the Sixties and Seventies encompassed early exploitation (including nudist colony films such as 1962's Nature's Playmates, pictured above), incipient porn (including the genre called "Nudie Cuties," which Lewis and frequent collaborator Herschell Gordon Lewis essentially invented with The Adventures of Lucky Pierre), and the slasher film (which Friedman and Lewis also take credit for with Blood Feast.)

Lewis came from the oldest school of old school exploitation, having risen through the ranks of circus and movie press agents at a time when publicity involved planting hoax stories, burying performers alive, and dynamiting stunt men. Friedman was also linked to the 40 Thieves, a gang of independent film distributors, often with stolen films about venereal disease and childbirth, who traveled the country exhibiting their wares in tents. They cleverly avoided charges of indecency by claiming their films of diseased genitalia and live vaginal births were educational; they also cleverly fled town if the local constabulary grew too interested.

Friedman is famous for his taste for the alliteration and the language of carnival pitchmen, which crop up often in his films -- particularly in his self-written ads and movie one-sheets. As an example, an ad for Lucky Pierre reads, in all caps, "DELIGHTFUL, DELECTABLE, DESIRABLE, DELICIOUS DAMSELS DEVOID of any and all inhibitions." Friedman's book is often written the same way, giving a huckster's poetry to his tales of Hollywood's bottom tier. "The sixties were coming up hard on the outside," he writes at one point, "the era of permissiveness was just around the corner. I began thinking of new ways to cash in on the forthcoming cornucopia."

For anyone interested in the early days of adult filmmaking, or the development of the modern American horror film, or in getting a crash course in low-budget filmmaking that guarantees high returns, it's a tale worth reading.

Friedman ends the book with a promise of another to follow, but none ever did, and it's too bad, as he stops the book at the start of the Seventies, when his career was just heating up. After all, not only did he produce such softcore classics as The Erotic Adventures of Zorro and the notorious Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS, but he also cofounded the Pussycat Theater chain in Hollywood, a grand string of happily sleazy adult movie theaters across the West Coast at the dawn of hardcore porn. There's more stories in Friedman yet -- hopefully one day we'll hear them.

Buy the book here.

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