Oct 26, 2011

Popatopolis (2009)
Director: Clay Westervelt
Writers: Clay Westervelt
Starring: Jim Wynorski, Julie K. Smith and Julie Strain

The Plot: Popatopolis is a behind the scenes look at the most prevalent b-movie genre that the world has left: softcore pornography. Director Jim Wynorski has worked in nearly every genre imaginable, but his latest cinematic experimentation will push him to his very limits. He has taken on the challenge of shooting a feature length film in only three days, with a miniature sized budget. So, he heads out into the woods with his three-man crew as well as his lead actor and actresses in order to craft his latest masterpiece, The Witches of Breastwick. Popatopolis shows us the internal drama of creating this film while also covering Wynorski’s illustrious career. Featuring interviews with outside sources who point out just how much the b-movie world has changed over the years, we get a sense of Wynorski’s willingness to adapt to whatever audiences gravitate to. While covering this, the audience ponders whether Wynorski will be able to complete his latest feature, or will it simply go over long and over budget?

The Review
As of this writing, I am currently celebrating the Halloween season here on Varied Celluloid by reviewing as many horror titles as I possibly can during the month of October. Although our film today is nowhere near anything resembling a “horror” film, it does manage to take a look behind the scenes at a man who has delved heavily into this genre. Director Jim Wynorski has made some of the most memorable b-movie horror films of the past several decades, but his name may not immediately jump out to many of our readers. He is the director responsible for such titles as Chopping Mall and 976 Evil II, but his work within recent years has primarily been in the realm of low budget sexploitation films such as The Witches of Breastwick. These films, despite not being of the highest quality in terms of cinephile expectations, certainly serve a purpose and fulfill a high demand. Often seen on Cinemax, and many other cable channels that can get away with playing softcore erotica, Wynorski’s films have made a mint over the years. The success of his work is unquestionable, but the man himself remains a far different case.

Popatopolis is an engaging and entertaining look behind the curtain at the modern b-movie genre, and what it has ultimately devolved into. Jim Wynorski is the subject for the film, but his “experiment” essentially plays out like a study on just how devalued the film process has become within these assembly-line productions that churn out softcore b-movies on a regular basis. Inevitably, if there is a heart and soul to Popatopolis, it is in looking back with nostalgia on the b-movie scene crafted during the 1980s and 90s, and wondering just where everything went wrong. Wynorski, unlike many of the interviewees, doesn’t seem to feel as if his work has devolved into the stagnate pit that it has, but the rest of his friends and colleagues come to this conclusion by the end of the film. Julie K. Smith, the beautiful actress who has worked with Wynorski many times throughout the years, seems to be the most offended in the careless fashion that this latest movie seems to be strung together. She struggles with her lines, due to a lack of practice or time with the script, and she has debates with the director over whether or not her character can be allowed to wear a pair of glasses. It seems that Wynorski have felt that the glasses would somehow detract from the beauty of the actress. Smith even points out that she alone will have to keep track of the continuity of her glasses, when she wears them in a scene and when she does not, because the director rarely gives pause to such important tasks.

I realize that the film is intended to paint Wynorski as a funny, humorous, and charismatic man, and all of these things he partially is, but I could not help but feel slightly aggravated with his constant negativity. A man who rarely has a kind word to say, the film showcases him wandering from one life experience to the next with a sour demeanor and a general lack of tact when it comes to dealing with people. His disrespect for filmmaking, as it almost seems treated as a “hustle” for him, also leaves me lacking a great deal of general respect for the man as a artist. The concept of shooting a film in three days is admirable as a form of experimentation, but doing so with only the hope of making a stack of money, without a care for how lousy the movie itself may inevitably turn out to be, simply seems disrespectful and leads me to shaking my head in embarrassment. It doesn’t matter, to me as a viewer, that Wynorski and his confidants all poke fun at this fact. The fact of the matter is that this lack of care for the film shows up in the product, and regardless of whether or not Cinemax bought it for a handful of cash, the movie still inevitably stinks. The real shame is that Wynorski obviously has talent. Few filmmakers could make a movie in such a short period of time, with as grand a scope as The Witches of Breastwick, and still have it turn out moderately watchable. Wynorski is able to do that, but one wonders what he might be able to do if he actually gave his scripts some time to develop, or actually tried to engage his audience through storytelling instead of boobs only.

Although one gets the feeling that this film was meant to be a chucklefest and paint Jim Wynorski in a favorable light, there are times where he comes off as shady and mean spirited. Although he works in the world of softcore, where the sex is simulated, his attitude at times certainly seems to mimic that of the worst “hardcore” film producers and directors out there. Wynorski’s misogyny is treated like a recurring joke throughout the movie, but his treatment of women is far from something that should be congratulated. Although he seems to have some affection for his female leads, such as his love/hate relationship with Julie K., he does not seem to have a very pleasing view of the female gender. His scripts refer to women as “cows” and this documentary actually begins with him lambasting an unprepared woman who shows up to meet Wynorski about a possible audition. The distaste and disrespect Wynorski has for this woman, who was late to their meeting, simply appears to be a built-in reflex of his. He expects this of women and he treats the young lady as if she were disposable. Something that I have no doubt that he believes.

The Conclusion
Featuring interviews with Roger Corman, Tom Savini, Lloyd Kauffman, Conrad Brooks (Plan 9 From Outer Space), Andy Sidaris and Julie Strain, this film offers a very interesting look at the B-Movie genre. Things have changed a great deal between the days of the drive-in movie theater and today’s marketplace. Popatopolis shows this change and does so without holding back. While Wynorski may not turn out to be my favorite person on the planet, I give respect to this film for showing what an engaging character he can be. I give the movie a four out of five. Despite Wynorski’s attitude, this is a thoroughly entertaining documentary that showcases a look inside of a genre one might have never suspected to be so interesting.

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