You know you're a b-movie nerd when you find yourself immensely fascinated by the chance to watch Jim Wynorski at work. I've never given much thought to what it's like on a Martin Scorsese set or pondered how much work gets done in a day by Quentin Tarantino. But when I heard about Popatopolis - a documentary that follows Jim Wynorski through the filming of a b-movie - I was instantly intrigued.
I've written a little bit about my experience with Wynorski in the past, but here's a recap. When I was a wee The Mike, Wynorski's The Return of Swamp Thing was one of my favorite things in the world. That was my first Wynorski experience, so imagine my surprise when a much older The Mike decided to give Cheerleader Massacre - which looked like a cheesy slasher from the outside - a chance based on Wynorski's name. The gap in both style and substance between the goofy and fun '80s flick and the poorly constructed, z-grade slasher with a softcore sex scene in the middle was gigantic as can be. (And that's considering how little style and substance something like The Return of Swamp Thing has.)
My studies of Wynorski moved backwards to campy '80s goodness like Not of this Earth and Chopping Mall - and I seriously had a conversation yesterday with someone about Chopping Mall being one of the 100 best movies ever - so it was another sharp contrast when I jumped into this documentary, which follows the director as he makes his 2005 opus The Witches of Breastwick - and does so in three days. The film follows Wynorski and his cast - which consists of a bunch of girls who are willing to "pop their tops" and one dude - while also interviewing some b-movie icons like Roger Corman, Julie Strain, and Andy Sidaris - about Wynorski's work. The disconnect that I felt is certainly present in this movie, too.
In fact, the most interesting thing about the documentary to me is when the people around Wynorski - primarily actress Julie K. Smith, who seems like that one person in a group of friends who is smart and likes everyone but just can't stop gossiping about stuff - start to question the director for "settling" into these softcore thrillers instead of making drive-in-style films like Chopping Mall or Swamp Thing anymore. Many of the actresses interviewed - like adult film star Stormy Daniels, who seems to have no understanding of where she's at while making her first "mainstream" movie (though she did go on to appear in both The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up, which is probably proof that Judd Apatow likes porn - don't have a lot to add to Wynorski's story and are just in the film because they happen to be in this softcore film. But Smith and Wynorski alumnus Strain, have a lot of interesting things to say about where Wynorski is at this point in his career and how the man works.
Another interesting, if not sad, twist occurs when the filmmakers interview the 55 year old Wynorski's mother, who talks about how little she knows about his films and how she saw Chopping Mall and doesn't understand why there had to be a naked scene in it. The filmmaker seems to be making another comment about Wynorski's choice of genres at this stage in his career. I haven't done all the research, but I'm willing to bet that the majority of Wynorski's 90 films have some female breasts in them, but titles like The Bare Wench Project, The Witches of Breastwick and the more recent Cleavagefield (you get bonus points for that pun, Jim) leave little doubt about what the director's intentions are. And yet, here we are, talking to his 75-80 year old mother, about what kind of sweet boy he was and how he warns her not to watch his movies because she won't like them. It's more than a bit awkward.
Popatopolis almost makes a joke out of Wynorski - Smith probably gets the biggest positive rub from the film, even though I get the feeling that the actress tries really hard to come off as a pair of tits with a heart of gold - but as we see him at work we get the feeling that there's more to the director than his half-hearted boob films. The Jim Wynorski we see on set of this throwaway film is a passionate director who cares about what he's making and seems determined to overcome terrible odds to get his film done. In a way, Wynorski reminds me of every day challenges where we have to buckle up, admit that we can't make everything perfect, and just fight to get the best out of the resources we have.
I've made a bunch of assumptions about a bunch of real people in this review, and I mean none of them as disrespect. The corner of b-moviedom that hosts Jim Wynorski is just as valid to me as any other, and I'll gladly sit down with more from the director (probably from his early years, but I'm not too discriminatory) any time. It's just that Popatopolis pulls back the curtain that I was already wondering about (Curse you, Cheerleader Massacre! You didn't even have cheerleader outfits in that movie!) and got me in that same kind of loving gossiper mode that Smith seemed to enjoy. For better or worse, Jim Wynorski has done some cool stuff for b-movies, and Popatopolis helped my clear up my perspective on the director in plenty of ways.
If you wanna check out Popatopolis, I encourage you to use that Instant Netflix thingy and check it out. It'll take 75 minutes of your life and - if nothing else - remind you of a few cool '80s flicks and show you some chests. If you're like me, you might get even more out of it too.