Some friends and I recently had ourselves a film night. We had a theme – the use of grotesque bodies and disordered body imagery in film – and watched 3 films that we felt fit with that theme. I have written a blog on 2 of the films in relation to this theme – you can read it below. Recently I posted another blog about the 3rd, Lone Wolf and Cub: baby Cart in Peril. You can find it here: http://dangerousmeredith.wordpress.com/2011/02/11/the-depiction-of-bodies-in-lone-wolf-and-cub-baby-cart-in-peril/
Double Agent 73 (US, 1974)
Cast and plot synopsis here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Double_Agent_73
This is a film starring Chesty Morgan and directed by Doris Wishman. The entire thing revolves around one gimmick – Morgan’s gargantuan breasts (the 73 in the film’s title actually refers to her bust measurement). Morgan stars as a secret agent who, as a means to hide the camera she uses in her work, is instructed by her boss to have the camera surgically buried inside one breast. I kid you not. For reasons known best to himself this same boss also sets the camera to explode after a certain amount of time has elapsed (Morgan’s character ends up escaping this dreadful fate). This ridiculous premise provides an excuse for Morgan to be filmed topless again and again, flipping and squeezing her boob to make it take photographs. Did I also mention that she uses her boobs as a weapon – think of a mammary version of turkey slapping. She also smears her breast with poison at one stage, knowing that a hotted up bloke will lick it off and die.
The person who brought this DVD along for us to watch pointed out that it was not just the bizarre premise and the camera’s unceasing focus on Morgan’s tits that was gobsmacking but the quality of Morgan’s acting in juxtaposition with the depiction of her body. Morgan’s facial expression throughout the whole film is wooden. Personality wise she just doesn’t seem to be present at all. Any sense the viewer might get of her emotionally participating in the performance of her role is totally negated by the unchanging expression of numbness that freezes her face. It is this quality – this sense of disconnect – that robs the film of any sense of the erotic or the camp for me.
We couldn’t believe that a woman had directed this film. Poor Morgan stumbles and bumbles her way through the film, baring a body that (once you get past just how very gigantic her boobs are) is very much on the ordinary side – stocky, saggy, with a few broken veins. But it is not this that makes this film so unsexy – we all know that ultimately a hot personality can make a physically plain person as sexy as hell. The sight of bored Morgan going through the paces, grimly taking her sensible bra off for yet another boob shot, without any sense of connection to it all is what robs the film of any erotic charge. The problem is that Wishman’s directorial choices have reduced Morgan to a (barely) animate frame for a pair of monstrous tits. Even the badly punning title of the movie alludes to them as the stars of the show. The use of Morgan’s personality is non-existent. The ideas behind the use of her breasts are silly, puerile, and quite nasty. I found myself wondering if Doris Wishman was a pseudonym for a 12 year old boy who was having a difficult passage through puberty, perhaps complicated with some murky relationship issues he had with his Mummy. (A quick Google search reassured me that she was a real adult woman – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doris_Wishman ).
For Y’ur Height Only (Phillipines, 1981)
Plot and cast list here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/For_Your_Height_Only
After gaping at poor Chesty’s chest, we were confronted by another physical oddity in the form of the tiny Weng Weng. Weng suffered from primordial dwarfism – even as an adult he did not even reach 3 foot tall. He trained in martial arts and broke into movies. During the 1980s he became a very big star in the Philippines for a while before suffering a career decline. He died of heart failure at the age of 34. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weng_Weng#Agent_00
For Y’ur Height Only is an actioner modeled on the James Bond films. Weng Weng is the star and he does all the things that Bond does – kicks ass, shoots guns, races off women, deploys gadgets, all the while wearing a natty white suit. This is not a great movie – it needs the strangeness of the fact that its hero looks like a wizened child to hold the viewer’s disbelieving attention. But this film is better than Double Agent 73 in several respects. It actually has a cohesive and reasonably explicated plot. The filmmakers bothered to try to find a variety of locations for the action to take place (poor old Chesty just gets to stump about in a few badly decorated rooms). The pace, acting, and production values are better, and, while poor little Weng Weng is no Jet or Bruce, there looks as if a little thought has been put into some of the fight scenes. For Y’ur Height Only looks like the work of hacks, but businesslike, if unimaginative, hacks. Double Agent 73 does not. One of the viewers at our little party seriously, and quite reasonably, opined that Double Agent must have been the work of a bunch of students who didn’t know much about filmmaking. But it wasn’t – Wishman was a prolific director who had several films under her belt by the time she made Double Agent. How could she tackle such a gimmicky, and therefore creatively risky, film premise with so little flair or even basic care? How dare she hide her artistic and technical slackness behind another woman’s physicality, and, in so doing, make that woman a freak?
Things are a little more blurred in the case of Weng. He can’t act and he isn’t good looking or charismatic – he is obviously only in the movie because he size makes him into a useful gimmick. The fight scenes are odd. As someone pointed out during the movie night on one hand they show that what Weng is genuinely able to do is martial arts and stunts. The way the action is choreographed makes clever use of Weng’s height and shows his character using it to his advantage. But at the same time it jars seeing such a very tiny person jumping off very high walls – we worried about the impact on his joints. And the choreography highlighting his height may be witty but it is also exploitative. But at least Weng has been favoured with a film that looks as the film makers cared about getting the rudiments right at least. Apparently the value of Weng’s dwarfism as a gimmick was not so overpowering as to make the filmmakers forget about other aspects of producing the movie.