Screen Queen

The director who gave the world Nude on the Moon and Bad Girls Go to Hell enjoys a critical revival

The son's friend, Jimmy Maslon, remembers that Wishman was looking to sell her negatives in 1986; Maslon, who already owned the complete works of low-budget filmmaker Herschel Gordon Lewis, was glad to add yet another exploitation stalwart to his collection. "I thought her films were just totally extreme in every way," Maslon says.

Wishman's films are now available by mail-order from Something Weird Video, a Seattle-based company run by Maslon's friend Mike Vraney. (It's difficult to find any of them for rent, even at independent video stores.) Vraney says that the Chesty Morgan films do the best business of his Wishman titles "because of the freak appeal." Of the $20 a pop Something Weird charges for these videotapes, Doris Wishman receives exactly nothing.

This accounts for her reluctance to discuss the Maslon films. "Why should I make money for them?" she asks bitterly. "I'm not a good businesswoman, and that's one of the reasons I'm in this position. I don't make good deals; I don't negotiate properly. Business is all negotiating, and that's one of my downfalls."

Wishman sits in front of the slightly worse-for-wear video editing equipment at the Alliance film co-op. Even if the linear dubbing machines were working properly -- which at the moment they don't seem to be -- Wishman wouldn't know how to use them to whip her project into shape.

As always throughout her nearly 40-year career, budget constraints have superseded artistic considerations. First, there's the matter of the film's title. Dildo Heaven is out. Apparently most distributors agreed that the title was, in fact "too rough"; instead, Wishman has settled on the alternate appellation Desperate Desires. "So everywhere you have Dildo Heaven in the interview, put Desperate Desires," she says. "Just take that out of there. It's just not nice for a woman to make a movie with a title like that. I don't know what I was thinking. You've got to have certain standards."

Second, there's the matter of the film's production. With very little cash when she began shooting in early 1995, Wishman captured the scenes on Beta videotape rather than the 35-millimeter film with which she had always previously plied her trade. Wishman's use of Beta has deprived her of what she has called her greatest pleasure in filmmaking: editing. Wishman came of age in the business at a time when editing always meant splicing together strips of celluloid; linear video editing is a completely different animal, one that she had never been required to master. As a result, she's had to expand her one-woman-gang approach to filmmaking, adding a skilled video editor to the mix and upsetting her habits. "It had always been her practice to rewrite as she was editing," explains the Alliance's Bill Orcutt. "With linear video editing, if you change something in one place you have to redo everything."

With Wishman staring at the video equipment's two blank screens, Abel Klainbaum, Wishman's most recent editor for Desperate Desires, walks in. A goateed, bespectacled 23-year-old in a T-shirt, baggy pants, and Spam baseball cap, Klainbaum pulls up a chair. "I've been coming to the Alliance for about a year," he begins. "I've been working on Desperate Desires for about 30 years."

That tears it. Wishman pounces.
"I told you this was going to be a serious interview," Wishman scolds. "I told you that he was going to write down everything that you said, that even if you said, 'Ugh, ugh, ugh,' he was going to write it down. What are you talking about, 30 years?" She's almost shrieking now.

"Whatever," says Klainbaum wearily, with a faint smile. "Goodbye, Doris." Klainbaum strides out of the editing room.

The filmmaker looks very small and distant in the cheap swivel chair. Her face is a mask of worry. "I was going to give you Fred Schneider, but now I'm not," she mutters, referring to the B-52's vocalist who has given her a verbal commitment to appear in her next film. "You have a choice: Either use Abel or Fred Schneider. And if you want Fred, I want to have it in writing that Abel won't be in the interview."

When her request is refused, she turns her watery green-hazel eyes toward the floor. "Then that's it. This interview is over. I've given you too much already."

With her previous films no longer her own and no new projects on the horizon, Wishman was at her nadir when she moved to Miami to stay with her family in 1991. (She has a brother, a sister, and several nieces and nephews in and around Miami.)

"I thought when I came down here I was finished," she says. "I got a job in this lingerie shop in the Grove. And one day this man came in, and he bought some things. I thought, 'This is my life, what am I going to do?' I had no money, I can't make films. About an hour later this man came back, and he said, 'You're Doris Wishman. Oh my God, you're a genius!' He went berserk, really. He started calling everybody, and I started getting calls from people I didn't know existed."

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