Welcome to the adults-only cinema of Doris Wishman. Doris is a died-in-the-wool New Yorker who lives in sunny Florida. She's a soft-core sexploitation filmmaker who from 1960 to 1983 made about 25 genre films for the soft core market and at the tender age of 70 or so, is looking for funding for her latest project.
Doris' films are a rare combination of the prurient, the tacky and the bizarre. When you talk to her she'll insist that she only did it for the money and that her top priority was "what will sell" but the films reveal a one-of-a-kind filmmaker with the idiosyncrasies of the experimental world, the business savvy of the commercial world and the wit and imagination of some mysterious dream world. Add to this a woman obsessed with the themes of women's social status and freedom, the contemporary drama of fear, mistrust and challenge between the sexes-- someone with a genuine feel for the newly exposed, tawdry human body of the early '60s-- and you can feel the first chill of the Wishman effect.
Doris' storylines twist and turn through themes of sexual fear, rapists and seducers, good girls gone bad, warped desire and various of dystopic views of sexual relations. The films offer the prerequisite weirdness of the genre but they have a seedy underlying resinence of the fear of and hostility toward women in our world which Doris describes in her own profound and tawdry way. From my perspective, she maintains a unique combination of proto-feminism (although she would strongly disagree with this term) and pop cultural criticism in the design of the films which is a consistent and pure look at what it means to be female.
Doris began making films in Florida in 1960 soon after the untimely death of her husband. She got start-up funds from her sister and continued from that moment onward to work independently and to make each film with the money earned from the one before. Her background was in film distribution and she worked for Joseph E. Levine and Max Rosenberg who released Garden of Eden , the nudist camp picture which beat obsenity charges in 1957 and broke down censorship barriers in the film industry. Doris knew how to promote a film and get it around but she learned how to direct on the job. Doris always started her projects by coming up with the film title and developing an ad campaign with some appropriate catchy slogan, and then she wrote the script. Each film originated in a gimmick or conceit that would make good copy.
She made 5 or so nudist camp pictures in the early '60s, innocently sweet and simple films with the women's breasts bared. In 1965 with The Sex Perils of Paulette Doris began to produce roughies, a popular style at the time that made explicit the relationship between libido and violence with rough sex play and brutal treatment of women with very little sexual contact, emotions or touching. These films have the women endlessly undressing out of their black lace lingerie (a practically victorian trope), caressing themselves and preening in front of full length mirrors. As a filmmaker her sense of editing construction has the strangest and most highly developed internal logic that it makes up its own film language. In the '70s Doris perfected the promotional tactics of her marketing genius with films about killer breasts, a penis transplant, a comedy about a voyeuristic marriage counselor and an amazing and slightly sickening film about transgender operations called Let Me Die a Woman. Doris recently shot a direct to video project called Dildo Heaven:-- "It's about three girls who live together and the plot is kind of strange"-- and she has lots of great titles that could use funding, the most recent one being Son of Pinocchio.
Doris often used pseudonyms for herself on the credits because she thought it looked bad to have all the jobs done by just one person. So where Dawn Whitman, D. Whitman, L. Silverman or Louis Silverman is listed, it's really Doris.
I went to meet her and found her quite engaging although it still didn't unravel the mysteries of her films. She was someone I really wanted to meet and when I called her at her home and she was unimpressed: "Why are people interested in me?" "There's nothing to say", "What's so great about Doris Wishman?" and her favorite response to any probing about her films, "I don't remember" and to any screening opportunity or interview "What good will it do me?"
Doris' fierce independent stance as a filmmaker and her oddball self-styled shooting methods add to the mix to make Doris Wishman unforgettable.
Enjoy the show!!!