Oct 18, 2015

Curt McDowell's Lunch

While it is something that would probably offend and/or disturb most honest heterosexual men to hear, it has been my experience as a debauched cinephile that ‘will try any film’ that homos tended to be some of the greatest and most artistically blessed directors of straight porn flicks, at least during the ‘porn chic’ era when pornographers still sometimes pretended that there was some sort of genuine artistic merit to filming people sucking and fucking. Indeed, the Amero brothers (Bacchanale, Every Inch a Lady), Chuck Vincent (Visions, Roommates), Zebedy Colt (The Devil Inside Her, Virgin Dreams), Zachary Strong (Confessions of a Teenage Peanut Butter Freak, Visions of Clair), Michael Zen (Reflections, The Filthy Rich: A 24 K-Dirty Movie), and even a chick-with-a-dick like Kim Christy (Dream Lovers, Squalor Motel) are just some of the pussy-intolerant queer pornographers that created distinct auteurist works that have, in one way or another, stood the test of time, but none of these filmmakers made films as quite as bizarre as eccentric erotomaniac Curt McDowell (Boggy Depot, Taboo: The Single and the LP). Best remembered today for his truly epic pornographic horror-comedy-melodrama hybrid Thundercrack! (1975) that was penned by his somewhat more famous teacher/lover/friend George Kuchar, McDowell was an Indiana-born Midwestern boy from a fairly traditional hardworking white working-class family that “ate a lot,” yet he developed an obsession with all-things-sex at an early age that involved jerking off with his male cousins as a 13-year-old and both sucking the cocks of men and eating the pussies of women of all ages by the time he was 16, or so he describes in his quite literately titled short Confessions (1972). Of course, when McDowell relocated to the gay capital of the world to study painting at the San Francisco Art Institute, he became a full-fledged and unrepentant unhinged shit-stabbing libertine of sorts and in the process discovered that his calling in life was to become an experimental pornographer of sorts, with his butt buddy Kuchar luckily teaching him a couple important things in the process. Not surprisingly considering the super sleazy sod material of most of his most (in)famous cinematic works like Loads (1985), McDowell’s most monetarily successful film was actually a heterosexual fuck flick. Fairly restrained compared to a lot of his work in that it thankfully does not feature ugly and swarthy tattooed deadbeat dipsomaniac scumbags jerking off in dilapidated apartments, McDowell’s 71-minute heterosexual hardcore flick Lunch (1972) features a sort of intriguing disharmonious aesthetic marriage between porn chic and the NYC avant-garde underground. Seemingly just as much influenced by the Structural films of Stephen Dwoskin (Dyn Amo, Central Bazaar) and insufferably static pre-Morrissey works of Andy Warhol (Sleep, Vinyl) as the hit hardcore flicks of that time like Gerard Damiano’s Deep Throat (1972), McDowell’s film’s title is inspired by its prominence of oral sex and was advertised with the tagline,“Treat yourself to LUNCH if you’re hungry for a man’s kind of movie that’s raw, rough and uncompromising—made to satisfy a man’s voracious appetite! Go to LUNCH.” Indeed, while the film might be the odd one out in McDowell’s oeuvre in terms of its success and strong emphasis on heterosexuality, it certainly wallows in the sort of humor-tinged fiercely fetishistic and allegorically raunchy degeneracy that the auteur is best known for. 

 As a man that both played the virile lead role and assembled the fairly notable proto-industrial soundtrack, Mark Ellinger was responsible for a good portion of the film’s ‘potency’ and was even give an ‘assistant’ credit due to his crucial cum-heavy contribution to Lunch. Despite being rampantly heterosexual, Ellinger was a good friend of McDowell and apparently had no problems with not only being directed during his most intimate moments by a homo, but also sucking a cock as briefly featured in the film. Indeed, judging by the film’s emphasis on close-ups of Ellinger’s purple-headed custard chucker and somewhat shockingly explosive ejaculations, one almost gets the sense that McDowell directed the film solely so that he could spend countless hours staring at his pal’s pork sword and fairly explosive ejaculations (notably, according to George Kuchar, McDowell eventually got bored with directing his semi-autobiographical feature Sparkle's Tavern (1985) because the film did not feature any pornographic scenes). In Lunch, Ellinger plays the seemingly realistic role of a San Francisco bohemian deadbeat named Dave Power who does not have a job and instead merely spends all of his time sitting around his apartment and fantasizing about less than gorgeous gals he knows, not least of all his curiously blowjob-obsessed lesbian landlord Gloria (played by pseudonymous ‘actress’ Velvet Busch).  Plagued with a sub-homely and equally annoying live-in girlfriend that looks somewhat like a partially decayed corpse and who the protagonist would rather tease and insult then fuck, Dave is a man of few words who lives totally ‘inward’ and is a debauched dreamer of the day who probably resents the nights when he has to sexually service his sickly-looking sugar-momma.  Indeed, while Lunch might be a heterosexual hardcore film, its subtly scathing critique of straight relationships are from the mind of a gay man who seems to have intentionally cast mostly unattractive women.  Surely something is not quite right about a fuck flick when the most attractive woman is almost a midget with a raspy voice.

 At the very beginning of Lunch after a fairly aesthetically pleasing pop-art credit sequence juxtaposed with experimental electronic music composed by Ellinger, the viewer watches protagonist Dave as he obsessively stares at a piece of she-meat across the street from the relative comfort of his S.F. apartment window. In the next scene, we see Dave outside approaching the young gal he was just drooling at and it does not take long before he is playing with the little lady’s meat curtain. In an extreme close-up shot, Dave is depicted slowly but passionately dining on the dame’s naughty bits in a fashion that makes it seem as if her bushy beaver is an extension of his leather-fag-esque beard (indeed, virtually all of the male character's have scruffy facial hair). After warming her up with a little oral action, Dave inserts his loaded gun inside the girl and demands that she make “no noise” while he sexually services her. After beginning pounding her puss from behind, Dave eventually groans to the girl “Where do you want it?” and she replies, “Don’t cum in me, you bastard,” so the protagonist merely out his prick, thereupon causing a fairly climatic explosion that begins as soon as his cock exits her vagina that ultimately leaves a remarkable amount of baby batter on the young lady’s back. Not long after Dave ejaculates, the scene is revealed to be a daydream when the protagonist’s uniquely unattractive girlfriend abruptly arrives at the apartment and asks him if he gave the landlord Gloria the rent money. After his girlfriend seems to gross him out by asking him, “How’s your weenie?” as if she is beginning him to fuck her, Dave opts to pay the rent in the best and most pleasurable way he knows how. 

When Gloria shows up Dave's apartment and bitchily asks him in regard to the rent money, “you haven’t got it, right?,” the protagonist does not reply and instead proceeds to get some coffee. Things get awkward for Gloria for a moment when she looks around Dave’s apartment and notices strange vintage family portraits and paintings hanging on the walls that are surely a nod to the filmmaker’s Midwestern background. Eventually, Dave asks Gloria, “Should I…pay in the usual way?,” and then the film cuts to a shot of the protagonist unzipping his landlord’s glittery dark blue pants while she lies on his kitchen table. As the viewer has surely predicted at this point, Dave is paying for the rent with his prick, though he warms up his landlord up by fondling her tits and fingering her clit while digging inside her snatch in an extreme close-up shot sequence that resembles a sort of DIY hippie gynecological exam. Of course, this entire scenario is just another one of Dave’s extravagant fantasies, as the film soon cuts back to the protagonist teasing his girlfriend by attempting to grab her fairly flat derriere. At this point, Dave’s gossipy girlfriend declares, “Guess who I saw at the Safeway?” and then states, “I saw that Neanderthal human Jody Baker. He was with that black chick you used to date.”  Not unlike Dave, Jody likes to do a lot of daydreaming, but unlike the protagonist he prefers to be on the receiving end of oral sex.

 Jody Baker (Rick Mackota) is a perverted housepainter with a seemingly low IQ that looks sort of like a more gawky and neurotic version of Dave and he gets off to writing fairly brief perverted letters to people and leaving them under their door.  Indeed, Jody seems to think that if he gives people raunchy accusatory letters containing his name and phone number, he will receive a blowjob from them. While taking a shit on the toilet and reading a comic while he still has dried paint and dirt all over his arms and hands, Jody receives a phonecall from a negress named Carol who Dave apparently used to bang. Without wiping his ass or pulling up his pants, Dave answers the phone by asking “Gloria?” in the hope that it is his lecherous landlord, but he is somewhat startled when the black broad replies, “Gloria?! This is Carol.” After finally remembering who Carol is, Jody begins playing with his rather limp love truncheon while continuing to talk on the phone like a little toddler about banal bullshit. From there, the film cuts to a scene of a totally naked Jody meekly crawling to an equally unclad Carol as she lies in bed. It does not take long before Carol is giving Jody head, with the painter’s grotesque zit-covered ass taking up most of the frame. While the colored chick dines on his dick, Jody makes sure to warn her, “Don’t bite it” as if he thinks she is wild beastess. After the less than sexy oral pleasure dissipates, Jody screws the extra hungry ebony spade and at the end he ejaculates on her steelwool-like bush. Of course, like with protagonist Dave, Jody’s sexual encounter with Carol is eventually revealed to be nothing more than a mere fantasy. Indeed, at the end of the scene, Carol reveals her sexual disinterest in Jody by abruptly telling him that she has “got to go” and then hanging up the phone. 

 Since his girlfriend seems good at nothing but bitching and complaining, it comes as no surprise to the viewer when she states to the protagonist, “Dave, one of us has to get a job,” to which he apathetically replies, “I know.” Meanwhile, landlord Gloria discovers a letter under her door that reads “Gloria, I hear you like to suck dick” that was signed by Jody and includes his phone number, which certainly arouses the landlord as she proceeds to fondle and lick her titties while thinking about the lowly painter repeating to her what he had written in the letter. Indeed, Gloria eventually imagines Jody appearing to her in real-life and firmly stating, “Gloria, I hear you like to suck dick.” Naturally, it does not take long before Jody’s Johnson is in Gloria’s oral orifice. In fact, Gloria is so obsessed with sucking cock that she does not even bother disrobe aside from leaving her tits outside her shirt so that Jody can rub his member and eventually cum on them. After Jody disappears, a somewhat repugnant looking middle-aged creep arrives at Gloria’s apartment, begins sucking on the landlord’s nipples, and then demands that she, “Suck it! Suck it!,” which she wastes no time doing. While hearing various male voices in her head shouting, “I hear you like to suck dick,” Gloria then imagines herself sucking the cocks of various less than handsome men. In a bizarre twist, Gloria’s cocksucking fantasies are temporarily interrupted when her lesbian lover (?!) randomly shows up, asks her, “Hi, baby. What’s you been up to?,” and then proceeds to lick her nipples. Indeed, as her sapphic sister begins a little foreplay with her, Gloria imagines a biker-like guy showing up at her apartment while she is lying in bed while sporting nothing but underwear and sunglasses and demanding that she, “Suck it! Suck it,” which she immediately does with the utmost unfettered passion. Somewhat curiously, when Gloria’s girlfriend forces her to perform cunnilingus on her by sitting on her face, the landlord fantasies about sucking the biker’s cock. Undoubtedly it seems that, not unlike a lot of lipstick lesbians, Gloria is a seriously sexually confused chick. 

 In a hilarious shot that is not atypical of auteur McDowell’s perversely preternatural sense of humor, the viewer witnesses that Jody has dozens up dozens of notes hanging on a door his apartment to remind him to “write” various women. Meanwhile, an abnormally petite girl that could not be taller than 4-foot-6 asks Dave with a surprisingly raspy smoker voice, “Do you want to eat my pussy? I said, do you want to eat me pussy? Well, do you or don’t you?,” so the protagonist effortlessly picks her up while she simultaneously lifts her skirt for him and then puts her on a table so that it will be easier for a tall man like him to screw such a tiny broad. After Dave chows on her snatch for a little bit, the girl begins sucking the protagonist’s whore-pipe in a scene that is fairly funny in that the truly little lady is so blatantly short that she does not need to bend down or get on her knees to give him a blowjob because her face is parallel to his prick when the two are standing face to face. When the girl end up on the table again and demands like a petulant child, “Fuck me! Come on, I said fuck me!,” Dave naturally proceeds to stab her in her spasm chasm with his erect ramrod. While the little girl almost seems to be in pain during the plow session, she demands that Dave, “Push it deep,” so he does. Right before he is about to climax, Dave whips out his pink steel and manages to ejaculate so far that his semen flies across the room and hits the girl in a face in a startling explosive ‘money shot’ scene that even puts notable professional ejaculators like Peter North to shame. 

 While the final cumshot scene is fairly startling, it does not compare to the shock of the penultimate scene of the film where the protagonist receives a letter from Jody reading, “Dave, Hear you like to suck dick. Call me,” which is followed by a brief homoerotic clip shot of the protagonist sucking the perverted painter’s cock.  Indeed, it seems that auteur McDowell was somehow able to coerce his pal Ellinger to become gay-for-pay (though I seriously doubt that the actor was actually paid for being in the film). Naturally, Dave is repulsed and crumbles up Jody’s letter. Meanwhile, landlady Gloria does the same with her letter from Jody after her lesbo lover asks “What’s the note” and she replies, “Oh, some piece of bullshit,” so as not to let her girlfriend get the suspicion that she is obsessed with smoking poles. Somewhat humorously, when Dave’s girlfriend asks him, “Do you love me?,” he less than passionately replies “Yeah, cutie” and then causes her to shriek and jump backwards by pulling on her nipple. In the end, the protagonist's girlfriend asks him if he would like to eat breakfast or lunch and he replies “lunch” and then smiles in a knowing fashion that is not unlike the conclusion of Wakefield Poole’s experimental homo hardcore classic Bijou (1972). 

 After working on Lunch, star Mark Ellinger went on to star in and compose music for a number of his poof pal McDowell’s subsequent films. In fact, Ellinger not only starred in and scored McDowell’s magnum opus Thundercrack!, but he was also credited with coming up with the film’s original storyline. Aside from working with McDowell, Ellinger also worked as a recording engineer, sound designer, electronics technician, and composer on works by George Kuchar, Larry Jordan, the Mitchell Brothers, and a couple other filmmakers, including providing sound editing to the classic porn chic era costume piece The Autobiography Of A Flea (1976) directed by Sharon McNight. Additionally, he composed the score for Jordan’s animated avant-garde cinematic opium dream Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1977), which is notable for featuring Orson Welles reading the words of English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge to images by Gustave Doré. Outside of film, Ellinger accomplished many things in the musical world, including writing a musical setting for Fragments from the World of Henri LeCroix by Pulitzer nominee Cyrus Cassells, who he performed with in the Bay Area in 1984. Not surprisingly, like many people that were involved with the San Francisco counterculture zeitgeist, the musician eventually entered a very dark period in his life that involved heroin addiction, homelessness, and a near-death experience when his blood became poisoned by a deep-tissue bacterial infection of Necrotizing Fasciitis on Thanksgiving Day 2000. Nowadays, Ellinger is apparently clean and operates a fairly popular blog entitled Up From The Deep where he documents the history of San Francisco buildings and architecture via writings and photographs. 

 In terms of sheer atmosphere, Lunch is a shockingly powerful art-porn piece that manages to make San Francisco seem even more sleazy and grimy than sexploitation auteur Nick Millard’s classic piece of celluloid trash Criminally Insane (1975). While the film might be the least ‘McDowellian’ of the works associated with the filmmaker’s oeuvre, it led the way for his most distinguished work. Indeed, the royalties that were made from Lunch were apparently what inspired McDowell to make Thundercrack!, or as George Kuchar revealed in an interview featured in the book Desperate Visions: The Films of John Waters & the Kuchar Brothers (1996) by Jack Stevenson, “I guess Curt asked me to write a screenplay of THUNDERCRACK!. I labeled it THUNDERCRACK!. He wanted me to do a sex picture – all kinds of mixed sex in it. And, I wrote it, and he wanted to make it because he made a lot of money on another film called LUNCH, that he starred his friend in, Mark Ellinger, who later did the soundtrack for THUNDERCRACK!. I remember I just saw one shot of LUNCH, and it was Ellinger ejaculating, and he squirted clear across the room…almost practically missing the head of the girl who was lying down who name was Wendy […] Those students used to make sex pictures, because in those days it was fashionable to show your chakra. So, those were the ‘70s.” Of course, not unlike S&M sod auteur Fred Halsted’s sexually eclectic pan-sexual experiment Sextool (1975), Thundercrack! was somewhat of a commercial failure because it was just too damn strange, artsy fartsy, and unsexy to appeal to the fairly simple sensual sensibilities of the raincoat crowd. 

 Ultimately, Lunch features a sort of semi-cryptic anti-monogamy message hidden beneath its mostly sexually static surface. Indeed, in its depiction of various characters fantasizing about fucking other people while in the company of their significant lover, including a carpet-muncher daydreaming about sucking cock while licking her lover’s lily, the film depicts monogamy as a sad absurdity and metaphysical prison the leads to people sitting around their apartments all day while looking all moody and broody and dreaming of a more sexually satisfying life that they will never have. Of course, director McDowell suffered from a serious case of satyriasis, which ultimately led to his premature death in 1987 at the age of 42 after contracting AIDS, so he might not be the most objective person when it came to critiquing the sexual and romance habits of heterosexuals, or as his pal Kuchar once famously stated about him, “Curt was curt, cute, controversial, and not celibate. He was a barrel of laughs and a roller coaster ride to hell and back. Life for him was a fast track to fast times that included devilish detours into forbidden erogenous zones.” For totally personal reasons known to myself and one other person, I especially liked the fact the film featured a chick that had a pathological obsession with blowjobs, though I certainly could have probably done without the brief clip of hetero Ellinger giving a guy head, but I guess that is what one should expect from a film directed by a sexually nihilistic carnal clown like McDowell, whose personal calling in life seemed to be jovially raping and destroying all sexual taboos while wearing a smile on his face. 

-Ty E

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