I don't care what the haters say, BATTLESHIP (2012) is awesome. Maybe it's because I stayed home sick the day I saw it, so was both more relaxed and delirious than usual, or because I had a tolerance for the awesomely named Taylor Kitsch. I haven't seen a junk film with a greater sense of how to rock this cockoutiquely since GI JOE: RISE OF THE COBRA (my praise here). But I didn't come to talk about expensive junk cinema. I'm here to talk about SHE. Not the 1935 SHE starring Randolph Scott as a dull Arctic explorer resisting the alleged charms of a future Nixon opponent named Helen Gahagan, and I don't mean the Hammer SHE starring a genuinely charm-packed Ursula Andress, but the Italian 1982 (1985 in America) SHE, the one you've probably drifted past a dozen times on Netflix's streaming list, with poor Sandahl looking up from a dingy corner of the cover, clad in brown calfskin, pleading to be helicoptered out of Italy. Well, drift past no more!
The mise-en-scene of this particular SHE is a great mish-mash of eras from a kind of post-apocalyptic post-modern meltdown where left-behind WW2 ordinance mixes with lavish and modern producer's living rooms and backyard wastelands. Anachronistic sights include a bunch of youthful aesthetes listening to an old-fashioned gramophone and having a big orgy, then waking up in the middle of the night with plastic fangs to eat their guests; a swimming pool with beach balls, swords, women in cages, a giant in a tutu and feather boa, flagellants, fog machines, torture, robots, human bird cages, tuxedos, gladiatorial combat, and great dialogue:
Shandra: "This doesn't make sense"
Aisha: "Shandra, this has nothing to do with sense."
Indeed, for in addition to its borrowings from just about every corner of the prop department, SHE has a countercultural vibe that recalls another post-apocalyptic sci fi film, GAS-S-S-S (1971). It was the last thing Roger Corman directed, before he formed New World, which later produced a bucketload of films like SHE in the wake of CONAN's success, all with a nicely deadpan hip tone, including DEATHSTALKER (above) and DEATHSTALKER 2, both great for late night "wait, did he really just say that?" kind of moments with stoned friends. And there's hot chicks from the era before plastic 'enhancements' turned every New World rack the same, if you'll forgive the impression.
What SHE of course lacks from GAS-S-S-S are long stretches of music by Country Joe and the Fish, but it does have Motörhead and lots of fuzzed-out Rick Wakeman synths, and Country Joe gets on my nerves. GAS-S-S-S would make a good double bill with SHE, though. Both have that episodic structure where heroes wander the landscape encountering various factions who they must battle or get held prisoner by, or fall in love with, etc, and each willingly slips into post-modern anachronisms worthy of a drunk Godard.
The thing is, we know Corman's funny, clever, hip, but SHE is an unknown quantity. GAS-S-S-S has Edgar Allen Poe on a chopper, referencing Corman's biker films and Poe films in a single shot, but SHE has a sailor-suit wearing bridge guard with an eye patch, yellow bandana, and the word 'Texas' written on his forehead, and when people try to pass he stops them with a trip-up stick and nonstop impressions. I counted: Groucho Marx, W.C. Fields, Popeye, Mortimer Snerd, Adolph Hitler, Walter Winchell, Jackie Mason, Harry Von Zell, Senator Cleghorn (from the Fred Allen Show), James Cagney, the Black Knight (from Monty Python and the Holy Grail), and of course a whole chorus line, because he keeps multiplying. Oh yeah, and he sings a snatch of the themefrom "Green Acres."
Wearing an array of sexy and cool costumes, showing off all the sword skills she learned for CONAN, and generally making you sometimes believe she's in a better movie, Sandahl Bergman's lithe and sinuous liquid movements through the film are just a pleasure to watch and make the film worth seeing all on their own. As I wrote in my praise of CONAN, she was the love of my adolescent life, and if you're like me then--a Bergman fan who made super 8mm CONAN-inspired movies very similar in found object aesthetic to SHE--then it's SHE you I will.
SHE came out in Italy the same year as CONAN did, which on its own shows you 1) no one makes imitations of successful films faster than the Italians, and 2) There's no real 'market' for excellent dancers in genre movies, and Bergman's typecasting as a sword and sandal type served her in rapidly diminishing returns. Heroines like Xena, Buffy, and Beatrix Kiddo today just get stunt woman Zoe Bell to do their dirty work, but Bergman did all her own fighting in CONAN, and it showed; there's no frantic cutaways to shots of Valeria with her gorgeous sandy blonde hair covering her face as she swings her scimitar, and that made all the difference. And Bergman snakes through the whole film with a lithe grace we get mighty, mighty mad when she's killed. So to see her so quickly typecast and forgotten as someone who doesn't really have a future outside of the 80s sword and sorcery bubble is just tragic. Oh Sandahl, why why WHY did you choose to play the boring villainness Queen Gedren instead of the (also boring, but more active) lead in RED SONJA? Was this your version of Lugosi refusing to do FRANKENSTEIN and thus forever marking him in producer's secret ledgers as 'obstinate' and ensuring a long downward spiral of crappy parts in crappy pictures?
On the other hand, SHE is world's better than RED SONJA (1985), no matter which role Bergman would have played. SHE's sense of agape jaw aesthetic arrest is helped not hurt by the backyard junk post-apocalypse post -modern cheapness. The relatively big budgeted ($18M) Richard Fleischer-directed RED SONJA on the other hand is unwatchable no matter what your viewer context.
For example, consider the helot. I'm referring of course to Frank Capra's MEET JOHN DOE and Walter Brennan's rant about the helots when trying to convince Gary Cooper to give away the fifty dollar bill he's received. As you read the upcoming quote (spoken with great gumption by old Walter), imagine he's talking about the freedom of making a low budget no-CGI early 80s Brechtian free-for-all like SHE, the director answering to no one, presumably, but himself, vs. the producer interference and studio pressures that come with all the millions it takes to craft bigger budgeted junk action movies out today, like TRANSFORMERS or THE AVENGERS or MCGRUBER:
"All right. You're walking along, not a nickel in your jeans, your free as the wind, nobody bothers ya. Hundreds of people pass you by in every line of business: shoes, hats, automobiles, radios, everything, and there all nice lovable people and they lets you alone, is that right? Then you get a hold of some dough and what happens, all those nice sweet lovable people become helots, a lotta heels. They begin to creep up on ya, trying to sell ya something: they get long claws and they get a stranglehold on ya, and you squirm and you duck and you holler and you try to push them away but you haven't got the chance. They gots ya. First thing ya know you own things, a car for instance, now your whole life is messed up with a lot more stuff: you get license fees and number plates and gas and oil and taxes and insurance and identification cards and letters and bills and flat tires and dents and traffic tickets and motorcycle cops and tickets and courtrooms and lawyers and fines and... a million and one other things. What happens? You're not the free and happy guy you used to be. You need to have money to pay for all those things, so you go after what the other fellas got. There you are, you're a helot yourself."Were SHE made today it would no doubt suck, with endless CGI dragons and some fresh-out-of-helot-school rich man's son producer who would insist director Avi Nesher pick an aesthetic - make it ancient or post-apocalyptic, but not this weird limbo where WW2, hippie counterculture, the Inquisition, and ancient Rome all live side by side. But it was made 1982 (the height of my own post-apocalyptic barbarian moviemaking career) and so the tactile delights of using actual props and monster makeup are just baller enough to steer SHE into the timeless, anti-establishment, no-CGI forbidden zone where films which kill careers and get no love anywhere are suddenly aged into anti-helot relevance. With an American star, Israeli director and mostly Italian crew, SHE is one of those rare international productions that turns its tower of Babel culture-drain into an advantage. When your movie is going in six different directions at once, don't reign it all in, shoot for twelve more!
On that note you might make an all night anti-Helot Netflix stream festival with Nesher's SHE as the middle feature between GAS-S-S-S and the amazing Caroline Munro-starring sci fi (Italian Star Wars ripoff) STARCRASH (1979), and top it all off with a GHOSTS OF MARS or THE WARRIORS chaser, and at last you will know that the aesthetic of super 8mm backyard cinema lives on, as Big Daddy Mars, or a Baseball Fury, or a Joe Spinell, or any other kind of gaudy patter-spewing, scary make-up sporting thug ensemble...so don't fuck around with us Nork, and keep your pecker dry and the world will turn away from ther sterile, helot incarnate W.S. Anderson GGI action film (ala RESIDENT EVIL) into a post-modern/apocalyptic thrift store prop wasteland, and for those helots from Coney who had such a hard time getting through SHE, sorry 'bout not making any 'sense/'. Guess all we can do is play you a song, from the film that serves as a record of Bergman's glorious pre-CONAN Fosse dancer past, ALL THAT JAZZ. (video deleted by user)