Shoot 'em up

Popatopolis captures B-movie behemoth Jim Wynorski

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Jim Wynorski, doin' what he does best

FILM Some people truly love movies, and love making movies, yet a legitimate question arises: for the greater good, should they be stopped? Or at least drastically slowed down?

That worry rumbles just under the surface of Clay Westervelt's documentary Popatopolis, and the entire oeuvre of the filmmaker it's about. Jim Wynorski is a onetime Roger Corman protégé who started making his own low-budget movies in the late 1980s, riding out the direct-to-video wave with a mix of sequels nobody was waiting for (1989's Return of the Swamp Thing, 1994's Ghoulies IV), the inevitable "erotic thrillers," miscellaneous action trash, unintentionally funny horror flicks, unintentionally unfunny comedies, and so forth.

Somewhere around the millennium's turn he started alternating between even cheaper cable softcore cheese (several Bare Wench Project flicks, 2009's The Devil Wears Nada) and comparatively lavish exercises in genre clock-punching (2005's Komodo vs. Cobra, 2004's Sea Ghost). The latter were usually made under pseudonyms — because even the SyFy Channel knows the words "Jim Wynorski" raise a red flag that might send fussy viewers straight to bed with a book.

Popatopolis chronicles the creation of 2005's The Witches of Breastwick, whose writer-director agreed to make it in just three days as an "experiment" — to the dismay of a cast and crew already fed up by incredible shrinking production schedules. One says Wynorski's "problem is he keeps saying yes to everybody. If you keep lowering the bar of how quickly and cheaply you can make a film, it's just not fun anymore."

Wynorski typically gives actors one take to realize his vision — not that he actually explains what it is. By all accounts a dear man off-set, on the job he throws tantrums, cuts any corner — but does complete a million shots per day. Still, is being this prolific a virtue to anyone besides his financiers? Corman wistfully opines, "Jim is a better director than he thinks he is." Wynorski counters, "I'm not Picasso. I'm more like the guy who paints Elvis on velvet."

Well, not Elvis so much as black-light poster babes — the surgically enhanced bombshells he favors, some of them moonlighting hardcore "models." The ones who aren't lament the demise of real B movies like those Wynorski used to make, which featured quasi-stellar legitimate thespians like Antonio Sabato Jr., Ice-T, Shannon Tweed, two lesser Baldwins, and both Coreys. Even those folk wouldn't do a Breastwick. Yet that shoestring epic makes enough cable deals to achieve the kind of profit margin mainstream Hollywood only dreams about.

Its sequel (plus five more features) were in the can before 2005 was out. "He's like a machine that can only do one thing in the world," a colleague observes. Popatopolis captures some golden moments you wouldn't get in any ordinary making-of, as when a new actress says "Whoever wrote this script doesn't like women very much," and old-hand actress Julie K. Smith shrugs, "Jim Wynorski wrote it. A couple rum and Cokes, and the anger comes out." Westervelt will be on hand to answer questions at the Oddball screening and to introduce Wynorski's 1986 killer-robot epic Chopping Mall. 

POPATOPOLIS WITH CHOPPING MALL

Fri/21, 8 p.m., $10

Oddball Films

275 Capp, SF

(415) 558-8117

info@oddballfilm.com (RSVP required)

 

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