“I know when most people go to see documentaries, they expect to learn something,” said “Machete Maidens Unleashed” director Mark Hartley before the film’s Fantastic Fest premiere. “If you expect to learn something, you should go outside and read a book for the next 85 minutes.”
But a funny thing happened on the way to the Paramount – you do learn quite a bit about the Filipino exploitation films of the 1960s and ’70s from Hartley’s follow-up to his wildly entertaining history of the Australian exploitation film, “Not Quite Hollywood,” even if it’s not what you’d quite expect. Like that film, “Machete Maidens Unleashed” is often more fun than the films it tells the behind-the-scenes stories of since it freely uses the money shots and arrives bursting with energy to spare. At once, the film is a tribute to native Filipino directors Cirio Santiago, Bobby Suarez and Gerardo de Leon, who built an industry out of “blood, breasts and beasts” and benefited from the Philippines’ tropical locale and cheap labor, while it also diverges into a loving biography of Roger Corman, who seized upon the land of low production costs for his women-in-prison flicks like “The Big Doll House.”
Not surprisingly, the lack of dull bits pleased Corman, who came out with his wife and producing partner Julie during the “Machete Maidens Unleashed” Q & A to join the conversation and present his own latest film, the SyFy production “Sharktopus.” For fans still reeling from the ample use of footage from “Black Mama, White Mama” and “The Big Bird Cage” in Hartley’s film, the Cormans offered a ray of hope when they jointly said a return to the Philippines might be on the horizon (“We’ve been talking to Cirio [Santiago]’s son Chris, Julie said; somewhere longtime admirer Quentin Tarantino’s ears were burning).
Fantastic Fest co-founder Tim League made clear his appreciation for the Cormans, saying that Fantastic Fest and to a large extent, the Alamo Drafthouse itself, was “built on the shoulders” of Corman’s extensive filmography. (As it turns out, both League and Roger Corman were engineering students before turning to film – “Where did we go wrong?” Corman joked.) But the festival made the honor official when former New York Times critic Elvis Mitchell strutted out on stage with a giant sword to present to the Cormans as the Syfy Imagine Greater Lifetime Achievement Award. Mitchell delivered a tribute rooted in Roger Corman and Mitchell’s shared birthplace of Detroit, “where, by the way, this would be a bread knife” Mitchell said, brandishing the unwieldy blade.
Citing his ability to “take a maligned form and turn it into something that mattered” and “pick talent,” Mitchell compared Roger Corman to another Detroit legend, Motown founder Berry Gordy, before kneeling down to hand he and Julie Corman the sword. Mitchell made a point of calling Julie “one of the most overlooked talents in film” and referenced one of the Cormans’ many discoveries for an analogy, saying “without Gale Anne Hurd, there would be no James Cameron.” Upon receiving the sword, Julie quipped, “I need a new dress and you need chainmail,” looking at Roger who was quick to respond with worry about carrying the sword through airplane security for the flight home. (Apparently, the Cormans were last in Austin to see their son win a volleyball tournament, so as Julie noted, “We just think of this as awards city.”)
Still, as always, the Cormans were steadfast in promoting the movie at hand, “Sharktopus,” which they did with their usual relish, and will be back this evening for a screening of Roger’s “X: The Man With X-Ray Eyes.”
When asked by an audience member if Roger ever plans to return to directing after all but giving it up to concentrate on producing (he’s credited with 1990’s “Frankenstein Unbound,” but mostly retired from the director’s chair in 1971), he replied, “At my age, it’s easier to arrive at 9:30 than 7 a.m. as a director” before adding “unless I get some idea. If I get an idea tomorrow, I might be directing next week.”