Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Tuesday's Overlooked Films: Popatopolis (2009)

Proof that not every graduate of Roger Corman's filmmaking factory goes on to multi-million dollar budgets and critical acclaim, Jim Wynorski has been churning out low budget exploitation for close to thirty years. Some are fun (DEATHSTALKER II) but none are, in the traditional sense, good. However, Wynorski has developed a reputation as a director who knows his audience and is able to deliver the goods on a tight budget which is how he's been able to make 90 films in a  27 year career using a variety of clever pseudonyms (including but not limited to Jay Andrews, H.R. Blueberry, Salvadore Ross and of course Tom Popatopolous).  Clay Westervelt's documentary POPATOPOLIS is a portrait of the master at work making his 2005 film THE WITCHES OF BREASTWICK. 

Accepting a bet that he can make his film with only a three day shooting schedule, Wynorski heads to his remote shooting location (the better to not have cell phone reception) with his actors and a skeleton crew.  It is here that Westervelt and Wynorski provide the audience with the harsh realities of micro budget filmmaking including working with an inexperienced crew, communication breakdowns and learning to deal with some less than convincing line readings. Along the way we get interviews with Wynorski and his cast exploring such topics as Wynorski's behavior on set (he yells a lot), the shrinking market for exploitation films and the resentment felt when adult film actress Stormy Daniels is added to the cast for "marquee value." There's also a hilarious interview with Wynorski's mother who seems quite proud of her son while remaining blissfully ignorant of the content of most of his films.

Through it all, Wynorski comes across as an amiable enough guy, at least when he's not on the set. He's obviously in love with the idea of filmmaking (a tour of his house reveals that his kitchen cabinets are full of old DVDs and VHS tapes) but he seems completely stressed by the actual act of making a movie. Of course most of the stress is brought on by himself by always opting for the cheap solution to every problem. However, even though Wynorski and his actresses readily admit that they're making a product and not art, they all seem dedicated to at least making the best product they can under the circumstances. POPATOPOLIS manages to straddle a fine line between making fun of its subject and admiration for the work involved in making even the cheapest throwaway movie. It's recommended to anyone interested in the subject of filmmaking as well as anyone thinking about it as a career.

For more overlooked films and a/v visit Todd Mason's blog.


  1. Even the B-listers have the attitude of A-listers...

    Here's a selection of films that might be up your low-budget alley:


  2. Thanks for the link, Brian. Those films definitely appeal to my trash sensibilities.

  3. Dan Zukovic's "THE LAST BIG THING", called the "best unknown American film of the 1990's in the film book "Defining Moments in Movies" (Editor: Chris Fujiwara), was recently released on DVD and Netflix by Vanguard Cinema (http://www.vanguardcinema.com/thelastbigthing/thelastbigthing.htm), and is currently debuting on Cable Video On Demand, including Fandor. Featuring an important early role by 2011 Best Supporting Actor Oscar Nominee Mark Ruffalo ("The Avengers", "Shutter Island", "The Kids Are Alright"), "THE LAST BIG THING" had a US theatrical release in 1998, and gained a cult following over several years of screenings on the Showtime Networks.

    TRAILER: http://www.imdb.com/video/screenplay/vi856622873/

    "A distinctly brilliant and original work." Kevin Thomas - Los Angeles Times
    "A satire whose sharpest moments echo the tone of a Nathaniel West novel...Nasty Fun!"
    Stephen Holden - New York Times
    "One of the cleverest recent satires on contemporary Los Angeles...a very funny sleeper!"
    Michael Wilmington - Chicago Tribune
    "One of the few truly original low budget comedies of recent years." John Hartl - Seattle Times
    "'The Last Big Thing' is freakin' hilarious! The most important and overlooked indie film
    of the 1990's!" Chris Gore - Film Threat