Saturday, November 05, 2005

Wholesome Fetishists

I feel a little embarrassed bringing this up, but one of the least-known but longest-running sites devoted to old movies -- it's been around since the late '90s, I think -- is "!WOm!WAm! WOMEN Doing Things To Men", an anonymously-created site of stills and video captures from movies and TV shows of the '50s and '60s. The theme.... well, I'll let the webmaster describe it:

This site is a nonprofit Research & Review Reference studying male sexual fetishes in popular media during the 1950s/60s that feature scenes depicting 2 broad types of phenomena:

WOm: Women Overwhelming men
WAm: Women Attacking men

Basically the site examines, in terrifying detail, the fetishistic and outright weird content that became a standard part of popular culture (not only American, but British and Italian) in the '50s and, especially, the '60s.

As the '50s wore on, popular culture became more sexualized, but the taboos against overt portrayals of sex were still fairly strong, and outright nudity was not usually acceptable. So a strange hybrid started to take over pop culture, where you'd get absurdly sexualized material within what was supposed to be a "wholesome" piece of family entertainment. Think of The Dean Martin Show, or Ann Margret in Bye Bye Birdie playing a wholesome teenager as if she were a nymphomaniac, or Joey Heatherton on Bob Hope specials more or less stripping for the troops. Think of "Batman," a family show where every episode featured a good-looking woman in a cartoonily sexy costume; think of The Pleasure Seekers, a remake of Three Coins in the Fountain where the three girls abroad spend most of the movie in their underwear. It was a strange, strange time.

As I said, I'm a little embarrassed about linking to that site, because it does seem to be basically a fetish site, and some of the captions... well... let's say their interpretation of the movies can be kind of direct. Still, it's got pictures from just about everything, including a lot of movies and TV episodes that will probably never be available on DVD.

The webmaster writes at one point that Frank Tashlin is "the most represented director in this survey." I can believe it; as I wrote in my last post, Tashlin was incapable of getting through a movie without putting his heroine into a wholesomely fetishistic costume. The most famous is still Shirley MacLaine's Bat Lady costume in Artists and Models, see below, but the ultimate Tashlin scene (amazingly not represented on that site), is the number "A Day in the Country" (or "A Couple of Travelling Guys") in Hollywood or Bust.

In the "Day in the Country" number, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis drive through the countryside singing and waving to people they pass; the scene is (by Tashlin's own admission) a takeoff on the "Beyond the Blue Horizon" number in Lubitsch's Monte Carlo, except that this time, every single person Dean and Jerry wave to is a sexy chorus girl in a skimpy "farmer's daughter" outfit. I wish I could post screen captures of that scene, because it's almost impossible to describe what a strange scene it is: a combination of Playboy leering with family-fun wholesomeness. So are the credits of Hollywood Or Bust, where every credit is accompanied by a shot of Anita Ekberg in a different cheesekake pose. Tashlin had already done the same thing in the credits of Artists and Models, and he would continue this sort of thing right up through putting Doris Day in a mermaid outfit in The Glass Bottom Boat. He was a strange fellow.

In his best movies, and Hollywood or Bust is one of the best, Tashlin actually makes this combination work without coming off as sleazy or sexist, unlike most of the wholesomely fetishistic entertainment of the era. But that's why Tashlin was a genius and the producers of "The Dean Martin Show" were not.

Update: Here are some lobby cards from Hollywood or Bust that give at least a vague idea of Tashlin's weirdness; a still from the "Day in the Country" number is the second card on the right, and other scenes represented include Jerry pushing Anita Ekberg into a pool, which may have inspired her famous dunking in that exemplar of PG-rated fetishism, La Dolce Vita.

Update # 2: Here's the complete "A Day in the Country" number:

And another wholesomely fetishistic Tashlin scene, from Artists and Models with Dorothy Malone and Shirley MacLaine:

1 comment:

Ralph Baker said...

Hello! Your page has been here for quite a while, but have you noticed something in 2009?

WOm!WAm! has disappeared!, and the Website Mistress is looking for help in bringing the site back now.

In the meantime, all of WOm!WAm!'s photo collection can be viewed at at 'MattFind'. Let's join the crusade to restore 'WOm!WAm!.

Sincere thanks from Ralph Baker, eMail is Cheers!