Last night's Pop Offensive was not perfect. There were a couple flubbed cues, some ill-advised planned "bits", and an unpleasant digression on the subject of Justin Bieber-themed dental supplies. Still, where else will you find pop icons like Brigitte Bardot, Paul Revere & The Raiders, and The Bobby Fuller Four rubbing elbows with such far flung, bygone international stars as Turkey's Ajda Pekkan, Cambodia's Houy Meas, and Japan's The Golden Cups under the same musical roof? You can now either stream the episode from the 9th Floor Radio's archives or download it, podcast stylee, here.
Pop Offensive's tireless battle to make the internet airwaves safe for nuggets of every shade and tempo continues this Wednesday, August 27th, as Jeff Heyman and I once again take over the studio at Peralta College's 9th Floor Radio to bring you two hours of rowdy pop, dance and movie tunes from around the world. The fun starts at 7pm and can be streamed live from the 9th Floor site (and, hey, if you miss it, you can always stream the archived version of the episode, podcast style, here.)
But wait, that's not all! In another example of us constantly trying to improve the Pop Offensive listening experience, those who want to reach out to us during the show can now do so with even more ease by tweeting us at the official Pop Offensive radio Twitter account at @PopOffRadio. And if that doesn't give you enough access, feel free to post on our Facebook page. It's the next best thing to having Jeff and Me right there in the room with you, serenading you in your bed... and probably a lot less creepy.
If I have mentioned Agente 00 Sexy many times before, it is likely because of pictures like this:
That picture promises a lot, as does the title Agente 00 Sexy. And because of that, you will probably be just as surprised as I was to find that Agente 00 Sexy, out of all the goofy spy spoofs to come out of Mexico during the 1960s, is among the most sedate. It is bloodless, in fact, and very low on thrills, aiming instead for a comic amiability that, were it not for the rich helping of cheesecake supplied by former Miss California and current California real estate agent Amedee Chabot, would render it downright -- gasp! -- family friendly.
What it does share with other Mexi-spy capers of its era, aside from an appreciation for Chabot’s curves, is the unique conviction that a campy espionage thriller provides the ideal platform for showcasing the current pop acts of the day. The chief beneficiary of this is Mike Laure, practitioner of a tropically influenced breed of Latin American pop known as Cumbia, who not only stars as himself but also performs a generous selection of musical numbers.
Agente 00 Sexy begins with hapless nice guy Ernesto (Fernando Lujan) arriving in Mexico City with a guitar in his hands and dreams of stardom in his heart. He makes haste to the television studio, where he soon meets cute with nice girl Gloria (Irma Lozano), who introduces him to Laure and helps him get an audition in front of the studio bigwigs. This would seem like good news for Ernesto, until he opens his mouth to sing, at which point issues forth something that sounds like the audio of a snuff film starring Fred (and, seriously, to give Fernando Lujan credit, his rendering of Ernesto’s wounded mewling is legitimately hilarious). Meanwhile, every studio in the building is buzzing with the latest sounds from teen town, as the cameras capture an extended procession of guitar-slinging pretty boys. You’d think the telenovela had never been invented.
His dreams handily smashed, Ernesto takes his guitar and wanders out into the night, where he is soon caught in a shootout between police and what I honestly believe is meant to be a gang of Nazi Mafiosos. The gang mistakes him for their leader, Louie -- who we will later learn, in a very Bollywood twist, is an exact double for Ernesto -- and hustles him into their getaway car. Soon he is ensconced at their penthouse hideout, where he meets Ernesto’s blonde bombshell of a girlfriend, Angora (Chabot). Angora is played not only as a dumb blonde, but, even worse, as a dumb gringa, spouting dialog that’s a noisome combination of yelled English and mangled Spanish. (Chabot, who had speaking roles in many Spanish language films without embarrassing herself, is clearly acting here.)
Ernesto’s repeated attempts to escape the gang fail resoundingly, as do his efforts to alert various authorities and passers-by to their criminal designs. Still, the suspicions of his thick witted gangster companions are never roused. Finally, he is sent to Costa Rica with a case containing the loot from the gang’s latest robbery. There he meets up with Angora, along with Louie’s gullible toady El Nervios, who is played by Mexican comedian and radio personality Hector Lechuga. More bungling escape attempts follow, this time punctuated by nightclub musical numbers, until Ernesto returns with the gang to Mexico, only to be arrested by police as soon as his feet hit the tarmac.
Police official Colonel Gomez (Pancho Cordova) lets Ernesto in on the fact that the real Louie is in police custody and places it upon him to continue his masquerade in order to gather intelligence on the gang. And it is here, well into Agente 00 Sexy’s second hour, that we finally see it sleepily make a nod toward the genre that it is putatively lampooning, in that Ernesto is tricked out with a spy camera and microphone watch before being sent off to tremulously do his duty. Meanwhile, in an occurrence for which the phrase “as luck would have it” was minted, the real Louie is freed when a van he is being transferred in crashes, setting the stage for the two doubles to pair off against one another. This occurs at a fancy dress party at which Amedee Chabot models the skimpy cat costume in which all surviving publicity materials for Agente 00 Sexy picture her.
Those many posters and lobby cards, by the way, would lead you to believe that Amedee Chabot is the touted Agente Sexy, and it is only via a last second twist that they are given veracity. This, of course, is lazy and a con, yet we are still not left totally wanting for a protagonist. Fernando Lujan, it has to be said, is an interesting comedic presence -- especially when viewed alongside the mugging of quotation mark dependent purveyors of Mexican comic relief like Antonio “Clavillazo” Espino, German “Tin Tan” Valdez, and Eleazar “Chelelo” Garcia. Unlike them, he is not clownish in appearance, and is, in fact, delicately handsome, yet affects a blasé demeanor that gives him a quirky fascination. When we first meet him, riding in the back of a taxi to the television studio, he is literally rolling his eyes. It is only the event of his ear-flaying vocal audition that clues us in that he is a man separated from the world more by childlike naiveté than by jadedness. His being forcefully pulled into that world, with all its attendant mess and chaos, is thus given that much more comic bite.
It is true that Agente 00 Sexy lacks the rambunctiousness of more enjoyable Mexican spy spoofs like Cazadores de Espias, yet it is still a hard film to dislike. There’s an oddball appeal to its very 1960s notion of the spy film and rock and roll as being complimentary bedfellows, despite James Bond’s famous unwillingness to take on The Beatles without earmuffs. This is no doubt due more to both being signifiers of modernity than a reflection of reality. For, as we know, there is nothing less “rock and roll” than spies, who, in life, are emissaries of the cursed Establishment at its most malign and insidious. A buxom blonde in a revealing cat costume, however…
Supermen Against the Orient is not an easy film to watch. It's kind of racist; its theme song is terrible; and, with talent like Shaw brothers stars Lo Lieh and Shih Szu at it's disposal -- and Jackie Chan as its alleged fight choreographer -- it gives prominence to a toilet-based subplot over its action.
Still, I think that watching it made the Shout Down crew stronger... so much so that next time we're going to tweet along to a PowerPoint presentation about estate planning. We are that hard.
Anyway, below is the Storified transcript of Tuesday night's going on:
You know the drill, folks.Log on to Twitter tonight -- that's Tuesday, August 12th -- at 6pm PDT, using the hashtag #4DKMSD, and join the Shout Down crew as we gawp and gripe at the Italo-Hong Kong co-production Supermen Against the Orient. See Lo Lieh don a bright red super suit that just may be the greatest indignity he's ever suffered on screen! See the famous Shaw Brothers sets play host to mustache farmin' super studs who look like they stepped right out of an Umberto Lenzi movie! Feast your ears on the worst movie theme song OF ALL TIME! See so much that you cannot UNSEE!
The link to tonight's feature is below:
Like the song says, you'll be creamed, reamed, and, of course, redeemed. How can you miss out on that?
Given that its priority is to arrange its heroine -- Telegu “erotic” film star Silk Smitha -- into as many crotch-flaunting action poses as possible, Lady James Bond doesn’t have much time for exposition. Instead what we get is a montage of a bunch of stuff blowing up -- buildings, a toy helicopter, a train -- before going to a bunch of grave looking suits sitting around a conference table. These guys huff and puff for a bit before declaring that the only person for the job is “Lady James Bond”. And, yes, they really do call her “Lady James Bond” (“Lady” for short).
As I pointed out earlier, in a review of Smitha’s Toofan Rani, Indian dirty movies -- especially when compared to the sexploitation output of other nations’ film industries -- are not really all that dirty. Missing, for instance, are sex of either the simulated or actual variety, as is any kind of exposure of the naughty bits, both of which, I imagine, are deal breakers to those who come to it with plans for an evening’s self pleasuring. Indeed, if any of you came to this blog in hopes of reading about a movie that does feature those elements, I suggest you instead head over to my write-up of the movie where Isabel Sarli cradles her own boobs for 95% of her time on screen.
However, if you are of a different bent and simply want to be offended by Lady James Bond, it has much in store for you. I refer here, primarily, to a dance number in which Smitha sports full blackface -- well, black everything, really -- and writhes around as the musicians accompanying her, actual black people, are shown leering in exaggerated close-up to accentuate their scary otherness. Southern India’s tribal peoples are also given rather shoddy representation, to say the least. Oh, and lest I forget to mention: what films like Lady James Bond offer in place of actual sex is a point of view for which the term “the male gaze” is too genteel a description -- as in, they give interested parties an opportunity to observe women from vantage points that, in a just society, would get them slapped or arrested were they to attempt them on the train platform or sidewalk.
Anyway, given that narrow agenda, director and writer P. Chandrasekhar Reddy puts an admirable amount of effort into ensuring that Lady James Bond contains all the boilerplate trappings of a spy film of its era (not to mention providing a showcase for a lot of interesting 70s Modern architecture). To wit, we have an older, professorial type in possession of a coveted brief case containing a file marked “SPECIAL RESEARCH REPORT”, which certain parties will do anything -- anything! -- to get their hands on. Chief among those doing the coveting is a mysterious, lap cat stroking villain whom his underlings only refer to as “Superior”. There is some mystery surrounding Superior’s identity, but out of a reluctance to spoil Lady James Bond, I will only give you a hint: He has a mustache. Granted, this is a Telegu film, so I can pretty much guaranty that everyone involved but Silk Smitha and the makeup lady had a mustache, so take that for what it’s worth.
Reddy also introduces a truckload of characters into the mix. As one has come to expect, the professor comes complete with an attractive niece (I think) named Indu, whose luxuriously permed boyfriend, Kapil, turns out to be another spy with his sights set on the “SPECIAL RESEARCH REPORT”. This pair is introduced in a musical number so eye shredding that it reads like a rap sheet of all of the 80s’ worst aesthetic offenses. This brings me to Lady James Bond’s music, which is a curious and haphazard mix of orchestral and electronic sounds. It’s as if someone drunkenly took scissors to a traditional Bollywood score and then filled the resulting gaps with a random tone generator. The film’s credits, which are written in Telegu script, deny me the name of the perpetrator, but, if I could smell music, my guess would be that Disco Dancer’s Bappi Lahiri was somehow involved.
Following along with the template, Smitha’s Lady JB, upon being named the ideal person for the case, is immediately set upon by goons. This conveniently takes place while she is having a swim, meaning she is clad in the type of swimsuit any woman would deem ideal for partaking in a kung fu fight involving many undercarriage-revealing high kicks. Lady then flees the pool, only to have the goons assailing her turn from what could reasonably be called a “passel” to an army, which leads one to wonder exactly whose pool she was swimming in. After this, she is assigned to guard over the Professor’s family and the much desired brief case, setting the stage for the many, many goon battles that will make up most of the remainder of Lady James Bond’s running time.
As she proved in Toofan Rani, Smitha, while every inch the glamor girl, is well up to the demands of the pure action film that Lady James Bond is at its core. Setting aside the many instances of obvious wire and trampoline work, she fights convincingly, seemingly channeling a lot of anger in doing so, and sports an icy glare that is perfectly suited to staring down the barrel of a drawn pistol. Basically, she effectively combines the appearance of being eternally pissed off with a powerful, big-boned physical presence, much as her forebear Jyothi Laxmi, also the star of a film called Lady James Bond, did a decade earlier. Still, it must be said that, while the action in Lady James Bond is plentiful, it is also somewhat repetitive, mainly, I think, due to the limitations placed upon Smitha by the need to rely so heavily on scissor kicks.
In Lady James Bond’s final act, Lady and Kapil team up to lay siege to Superior’s lair, which, once revealed, appears to be a public school building dolled up with fascist iconography. First, however, unfilled screen time and racism decree that they must be kidnapped by a bunch of ooga-booga savages standing in for tribals. This scenario provides for Smitha to be tied to a tree and have most of her clothes ripped off by the natives, after which she intoxicates them with a lascivious jungle dance. This, of course, is meant to entice us, the dupes at home, into anticipating, against all empirical logic, that we might actually get to see Silk Smitha getting it on with a muscular black dude. In a pig’s eye.
Given current sensitivities, there are no doubt many people who would prefer to see a film like Lady James Bond launched into the sun and forgotten forever. For the more recalcitrant bros among you to understand that, simply imagine Daniel Craig being obligated by the mere fact of having a dick to pause his Bondian exploits at regular intervals to splay his legs toward the camera. One must also consider that, as with Pashto horrors like Haseena Atom Bomb, the suggestion that its intended male audience could be satisfied by such juvenile panty peeping speaks to a level of sexual benightedness that is almost as poignant as it is pathetic.
The fact stands, however, that Lady James Bond, like the rest of Silk Smitha’s filmography, is trash ennobled by tragedy. It’s a shame that it took Smitha’s suicide at the age of 35 for us to see her today, rather than as just “the chick in that movie”, as a human being who suffered just as we do on our less lucky days. Still, to automatically see Lady James Bond as inseparable from the sad trajectory of her life would be to heap further undeserved indignities upon her name. Smitha had a life and history independent of her status as a future Bollywood casualty as surely as she did from her career as a star of sexy movies. If she comes across to us as anything less, it is the reductivism implicit in the whole movie star/fan compact that’s likely to blame.
In light of all that, how is the beleaguered blogger, having assigned himself the task of reviewing Lady James Bond, to neatly wrap things up? Perhaps he should respect its star by calling it for what it is: a junky little film that, in being totally idiotic, is sometimes very enjoyably so. Now let’s let the poor woman rest, shall we?
In a reflection of world events, it's everybody against everybody and Supermen against all in the next 4DK Monthly Movie Shout Down, in which we try to reckon with Supermen against the Orient. The film is a late entry in the confoundingly long-running series of Italian superhero spoofs featuring the Three Supermen, a trio of bumbling FBI agents and their gymnastics-enabling super suits. This one was co-produced by Hong Kong's legendary Shaw Brothers Studios -- who were apparently in a real "what the hell" mood at the time -- which allows for the appearance of Shaw Brothers stars Lo Lieh (King Boxer, aka Five Fingers of Death) and Shih Szu (The Thunderbolt Fist, Lady Hermit) alongside some of the Italian regulars. Sound interesting? Here, check out this trailer I made on my phone:
The fun starts at 6pm sharp PDT next Tuesday, August 12th. At that time, I invite you to join the Shout Down gang on Twitter as, using the hashtag#4DKMSD we tweet along to this goofy world pop cinema hybrid. I will provide a link to the film here on the blog on that date, or you can refer to the official Shout-Down site for both the film and further info on what this Shout Down business is all about.
With Taiwan Noir, Kenny B. and I head up an international coalition of pasty white people bent on impressing upon all of you, by means both prolific and prolonged, just how many goddamn ninja movies there are in the world. With our latest episode, we check Challenge of the Lady Ninja and Life of Ninja off the list. Listen here.