I had a fun and informative chat with IU Cinema director Alicia Kozma yesterday afternoon. It was the first time I’ve recorded an edition of Big Talk in the WFHB studios since February 2020.
That time, I shot the breeze with the Busman’s Holiday boys, Lewis and Addison Rogers. Next thing any of us knew, the nation — hell, the entire world — was being shut down. So for some 27 months I’ve been recording Big Talk editions à la Marc Maron — in my garage. It took quite a few tries but I think I was able, eventually, to get a pretty decent sound quality even as I was squeezed in among the lawnmower, The Loved One’s hot rod, some old rolled-up carpeting, the washer and dryer, and tons of other clutter.
I figured I’d venture out into the world yesterday so I reserved one of the station’s recording studios. It was a blast seeing the old community radio gang again — GM Jar Turner, news director Kade Young, and development director Brooke Turpin. The big news at the station is Kade cut off his extremely long pandemic hair and Jar has let his tresses grow down to his shoulder blades. Brooke’s mop remains stylishly trimmed.
As for me, well, I haven’t worried about the hair on the top of my head since the 1990s. That emanating from my ears and nose, though, must be controlled using Wahl machinery.
By the way, did you know the word glabrous means free from hair? Ironic, isn’t it? I mean, it’d be like the 45th President of the United States being surnamed Noble or Goode. Hair has sprouted in generous amounts from every corner and niche of my bod since I was an early teen. This even though my scalp became largely desolate starting in about 1981.
Anyway, in researching Alicia Kozma, I learned about a woman named Stephanie Rothman. She’s one of Kozma’s fave producer/directors and was one of the very first female top executives in Hollywood.
Rothman was the first female winner of the Directors Guild of America fellowship while a student at the University of Southern California. Cult film director Roger Corman hired her as an assistant straight out of college. Stephanie worked in every possible position on Corman-produced movies with titles like Beach Ball, Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet, and Queen of Blood. Her stint with Corman was an invaluable apprenticeship where she learned every aspect of making a commercial movie. Corman eventually tabbed her to direct It’s a Bikini World.
This all came about in the 1960s when Hollywood saw women as good only for parading their breasts onscreen. Sure, there were female directors and/or producers — Ida Lupino comes to mind — but you could count them on one hand that’d suffered the loss of three fingers in a farm accident.
Rothman hated working on what was called the “exploitation” genre. Kozma defines exploitation films as those made on the barest of budgets, designed to make quick box office money at, say, drive-in theaters, and which featured plenty of jiggling female flesh and a whole hell of a lot of violence.
“I was never happy making exploitation movies,” Rothman said. But she did so because women directors were rarely hired or bankrolled a half century ago. The only job she could find was at an exploitation factory.
Rothman did, though, inject a mote of enlightenment into the process. She directed the films Student Nurses and The Velvet Vampire for Corman. As long as the exploitation film formula demanded nudity to one degree or another, Rothman chose to have as many male actors shed their clothes as female actors. And as long as she had to include violent scenes in her movies, she strove to show the results of that violence, both physical and emotional. She also focused on female leads as more fully developed characters rather than simply unclad bodies prancing around the screen.
Kozma calls Rothman the “anti-Russ Meyer.”
She split off to start her own production company, Dimension Pictures, with her husband, Charles S. Swartz. Rothman directed three Dimension films: Group Marriage, Terminal Island, and The Working Girls. She scripted Beyond Atlantis for Dimension as well. In all of them, she took an exploitation standby, unbridled male desire, and extended it to include that of her female characters. It may be hard to believe today, but the idea of a female movie character really wanting to engage in sex back then was utterly groundbreaking.
Still, Rothman remained unsatisfied with the whole exploitation thing. Even when she left Dimension in 1975 and hoped to make serious films, she couldn’t because Hollywood had typecast her as an exploitation director. She couldn’t win.
Alicia Kozma says she’d love to get Stephanie Rothman to make a personal appearance at the IU Cinema sooner rather than later. Rothman, who hasn’t worked on a film since 1978, is now 85 years old. She remains healthy and energetic, acc’d’g to Kozma. The IU Cinema director has her fingers crossed that Rothman may soon make her way to Bloomington.
Sometimes when I think I might like to retire from radio, I simply remember I get to meet and chat with cool folks like Alicia Kozma. And learn about others like Stephanie Rothman. So I’ll stick with Big Talk for the foreseeable future.
(The podcast of my chat with Alicia Kozma will post later today at 6:00pm on the WFHB website. Podcasts of all previous Big Talks can be found here.)