Director Jack Hill wrote a long and thoughtful response to both my women in prison article and to some of my other reviews of his work (including discussions of Mondo Keyhole; Pit Stop and Swinging Cheerleaders;Spider Baby and Switchblade Sisters;Coffy and Foxy Brown

Anyway, the full email is below (cross-posted at the Bright Lights blog)

Your review is, as usual, very astute and incisive. Only, re The Big Doll House, I don’t want to take credit — or blame, depending on your point of view — for ideas that were not mine. Actually, Stephanie Rothman developed the script with Don Spencer, a writer of her choice. Stephanie wanted to direct the picture herself, and she and her husband Charles Swartz tried their best to get me off the picture. Fortunately for me, Roger Corman had previously engaged my services on the project and was bound by that agreement. I was then handed the script and instructed to go to the Philippines to shoot it. I personally thought the script was a mess, and immediately set about rewriting it, and the rewriting continued throughout the production. To this day I can’t separate out everything that I contributed from the elements that were given to me, some of which, frankly, I couldn’t find better alternatives for and felt that I was just stuck with. The only things I do want to take unequivocal credit for on the record are Bobby [Roberta] Collins’ lines, “Get it up or I’ll cut it off,” which invariably brought down the house; and “Hah! Now I’m in my own natural element,” when she falls into the mud, which, strangely, didn’t even get many laughs. And then, a lot of Sid Haig’s business, of course.

Re The Big Bird Cage: I had carte blanche on just about everything and therefore have no one else to blame for whatever didn’t work. The film was criticized for being homophobic, yet had its longest run in a theater in a gay neighborhood in Hollywood.

Re The Swinging Cheerleaders: I had the very valuable creative help of my producer partner John Prizer and the very talented writer David Kidd — the two being at opposite ends of the political spectrum. No, I didn’t intend the film to be conservative; on the contrary, I wanted to make fun of both ends of the spectrum — but, I admit, especially the imbecile left. FWIW, when the football player beats up the hippy, audiences in Texas invariably cheered — although probably not for the same reasons that I enjoyed the scene.

Re Mondo Keyhole: Needless to say, I was quite restricted in content by the guy who was putting up the money, but also did some dumb things — as well as some things that I still think were pretty clever — by choice. But somehow, the film has acquired a cult following on home video, so I no longer feel the need to disavow it.

BTW, I was very much into Deleuze myself at one time, although not the specific works that you reference, to my best recollection. I found Heidegger much more rewarding on the subject of Nietzsche, for example, although I must say Nietzsche and his ilk never interested me much; once you’ve been exposed to the writings of the ancient sages of Kashmir, all that 19th-century western crap seems rather puerile and vapid, frankly — except perhaps for the late Schelling, IMHO. But then, Schelling’s brothers-in-law were sanskritists and so I presume that Schelling himself had access at least to the basics of the true philosophy, and I find indications of that in his work.

Re: Switchblade Sisters: About the rape scene: It was patterned specifically on a similar situation and actual scene in The Fountainhead (both book and movie), which as I’m sure you know was written by a rabid radical conservative woman (as a kind of personal in-joke). I rest my case.

After reading this I was thinking a little about the homosexuality and homophobia in Big Bird Cage. The movie is obviously making fun of gay people — the camp (ahem) guards are all very unattractive and ridiculous; gayness is quite clearly emasculating. At the same time, though (and as I argue in my women in prison article) Bird Cage is very invested in emasculation; a lot of its erotic/emotional charge comes from systematically emasculating its viewers. So it both ridicules gayness, and encourages its male viewers to masochistically enjoy the position of being emasculated (and therefore, in the movie’s economy, gay) men.

I think it’s also important that the film isn’t built around the homosexual/heterosexual binary which Eve Sedgwick talks about as being essential for homosexual panic and the resulting violence. The movie isn’t built, in other words, around heterosexual terror of becoming gay; on the contrary, Sid Haig, the heterosexual hero, spends much of the movie pretending to be queer, and seems (relatively) unfreaked out about it (there’s a hint that the violences he commits against the other guards has something to do with the fact that they hit on him, but considering the explicitness of the gay innuendo, the resulting homosexual panic is extremely muted.) In fact, instead of heterosexual/homosexual, the binary the movie works off for the most part is homosexual male/heterosexual female. That’s a binary that is at the root of a lot of camp gay culture in the first place, so you can see why it would appeal to that demographic. Moreover,in the film the most over-the-top act of violence committed against a gay man is being raped by women — a danger that, in practical terms, is just a lot, lot, lot less credible than gay-bashing at the hands of heterosexual men.

Or to put it another way…The Big Bird Cage is both homophobic and fairly enthusiastic about gender fuckery. The second doesn’t necessarily negate the first, but it does take some of the edge off it. Anyway, I can readily see why a gay audience in the early 1970s would, given the other options available, see this as (A) not especially threatening and (B) a hoot.

Oh, and did I mention that Hill’s email made my year? It kind of made my year.