CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: DAVID GREGORY / STARRING: AL ADAMSON, STEVEE ASHLOCK, FRED OLEN RAY, SAMUEL SHERMAN / RELEASE DATE: JUNE 1ST
Al Adamson’s films may not have the instant cult recognition as the likes of Ed Wood or Russ Meyer, they do have their fans. This documentary of the life, work, and sad murder of one of cinema’s underdogs is a worthy tribute and an eye-opening, entertaining celebration of the director.
As you’d expect, the bulk of the film takes in Adamson’s upbringing and film career, but it’s in the final act that the story takes its dark turn. By the time we get to story of his shocking murder, we’re given enough testimony through talking heads and archive interviews with the director himself to form a positive opinion of the man and even gain a new perspective on his films, which were more often than not dismissed as low budget trash. This is a story of independent cinema; a man who got things done regardless of the lack of funds. It’s this tenacity and likeability that makes his fate all the more tragic.
The Blu-ray release contains several entertaining stories cut from the finished documentary. These are rather substantial and interesting in their own right, including more background on Al’s father, who had a successful and controversial career as an actor in westerns in the dawn of cinema, and how the director inadvertently got connected to the Manson Family. The biggest ‘extra’ here though is one of Al’s films, included here in full (as this disc also makes up part of the mammoth Al Adamson Masterpiece Collection released by Severin). The Female Bunch was filmed in 1968 but not released until 1971 and features a rough-and-tumble group of ladies who have their own rules to their ranch hideout and are not afraid to uphold them. It marks one of the last screen appearances of Lon Chaney Jr, who appears bloated and gravel-voiced due to treatment for his throat cancer. It’s a tragic vision, but despite his relatively small part, he’s still a commanding presence. The film itself could be an extension of Russ Meyer’s Faster Pussycat, Kill, Kill with its gender empowerment message but does stray rather gloriously into prime exploitation territory.
This is a documentary anyone interested in cinema should see. Al Adamson may not have been Fellini or Welles and never made anything that would wow the Academy, but his films hold an important place in history and his story is an important one to tell. David Gregory’s film treats the subject with respect and reverence throughout, and doesn’t resort to sensationalism in the unfortunate conclusion.
You can read our interview with the director here.