Bright Lights Film Journal

Jack Hill Speaks

Director Jack Hill took the time to send along his thoughts on Noah Berlatsky’s article “Men in Women-in-Prison: Masochism, Feminism, Fetish” in the most recent issue of Bright Lights. Hill, as many of you know, is arguably the major architect of the women-in-prison genre, with such seminal credits as The Big Doll House, The Big Bird Cage, and The Woman Hunt. He’s also responsible for other important female-centered exploitation films including Switchblade Sisters, Coffy, and Foxy Brown; as well as the infamous Spider Baby and Mondo Keyhole. Here’s his email to Noah that he agreed to share with BLAD readers.

Jack Hill: 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.

BTW, in November of this year, McFarland Publishers will be issuing the first book (above) on Jack Hill and his work. It’s already listed on Amazon.