Landis, Bill 1959-
LANDIS, Bill 1959-
Born 1959, in Landes de Busac, France; son of a career serviceman and a civil servant; married Michelle Clifford (a writer and publisher), 1986; children: Victoria. Education: New York University, B.S., 1978; M.B.A., 1979. Politics: "Democrat, with certain affiliations to other political inclinations." Religion: "Thelemite." Hobbies and other interests: Chess, mysticism, including Aleister Crowley, Masonic and Rosecrucian lore, and tarot cards.
Author, lecturer, and publisher. Has worked as a movie projectionist.
Grant, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 1999.
Anger: The Unauthorized Biography of Kenneth Anger, HarperCollins Publishers (New York, NY), 1995.
(With Michelle Clifford) Sleazoid Express: A Mind-twisting Tour through the Grindhouse Cinema of Times Square, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2002.
Has also written articles for the newsletter/magazine Sleazoid Express and the magazine Metasex, as well as for the periodicals Village Voice, Soho Weekly News, Film Comment, New York Rocker, Worldly Remains, Carbon 14, Hustler, and Screw.
WORK IN PROGRESS:
A collaboration with wife, Michelle Clifford, on director Joe Davian; articles, continued work on Sleazoid Express.
Bill Landis completed college at the age of twenty with a master's degree in finance and worked in the corporate world for a while but became dissatisfied with that scene. Instead, he opted for a job as a projectionist at various and somewhat sleazy movie houses on Times Square, an area, during the 1970s and 1980s referred to as the Deuce. The Deuce, wrote Library Journal's Barry X. Miller was a "psychosexual netherland on 42nd Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues." And it was here that Landis saw a lot of films.
Landis grew up, according to Kurt Loder, writing for Rolling Stone, as an "air-force brat" in France and England. Later his family moved to Louisiana and ultimately to New York. At the age of nine, Landis saw his first ghoulish movie, Guttertrash by Andy Milligan, which proved to become Landis's "first intimation that there might exist a whole netherworld of extremely weird human behavior, a world of strange, brutal beauty. It was the beginning of an obsession," wrote Loder. From then on, Landis was hooked, and as an adult he has devoted himself to what are often referred to as exploitation films.
However bad some critics might have said these movies were, they caught Landis's imagination, and he decided to write reviews about them. With only a portable typewriter at his disposal, he produced a one-page theatre guide with movie reviews and handed them out for free. From its start in 1980, his newsletter eventually expanded, as did Landis's computer knowledge, and in time he created a Web site. Sleazoid Express caught the eye of a major New York publisher, so Landis sat down, with his wife, Michelle Clifford, and wrote a book about his experiences. This would actually be his second book. His first was about Kenneth Anger, a man who produced some of the movies that Landis wrote about.
In the beginning Landis's newsletter had covered the movies showing on Times Square. Later he incorporated more than just movie reviews, adding histories of filmmakers and in-depth stories about the films, expanding the newsletter to a four-page monthly. The majority of the movies Sleazoid covered were those that fit into the horror genre—often referred to as "Blood Horror" or "Europsleaze"—like Twitch of the Death Nerve and The Corpse Grinders. In the late 1980s, however, the Deuce was closed down and in its place rose theme shops and family-oriented stores; and Landis stopped publication of his newsletter. "My heart was broken when the Deuce closed," Landis told Dan Taylor at Exploitation Retrospect online: "I had long ties to people in Times Square, and we all didn't know what to do next. When the theaters were open it was a place you not only worked, you socialized.… Then all of a sudden it was just crumbling. Not just theaters, but a certain lifestyle, was ending." That is when Landis took the time to write his book on Anger.
Coauthored anonymously with Clifford, 1995's Anger: The Unauthorized Biography of Kenneth Anger is a biography of seminal independent film director, Kenneth Anger. Anger, a pioneer of innovative underground films, is possibly better known by the general public as the author of his best-selling 1960 book, Hollywood Babylon, which is filled with Hollywood gossip and scandal. Anger, who only made nine films totaling about three hours in length, is often referred to as the granddaddy of underground films. He was born in 1927 and created his films mostly in the 1960s, a period Landis gives full focus to in his book. There is "much fascinating stuff," wrote Jerry White for City Paper online, "for those who don't know much about Anger's career and are just interested in the swingers that floated around the seamier avant garde circles of the 1960s." White was also impressed with Landis's quite "valuable project." White found that Landis was able to take a somewhat obscure cultural figure and place him in a larger context, thus giving the book "a real chance at a broad readership." Some of Anger's works include Fireworks, The Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, Invocation of My Demon Brother, and Scorpio Rising.
Although Anger has become a recluse and, as a Publishers Weekly reviewer put it, has "reinvented his life history at will," Landis was able to develop a "fairly accurate portrait" due to his "meticulous research," which included interviewing members of Anger's family. The Publishers Weekly reviewer found Landis's book fascinating because of Anger's relationship with some of the era's most notorious counterculture icons, such as Mick Jagger, Anaïs Nin, Jimmy Page, and Marianne Faithful. These elements led the reviewer to refer to Landis's work as "engrossing." Referring to the difficulty of finding the truth of this enigmatic film producer, a Kirkus Reviews writer also praised Landis's efforts, claiming that "this is probably the most accurate biography one can hope for while its subject is alive."
After years of collaborations, in 1997 Landis contributed to his wife's magazine, Metasex, which was about the vice aspects of the old Times Square. In 1999 he and Clifford revived Sleazoid Express as a full-length magazine.
In 2002 Landis and Clifford were asked to expand the magazine into a book, which was published as, Sleazoid Express: A Mind-twisting Tour through the Grind-house Cinema of Times Square. Pointing out the authenticity of Landis's book, Michael Atkinson, writing for the Village Voice, stated: "since Landis is a self-confessed Times Square loiterer who even worked as a manager and projectionist at various porn theaters, the accounts of backstage catacombs, audience chaos, and business subterfuge are all first-hand." Mike Tribby concluded in Booklist that Landis's book may not be "for every film buff," but it "will draw vintage-sleaze fans from both sides of the culture-wars skirmish line."
Landis told CA: "I had been typing up my own [movie] reviews since I was around eleven. At age fourteen I read Hubert Selby's Last Exit to Brooklyn, and it opened my eyes in many ways. One was that you could write about anything, no mater how shocking, so long as it was humanly true.
"I was very influenced by the surrealist movement, as exemplified by filmmaker Luis Bunuel. And later sur-realists, particularly Fernando Arrabel and Alejandro Jodorwosky, who founded the Panic Theater movement and made influential, unforgettable films.…I have always held a special reverence for Jodorwosky and Arrabel; they were cult figures familiar with what I was familiar with since pre-adolescence. And they had a life situation similar to me—being born in one country while your parents were citizens of another, your ethnicity has nothing to do with it, and you spend your adulthood in yet another country. It contributes to your sense of unreality. Exploitation films that I later saw seemed an extension of surrealism, but were getting absolutely no critical recognition.
"History needs to be recorded in all its human, cultural and psychological forms, with all three overlapping. And I've never written fiction because truth was always far more surreal."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Austin Chronicle, February 21, 2003, review of Sleazoid Express.
Booklist, December 1, 2002, review of Sleazoid Express, p. 641.
Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 1995, review of Anger: The Unauthorized Biography, p. 612.
Library Journal, November 15, 2002, Barry X. Miller, review of Sleazoid Express, p. 73.
Publishers Weekly, June 5, 1995, review of Anger, p. 48.
Rolling Stone, July, 1984, Kurt Loder, "Night Creatures," pp. 91-98.
Village Voice, March 12-18, 2003, Michael Atkinson, review of Sleazoid Express.
Washington Post Book World, June 25, 1995, review of Anger, p. 13.
City Paper,http://www.citypaper.net/ (September 28-October 5, 1995), Jerry White, review of Anger.
Exploitation Retrospect,http://www.dantenet.com/ (April 29, 2003), Dan Taylor "They Put the Sin Back in Sinema: An Interview with Bill Landis and Michelle Clifford of Sleazoid Express. "
Metasex online,http://www.geocities.com/metasex/ (November 14, 2003).
Sleazoid Express Web site,http://www.sleazoidexpress.com/ (November 14, 2003).