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Friday, April 12, 2024

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Arts + CultureMoviesScreen Grabs: Carol Doda's topless body was a battleground

Screen Grabs: Carol Doda’s topless body was a battleground

New doc spotlights local legend. Plus: Spooky "Late Night with the Devil' and Sydney Sweeney's nunsploitation.


As if the female body weren’t already enough of a battleground in real life, it is a-bulge—with silicone, pregnancy and/or demonic possession—in movies newly arriving this weekend.

Of course you would expect no less from Carol Doda Topless At the Condor, the new documentary about San Francisco’s single most famous insurrectionist at the Sexual Revolution. The titular Vallejo native was already a popular waitress-dancer at the Condor Club in 1964 North Beach when its publicist suggested she wear a “monokini,” the topless women’s swimsuit just launched by designer Rudi Gernreich.

That caused an immediate sensation, spurring widespread imitation, in addition to arrests and lawsuits—ditto her similar pioneering of “bottomless” performance five years later, though that time she did not ultimately triumph in court. Regardless, Doda thoroughly enjoyed her fame, readily embracing whatever enhanced it…including silicone injections that increased her from a 34 to a 44 in cup size. High-profile fans included Frank Sinatra (with whom she purportedly had an affair) and even staid, fatherly Walter Cronkite.

Marlo McKenzie and Jonathan Parker’s film (see 48hills’ interview here) easily places her at the flashy center of public debates about morality and “new freedoms,” in those turbulent Sixties and beyond. It has a harder time locating the woman behind the top-heavy image—perhaps because Carol Doda herself wasn’t sure who that person was. It is said here that she was a “loner, very sad” when outside the spotlight; that she “did not have good luck with men.” No one seems to know for sure whether she ever married, or had children. (There were rumors of both.) After leaving Condor over a salary dispute, her later business ventures never quite took off. When she passed away in 2015 at age 78, she was fondly remembered by many… yet few seemed to have really known her.

Nonetheless, Topless at the Condor is far from a tragic tale—one observer notes here, Doda “took the male gaze and twisted it to her own benefit,” while another says “I don’t think she felt exploited. She loved what she did.” She was the right person in the right place at the time time, wringing every last drop of celebrity from that niche. (The filmmakers also touch on other envelope-pushing dancers of the era, like Judy Mamou, who were almost as famous… but they weren’t Carol Doda, and history only recalls champions.) This documentary is a fun flashback to a vivid period when US society was rapidly changing, and San Francisco led the charge. It opens this Fri/22 at the Roxie and Rafael Film Center, then next Fri/29 at Berkeley’s Elmwood.

Issues considerably worse than male ogling afflict the bodies of young women in two new supernatural thrillers. Colin and Cameron Cairnes’ Late Night With the Devil is a fresh spin on “found footage” horror, purporting to be a “recently rediscovered master tape” of an infamous 1977 “TV event that shock the nation.” His career in desperate need of a booster shot during Sweeps Week, Jack Delroy (David Dastmalchian) has planned a spooky Halloween for his nightly talk show, including a professional psychic (Fayssai Bazzi), a magician turned professional debunker (Ian Bliss), and a parapsychologist (Laura Gordon). The latter has brought along the subject of her latest book, a teen (Ingrid Torelli) who was the sole survivor of a Satanic church’s mass suicide, and is purportedly afflicted by a demon still.

You will be unsurprised to learn that putting the eerily self-assured youth on national broadcast—then asking her to conjure up “Mr. Wiggles,” whose moniker recalls little Linda Blair’s not-so-imaginary “friend” Captain Howdy in The Exorcist—turns out to be a very, very bad idea. But Late Night is a great concept, one very nicely realized in note-perfect recreations of Me Decade major network aesthetics and televisual personalities. It’s a funny freak-out that is not entirely a joke, delivering just enough hair-raising content to qualify as more horror than spoof. It opens in theaters (including SF’s Alamo Drafthouse and Metreon) this Fri/22, then goes to genre streaming platform Shudder on April 19.

Something devilish is also going on Immaculate, which has Sydney Sweeney as a novice nun taking her vows at a convent in the Italian countryside. Things here are a little… strange, though. They get stranger still when Cecilia discovers she’s pregnant. Since she is also a virgin, this is treated as a “miracle,” with Father Tedeschi (Alvaro Morte) and everyone else present terribly excited about what they assume will be the arrival of a “savior.” (You know, like that one guy a couple thousand years ago.) Well, a couple of Cecilia’s new Sisters aren’t so excited. But those naysayers tend to die horrible deaths, so oh well.

The latest in a growing tide of Catholic horror movies, director Michael Mohan and scenarist Andrew Lobel’s film is a decently atmospheric mash-up of Rosemary’s BabySuspiria, and so forth. It could have used more plot complications and stronger subsidiary characters—the entire enterprise rests rather heavily on the shoulders of producer-star Sweeney, a 26-year-old actress with the affect of a very suburban-American 14-year-old. She does, however, duly rise to the occasion—mostly via sheer lung power—of an audaciously prolonged final shot that is by far Immaculate’s most memorable element. I just wish it had capped a more original film than this barely elevated reheating of vintage nunsploitation cheese, which opens in theaters nationwide Fri/22.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

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