In February 1994, a film that was shown late at night on TV caught my attention: FLESH GORDON MEETS THE COSMIC CHEERLEADERS. It was labelled “flop of the day” by my TV guide, but that never stopped me from checking out movies that looked different and interesting. The film turned out to be one of the craziest comedies ever made – a SF spoof with no shortage of dirty jokes, inspired silliness, weird monsters and … yes, penis- and breast-shaped spaceships. Certainly not a film for everybody, but done with an amazing amount of creativity.
A couple years later, I got the UK VHS tapes of both FLESH GORDON and FLESH GORDON MEETS THE COSMIC CHEERLEADERS. I watched them over and over again, sometimes with friends who I tried to introduce to the offbeat charm of both movies. And, having an Internet connection since 1996, I tried finding out more about FLESH GORDON creator Howard Ziehm. I gathered he had done a number of adult films and hadn’t made a new movie since 1989’s FLESH GORDON MEETS THE COSMIC CHEERLEADERS. Other than that, information was very sparse.
Turns out Howard Ziehm didn’t just direct a few random adult films – he was actually one of the pioneers of the porno revolution of the 70’s, having directed its first feature film with theatrical distribution, MONA THE VIRGIN NYMPH!
Several years later, FLESH GORDON was released on DVD – along with an audio commentary by Howard, who told the fascinating story of how that film came together. It’s a tale of accidents and police raids, betrayal and overcoming adversity – simply put: a riveting account that makes you wish it didn’t end after an hour.
Last year, Howard told the full story when he released his autobiography TAKE YOUR SHAME AND SHOVE IT – which isn’t just a highly entertaining story of a porn pioneer who’s also been the co-owner of a folk club in San Francisco and tried his hand (not too successfully, as he is quick to point out) at smuggling drugs from Mexico, but also a fascinating portrait of an era that brought immense social and moral changes.
And now, Howard’s my first guest on my new interview series Talking Pictures. I feel honored that he took the time to talk to me about his book and his career. We’ve discussed how he almost threw in the towel when making FLESH GORDON, how the adult movie industry has changed, why people are ashamed of their sexuality, what Howard’s stylistic touches are – and Howard gives the most concise advice ever on how to shoot good porn. Enjoy!
Many thanks to Howard and Judy Ziehm for the picture.
Special thanks to Dr. Wily, my Lichtspielplatz podcasting partner, and Dia Westerteicher, from the Evil Ed Podcast, for audio editing and mastering. The music was created by Clark Kent.