Saturday, March 28, 2009

Chapter II: High Rise

High Rise is a porno film made in the early 70s. It is considered a classic of the era along with Deep Throat and The Devil in Miss Jones. The film is the lightest and happiest film of Steinmann’s entire filmography. It is a very interesting and creative film.

Jeff Cramer: How did High Rise get started?

Danny Steinmann: While I was walking along Times Square, I spotted a long line waiting to enter a movie theater. The name of the film was Deep Throat. At the time, a movie cost $2.50. They were charging $5.00. The film was one of the first full-length porno movies. I had read an article about the film, calling it porno chic. It was now permissible for a middle class couple or even a woman by herself to be part of the audience.

I waited on line, paid the five bucks, and went in. The theater was packed. It was 3:00 in the afternoon. The film started, and for the next hour and a half, I watched a sophomoric attempt to bring humor to graphic sexual scenes, shot as hardcore as possible.

The gimmick was that the female lead, Linda Lovelace, could do to a cock what a sword swallower could do with a sword. I had seen plenty of hardcore porno reels at parties and card games with a bunch of guys, but never sat among a mixed group of men and women. This was something new and some people were going to make a lot of money. I walked home and wondered whether I could pull something like this off. I was working at a small film studio that had sets, film equipment and a full crew. Later I talked to pregnant Paula and she thought it was a great idea.

The next day, I met with Andre Durona. He said, of course I could do it and it would cost me nothing. I told him that I loved him. He hugged me and said, "Let's see if you've learned anything." What a terrific man he was. I next met with the owner of the World Theater and the distributor of Deep Throat, Sam Lake. He was very encouraging and told me if my film was any good, it would replace Deep Throat after its initial run was over.

All I had to do now was to come up with a thin storyline, hire the actors and finance the film. My father gave me $5,000.00 to get started. Two lawyer friends of my sister invested about 10 grand and I got another 13 from smaller investors. They all received a percentage of the film. I would retain 51 percent.

After I settled on the title of the movie High Rise, the story came quickly. I’ve always loved plays and movies that employed a story within a story device, so I threw that in the mix. I placed casting notices in various newspapers and magazines, and hired a topnotch female assistant. I had the crew in the Bronx building sets. I decided to shoot in 16 rather than 35 mm. Big mistake, especially in the editing room.

JC: The music is very good for a porno film. In fact, the music is so good that I would consider buying the soundtrack. Who did the music?

DS: I asked my really good friend, Jacques Urbont, a musical genius, if he would compose the score. He charged me nothing. I only had to pay the musicians. It's good to have friends.

JC: You used some big name porn stars such as Harry Reems and Jamie Gillis. Tell me about working with them.

DS: I rented an office in the city and began to cast the film. I instructed my right-hand girl to always be with me during auditions.

I interviewed scores of actors, but the pickings were slim until Harry Reems (Herb Streicher) showed up. He was a great guy who spread the word that High Rise needed actors. He would become my good friend for many years. Jamie Gillis popped in and also helped enormously.

Although the shooting schedule was only two and a half days, I prepped the film for a month and a half. This porno was not going to be thrown together. I wanted it to be shot professionally, all gears running smoothly. The crew was more than excited. Having spent many years shooting toy commercials, they couldn't hide their smiles. With less than a week away from shooting, I still hadn't found the leading actress.

Finally, she showed up. She had an almost pretty face, an almost plump body, and a quirky off-the-wall quality about her, which was exactly what I was looking for. She called herself Tammy Trevor. She said she had done some hardcore reels and was a "sexual plaything type person." PERFECT!!

I began shooting High Rise. I felt comfortable and confident directing this small picture. I would use one foot of film for every two feet shot. The cast were all treated with a great deal of respect. The crew worked smoothly and happily. No actor was self-conscious or complained except for Tammy. She had to lie down. She needed water. Could someone clean her feet? Could she go outside for a while?

I became more of a therapist to her than a director. Harry came over to me and said that he couldn't get in there. She’s got something stuck in her pussy. I asked her if she did have something in there. She poked around and withdrew a sponge saying, “I don't know who put it in there, and it’s not even mine.” Filming continued.

I didn’t shoot cum shots, I thought they looked messy. My mistake. And I didn’t shoot any extreme close-ups either. They reminded me of watching an operation. I understand that today’s porno actresses detest high definition technology. All their imperfections are clearly shown.

Jamie Gillis asked me what time we were wrapping. He had finished a one-on-one sex scene with Tammy, and was in the middle of a ménage à trois. He said he had a heavy date that night and didn’t want to be late. A male nymphomaniac is called a satyr. Jamie definitely was a member of that club. How these guys retained hard-ons all day amazed me.

In the orgy scene, a guy was eating this girl’s pussy. Suddenly, most of his face was covered with blood. The girl was having her period and didn’t tell anyone. Tammy ran over, raised her hand and asked if she could take the girl’s place. She was a trip. She did her very best and I think she was terrific!

In two and a half days, the filming was over. Everyone seemed to enjoy the experience. Post-production began immediately. I started editing the film with Durona’s editor. Cutting in 16 mm is a bit more difficult than 35 mm. When we had a rough cut, Jacques Urbont began laying down the music. Opticals were chosen and sound effects added. The 16 mm film was blown up to 35 mm, which gave it an interesting look. A month after the completion of the movie, it was ready to be exhibited.

Trouble was that Deep Throat had not finished its run. It would be two more months until High Rise opened at the World Theatre in New York. It would be released nationwide in the next three weeks. The theater was always crowded. Business was sensational and the reviews were terrific; Variety, New York Post, Daily News, Playboy, and many others raved about the film.

Each week, Variety puts out a list of the top 50 films. When High Rise was released across the U.S., Variety had High Rise as the No. 1 film in the country. Not bad. Two and a half days. Less than $28,000.00. I was proud of myself and proud of the cast and crew; thankful to the investors and especially to Andre Durona, who believed in me.

I began to understand the complexity and wonder of how images spliced together could inform, entertain and even electrify.

I made quite a bit of money, as did all the investors. I sold my rights four or five years later. It was a bulk sum. This was about a decade before VHS. How the fuck would I know that a revolution was on its way; that people would be able to rent and buy tapes to watch in the comfort of their homes. All my ancillary rights were given away.

It was about this time that our son, Robby, was born. He was beautiful, and we loved him so. How could life be any better? That was 37 years ago.

JC: Although it disappointed some raincoat audiences who wanted to see more “generic” porn, High Rise still made a lot of money. Why didn’t you make another porn film?

DS: I had more than a few offers to shoot additional pornos. I turned them down because I wanted to film stories in different genres. Children’s films and Westerns interested me the most.

We were in our apartment one night and the phone rang. I picked it up and it was Renata. She was downstairs and crying. She wanted me to come down and see her. I told her I was married now and couldn't do this to my wife. We fumbled for the next two minutes on the phone, then said good-bye.

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