Saturday, 28 November 2009


You've seen it. Or, you've seen something like it. The same anonymous actors, same colours, but a variation on a theme:
Nick and Debs stop at a donut bar in the middle of a huge goodbye party. Employees of a local office are saying goodbye to a colleague named Donna. She doesn't seem to be there yet, or perhaps she is already gone, but the place is covered in written and drawn testimonials to her. They gaze at her picture. Nick thinks she is pretty. Debs thinks she looks like trouble. Then a friendly guy asks them to sign her card. They protest, saying it isn't right, as they didn't know her. Eventually Debs takes the pen to be polite, but when she looks at the card she sees a message in Nick's handwriting. Did you sign the card before? Did you know her? she asks. Nick is apparently stunned.

Later, Nick finds a letter in the attic from Donna. Or, a postcard arrives from her, saying: Nick, I wish I could have got to know you before I left, D x.

The couple are haunted. The movie ends with first scene being repeated, but with Nick and Debs' discomfort amplified. They do not know why.

Jimmy Jensen was part of the Danewood scene (the brief postwar Copenhagen coterie of state-supported filmmakers), until he left to start a wired, off-the-radar operation in Mexico City. Beginning in 1949, Jensen and his Mexican cohorts churned out over five hundred Hollywood-aping noir thrillers, in English and often with a mixture of C-list Hollywood nobodies and young Hispanic talent. These pictures were largely shot with Mexico City standing in for LA, Chicago or New York and with their pulpy concentration of crime and lust became known as 'Mexican Sexiguns', or just 'Sexiguns'. The films were frequently made simultaneously, with often as many as thirty in production at once, leading to obvious pitfalls. Many films contain overlapping actors, directors and scenes. Sometimes the cast and crew did not know which film they were working on, and some films are clearly a collage of several, causing their plots to be a hash of tangled cliches. Due to this, all films are attributed to a fictional director, Hermoso Equipo (Spanish for 'beautiful team').1 The group found strength in this approach, with Jensen even believing that 'the more of different films we get in one film, more authors involved, the more plots we refer to... the closer to the centre of fiction and humanity we got'.2

American Chiffon Fahey and Englishman Martin Bastion, never stars anywhere else, made several Sexiguns together, notably Bone Ring (1952), Sterling Silver Hallmark (1953) and this. Donna, Or The Power Of Constant Thought also stars the Latina bombshell Luisa Teresa Caracas, better known as 'Pipi', a popular singer of overwrought ballads in her homeland, Peru. Here she stars as Donna, a gossamer image of charged sexuality who flickers on the edge of the grey screen, threatening to burst through Nick and Debs' idea of themselves with technicolor vigour, and further, on through the fourth wall completely, covering the audience with gorgeous neon plasma. Such is her beauty.

Fahey and Bastion, haunted by the suppressed memory/ exposed id/ vibrating chaotic alternative that is Donna perfectly portray a milk-white and gaunt marriage, affectionate but drifting to tepid. (Of course, this being Hermoso Equipo, footage from the same shoot is used to perfectly represent unsure newlyweds on the lam and kissing cousins in Young Marrieds (1951) and Against God's Will (1951) respectively.

Weird interludes abound. A sudden bank heist is prevented, a young homeless boy with a bag of gold wanders across the screen, and Pipi sings a stinging ballad, apropos of nothing. These diversions, clearly intended to be sections from other Sexiguns edited carelessly into the Donna mixture, actually serve to embody the protagonists' confusion about this strage girl very well; indeed, the constant dissonance of overlapping energies can at times be so potent that this hurried B-production transcends mere pastiche and becomes something more ephemeral and spectacular. 'It is as if the actors are trapped in the screen, awaiting the cruel mercies afforded by sudden editing'3

The Sexiguns drifted and died by the early sixties, as inner tensions and a loss of will meant that the focus of the group had been lost. But their achievements are still noteworthy: in fifteen years, an as many as five hundred films were released, but an estimated thousand more jumpy hybrids were made. Most are lost, but some still surface at film festivals or on obscure cable channels. Noteworthy Sexiguns This Seems Like It's Real (1952), Pretty Worn Down, Whatever We Do We Don't Tell William, 14 Carat Gold With A Very Sadly Shattered Amethyst (all 1954), Too Smoky To Be Emerald (1955), Turpentine Lipstick (1956) and The Dark Underbelly (1959) are widely available.

The American-Korean boybuilder, Wii Fit, was perhaps the most famous breakout star of the Sexiguns. His charismatic monosyllabic performances in This Woman Is Amazing (1953), Very Of Their Time, Very Unique (1953) and The Crazy Folk Who Think This Is All Junk (1954), led to a role in Vicente Minelli's Hollywood musical biopic of Mussolini, Il Duce (1959) and subsequently recurring roles in US television shows such as Mork and Spork, Mister Probs 'n' Sister Probs and The Love Fund. He may have become the most famous, but really picking stars from such a collective seems beside the point somehow.

Donna, Or The Power Of Constant Thought Directed by Hermoso Equipo Produced by Hermoso Equipo Written by Hermoso Equipo Starring Luisa Teresa Caracas Chiffon Fahey Martin Bastion Hermoso Equipo Films Release Date US: circa 1951 Tagline: 'Can You Forget Her If You Never Knew Her?'

1. This led to a curious and no doubt apochryphal incident when in 1963 Fidel Castro invited 'the genius who offers gorgeous satire of the evil empire, Hermoso Equipo' to visit Cuba. Castro of course, being a Spanish speaker, would not be confused by such an obvious ruse, but the story lives on.

2. LA Times interview, Sept 1977.

3. So says film critic Jean-Luc Sofie, whose book Sexie was a crucial factor in getting critical attention to Sexiguns many years after the fact.

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