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Cecil Howard: The Mr. Skin Interview

Fri, Jan 20, 2006 @ 12:00am by Mr. Skin (Comment!)

Cecil Howard: The MrSkin.com Interview
Great stories, real acting, hot and strange sex--the slate of 35mm films directed and produced by Cecil Howard under his Command Cinema line had it all.

Amply bestowed with adult-industry awards at the time, Mr. Howard became a self-imposed casualty of the video era, retiring his command after one last video-shot fling aptly titled The Last X-Rated Movie (1990). He also took a stab at the exploitation market with the ultra-violent black comedy Dead Boyz Can't Fly (1992), which, despite winning three Drive-In Awards from Joe Bob Briggs, fluttered and sank.

More recently two of Cecil's finest Command Cinema efforts have resurfaced on DVD, courtesy of extreme-exploitation purveyors Media-Blasters[http://www.media-blasters.com]: Babylon Pink (1979) and Neon Nights (1981).

Unlike too many examples of Golden Age hardcore films on slapdash DVDs, these Media-Blasters packages feature beautifully re-mastered transfers, commentaries, interviews, and a plethora of other bonus features.

When you first got involved with adult films back in the early '70s, was it your intention to become a director?
Yes! I was an award-winning art director and photographer for many years designing paperback covers for Dell and Bantam. You can spot my cover for Terry Southern's book Candy in the movie I Shot Andy Warhol.

I had a deep desire to get into the making of movies. I never went to film school but threw away my art table and jumped into the underground of the erotic film world. Put a few shekels together and partnered on some films as producer. On the set, I watched others direct and I knew I was capable of doing better work. When I felt comfortable with on-set film knowledge, I decided to direct my own movies.

At first, I got resentment from some of the crewmembers like, "Where does he come off, directing?" But when I invited them to my early screenings their attitudes quickly changed.

Your body of work was described recently as "the last major classic porn cache not available on disc." Why the wait?
After I stopped making movies, I found distributing them on video to be quite boring. It was like selling candy bars. I decided to just cut back. I let my staff go, sold my video-duplicating plant, and sort of hung out in a basement office in Times Square. Before I knew it, years went by. I had thoughts of hanging it all up. Then I decided to put my library of films up for sale.

We heard you backed away from some big name porn outfits when it came to making the deal. So how did you hook up with Media-Blasters?
I couldn't decide if I really did want to sell, or just retire my movies and ride off into the sunset. But I got a call from an old friend, Gary Conner, who I met at the Cannes film festival in the '80s and was now representing Media-Blasters. He told me they wanted to enter the adult film market. Their concept was to put out the highest-quality DVD renditions of the best adult classics out there. That was complimentary, so we met and a distribution deal was struck.

So after years of having your movies on old-school videotapes, Babylon Pink and Neon Nights are getting the de-luxe-o treatment. How's it feel?
It was Media-Blasters' choice to contract those two titles from my library of forty-seven movies. I assume they are testing the market for themselves. Gary now heads up their adult division, Kitty Media. Personally I feel extremely happy with the DVDs they produced. They spared no expense. All the material was digitally re-mastered from my original 35mm negatives and they added so many extras for the two-disc releases, such as trailers, interviews, commentaries, and more. Plus their staff was a pleasure to work with. The cover for Neon Nights will knock your socks off.

Is there any chance we'll see your Command Cinema films on the big screen again?
I have three or four playable prints at the ready. The pristine ones are locked up. I can play NYC whenever I want, but it's a pain in the ass, so I've held off. Most of my movies originally played in theaters throughout the world. It was an exciting time for me, and what I enjoyed most was the audience reaction to them. Some of today's young viewers may not have heard of my movies, and it's unfortunate that they never saw them on the big screen. That's why the quality of the DVDs is so important to me.

Some of your films, like Foxtrot, have a light, almost comedic air. Others are really heavy and intense, such as Star Angel with its Joplin-esque rock-star chick who ODs then comes back to haunt her manager. Why the polar styles?
It was fun to be versatile. Why be locked in? As the producer-director, it was my choice to do as I pleased and I did. Also, I had a wonderful, talented female associate, Anne Randall, who did most of my writing. We would bounce concepts off each other. Whether it be comedy or heavy drama, she was always up to it. Besides Foxtrot, there was Spitfire and other funnies. Platinum Paradise was joke-filled, and I wrote that one myself! The heavies include Snake Eyes, Scoundrels, Firestorm, and Neon Nights.

I've heard that the better 35mm films back in the day had budgets in the six figures. What was your highest budget?.
Most of my budgets for a film were in the $100,000 range. My most expensive was Firestorm. That one was $225,000. It was also my biggest-grossing film.

You do a lot of walk-ons and small roles in your films.
In my early years, I did some modeling for extra cash. I guess I was still a little vain while making my movies so I did do the Hitchcock thing. Now I've gotten so old I don't even want to look in the mirror anymore!

The levitation scene in Neon Nights, besides being intensely erotic, has been a longstanding source of wonder as to how the hell you did it. Do you let us in on the secret in your commentary to NN, or is it to be forever a mystery?
Ahh, the levitation scene! Carl Davis, my cameraman and editor, was interviewed on the DVD but refused to tell how it was done. In my commentary I talk about how most of it was done. But I did NOT reveal how the last unbelievable part of the trick was accomplished.

Let's talk about all those hot porno actresses--which ones did you like working with?
I have to tell you all of them were great to work with. I gave them an opportunity to emote and act with some quality dialogue, which they appreciated as actresses. The list of stars, such as Vanessa Del Rio, Kay Parker, Nina Hartley, Samantha Fox, Georgina Spelvin, Angel, Lysa Thatcher, Kandi Barbour, Sharon Mitchell, Sharon Kane, Candida Royale, Gloria Leonard, Marlene Willoughby, Ali Moore, Laurie Smith, Rikki Harte, Joanna Storm, Rhonda Jo Petty, Tish Ambrose, Tina Russell, Tiffany Clark, Arcadia Lake, Lisa De Leeuw, Terri Hall, Suzy Nero, Tina Marie, Veronica Hart, Annie Sprinkle, and dozens more. I apologize if I fail to recall all the names.

That's plenty ...
None were a pain to work with, but I remember Kimberly Carson had it in for me one time. I guess I pushed her to emote more than she was giving and she resented it. Luckily I overcame that and we're buddies forever.

Guys now. Being based in New York, you hired the local crew a lot--Jamie Gillis, Ron Jeremy, Eric Edwards, Jerry Butler, the late Bobby Astyr. Did you like working with New Yorkers any better than the West Coast dudes?
Actually, I cast those actors I thought best suited for the role. Obviously, if he were a New York guy it was easier for us in terms of rehearsal, travel, and accommodation. I did use west coast actors like Paul Thomas and John Leslie, who as it turned out became two of the video era's top directors.

Was it ever an option to hire Deep Throat star Harry Reems?
For the best that I can recall, I did speak to him about being in Firestorm, but he declined. I don't think he was into acting at that time.

How did it come about that Henri Pachard was your director for Babylon Pink?
Henri was never a hired gun. We were partners when we made Babylon Pink. He wrote and directed it. I was the producer, still photographer, and shlepper like the rest of the crew. Although I haven't seen him in years, he was, and still is, a dear friend.

What directors have influenced you?
Stanley Kubrick, especially his A Clockwork Orange, and Bob Fosse, to name a couple. I do like Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, and his script for True Romance. Christopher Walken is a gas in that film.

Any chance of a return trip behind the camera?
No! Never! I've had my so-called fifteen minutes. When I made my movies I worked my ass off, and at my age I don't think I could handle the pressure I would put on myself.

There are more and more porn-star memoirs coming on the market. Is there a book deal in your future?
Not that I know of. Besides, my mom, dad, and grandparents are no longer with us, so who would buy it?



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