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Sunday, 19 January 2014

Two Geeks, a Chicken and Bigfoot

The Geek by Alice Louise Ramirez was originally published in 1969 by Essex House – a short lived imprint that specialized in pornographic science fiction. It sounded like something I ought to read. I’ve got a professional interest in pornographic SF stories featuring geeks, since I just wrote one myself (it’s called Chinese Alchemy, and it's published by JMS books). The original edition of The Geek is an expensive collector’s item, but I managed to get hold of the 1995 reprint pictured above (for some reason this edition gives the author’s name as “Tiny Alice”).

It wasn’t what I was expecting. I’ve belatedly discovered that the word “geek” is really just a synonym of “freak”, and it used to be applied to sideshow performers. The Geek in this novel is a kind of sword-swallower, but as well as swallowing a sword his act also entails swallowing a chicken. This might not sound a big deal – except that it’s a live chicken, that goes all the way down and comes all the way back up again... and lives to perform the same act day after day. This requires considerable skill on the part of the Geek, but even more skill on the part of the chicken – who is the real hero of the novel, and its first-person narrator.

The book has a testimonial on the cover from Philip José Farmer, and a dedication inside “To Harlan Ellison and Norman Spinrad who thought of the Geek”. Farmer, Ellison and Spinrad were three of the biggest names in science fiction at the time the book was written. Its communal genesis is described by Alice Ramirez herself in her Amazon review of the book.

If the author’s recollections are anything to go by, the story was concocted by a group of horny youngsters who were stoned out of their minds. Having read the book, that’s easy enough to believe. Most of the action takes place on a tiny Pacific island occupied by a group of sado-masochistic lesbian nudists. Considering the story is narrated by a pink chicken (I should have mentioned that this particular chicken is dyed pink, for symbolic reasons) it isn’t that bad – but it isn’t that good either. The surreal humour of the novel probably seemed a lot funnier in the drug-addled sixties.

While I was researching the book’s background I came across a strange coincidence. A film with the same title – The Geek – was released two years later in 1971. But as far as I can tell, it’s completely unconnected to the novel – the “geek” in the movie is a wild Bigfoot-like creature with a penchant for human females. Unlike the book, the film is important enough to have its own Wikipedia article. Loren Coleman also wrote about The First Bigfoot Porn Film on his blog a few years ago... although Loren was talking about a shortened 15 minute version released in 1981.

The 1971 original was 45 minutes long, and after a bit of Googling I found an uncut copy on one of those “adult” versions of YouTube. I really needn’t have bothered. The first 35 minutes is completely plotless – a fly-on-the-wall documentary about a group of horny young hikers. Bigfoot – or rather the Geek – only turns up in the last ten minutes, and his scenes mostly consist of simulated sexual activity. I couldn’t work out if the film was a cynical attempt to make money, on the basis that anything with copulation in it will sell, or if it was an experimental art-house film in the “Blair Witch” mould. It doesn’t really matter, since the effect is pretty much the same either way.

The most interesting thing, of course, is the synchronicity of a 1969 pornographic SF novel called The Geek, and an apparently unrelated 1971 pornographic SF movie called The Geek. It may just be a coincidence – but if so, why was the film called “The Geek”? If they wanted people to go and see it, why didn’t they give it a more commercially eyecatching title like “Bigfoot” or “Sasquatch”? Another possibility occurred to me – admittedly on the basis of no evidence whatsoever. Maybe the film-makers were such big fans of the novel they told everyone they were going to make a movie of The Geek – and then realized it was totally unfilmable within their budget. So they decided to make an easier movie with the same title instead.

7 comments:

JoshuaBBuhs said...

I no longer have access to the article--even though I wrote it, proof academic publishing sucks--but check out my piece “Wildmen on the Cyberfrontier: The Computer Geek as an Iteration in the American Wildman Lore Cycle,” Folklore 121 (2010): 61-80. It shows the connection between the word geek, wildmen, and the computer geeks of our time.

Andrew May said...

Gosh, this sounds absolutely fascinating! Thanks for mentioning it. Unfortunately I can't see how I can access the article, particularly if you can't yourself. I have a JSTOR account, but they only have the abstract and the list of references. There's also a link to an external site which has a preview of the first page only.

JoshuaBBuhs said...

I've got a copy. If you email me, I can send it your way.

Andrew May said...

Thanks - I'm not sure what your email address is but I've just sent you a Friend Request on Facebook.

Richard said...

Andrew -- nice to hear a use of the older meaning for geek. My father who worked as a carny shill when a kid told me, when I was a lad, that a "geek" was a specific form of carnival sideshow entertainer that specialized in eating whole chickens, raw, for an audience. Can't imagine that would be a lifelong vocation though, bacterial infections being as nasty as they are...

Andrew May said...

Fascinating - that's really very close to the Geek in the Alice Ramirez book, except that in that case the chicken is a live one which comes back out again afterwards (and lives to tell the tale - literally, since the chicken is the book's narrator!).

Sorry for the delay in replying, by the way - Blogger normally notifies me about new comments, but failed to do so in this case.

Alice Ramirez said...

The geek was great fun to write but, as you observed, was done in the drug-addled sixties. I couldn't have done it without weed. Essex House was a wonderful gift. I wrote one more for that publisher (can't remember the editor's name after aLL THESE YEARS!) Also fun to write, although the title was too embarrassing to put down. Anyway, the world of creative erotica lost much when the Philistines who owned the larger corporation shut Essex House down. What they wanted I wouldn't write.