Q&A with Melinda McDowell

Cult Projections: You were twenty-two when you acted in your first film, Naughty Words (1974), directed by your brother Curt McDowell, although technically it was just voiceover. You then acted in another couple of shorts directed by your brother, a feature directed by George Kuchar, and two of Curt’s features, Thundercrack! (1975), and Sparkles Tavern (1985). Then that was it, no more performing in front of the camera (well, that’s listed on IMDb, that is). 

Melinda: Naughty Words was not my first film, nor did I act in it, those voices were not Curt and me. My actual first film was Beaver Fever (directed by Curt) in which George Kuchar and I play boyfriend and girlfriend. My appearance in The Devil's Cleavage was next, but hardly worth a mention (although it's my favourite of George's films). After that I was plunged right into Thundercrack! During this time others were created, such as Naughty Words, Nudes: A Sketchbook,  and Taboo: the Single and the L.P., but the release dates don't necessarily reflect when they were filmed. Sparkle's Tavern was filmed in 1976, but Curt didn't have the funds to finish it up until 1984! I'm pretty sure the only time I appeared in a film after that one was Jennifer Kroot's It Came from Kuchar in 2009. 

CP: Had you intended to be an actor from any specific age? 

M: I never had any intention of becoming an actress. I didn't ask to be in any films, but I did have fun participating in the films of Curt and his friends. 

CP: Curt was seven years older, what kind of relationship did you have? 

M: Curt and I were always close. He was responsible for enticing me to leave Indiana and join him in San Francisco. I'm still grateful for that!

CP: What was completed first, George Kuchar’s Devil’s Cleavage, or your brother’s Thundercrack!?

M: The Devil's Cleavage was first, if I recall.

CP: Was Thundercrack! the first hardcore film you’d made? What about the other shorts your brother directed? Did you had aspirations to be an adult performer before? 

M: Even though Thundercrack! is definitely explicit, I don't consider it to be grouped with hardcore adult films. Curt did have several short films that included explicit scenes, but the only film he made that I would consider an adult, or pornographic film is Lunch. I do believe Thundercrack! stands alone, for many reasons, including being the only one of that nature that I was in! 

CP: Tell me a little about the Thundercrack! production. Did it take long to film? What about post-production? 

M: The original filming took us ten days, and Curt spent eight months on editing, finishing just in time for the December 1975 premiere in New York.

CP: Was George Kuchar very tight about following the script, or was there a lot of improvisation? 

M: George had written the script for Thundercrack! and claimed he had trouble memorising hislines when we were filming. Actually, the script was followed closely by everyone.

CP: What was the initial response from audiences? 

M: Well! The New York audience loved it. The first screening was sold out, so it was shown again one week later, and sold out again!  The Los Angeles audience was quite a different story, plenty of walkouts. In time, word of mouth helped it to find its audience.

CP: Did you feel at all, at the time, that you were making something that would become something of a cult favourite among underground adult aficionados? Have you always felt the same way about it? 

M: I don't think any one of us had an idea of what that film would become, not even an inkling.  When I was seeing it at first, I had a hard time getting past my own performance (my non-actress performance!), but years later when I watched it again I set that aside and saw it as others do.  I am thoroughly entertained by it each time I see it.

CP: What was your impression and opinion of the more commercial adult movies of the time? Did you watch many of them in cinemas? Did Curt? 

M: I never was much of a fan of adult movies in general, but Curt loved them, for sure. He had his own collection of hardcore films, which I inherited.

CP: So no favourite adult movie of the 70s then?

M: I'm sure I couldn't come up with a favourite adult movie from the 70s! I do recall going with a friend to a drive-in theatre to see Curt's Lunch while I was still in Indiana. I believe I'll cast my vote for Lunch

CP: The black comedy streak that runs through Thundercrack!, the absurdity and perverse elements, are certainly what gives the movie its edge, and perhaps also its cult appeal, its longevity. Did you share your brother’s, and George’s, sense of humour? I’m sure there was much mischief and shenanigans behind the scenes while you made Thundercrack!, tell me about some of it. 

M: We definitely shared the sense of humour, and yes, plenty of mischief and shenanigans! We really did have a great time filming Thundercrack!, it was a fun cast and crew. I've told the story before, but the cucumber that was offered to Willene (and partially consumed and discarded) was the actual cucumber that had been utilised by Mrs. Gert Hammond. Willene's expressive reaction at that moment was quite genuine.  

CP: Ha ha! Sparkles Tavern was your last film. What made you stop performing?

M: There were others after Sparkle's Tavern, but it was the last of Curt's to be released, unless we count, The Mean Brothers Get Stood Up, which premiered in 2016 at the Ann Arbor Film Festival!  Soon after filming Taboo: the Single and the L.P. I entered my “domestic” phase of life, not much time for film-related fun!

CP: Are you aware of any filmmakers in the contemporary scene that remind you of the passion, creative originality of your brother? 

M: The first one who comes to mind is Guy Madden, I enjoy his style! I'm guessing Curt would've loved My Winnipeg as much as I do.

CP: What is your opinion on taboos within cinema? Should there be any? What about censorship? 

M: Apparently I'm not one for censorship or taboos, still trying to think on that one! 

CP: We live in an age of much neo-conservatism, a glut of re-boots, and for the most part the adventurousness, the boldness of the 1970s feels a very long time ago. Is there anything you’d like to see in films that you feel has been left behind?

M: I'd like to see more people making films for the joy of making them, rather than for the sake of being a money-making, commercial endeavour. Concern about the monetary value seems to take away the spontaneity and fun of it all!

CP: It’s a double-edged sword indeed! Thank you Melinda! 


Revelation - Perth International Film Festival has put together a selection of Curt McDowell’s 16mm shorts in the retrospective mini-program Stinky Wieners and Dreamy Beavers, including Ainslie Trailer (1972), Confessions (1971), Wieners and Buns Musical (1972), True Blue and Dreamy (1973), Dora Myrtle (1973), The Mean Brothers "Get Stood Up" (1973), Stinky-Butt (1974), and Beaver Fever (1974). The mini-program screens Monday 10th July, 7:30pm. 

For more information on the program please visit here.