• Let My Puppets Come (Vinegar Syndrome) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
    Released on: August 27th, 2019.
    Director: Gerard Damiano
    Cast: Annie Sprinkle, Gerard Damiano, Al Goldstein, Luis De Jesus
    Year: 1976
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    Let My Puppets Come – Movie Review:

    The four chief executives of Creative Concepts Systems & Procedures Brothers Unlimited Inc. are Ned, Fred, Red and Gramps – ‘the Four Skins’ we’re told in the opening. When Gerard Damiano’s 1976 (almost) all-puppet musical smut fest begins, these three men are in dire straits. See, they sunk all their money into Big League Bocce, figuring it would give them an instant influx of cold, hard cash – but it was a bad call, and they love their collective shirt on the deal. Now, they’re deep in debt and all out of money.

    Jimmy, their delivery boy, hears their discussion and is wise to their plight. He comes up with an idea that’ll earn them some easy money and fast – make a porno movie. Without any other viable options, the trio decides to take Jimmy up on his idea and soon enough, they’ve hired a man named Lash, the owner/operator of a fetish store, and an artsy type named Geppetto, to get behind the camera and make them a dirty movie. That said, they don’t have much time. The guy who lent them the money they now need to pay back, Mr. Big, isn’t the type to just let late payments slide, and the guys’ time is quickly running out, all while the filmmakers involved quarrel and quibble about how to best complete the project... to be made with puppets.

    Featuring some bizarre cameos from the likes of Annie Sprinkle, Al Goldstein and Damiano himself, Let My Puppets Come was cut down from its feature length seventy-five-minute running time to a butchered forty-three-minute version when it was released (it reportedly played as support for Damiano’s excellent XXX epic Odyssey). This restored version from Vinegar Syndrome presents the feature length, uncut version for the first time ever and, well, it’s something, that’s for sure. Complete with seven original musical numbers, the film also features appearances from Bloodsucking Freaks alumni Viju Krem and dwarf actor Luis De Jesus – but it’s the puppets that really stand out here. The design work that went into creating them is just plain weird. Comparisons can, will and should be made to Peter Jackson’s later 1989 explicit puppet film Meet The Feebles but Damiano got there first and did it better.

    What makes this interesting, aside from the puppets and the occasional flesh and blood celebrity cameo, is how the themes and ideas that the filmmakers in the picture explore mirror Damiano’s own attempts to bring a decidedly artistic slant to the world of XXX. Last and Geppetto find themselves at odds with the men backing the production, wanting to bring a little something extra to the film aside from the requisite fucking and sucking, which is something that Damiano himself would wrestle with throughout his career.

    Those looking for ‘hot action’ might be taken aback by the fact that pretty much all of the sex in the film, including some man/animal love, is performed by the puppets in the picture and not the human actors that pop in from time to time (the exception being some puppet/human love towards the end with Lynette Sheldon). This makes the film a legitimate cinematic oddity, to be sure, but it also means the film is, well, let’s just say less than erotic. Still, those with an affinity for bizarre films should more than appreciate not just the freak show factor on display here but the artistic qualities that go into creating the puppets and making them do what they do for the camera.

    Let My Puppets Come – Blu-ray Review:

    Vinegar Syndrome brings Let My Puppets Come to Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.85.1 widescreen with a transfer taken from a new 2k restoration of the film’s only known surviving 35mm elements. For the most part the picture is pretty clean. Reel changes exhibit some scratches but otherwise, print damage is never a problem, though expect small white scratches here and there. Colors look very good and black levels are pretty solid. Detail is better than you might expect from a transfer culled from a print rather than a negative, and there’s good depth and texture evident throughout.

    The English language DTS-HD Mono track is clean and clear. Levels are nicely balanced throughout, the film’s dialogue is always easy to understand and follow and the score used in the picture sounds quite good as well. No problems with any hiss or distortion to note. The audio is really solid, especially considering this was taken from less than pristine elements. Optional subtitles are provided in English only.

    Extras start off with an audio commentary with film historians Heather Drain and Samm Deighan that is less a historical document of the film’s history than it is an examination of Damiano’s life and times. They talk about Damiano’s cameo buying a hot dog in the opening sequence and his ‘perfect New York attitude’ to said puppet, other cameos that he made throughout his career, how his films tends to waver from genuinely comedic to very serious, his attempts to make genuinely good films in the adult industry and how this is so clearly reflected in Let My Puppets Come, how he liked to push the envelope with some of his films – this one included and the little details that you might not notice in the film the first time that you watch it. They talk about Goldstein’s presence in the film and references to SCREW magazine, bias that adult performers experience in the mainstream scene, how Lash may or may not be based on Jamie Gillis (which isn’t such a stretch), the use of puppets in the film and how puppets have been used throughout the centuries in various productions in different countries, the transgressive nature of the production and other transgressive puppet films like the recent The Happytime Murders, the oddity of a certain jewelry stand featured in the movie, Goldstein and the Listerine scene (we won’t spoil it), the use of music in the picture and more. Again, this isn’t a deep dive into who did what and when on the picture and a fair bit of it is the two gushing about Damiano’s talents (but if you’re going to gush, Damiano is a good choice to gush about), but they make some genuinely interesting observations about the film as it plays out and their insight into the picture’s merits is definitely worth listening to.

    Also well worth checking out is an audio conversation with puppeteer and puppet designer James Racioppi, moderated by film historian Casey Scott. It starts with Racioppi talking about a recent puppet show he’s working on before the conversation then shifts to Racioppi’s memories about the production. He speaks about the projects origins, how the play Kumquats inspired Damiano’s films, how it was more fun to work on the live show than the movie that came from it, how he first got into puppetry as a kid which led to doing theater work after college, how Damiano came to adapt the picture, rewrites that were involved in the pre-production phase, how Kumquats, which was reportedly the inspiration for Let My Puppets Come, came to exist in the first place (it was originally done on Fire Island), the music in the film, who handled the puppeteering in the picture, what went into designing and crafting the actual puppets themselves, Racioppi’s own preferences in regards to acting versus doing puppetry, the films’ release history and how it didn’t really find an audience in the porn houses of the day. They also talk about the time involved in creating each and every puppet in the picture no matter how long it might appear in the film, the uncut version of the film compared to the full strength version, the adult performers that appeared on set and how there wasn’t really any tension on the shoot at all, what Damiano was like on set and how he was well-liked by the crew, the film’s release history and lots more. Racioppi is very gracious and forthcoming about the production and his involvement in it, and he’s got a great sense of humor about all of this. He’s also a very good storyteller who has led a very interesting career that he’s seemingly very happy to discuss. If you want to know more about the history of the production, this is the way to go.

    Casey Scott also moderates an audio conversation with Kumquats director Nicolas Coppola that runs forty-two-minutes. Scott, understandably, has a lot of questions about how this musical puppet production came to be. Coppola talks about how he got into puppetry after seeing a touring marionette show as a kid in Brooklyn, how he got his start in the business despite misgivings from his family, getting to know different people in the industry and mentoring different people, the connection to infamous puppet ‘Madame’ and Wayland Flowers which eventually led to Kumquats being written. He then speaks about working on the production in his workshop while doing children’s theater, where the show played and how it was received, working with Racioppi, other players that he was involved with over the years and what they brought to the production, how David Copperfield factors into all of this and quite a bit more. It’s an interesting piece that does a nice job of documenting what led to Damiano’s film being made.

    Vinegar Syndrome has also dug up some audio from a production of the musical Kumquats. There’s just under ten-minutes of audio here, and it’s presented over some scans of some theater programs and newspaper reviews of the production. Without the visuals it’s a bit tough to get the contexts of what’s being presented but it is nevertheless an interesting document of the production and we get to hear some of the original musical numbers being performed.

    Aside from that, we also get a trailer for the feature, menus and chapter selection. As this is a combo pack release, we also get a DVD version of the movie taken from the same new restoration and including the same extras. Vinegar Syndrome has also packaged this with some very cool reversible cover sleeve art.

    Let My Puppets Come – The Final Word:

    Let My Puppets Come is a genuine cinematic oddity and a seriously strange chapter in Gerard Damiano’s career but it is both interesting for its allegories and entertaining for its absurdity, enough so that it’s definitely worth checking out. Vinegar Syndrome has done a great job rescuing this one from obscurity and giving it a proper uncut release with a niece array of extra features. This won’t be for all tastes, of course, but if a smutty puppet movie sounds like something you’d enjoy, consider this one recommended.

    Click on the images below for full sized Let My Puppets Come Blu-ray screen caps!