With Drive Nicolas Winding Refn took a big leap into the mainstream - a leap that Andy Milligan never made. Refn's work, edgy as it can be, doesn't automatically call to mind the hyper-low budget gore and nudity and nastiness of Milligan, but he says that the grindhouse director was a huge influence on him. A huge enough influence that he spent 25 grand buying a whole collection of rare Andy Milligan films.
The timing here is great; just last week I wrote about Milligan's The Rats Are Coming! The Werewolves Are Here! (which, hit counters suggest, you didn't read, so go here and do so!) and now Refn is writing in The Guardian about his love for the filmmaker. Says Refn:
When I was about 12, I tricked my mother into buying me my first book about film: Splatter Movies, by John McCarty. That's when I became aware of Andy Milligan and started looking for videos of his films – such as Gutter Trash (1969), Fleshpot on 42nd Street (1973), Guru, the Mad Monk (1970) and The Naked Witch (1967).
When I finally saw them I was taken aback – first by their crudeness, and then by how difficult it was to sit through them. But, at the same time, I realised that here was a man who made films his own way, on his own terms. He used the medium as something he could streamline his consciousness into, and I found that fascinating.
[W]hen I started to understand the conditions Milligan was working under, I began to feel a bit of me was in him. I'm sure that as a director he had many of the same thoughts I've had, making the films he made. I felt like a patron, almost. I felt connected to him. I thought: "Well, Andy, I'm going to show the world! You may not have been a conventional talent but you made films your own way – which is a lot more interesting."
Milligan began his career more artistically minded, doing Off-Off-Broadway productions and movies like Nightbirds, a take on the French Nouvelle Vague. Eventually he ended up making some of the cheapest films of all time, each dripping in an angry S&M sensibility that is so Milligan.
Refn has worked with Something Weird Video and the BFI to get Nightbirds - an almost utterly unseen film - back into circulation (he had to go to Something Weird because the print he owns, which had been Milligan's own print, had been chopped up to make the trailer!). NIghtbirds is now available on Blu and DVD from the BFI, packaged along with the Milligan vampire film The Body Beneath.
Is there an Andy Milligan resurgence about to happen? I'd love to see it - Milligan has remained one of the exploitation era's oddest and most undervalued directors.