Peep Show isn’t only a film ascribed to J.X. Williams, but one that features him as a peripheral player. He heads up the crew that records the blackmail material the Chicago mafia uses to exert control over politicians, celebrities and the press. The main thrust of the feature is La Cosa Nostra’s attempts to addict Frank Sinatra to heroin after he refused to help in their efforts to persuade President Kennedy in certain decisions. But this particular interlude (below, from the 16:45 mark of the film) is a bit of self promotion that speaks of the man known as “J.X. Williams” and his other films.
It’s nearly impossible to write about the films of J.X. Williams without resorting to talking about the idea of filmmaker “J.X. Williams.” His life story is the epitome of “too good to be true” and the films themselves feature just as much backstory as he does. It’s been said that during his stretch of doing just about anything to make ends meet (even directing the occasional hardcore film, much like another cult icon, French filmmaker Jean Rollin did between making classics such as The Grapes of Death), Williams had a job as a projectionist. Upon being let go after asking for his back wages, Williams being the imp that he is, added a little something extra to the children’s Christmas matinee, a film of his called Satan Claus. The Virgin Sacrifice began life as a three-hour epic Satanist epic, financed by Sammy Davis Jr. The majority of the film was lost in a fire, leaving only a nine-minute fragment; one that’s equal parts H.G. Lewis and the Kenneth Anger of Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome. Peep Show is told in a style that is reminiscent of an Earth-bound Craig Baldwin, with its use of footage from other sources (Preminger’s The Man with the Golden Arm and Frankenheimer’s The Manchurian Candidate being the primary wells in this case) and a narrator who seems to know the score. The film’s not as concerned about the logistics of how the Cuban revolution affected the mafia’s financial interests and the result that had on narcotics distribution as it is with setting the stage. The facts don’t matter as much as the details.
Anger is an important name to keep in mind when discussing Williams. There is a long tradition of legend building amongst the creative forces in Hollywood. Whether it’s Stroheim and Sternberg adding the aristocratic “von” to their names or Anger’s own claim to have played the (unbilled) child prince in the 1935 adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, many a career has been furthered by a massaging of facts. The clip of Peep Show above not only features self promotion, but also a bit of inside baseball. The stack of film cans, luridly labelled with titles like “Rock Hudson’s Pajama Party,” “Ray/Dean/Mineo,” “Kim Novak + Sammy Davis,” tells us Babylon wasn’t only found in Hollywood. A secret history only to be hinted at, but never fully revealed, leaving its authenticity in question. The best blackmail can be founded in implications. Simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time might put you in a hole you can’t climb out.
The story depicted in Peep Show is related to a cab driver (and as such, to the viewer) by a passenger on his way to make a long walk off a short pier. Upon reaching his destination, the narrator pulls the rug out from under the driver, telling him the majority of the story has been nothing more than hot air, rather just a way to pass the time until it’s time to attend to the actual task at hand; the cabbie’s been doing things he shouldn’t, and now it’s time to pay the piper. In the end, the reliability of the story and of its maker are shown to have no importance. All that matters is that we went along for the ride.