Writer, musician and friend of the Gutter Todd Stadtman has passed away. Todd was author of Funky Bollywood: The Wild World of Bollywood Action Cinema in the 1970s (FAB, 2015) as well as the SF Punk Trio, a trilogy of young adult novels featuring punk teens in 1970s and 1980s San Francisco: Please Don’t Be Waiting for Me (4DK Press, 2017); So Good it’s Bad (2018); and, Never Divided (2019). Todd had been in the bands, The Blitz, B Team, The Naked Into, and Zikzak. You can listen to some of his music here. You can also read Todd’s writing on world and cult cinema on his website, Die, Danger, Die, Die, Kill! Listen to his takes on cult films on Infernal Brains, a podcast he co-hosted with Tars Tarkas. Todd also co-hosted “Taiwan Noir” with Podcast on Fire‘s Kenneth Brorrson. And you can also hear his takes on genre film at Fighting Femmes, Fiends and Fanatics. Listen to Friday’s Best Pop Song Ever and just some of his vast collection of world pop music on KGPC’s Pop Offensive. And Todd was an early participant in the Drive-In Mob movie tweetalong. And he participated in its Twitter predecessor, #TCMDriveIn, which spawned both Drive-In Mob and TCMParty. Todd also hurt his friends and comrades with his contribution to the Mysterious Order of the Skeleton Suit’s blog posts and Twitter watchalongs, especially one eponymously featuring his nemesis, Magic Lizard (1985).
Todd was always generous in his support of the Cultural Gutter. Several of the Gutter Editors were friends of his and we have some things to say.
The bulk of my thoughts about Todd have been scrawled on the wall over at Teleport City, the site I launched in 1998 and which Todd became a crucial part of in the early 2000s. To peg the specific date, even the year, is to ask more of my organizational skills and memory than I can summon. We were brought together by a shared love of newly-discovered (for us) Chor Yuen martial arts films, many of which were being seen for the first time since their initial releases in the 1970s, thanks to the complicated management of the Shaw Brothers movie catalog and the (mistaken) impression many people had that the majority of the library had been destroyed in a fire. From there, it was on to Blue Demon (we both preferred him over higher-profile El Santo), Japanese monster movies, northern soul, and ’60s girl groups.
What I said at Teleport City is worth repeating here: Todd’s greatest gift to me as a friend, other than a copy of Magic Lizard, was his boundless dedication to digging up new corners of cult film history, which reminded me constantly that however much I’d seen, there was still so much more out there waiting for me. That’s a great feeling. Overwhelming, sure, but in an energizing way. He also took me to a great taco place in the Mission District, of which I understand there were quite a few, and I was able to reciprocate in New York with trips to Ward III for “Whisky Monday.” That we lived on opposite sides of the country never seemed to interfere that much with our friendship. I mean, I saw him once a year or so, either there or here, and frankly, that’s about all I see anyone, even friends who live one neighborhood over from me.
We suffered intensely together, through films such as Robo Vampire and, of course, Magic Lizard. And we thrilled together over cheap Eurospy adventures and old Bollywood fantasy films crammed with classic special effects. Without him, I doubt I would have ever stumbled across Wadia brothers films, or Taiwanese monster and fantasy films.
When Todd was diagnosed with cancer several years back, he responded by launching a dizzying period of creativity, finishing books and re-releasing his old music while I was struggling to finish a single book I’d been futzing with for a decade. It was never his intention, and I am sure never once entered into his mind, but his astounding artistic energy during that trial shamed me into getting my ass into gear and actually finishing something. This is on top of his steady flow of reviews keeping Teleport City alive while I had lapsed into a self-indulgent period of either writers block or laziness (it was laziness). Then he went and beat cancer and never missed a step, despite the disease taking its toll on his body.
I was overjoyed to visit him in San Francisco a couple of times, including for the launch of one of his books, Funky Bollywood. And I was overjoyed any time he and his wife blew into New York for a visit. The hole his passing leaves is vast, and I think I’m only just starting to comprehend how vast. But much vaster, and much more appropriate for remembering him, is the amount of writing and music he left to the world. It’s a body of film scholarship that has, no embellishment, profound cultural value, far beyond the credit he was ever given and never sought. In grim times, I can always open the binder of films Todd shared with me, and remember him by enjoying the hell out of a swinging Iranian James Bond knock-off or a movie where a giant Guan Yu defends Taiwan from towering Martians who strut around like George Jefferson.
Well, those and the movie he lovingly referred to as “fucking Magic Lizard.”
I don’t actually remember how I first got to know Todd, but I know it had to do with our shared love of Indian films, which is my primary online wheelhouse but only one of many pop culture areas that Todd knew and loved. We probably found each others’ blogs and started commenting back and forth, back in the misty days of 2007 or so, when we didn’t have Twitter so would have to kill the last 15 minutes of a work day going to all the sites in our own blogrolls to see who had posted lately—like, before Google Reader, remember that? Running a search for his name on my own blog shows me that by 2011 I was referring to him as a long-time friend, cemented by mutual membership in the Mysterious Order of the Skeleton Suit, a shadowy organization started by Keith Allison that I described as devoted to “poppy, sometimes monster-y, other times spy-y, always silly goodness,” which in retrospect reminds me that Todd, and Keith, and many other wonderful people known here as “The Gutter’s Own,” invited me to be a part of bigger conversations than those I would have had through my own more focused online communities.
Somewhere in this time, he appeared twice on a podcast I co-hosted called Masala Zindabad! (“long live [our most favorite Indian film genre/style/approach/whatever]!”), talking about South Indian westerns and spy films and the topic that became the topic I most fondly associate him with: the truly wild world of animal actors in Indian films (at those links, you can listen online or download). Todd learned plenty about the uniquely Indian input and contexts of these films, but he also brought to discussions a deep and long love of world pop cinema, something few other people online at the time were doing in English. He even did a series called the Animalympics, profiling 20 of the most amazing animal characters from Indian films and asking readers to choose “the revenge-crazed and perhaps even gun-wielding South Asian animal star that is closest to your heart.” After a few weeks of research and voting, the winner surprised even Todd: a still photo inserted repeatedly in the weird Hindi collaged/remade horror film Pyasa Shaitan (“Thirsty Devil”; it’s on Youtube if you’re feeling brave) whom, having no name in its film, unlike the other ani-pals who are often full-fledged characters who have more to do on screen than most love interests, Todd dubbed Subliminal Marmoset. “I bet that, back when he was just a page in a nature magazine, the Subliminal Marmoset never imagined that he would see such heights, beating out a popular favorite in a contest voted on by literally tens of people.”
That was what made his writing so special to me: complex knowledge, deep love, and true joy. You’re probably not surprised when I tell you that he was part of a global Indian film community, so much so that he has at least two extremely knowledgeable fanboys in India. Even if you’re well versed in Hindi movies, and especially if you aren’t, read Todd’s book Funky Bollywood on action films of the 70s and 80s, relating the films both intra- and internationally and to movies and music elsewhere. It is respectful, clever, thoughtful, and enthusiastic, just like Todd himself.
One of the cruelties of 2020’s fiendish blend of deliberate doom and relentless darkness is taking from us the kinds of people we need the most: people who care, people who think, people who love. In the corner of the internet I play in and try my best ot nourish, Todd was exactly that. My January piece for the Gutter will be a revision of something I wrote for Todd’s site in 2013. I can’t think of anything better than to remember him with a particularly 80s Indian mix of brotherly love, can-do martial arts, and exuberant disco.
“Somewhere in the no man’s land between Written On The Wind and War Of The Gargantuas lies the perfect film.” I have this written down. It’s something Todd said to me. I don’t remember when or really the rest of the conversation, but I can recreate it well enough. And what I love about it is one of the things I love about Todd–the humor and the truth in the humor. I first met Todd through his blog, Die, Danger, Die, Die, Kill! in the mid to late 2000s. He invited me to write for him at 4DK. I invited him to write at the Gutter about War of the Gargantuas and his sweet story of singing, “The Words Get Stuck In My Throat” to his wife at their wedding. I talked with him and Tars Tarkas about space ladies on their podcast, Infernal Brains. Todd taught me a lot about world genre films and “bad” movies. When a group of us got together as the Mysterious Order of the Skeleton Suit to promote our work, write about genre film and watch movies that were that hurt us, he helped me realize that every bad movie has a person it torments more than others. Sompote Sands’ Magic Lizard tasked Todd. And while it never hurt me quite like it hurt Todd, I am thinking of watching it again for him.
Todd was hilarious, irreverent, sincere, gentle, fierce, passionate and inspirational all at the same time. I’ve been re-reading some of his writing and Todd still makes me burst out laughing. So much of my relationship with Todd was mediated through jokes, usually ridiculous and affectionate, sometimes serious, necessary jokes when things were hard or frightening. I made the hardest jokes of my life when Todd was fighting cancer. Jokes I know must have seemed oblivious to the gravity of the situation to family and other friends who kindly sent more conventional concern and love. But I made the jokes because I knew they were what Todd wanted from me, at least. They were what I could give him. I started to make one while writing this. I had a part where I noted that Todd was making me laugh from “beyond the grave!” And I knew he’d think it was hilarious. I could even hear him saying it. But I cut it because inappriopriateness aside, this isn’t for Todd. This is for all of us who were his friends, who are remembering him in our lives. Jokes were a bond of understood affection–a through line in our friendship. There is not a good adult word for someone you like to play with–go back and forth with jokes, stories and ideas–but Todd was great to do that with. I loved joking and riffing on things with Todd. I loved talking with Todd about movies and hassling him as a listener when he was on his radio show, Pop Offensive.
Todd made me want to be a better writer. Smarter, funnier, more daring in what I would put in a review–like his polls about “anipals” or challenges to recognize all the characters he posted in the sidebar of 4DK. They were not crucial pop culture knowledge, but that only made his challenge to name the characters and films more hilarious to me. I became a fan of the Subliminal Marmoset through him. I encountered Françoise Hardy, Jane Bond films, La Nave de Los Monstruos, “Mohabbat Hi Mohabbat Hai” and Vilma Santos’ Darna through him. Todd made me feel like maybe my own curiosity about and unironic love for wonders on the fringes of global popular art had a place online. After he smote cancer, I admired Todd’s determination to write the books he had in him and live his life the best and fullest way he could. Todd was talented, irreverent, passionate, always seeking out new things and always sharing what he had just watched, heard or learned. I discovered so many films and so much music through Todd. I met so many people through him and made so many friends through him–including Keith and Beth. I laughed so much because of him. I’m so glad to have been his friend. And I’m going to miss him so fucking much.
In his honor, let’s make some jokes. Let’s try listening to something new or watching some thing new or even writing something new—meeting art on its own terms without claiming it’s a “guilty pleasure” or “so bad it’s good.” Let’s find some wonders that are new to us and share them with the world.
This piece was originally published on The Cultural Gutter on Jan. 26, 2021.