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Every once in a while a movie comes along that can change your life. From big old blockbusters to small, sleeper unknowns. And sometimes, if you're really lucky, it's a movie so bad you can embrace it with every inch of your heart.

How's this for a story? A teen girl struggles to get what she thinks is rightfully hers. With her eye on the prize, she stops at nothing, even seducing then bedding a man who is pushing 50. I'm speaking of course of Pia Zadora and her ex-husband, that tax-evading, multi-millionaire, horndog octogenarian (a job I'm hoping for one day) Mishulem Riklis (heretofore known as Rik). Oddly (or maybe not) it's also the storyline of BUTTERFLY.

I'm sure anyone walking by the Plaza theater in NYC in February of 1982 heard the joviality gushing from inside. Surely they thought it was a new Zucker Brothers film ("...and don't call me 'Shirley'"). But it wasn't. It was a deadly-serious movie. A movie about greed, manipulation, murder, an illegitimate child, and in the forefront - incest...not normally the stuff to make your sides split. However, BUTTERFLY is a bottomless well of unintentional laughs. I mean, Pia Zadora and Orson Welles in the same movie? With an assist from Ed McMahon? Need I say more? You bet your ass I need to say more.

Kady (Pia Zadora) eyes Jess for the first time
A remote desert town. 1937. Kady (Pia Zadora), a baby-faced, pouty-lipped, manipulative minx hotter than the desert sun she's bathed in, hitches a ride to a spit of land. She allows the driver to make advances on her long enough to get to where she needs to be dropped off. Then she leaves him in his undone overalls and skivvies, making it all too clear Kady is not as innocent as she looks. Kady makes it to the house where Jess (Stacy Keach), a loner who tends a silver mine for a big company, takes forever to realize that this little, err, runt is his daughter. Ten years earlier, Jess' wife Belle (Lois Nettleton) had taken Kady and left him high and very dry. The fact that Kady is Jess' daughter doesn't stop her from using her prurient charms and inviting breasts to tease him, which culminates in The Bathtub Scene (called "Bath Time" on the DVD, more on that later).
Peeping at Pia
But lo, Kady is not there just to have sex with daddy, she also wants the mine's silver that she feels is rightfully hers, since the father of her illegitimate baby happens to be the son of the man who owns the mine. Believe it or not things get even more complicated, and as they do the movie gets funnier. When a script hydroplanes on Preposterous Boulevard it never recovers. Here's a great example: The cast is small, mostly Pia and Keach. Others show up now and then, but it's a very small cast and we know all the players. So how's it going to end? Like all great movies should end - out of nowhere, Ed McMahon pops in with a drink in his hand. At the Plaza in '82, the entire audience joined together in yelps of "Hiyo!".

Kady (Pia Zadora) in front of the Judge (Orson Welles)
The movie ends (and ends and ends and ends) with an infinite courtroom scene featuring Orson Welles as the judge. I'll write that again so you don't think I made a mistake. The movie ends (and ends and ends and ends) with an infinite courtroom scene featuring Orson Welles as the judge. In a mix of cringe-inducing, inadvertent comedy, he asks to smell Kady's breath, as he fears she's been drinking. She approaches the bench and lets out a lolita-ish purr of a breath. The judge asks for another. She moves closer, pauses, and lets out another coquettish gasp. Hilarious moment. Not so hilarious, Welles looks like a Macy's parade balloon. By this time in his career, he was relegated to wine whore and performing bad card tricks on The Merv Griffin Show.

Butterfly VHS from 1982
BUTTERFLY was discontinued on VHS in the 1980s. Fortunately, I had a dub, and though I hadn't watched it in 20 years, I felt comfort in the fact that it was always on my shelf. I decided to screen it few years ago, but my copy, though playable, was fading. I found an original VHS copy (it was never released on DVD) and rented it, but when I got it home I discovered the tape was broken. Too cheap to spend $20 on eBay, I let go the notion of a screening. But then, in the summer of 2008, a DVD street date was announced! This is great! I'll Netflix it! But, get this - Netflix wasn't renting it, they were only letting you use their "watch instantly" feature so you can view it on your computer. Well, I'll have none of that! So I finally broke down and purchased it. After all, why shouldn't I own the movie that means so very much to me? (Post Script: After the purchase, Netflix added the DVD to their library. Oh well.)

Kady in the tub
I was so excited about the DVD release. Not only would I have a pristine copy of perhaps the worst movie ever made, but (ready?) there's a commentary featuring Pia, Rik and director Matt Cimber. I was thrilled. I knew after 26 years they were going to trash their own movie and along the way, give me details on "what were they thinking?" But Egowood knows no bounds. I digress - on GLITTER's commentary, director Vondie Curtis-Hall rhapsodizes about what a great movie he made. Maybe he's pulling an Andy Kaufman, but if he's serious someone needs to stick him with a pin because he's living in a Hollywood bubble. Also in that bubble are roommates Pia, Rik and Matt, because these three idiots still insist BUTTERFLY is a great movie, even though they are keenly aware of the many people who have criticized it (I'm being kind here). They defend this movie like I've never witnessed. Guys, it's decades later. Come on. Let it go. You made a really bad movie. Embrace it. A good artist can look at their work and recognize good from bad. Oh, right, a good artist.

The commentary is brimming with bunker mentality. It's excuse after excuse on why their film is so great and how everybody else is wrong. Rik even goes so far as to say "The press was jealous." Astonishing. They defend Pia winning the Golden Globe for Best Female Newcomer, but no one mentioned how Rik paid for the voters' trips to Las Vegas. Also not mentioned, the number of Razzies BUTTERFLY accumulated (10 nominations and 3 wins...Pia won worst actress and worst new star...though her next movie, LONELY LADY, would best her with 11 noms). They even compare Pia to Ava Gardner and Rita Hayworth. Forget about taking a pin to their bubble. Someone needs to slap these people in the faces. And now that I think about it, if the Golden Globes defended their choice of Pia Zadora as Best Female Newcomer, how wrong were they???
Jess (Stacy Keach) helps Kady (Pia Zadora) with her bathOne of the scenes that made me laugh the loudest is perhaps the most "famous" scene in the movie. As part of her seduction, Kady, that hot bucket of daughter, slinks into a hot bucket of water for a bath, coaxing Dad to help her with her female parts. The scene is meant to be shocking, but instead it's hysterical largely due to Stacy Keach's facial expressions of ecstasy (that's a good name for a band!). This got one of the biggest laughs in the theater. Hundreds of people howling. I couldn't wait to get the DVD to see what the commentary said about this bellylaugh scene. I thought they'd gloss over this embarrassment, but no. Imagine my surprise when they featured a picture of this scene, with Keach's twisted face, on the box itself. Wow. Furthermore, in the commentary, the director praised Keach for his facial expressions.

All I can say is it was lucky BUTTERFLY's noir-velist, James M. Cain (DOUBLE INDEMNITY, THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE), died four years before they made this film. Otherwise, he would have drank himself to death. Okay, he did do that, but if he hadn't this movie would have gotten him to.

Kady (Pia Zadora) and Jess (Stacy Keach), happy as clams
Like THE COTTON CLUB, the story behind the movie BUTTERFLY is much more interesting than the movie itself. In the commentary, Rik said his office had a view of the Plaza theater where he could see the "lines around the block." Well Rik, if you saw the lines, then maybe you saw me. But what you didn't see is how just about everyone laughed your movie right off the screen. So for that, I want to thank you. You have provided me with decades of laughter, and it's a gift that apparently keeps on giving, as even your commentary had me in stitches: "There's so much emotion in this movie. I don't know how anyone could leave the theater without feeling drained."

And the circle jerk (or jerks in a circle) doesn't stop there. They go on to say, "I don't think the book was as good as the script." Oh my. Even if that were true, they're basically saying "my script is better than the book." Matt Cimber also commented on the last scene: "We never even rehearsed the scene. They just played it right through." Well, IT SHOWS! So stop crowing about your weaknesses.
The glorious miscasting of Ed McMahon
Heck, these clueless men even went to bat for the glorious miscasting of Ed McMahon. Pia, however, in a moment of clarity (or someone took the gun away from her head), actually referred to that casting move, saying, "it was ridiculous." And for a brief moment in time, Pia and I were on the same page.

Some at the screening thought BUTTERFLY was creepy. Perhaps they're right. But I couldn't ever take the subject matter seriously because at no time did I feel I was watching a story. Nope, it was always a bunch of actors drowning in a ludicrous script. But if you want creepy, on the DVD Rik explains how he felt when he met Pia: "Pia looked 10, 15 at the most, and I fell in love with her at first sight."
Rik was 49 when he married 17 year old Pia Zadora, and for one year in the 1960s, director Matt Cimber (nee Thomas Ottoviani) was married to Jayne Mansfield. So it sort of makes sense that both boys would team up to make a movie like BUTTERFLY. I mean, I don't think they would have made FROST/NIXON. Now here's a question for all you therapists and analysts out there - what would you say about a couple who name their baby Kady, after the teen girl who manipulated her dad to sleep with her? Because that's what Rik and Pia did.

Perhaps the parallel lives of Kady and Pia come together once more in Kady's dialogue: "If that's bad, then I want to be bad." In all fairness, Pia has great pipes and a decent singing career (she opened for Sinatra). In fact, she sings BUTTERFLY's closing credits song, "It's Wrong For Me To Love You." Doubly fitting, since in spite of BUTTERFLY, or more likely because of it, I love you, Pia Zadora.

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