What do the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals (S.I.N.A.), the film Is There Sex After Death?, a faux Howard Hughes announcing he plans to be frozen through cryogenics and a campaign to ban breast-feeding all have in common?
The answer is that Alan Abel — and in many instances his wife Jeanne — were behind these media hoaxes, among others.
Their daughter, Jenny Abel, captures her parents’ story over the past 50 years in the documentary Abel Raises Cain, which she narrated and co-directed with boyfriend Jeff Hockett.
For the past four months the filmmakers have been screening at micro-cinemas, art house theaters and festivals and will continue at Santa Monica’s Unurban Coffeehouse, 3301 Pico Blvd., on Monday, March 10th.
The evening will begin with a showing of the elder Abels’ Is There Sex After Death? at 6 p.m., with Abel Raises Cain following at 8 p.m.
Jenny Abel has been fascinated with her parents’ career and has been compiling newspaper clippings, photos, etc. since she was a teenager.
In 1998, when she was in college, Abel decided to make the documentary because she didn’t think news programs had captured who her father really is, often in segments as short as three minutes.
“I devoted an hour and a half and I still barely scratch the surface with my dad’s prolific career,” Jenny Abel says. “I felt compelled to do justice to my dad’s story only because if I didn’t do it nobody else would.”
The younger Abel would spend the next seven years making the film. In 2003, she and Hockett dived into the script, went over all the archival footage and plotted the film process.
By the end of 2004, post-production was complete and the film premiered at the Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, Utah in January 2005.
“We’re just taking this movie on the road and trying to get it in as many nooks and crannies as we can,” Jenny Abel says.
The filmmakers are currently employing a hybrid-distribution strategy, where they self-distribute in American markets and license the film to foreign entities in international markets. So far, they have license deals in the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Canada.
Stateside, a screening tour of micro-cinemas she learned about from a fellow moviemaker led her to Gerry Fialka and the Unurban Coffeehouse.
Fialka says he likes the documentary because in essence Jenny Abel isn’t providing a commercial about her father.
He was also struck by the meaning behind the Abel hoaxes.
“I was attracted to it because it’s an exercise in developing critical thinking,” Fialka adds. “Basically, it comes down to when you’re laughing you’re learning.”
Alan Abel says that he uses deception because he believes the mind is the last frontier of exploration.
“We don’t realize the incredible capacity that we have with the mind, and it is shameful, especially in light of the Internet age,” the author-lecturer-composer points out.
Jenny Abel adds that deep down her father wants to get people to reflect because they normally do not do so.
“I do think we are a nation of sheep, everybody just jumps on the bandwagon when anything comes along,” she says.
A notable vehicle, and favorite hoax of both the father and daughter, is the 1950s campaign for S.I.N.A., a moral mission to clothe all horses, cats, dogs and cows.
With slogans like “A nude horse is a rude horse,” the campaign included a multitude of visuals depicting fully or partly clothed animals.
“It took off like grassfire,” Alan Abel recalls. “I was amazed and also a bit frightened by stuff.”
He got an abundance of front- page stories and interviews, including Walter Cronkite for a show on CBS News. Cronkite found out later it wasn’t for real.
Another notable hoax is related to Howard Hughes. When it was reported in the early ’70s that Hughes was planning to make movies again, Abel submitted a script treatment called “Who’s Going to Bite Your Neck Dear, When I am Gone.” After multiple tries and no response, Abel decided to sort of smoke the recluse out.
A friend arranged a press conference at a New York City hotel in 1971, where Abel posed as a full-facial-bandaged Hughes claiming he would be cryogenically frozen.
Jenny Abel says her father portrayed a bandaged Hughes twice. In one instance, he got stuck in a wheelchair and a revolving door. Given the intensity of the surrounding media, he had to be taken out by helicopter.
Comedy is a big part of Jeanne and Alan Abel’s lives and a highlight of their creative partnership was the 1970s spoof, Is There Sex After Death?
The film, which is also showing at the Unurban Coffeehouse, is a pseudo-documentary about sexual attitudes in the 1970s.
Alan Abel says that if one were to get aroused watching this film, he would strongly recommend psychiatric help.
To promote the film in the ’70s, the Abels even had a fictional “International Sex Bowl.”
Abel says their anonymous financial backer made what he wanted: a lot of money. The Abels did it just for fun.
The documentary genre hasn’t been the only type of film idea to circulate about Alan Abel’s life. He was in talks with the Walt Disney Company and Universal more than 20 years ago about making a feature film.
Disney declined, while Abel recalls overhearing lawyers representing Universal saying they wanted to wait until he died to buy the movie rights for much less.
So, in January 1980 Abel submitted his obituary to The New York Times, garnering eight inches of text in the “newspaper of record” and hence ended up having it picked up by newspapers all around the country.
Abel says the studio’s lawyers contacted his lawyer three days later to make an offer. When news broke out that he was alive, the offer was taken back.
The media hoaxer ultimately has no regrets.
“When I go the next time, no one will believe it,” he says. “That is the way to achieve immortality.”
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