December 15, 2005
The Dildo Song.
Thanks to Cinema Minima for the tip about this very amusing parody of 50s toy ads, but for adults. It's a very catchy schlong, er, song.
Thank, or blame, filmmakers Robert D. Brooks, Alastair Anderson and Koralee Nickarz. Enjoy!
December 11, 2005
Adult Classics Reviewed in The X List
Behind the Green Door
Talk Dirty to Me
December 9, 2005
The X List.
Judging by the teasingly neon pink and black cover, and the subtitle "Guide to Movies That Turn Us On," The X List practically cries out "Naughty! Naughty!" like a Times Square peep show barker - psst, wanna see something dirty? Ultimately, it proves neither naughty nor dirty - but it is a fairly engaging collection of essays and film reviews. Edited by New York Daily News critic Jami Bernard, who gathers a fine assortment of her peers from the National Society of Film Critics, The X List works well enough as a collective examination of the wide range of people and films that we find arousing.
I don't usually as a rule say this - not even on an adult-oriented site such as this one - but I'll say it now: the book could use more porn. There's something liberating in writing about an adult film; critics don't always allow themselves the same room to roam when writing about more mainstream erotic cinema. And the porn titles included here are the old chestnuts Behind the Green Door, Deep Throat, and Talk Dirty To Me. We've all read about Deep Throat before - and probably all seen the documentary about it, too - but Emmanuel Levy's fair-minded essay on the legendary film is a worthy addition to the discussion. Levy's dissection of the film is from a historical perspective and not as much directly about the film itself, but then again, as he notes, the film artistically doesn't live up to its hype - though, for its time, "it was superior to its competition." Which isn't saying much.
Meanwhile, The Philadelphia Inquirer's Carrie Rickey remembers when she first went behind the Green Door, age 19, same age as Marilyn Chambers, "a Meg Ryan-type who played Gloria, the innocent babe abducted and whisked off to a private sex club where onstage she is stripped, caressed by tender women in black cassocks, sucked by a coven of hippies and penetrated by male trapeze artists in crotchless tights." Oh my. "Was my face red!" exclaims Rickey. "When the lights went came up, I recall lacing my boyfriend's fingers into mine and joking, 'Now that's process art.'" Rickey's admiration of the film from both a historical and personal standpoint give one a new appreciation of what might previously have seemed dated and corny.
More interesting, though, is Charles Taylor's probing piece on Talk Dirty to Me.
Taylor writes: "Even with the predictability inherent in a porn scenario, put a gal in the sensible blouse and skirt that Juliet Anderson's real estate agent wears in Talk Dirty to Me, and the moment she lifts that skirt to reveal she's not wearing underwear carries a real erotic thrill. The dirty fun in porn," Taylor continues, "lies in the way every encounter holds the potential for sex." And Talk Dirty, part of porn's so-called "Golden Age," also starred John Leslie, who was, Taylor notes, "born to fuck on camera... The slyest, funniest, most appealing man ever to work in porn movies." He equates no-nonsense co-star Anderson as the Joan Blondell of porn, while the other women in the film, Chris Cassidy and Jesse St. James, are nicely analyzed (why does that word suddenly seem dirty, too?) - the tall, natural looking strawberry blonde Cassidy as doing erotic things with her hips, and the slim, platinum blonde St. James "one of the adult performers whose beauty denoted class. [She's] vulnerable and sexy, with the warm charisma that draws people to the screen."
Taylor concludes that the film is an example of porn they don't make anymore - while today's adult movies lack a similar "sense of fun and what-the-hell abandonment. What's most depressing about contemporary porn isn't the interchangeable fuck-doll personas but the pervasive joyless professionalism that turns every encounter into a transaction." Debatable in a sweeping sense, perhaps, but hard to argue against as an overall critique of the industry currently. Taylor also contributes a sidebar article on actress Annette Haven, whom he considers the Grace Kelly of porn. They definitely don't make 'em like her anymore - or at least, we don't see her likes in adult films very often these days.
There are different ways of defining erotic, and everyone has different levels of turned on, too. For me: There's the eroticism in North by Northwest found between Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint on the train at the dining car table - the gauzy focused, romantic kind of erotic; and there's the turn-ons to be found in Art School Sluts. Or, as Bernard says in her introduction, "I know it when I see it."
Writing about it, attempting to translate this to others, may not be the sexiest exercise, but the critics here do a fairly solid job conveying the passion they feel for these films. And while some of the selections are predictable, if not debatable - Unbearable Lightness of Being, Last Tango in Paris (though the sidebar on that film by Desson Thomson, remembering his awkward first viewing of that film - with his religious grandmother - is the more entertaining), In the Realm of the Senses, Intimacy, and the more recent lascivious treats Y Tu Mama Tambien, Bad Education and Mulholland Drive (with its lesbian scene that drives straight men wild) - other selections are more surprising, and interesting. They range from the way, way back - like Dave Kehr's pick the pre-code Baby Face, which, Kehr tells us, "like many films of the period, blithely ignored those restrictions [of the Production Code]. The sweaty patrons of Pop's speakeasy merrily order bootleg beers, and the camera lingers over [Barbara] Stanwyck in her lacy slips and silk dressing gowns." Or Marlene Dietrich's early gender-bending in Morocco, in which, Stephanie Zacharek writes, "there's no greater image of the sexual magnetism a performer can exert on an audience than Dietrich dressed in a man's tuxedo and crooning a blasť siren's song."
The inclusion of Michael Powell's brilliant but highly disturbing Peeping Tom would seem an odd choice for a book about erotica; the viewing of this dark film might require a very cold shower afterwards, but not from any titillation. But Peter Keough's review acknowledges this head on - in this film "the emphasis is on morbid, not desire. Like many films exploring the nature of eroticism, Peeping Tom is not very erotic itself." Certainly not. A film about a serial killer who daylights as a cameraman and then uses the camera itself as a tool of murder is not going to turn many people on sexually - but it does turn many critics on, myself included, cinematically as a brilliant exercise. As does Hitchcock's Vertigo, a film referenced here in a brief sidebar piece by Amy Taubin, and by several other films written about in the book.
Another personal favorite is captured nicely by former L.A. Times (and current Seattle Weekly) critic Sheila Benson: Nicolas Roeg's Don't Look Now is more creepy than sexy, but the famously edited sex/postcoital/dressing/undressing sequence is undeniably sensuous, "the least exploitative erotic scene in cinema," Benson states. "Every moment has a reason: to make sense of a muted smile in the final frames."
Most fun to read may in fact be the book's sidebar musings, often about a writer's confessing to drooling after a particular actress; these are surprisingly skewed toward the male POV; you'd expect a book edited by a woman to balance that out a bit more (although there is an admirable number of female critics represented as a whole, and Rickey does contribute a sharp piece on "the female gaze" - a look at how perspectives are different when a woman is behind the camera). I also enjoyed Gerald Peary's musings on his obsession with pre-wholesome Drew Barrymore - and subsequent realization that most of her older films, with the exception, he notes, of Firestarter and Poison Ivy (also the subject of Rolling Stone's Peter Travers' amusing essay) - weren't as much fun as he'd remembered; and his take on "soft-core auteur" Radley Metzger, listing out four of Metzger's finest films, including The Lickerish Quartet and the one Peary (and myself) consider his best work, Score, which amazingly enough was based on an off-Broadway play, "a Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? variant in which a George-and-Martha couple in their thirties seduce an uptight Nick-and-Honey in their twenties."
The book also brings back to our attention a few recent films that may have been lost in the shuffle or unfairly maligned, but have something in them to stir one's loins (or at least those of certain critics) - Brian DePalma's Vertigo homage Femme Fatale (when isn't a film of his an homage to something else?), In the Cut, Anatomy of Hell; a few I'd never have equated with erotic - Horror of Dracula, Bye Bye Birdie (!); and a few I'd just as soon never read about again - Eyes Wide Shut, Crash, Irreversible, the aforementioned classic, but overanalyzed, Vertigo. (And one puzzling inclusion - Jonathan Rosenbaum's fascinating look at Ayn Rand and the documentary on her, A Sense of Life; it's about the "erotics of Objectivism," but just seeing the name Ayn Rand may be enough to turn someone off all erotic thought for weeks thereafter.) But with very few exceptions, each critic's take here is a worthy, if occasionally dry, read. A collection like this calls for a little more on the side of wet, more boldness - but there's enough of it here at least to lubricate the mind. A few more - or any - pictures would have been nice, too, to break up the pages. A book about film without any stills seems a little lacking.
In short, The X List makes for enjoyable, short attention span bathroom and bedroom reading; just don't expect it to spice up the latter.