Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Pornonomy Reviews: Taboo American Style Parts 1-4

Taboo American Style (1985)
Directed by:
Henri Pachard

Carol Cross
Gloria Leonard
Kelly Nichols
Sarah Bernard
Taija Rae
Frank Serrone
Joey Silvera
Paul Thomas
R. Bolla
Steve Lockwood
Tom Byron

Holy cow. This mini-series was a lot to digest.

It seems strange to say that a film (for simplicity's sake, and since I watched this series as a whole instead of by the parts, I'm going to refer to Parts 1 to 4 as "the film") that features acts of incest and has the word "taboo"* in the title isn't about incest, but Taboo American Style really isn't about incest: it's about a teenage girl shrewdly and mercilessly manipulating everyone around her in order to achieve her goals of power and, later, film stardom.

The scope of the film is far to great to provide a scene by scene account, and although some might scoff at the idea of worrying about "spoilers" in a porn, there are enough startling moments that it'd be a disservice to lay them out here.

The film primarily involves the well-to-do Sutherland family: father Harding (Paul Thomas), mother Emily (Gloria Leonard), soon to leave for college son Tom (Tom Byron), and daughter Nina (Raven, who, throughout the film, sports a cavalcade of absurd hair styles). Tom is interested in Lisa Chinaski (Taija Rae), the daughter of the family's handy man Jack (R. Bolla). In order to keep up appearances, Emily forbids Tom from seeing the girl, a decision that ultimately backfires when Nina orchestrates a liason between Tom and Lisa later that night. Not only are we introduced to Nina's penchant for sneakiness, but to the fact that the Sutherland household needs to enact a "close your bedroom door!" policy.

After subsequently undermining her mother by sleeping with Lisa's brother, Clete...yes, Clete (Frank Serrone), Nina strikes her mother a definitive blow by leading Harding to the location of an elicit tryst between Jack Chinaski and Emily. Nina is then able to capitalize on her father's vulnerability by coaxing him into a sexual relationship. Now that I think about it, that's the definitive blow.

From this point forward, she is able to orchestrate about every inappropriate pairing you can imagine - shy of any male/male contact, of course - without seeming to derive any physical pleasure from these encounters; merely the psychological satisfaction of controlling others. Ironic considering the first time Nina is shown in a sexual situation it's while she's guiding Lisa through the theory and practice of achieving orgasm.

In a recent post, The Gore-Gore Girl wrote that she frequently finds herself watching a non-pornographic films with "structure, style, or some other intangible element that makes you continually think you're watching porn." Conversely, I find myself often watching a porn and thinking how it's story could be adapted for a "normal" rating. I kept thinking that in TAS, if Nina was an au pair, or friend-of-the-family's daughter visiting over summer vacation (basically anything that wouldn't make her fucking the father figure unmarketable) it easily could have been grouped with Poison Ivy or The Hand That Rocks the Cradle. There were multiple times during the span of the film that I actually expected someone to get murdered! A lot of the ambient score, um, underscored that feeling since it wouldn't have been out of place in a psycho-sexual thriller. (To beat this idea into the ground, the tension that builds during the scenes between Emily and her therapist, Dr. Berman - played by director Henri Pachard** - is very Basic Instinct-y.) Additionally, there's a point at the height of the "Nina runs the house" phase of the film, that almost has paranormal undertones, like the kid that can control people in that Twilight Zone episode (and part of The Movie, of course).

Ultimately, Nina's able to use her powers of manipulation to realize her dreams of movie stardom. I'll leave it to you to guess if she ever gets a sort of comeuppance to pay for her actions, which you may get right, however perhaps not in the way you think you'd get it right.... Ooh, cryptic!

Overall, the film is very well realized and acted. I found myself noting on multiple occasions the quality of the camera work and scene staging (although it was a little disappointing that, in Part IV, after a bunch of great production, the boom mic had to make an appearance; ah, well, I guess it is porn, after all). If there was one knock against the film, technically, it would have been in some of the editing. There were a few occasions when there was pretty great tension building - as in the aforementioned therapist scenes - but the scenes suffered from a bit too much repetition, cuts between a character and a door you expected to open, for instance. Still, that's a pretty small demerit in the scope of the overall film.

Lastly, I've said before that I consider whether or not I'd recommend a film to one of my less porn-versed friends. Taboo American Style suffers a sort of double-whammy (it's not a comedy - the easiest films to recommend to a newbie - and it deals with a bunch of incest), but in terms of it's pretty great direction and cast and it's unique structure (a true four part mini-series, as opposed to a few films that are sequels), I'd willingly recommend to anyone I thought could handle it. B+

* Taboo American Style appears in the Wikipedia entry for the Taboo film series, but while I may be wrong, I don't think that's accurate. Granted, I'm not familiar enough with the Taboo series to know how related #3-23 are - I've seen 1 and 2, and 2 was tangentially related to the first - but it seems to me TAS is its own entity. I'd wager that it was titled "taboo" because the word, in the wake of the first few films, became synonymous with incest. And it probably didn't hurt that the first few films were pretty successful. To that end, it's kind of funny that "American Style" was included, too, given the supposed "snowclone (xxx), (nationality) Style" as a "minor cultural meme...". As a weak analogy, it'd be like naming a movie about the revenge of a super hero "Super Man Strikes Back."

** While it's probably more common than I realize, I though Pachard making a cameo in his film was great. Like, I really enjoy the work of Paul Vatelli, but I wouldn't know him if we sat next to one another on an airplane. Unless, I guess, Stiff Competition was the in-flight movie and the topic came up....


  1. I haven't read the whole review, because parts 3 and 4 will be coming in the mail soon, but I like what you've written so far.

    My favourite moment so far is in part two when she makes R. Bolla jerk off into her hand and then shoves it in her mum's mouth. That shit literally made me sit up and exclaim, "Oh my god!!" out loud. Totally nuts, and totally awesome.

  2. I almost ordered the serie not too long ago, but I've decided to go for two other films. Reading your review it looks like I will have to get them later this year. Henri Pachard appears regulary in his movies. Shaun Costello, Carter Stevens and Phil Prince did that often also in their films.

  3. Gore-Gore Girl: Haha! No doubt. Without getting into it, there's one other part later, for sure, that may not top that one, but had me going "What. In. The. Fuck?!?"

    Jimmy: Do check them out, definitely. Good to know about Pachard, and the rest. I'll have to keep my eyes peeled!

  4. Roger, I'm sure you've seen it, but "Lust On The Orient Xpress" could have had the sex scenes removed and still would have held up as a decent "normal" 80s TV movie.

  5. X-Ray: I actually haven't seen that one, but looking over the cast, I think I definitely should! Thanks for the tip.

  6. Well, I watched them all - which other WTF moment were you referring to?

    Oh, and I saw the boom shot too! I always look out for that kind of thing. I find it endearing.

    As for reccing it to friends who don't watch porn, I explained it to a very good friend the other day, and he was like, "Good god, why would you watch that? It sounds awful!" I realised at that moment, some stuff is not gonna go over well - like incest - unless the person understands the genre. I told him he shouldn't judge me, unless he wants to be judged for watching zombie movies and basically said his reaction was really douchey. He apologised.

  7. G-G G: As stupid as it might sound, I...don't remember what the other WTF was. Thinking back, it *may* have had something to do with the Leonard/Byron scene, but don't know what - or why - I reacted to the first time around.

    If/when I ever watch the series again, I'll try to make a note....