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....

Monday, April 19, 2010

Updates and California Gigolo: A Quickie Review

I know that one of the great cliches of blogging is the post either apologizing for not blogging or a promise to post content "soon," both of which I've been guilty. That said, I promise a review of Taboo, American Style (all four parts!) will go up "soon." Since it's a mini-series, I figured better to review the full arc than to write about it bit by bit. Accordingly, I had the foolish/ambitious idea to watch them all consecutively, but, alas, nearly five hours of pornography is a lot to endure. (I've got the final 20 minutes of Part 3 and all of Part 4 to finish.)

In the meantime, I'll steal a page from The Gore-Gore Girl and whip up a quickie. (Eesh, does that sound kinda dirty....)

California Gigolo (1979)

Directed by:
Bob Chinn

Kitty Shayne
Liza Dwyer
Vanessa Tibbs (as Vannessa Tibbs)
Veri Knotty
Don Fernando
John Holmes

In the film, John Holmes is a gigolo. In California. We know he's in California because, under the opening theme song (which is likely to at least partially stick in your brain: "Gigo-gigo-gigo-gigo-gigolo") and between scenes are montages of "Southern California Scenes" like beaches, boardwalks, Rodeo Drive, and on and on and on. Possibly filmed for the movie, they're just as likely to be stock footage compiled for a tourism film. Regardless, shots like these always make me wonder if any of the bystanders in these scenes ever found out they made an unwitting cameo in a porno....

The scenes "between" montages play out as a day in the life of Our Gigolo, aided by his assistant(?), Gomez (Don Fernando). Two scenes that are noteworthy are the pairings of Holmes and Veri Knotty and Holmes and Vanessa Tibbs. The former because Veri Knotty (per usual) demonstrates the ability from which she took her name: tying her labia in a knot. It always cracks me up because unlike a talent like, say, Ron Jeremy's auto-fellatio, Knotty's quirk isn't even attempted to be worked into a narrative (RJ always seems to be told off by a woman and take solace in his "ability"), she just, at some point, stretches out her labia and ties them into a knot. The other scene (Tibbs) is worth mentioning because the set-up is almost a classic cliche (Tibbs picks up Holmes, finds out he's a "sex educator," bets him he can't show her anything she hasn't already seen, "loses" the bet when he whips out his massive dong), and while she doesn't seem uncomfortable during the scene, you have to wonder if something set her on edge since it appears to have been her only performance. (Although it appears a little more mileage was gotten from the scene due to its inclusion on The Best of Gail Palmer, although I'm not sure what - if anything - Palmer had to do with Gigolo....)

Finally, while Holmes's disastrous off-screen life is well-known and chronicled, I never viewed his films through the prism of what would have been going on after the films wrapped. After Gore-Gore Girl's comment in an earlier post, though, while I didn't necessarily have a hard time watching Holmes, I found my view slightly altered.

Anyway, Gigolo wasn't a classic, but it wasn't a dog. And it gets bonus points for Don Fernando's nutty charisma. C+