Monday, January 17, 2011

Pornonomy Reviews: Summer Camp Girls

Summer Camp Girls (1983)

Directed by:
Robert McCallum

Brooke Fields
Janey Robbins
Joanna Storm
Kimberly Carson
Shauna Grant
Tara Aire
Eric Edwards
Hershel Savage
Marc Wallice
Michael Holman
Paul Thomas

Camp Quim is a summer camp for priveleged trouble makers. Run by a woman named Olga (Honey Wilder, in a non-sex role), the camp seems to only have two counselors Marcy (Robbins) and Greg (Thomas). There are a couple of peripheral trouble makers; J.D. (Savage) is dating Carla (Aire) and his biker buddy Animal (Antonio Crabbe, also in a non-sex role).

A group of rich girls sent off by their families as punishment reminded me immediately of Charm School. Summer Camp Girls has only slightly more plot points holding the sex scenes together. Most of the action occurs after the girls give Olga the slip on a picnic. Veronica (Carson), Angela Cortese (Grant), and Brooke Fields's character set out together, the first two ending up in a bar, Fields content to hide out in a fisherman's (Edwards) camper. Veronica orchestrates a brawl between bikers and cowboys in the bar in order for Angela to escape - she's not as interested in getting laid as Veronica - and to determine the two manliest men in the bar.

Suzie and Tammy (Danielle and Storm) duck into a barn in order to escape some phantom rain. Predictably, shedding their wet clothes and trying to warm up in a horse blanket causes one thing to lead to another.

Meanwhile, back at a camp, Angela's father calls to let Olga know he's on his way to visit. In a panic, Greg sets out to find all the AWOL campers. He happens upon Suzie and Tammy, who delight in teasing Greg (so much so that, earlier in the film, he contemplates quitting until Marcy convinces him to stay by sleeping with him, allowing him to fantasize about the girls), finally prove to be too much for him to resist. I have to admit that they staged some of the more creative fmf positions I can recall seeing.

J.D. - who seems to be trying to rehabilitate his image in order to win Angela over - and Animal pass Angela walking home from the bar. After she turns down a ride back to camp, Animal convinces J.D. to go back so he can teach her a lesson for "teasing" him in the bar. (Call me old fashioned, but facilitating a rape seems like a weird way to win a girl's heart.) Ultimately, J.D.'s conscience wins out and he turns back to rescue "trading" Carla for her. Instead of letting J.D. untie her, Angela asks him to have sex with her which will somehow "free" her from her sheltered upbringing. Or something.

At this point, Olga, Greg, Angela's father, and his henchman happen upon the scene, which seems like bad news for J.D. until Mr. Cortese finds out that J.D. is Catholic. The End!

The weird thing about Summer Camp Girls is that, for a film that is ultimately a pretty light piece of work, there's a somewhat unsettling undercurrent of violence throughout the film. The first scene in the film, between J.D. and Carla, is pretty rough - although shown as consensual, since that's how Carla "likes it"; the threat of sexual violence by the biker gang that happen upon Veronica and Angela in the bar; the threat of rape after Animal snatches Angela off the road, made darker by the glee with which Carla reacts when J.D. tells her that Animal is likely raping Angela; and even the fact that Tammy calls Suzie a bitch while pretending to be Greg.

Summer Camp Girls provides an interesting contrast with Hot Rackets, another McCallum film that, the more I think about, the more I think I underrated it before. Summer Camp Girls could have had the satisfying silliness of Hot Rackets, but instead turned out to be a series of loosely connected (though quite well-done) sex scenes. C+

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Pornonomy Reviews: Exhausted

Exhausted: John C. Holmes, the Real Story (1981)

Directed by:
Julia St. Vincent

One thing you can't help but take away from I, Goldstein was Al Goldstein's obsession with John Holmes. While talking about Holmes, and the Wonderland murder trials, he brought up Exhausted, "a strange fuck film, a pastiche of interviews, clips, and testimonials, a 'documentary' on John Holmes the man.... The film was fascinating but...phony."

From the outset, it's obvious that Exhausted was the inspiration for Amber Waves's Dirk Diggler documentary in Boogie Nights. (Although it should be said that at his rock-bottom Diggler never looks as haggard as Holmes.) While P.T. Anderson basing Boogie Nights on the rise and fall of John Holmes is well known, I was amazed to see two things in Exhausted that were recreated almost identically in Boogie Nights: a clip from a Wadd scene that became a scene in a Brock Landers film ("Good? No it's not good. It's probably the best place to eat in Los Angeles,"; San Francisco, for Wadd) and the Holmes/Bob Chinn, Diggler/Jack Horner sex scene blocking interview.

(Two other brief Boogie Nights observations: 1. The character Jessie St. Vincent must be named for Julia St. Vincent. 2. While I've read that Veronica Hart was a major part of the composite porn actress that was Amber Waves, the most Amber Waves-like performance I've seen to date was Honey Wilder in Sweet Alice, a film that I'll definitely have to review for this site.)

Goldstein mentions that Exhausted was cobbled together by St. Vincent, Holmes's 21 year old girlfriend, to take advantage of the notorious press of the Wonderland murder trials, and there's nothing to make you assume otherwise. The documentary approach is an interesting spin on what would otherwise have been a standard compilation film. While the "man on the street" aspect is fairly pointless (and, in fact, one of the "interviews" is obviously staged), the direct question and answer bits with Holmes are quite interesting. He speaks with such earnestness and feeling that it's a kind of chilling reminder that he was, by all accounts, a compulsive liar, completely delusional, or both. It's also interesting that while Holmes performed with scores of women in his career, the only actress interviewed is Seka. On the one hand it makes sense considering he had more scenes with her than any other actress (although Annette Haven and Desiree Costeau were right up there, too, according to IAFD), but on there other it begs the question why there were no other interviews. If the production of the film was as hurried as it seems, time and scheduling may have been a factor, but frankly, burned bridges and an obviously biased portrayal of Holmes seems more likely.

If you've got an opinion of John Holmes, Exhausted isn't going to change it (for the better, anyway), but is quite a fascinating film, and I'd definitely recommend it, if for no other reason than it's a trip to see a full-length version of the fictional documentary from Boogie Nights. A

A Pornonomy Book Review: I, Goldstein

I, Goldstein: My Screwed Life (2007)

Written by:
Al Goldstein & Josh Alan Friedman

Al Goldstein is, by his own design, a disgusting man. He's unapologetically crass, sloppy, and obsessed with sex. From all indications, the seminal (pun partially intended) magazine he founded, Screw, was exactly the same.

His autobiography is told on three levels: a chronological look at his life, the "current" moment of Goldstein on the Staten Island Ferry discussing his then present day life as a homeless man, and through excerpts from Screw.

The first and third perspectives prove to be the most interesting, a life story being the reason most people pick up an autobiography to begin with, and the excerpts from his magazine demonstrating how Screw is simultaneously priceless and worthless in the annals of porn. While it was one of, if not the only, periodical to catalogue the goings on of the porn and sex world throughout its run and has interviews with the majority of the important figures throughout the industry, at least from what's provided in the book, Goldstein's interview technique and interests seem to leave a little to be desired. (It seemed like questions to men regarded the size of their dicks, and to women about the level of their enjoyment for fellatio and anal sex.)

His "present day" story is relatively interesting, but there is a pity party aspect - especially when he talks about his estrangement with his son - that seems at odds with the "give a fuck" persona that Goldstein spent so much time cultivating.

Still, the book is extremely readable - the vitriol with which he speaks of Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon demonstrates both his lack of decency and his way with (dirty) words - and covers basically the entire span of porn in America. There's not much in the way of thought-provoking analysis, but there sure are a bunch of fascinating anecdotes. B+

Yeah, this might be a book review, but I'm still going to count it towards my 2011 review count because fuck it, that's why.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Pornonomy Reviews: Baby Cakes

Baby Cakes (1982)

Directed by:
Bob Chinn

Jamie Leigh
Misty Regan
Rhonda Jo Petty
Victoria Slick
Billy Dee
Blair Harris
Mike Horner
R.J. Reynolds
Randy West

If there's something I'm (slowly) learning, it's that it's not a very good idea to start mentally writing these reviews while watching the films. I'd worked out a food analogy to describe Baby Cakes: while it may be interesting and satisfying to have a six course, avante garde meal prepared by a molecular gastronomist, sometimes you just want a cheeseburger and fries. I was going to say that Baby Cakes was like the latter - nothing Earth-shattering, not a reinvention of the wheel (to mix metaphors), but a solid example of an American classic. And while the description fits much of the film, in order to complete the analogy, it'd need to be altered to say that while eating the burger, much of it was delicious, but then with the last few bites you realize someone had put tartar sauce on the bun. It's not terrible, just kind of weird.

There's a tried and true convention of porn pairing sexually experienced characters with sweet, simple sexual naifs and having at least one of the plot points being the former trying to get the latter to loosen up. In Baby Cakes, the "party girls" are Rhonda and Denise (well-played by Rhonda Jo Petty and Victoria Slick) and the naif is Suzy (Jamie Leigh), an avid cyclist. The film opens with the three of them returning home, presumably with a night out on the town, with two guys. Rhonda and Denise head upstairs while Rhonda goes to the garage. The scene is cut between the two couples in the bedroom (the same bed, in fact), and Rhonda working on her bicycle; the juxtaposition of what the friends "get off" on, is fairly obvious.

The next morning, Suzy convinces the pair to ride to Los Angeles so Suzy can enter the prestigious Grand Prix (which would be like a runner convincing her friends to run 500 miles to Boston to enter the Marathon...).

Along the way, the three friends meet three surfers at a motel: shy Charlie (Randy West), and fun-loving dudes Steve and Jimmy (Billy Dee and Blair Harris)...whaddayaknow, a mirror-image group!

Suzy and Charlie take a walk on the beach while the other four make use of the guys' room (which also makes you wonder if Rhonda and Denise can only have sex if they're in the same room). The girls set out on their bikes while guys go to surf, all six having made plans to meet up further down the road later that night.

When the ladies stop at a gas station, they're harassed by a couple of goons in an RV (Mike Horner and some other doofus). It's here that the burger gets its tartar sauce.

After the two sets of friends meet up at the beach, in order to get Suzy past her hang ups regarding Charlie, Rhonda gives her two sips of wine and then goes down on her. Romance!

Then the next morning, through some machination that was either cut from the film or just wilfully not explained, Rhonda and Denise are captured by the RVing goobers.

Of course, Charlie et al. act the White Knight(s) and come to the rescue, and the ne'er-do-wells get their comeuppance. Now, a proper resolution would be the group heading on to LA for Suzy to enter (and then win) the Grand Prix. And then there'd be a celebratory orgy (this is porn, after all). Instead, the movie just ends.

If the last half hour had lived up to the first fifty minutes, Baby Cakes would be worth an A- in my opinion. Unfortunately, shortcomings from the last 37.5% of the movie - the lack of feeling when Charlie and Suzy get together, the lack of dramatic tension during the abduction (do in part to Mike Horner's inability to play "menacing"; he seems like he's too nice a guy to play a slimeball convincingly), the lack of plot resolution - detract from the stuff that was working in the first 62.5% - the genuinely likable characters and dialogue (especially the presumably ad-libbed scene between Dee and Harris, before they meet the girls; in fact, the more I see Billy Dee, the more impressed I am with his natural acting ability), and the very simple but formally strong way in which the sex scenes were shot. Still, the pros ultimately out-weigh the cons. B

Friday, January 7, 2011

Pornonomy Reviews: Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland - An X-Rated Musical Fantasy (1976)

Directed by:
Bud Townsend

Angel Barrett
Astrid Hayase
Kristin Steen
Juliet Graham
Kristine DeBell
Nancy Dare
Bree Anthony
Terri Hall
Alan Novak
Bruce Finklesteen
Ed Marshall
John Lawrence
Ron Nelson
Tony Richards

I either missed a central point of Alice, or it just wasn't super well-considered. In the beginning, Alice's (DeBell) boyfriend (Nelson) alludes to the fact that he'd like to have sex, but she wants nothing to do with it. Dejected, he leaves, pointing out that she's an adult, and adults in relationships have sex. All this lays the groundwork for an obvious transition to Wonderland where Alice will embark on sexual discovery, but instead, when she gets there, her stance is that she's been too busy growing up to have a childhood, so she's going to grow up again. Growing up "again" seems contradictory to the fact that she was still living life as a "girl" in Normalland.

The story of Alice in Wonderland is pretty impossible to play straight. By it's absurd nature, it can go in one of two ways: dark (see, for example, Through the Looking Glass) or light. This film (especially since it's a musical) tends towards the latter, although, in my opinion, not nearly enough. While there are a few quasi-zany moments (the White Rabbit's "The Queen's a bitch" aside, for example), much of the film is played well, just not particularly entertaining.

A few notes of interest:

1. A few cast members (Dare and Hall) were also in the aforementioned Through the Looking Glass;
2. It would be possible to convince a gullible friend that the actor that plays the Mad Hatter (Novak) is a young Jerry Seinfeld;
3. There is a "gag" in which two of the Queen's knights are gay, resulting in the King referring to them as "fags" in verse. Interestingly, though, neither the gag nor the slur actually seem malicious nor judgmental, merely matter-of-fact.

While reading about the Era's music (and music in Sexploitation films generally), I came across a blog that had Alice's soundtrack available for download. While the songs weren't bad - especially by adult film standards - I can't think of an occasion that I'd voluntarily listen to the soundtrack outside of the film.

The film's choreography, and the way the "action" is shot (although, unless I'm remembering incorrectly, there isn't any intercourse until nearly 45 minutes into the film - prior to that the scenes are manual or oral - which would be unthinkable by modern standards). The craft of the action-framing is especially impressive considering the director was one-and-done in adult.

While Alice is undoubtedly the best porn musical I've ever scene (admittedly in a field of one film), the novelty of it being a musical can't quite make up for the fact that it's not as "fun" as it could be. There is a lot in there that, handled slightly differently, could have been an all-timer, but as it stands I was left underwhelmed. B-

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Pornonomy Reviews: Skintight

Skintight (1981)

Directed by:
Ed DePriest

Annette Haven
Connie Peterson
Cris Cassidy
Lee Caroll
Lisa De Leeuw
Mai Lin
Maria Tortuga
Starr Wood
Aaron Stuart
Billy Dee
Blair Harris
Mike Horner
Michael Morrison
Paul Thomas
R.J. Reynolds
Randy West

I thought I had this review pretty well written while I was watching Skintight. That is, until the last twelve minutes. I was going to say that Skintight seemed to be cobbled together with scenes from (at least) two different movies: a light-hearted film that focuses on a sex therapy clinic, staffed by Annette Haven, Lee Carroll, and Maria Tortuga, and a film in which Paul Thomas deals with a fiance saving herself for marriage with leather and chain fantasies springing from a fetish magazine.

The last scene (in which Paul Thomas rapes Maria Tortuga) ties both directions together with a darkness and intensity not even barely hinted at earlier in the film.

The way the film (and it's seemingly contradictory tones) comes together in the end leaves me with two (seemingly contradictory) opinions:

1. The film is a hot mess that was put together on the fly (or there's a director's cut out there with an additional 30 minutes that makes sense from beginning to end), or

2. Skintight is a bit of auteur genius that has more in common with Cronenberg's Spider or Herzog's Bad Lieutenant than with Deep Throat or even Behind the Green Door.

If it's the former, then I can at least say that it's worth checking out for a great opening credit sequence (on par with Triple Xposure), and the film rates a C-.

If it's the latter, though, Skintight is the most mind-bending adult film I've seen since the excellent Neon Nights and rates an A.

At this point I'm pretty much split 50/50, and I'm not sure if I'll ever be able to firmly come down on one side or the other.

Pornonomy Reviews: Charm School

Charm School (1986)

Directed by:
Henri Pachard

Annette Haven
Bambi Allen
Jacqueline Lorians
Nikki Charm
Sheena Horne
Sheri St. Clair
Billy Haven
Nick Random
Scott Irish
Steve Drake
Tom Byron

Because Henri Pachard and Annette Haven's names are attached to this picture, I decided to check it out against my better judgement. Ultimately, it was a decision that was, while not disastrous, at the very least unfortunate.

Charm School can't be described as having a plot, it merely has a location: a charm school (uh duh). The concept of having a group of spoiled, trouble-making girls under the watch and tutelage of a strict school mistress is pretty fertile ground for either comedy (hijinks!) or drama (catty sniping), but this movie has neither. Instead, you get a cast of hastily considered characters that are basically interchangeable and sex scenes that are only barely set up, including two fmf scenes with two girls and the gym teacher (the hideously muscled Francois who spends entirely too long flexing - including a hilarious/horrifying display of his glutes - before the action proceeds) and two other girls and a pool boy. Both were set into action when Miss Callier (Haven) tells the girls to go to the gym and to the pool to work on their poise...or some such thing.

The only semblance of a plot is that stuck up suck up Victoria (Sheena Horne) and mob princess Rocky (Sheri St. Claire) don't like each other. Miss Callier attempts to break down their animosity through coached lesbian sex (of course!), but fails, resulting in Rocky having sex with Victoria's boyfriend (Scott Irish) which in turn results in Victoria having sex with Rocky's father (Nick Random).

Haven as Miss Callier should have been a strong point, given her knack of coming across as prim, proper, and even a bit icy (even when her characters are none of those things explicitly), but much of her dialogue comes off as ad libbed...stiffly. If there's a bright spot to be found, it's Nikki Charm's charisma.

While Lust on the Orient Express was an example of why a 1985 cut off is shortsighted, Charm School acts to reaffirm my initial decision. Actually, perhaps a better rule of thumb would be to just stamp anything shot on video as "Rejected." D

Ringin' in the New Year

January is the time for making lofty plans and promises that are meant well, but unlikely to be seen through to completion.

So in that spirit, I'm making this claim: my goal for 2011 is to do 100 reviews. At 1.923076 repeating per week, it's a doable number, but I'll have to keep semi-productive so I'm not trying to do 70 reviews the last week of December.

I've got two outlined already, so if I can get those up in the next day or so, I'll already be ahead of the curve. Hooray!