Monday, July 20, 2020

Sweet Alice (1983)

Sweet Alice takes me back. The first time I saw it - well after my initial discovery of the stack of duped VHS tapes in my dad’s closet but before I started this blog - I didn’t know anything about loops. After I watched it, I had a sneaking suspicion that the Seka scenes weren’t filmed for Sweet Alice, but the idea of a film recycling a bunch of sex scenes (six of nine, here) was completely foreign to me. What a wide-eyed naif! In the time since, I’ve seen countless examples, but few (if any) were done as well as Sweet Alice.

The story built to frame the loops is that doofy yokel Billy Joe (Kevin James) has come from New Mexico to Hollywood to find his wife, Sweet Alice (Seka). He hires private investigator Jamie Savage (Honey Wilder) since there’s no way a hayseed like Billy Joe could navigate the mean streets of LA. Turns out, Sweet Alice has become a successful porno star, and the gut-wrenching revelation disavows Billy Joe of any hope of saving his marriage. (But not immediately. First, Jamie had to break it to him by showing him a tape of Sweet Alice and Turk Lyon getting busy. Then, after wandering around for awhile, Billy Joe goes to an adult theater and sees another one of her movies. And then, he needs to see - but not confront - Sweet Alice on a porn set to get closure.) Wouldn’t you know it, though, Jamie falls hard for Billy Joe, and after he accepts that his idea of Sweet Alice was wildly different from who she actually is, he falls for Jamie, too, and they leave LA for New Mexico and a new life together.

In case the plot was too tricky to follow, there’s a main theme that’s reprised (a lot) that lays the whole thing out. It’s called “The Ballad of Billy Joe”, written and sung by “Sandy Bush”, a way off-brand Joan Baez. It primarily accompanies Billy Joe wandering and looking wistful, but once soundtracks Jamie wandering around looking wistful, while the viewer is told that:

Billy Joe's on her mind
Jamie thought about him all the time
Does he want her as much as she wants him?

The integration of the loops is pretty seamless, helped by the fact that there isn’t a substantial difference in film quality (the loops are from just a few years prior to Sweet Alice rather than, like, flashing back to 1971) and cleverly having Becky Savage (who appears in the Friendly Hot Tub loop that’s included for hardcore scenes) talk to “director” Marty (Bill Margold, who described his character as “rather ‘affected’” and sported a signature Swedish Erotica neck scarf).

The two loops that stood out were the scene with Seka, Desiree Cousteau, and John Holmes (from Ski Bunnies 2) and the scene with Seka, Lysa Thatcher, and Jamie Gillis (from Hot Flash). The first because it showed how little the acting mattered when Desiree Cousteau tripped over her line (“Do you want me to rub your bactor...back doctor?”) and they just kept rolling, and because John Holmes is Bob Ross-ing it, big time. The second because in her autobiography, Serena wrote that Jamie brought Lysa into their relationship, presumably as a plaything for the two of them, but became so infatuated that he began neglecting Serena who, in turn, got incredibly jealous. From what I can tell, this loop may have been Jamie and Lysa’s first filmed sex.

Happy little trees, indeed

The hardcore scenes shot for Sweet Alice include one between Cindy (Cindy Shephard), Sweet Alice’s friend and Ron (Jack Mason), Cindy and Sweet Alice’s sex slave, apparently, after a failed attempt at getting Jamie into a menage a trois and two between Jamie and Billy Joe. The first is after a romantic dinner and before Jamie takes Billy Joe to see Sweet Alice filming a scene, the second on a picnic after visiting the porn set, and cementing their new relationship. They’re all fine.

While I was making mental notes for this entry while watching Sweet Alice, the main thing I wanted to discuss (other than some of the buck wild wardrobe choices costumer Nancy Leonarda made for Honey Wilder) was the music. (Although first, those outfits. Yikes.)

Not "The Ballad of Billy Joe", though, the other music. There was a repeated synth and saxophone song that scored the loops, some romantic synth and strings music during the Billy Joe/Jamie scenes, and a song under the conversation between Jamie, Cindy, and Ron (and subsequently Cindy and Ron fucking) that sounds a whole lot like "Seeking" by Steve Roach and would have been right at home in an episode of Stranger Things. (Incidentally, "Seeking" was released in 1986 - three years after Sweet Alice - which begs a bunch of questions. Was there a different song in the original film with Seeking inserted on a later home video release? Was “Richard Long” credited for the musical score actually Steve Roach who didn’t release the song under his own name until years later? Does this conspiracy go all the way to the top???) The music is solid, for sure. But actually, when I was transcribing (why? Who knows?) "The Ballad of Billy Joe", I was actually struck by the judgment not just of Sweet Alice, but of “porno stars” (women, at least). To whit:

Well Billy Joe found his wife
Leading a different kind of life
Sweet Alice had become a porno star

She made love to men in twos and threes
And women down on bended knees
And she came for all the world to see

Memories of how it used to be
Seem like they all happened in a dream
And fantasies of how it used to be
Destroyed by seeing Alice on the screen

Sweet Alice paid the price
Trading love for the spice of life
Yes she became a porno star

And she found a way
Through the jungle of LA
By keeping all kinds of men hard

Sure, this is stating how Billy Joe’s memories and fantasies were “destroyed”, but there’s something cold and dismissive about Alice “pa[ying] the price” “by keeping all kinds of men hard”, especially considering it’s seems that Sweet Alice is a pretty big “porno star”: when Billy Joe first tells Jamie his wife’s name, she asks if she’s blonde, and real pretty, implying she already knew who she was. And then, when she tells him it’s possible that his wife has changed and may not want to see him, he’s like, “Naw, she’ll be real happy to get back to her friends,” conveniently overlooking the fact that she left her wedding ring on the dresser when she left and she left 53 weeks before he showed up in LA to look for her (both of which the viewer finds out later). The lyrics should have been, “Sweet Alice is a big star and Billy Joe realized he’s a goony idiot.”

I couldn’t hazard a guess at the number of times I’ve heard or read in interviews that actors have seen few to none of the films they were in, but if I were, say, Honey Wilder and watched Sweet Alice, I’d be pretty pissed at how being a “porno star” got dragged in that song. Or, who knows, maybe I’m being overly defensive and she would’ve been like, “So what, I do come for all the world to see?”

Okay, so that was a bit of a tangent. Let’s see why Robert Rimmer deemed Sweet Alice a Collector’s Choice (in "Classics" in the "Update"):

“Trying to dissuade [Billy Joe] from reforming Sweet Alice, Jamie goes to bed with him. The contrasting romantic sex (some of the most caring and believable that you’ve ever watched in an adult film), with Seka/Sweet Alice being her typical dispassionate self and Jamie/Honey being the totally loving woman (she even thales Billy Joe on a picnic), makes this a love story that most women will enjoy. Hurray for Adele Robbins, Honey Wilder, and Kevin James, who prove in this one that even with a simple little love story an adult film can be interesting.”

Women be both shoppin’ and lovin’ a love story, right?

He adds:

“As for the rest of the actors and actresses...they are stereotyped to fit the plot.”

Okay, I can’t bag on him too hard for not pointing out 66.6% of the hardcore scenes were recycled loops since I started this post by saying that the first time I saw Sweet Alice I didn’t realize it, but as I also mentioned, I had an inkling that something was amiss. And, I hadn’t watched thousands of pornos at that point. Presumably, Rimmer was familiar with the Swedish Erotica library. He also misidentifies Turk Lyon as Jamie Gillis.

Overall, I really enjoyed Sweet Alice. Kevin James is a reliable cornball and, as my wife mentioned, is really good at looking sad. 

And the awful Southern drawl slapped onto his native, nasal ‘Sconnie accent is endlessly amusing. Honey Wilder is as earnest and committed to her role as always. I’m going to go nuts and give Sweet Alice my highest rating since the blog’s reboot and issue a CC25!

° I appreciated the meta touch of “Adele Robbins” as a client of Jamie’s and her connection to Sweet Alice, and...

° That “Jamie Savage” was, presumably, a Jamie Gillis/Becky Savage mash-up. Interestingly enough, according to IAFD, Gillis and Savage never performed together.


Next up, oh random number generator?

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Adventures in COUNTIF functions

The very first thing I did when starting this Robert Rimmer Re-Watch Collector’s Choice Challenge, was to set up a spreadsheet listing every film Rimmer rated as CC. Inevitably, on the first pass, I missed some so in an effort to help catch any major oversights, I also made spreadsheets for the films listed in Jim Holliday’s The Top 100 X Rated Films of All Time and Only the Best and the pre-1988* entries from The AVN Guide to the 500 Greatest Adult Films of All Time. It’s distinctly possible these lists already exist somewhere, but after some (relatively light) web searching, I decided it was easier to do it myself.

Sure enough, cross-checking these lists led me to a few Rimmer CCs that I hadn’t logged initially, but what I found more interesting were those films that were deemed all-time greats by Jim Holliday and/or AVN but not sufficient to earn a Rimmer CC stamp. Not counting softcore entries, about 550 films received Collector’s Choice designation. Of the 80 adult films released through 1987 that AVN included in their all-timer list, Rimmer reviewed 56, and of those, rated 40 as CC. Jim Holliday’s Only the Best consisted of 251 films** (assuming I didn’t miss any...I did check my list against the index twice, but you never know). 215 of the 251 were reviewed in Rimmer’s book. 144 of those were CC-rated.

There are nine non-Collector's Choice films that appear both on Holliday’s and AVN’s lists:

All the Way In (1984)

All-American Girls (1982)

Bad Girls (1981)

Ecstasy Girls (1979)

Hot Dreams (1983)

Inside Jennifer Welles (1977)

Never So Deep (1981)

Sexcapades (1983)

Society Affairs (1982)

Those are some pretty fucking good movies. Pretty good fucking movies?

(It’s worth noting that Rimmer did rate sequels All-American Girls II and Great Sexpectations as Collector’s Choice.)

A few of the non-CC films from Holliday’s list that jump out to me are Barbara Broadcast (1977), The Filthy Rich (1981), Little Girls Blue (1977), Pandora’s Mirror (1981), and Young Like It Hot (1983). Admittedly, I have a soft (hard?) spot for The Filthy Rich because it was the first X-rated film I saw.

As for the AVN list, I was surprised that 1001 Erotic Nights (1982) and The Widespread Scandals of Lydia Lace (1982) didn’t earn their CCs. I suppose the former is a little uneven, but I was gobsmacked when I read Rimmer’s review of Lydia:

“This is a quickie that Pachard must have flipped off on a rainy Manhattan weekend, and then gave it a zoomie, cryptic title which means nothing.”

Holy shit! Them’s fighting words, Bob!

Sharon Mitchell ain't havin' it, either!

I don’t anticipate being at a loss for films to watch, but if my randomizer ever brings up a film I’m not particularly feeling, I may pick out some of the critically-acclaimed films that Rimmer didn’t rate CC to further help suss out what his criteria were.

* The “Revised and Updated” edition of The X-Rated Videotape Guide was published in 1986, but spend enough time looking at release dates of old pornos and you’ll know that giving listed dates a plus/minus of 2 years is good practice.

** 93 of the Top 100 X Rated Films of All Time made it to Only the Best. As Holliday explained, the first book was geared towards retailers so the list wasn’t intended to reflect quality considerations. Most of the films that didn’t appear in Only the Best were rationalized in chapter footnotes.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Debbie Does Dallas (1978)

It could be argued that Debbie Does Dallas is the most well-known porno of all-time. It has a fantastic title, an okay premise, and benefited from a bunch of “no such thing as bad press” controversy surrounding it’s release, from legal action pursued by the Dallas Cowboys to the hubbub surrounding the use of the Pratt Institute and Brooklyn College for filming. Looking at total reviews from IAFD and IMDB, Debbie Does Dallas edges out consensus classics (including Deep Throat, The Opening of Misty Beethoven, and Taboo) and all-time bestsellers (Pirates, Fashionistas, Dream Quest, and Flashpoint among them). Sure, total reviews is akin to starting a trial’s opening statements with “Webster’s Dictionary defines…” but whatever. Anecdotally, a few years back when I was having a conversation with some people that I’m pretty sure aren’t super into porn - classic or otherwise - about my interest in the Golden Era, they both said, “Oh, like Debbie Does Dallas.” Truly a cultural touchstone.

Anyway, the film obviously had a lot going for it (including riding the “Porno Chic” wave established by Deep Throat and Behind the Green Door), but unfortunately, I don’t think what actually ended up on celluloid deserved it’s long-lasting renown. It’s specific shortcomings are a lack of conflict, a lack of narrative consistency, poor editing, and uninspired hardcore scenes. Before elucidating those points, a brief plot recap:

Debbie (Bambi Woods, who took the “wide-eyed” character descriptor quite literally) has the opportunity to try out for the Dallas Cowgirls cheerleading squad, but only has two weeks to raise the money that will get her to Dallas. Her cheerleader friends decide to help her, declaring they’ll all put their relationships with their boyfriends on hold and get after school jobs. They quickly realize they can use their sexuality to get their horndog bosses to pay them extra, so they can fund Debbie’s trip in no time flat.

So, on to my knocks on the film.

1. Lack of conflict
Right off the bat, Debbie states that she only has two weeks to get to Dallas, but pretty much right after her friends decide to help her, there’s no sense of time or urgency. There could have been some between sex scene shots of the girls putting money in a pickle jar while crossing days off a calendar or something. And there could have been a wrinkle where two days before the deadline, when they’d just about gotten all the money they needed, the jar went missing.

There even could have been a b-story involving the girls’ football playing boyfriends. Sure, the dudes are dismayed to learn that they’re being put on hold so their ladies can help Debbie. And sure, Tim (Herschel Savage) tells Rick (David Morris) that since Debbie’s his girlfriend, he has to let her know they won’t stand for it. But imagine, if you will, that the team has a big game coming up and that they’ve learned that if they don’t get laid the night before, they play like shit. A chance at the State Playoffs is at stake. The whole thing with the boyfriends leads me to my next point.

2. Lack of narrative consistency
Okay, so Rick is Debbie’s boyfriend and is supposed to have a conversation with her. Never happens. And, we learn later, Tim is Donna's (Merle Michaels) boyfriend. But the two guys are both involved in the film’s first hardcore scene, set in the girls’ locker room shower, and neither of participating ladies - Debbie's squadmates Pat (Kasey Rodgers) and Roberta (Christie Ford) are their girlfriends, which has no consequences later. Further, Tim persuades Donna to give him a blowjob while she’s working at the library since she’d been too busy to take care of him even though he got off twice in the shower. (Although, again, as far as the sense of time is concerned, that could have been ten days prior….)

3. Poor editing
The first time this really stands out is after the culmination of the first hardcore sequence. After Tim ejaculates on Pat’s face, the camera lingers on her nuzzling at his dick and pretty obviously trying to figure out how to scrape his jizz out of the corner of her closed eye (before just using her hand) for a ridiculous 105 seconds. It could have been cut to a third of that and achieved the same effect. Similarly, the scene in which Mr. Biddle (Jake Teague) spanks Donna is too long by (at least) half.

The music was all over the map, too. The repeated Sousa-esque march made sense for the school football angle, and some of the "Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone" pastiche basslines and chicken scratch guitars were okay, but I could have done without the library music acid rock freakouts (see: "Midas Touch" by Sulphur Flowers during Mr. Greenfeld’s - R. Bolla’s - climax).

4. Uninspired hardcore scenes
Most people would probably pick the Debbie/Mr. Greenfeld scene as the film’s most memorable. I can’t that football uniformed Mr. Greenfeld chasing Cowgirls cheerleading uniform-clad Debbie around the sporting goods store with his hardon out is quite an image.

And they do make novel use of the workout equipment. It’s an okay scene, no doubt.

I think the standout, though, is the scene between Mr. Hardwick (Eric Edwards) and Roberta while Mrs. Hardwick (Robyn Byrd) watches (before getting herself in the mix at the tail-end). Whereas most of the other scenes implicitly or explicitly include the threat of wives finding out about the trysts, this one is actually instigated by the wife. After the brief view into the Hardwicks’ relationship, sex life, and Super 70s candle shop, I wish someone had made a spinoff sequel focused on them. 

(Note to self: write this treatment.)

Honorable mention goes to the record store double blowjob with Tammy (Arcadia Lake) and Lisa (Georgette Saunders) working on Tony (Tony Mansfield). The scene itself was fine, but there was about 30 seconds during which the ladies were basically eye-fucking each other and the dick in Tammy’s mouth was a secondary (at most) concern.

Hatchi matchi!

Otherwise, the scenes were pedestrian at best and completely forgettable at worst. That works out to a generous 36% hit rate, which is...not great.

Well, let’s see what Robert Rimmer had to say (listed in "Classics"):

“A laughing sexvid that fulfills at least one male fantasy - joining the girls in the high school shower. Nicely photographed with women who really seem like the teenagers that you will remember making love to in the back seat of your automobile, if you’re male. Or, if you’re female, you may identify with them. This one was a best-seller in 1980 - second only to Deep Throat.”

That’s it. In its entirety. Maybe he felt like most people were already familiar enough with Debbie Does Dallas that he didn’t need to explain it more or justify its Collector’s Choice designation. The Deep Throat entry is just about as terse, but at least there he also adds “Worth owning.”

Obviously Rimmer’s book was geared toward a specific demographic, so I won’t get into the assumptions he’s making about the reader. But he does bring up an interesting point about female viewers possibly identifying with the women in the film.

For this entry, I (re)watched Debbie Does Dallas with my wife (and sometimes collaborator). While discussing the film afterwards, she brought up a conversation she had with some female friends about the complicated sexual power women in their late teens and early twenties have. That it’s a time when she feels all eyes are on her (because they often are), and that she has the ability to bend mens’ wills to her own. And yet it’s also a time of great insecurity. Of comparing herself to her peers or the idea of societal feminine ideals and standards generally.

I suppose that Debbie Does Dallas could allow for women viewers to identify with the cheerleaders in the film. While there are elements of pressure/coercion between Debbie and Mr. Greenfeld and Tim and Donna, it never felt like either woman was unable to put a stop to what was happening. Even Donna tearfully begging Mr. Biddle not to tell her parents about fellating her boyfriend in the stacks, and begging him not to hurt her while being spanked was subverted by her cheerfully bouncing out of the library, telling Tim that they aren’t in trouble and that Mr. Biddle’s “really an all right guy.”

It's plain to see that I definitely think that Debbie Does Dallas is overrated in the pantheon of adult cinema. The safe bet would be to give it a CC25, but this is my project and my subjective criteria, so dammit, it gets a CC50.

° A Herschel Savage adlib made me actually laugh out loud. While Merle Michaels was blowing him in the library, she cough/choked on his dick a few times, and after the second, he said, “Oh, baby, don’t choke. Stay alive.”

I almost wonder if he was a little taken aback by her gagging. I know I was. While it’s almost impossible to watch a scene made in the last twenty years and not hear a sound like Merle made, it seemed like back then women only attempted a deep throat when they already knew they could do it.

I had to include this because I couldn't not.


Right-o. Up next is:

Oho! Kevin James at prime doofiness! Honey Wilder at some of her earnest-est! Should be fun to revisit.