Wednesday, October 28, 2020

800 Fantasy Lane (1979)

"I've got one quick question for Svet.... Where the hell do you get these girls??? Svetlana's films are full to the proverbial brim with tasty morsels."
That’s from the August 1984 Cinema Blue review of Surrender in Paradise. By the time Surrender was released Svetlana’s filmography as a director (or co-director) had hit double digits, but Cinema Blue could have asked the same question of Svetlana’s first film, 800 Fantasy Lane. Chris Anderson, Nancy Suiter, Desiree Cousteau, Lisa De Leeuw (in her first feature film), Aubrey Nichols, Hillary Summers, Serena, and hell, even [robot voice] UNKNOWN FEMAILE 20-A upon whom the opening credits are painted, are quite the cast of ladies.

And all things considered, 800 Fantasy Lane is quite a directorial debut. The film looks great, no doubt due to Robert McCallum’s keen eye as cinematographer. You’d be hard pressed to name too many films that made better use of “golden hour” light.

The story, such as it is, is basically abandoned just over a third of the way into the film, which is too bad, because there was plenty of room for it to develop. Gas station attendants Vic and John (Jamie Gillis and Bud Wise) are looking to vacation on the cheap when John sees a newspaper story about the real estate boom in Los Angeles. Aspiring actresses are turning to real estate, wining and dining prospective buyers. So Vic, posing as an oil baron, calls up an agency and is offered access to a cliffside retreat and a bevy of beauties. John travels along as Vic’s secretary. While the movie sticks to the story, it does a pretty good job of scene setting, highlighted by a cockblock (Vic kicking John out of a potential set up with Olivia and Samantha - Suiter and Nichols - to ostensibly ready a lease agreement) and then a reverse cockblock (John interrupting Vic’s threeway with the ladies with a phony emergency telegram from the SEC).

But then there’s a far too long S&M scene (14 minutes that could have been 6, tops, if it had to be in there at all) that saps any sort of narrative momentum. I feel about BDSM scenes the way I do about slam poetry and improv comedy: expertly done, they can be transcendent; anything less is fucking intolerable. The problem with this scene is the dynamics, both between Karen (Chris Anderson; an unnatural dominant) and Hillary Summers (whose character, as far as I can tell, was unnamed; an unnatural submissive) and the literal volume (they’re both just yelling at each other the whole time). I was reminded of Aaron Stuart’s disastrous performance in Small Town Girls. In that review, I said, “People that aren’t adept at improvisation tend to say the same few things over and over. And over. And over. (I was reminded of Veri Knotty’s unsuccessful turn as a domme in Tramp, which I watched recently in memory of Samantha Fox, RIP. Maybe the combination of improv and “menacing” is particularly difficult.)” Welp, you can add this scene to the list.

Part of what made the scene feel so disjointed was that the existence of the dungeon was never explored or explained. Like, if it turned out that the real estate office was also some sort of sex cult, sure. I guess. But before and after the scene, Karen and the ladies just seemed like very sexually eager realtors.

After that, there’s a brief concession to the plot with an actual real estate client (Alan Colberg, who appeared in a couple films and directed a couple more, including the pretty great All Night Long) telling Karen he didn’t think Vic and John were on the level and that he’d check them out. And it’s then on to a series of well-shot but narratively useless scenes including a three on one topless tennis scene (including slow motion titty bouncing that, frankly, looks way more painful than sexy, culminating in - I think - a fake lactation squirt)...

...a five on one bubble bath scene...

...and a PCP fueled-freakout hallucination sequence...

...with John sporting an enormous papier-mâché dick fountain and Vic as a ringleader with bodypainted animal ladies.

I gotta hand it to Svetlana, the film didn’t lack ambition.

Though I don't think that Svetlana ever hurt for ambition. At the very least, her purported no-nonsense approach to business and film rubbed some people the wrong way. Jon Martin said she “was pretty much an evil woman” and Richard Pachecco said working with her was “the worst experience [he] ever had in the business.” Lisa de Leeuw, in conversation with Pachecco, is slightly more charitable, saying, that she wouldn’t refuse to work with Svetlana again even though the working conditions she experienced (working 20 hour days, “fed cold hot dogs and cold coffee”) hadn’t improved between her 800 Fantasy Lane and Ultra Flesh (her second Svetlana-directed feature). Add the brutal set conditions to the Lisa recalling that she had pink eye (exacerbated by Gillis hitting her eye during a facial) and having her nose broken (by an errant whip handle wielded by Gillis) during the body paint circus scene, and it’s a wonder Lisa De Leeuw didn’t quit adult films outright!

There are story and technical kernels in 800 Fantasy Lane that end up being developed in some of Svetlana’s later films. Broadly speaking, the surrealism in the hallucination scene was at the forefront of F and Ultra Flesh. All-over bodypaint showed up in F, as well. The implied secret S&M club/cult was explicit in Bad Girls. And the idea of two regular guys masquerading to get away and get laid was central to (and I’d argue better realized by Turk Lyon and Randy West in) Sexboat.

Robert Rimmer's take:

...Svetlana went fantasy mad and offers some of the funkiest sex scenes you've ever watched.... When she made this one, Svetlana ws catering to the kind of male fantasies that most women won't appreciate. Pretty far out...and wins awards in the things-you've-never-seen-before department.

Presumably his Collector's Choice rating is for the audacity of the scenes Svetlana included (especially if the version he screened included Desiree Cousteau fisting Serena). Excepting the fisting scene, nothing in 800 Fantasy Lane would seem all that "funky" in a non-kink adult film 10 or 20 years ago, but I can see how they'd be pretty eye-opening for 1979 (and even 1986, when Rimmer published his updated guide). As for what he whiffed on in his review, he says that Victor and John "own a filling station," that they're "[r]eading an advertisement of Hollywood Star Realty," and that they have a "pot-induced fantasy" whereas they're definitely only gas station employees, they're definitely reading a newspaper article, and they're definitely "dusted." Much like Lady Dynamite, 800 Fantasy Lane was awfully close to earning a CC50 (or even CC25), but for its shortcomings, it rates a CC100.

° There were some really top shelf Gillis faces.

° Nancy Suiter is in the same "face family" as Taylor Swift and Hayley Mills.

° There have long been rumors that Lisa De Leeuw, reported to have died from complications from AIDS actually retired from the industry to raise a family. I'd always took those rumors as unsubstantiated wishful thinking, but after the recent Kathy Harcourt story at The Rialto Report and hearing her late '80s conversation with Richard Pachecco, I'm going to choose to believe that she is alive and well out there.


Next up (though probably not to be posted quite as quickly as this one):

Hey, speaking of Robert McCallum....

Monday, October 26, 2020

Lady Dynamite (1984)

On paper, Lady Dynamite has a solid premise: a woman finds out her husband has been stepping out and decides she’s going to set herself free, sexually. In fact, it’s so solid it has to have been used countless times in books, film, and television, though I’m having a hard time coming up with an example. Chloe is the closest I can think of now, but it’s not quite the same. Anyway, solid premise is my point.

The execution is pretty weak sauce, though.

After a morning tryst with her husband, Valerie (Colleen Brennan), goes to her doctor (played by director Carlos Tobalina) for a physical. There, she finds out she has “a mild strain of gonorrhea”. Since she’s been “married and faithful to the same man for ten years”, the only explanation is that Ken (Shone Taylor) has been cheating. So, she decides she’s “going free” and that “every man who wants [her] can have [her]”.

With her newfound sexual freedom, she makes it with some rich guy named Phil (Blair Harris) who jets back to San Francisco from business in New York as soon as she calls, and attends a “wild” party at her friend Vicky’s (Laura Lazare, who always looks like her breath would smell like Camel Lights and Original Trident) which is supposed to be “just for the girls” but turns coed by some guys (Nick Niter, Rocky Balboa, and two dweebs) that Vicky invites.

Sometime (Hours? Days? Weeks? There's no sense of time in this film.) after the party, back at home, Ken tells her he’s a changed man and is done running around. Valerie only wants to know if he’ll “fuck [her] like [he does] the other women” because “some guys fuck the whores and the other women in their lives better than they fuck their wives”. Frankly, regardless of how good husbands give it to other women, having sex with Ken is a bad idea considering after Dr. Tobalina tells Valerie to send Ken in for his own treatment, she’s like, “Nah, he can keep the clap,” so she’s basically setting herself up for gonorrhea, round two. Unless she had a change of heart or the doctor blatantly ignored doctor/patient confidentiality and called Ken himself. Which is possible if not probable considering he seemed pretty Dr. Nick-ish, as evidenced by giving Valerie her penicillin shot before telling her what it was or what it was for.

Anyway, Ken - with or without gonorrhea - has sex with Valerie presumably in his non-marital style and then tells her he’s pleased that they’re back together and everything’s great. But Valerie gives him a literal “Sorry, Charlie.” And roll credits.

When I posted that Lady Dynamite was my next review, Jimmy from Golden Sin Palace commented “Carlos next... poor you. At least this one isn't too bad for him.” He laid out his opinion of Tobalina pretty succinctly in his review of Carnal Olympics: “...[M]ost of his films are boring and look more like something created in an assembly line than a film…”.

Reviewing Tobalina's oeuvre, I realized the majority that I’ve seen had an undeniable technical competence, but a detached, emotionless, antiseptic quality. That’s the way I feel about a lot of Brian De Palma films. De Palma, of course, is greatly inspired by Alfred Hitchcock. Hitchcock famously made cameos in most of his films. Tobalina made cameos in nearly half of his films. Squint a little and it’s just like the daisy chain at Vicky’s party!

Let’s see what Robert Rimmer had to say:

The reasons for the CC rating are Colleen Brennan and the caring sexmaking, for the most part, in which she gets involved. Colleen is a very attractive redhead, and Troy/Carlos proves that he can make loving sexvids, too, when he has the right actress.

Colleen Brennan does look great, it’s true. Not so sure about the “caring sexmaking” and “loving sexvids”. Sure, none of the scenes had any rough stuff. And theoretically, the Brennan/Harris scene is “caring” in that Phil has unrequited feelings for Valerie, and though they won’t be together, he’s content to at least get to see her regularly. But categorizing Lady Dynamite as a “loving sexvid” is a stretch.

As for outright errors, Rimmer writes, “Colleen, who in this film has been married 14 years…” when she says no fewer than five times that she’s been married for ten years. Not too egregious, at least.

Carlos Tobalina certainly had the opportunity to put together a compelling story of a wronged woman reclaiming her sexuality, but Lady Dynamite wasn’t that. Had it been better constructed with a few more sex scenes exploring Valerie's expanding world (cutting the few in the film by - at least - a few minutes apiece), it could have been a CC50 or better. Instead, it's a CC100.

° Nick Niter had some damn fancy footwork.

See this in all it's glory here.

° The soundtrack slapped. The main theme (admittedly, a little overused by the end of the film) had more than a little “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)” to it and after Nick Niter et. al. show up to the party there’s this sorta Egyptian Lover/Devo hybrid electro call and response track that goes “Where’s the beef?”/”The beef is here!” (or vice versa, though question first makes more sense). Good work, Shamus!

° Speaking of “Where’s the beef?” IAFD and IMDB have Lady Dynamite listed as a 1983 film, but the credits have a 1984 copyright....

....which makes sense because the Wendy’s campaign was released in ‘84 and it’s highly unlikely that it was a saying before the Wendy’s commercials. Still makes you wonder if Shamus was inspired by Coyote McCloud’s song or the other way around?

° Perhaps the real stars of the film were the interiors of Phil’s boat:

And Vicky’s living room:


Next in line:

Oh man, this'll be an interesting one to discuss! Hopefully it won't take me six weeks to get around to.