Sunday, November 29, 2020

Virgin and the Lover (1973)

Ah, if only Virgin and the Lover had been made in 1983 and not 1973. In a January 1988 Adam Film World article, director Kemal Horulu was praised for his "deep, complex, interesting" films and European story telling. Horulu says he "concentrate[s] on the story and [tries] to make things pretty." Given the rave reviews of Lustful Feelings (1977), Woman in Love (1978), and Blue Ecstasy (1980) accompanying the article Horulu seems to have figured out how to make compelling hardcore films. It's really too bad he didn't have his ducks in a row earlier.

The log line Vinegar Syndrome gave Virgin and the Lover ("A filmmaker lives in a sensual dreamworld in which he is torn between love for a beautiful woman and strange desires for a female mannequin.") only scratches the surface. On paper, the film is about gender norms, fragile masculinity, and mental health. On film, those themes get lost in a meandering, muddled mess.

Eric Edwards plays Paul, a filmmaker dating his therapist's (Reggi Defoe) secretary, Julie (Leah Marlon). Julie also has a less serious, primarily physical relationship with bohemian actor/photographer Andy (Jonathan John, who looks like a Rankin/Bass character).

Julie would like to ditch Andy (and semi-successfully tries to pawn him off on her coworker Joyce - Olinka Podany) for Paul, but is exasperated by Paul's reluctance towards physical intimacy.

Through his conversations with Dr. Tracy, we're told that until three years earlier, Paul was a virgin. He "had always been intimidated by women. The terrible specter of sexual failure clung to [him] with dead fingers." While attending a masquerade dressed as a woman, Paul was seduced by a woman dressed as a man. After his lover died in a car crash, Paul's crippling fear of sexual intimacy returned and he could only find lust and satisfaction by dressing a mannequin in his partner's masquerade outfit while wearing the dress he donned to the party. Interestingly, the mannequin didn't just function as an avatar for his lost love, but became any woman Paul was drawn to, including Stephanie (Darby Lloyd Rains), an actress from a lesbian porno Paul was working on (how a man with such a complex surrounding sex ended up making porn wasn't explored or explained) and Sandra (Susan Sloan), a former model turned horse carriage driver (totally normal career trajectory). Ultimately, in an effort to understand Paul, Julie throws ethics to the wind, reads Dr. Tracy's notes, and uses her newfound insight to seal the proverbial deal, and then she and Paul lived happily ever after.

Arguably more compelling than Virgin and the Lover itself, the film-within-the-film, Two Women, Parts I & II, deserves some attention. 


About it, Paul says:

I had never made a film about lesbians, even though the theme had always fascinated me. It seemed to me that the quality of their love was different. Deeper. More Erotic. The mystery of a woman's love for a woman. It's depth; passion; it's fulfilment were facets of the human condition I could barely imagine. Still the mystery of that private world stimulated me. Rarely had any sexual manifestation proven so exciting.

Two Women features Darby Lloyd Raines and Jennifer Welles as roommates. If I had to hazard a guess, they'd rate 5.5 and 1.6 on the Kinsey Scale, respectively. That is, Stephanie (DLR) being between "Predominantly homosexual, only incidentally heterosexual and Exclusively homosexual", and Lynn (Welles) between "Predominantly heterosexual, only incidentally homosexual and Predominantly heterosexual, but more than incidentally homosexual." In Part I, Darby assumes a stereotypically female role, preparing dinner (which amounts to dumping a bag of potato chips on a plate and lighting some candles) and getting angry at Jennifer for being late without calling. "I can understand a man playing games like this, but a woman shouldn't be so devious."

Stephanie's attitude softens when she realizes that Lynn is upset and frustrated (read: horny) since her date declined to come up to their apartment. After Lynn takes a shower, Stephanie pours her a glass of wine and offers to "take the edge off" Lynn's frustration. Paul screens Part I after declining to accompany Julie up to her apartment after a date (though Julie doesn't get her edge taken off by another woman, but rather by Andy), and is then finds his mannequin assuming the guise of Stephanie.

Part II has Stephanie assuming a typically male role, sporting a not insubstantial strap-on. Interestingly, after securing the harness, there's a very deliberate shot of her putting on a shirt; the black and red in the pattern suggest the outfit Paul's mannequin wears.

Before they get it on, Lynn asks Stephanie what pleasure she'll get from their tryst and Stephanie answers, "The satisfaction of giving you pleasure." After getting Lynn off, Stephanie dips over to a beside chair for a rather aggressive masturbation scene, pleading for Stephanie to "help [her] come." This time, after watching the scene, instead of returning to his place for a fantasy romp with either Lynn or Stephanie, he wanders the streets, saying in voice over "For some obscure reason, the film now depressed me. I felt terribly lonely." The only difference between the turn on of Part I and the turn off of Part II was the inclusion of the phallic object.

When he does return home, he goes through the process of dressing and making himself up and starts dancing with the mannequin who takes the form of Julie.

It turns out, though, that it actually is Julie, who has presumably has dressed as the mannequin. It's a little disconcerting to think that Paul was unable to differentiate between fantasy and reality. Every scene before, it was obvious that Paul was aware that the mannequin was inanimate and that he'd drift off into fantasy where she'd become "real". Here, though, he's dealing with a flesh and blood woman from the outset and projects her as lifeless.

While there are certainly scenes and themes that lend themselves to deeper thought and conversation, Virgin and the Lover ultimately suffers from:

1. A first-draft script. A lot of the voice over narration and dialog tries too hard to seem "literary" with more misses than hits. The opening credits state that the film's an adaptation of a French Novellette, but the French National Library doesn't support that claim.

2. Substandard simulated sex scenes. Adult films often lean too heavily on penetration close ups, sure. But at least those allow for the camera to cut to something. Here, with nearly half the "action" scenes being simulated, there are only so many angles that can be shot and pretty much all of them end up too long by half. Leah Marlon is credited as having a "non-sex" role, but if the final scene between her and Edwards was simulated, it was at least convincing. The same can't be said for the scenes with Jonathan John who seemed to have a tenuous at best notion for how genitalia fit together.

3. An unnecessary hardcore scene with Marc Stevens, Helen Madigan, and Julia Sorel. Chartiably speaking, the inclusion could function as a juxtaposition of the freewheeling promiscuity of Julie's friends (her past/present) and the conservative, reserved nature of Paul (her future). With rare exception, scenes with Marc Stevens just make me a little sad. I doubt he ever really came to terms with his sexuality and often seemed to struggle to maintain an erection with women, particularly problematic for someone so intent on branding himself as "Mr. 10 1/2".

4. A 90-minute run time. While Center Spread Girls was an outlier Virgin and the Lover reaffirmed my position that 75 minutes is the longest an X-rated film needs to be.

5. Inconsistent narration. Sure, "show don't tell" is generally a good rule, but I don't really have a bias against voice over. The problem here is that 92% of the voice over is Paul's perspective, 6% is Julie's, and 2% is the doctor's. Either the story only should have been from Paul's perspective, or the other characters should have had more to say.

Welp, let's see what Bobby Rimmer-roo has to say:

It has a...psychological story line that keeps you interested throughout th efilm, plus exceptional sexmaking, cinematography and good acting. Horolu [sic] gives a sense of reality to most of his films that keeps you watching.

Agree to disagree on the "exceptional sexmaking". In his review, Rimmer titles the film Virgin & Her Lover and somehow dates the film as 1980, though he does state that he has "a feeling that this film was made a few years earlier." He also claims that "[t]he virgin is a mannequin!" (see also his erroneous title) which, yeah, I don't think so. The likeliest explanation for the title is that it's basically nonsense that sounds like it could've been a French book. My next best guess is that Paul is the virgin since he was one until his ill-fated relationship with the woman from the masquerade and has effectively been one since. Anyway, like so many films I've watched since (re)starting this blog, Virgin and the Lover is a few tweaks away from a very, very good film, but as it is, it'll rate a CC100.

° There was a Turkish Olympian named Kemal Horulu that was born in 1926. Same guy? Sure! Why not?

° Darby Lloyd Raines reminds me of a kind of mean grade school bus driver.

° At one point, Julie tells Paul, "I do like you so much. I could eat a whole apple pie!" What the fuck does that mean?

° The truly rotten make up job on Olinka Podanny makes it look like she has five o'clock shadow.

° Kemal Horulu sure seemed obsessed with getting actresses into bridge pose.

° The opening credits show two characters named Polly, but Darby Lloyd Rains is definitely named Stephanie. Initially, I thought maybe she was playing an actress named Polly playing a character named Stephanie, but Jennifer Welles is credited as playing Lynn which is her name in Two Women, so the credits must've just been an oversight since it would've been nuts to name two characters "Polly", the 374th most popular name for girls born in 1950.


Next up:

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Center Spread Girls (1982)

"There's enough heat in this room to make eunuchs come and nuns dance naked in the rectory!"

When Morality Over Madness ("M.O.M. Wants What's Good For You") threatens Panther magazine publisher Sue Forbes (Georgina Spelvin) with blackmail, a group of professionally successful former centerfolds come to her aid. Led by attorney Jane Mohr (Veronica Hart) the ladies - including actor Beverly Martine (Annette Haven), reporter Ellie Parker (Desiree Cousteau), painter Vee Beachem (Lisa De Leeuw), and photographer Anne (Tara Aire) - are assigned (alone or in pairs) an M.O.M. member whose mind is to be changed regarding the so-called pornographic nature of the magazine. The targets are judge Roy Hammer (R. Bolla), "reformed" porn star Lyndon Loveless (Eric Edwards), Reverend W.W. Williams (Paul Thomas), rich a-hole Thurman Parrish (Frank Hollowell) [or, well, maybe his wife Louella? (Jesie St. James); more on that later], and newly-elected governor businessman Hamilton "Ham" Osmond (Michael Morrison).

Robert McCallum's Center Spread Girls has a killer cast who looked and acted great. Not only do the expected actors turn in quality performances (Spelvin, Bolla, Hart, Haven, etc.), but Tara Aire reminded me what an underrated gem she was and Desiree Cousteau was surprisingly solid in one of the few (only?) roles I can recall where she wasn't an airhead. The first few sex scenes (Lisa De Leeuw/Mike Horner; Tara Aire/Jon Martin) were pedestrian at best, but most of the rest were good to very good. Based on natural chemistry, the best may have been when Beverly cures Lyndon of his years-long impotence and when Jane and Judge Hammer finally confront their conflicting feelings and get down to doin' the hibbidy dibbidy.

Annette Haven and Eric Edwards were so good together, I was shocked to find they'd only appeared in four films together: Love You, Center Spread Girls, Bodies in Heat, and Sheer Haven. I figured they may have at least had some loops together, but that doesn't seem to be the case either. Weird. Veronica Hart and R. Bolla, on the other hand, appeared in ten films together including three more McCallum features: the all-timer Amanda by Night, Indecent Exposure, and Society Affairs.

There were a few narrative missteps:

A. The Carson sisters (Jacqueline Brooks - the film's sole subpar actor - and Lily Rodgers) who were assigned Ham spy him in a "governor/...I don't know, sexy Uncle Sam?" roleplay:

...and also pose as representatives of a senator who wants Ham to know he has "national political potential" as a ruse to get him in a light bondage scenario that's documented (via notes, not photos), by the secretary (then dressed as a biker chick slash necromancer).

One of the two would have sufficed for the"persuasion" plot, but including both gives any Michael Morrison devotees out there an extra helping. Morrison is truly an inspiration to chubby, averagely endowed men everywhere and was low-key one of the era's most impressive ejaculators.

2. During a progress meeting with the crew, Jane mentions she's hired a messenger service to deliver the M.O.M. members the evidence the ladies have accrued, but when the time comes, it's Beverly in disguise who delivers the messages, and even then as a ruse to swap out videotapes that got mixed up.

Now that I think about it, the only plausible explanation for how Beverly got the uniform is that she intercepted the actual messenger and swapped clothes (though, face it, that's a bellhop uniform). I'm going to assume that the scene was either left on the cutting room floor or was never shot due to time constraints.

D. The Parrishes' role in M.O.M. could have been better explained. At the outset, I assumed conservative, chauvinist Thurman was the member, but after Vee and Anne help Luella discover she's a lesbian, Thurman ties her up and says he'll take her place at the press conference.

Despite those minor quibbles Center Spread Girls is a resounding success. The plot is light, the pacing is brisk (recently, I've gotten leery of adult films longer than 80 minutes, but even at nearly 90 this one is well edited and never bogs down), and the climactic press conference scene hits all the notes of the smug antagonists being undone by the plucky underdogs, akin to, like, Animal House or a Police Academy movie.

I do wish that the final scene, where publisher Sue gets her "pound of flesh" apology from M.O.M. had actually been the scorcher four-way that was hinted at.

The actors (Spelvin, Edwards, PT, and Morrison) were certainly capable. Instead, the scene was cut to in media res with Lyndon already fucked into oblivion and nowhere to be seen. The brief action is fine, just a bit anticlimactic.

Stop! Rimmer time!

Can you put six top female porno stars in a film, an equal number of male actors, and give everyone time to act in an integrated story line as well as copulate? It ain't easy! But Lime [producer Harold] Lime and McCallum have done it.

The denoument is silly, and of course the plot is too - but it all hangs together. Most women will laugh. If it's one of the first tapes you buy or rent, it will introduce you to quite a few of the top stars, whom you will see again and again.

Agreed! Though it's always hilarious to me when Rimmer talks about what "most women" may do or think. It's pretty apparent that I enjoyed the hell out of this film, so I'm going to go buck wild and give Center Spread Girls a CC10!


° The Lyndon Loveless/Linda Lovelace angle wasn't overdone (the name/former porn star as morality crusader and Loveless refering to his "ordeal" was about the extent of it) and certainly didn't seem vindictive (Loveless was a sympathetic character). Still not a great look winking and nodding at an (alleged, sure, but probable) abuse survivor, especially through today's "believe women" lens.

° The metatextual moments in the Haven/Edwards scene were great. Beverly wants to watch one of Loveless's movies while they screw (the scene is the Edwards/Brooke Wet, Arcadia Lake scene from Amanda by Night). It's a neat touch that's smarter than recycling a loop for a feature. It reminded me of how Scrubs used Neil Flynn's minor role in The Fugitive as part of the backstory of Janitor.

Then, while Beverly's leaving and thinking about Loveless's assertion that she could be a "porno star", she says, "No, I couldn't carry it off," then looks directly to camera and adds, "Who'd ever believe it?"

Good luck finding any mention of Haven from then to now that doesn't mention her "traditional" Hollywood beauty or her classy demeanor.