Friday, May 13, 2022

Skin Flicks (1978)

I like Gerard Damiano, and a film written and directed by Damiano about making an adult film should have been a slam dunk, but Skin Flicks is just under-cooked.

Young director Harry (Tony Hudson) is struggling to complete his film, getting pressure from his best friend and manager Max (Beerbohn Tree) on behalf of - and then directly from - made man financial backer Al (played by Damiano himself). He maintains he needs more time for shooting, more time for editing, more time to get the music right.

It's impossible to tell what sort of movie he's actually making. Of the eight hardcore scenes in Skin Flicks, only two are for Harry's picture and they're shot on wildly different sets. One looks like a bedroom in a low-tier bed and breakfast and is decorated with a bunch of creepy dolls and the other could have been used for Damiano's sci-fi film Satisfiers of Alpha Blue.

During what seems like an audition, Bethanna is paired with Tony Mansfield and they have sex in front of Harry on a set made up to look like the yard of a house, complete with a swing that gets put to creative use.

Harry is undoubtedly a good guy (hardly a surprise as an author surrogate): cautioning newcomer Ann (Heather Young) that film is forever and to be sure she's aware that someone she knows may see it; telling Bethanna's character that he doesn't want to fuck her, he wants to make her a star when she seems to expect a degree of casting couch culture; he deftly handles his leading lady (Sharon Mitchell) Susan's performance anxiety and later declines her advances, realizing she's in an emotionally vulnerable state; rebuffs the advances of Max's wife, even though Max was simultaneously trying to make it with an actress from Caracas. He says he doesn't have time to be involved with anyone, although he does have a hardcore scene with Jill Munroe. I got the sense it was implied to be a regular thing, but not necessarily a relationship.

The yang to Harry's yin is Norman (Jamie Gillis) who works in advertising in some capacity. The ideal symmetry would have him as a commercial director, but that's not explicitly stated, as far as I could tell. Max throws a party and Norman is insistent that Susan is there because he's seen all her loops and wants to get to know her. By which he means he wants to have sex with her and doesn't entertain the thought that she might not want to have sex with him since she's a porno "pervert." Norman gets irrationally angry when Susan rejects him.

After the party, it's a bit difficult to track how much time's supposed to have passed. Harry and Susan have a serious conversation culminating in the aforementioned advances decline. The conversation takes place with the two of them looking at each other through a mirror, with the camera's focus shifting between the two characters. It was a really well considered and constructed scene.

From there, it's back to the film's bedroom set (with the creepy dolls), Susan testing out wardrobe options, Harry bemoaning society's regressive ideas of sex until he drifts off to fantasy where he and Susan get it on.

After his fantasy wraps, he's talking with some film crew - presumably the next day - frustrated that no one can find Susan. We soon find out the reason no one can find her is that Norman has abducted her. While Susan's tied to a ladder, Norman uses a straight razor to cut away her nightgown, bra, and panties. In an act of self-preservation, Susan tries to tell Norman exactly what he wants to hear and ultimately resigns herself to his assault.

The film fades from Norman's ejaculation to Harry sitting at a glass desk, absentmindedly toying with a Newton's Cradle desk toy and getting loaded, while echo-y dialog snippets from earlier in the film swirl around.

Then, the film cuts to Max's office, the same scene from a dozen minutes in, Max berating Harry for being late finishing the film. Harry tells Max, "It just needs and end, Max. I...I don't have an end." Freeze frame, roll credits.

The bizarre conclusion made me wonder if Damiano was going for an "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" deal, if everything that happened between Harry's first and second "I don't have an end," actually happened at all. Or, maybe it was a commentary on Damiano's difficulty coming up with a suitable ending. It would be fitting if that were the case, what with Max retorting to Harry's complaint, "Fuck the end! Give me a beginning and a middle."

I'm sure Skin Flicks reflects Damiano's thoughts on and experiences and frustrations with making adult films, but the whole thing comes off as a little rushed. It's definitely not a feel good flick, ending without any resolution for Harry or - more importantly - rescue or retribution for Susan. Let's see what Robert Rimmer thinks:

As in many of Damiano's films, there is an uneasy truce between his own Catholic morality and the reality of the adult film industry which he subtly makes apparent.

In describing the plot of the film, he refers to Sharon Mitchell multiple times as "Colleen Davis" (which is how Heather Young was credited). There is no fucking way he didn't know who Sharon Mitchell was, so that is just Grade A Rimmer Sloppiness.

Like a handful of other pictures I've written about, my appreciation of Skin Flicks grew the more I thought about it afterward. Especially as I began to consider Harry and Norman through a Jekyll and Hyde, Tyler Durden lens which would make even more sense if, in fact, the majority of the film was just played out in Harry's mind while he was in Max's office. Possibly a reach. Maybe it's because I just recently watched The Lighthouse so I'm tuned up for narrative ambiguity. For all that, though, I wouldn't rate it much higher than good, particularly by Damiano standards. CC50

° As Al, Damiano hilariously butchered an idiom saying, "What am I a tree? You think I shit money?" It wouldn't shock me if his character was inspired by someone he knew in real life, possibly connected, who had a tendency to mix metaphors.

° Rimmer mentions that Jill Munroe "was a man" as a "note for the curious" which isn't cruel, exactly, but didn't sit right with me. The January 1983 issue of Porn Stars magazine has a pretty touching tribute to her after her death by overdose.

° I also recently watched X, and through their zeal for elevating adult cinema, RJ and Harry are definitely kindred spirits.

° I often use my Google Assistant to identify songs in the films I review with varying degrees of success. In Skin Flicks, it picked up a couple library music tracks, identified a rap song that samples a song that could reasonably be called the main theme of the film, and misidentified a song as Aphex Twin's "Xtal". I could see the similarity and just mainly thought how cool it'd be to mash up some Golden Era porn with ambient electronic music.


What's in store next?

(Full disclosure, the first Battle of the Stars came up on my Wheel of Porn, but that features the infamous Traci Lords, so I dropped down one to BotS 2, also a Collector's Choice. If I happen upon a TL-less first flick, I'll see about eventually checking that out.)

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