Tuesday, June 14, 2011
by Kevin “Erotic Mustard” Dillon
Really bad movies are fun to write about. So are really good ones. Malibu High, a late 70’s sexploitation flick is neither. Extreme only in its mediocrity on just about every level, there’s very little soft underbelly for me to stab at nor are there many pleasant surprises to highlight here, just frame after frame of forgettable, mostly unremarkable ‘meh’-ness that defies me at every turn. Writing this piece has felt like a tussle with a tiny, greased-up spider monkey who has now clocked in about two dozen kicks to my groin. So apologies in advance if I ask you to join me anyhow as I bravely yet awkwardly flail about and try to come to terms with the fact that this movie has left me defeated, numb and quite possibly impotent.
Like many a liquor store porno tape, this movie suffers first from some seriously false advertising. The movie poster for Malibu High makes a couple of promises it never intends to deliver. Firstly, the cavalcade of National Lampoon-style cartoon teachers in the background suggests a light-hearted, humorous high school romp, when in actuality this movie is about as wacky as John Houseman’s skeletal remains. Basically this movie starts out depressing and spirals nowhere but down from there.
Secondly, and much more egregiously, the adorable, topless cutie pictured oh-so-naughtily sunbathing on the beach is completely AWOL from the film. Look at her there, mocking us with her perky buns, teasing us into thinking we deserve to see a movie featuring her boobs. In the great house of T&A, in whose moldy basement this movie can be found squatting under a crunchy stack of Swank magazines, I’d like to think that this false advertising maneuver is referred to as ‘mastur-bait and switch.’
In her place as this middling movie’s main character, Kim, is the decidedly not-adorable Jill Lansing. I’m going to do my best to not get too shallow here, but this is a skin flick, meant to rile up backseat hormones and aid 15-year-old boys in their late night, onanistic endeavors, and Jill simply does not cut the erotic mustard. She doesn’t even give the mustard a friendly noogie and send it on its way. At best, with her visible mustache, sour Stockard-Channing’s-less-attractive-sister looks and oddly smashed, lily-white tube-top-silhoutte breasts, she just irritates the mustard till it won’t return her calls anymore.
Crap, I went there. With all my liberal upbringing and love for ladies of all shapes and sizes, I had to bag on this poor actress whose only real crime is starring in a movie that didn’t have a good enough make-up artist on set to insist on a mustache wax. All right, Kevin, just muscle through. Rise above it, man.
With that being said, it’s not like her performance is any worse than one would expect from this type of drive-in nudie movie. Sure, her delivery is a tad wooden, but with all her bitterness and growing desperation, it’s not entirely unfitting that this character is a bit detached and unlikeable. Boy, is she authentically unlikeable. And besides, from the opening scene where we see her naked and smoking, on through her hooker-y romps in the back of a van with johns who request both “French” and “Greek” style sex, to her swan song on the beach, Jill Lansing puts in a yeoman-like performance and never once shies away from putting it all out there on film. Good on you, Jill Lansing. If we ever meet, I’ll definitely refrain from requesting “Greek” style anything.
So anyway, Kim has just been dumped by what seems like her long time boyfriend, Kevin. We, the self-loathing audience, know these two had something special because on her bedroom wall near the obligatory ‘70s crocheted wall art, hangs a very sad, very hastily thrown together heart-shaped piece of paper bearing the words “Kevin + Kim in love forever.” It’s a creepy bit of décor that’s both a symbol of innocence soon to be lost, as well as a sad reminder of the film’s limited budget and nearly non-existent writing. Like the movie it appears in “Kevin + Kim” equals some kind of low-effort meta-valentine to sleaziness.
Reeling already from the breakup, Kim quickly learns in addition to the fact that Kevin is now going steady with the school rich-bitch, she’s also failing many of her classes and will probably not graduate.
When she learns of a career opportunity in the street-level whore industry from her local pot dealer who also doubles as a street-level pimp, Kim’s life begins to dramatically change. Before the horny 15-year-olds watching this can get their second Kleenex, she’s got the johns lined up around the block and is making money hand over fist. With a gusto one wishes she would have employed instead in school, Kim quickly becomes the town bike, as the old joke goes. Sadly, she’s obviously just channeling her bitterness over her loss of Kevin to that rich girl, but the dollars start rolling in and things start to improve for the naïve young streetwalker. Sure, getting on with your life is a nice bit of revenge for scorned lovers, but is herpes really worth it? That shit’s for life.
In any event, it’s not long before she takes those newfound skills back to school with her and seduces her male teachers with racy outfits and an eye towards blackmailing them for better grades.
Making things even better, Kim is soon noticed by a local mob boss and is whisked away from her street-level hooker job into the world of the somewhat higher class hooker. There’s only one catch for her promotion to the majors: She must shoot and kill her street-level pimp first. Quickly and happily obliging, Kim has now evolved into some kind of ass-peddling assassin with wads of cash and lingering self-esteem issues. You’d almost feel bad for her, but what kind of job was she going to get with those grades anyway?
So, hope has now arrived in Kim’s life. Granted, it’s the kind of hope that comes with genital warts, but there’s no doubt things are looking up. And, with a most-intriguing ‘job’ offer from her mob boss, she may just get the revenge her bruised psyche longs for. It turns out that the next assassination on her list is the rich father of the rich bitch who stole her precious Kevin away before the opening credits. Little can she know that sweet revenge will be the instrument of her undoing.
Posing as a mere high-class hooker, she makes her way into the wealthy father’s home and punches the old man’s ticket with gusto. Unfortunately, it turns out that Kim is about as adept at mob hits as she was at geography, and her getaway is botched. I usually think that simple plans are the best plans, but in hindsight, I bet Kim wishes her plan for this hit consisted of something a bit more elegant than:
Step 1: Park in the target’s driveway.
Step 2: Kill the target.
Step 3: Leave through the front door and drive away in broad daylight, smiling.
As it turns out, the rich daughter, her man, Kevin, and their gaggle of generic-teen friends return home right as Step 3 is supposed to go off. D’oh! Kim panics, big surprise, shoots and kills the rich girl and takes off on foot, kicking off what I can honestly say is one of the more surreal climax chase scenes in cinematic history.
As she makes her way down a cliff onto the beach, followed by the inexplicably slow-footed Kevin, we’re treated to a most surprising song. An eerily familiar soundtrack kicks in to the strains of a disco high hat: tck-a-tck-a-tck-a-tck-a-tck-a-tck-a-tck-a-tsssk. Then a booming horn and bassline kicks in: Ba-Ba-Dut-Dut! Ba-Ba-Dut-Dum-Dum! Finally a frantic flute trills and we can longer pretend we’re hearing anything other than, you guessed it: "The People’s Court Suite"
Yep, it turns out this funky bit of disco muzak is public domain and the producers of Malibu High are going to make you sit through the entire piece. Judge Wapner was gracious enough to let it fade out midway through the first flute trill when Doug Llewellyn introduces some douchebag with a pathetic lawsuit to decide if a bad perm is worth the full $50 charged by the hairdresser. But that’s why he’s a TV judge and we’re just folks who discuss T&A movies.
Alas, there are no small change lawsuits here, and us audience members get to hear the whole song from high hat to merciful fadeout as Kim and Kevin slowly make their way over the course of the three and a half minute song (I timed it) to this movie’s now utterly bizarre conclusion.
Finally, the song peters out and Kevin catches up to his world-weary ex who’s now pointing the gun in his direction. When his plea for calm discussion is re-buffed, he calls her a “stupid, fucking goddamn broad” displaying his own brand of idiocy, and braces for a much-deserved bullet to the chest. A shot rings out! But to our dismay, Kevin is spared. A cop on the cliff above has saved him, and it is Kim’s lifeless body that’s now in danger of washing out to sea. Roll end credits. One only wishes that she could have shot this guy simultaneously in some sort of trashy Shakespearean ending, but that’s life, I guess.
There you have it: A revenge-filled skin-flick with very little heart and no brains, wherein unlikable characters who behave poorly to each other may or may not get their just desserts, all cemented together with a heavy dose of music featured in The People’s Court. Ugh. It tries to rise above its naughty inclinations as a “Student has Sex with the Teacher” T&A movie, but the attempt is utterly in vain. Kind of like my attempt here to put this exercise in celluloid mediocrity into words.
I’ll leave you with this final thought: Having watched Malibu High a number of times now in preparation for this piece, I can’t help but feel emotionally distant and more than a little violated by its rank sensibilities. And by violated, I definitely mean “Greek” style.
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
by Matthew "Language of Love" Funk
The inside of the human body is a dark place.
Emmanuelle plunges into it, illustrating in sappy soft-touch photography a colonial wife’s campaign to colonize and control her sexuality. This isn’t a love film. This is a war film.
Viewers who expect the keystone of Emmanuelle’s soft-core porn legacy to be similar will be surprised. It has as much relation to its successors as the African elephant does to its close evolutionary cousin, the rodent-like rock hyrax.
Garnering an audience of over 300 million, Emmanuelle became a brand based around its X-rating. Under the pressures of the exploitation craze of the late ‘70s, it mutated into blood-and-skin flicks like Emmanuelle and the Last Cannibals (1977) and Emmanuelle Escapes from Hell (1981). In the end, the 90’s straight-to-cable craze slid the series to a close with Emmanuelle battling Dracula and getting probed by space foxes. These skin-deep incarnations are a far cry from the first film’s ugly expedition into sexual psyche.
Emmanuelle isn’t skin-deep. It’s the heart of darkness.
Emmanuelle and Platoon (1986) are sister and brother.
They may not move in the exact same way, but they share the same thematic flesh and bone. They are both unapologetically grotesque. The same oblivion lives in their moral center. And they are both tales of a child entering the wilderness--of the globe and in themselves--to be raised wrong by two “fathers.”
On its softly lit surface, Emmanuelle’s narrative seems like a stew of porn-plot schlock. Our protagonist is a delicate ingénue who must travel into aging colonial Thailand to join her new husband, Jean. Since he deflowered the 17-year-old Emmanuelle in the back of his car and took her from her parents, Jean has urged her to be a sexual libertine. When they unite in the lawless decadence of a primal jungle ruled by bored white people, this concept of an “open relationship” is put to the test.
I won’t dull you with all the details of what happens next. Emmanuelle drifts from one confused sexual victimhood to the next, always trying to find her emotional sea legs. She is the supple, squirming canvas for teens, old men and slave-like Thai to paint their lusts on. The only relationships that have any meaning to the film are the two that leave her torn: Bee, a female archaeologist who is “the only woman here who works” and Mario, the graying overlord of “the Cult of Eroticism.”
The tension between these “two fathers”, as in Platoon, tempers Emmanuelle in the wilderness of Southeast Asia, until she is born-again hard.
* * *
“Are you smoking this shit so's to escape from reality? Me, I don't need this shit. I am reality. There's the way it ought to be, and there's the way it is.”
--Sergeant Barnes, Platoon
Emmanuelle shares the same philosophical circulatory system as Platoon. Study the similarities of their anatomy:
In Platoon, Charlie Sheen is an idealistic and naïve young buck who goes to Vietnam to learn of man’s purpose through war. In Emmanuelle, she enters the jungle to learn of her sexual purpose as a woman.
Sheen ricochets from one traumatic act of violence after the next, seeking moral guidance in an amoral world. Emmanuelle is tossed from one uncaring act of sex to the next, all the while trying to find some foundation for her feelings.
Sheen is impressed under the command of Sergeant Barnes, a scarred, old brute who fights ruthlessly, expending enemy and allies alike to keep the madness of the war in his power. Emmanuelle is pursued by Mario, an unsmiling, old colonist who uses sex ruthlessly, seeking ever more extreme kinks in active pursuit of demolishing emotion’s role.
Sheen becomes enamored with Sergeant Elias, a warrior who still loves the world and can gaze at the sky over the battlefield and remark, “I love this place at night. The stars, there’s no right or wrong in them. They’re just there.” Emmanuelle falls for Bee, the only European woman who rejects the cycle of heartless sex around her and who devotes her heart to work and the natural world.
Elias is killed by Barnes. Bee declines Emmanuelle’s offer of enduring love for the sake of her own enduring love for herself and her work.
Sheen descends into a maelstrom of combat, eventually butchering Barnes after a battle that leaves him shattered physically and mentally. Emmanuelle sinks into the jaded clutches of the Cult of Eroticism and, under Mario’s tutelage, comes to embrace her own rape, treasure bankrupt sexual liaisons and adopt his unfeeling “laws” toward sex.
In the final scene of Emmanuelle, we see her changing her appearance to become the blank-faced temptress Mario has led her to be--abandoning emotional desire and dedicating herself to lust’s whims.
Both Sheen and Emmanuelle were children in an untamed land of pure, primal existence. Both learned the agony of attachment and the animal urge for violence or sex. Both were broken and reborn ruthless.
As the gentle music plays over the closing scene of Emmanuelle, painting thick makeup on a face doll-like with unfeeling, you can almost hear Kurtz from Heart of Darkness intoning, “The horror. The horror.”
There is a sickening and powerful gravity to Emmanuelle and Platoon, because they’re more than cautionary tales for would-be-colonial empires. They show us the cost of trying to colonize ourselves.
* * *
“And here too,” Marlowe said suddenly, “has been one of the dark places of the Earth.”
--Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
Emmanuelle is an unflinching look at the dusk of colonial high society in Thailand, but its political interest isn’t socio-economic. It's psychosexual. As with Platoon, Emmanuelle uses politics as a chart for the depths of the human mind.
Emmanuelle’s colonists aren’t just feckless French people in a land of law-of-the-jungle. We’re the colonists, trying to sow order and reap gain from our own minds.
Basic international politics breaks the globe into three parts--the civilized and developed realms of the First World, the intermediaries of the Second World and the destitute and wild regions of the Third World. Works like Platoon and Emmanuelle use this framework to establish parity with how the intellect functions.
See, Freud broke the intellect down into three levels as well--the civilized and rational decision-making level of the Super Ego, the random-access-memory level of the Ego, and the untamed, carnal level of the Id. Modern understanding of the mind is based on the notion that the Super Ego is always trying to reconcile the instinct and urge of the Id.
By this logic, we’re a colonist--the vain Super Ego with its pith helmet and slide rule--trying to civilize the wilderness of our Id.
In Platoon, it’s the death urge of the Id that’s being grappled with. Sheen tries to organize, valuate and command humanity’s capacity and craving for violence. In Emmanuelle, it’s the sex urge we struggle with:
She tries to place a value on the borders of commitment to one sexual partner. She tries to reconcile sexual curiosity with dignity, decorum and desire for security. She tries to find herself in another, lose herself in victimhood, escape from fear of knowing no sexual control.
Emmanuelle is the Super Ego mind--that will to power that wants to organize--attempting to find some control over sexuality’s wilderness.
* * *
“To tear treasure out of the bowels of the land was their desire, with no more moral purpose at the back of it than there is in burglars breaking into a safe.”
--Marlowe, Heart of Darkness
The ultimate message of Emmanuelle is as morally void as Platoon or Heart of Darkness. Her final incarnation, in gown and makeup and feather boa, is not presented to the viewer with judgment. It is shown as the final destination of a ruthless approach to commanding sexuality.
Emmanuelle has achieved total command of her sexuality by abandoning the irrational. Sex for Mario and the woman he makes of Emmanuelle is just an appetite. They feed it without shame or remorse or emotional investment. Like Sergeant Barnes in Platoon, they are the triumph of the will. They feel no romantic pain because they do not allow themselves to feel. Sex is not about feeling anymore. It is about power.
It is about winning.
In light of recent controversies over Charlie Sheen, the actor himself, I find this similarity between his most-acclaimed role and Emmanuelle ironic. He switched movies on me. Charlie’s now a champion for sexual indulgence without attachment. He is in complete control and chooses to be out of control. For this, he gains the fascination of the public, the contempt of many and hero status for some.
Emmanuelle is no different. Under Mario’s mentorship, her broken heart is reshaped into an instrument made for winning. Being raped is winning; faceless sex is winning; impulsive seduction is winning.
What’s the alternative? Pain is the alternative.
Lack of ruthlessness opens people up to emotional pain from the sex urge. Wholly entrusting our sexuality to a single other person fosters dependence. It is socially acceptable. But it is an attempt to colonize and control the wilderness.
It creates a cycle of seeking, with heart on sleeve, a succession of relationships. Each, we hope, will be the final harbor of emotional security. And all the while, biology and the Id hope for endless sexual satisfaction for their changing appetites. The First World is ever at war to control the Third World.
So we craft ever-more-inventive cages for the sex urge: we sublimate, channeling Id urge into work or romantic forms, like Sergeant Elias and Bee. We structure through traditional forms, like marriage and religious codes. We shut ourselves off from the pain of attachment, denying it like Barnes or Emmanuelle, or avoiding it like Buddha or Christ.
We get lucky, some of us, and establish that happy colony with another where we can depend on harvesting enough of a yield to feed the Id.
As for the rest of us, “The horror! The horror!”
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
by Pete "Patchouli and Damp Basement" Risley
Probably readers here are already familiar with some of the movies of Joseph Sarno, the adult film director whose work ranged from '60s sexploitation to '70s Swedish softcore, and finally and inevitably into the hardcore realm. Though Sarno was once best known for hyped softcore items filmed in Sweden, especially 1970's Inga, his movies that are most praised these days are noir-ish B&W sexploitation dramas from the '60s, and include Moonlighting Wives, Passion in Hot Hollows and Sin in the Suburbs.
Often set on Long Island or in NYC, Sarno's '60s films differ markedly from the work of his contemporaries in the sexploitation field like Russ Meyer and Barry Mahon. Their work exemplified the sensibility found in “men's magazines” of the era, not just Playboy, but the lurid adventure magazines like Argosy, True and sleazier ventures with titles like Stag and Male, and were aimed fundamentally to please an audience of lascivious “raincoat men” who frequented grindhouses in venues like New York's Time Square.
In contrast, Sarno's movies definitely involved sex, but within stories about tangled relationships, odysseys of self-discovery and often of self-destruction. Sarno said in interviews more than once that his works were character-driven, and that the sexual content in them focused on "the female orgasm." Ironically, given his later association with Sweden, Sarno's best work seems in some vague sense--dare I say it--comparable to that of Ingmar Bergman, though given the necessities of the category he worked in, he seems not so much a “poor man's Bergman” as, well, a raincoat man's Bergman. I mean that as a compliment, more or less. Though I never saw a Sarno movie in a theatre, I’ve watched several on home video, some repeatedly, so put me among those raincoaters in spirit.
Sarno died in 2010. Many of his works have long been made available by the folks at Something Weird Video, initially as mail-order VHS tapes, and in the last decade, some have been marketed in DVD format in cooperation with the Image Entertainment company, while some others are available as DVD-R directly from Something Weird. Among the DVD-Rs is my own favorite of all the Sarno movies I've seen, an oddity titled Red Roses of Passion.
This may, indeed, be the strangest of Sarno’s pre-softcore films. It tells the story of Carla, a young woman who lives with her widowed and straitlaced Aunt Julie and goody-goody cousin Tracy. Aunt Julie disapproves of Carla's mildly wanton behavior with the horndog boys she dates, sometimes making sudden intrusions into Carla’s room when she’s entertaining a suitor in a state of partial undress. Why can’t Carla go out with nice fellows like Tracy’s blah boyfriend, frets Aunt Julie, to Carla’s rising exasperation.
In need of a distraction, Carla is intrigued when her friend Enid hooks her up with a Tarot card-reading fortune-teller, Martha, portrayed with much primping, pouting and finishing-school elocution by a lovely actress named Helena Clayton. Martha, it develops, is the leader of a pagan cult of women, of which Enid is a member, who hold evening get-togethers called “Conversations with Pan” in a dark-curtained, candle-lit room, while dressed in sheer negligees. At Martha’s urging, Enid convinces Carla to come along one evening to check out the goings-on.
It turns out that the main attraction for the participants, even more coveted than the “wine of Delphi” they imbibe, are the mysteriously alluring long-stemmed red roses they elegantly caress themselves and others with during these ceremonies, which seem to drive them into a state of sensual euphoria. One favored celebrant gets to be tied to a column and caressed with roses by all the others, resulting in great orgasmic signifying. Meanwhile, repeated close-ups of a single sinister eye peeking out and darting around crazily from behind clutched curtains near the flower-fest tell us that all is not love and aromatherapy with Martha’s little cult.
Carla isn’t sure she wants to join up after seeing the “priestesses of Pan” behave like Siamese cats in a catnip patch, but when Martha offers to help her settle Aunt Julia and Cousin Tracy’s hash with some witchery, she’s eager to give it a try. The result of this causes Carla to feel some remorse, but she soon learns that ending the game entails some prospects she hadn’t bargained for.
Red Roses features a number of players familiar from Sarno’s other films of the period, though Ms. Clayton, familiar to me only from lesser performances in a few other ‘60s sexploitation pictures by other filmmakers, among them Nymphs Anonymous, pretty much owns this one. The B&W cinematography is, by my judgment, excellent, especially in the wonderfully gothic sensual-occult ceremony scenes. The soundtrack may be old retread movie music, but it’s dramatic and works well. The print on the Something Weird DVD-R, is pretty splicey, especially at the beginning of the film, but I expect it’s the only one in existence.
Editor's note: Pete Risley is the author of the crime novel Rabid Child, published in 2010 by New Pulp Press, and it is certainly one of my favorite first novels, and simply one of the better books I've read in the past couple of years. It is not for the faint of heart, but then, neither are many of you. Please visit http://www.newpulppress.com/titles/rabid_child/ to learn more. -Love, Jimmy
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
by Alec "Clean cup! Clean cup!" Cizak
When my dad finally got with it in 1983 and bought a VCR, he joined a local video store (this was before Blockbuster, when the video stores were owned by somebody who lived in town and Star Wars and Blade Runner had six week waiting lists because the owners of these stores were too damn cheap to buy more than one copy of each movie) and rented some flicks. For my brothers and me, because the waiting list for Star Wars was so long, he brought us one of several Star Wars rip-offs, the Gil Gerard Buck Rogers movie that was really just the pilot episode of the TV series. We watched that stupid fucking movie over and over again for six months, wishing like hell we were actually watching Star Wars. My dad also brought back a copy of Alice in Wonderland, an X-rated musical version of Lewis Carroll’s book(s). He and a family friend hooked up their VCRs and copied both movies. The copy of Alice in Wonderland took on mythic qualities among my brothers and me. Whenever the parents were gone, we would search all over the house in attempts to find it. When I was in the sixth grade, my dad accidentally left the film in the VCR after watching it with some friends. Watching that movie, at the glorious age of twelve, was a pivotal moment in the evolution of my libido.
Alice is played by Kristine DeBell, a Playboy Playmate who I guess got in trouble with old Hugh Hefner, as he didn’t like his girls debasing themselves by doing stuff like being nude for public consumption. Or maybe he didn’t like seeing other dudes fuck his women. Maybe Hef wasn’t the Napoleon of the Sexual Revolution after all. Why he can’t see that his product and pornographic movies serve the same masturbatorial function is beyond me. You’d think a guy with twelve bleached-blonds on his arm and a pool that looks like a miniature waterfall in his front yard would be more clever.
Anyway, Alice is a librarian. I’m one of those freaks who digs librarians, so the movie’s pretty much hooked me before anybody even takes their clothes off. Her boyfriend is a delivery driver who wants Alice to get off of her uptight-tuffet and try some mushroom soup. But Alice is a repressed librarian, like my girlfriend in high school who was repressed and worked in a library and hence my fascination with un-repressing librarians. Whew, I think I just saved a few hundred dollars of psychoanalysis that I wasn’t planning on having done anyway. But I regress, er, digress.
Alice falls asleep, or goes into a dream state, it’s not really clear and frankly it’s not necessary. She wakes up in Wonderland, underwater. On land, some creatures in spandex lick her dry and this is when the movie starts to earn its X-rating. Bud Townsend, the director (this was back in the days when porno movies really did need directors), takes a page from Alfred Hitchcock and Steven Spielberg’s playbook. Like the shark in Jaws, we don’t see much more than a glimpse of Kristine DeBell’s privates until well into the movie. That comes—pardon the pun—when a rock she’s sitting on talks to her and convinces her to masturbate. Yes, a talking rock. These were the 1970s, folks, when absolutely everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, smoked pot and dropped acid and ate shrooms and, if they were rich, snorted cocaine. Lots of people were talking to rocks, and buildings, and pavement, and, in my part of the country, dirt.
Alice goes on to meet the Mad Hatter who wears the size of his dork on his hat. When Alice asks what the 6 and a half written on his hat represents, the Mad Hatter whips his schlong out and "allows" Alice to kiss it. The Hatter is a little bit effeminate and blames Alice for both his erection and his loss of erection after she finishes blowing him. There’s something Freudian in there that would make gender critics pee their stylish little pants. I’m not a gender critic, so I don’t know what the hell that something is...
Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum are a brother and sister, played by a real-life married couple, who engage in the first true sex (if we’re to believe Bill Clinton’s definition) in the film. Alice then meets the king, who is a black guy, and then the queen, who is a lesbian and means something dirty when she says, “I want her head!” Along the way there are musical numbers, including Alice singing to a girl sitting on top of a knight, “What’s a Nice Girl like You Doing on a Knight like This?” Finally, Alice escapes the queen after going down on her so well that she puts her to sleep (hardly the kind of talent one would expect from a repressed librarian, but then again, those are the little surprises that make repressed librarians so much fun). When she gets back to her library, her delivery driver dude is there and she demonstrates, on him, what she’s learned in Wonderland. The movie ends with a cheesy 70s song that is meant to be taken more seriously than the rest of the music in the movie.
Porno movies in the 1970s, as everyone knows, were vastly superior to the garbage that’s produced in the San Fernando Valley today (which, allegedly, rakes in more money than the NBA, NFL, and MLB combined on a yearly basis). Don’t even get me started on the women in porn today—no hips, no pubic hair. They just don’t look like the voluptuous drug addicts who populated celluloid sleaze in the 1970s. What are you gonna do? Time marches on. Computers become common place, some jackass in Hollywood thinks remaking Psycho is acceptable, and porno movies evolve into gonzo sport-fucking competitions that are as stimulating as jerking off with the bad side of a piece of sandpaper wrapped around your dick. Alice in Wonderland sits among the more notable titles from its era. There are several versions available, one is R-rated and not worth the time. There are at least two X-rated versions with just enough hardcore footage to classify the film as pornographic. The movie is just tame enough to watch with your girlfriend, especially if she’s a repressed librarian.
Friday, January 21, 2011
by Jimmy "Tensed Up" Callaway
For those of you keeping score, Weird Science is John Hughes' most nerd-friendly movie, and therefore his best. The Breakfast Club is right out, and Ferris Bueller's Day Off comes close, but the nerd does not get the girl in that one and has to settle for another way to castrate his father. Also, the script for Weird Science was apparently banged out by Hughes in just a couple of days, which may account for its more base humor when compared with his more thoughtful, let's-smoke-dope-and-hate-our-parents-together movies. But it also strikes me as his most thoughtful thematically in spite of this. Let's discuss:
The opening shot is of Gary and Wyatt, our heroes. As the camera pans up, directly behind them in the school corridor is a banner for an after-school club, "The Future Homemakers." A minor detail to be sure, but no director is going to frame something like that on accident and have it be so legible. Our first glimpse at our heroes and we also effectively have a sign declaring they're a couple of women (not to be sexist, but this is the vocabulary we're dealing with). Gary and Wyatt are ineffectual, total pussies (although oddly enough they're referred to oftentimes as being "dicks" in a similar disparaging manner). And like the ineffectual will often do, they both retreat into a world of fantasy. Wyatt, the more pragmatic of the two, attempts to bring Gary back to reality, reminding him, "Nobody likes us. Nobody." "We know the reality," Gary says, "Don't mess with the fantasy."
This short exchange has been bantered about in various forms in comic-book stores across the country for years by guys (like yours truly) who suck at manly stuff like sports or scoring with the ladies (Hello, Future Homemakers!), and therefore build castles in the sky in which to live. Now this is a very soothing balm for one's mind and soul, but unfortunately, it is extremely tenuous. Especially when Robert Downey Jr. and that guy who was on Babylon 5 for a season sneak up behind you and pants you in front of the girls' gymnastics team (devil's advocate: the "Check me out!" game is actually really fun, and my friends and I went through an extended phase ourselves). Here again is it pointed up just how out of whack Gary and Wyatt are: their ratty Chucks are unlaced, their socks are full of holes, their gym shorts don't fit very well. Max and Ian both look picture perfect with their Reeboks (or whatever trendy '80s sneakers they're wearing) and their Simple Minds hair.
Hell, the title of the movie alone is a big nerdy reference to the classic sci-fi comic of the 1950s published by EC. This was actually kind of a good thing about the '80s. A) A good chunk of the boomer generation were weaned on comics and TV and really set about making pop culture relevant, and B) those in the non-mainstream were truly beginning to take over. The 1980s were really the final decade that the beautiful people had to themselves. Eventually, the computer geeks would own everything, the punks would be winning political office, and the blacks would take back the radio. But still, in order to truly break into the future (or "The Wave of the Future," as the poster in Wyatt's room proclaims), Gary and Wyatt are going to have to bend reality to their will a bit, instead of allowing it to intrude on their way of life.
Of course, this is where Lisa comes in. Lisa acts as the bridge from fantasy to reality, from the ineffectual to the "in full effect." As the movie progresses, the boys feel like Lisa is out of control, but that is exactly why they created her, whether they realized it or not. "In control" is what Gary's parents are, what Wyatt's brother Chet is, what Max and Ian are. And sure, that's worked for them so far. But it's the difference between surviving in the jungle and living in the jungle. And if you want to be a party animal, you have to learn to live in the jungle.
Maybe I'm wrong, but I cannot remember Hughes ever using another film within one of his so effectively as he does Frankenstein (albeit, a shitty colorized version [wave of the future!]) in Weird Science. It really only makes sense that Gary and Wyatt would use computer technology, that infant home-science of the '80s, to create their post-modern Prometheus (with a little voodoo worship thrown in for good measure [aside: bras on their heads as ceremonial was never that funny to me as a kid because it just made too much sense. "Of course, what else would you do?"]). Victor von Frankenstein was an insane megalomaniac, and these two just wanna get laid. But six of one, half a dozen of the other. Both Vic and our boys are looking to take control over their own environments. The big difference here is that Vic's monster was incapable of productive destruction, while Lisa is incapable of anything but. Y'know, it's kinda like that old saying about giving guy a fish and feeding him for a day. Gary and Wyatt are going to learn to fish and eat for a lifetime.
The first thing Gary and Wyatt do with Lisa after they bang her out on the ol' Memotech MTX512 is shower with her. This not only affords us a lovingly long glance at Kelly LeBrock's lower back, it's also a nice cinematic way of beginning to clean off the past. Gary and Wyatt have now officially embarked on a journey that will completely change who they are. Sure, they're still wearing their jeans, but they need to acclimate still. We've got a lot of movie left, folks.
The next order of business is the naming ceremony. The naming of anything often carries pretty deep psychological significance, namely (har) that the namer wields power over the named. That's why they tell kooks locked up in rubber rooms to name the demons in their heads, to effect control over their psychoses. In this flick, it works similarly. Gary suggests the name "Lisa" after a girl he liked who kneed him in the nuts and called him "faggot" in front of everybody. It seems a bit odd that he'd want to name his (literal) sex object after a woman who so maliciously emasculated him (the nuts were bad enough, but to tar him as a--gasp!--homosexual? Fiendish. [again, the language and sexual politics are coarse here, but this is the realm we're in now, for better or worse]). But this way, Gary can reclaim his power and his manhood while also turning the tables on the original Lisa: who's a faggot now?
Next stop: The Kandy Bar! Speaking as a suburban chunk of whitebread, I can assure you that little is more desirable in its opposition to the norm than black culture. To little white boys, it's full of unrepentant emotion, good or bad, and charged with sexuality. I spent many of my formative years emulating Flavor Flav, and if the high school kids these days are any indication, black culture's allure to white suburbanite youth has only grown. So naturally, Lisa drags Gary and Wyatt to a Chi-town blues bar where nary a white face is to be seen. Of course, Gary and Wyatt are shit-scared, but any journey into manhood is fraught with doubt. And eventually, the Other welcomes them into their lair, makes Gary and Wyatt part of the pack. And I would say it's not just because they're on the arms of a beautiful broad, but basically, because they've got a sense of humor. They know full well that they're out of their element, but they sally forth with a sort of lovable ignorance, a humility that is largely missing in their peers. Contrast this to Ian and Max's behavior at Wyatt's party in the next act, trying to ingratiate themselves with the black bartender by acting like they drink scotch by the bottle. Logically, their reception into this appealing culture is chilly at best. Ian and Max may have Shermer, IL, all figured out, but really, that's all they'll ever know.
Speaking of a lack of humility: Chet. Wyatt's older brother Chet is the clearest example in this movie of everything that's wrong with masculinity as we know it. There's a very, very quick moment at the end of the movie where Wyatt goes to hug his father on his return home, and his father pushes him back and shakes his hand, "like a man." It's a very subtle but extremely effective piece of characterization for a character that has only one line, and in the final seconds of the movie no less. But it speaks volumes about the characters of Chet and Wyatt. Wyatt as the runt of the litter still allows his emotions to hold sway, whereas Chet has thrived on the coldness, the emotional stunting so commonly found in middle America, not to mention military school. So the only way Chet can show any affection for his little brother is the same way his father undoubtedly shows affection for both of them: by being an utter and total prick. Chet does love his brother, but is also too stupid to realize that the world is bigger than he thinks. He worries (as ostensibly does their father) that Wyatt is going to get eaten alive out there in the real world and the only solution, the only way to allow Wyatt to survive (in the jungle) is to toughen him up. If my reading public out there tends to consist of the sorts of dudes I think it does (e.g. dudes pretty much like me), than this should all ring pretty familiar. Wyatt doesn't know any better so he never really stands up to Chet, figuring he'll go along to get along. Thankfully, Lisa is there to literally show Chet what he presents himself as: a small, pathetic toad of a man.
Y'know, the filmic cliche of the older woman coaxing young boys into manhood had never really been done justice until this point, I don't think. Technically, Lisa never actually fucks either one of our heroes (although Wyatt does end up wearing her panties somehow). Her role begins as mere sex object, but it very quickly turns into much more of a mother figure, a positive female role model, which is definitely something a lot of dudes grow up without. Lisa not only knows how to show affection, she knows how to wield it positively, whether or not compliments embarrass Gary or whether or not Wyatt wants motorcycles in his house. I dunno, it makes me pretty grateful that this version of Kelly LeBrock was one of my earliest boyhood crushes. Imagine how I could have turned out if all I'd had was Kelly Bundy to lust after.
Oh, right, speaking of boyhood crushes, let's talk Deb and Hilly. I had never really given much thought to these two before this umpteen-millionth viewing, but there's a lot there. These poor cute-faces are really rudderless as far as their lives go. They fucking hate their boyfriends, Max and Ian. And why wouldn't they? They may be cool now, but that's by suburban high school standards, which even most suburban high school kids realize are fairly bullshit standards before their junior year. Max and Ian are consummate embarrassments, never mind the fact that they'll throw their girls over for just a glance from an older, more experienced woman with an English accent. Deb and Hilly want popularity, they want social acceptance, because they don't know what else to want. They're also at least aware that something is wrong with this calculation, even if they don't know what to do about it. Again thankfully, Lisa is there to help guide them into the mindscramble that is Gary and Wyatt. When Max and Ian are attempting to trade off to Gary and Wyatt their girlfriends for a shot at Lisa (the balls on these punks!), Max tells them, re Deb and Hilly, that "a couple of guys like you deserve them." I find it extremely poignant that, even though this is said in deceit, it is the single most true line of dialogue in the whole movie. From the mouths of babes...
Max and Ian still remain somewhat a problem. Gary and Wyatt still haven't learned that they don't need the approval of these two dickheads, much less the larger, higher echelon of high-school society that they represent. It's an understandable misconception on their parts, but the only way to learn this is to try and make Max and Ian their own woman. This is the only part in the movie in which Lisa gets upset with Gary and Wyatt, as she lectures them about being show-offs. What Gary and Wyatt don't realize is the power they hold, the power afforded them by their smarts, their sense of humor, and their natural charm. If you wield this power with good intentions, unselfish intentions, then good things come your way. Otherwise, it's destructive. So a giant phallic symbol in the shape of a nuclear missile penetrates the house, as if to say, "Here's your big ol' dick, hotshots! Try not to let it blow up in your faces." Can't get much more destructive than that.
Speaking of dick-waving, it's not long after this that Lisa decides to test Gary and Wyatt's masculinity in the form of the supporting cast of The Road Warrior. When Lisa invokes John Wayne's name in this exercise, it's not an accident, as the post-apocalypse has effectively become the post-modern Old West. This scene causes me a few problems. First of all, compared to the depth of the rest of the movie, the little touches here and there that separate it out from the borderline creepiness of flicks like Porky's and Revenge of the Nerds, this scene reduces things to a strict patriarchal dichotomy: womenfolk down here, menfolk up here. But mostly I think it's because I'm a giant pussy myself. I love strict patriarchal dichotomies in movies: Sexy Beast, Once Upon a Time in the West, GoodFellas. But none of those movies ever really hove into any area relatable to my life. Weird Science, on the other hand, never strays from those areas, until this scene, where I have to admit that if fuckin' Vernon Wells showed up at my house and screamed out of both his throats, I'd just pass out like the big black guy does. Way to yank me out of the movie, you hilarious, quotable scene, you.
Okay, just a couple more words on the family dynamic and we can knock off for the day. The scene with Gary's parents is pretty straight-forward: Lisa is cutting Gary's umbilical cord, and for good, it would seem. Her gun (Hi there, phallus) is bigger than Al's, so she's calling the shots. I know that the notion that Gary's dad doesn't even remember him is mostly for laughs, but I also like to think it plays a bit into the whole existential side of things here. Like, all the sound and fury that adolescent life is full of, and how important and immediate it all seems during those formative years, it's all for what? At that point, it just seems like momentum: Gary's parents push him around because that was undoubtedly what their parents did to them at that age. But Gary's dad doesn't even know who this stranger is living in his house, tossing off in the bathroom when he should be combing his hair. Gary's mom is a little more sympathetic, but even she is hard-pressed to say who this Gary character is. Maybe I'm reaching a bit here, but I'll level with you: I am way overcaffeinated right now.
Wyatt's grandparents are a symbol I feel I can explain a little more easily. If Wyatt's immediate family are out of touch with him, then it only stands to reason that his grandparents might as well be from Mars. From their opening lines--"Doesn't he have anything to read?"--we get an instant feel for how little they know about their grandson. When they show up and start hitting people with their Rex Harrison hat, Lisa tries to explain just what is going on. Of course, they won't even begin to entertain the thought of listening to this baloney. What choice does Lisa have but to render them physically as they are mentally? Wyatt's grandparents are so irrelevant that they're not even aging anymore. And at this point in a man's development, it really is just best to stuff those hoary old ways of life into the pantry and get back to the party.
Of course, all is well that ends well. Gary and Wyatt fall in love with Deb and Hilly and find their love is reciprocated. The house and Chet are put back together just in time for Wyatt's parents to come home. As the end table slides under Wyatt's mom's purse, both Wyatt's mom and dad have a distinct look on their faces: this veneer they see before them has been changed somehow, in a way they don't understand and, as we know, they never will. Gary and Wyatt have become their own men, and we needn't worry about them anymore, even if they no longer have a Porsche. And the happiest ending of all, we end up back in the gym where we started, where it is heavily implied that Lisa will be coaxing the entire boys' phys. ed. program into manhood.
Sexploitation can be a beautiful thing. My friends and I adored this movie as young boys because it was funny and because we could rewind and replay the scene where the piano girl loses all her clothes (and believe me, we wore out the rewind button on the family VCR). But although these promises of nubile flesh and life experience were dangled before us and we responded like the horny little bastards we were, come to find out years later, that there is a hell of a lot more to the whole enterprise than just some showy English runway model. As Gary says near the movie's end, "Lisa is everything I wanted in a girl before I knew what I wanted." This extremely mature acceptance of his own short-sightedness should resound significantly with any male victim of societal pressure to strive for that which only glitters. There is hope for the ineffectual yet.
Now drop and give me twenty.