"I'll Never Be Mean Again!": The Passions of Carol (Dir. Shaun Costello, 1975)

Hey folks - another XXXmas treat for y'all, this time in the shape of a movie that is very dear to my heart. I took a class a while back where I had to write about a Dickens text, and figured I could probably find a porno version of a Dickens novel. This was in the early stages of my research on X-rated film (I know this because I specifically remember worrying about whether there would be any content to analyze - now I realise this is a shameful concern), and I credit Passions with shifting my research into gear. Passions demonstrated to me that an adult film can be analyzed and valued like any other text - for its narrative and its sex scenes - in isolation of broad statements about adult film in general.

Passions follows the original Christmas Carol pretty faithfully, but in an updated setting: Carol Screwge runs BIVA Publications, a nudie magazine similar to Playgirl. Lacky, Bob Hatchet (Jamie Gillis, in a curiously sweet performance - I had no idea what I was in for down the road), is forced to stay at work late on Christmas Eve to render the soft dicks in the photo spread hard. Screwge is mean to all her workers, and sexually exploits the models who come to try out for "BIVA Boy." That night she is visited by her former boss, played by Marc Stevens, who shows up to warn Screwge of the three ghosts that will visit her. The ghosts show up, each of them teaches her a lesson about her sexual abuse/assertiveness, and the whole thing ends with a vision of Screwge's future. While Dickens' Scrooge witnessed his own corpse and lonely grave, Screwge witnesses her decline into Times Square hooking. Likewise, while Dickens' Scrooge exploited people financially, Screwge exploits people sexually.

The thing I find most interesting about Passions is its central paradox as a pornographic adaptation that stays faithful to its Victorian text. Passions stays true to its Dickensian roots, perpetuating the Dickensian ideal of the domestic housewife, at the same time as it rebels against this ideal by "resexualizing" the repressed components of the original story. In doing so, Passions exposes the displaced sexuality of the original story -- represented by abundant families, delicious and tempting foods, and a rampant middle-class consumer culture. This paradox -- of a pornographic film that maintains a Dickensian notion of female sexuality -- aptly reflects the central contradiction of Victorian culture (as it exists in the cultural imagination): a sexually repressed society that is simultaneously sexually perverse.

The sex scenes themselves play out these ideas, something which I was not prepared for having been taught by mainstream culture that the hardcore scenes in porn have no grounding in narrative. In particular, the scene that represents Christmas Past grapples with ideas of femininity, childbirth, and childhood -- all of which are issues that come up again and again in Dickens' novels, and were hot topics during the Victorian period. The Ghost of Christmas Past shows Screwge a scene in which she sexually exploits her childhood friends Billy and Barbie, blackmailing them into performing her sexual desires. The three adult performers are dressed like children, in an oversized room to make them look small, and the scene plays out in a rather perverse manner. Pornographic images of Raggedy Ann and Andy are cut into shots of a violated doll. The doll's arm is shown to be missing, and then we see the doll's arm being used to penetrate Screwge.

It's a memorable scene -- one of my favourites ever -- and for me it does a couple of things in line with the paradox I outlined above. The doll's arm looks like a twisted form of childbirth (something coming out) while we're watching something going in. It's a perversion of the act of intercourse occurring simultaneously with the event that traditionally and morally should follow such acts of intercourse. The ideal of female sexuality is being perverted at the same time as it is being realised.

Finally, Screwge is shown her future: a stark and ugly situation that she can't stand to watch -- "Please! Don't let this happen to me!" -- that ultimately teaches her that her sexually exploitative ways will result in her own sexual displeasure and degradation. The sex scene is disgusting. It starts with her washing the guy's cock with soap; they use a white, saggy condom; and the moans and groans she performs are artificial. "You're a rotten fuck," she tells the john when they're through, followed by a stark and deafening silence as they stare at each other in the dim light.

Needless to say, Screwge learns her lesson, and wakes up from these horrors exclaiming that she understands the meaning of her experience: "I’ll celebrate Christmas every day of the year. I’ll be the best person I could possibly be. I’ll do better than that – I’ll be a friend to the needy, I’ll be a friend to everyone! I’ll never be mean again!" The awkwardness of this moral, in light of the genre of film, merely demonstrates the contradictions inherent in Victorian culture and its literature (desexualized on one side, violent and pornographic on the other). However, it is also testament to some real risks being taken by an auteur who clearly had more in his vision than simply some good fucking. Great movie.


X-Ray Specs said...

A very excellent post.

Gore-Gore Girl said...

Aw shucks, thanks Mr. X-Ray. Now I can look forward to your thoughts on the film - be sure to at least let me know, and preferably write up a blog post about it!

Oh, and the movie is also funny - I take it so seriously, that the humor of the film probably didn't come through in my review. Look out especially for the dude wearing the credit cards in purgatory - very funny commentary on consumer culture.

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