Sunday, August 1, 2010

"I'm Gonna Fill That Belly of Hers With Black Power!": Hot Summer in the City (1976)

Hola! It's been a while. I was perusing the web today, when I came across this article from March, a nice trip down memory lane for me, saying all kinds of nice things about my site, and concluding with those ominous words, "If only she'd post more..."

Well, you asked for it, here ya go!

I first heard about Hot Summer in the City when I stumbled across a quote from Quentin Tarantino saying it was the best porno ever made. I figured that would make it grimy, sleazy, and probably cool in a retro way with groovy tunes, but almost certainly not the best porno ever made, what with the likes of Pamela Mann and Misty Beethoven strolling around in the ether.

With that said, it certainly intrigued me, and after watching Gail Palmer introduce the life-altering The Italian Stallion, I figured I should check out some of her other titles.

I understood going in that I was pretty much guaranteed some degree of near-parodic racism and sexism, yet I was interested to see what this kind of racially charged sex/blax/exploitation genre would look like through the eyes of a white, female former sex worker. Maybe the fact that Palmer directed the movie steered me toward deeper thought, but from the outset it was clear to me that underneath the sleaze lay at least some rumblings of social commentary. Palmer appears to be trying to satirically point to something regarding white women, black men, and the implicitly present white male patriarch, most obvious in the "fucking the white woman to get back at the man" motif that underlies so much interracial porn then and now. It's also indicated in the scene where our "heroine" Debby runs away from the black rapists to a suburban house, crying for help. An old white man emerges from his home, sees the black men roughing her up while she screams, kinda nods, and goes back inside. This struck me as Palmer's indictment of middle-class, white male indifference to sexual violence against women, as well as a tendency to isolate racial issues to the periphery of "normal" society. In essence, what has this got to do with him?

Following this, the men carry Debby back to their HQ, where they are apparently hatching some kind of scam involving terrorism against cops, staged to look like it was committed by black folks in order to start a race riot. Some rich white dude stands to benefit from this somehow, and the crew are sure to get away with it in such a heated civil rights climate. Why they are doing it, or who gains from what, I cannot tell you - either the film doesn't explain it, or I wasn't paying attention, or maybe it's simply the film's way of saying white men are racist, and black men are complicit in that racism. Perhaps someone can enlighten me otherwise? Either way, this particular group of black militants have no political agenda, and no quarrel with profiting from the good efforts of MLK.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. First, they all have to rape virgin Debby, in a not particularly convincing frenzy of violent homosocialism. They really don't stop talking to each other -- it's almost as if she doesn't need to be there. But of course, homosocial structures must have that reassuring female body in order to function. And in this context, a white female body signifies in very specific ways. Our main man Duke effectively claims Debby as his own, positioning himself as her pimp, so the other men have to jump through hoops, and win at poker, in order to gain access to his property.

Effectively, that's all there is to the film, but for me the intriguing parts lie in the gendered and raced characterizations, particularly Debby's curiously instantaneous transition into housewife and domestic servant. It's a racist, sexist stereotype that white women are submissive to men, while black women are not, leading to all sorts of cringe-inducing comments in the real world a la Wesley Snipes. It's very interesting, then, that Debby is immediately put to work cooking beans and pork chops, a rather surreal sight to see immediately following her forced deflowering. However, it's also a scenario that whiffs of white sexual fantasy and guilt. Later, she is the appointed whiskey-pourer during their poker game, and in general a quiet, meek little lady who dotes on the guys and never indicates any desire to escape (though she seems a bit down in the dumps). Let's face it though, and I suspect this is the point, she doesn't have a lot to go home to as established by the opening scene where she tells her boyfriend about the physical abuse she experiences at home, and then walks in on her mother fucking two guys.

Things certainly take a turn when a tough talking woman, Jody, shows up and starts verbally abusing Debby, growing jealous of Debby's "relationship" with her man Duke, and generally fulfilling the aforementioned black female stereotype. Well, she too gets raped when she puts up too much of a fuss about her boyfriend screwing Debby, but it all starts to wander toward the consentual, romantic rape formula that I have seen in dozens of porn flicks from this era, with Jody seeming to get into it while Debby is fucking her once-was-rapist in the other room to some soft and groovy tunes. It is here that the film starts to posture as a celebration of ebony and ivory and all the joys of interracial eroticism as Debby and Duke's bodies intertwine. (Following this, Duke tenderly orders the others to tie her up so she won't run away while he's out...).

By the end of the flick, it's not entirely clear what it all means, if indeed it means anything at all. What is clear is that Jody becomes the demonized obstructor of interracial love/lust, while the male sexual aggressors are vindicated. Jody orchestrates Stitch's anal rape of Debby, and when she tries to cut off Debby's tit, Stitch tries to stop her (what a hero!) and gets knifed himself. Just as Shorty goes to slice and dice the aforementioned white titty, Duke arrives, shotgun in hand, and literally blasts the meddling Jody across the room. He then seems to just leave Debby to wander the dusty roads while he drives off and presumably engineers a terrorist attack that we never get to see.

It's all a little too reminiscent of the complaints of black feminist theorists such as bell hooks and Patricia Hill Collins that social justice for "blacks" effectively means "black men," while "women's liberation" effectively means "white women's liberation." Furthermore, the film depicts a sense of how marginalized and oppressed groups tend to marginalize or oppress other groups as a way of highlighting their own plight, or to assist in their own enfranchisement. An example of this would be the early women's liberation movement using racist tactics to campaign for the right to vote; another example would be the general tendencies of "horizontal hostility" and resentement present in the racism and hostility directed from one oppressed racial minority toward another oppressed racial minority, something that stems from an overarching white hegemonic structure that encourages and thrives on such in-fighting and competition. It seems as though whatever Palmer was trying to say about race, she ended up letting the men off the hook, while the black female is rendered the "problem." Of course, this might all be trivial fluff, haphazardly blowing in across a muddled series of random exploitation tropes, but it's there nonetheless.

With all this in mind, I found Hot Summer in the City to be a grimy and confusing affair that had pretensions to political commentary, and a few unexpectedly interesting nudges and winks at broader social issues, even if at the expense of a third party. In addition, Palmer's own fantasies of interracial lust and forced sex surely figure into the mess. The overwhelming reason to see this film, however, is for the jive talking banter amongst the men, and the steady stream of presumably illegally used hits from the 60s and 70s.


Lee Jones said...

There's a question as to what extent Gail Palmer was involved with ANY of the films she's credited with.
Bob Chinn made both the "CANDY" films, while Harry Mohney likely directed this one. Palmer was his girlfriend, which is why she got her names on things.
However, she likely had something to do with the writing of the movies.
So, there you have it...this anti white patriarchy film was directed by a white patriarch...Probably.

Gore-Gore Girl said...

That's interesting you regard it as an "anti white patriarchy movie" - I wouldn't go that far, but I see what you're saying.

Yeah, I knew Chinn was the man behind those flicks, and read that there was always skepticism about the degree to which she was involved in anything.

Either way, as you note, she probably had some involvement, and even if she didn't have any, my reflections on the film wouldn't really be effected (other than the shifted expectations I try, and usually fail, to ignore). It felt like it was made by someone living in white patriarchy, trying to do something possibly interesting, but nevertheless succumbing to those old stereotypes and blaming mechanisms. I also don't discount any possible progressive elements in a film just because it's made by a white dude (same as not assuming something will be anti-sexist just because it's made by a woman etc).

Thanks for noting the background information - it certainly enriches my thinking about the flick.

Derek said...

Very interesting post!

Nice to see you update your excellent blog again! I've just put up my latest four-peneth as well. :)

goregirl said...

I was searching for a review of Wim Wenders Summer In The City and up pops your site! Clearly, Hot Summer In The City is not the film I was looking for, but damn! What a thorough and well-written review! Since I'm here, I'm reviewing all 1970's films until the end of the year and I wanted to throw in a porn-horror crossover, any suggestions?

Gore-Gore Girl said...

Haha! That's funny you were searching porn and didn't know it - what would Wim say! And thank you for your kind words.

As for 70s porn-horror, the first that always springs to mind is Hardgore, which is truly bizarre and very 70s. I wrote a little review here:

I can email you a list - there are a lot. Email me, and I will send you what I can think of.


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