Wednesday, September 29, 2010

"Look At That Bitch Take It!": Smoker (1983)

Thanks to Blacksix, who recommended this after reading my mini-review of Skintight, I checked out this odd little film the other night. If you were to ask me what Smoker is "about" I would likely say "voyeurism, gender, and dildos..." but that's not all. Not by a mile. I have to say, in the best possible sense, this film spoiled my evening of fun as I was left ruminating over the depths of what I had just experienced. It's a dark watch, but not disturbing exactly. It's unsettling, but predominantly because it makes you think...a lot.

Smoker is a film that actively plays with interconnected binaries: spectator/spectacle, subject/object, masculine/feminine. A cursory glance at any recent gender studies or queer theory textbook would reveal the now-standard distinction between sex and gender. While sex is biological, the argument goes, gender is constructed and performed. Masculine and feminine are gender roles that we (males and females) perform, but are arbitrarily and culturally associated with a birth sex, and constantly being revised by those who perform it (us). In this way, traits regarded as "feminine" can be embodied (sometimes literally) by both males and females, but will nevertheless be associated with biological females and typically be taken for granted as naturally so. I'm so familiar with this concept that it routinely surprises me when students respond to this idea with amazement and a realization of its truth, so evident in their everyday life.

With this in mind, it's worth being reminded of Laura Mulvey's concept of the "male gaze" (likely familiar to many of you) first discussed in her 1975 essay "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema." For Mulvey, classic cinematic narrative utilizes a sadistic framework wherein the woman is object and the male (character and spectator) is subject. The cinematic gaze is presumed to be male, voyeuristic, sadistic, and active. The female object "connotes to-be-looked-at-ness" and is passive. Mulvey would later argue that women spectators are forced into a masculine identificatory position, while male objects of the gaze are feminized. This theory has been argued with and against for decades, yet it remains a dominant idea in film studies and feminist theory, and certainly lends well to a reading of Smoker. Indeed, I would venture to say that Smoker actively and consciously addresses and plays with the male gaze, gender binaries, and generic assumptions to do with pornography spectatorship.

In a nutshell, Sharon Mitchell plays Madame Suque, who is "not a revolutionary out of any sense of altruism," but nevertheless a dungeon mistress intent on blowing up an unnamed mass of people that she hates (likely the masses, comparable to Holden Caulfield's "phonies" and Valerie Solanis's "SCUM"). She aims to do this by replacing the harmless dildos for sale in her shop with bombs, and the film opens with Freddy (Ron Jeremy), her obedient shop worker and all-around Igor, selling one of these bomb-dildos to an unassuming Angie (Troy Lane). She simply wants to get off with her girlfriend/roommate Sophie (Diana Sloan), who are in turn being watched and masturbated to through a one-way mirror by their janitor and next-door neighbour, Howard (David Christopher). Meanwhile, a man in sunglasses (John Leslie) is tracking down the dildo terrorists, and stopping in on various perverts along the way (most memorably, Howard and his wife Phyllis (Joanna Storm) who fuck all over the kitchen while Howard eats some marshmallow cream and berries). Phew! It was a bit tough keeping track of the plot, and often I felt that even though I had a relatively uncut copy, there were bits and pieces missing that perhaps were interfering with narrative coherence. Regardless, for me the film is less about plot, and much more about the gaze - the camera's, the character's, and ours - and all that this implies.

After the hunt for the dildo begins, and Angie has been kidnapped and raped, Howard sneaks into the women' apartment, tries on their lingerie, and performs in front of the two-way mirror that he had been gazing through just moments before. A few different ideas coalesce in this sequence: Howard is watching himself watch himself in a sort of dual-voyeurism, performing for his literal gaze (in the mirror) and his imagined gaze (behind the mirror). Howard's donning of women's clothing also suggests that to embody the gazed-at, it is fitting that you embody the feminine.

As if to emphasize this transgendering, the very next scene involves John Leslie's man-in-sunglasses performing what he imagines to be a woman's experience of sex, verbalizing female arousal for Sophie's arousal. His utterances of how "wet" he is, how big "he" is, and how he wants "him" to "put it in," all while Sophie gazes at him and he caresses himself, confuse gender lines through what Linda Williams has terms "oscillating identification." Rather than a bisexual spectatorial identification (masculine/feminine), the relations of watcher and watched become dizzyingly queer and fluid.

Meanwhile, Howard has regained his position behind his mirror, still in lingerie and fucking himself with the missing dildo while watching Sophie and the man in sunglasses fuck each other in her apartment. The framing again encourages a confusion of spectatorial position, as we see Howard and his reflection, ostensibly watching the couple but from this angle seeming to watch himself as he says in a feminine tone, "Look at that bitch. Look at that bitch take it!" We're prompted to question, "Which bitch?" Which character in this transgendered mass of personas, performances, and reflections is the "bitch"? who is giving it, and who is taking it? And where do we, as viewers, stand in relation to all this?

Later, after Sophie has also been kidnapped, Madame Suque decides to take matters into her own hands and retrieve the dildo herself. Ordering, "Get me my disguise," she is handed a frilly, Victorianesque dress and parasol. Not only does this signify that gender is drag -- a "disguise" -- (emphasized by a prolonged shot of her naked and gradually getting dressed) but it also implicitly asks questions about how rape is gendered, as Suque herself is later attacked and raped by the man in sunglasses, aided by a reluctant Howard.

Suque's futile defense, "You can't do this to me!" is itself suggestive of who can and can't "do" and is and isn't "done," calling to mind Carol J. Clover's analysis of rape-revenge films in Men, Women, and Chainsaws. Clover argues that rape is gendered: to be raped is to be gendered feminine, yet the uneasy truth that emerges from representations of rape is that rape is sexless. In reality, male and female bodies can both be raped, but if you're raped you're "like a woman."

Of course, the defeat of Suque is a typical punishment of the active, inquisitive woman who dares to take on a masculine role, yet this traditional framework seems out of place in an otherwise very queer and subversive film. I was actually quite disappointed by the film's ending, but nevertheless I was left thinking about the film as a whole for hours after watching it. Certainly, this is one of the more interesting and transgressive flicks I've seen in a while.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Quickies! Fall Semester Edition Part 2!

Hey folks! Life is starting to reach some semblance of routine and orderliness. I've even done some reading! Of course, I haven't laxed up on an equally important part of my research: watching movies!

Here's the latest in my film viewing...compacted and reproduced for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!

Bon Appetit (Dir. Chuck Vincent, 1980)

Hmm. Normally a film directed by Chuck Vincent featuring Jack Wrangler should be super, but this film is extremely average. Kelly Nichols travels the world with Randy West as she tries to fuck all the men on Gloria Leonard's "Best Lovers" list in a certain period of time, and Randy documents the evidence on camera. In actuality, it seems like 30% of the movie is made up of panning shots of various exteriors and cityscapes. All very pretty, and there are lots and lots of white people with afros (including Wrangler, who doesn't talk and barely fucks), yet this cannot save the movie from being dull. A shame, but I'm happy that the cast and crew got to go on vacation.

Champagne For Breakfast (Dir. Chris Warfield, 1980)

Leslie Bovee stars as a rich lady who, after a life of hard workin' decides to start fucking around and enjoying herself but needs someone to drive her to each engagement. John Leslie figures out Bovee doesn't want to hire straight guys, so pretends to be gay and gets hired as her masseuse and chauffeur. John puts on quite a mincing performance (which I've seen before in Every Woman Has a Fantasy Part II), but it's a lot less fun when his character's aggressive homophobia is never taken to task. It all comes across as pretty offensive. Nevertheless, it's not a total bust and there are some fun and sexy moments to savor.

Massive Facials (Dir. Sam No, 2008)

I'm not exactly what you would call a blow-bang fan -- first there's the very concept, which isn't really my thing (female pleasure secondary), and then there's the spectacle of lots of dudes standing around naked and awkward, jerking off. Well, this flick was a different affair. I may be weighing an entire film on its first scene (with Jenna Haze), but boy what a scene. The others are good too. Female pleasure is certainly not given the backseat in this film, with ample use of electric toys and a determined level of communication between crew and performer (which Mason/Sam No fans have become happily accustomed to expect). Each "massive facial" is followed by lots of applause, giggles, and verbal interaction, and the whole thing is fun and sexy. There are still the naked men standing around jerking, but it's a lot less awkward. Great stuff.

Daisy Chain (Dir. Kirdy Stevens, 1984)

A porn film about the making of a porn film, and the silly antics that occur during the process. Karen Summer steals the show, as she's apt to do, as the script girl who wants in on the action. There are lots of funny lines, and Kevin James is goofy and lovable as usual. You get the impression that Helene Terrie (who also wrote the Taboo series which Stevens' directed) is working with some real and fantasized behind-the-scenes scenarios with her screenplay, with some fun and interesting (if a bit lightweight) results.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

New and Upcoming Releases of Interest!

Howdy folks! I always keep my eyes peeled for new releases and re-releases that stand out for one reason or another, and occasionally like to share with you fine folks who may not trawl through the hundreds of titles released each month like I do.

So, here are just four that have piqued my curiosity and/or got me waiting in anticipation. Enjoy!

NB. I take no responsibility if any of these flicks suck. I haven't seen them yet.

Rough Sex 2 (Dir. Tristan Taormino, 2010)

"They create the scenes. They choose their partners. They control what happens." So goes the rationale behind the second installment of Tristan Taormino's excellent series. The first volume was nominated for a Feminist Porn Award, and it's clear why. These films are not simply rough scene after rough scene with no communication, but rather dialogues on different negotiations of power and sex. The interviews are fascinating, and lend the ensuing sex scene a certain complexity, intensity, and intimacy that otherwise might have been lacking.

Based on the strength of the first film, the stellar cast of this second entry, and Taormino's outlook on sex and porn in general, I will be picking this one up.

Available now.

Sanatorium (Dir. Gary Orona, 2010)

The blurb phrases the plot of this 35mm film thus: "Porn star icon Tabitha Stevens embarks on a journey to recover her sanity after wrestling with the hypocrisy of the anti-porn crusaders who condemn her, discovering that these lawyers, politicians and priests are far more twisted than the sex business could ever be. Their wicked deed send Tabitha on a personal vision quest fraught with sexual illusions and wildly erotic dream states that turn her into a sexual warrior. Armed with her new power, she's ready to take down the establishment that drove her to the brink of insanity, and prove that there's nothing evil about a beautiful woman who simply loves sex."

Intriguing, not to mention ambitious. There are several keywords and concepts in here that catch my attention, but I particularly like the political underpinnings and apparent message that active female sexuality should not be cloaked in shame. Then there's the fact that it's shot on film, and from reading various scribblings online I have surmised that the filmmakers seem to give a crap about their product. We shall see.

Available Sept. 7th.

Inside Little Oral Annie HD (Dir. Joe Sarno, 1984)

Video-X-Pix are about to release this beautifully remastered HD transfer of Inside Little Oral Annie, the first HD release of a classic XXX flick. Exciting screen shots can be found here.

According to VXP, this film is their all time biggest seller, which intrigues me seeing as it's not exactly touted as being amongst the greatest porn flicks, nor does it appear to be particularly famous. In VXP's words, "By no means, is this a very artistic film, but rather the opposite. Just a great example of XXX smut in the 80s." I'm sold!

Available "mid-September."

Tori Black is Pretty Filthy 2 (Dir. Mason, 2010)

I could have probably picked any of these four new releases from Elegant Angel, especially as three of them are directed by Mason. I have to go with Tori, though, seeing as the first Pretty Filthy was mind-blowingly awesome. I love the format, with the candid and thoughtful interview segments, dedication to highlighting female sexual pleasure, and an overall sense of quality and passion that I have come to expect from all Mason's films. I'm excited about this one.

Available Sept. 28th. 4-disc Superstar September Box Set available Sept. 30th.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Quickies! Fall Semester Edition: Part 1

Hey folks. It's been busy in my neck of the woods thanks to obligations that come around this time of the year. I've been dutifully using my down time to watch lots of flicks though, most of which have turned out to be porn movies about porn, or porn movies about planes, or porn movies about porn being made on planes. Strange. Enjoy!

Careful, He May Be Watching (Richard Pacheco, 1987)

Wow, this movie really impressed me. Seka plays pilot Mike Horner's lovely wife, who lives a double life as porn star Molly Flame. While hubby is off flying planes, she is busy making fuck flicks at home. It's kind of a Superman/Clark Kent deal, with the Jane Smith housewife role being the performance, while Molly Flame is the "real" her. Beautifully and creatively shot, with subtly complex characterizations, I enjoyed the dynamic between Molly/Jane and her husband, who is genuinely torn up inside after fantasizing about a stewardess. It's all strangely sweet and believable, with the troubled but committed relationship forming the core of the narrative. Great stuff.

Coffee, Tea or Me (Bob Vosse, 1983)

Jamie Gillis, Juliet Anderson, Paul Thomas...a plane...I kinda assumed this would be good no matter what, but it was just average and veering into mundane. Juliet is a stewardess with aspirations of becoming the first female commercial pilot. Airline boss PT thinks it's a grand idea, but pilot husband Jamie finds it threatening and convinces PT to turn her down. Meanwhile, Jamie is philandering all over the place. What a bastard. Well, at least we have his comeuppance to look forward to at the end of the flick, what with Juliet being so tough and all. The film just kind of ends without any such fun closure. A highly disposable film, but not so bad that I got mad at it.

Firestorm (Cecil Howard, 1984)

Holy smokes, this film is great. I won't bother trying to explain the plot, beyond the premise that a ghost writer is hired by a wealthy woman to pen her memoirs -- it's a complicated, non-linear noirish affair, full of intriguing characters (played by a stellar cast including GGG favourites Eric Edwards, John Leslie, Kay Parker, and a fleeting appearance by Veronica Hart). As if all that weren't enough, it's incredibly well shot and the use of light, color, shadow, and framing is outstanding. I feel lucky for having seen this.

Fly Girls (Robby D., 2009)

Having seen Flight Attendants, I can say with ease that Fly Girls wins the 2009 flight attendant porn battle. That said, it also suffers from some of the same problems. Fly Girls is about a group of folks trying to make a porn movie on a plane renegade style, but through a series of mishaps end up on the wrong plane thinking they're being filmed and everyone is in on it. Hilarity ensues. Actually, that was only intended as mildly sarcastic because the dialogue is pretty funny and clever in places (especially all the banter about France, courtesy of Manuel and Katsuni), but as with so many promising new features, the narrative is lumped into the front section of the film, to make way for looooooong sex scenes that dominate the latter sections and ruin the flow of narrative. It started out invigorating and fun, and wound up tedious enough for me to fast-forward the majority of the second half. A shame.

Skintight (Ed De Priest, 1981)

Hmmm. This film is rather odd, with a couple of striking visual sequences, but not quite good enough to really be memorable as a whole. Paul Thomas and Annette Haven star as sex therapists, and while Annette is dutifully fucking her clients back to health, PT is becoming obsessed with another woman and eventually goes nuts and rapes her. Mingled into all of this are some weird music video style sequences (heavy on leather, chains, and aviator glasses) and some sex scene music that is both baffling and unerotic. Music is credited to "Sabu" -- I recognize one of the songs from the Spleen's entrance in Mystery Men. I can't say I recommend or discourage seeking this film out.


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