Friday, January 14, 2011

"Don't Be a Schmuck!": Angel Buns (1981)

Howdy folks! I just returned from the AEE/AVN Awards 2011 in Las Vegas. It was my second time, and certainly things have changed even in the brief three intervening years. I got to meet a bunch of people I was hoping to meet, and experienced the usual Vegas shenanigans/annoyances. Now I'm back, Christmas is over, and a new semester is about to start, I figure I should kick off the new year with my thoughts on a fun and frivolous little film, Angel Buns (Dir. Jim Clark). I requested this screener because I thought it would be a bit of fun, and I liked the picture on the front (yeah, it's that simplistic sometimes). Of course, any film starring Veronica Hart and R. Bolla should be on a porn nerd's radar anyway, and I'm happy to report that this flick was fun but also gave me something to think about in terms of gender and genre.

Angel Buns is the familiar tale of a loser, Sydney (Bolla), who is so unhappy with his lot in life as a shoe clerk who is terrible with women that he decides to commit suicide. Luckily, the folks up in heaven are on the case and determine that Angel Buns (Hart), as his guardian angel, must go to Earth and help him out. Helping him out consists of working through a list of sex acts that he has not completed, while Angel Buns guides him in the rights and wrongs of sexual conduct with women. If she completes the assignment, she earns her wings; comingle with humans, however, and she loses them.

The very first act that Sydney is treated to is a BJ from an anonymous woman who appears at Angel Buns' calling. At this point in the film, I considered that the narrative centers around the re-education of masculine desire, and assumed that the film would simply reassert a sexuality that privileges male desire, and all but ignores female desire. Sydney is a douchebag -- he hits on women in a way that creeps them out, and as a result he doesn't get any "pussy." Here, in the first scene, nothing seems to be shifting him away from this approach as he is merely supplied with the fellatio that he desires. He doesn't even need to try, and furthermore Angel Buns goes about sprinkling angel dust on women so that they desire Sydney. Because of this coercive element, and the seemingly phallocentric focus of Sydney's re-education, I was pretty much rolling my eyes and preparing myself for a flick that promised much but failed to deliver.

However, happily, things started to shift after the first scene. An undercurrent of Sydney's (and by extension, men's) insecurities and shortcomings regarding women and sex started to emerge. "You've never had a really good blowjob, have you?" Angel Buns asserts. When Sydney protests, Angel laughs and retorts, "Once? With a prostitute, and it was over before she could say, 'Don't cum in my mouth.'" Such chastisement highlights the way Sydney focuses on his own sexual desire, and demonstrates his inability to satisfy a woman as a result. In addition, throughout the film Sydney's fatal flaw is his hesitation after getting what he ostensibly wants. Women are rarely, if ever, shown to lack sexual desire; it is men who back off and shrink from women's sexual advances. Whenever Sydney hesitates, Angel appears and snaps, "Sydney, don't be a schmuck!" thereby gradually encouraging him into an assertive but still caring masculine sexuality.

When Lisa Beth and Brenda Brooks enter Sydney's shoe store chattering about their sexual demands and conquests, it becomes clear that Sydney's challenge is not to overcome women's resistance, but to overcome his own sexual fears. Admittedly, Brooks (above right, and below) is pretty terrifying in a grotesquely awesome way, and when Sydney delivers her shoes later in the day, she greets him with, "Hey there, how'd you like to sit on my face?" Sydney stutters around a bit, and she asks, "You do eat pussy don't you?" He seems taken aback, perhaps even repulsed, and Angel appears to help him out in finding the woman's clit. "I know it's here somewhere..." he muses, before diving into his first lesson in cunnilingus. This scene is notable not just for talking the talk of female sexual pleasure, but for also walking the walk with its "meat shots" of the clit, framed in much the same way as Sydney's cock during the accompanying fellatio (courtesy of Lisa Beth, before she gets distracted by George Payne). Cutting back and forth between such close-ups emphasizes that, in spite of what most porn might suggest, male and female desire can indeed be sensationally and representationally equal.

The last thing on the list for Sydney to do is anal sex, and he knows just the gal -- an old girlfriend (Tiffany Clark) who, in spite of her desire for anal sex, he dumped after classifying her as a "GU" (Geographically Undesirable -- she lived in Brooklyn, he lived in Manhattan). He calls her, she isn't sure, and Angel sprinkles her magic dust on the receiver. No sooner has the GU agreed to dinner, Sydney is panicking: "I've never fucked anyone in the ass before!" Once again, female sexual desire is not the issue, but rather male anxiety. Granted, the magic dust swayed her, but in the beginning it was she who was desirous and he who backed off. A similar situation is emulated here, and when Sydney and Angel visit Angel Dick (a typically cheeky Jerry Butler) to show Sydney how its done, the focus of the success or failure of anal sex is squarely on the man's shoulders: his penis must be "rock hard."

After dinner with his GU, Sydney starts to resist her request to break her anal virginity. Luckily for him (and her), Angel is there to tell him, "Don't be a schmuck," and soon enough they're reaching for the butter in a nod to Last Tango in Paris. "Sydney, I can't believe it," the GU asserts, "I've finally got a cock up my ass!" By announcing this, the focus on who is achieving what shifts to the GU -- she has been wanting to do this for ages, and is now finally striking it from her list much like Sydney. Her pleasure is privileged more so than usual too, as Sydney's cries of "I'm gonna pull out!" are met with her warning, "Wait for me, wait for me!" Whether he waits or not remains ambiguous, as her orgasm is not really shown (as is typical), but you have to hand it to the flick for including her demands. In ambiguous cases like this, you can always tell yourself that she climaxed. Furthermore, while Sydney is reaching climax, Angel is too -- she gets so aroused by the scene, that she sits back and masturbates herself to an orgasm that visually and aurally coincides with his.

The film concludes with the compulsory scene between the two stars, who have gradually fallen in love over the course of Sydney's exploits. Angel is reprimanded by God for getting too close to her subject, but she throws caution to the wind and fucks Sydney knowing full well she will lose her wings. I was worried for a second that the film would end with the female character sacrificing her successes and accomplishments simply for the love of a man, but instead she is given the chance to start over as a human and returns to an evidently thrilled and in love Sydney, who himself is a new man: confident, self-assured, and showered with feminine attentions. Nevertheless, he clearly couldn't give a crap about the constant flow of calls from ladies once he sees Angel walk through the door. A sweet ending to an unexpectedly thought-provoking film that sparkles, both literally and figuratively thanks to some inspired cinematography, a cheeky tone, and two inspired performers.

Available here.


Roger Feelbert said...

I saw this a little while back and have been waffling on whether or not to revisit it in order to review.

Thankfully, you wrote up a much more concise review than I would have considering the one thing I took away from it was that Veronica Hart, who I think is awesome, should never, ever, EVER go blond....

Gore-Gore Girl said...

Ha -- yeah, the blond hair doesn't really work for her. Robert Rimmer says she's wearing a blond wig in his review, which is blatantly incorrect. I guess you can at least be thankful this is not the case.


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