Tuesday, December 20, 2011

"A Secret From Herself": The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann (1974) - Platinum Elite

Hey y'all. Is this my longest break ever? Probably. I'm back though, and with a treat of a film: the most recent installment of the Platinum Elite Collection from Video-X-Pix, Radley Metzger (nee Henry Paris)'s The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann, right in time for Christmas. When I say "right in time for Christmas," I really mean it. This is a great Christmas gift for a significant other, or a friend who appreciates great x-rated films, or even great genre flicks -- this feature is fun, frivolous, fast, and smart as a whip. It's also beautifully filmed and scored.

Thanks to the fine people at VXP, I was able to see this, one of my very favourite adult films, restored to its original beauty, and with awesome extras to boot. Oh, and the Jamie Gillis rape scene is restored -- like any good nerd, I have the DVD sans rape, as well as a shoddy bootleg copy that has the rape scene intact, looking as if someone shoved damaged VHS pieces into an already-grainy transfer. Whenever there is any reference to the rape sequence, the picture quality is reduced to this:

Which has been restored to this in the Platinum Elite version:

Ok, the remaining review will include massive amounts of spoilers *from the beginning.* Normally I wouldn't bother with this explanation, but the real joy of Pamela Mann is the twisty turny nature of the narrative, playfully tricking the viewer from the outset with delightful and (gasp) thought-provoking results. Nothing is what it seems, even in the seemingly-slightest of ways. So, if you haven't seen the film, do yourself a favour and watch it, and then if you want to come back and read this review, by all means do so. If you have seen the film, buy it restored. It's worth it. And please to enjoy...


As part of my research, I have been trying to track down the infamous Canadian anti-porn documentary, Not a Love Story (1981), which so far seems to be impossible to find. I have read a lot about it, however, and I understand that it involves a series of porn clips that portray pornography as violent, misogynistic, and riddled with rape. As I was looking at its imdb page, I noticed in the "references" that a clip from Pamela Mann is included in this documentary, and as this was prior to having seen Pamela Mann, I must admit it made me a little wary. Now, I have not seen this documentary, but I am assuming the clip in question is that of the rape scene that was edited from the previous DVD release, and is now restored intact. I have to say, of all the crimes of taking things out of context, that might be the worst committed. And if the clip they used is not the rape scene...well then I have no fucking idea what they could have used. The running gag involving the secretary? My point is this: Pamela Mann is a film narratively framed from the perspective of the eponymous character, but told from the perspectives of various masculine, paternal male characters, all of whom (except Mr. Mann) end up as suckers in the role-playing shenanigans of Pamela and her husband. Patriarchal discourses, such as private investigative voyeurism and medical/psychoanalytical babble, are taken to task and spearheaded as the gynophobic, regulating discourses they are. For this reason, then, the triumphant nature of this film in terms of female subjectivity, is entirely undermined by a feminist documentary that takes a scene out of context -- regardless of which scene it actually was -- presumably with the intention of showing how women are violently degraded in service of masculine sexual fantasy. How ironic.

The film opens with GGG-favourite Eric Edwards (oh how I adore thee) as Frank, surreptitiously filming a woman blowing a man who is not her husband. Frank is a private detective (3rd generation compulsive voyeur, as he puts it) hired by suspicious husbands to film their wives in the act of adultery, after which he shows them the film evidence. The film's trickery begins immediately as the client angrily asserts, "How could he?" He? Frank (and us) figured he was peeping on the woman, as is the wont of heteroporn. Nothing in this film, however, is quite what it initially seems, and as soon as you think you've got the upper hand, Metzger pulls the rug out once again.

Frank's next client is Mr. Mann (Alan Marlow, or "Gary Cole" as I like to refer to him), who believes his wife Pamela (Barbara Bourbon) is up to something and requires Frank's services. Pamela does many things in a day: "she combines ritual and spontaneity in the most perfect and exciting way. She does social work in the slums and ghettos. She enjoys solitude, like a walk in the park, and she's at home in a crowd. She can go off by herself and read, but she gets along with people. She's political, yet a strong individual." A dynamic and independent woman, then, and one whose "morning exercises" consist of a little masturbation while gazing at herself in the mirror.

Mr. Mann believes Pamela will seek out somebody to fulfill her fantasy of deep throating, so Eric follows her to the park where she picks up Marc "10 1/2" Stevens, presumably chosen for his middle name. The filming style during these scenes is professional, but done in a way that suggests voyeurism, such as the long shots by the bridge, and the scene framed by abundant plants that fill the room while she deep throats Stevens. Yet, while you might not realize at this point in the film, Pamela drives this sexual narrative and, unbeknownst to the voyeur-cum-private investigator, he is merely a tool in capturing her escapades for the mutual pleasure of Pamela and her husband.

The subsequent scenes of philandering are exhibited for Mr. Mann after the scene has played out for us, the audience, accompanied by Frank's "expert" analysis of her behaviour, presuming Mr. Mann to be disappointed by this confirmation of her faithlessness. Pamela's lived-out deep throating fantasy, for example, demonstrates a "deep oral need which has its roots in her development being arrested about the age of..." "Consent," Mr. Mann suggests. "Oh no, much earlier," Frank asserts. Meanwhile, Pamela's sumptuous love-making with Spelvin is read as indicating "an insecurity with members of the opposite sex. A sense of inadequacy." Mr. Mann consistently suggests that perhaps Frank has it wrong, that perhaps he is missing something about the depth (or perhaps simplicity) of Pamela, but the analyses persist.

Georgina Spelvin, in a minor role as Pamela's hooker friend, threatens to steal the film with her usual magnetism. Her brief dialogue with Pamela about "the loneliness" is one of my very favourites. She also has one of the most compelling scenes, with a gay man seeking her services, services which do not include full sex. However, on discovering his inability to cum with a woman, she takes it as a challenge and joyfully provides a full service. She's been duped, though, as he isn't really gay but rather an actor preparing for a role as a gay man, as he excitedly tells his friend afterwards. Not so fast folks -- in the very next scene, Georgina laughingly relates to Pamela the fun she had fucking a guy trying to convince her that he's gay: "It seemed important to him, so I let him pull it off. I always wanted to ball him anyway." If this is what it feels like being duped by a film, then dupe me every time.

The following scene is the notorious rape, entirely orchestrated by Pamela and performed by her servants, though we do not discover this until the end. Bourbon's acting and Jamie Gillis' usual intensity (ably assisted by Darby Lloyd Rains) render this scene quite disturbing, but the film's twist ending means that repeat viewings contribute new and dynamic meanings to the scenes, most especially this one. What appears to be a typical scenario in which a woman seems to begin enjoying rape, is in fact an act of role playing controlled entirely by the female subject, Pamela. The class distinctions between the players -- a socialite woman employing her servants in living out a rape fantasy -- emphasize these inverted power dynamics even more so.

Having traced Pamela through her various sexual escapades, indulged during various social, political, and charitable events, and dutifully presenting them to Mr. Mann, Frank is growing profoundly attached to the enigmatic Pamela Mann. He just can't quite put his analytical finger on who exactly she is, and neither can we. Of course, Frank's final analysis that Pamela is "a secret from herself" and has become too attached to Frank is hilariously off base. The final sequence, where all is revealed, is a doozy, as well as beautifully depicted through careful edits. It prompts a reassessment of several moments and characters in a way that I certainly did not anticipate. It fleshes out the narrative and characters in a way that I think is particularly unexpected in a film that feels so light and refreshing. While perhaps not quite on a par with masterpieces such as The Opening of Misty Beethoven, or even my personal favourite The Ecstasy Girls, which have a darker edge and characters who you become more emotionally invested in, I believe Pamela Mann is one the greats, and is perhaps not remembered quite as vividly because the film purposefully distances you as a viewer. It requires multiple viewings, and even then you are merely the duped voyeur of some fascinating and wonderful characters. But, for me, that's the magic of it all.

Extras include interesting and lengthy interviews with both Georgina Spelvin and Eric Edwards, commentary by Radley Metzger, a softcore cut of the movie, a couple of mini-docs about the locations and "Metzgers's Manhattan," an excellent booklet of historical and production notes written by historian Benson Hurst, including a brief analysis of the film, and other treats. A hearty thank you to VXP for this labour of love, and here's to further labours of love in 2012.


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