Another pairing of 70’s porn from the fine folks at Vinegar Syndrome comes our way this week, and it’s a bit of a mixed bag on both the cinematic and prurient ends of the equation.
First and most significant comes 1973’s The Sexualist, featuring a positively stunning young Tina Russell (a Misty Mundae clone who comes off as a sort of hippie chick brunette version of Angel Tompkins here).
The film also features (and strangely, top bills) cougar starlet Jennifer Welles at what amounts to her youngest and best looking appearance I’ve been exposed to on screen to date. To be quite blunt about it, by the time she got to starring and co-billing roles for legendary sexploitation auteur Joe Sarno, the lady was looking pretty damn ratty, so it was a surprise seeing her somewhat presentable for a change.
So, on to the film proper.
This is a weird one. At the start of the picture, it appears to be set up like one of those old white coaters, with absurd yet pretentious voiceover narration as a paper thin veneer of “educational respectability” (if you’ve never seen one of these, think Mondo film and its self reflexive presentation as “documentary” – it’s not all that far off base).
The Sexualist, which comes with the subtitle “A Voyage to the World of Forbidden Love” – an odd choice given how vanilla most of the acts on display prove to be, opens on “Jeffrey Montclair, former medical student, now filmmaker and astrologer” (Dale Fuller, who looks and acts a whole hell of a lot like E. Kerrigan Prescott of Frederick Hobbs’ Roseland). This stereotypical hippie brings to us his “extensive reading into the scientific literature of sex” in addition to a set of equally stereotypical British level messed up teeth (think Ken Dodd here).
But make no mistake, the first 10 minutes or so are quite raw and in your face. A real knockout of a brunette (Barbara Benner, who falls somewhere between a young Cher and Barbara Mills of Vinegar Syndrome’s The Suckers and The Love Garden) helps Welles masturbate with and without a lit candle, intercut with Russell taking her own matters well into hand.
In fact, you’ll be seeing an awful lot of Russell pleasuring herself with a wide variety of adult toys as the film goes on – if you’ve never seen one of those weird old school vibrators with the suction cup, here’s your chance. It’s just one vividly shot, close up, vibrantly colored quick cut scene after another. One is reminded of Nick Philips nee Millard’s early films in the sheer directness on display here. No artsy fartsy stuff. No pretense at a story. No gauzy cinematography or clever setups – just that camera getting right in there up close and personal. And it’s a surprising stance to see taken, particularly for films of this vintage.
But then the film veers way off into bizarro territory.
There’s some weird comedic asides, courtesy of “Papa Mbutu, recently from the jungle, come to the big city to look for fame and fortune”, who turns out to be a guy in a gorilla suit, and “Mr. Godfather, his current producer”, a fat hairy guy with no shirt on, but sporting a silk suit jacket he couldn’t possibly button (the gag: “in his last production, he lost his shirt”).
There’s also a bit with two drag queens who interview for a part and wind up in a transgender catfight, and some ersatz commentary on race relations in a failed film in a film scene between Welles and her intended black male costar, though it’s not exactly clear what’s being said here, if anything.
The overriding problem here is that the picture fails to achieve any measure of internal cohesion. The Sexualist jumps back and forth randomly between three styles of filming, which never really come together and the juxtaposition of which proves quite jarring and offputting.
On one hand, we’re forced to sit through rather lengthy sequences of Welles wandering around the city aimlessly, sitting around in empty basement bars and chatting with a homely friend who wants to be an actress.
Then, probably realizing that the trenchcoat crowd warming the seats of the grindhouse theaters this picture was likely to play to was getting quite bored and restless, it switches back to the aforementioned quick cut close up white coater material, with rather surprising and voyeuristically exciting visuals accompanied with ridiculous narration making up all sorts of nonsense about zodiacal signs and sexual preferences.
And then it shifts again, into dated Laugh In/Groove Tube style comedy, which pleases no one, but at least is suitably bizarre enough to leave viewers bewilderedly semi-attentive…
Picture quality, as usual, is absolutely stunning. Vinegar Syndrome and director Kemal Horulu join forces at nearly 40 years remove to deliver one of the most vibrant non-Blu Ray DVD prints I’ve seen in some time (if not ever).
Colors are not only strong, they’re hyper-realistic, and the image looks better than if we were in the room with the performers ourselves. It’s seriously amazing how much attention Vinegar Syndrome, like the similarly minded Distribpix, pays to restoring these forgotten pieces of buried Americana – there are major releases that don’t look half as good as this.
Boy, that ugly short haired blonde sure has a big bright whores’ stable tattoo on her ass…and wait till you see the fat slob who’s supposed to get it on with “Papa Mbutu” in another failed joke sequence late in the film (though nowadays, she’d probably be considered “normal” if not “hot” (LOL)…how waistlines have changed!).
The film comes with a few outtakes, including one nice one with Tina giving some soapy digital manipulation to a scrawny, somewhat effeminate looking fellow who can’t seem to decide whether he’s “with it” (note the full beard) or “straight society” (note the dorky hairdo).
There’s also an odd one with a really young looking guy (also pretty fey) pulling a missionary on the older, relatively speaking larger brunette Benner. While she’s not exactly big or particuarly bulky, she could easily take this guy in a fight, let’s put it that way – the schmuck apparently never developed a muscle in his life.
The bottom line is, if we concentrate on what’s good about The Sexualist, what we have here is very likely one of the most up close and personal, truly vivid and raunchy visual feasts from the very earliest days of “porno chic” (if not before that even became a popular movement among filmgoing couples of the day).
It’s no masterpiece and in fact fails somewhat miserably as a film: there’s really no plot, it’s extremely disjointed and quite jarring to jump back and forth between the hot quick cut narrated sequences and the long, boring and rather pointless Welles “story” inserts – your own tastes will make the call on the weird comedy bits. But if you’re looking for some astoundingly visual, seedy closeup sequences along the lines of a Nick Philips (but far more hardcore and less lesbian-focused), the sheer power and surprise The Sexualist delivers simply can’t be denied.
On the other hand, we have an earlier picture by the same director called Wendy’s Palace, which has the unique distinction of having literally nothing to recommend it.
It’s “plot heavy” this time, some nonsense about prostitutes all being lesbians providing a flimsy framework for one boring rug munching scene after another. The girls are uniformly unattractive, bar one black cutie in an upswept with ponytail who wiggles her moneymaker for her brief examination by “Dr. Albert” – all of one minute worth of running time – and then gets licked all over by some disgusting bald fat guy who takes pictures afterwards – another 5 minutes. That’s it – 6 minutes of interest.
Seriously, it says a lot when the most exciting bit of business comes from a poster of Brigitte Bardot in one of the hookers’ bedrooms – that made me perk up and pay attention for all of 3 seconds. Wow.
This double bill from a lesser known director from the era of ‘porno chic’ (or thereabouts) comes with a mild recommendation for the very forgiving and patient, who can appreciate a few surprisingly raw scenes that amount to flashes of action in a music video timewise, and will just be happy to see a few obscurities given the red carpet treatment visually.