Monday, May 30, 2011

Women Behaving Badly

I saw a few films where the general theme was women behaving badly; sometimes men were behaving badly as well.

A Labor of Love; documentary; directed by Robert Flaxman & Daniel Goldman; (1976) - Official Website
The Wild Pussycat; (1969)
Bridesmaids starring Kristen Wiig; (2011) - Official Website
It starring Clara Bow; silent with intertitles; (1927)

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A Labor of Love and The Wild Pussycat were part of the YBCA's Vintage Erotica series. The film I was most interested in seeing was Camille 2000 directed by Radley Metzger. However, the Roxie's I Wake Up Dreaming series conflicted with the first screening and I didn't feel well so I passed on the second screening.

A Labor of Love was a "making of" documentary. The subject was The Last Affair which is billed as the only hardcore porn film ever filmed in Chicago. I'm not sure how that claim was verified. I'm not sure why The Last Affair deserved a documentary on its making. Quoting Roger Ebert from 1976, "The Last Affair is an appallingly bad movie - so completely bankrupt in ideas, in characterization, in simple common sense that it's little wonder its makers bought a theater to get it shown." Based on the little I saw in A Labor of Love, I have to concur with Mr. Ebert.

What is interesting is that the documentary is more interesting than the source material. For the record, The Last Affair was repurposed before its release so the sex scenes were edited out. That may or may not have improved the film. The premise of The Last Affair as stated in A Labor of Love is that there is a brothel catering to women stocked with all kinds of men...the rare and elusive brothel catering to heterosexual women, right up there with the unicorn and the last honest man. That's all one needs to know about The Last Affair.

A Labor of Love interviews the director and actors working on The Last Affair. They don't quite seem to realize they are making porn dressed up as pretentious schlock. A Labor of Love is most enjoyable when it captures the spirt of the 70s. The actors all speak about empowerment, women's rights and all the other 1970s buzzwords. Director Robert Flaxman took questions after the screening. He said all the actors talked a good game of swinging and free love but when it came time to actually film the porn, they realized they were in over their head (no pun intended).

The most fascinating subject was actress Debbie Dan who reminded me of every 1970s stereotype I recalled. She looked and spoke like an amalgamation of actresses from the era. She talked about women's liberation and how she wasn't uptight about sex but it seemed to be an act. Dan was a trooper though. Even though she had her period that day, she showed up with douche bag in hand to film her sex scene.

A Labor of Love is a fascinating and valuable time capsule of the sexual revolution circa 1976. It's well worth a viewing. I wouldn't call it erotica by any stretch.

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The Wild Pussycat was a Greek soft-core porno flick from the swinging 60s; the dialogue was dubbed. Before the film, YBCA film curator Joel Shepard said The Wild Pussycat was the only film in YBCA history to receive a standing ovation when they screened it a few years ago. The film was better attended than any YBCA screening I've been to.

The plot involved a young woman who is avenging her sister's death. Vera and Mike (or was it Nick?) are a couple but Mike certainly abuses the relationship. She pimps Vera out, has rough sex with her in front of the landlord to avoid paying rent and ties her up and makes her watch him having sex with another woman. Eventually, he kicks Vera out of the apartment and she commits suicide. Unfortunately for Mike, Vera left a diary which details her degradations. More unfortunatrely, Vera has beautiful sister who is out for vengeance. Vera's sister Nadia (Gizela Dalli) is protagonist of the film.

Nadia lures Mike to her boudoir with the promise of sex but instead drugs him and chains him up in a secret, soundproof room behind the bedroom mirror. From that vantage point, Mike will suffer excruciatingly as Nadia beds a number of men and women. Mike can only look upon the frolicking through the mirror with his right hand conveniently out of camera range.

Eventually, the sexual sadism becomes too much for Mike to handle he goes insane. If the filmmakers played this film straight, it would have been a all-time classic. However, it was played tongue-in-cheek (and other other orifices) which gives it a campy feel. Still not a bad film but not quite worthy of a standing ovation. The audience was roaring with laughter at times but kept their seats as the credits rolled.

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I saw Bridesmaids at the Balboa. The film has done well at the box office and is well reviewed. Tagged as "The Hangover for chicks," I thought the film deserved to stand on its own merits. From the commeercials, I was expectng more raunchy humor but most of the film deals with Annie (Kristen Wiig) who is asked to be the maid-of-honor at her childhood best friend's wedding. Annie has some serious issues she is dealing with. Mainly, her bakery has gone bankrupt robbing her of her self-confidence as well as the work she loves to do. Annie is stuck in a job she doesn't like, living with odd duck English roommates and perpetually broke. At this point, she has to deal with Lilian's (Maya Rudolph) wedding which would be stressful enough except Helen, another bridesmaid, seems intent on upstaging Annie at every turn and displacing her as Lilian's best friend. Throw in the other bridesmaids, a sexually frustrated mother of three, a sexually inexperience housewife and the groom's wacky sister and you the recipe for The Hangover minus the Y chromosone.

Bridesmaids reels it back though. Whenever the film has a oppotunity amp it up, it steps back gives Annie an emotional (but funny) setback to deal with. Bridesmaids is more Wiig's vehicle to showcase the insecurities and ultimate triumph of Annie than a rauchy ensemble film with the gender roles reversed. Annie even has a sensitive love interest whom she runs away from after their first intimate encounter. Along the way, there are plenty of laughs. Counting up Annie's misadventures, she takes bridesmaid to restaurant where they get food poisoning, she makes a spectacle of herself at the bridal shower, she is removed from an airline flight by a US Air Marshall and she violates several motor vehicle laws to the consternation of her love interest (a highway cop).

Bridesmaids is also notable for being Jill Clayburgh's final film. She played Annie's mother.

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Many years ago, I went to the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum in Fremont. I'm not sure if they screened films at the time. Regardless, I did not see a film on my previous visits. For a few years, I wanted to revisit Niles Essanay because they screen silent films there every week. However, it is all the way over in Fremont which is about a 50 minute drive for me (assuming no traffic).

On the Saturday night during Memorial Day Weekend, with nothing else tempting me in the City, I trekked to Fremont. I was thinking the rain and holiday would keep the crowds down. According to the staff, the crowd was a little larger than usual that night.

The Essanay Studios were down the street from the current museum and theater. The theater was a functioning nickelodeon at the time Essanay Studios was active. The announcer speculated that Charlie Chaplin and Bronco Billy Anderson may have watched films in the same space we were occupying.

The feature film that night was It starring Clara Bow. The two short films preceding it were:

The New York Hat starring Mary Pickford and Lionel Barrymore; with Mae Marsh and Dorothy & Lilian Gish; directed by D.W. Griffith; silent with intertitles; (1912)
The Danger Girl starring Gloria Swanson; silent with intertitles; (1916)

I had a bit of a headache that night. My health seems to be on the wane as of late. I seem to have gone from one serious illness to a number of smaller ailments that manifest themselves as malaise. Anyway, that's the leadup to saying, I dozed off during The Danger Girl.

I was awake for both reels of The New York Hat which was a cautionary tale of the damage gossip can do in a small town. It didn't really impress me but it was one literally one out of hundred of short films Pickford made before she became America's sweetheart.

After an intermission which reinvigorated me with a tour of the projection booth and a short discussion with Jason Wiener regarding a Slate article on the film projectionists union, I was ready to go for It.

What is It? The concept was developed by Elinor Glyn through a series in Cosmopolitan magazine in 1926. Prior to the film, Glyn made of list of those who have It - Clara Bow (how coincidental), Rudolph Valentino, John Gilbert, the doorman at the Ambassador Hotel and Rex the Wonder Horse. Distinct from sex appeal, It is loosely defined by Glyn and others. I guess you may not be able to describe It but you'll recognize It when you see It.

After the film, Bow was known as the It Girl. Prior to the film, her moniker was the Brooklyn Bonfire. Bow was also one half of the inspiration of Betty Boop. Singer Helen Kane was the other half.

When I selected the title for this post, I was not just referring to porn actresses and dysfunctional bridesmaids. I was also considering Clara Bow whose peronsal life was much criticized as well as Betty Lou, her headstrong character in It.

It is the story of a department store shopgirl who is secretly in love in the wealthy and debonair Cyrus Waltham, Jr. (Antonio Moreno) who owns the store. Waltham doesn't give her a second look but his best friend Monty Montgomery (William Austin) thinks she has It after reading Glyn's article.

Bettly Lou is far from a shrinkig violet. When Monty asks Betty Lou out, she uses the opportunity to go to the same restaurant where she knows Waltham will be that night. While there in a makeshift evening gown, Betty Lou catches Waltham's eye despite his dining with his fiancée and her mother. However Waltham doesn't recognize her as the girl from his department store.

Once Waltham discovers her identity, he is drawn to her high spirits. They spend a day at an amusement park (which I believe was filmed Playland at the Beach) and things are proceeding well for Betty Lou. Betty has a roommate, a single mother when being a single mother was something to be ashamed of. When child protective services or whatever they were called in 1927 show up to take the child away, Betty claims the child as her own and cites her job and clothes (gifts from Waltham and Monty) as proof of her ability to financially care for the child. An enterprising newspaper reporter (Gary Cooper, uncredited) hears the story and prints it in his newspaper.

When Waltham reads the article, he is mortified and realizes that headstrong and forward are one thing but bastard child is another thing all together. Waltham breaks it off with Betty Lou but when she learns his reasons, she plots revenege which takes place during a hilarious act set on Waltham's yacht.

It was a delightful comedy and I certainly recongize that Bow had It. She combined sex appeal and comedic talents like nothing I've seen since Colleen Moore in Her Wild Oats. Bow played Betty Lou with a little more sex appeal than Moore's Mary Lou.

I don't know how often I'll be going to Fremont to watch films but it was great to finally catch a film at Niles Essanay.

1 comment:

Robert Flaxman said...

Dan

A LABOR OF LOVE will be available in the home market for the first time in 37 years.

The DVD arrives June 11, 2013

http://vinegarsyndrome.com/launch/?product=a-labor-of-love-dvd

Robert Flaxman