Saturday, July 7, 2012

Women in Touch With Their Sexuality

In June, I caught three films about women embracing their sexuality despite considerable obstacles.

Turn Me On, Dammit! starring Helene Bergsholm; directed by Jannicke Systad Jacobsen; Norwegian with subtitles; (2011) - Official Website
Barbarella starring Jane Fonda; with Milo O'Shea, John Phillip Law, Marcel Marceau & Anita Pallenberg; directed by Roger Vadim; (1968)
Cherry 2000 starring Melanie Griffith & David Andrews; directed by Steve De Jarnatt; (1987)

I saw Turn Me On, Dammit! at the Landmark Embarcadero Center CinemaBarbarella and Cherry 2000 played together as a double feature at the Castro.  Perhaps it didn't register with me before but at some point the Castro Theater raised their regular admission price from $10 to $11.

I recall seeing the title Turn Me On, Dammit! at a film festival, but a check of the 2012 Cinequest and 2012 San Francisc International Film Festival websites revealed nothing.

I thought Turn Me On, Dammit! was a delightful comedy dealing with a teenage girl's (overactive) sexuality.  Helene Bergsholm plays Alma, a 15 year old girl with the sex drive of a 15 year old boy.  She masturbates during paid phone sex (in fact, she uses it so much, she frequent customer bonus calls), masturabates while fantasizing about various people (man or woman, young or old), masturbates so loudly that her mother has to wear earplugs, get the point.  At a party one night, Artur (a classmate & main object of Alma's desire) shows Alma his penis.  The film has numerous fantasy sequences so the audience is not sure if the incident actually occurred or was just another of Alma's fantasies.

Alma tells her best friend and her sister (who is keen for Artur).  So the news is all over school and rather than prosecuted for sexual assault (which would be the likely result in the US), Alma is ostracized for making up the incident.  Why would a teenage girl make up such a story?  The same reason an attractive, 15 year old, blonde would need to resort to phone sex.  It's a movie; more specifically a Scandinavian film whose humor and cinema I am liking more and more.

The remainder of the films shows how Alma deals with her ostracization.  Quirky and good natured, Turn Me On treads some potentially salacious ground to give a new wrinkle on the coming of age story. 


Barbarella is a very famous film.  I saw a restored version on HBO about 25 years ago and recall being sufficiently "impressed" with Jane Fonda.  Campy but undeniably sexy, Barbarella would be a career defining role for a less accomplished actress.  I enjoyed watching the film on the big screen at the Castro and am pleasantly surprised that I could enjoy the film from the perspective for a 40something.  In fact, I think I appreciated the film more this time.  Fonda delivered her lines with a dry, vapid cadence which nonetheless suggested something more meaningful in Fonda than the character.  Of course, I may be inferring more from her performance given what was to come in her life.  Even if true, Hanoi Jane playing Barbarella is more interesting than the 1968 version of her playing Barbarella.  Milo O'Shea's performance as Durand Durand stood out in this viewing.


Cherry 2000 is a film I don't recall ever hearing about much less seeing. In the mid-1980s, I was a big Melanie Griffith fan.  Two of my all-time favorite films are Brian De Palma's Body Double (1984) and Jonathan Demme's Something Wild (1986); both star Griffith and sadly, I haven't watched either in several years.  I suggested both film in passing to Elliot Lavine in May; I'm hoping he programs them soon.

Cherry 2000 is notable for its lengthy delay between production and release.  It was never released to US theaters.  Instead it was released on VHS which makes me wonder what format the Castro screened.  Although the picture quality was fine, the audio was hard to understand.  I attributed it to the low production standards but who knows...who cares?

The plot (which sounds like a pastiche of various Sci Fi films) is set in 2017.  In this timeline, there are Fembots not unlike Austin Powers.  These androids are sexy, attentive, take care of household chores and other needs that a man may have.  Sam Treadwell (David Andrews) has a Cherry 2000 model which he loves...literally.  When she short-circuits (I'm not sure if it resulted from the soapy water of the dishwasher or Sam's ardor), it's kaput for Cherry.  She can't be repaired and they don't sell her model anymore.  The repairman pops out her disk storing her memories and points Sam to Glory Hole, NV which is on the frontier of a post-apocalypitic wasteland.  Cherry 2000s can be found in Zone 9 or somewhere but Sam will need the help of E. Johnson, a tracker with a souped up muscle car and knowledge of the area.  E. Johnson turns out to be Melanie Griffith sporting a Raggedy Ann dye job and not looking half as good as she did in Body Double or Something Wild.

Edith Johnson is an ass-kicking machine who bemoans the fact that Sam is gaga for a robot.  How is a gun-toting, free-thinking mercenary like Edith Johnson supposed to compete against the ultimate Stepford wife?  Most of the rest of the film is predictable - Sam & Edith fight their way to Zone Whatever, Sam proves surprisingly adept with automatic weapons, they get some help for Edith's mentor Six-Fingered Jake (Ben Johnson) & their romance heats up.  The only original part of the story is the villain.  Instead of S&M bikers or zombies or talking apes, Cherry 2000's villains are a gang of surbanites who will kill to maintain their way of life...which mainly appears to be barbecuing in Bermuda shorts with their fembots.  They can't let anyone steal their fembots because that would leave less for them.  Tim Thomerson is memorable as the gang leader.

You can guess how it ends.  Cherry 2000 is just as good as any other film from the 1980s as long the other film has cheesy production values, silly dialogue, a predictable script and goes to great lengths to make a young Melanie Griffith look like a car mechanic. Griffith didn't show much in terms of sex appeal or screen presence.  On the other hand, Pamela Gidley was not just sexy but damn sexy as Cherry.  Harry Carey Jr. (unrecognizable from Red River) has a small role.  Laurence Fishburne had an even smaller role which made me wonder what he did between Apocalypse Now and The Matrix.  Ben Johnson always has screen presence and shines as much as he can in this film.

Cherry 2000 has a cult following and strangely I was drawn in at certain points of the film.  The best that can be said is that I didn't fall asleep during the screening.  Although I can understand why there could be a cult following, once was enough for me.  Let's hope its another quarter century before I see it again.

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