Tuesday, 24 November 2009
Harrison Marks’ “Bistro Bordello (1972)” resurfaces
Hot on the heels of Dolly Mixture, another of George Harrison Marks’ shorts from the early seventies, Bistro Bordello, has resurfaced from the pornographic wilderness in its German version “Zum Knutschkeller”. As with Dolly Mixture and many other of Marks’ Maximus era titles, Bistro Bordello was shot in a soft core version for the UK, then an explicit hardcore version to satisfy the overseas market, its the latter, dirtier second helping of Bistro Bordello that has turned up via the internet, and whose German title roughly translates into English as “Into the Kissing Cellar”, though personally I think Bistro Bordello is the more catchier title.
Shot in early 1972, Bistro Bordello concerns an innocuous British couple dining out at a French Bistro, and somehow remaining oblivious to the fact that the other customers are indulging in an orgy around them, which isn’t an easy task given that the other people going at it on the tables. As you might expect from an early 1970s Marks production there are some familiar faces among the naked bistro ravers, Howard “Vanderhorn” Nelson plays one half of the British couple, while Marks himself turns up as the Bistro’s head waiter, sporting the same buck teeth and wig disguise that also got an airing in The 9 Ages of Nakedness and later Come Play With Me. In what was clearly one of his favourite guises (one he was still donning for Kane photoshoots in the 1990s), Marks resembles a baggy pants, Victorian music hall act who has inadvertently traveled through time and ended up on the set of a 1970s blue movie. Also in the cast is a young Ava Cadell, now a world famous sexologist and life style guru, captured here at the outset of her acting/modeling career. As Ava is also a black belt in karate and is married to a lawyer, its worth emphasizing, quite heavily, that despite her appearing in the overseas version of Bistro Bordello there is no actual evidence of her performing hardcore in the film, and the film only utilizes her in a softcore capacity, which is presumably why she is given less screen time than the other couples, and Marks mostly keeps her in the background.
Amidst all the sexual gymnastics and hardcore close-ups Marks did however find the time to indulge in his usual penchant for mixing pornography with old time comedy, not just with the silent movie type mugging he gets up to in his cameo, but with sight gags like Vanderhorn leaving the bistro without his trousers on, and a table collapsing while two people screw on it, which is rewound and repeated in the film several times over for comedic effect.
Marks thought highly of Bistro Bordello, and a year later was proclaiming it the best thing he’d ever done on film, as well as citing an unlikely influence. “Going back a long way, I had seen some films made by that great French director Rene Clair, and in one of his films the lead actor had owned a Bistro” he told Verve magazine in 1973 “when I saw the rushes I knew that I had unconsciously created this Bistro with its 1930 atmosphere.” While its unclear which Rene Clair film Marks was trying to recreate here, and its unlikely that Clair’s original version had an orgy in it, Marks’ set designer Tony Roberts did do a fantastic job of transforming Marks’ Farringdon studio into a 1930s French Bistro. Only the longhaired, early 70s look of the male actors, and the German oomph pah-pah music the foreign distributor dubbed on, work against Marks’ beyond the call of duty attempts at evoking a saucy, French oh-la-la atmosphere. Tony Roberts’ eye for detail even went as far as importing several crates of wine to the set, which predictably started to disappear once the camera started rolling. “God knows how much booze they (the cast and crew) drank” Marks later complained, though going by his own unorthodox appearance in the film, it doesn’t seem unfair to suggest that The Great Marko polished off a few of the bottles himself.
Bistro Bordello also marked the start of the porn career of actor “Short Jack Gold”, who’d go on to appear in many of Marks’ 8mm productions throughout the seventies. For Mr. Gold, Bistro Bordello was sometime of a baptism of fire into the drunken, pornographic world of Harrison Marks. “I had seen pictures of him in some of the Kamera magazines I had squirreled away in my teenage home, so I knew exactly who he was” the porn actor recalled earlier this year “what I had not counted on was the fact that there was so much hanging around, waiting for different scenes to be shot, or delays as George changed the film in the camera. But most of all, what I had not anticipated, nor remotely thought about, was that when George yelled "Action" the male model, working with one or two gorgeous lingerie draped female partners, was expected to achieve an instant erection, and proceed to coitus pretty dammed promptly. Sounds easy doesn’t it! Mark my words. It isn’t. There were two or three other guys on the shoot. Some of them "veterans" of the embryonic London porn scene, but not up to it, if you pardon the pun. A situation of such unnatural eroticism, coupled with the hanging around and delays, made grown men droop. Not helped by the copious amounts of wine available on the set, which George and his crew took full advantage of. It was chaos!..........…”