Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Christmas with Suzy Mandel 2011

Just back from a two week holiday in Arizona, staying with Suzy Mandel. We had a blast, visiting tombstone, tortilla flat, and covering lots of Arizona miles in Suzy’s Buick, fun times were in abundance, I also got to buy myself a big ol’ cowboy hat and meet some of Suzy’s colourful friends in AZ. Suzy really is very, very special to me and has bought so much happiness to my life, everyone should have a friend like her and hopefully I’ll be able to pop over to AZ again next year!!!

Friday, 25 November 2011

Harrison Marks the 1963-64 clippings

Courtesy of Muswell, here are several newspaper clippings charting the misadventures of George Harrison Marks during 1963 and 64, evidently a hectic period that saw Marks go through his first obscenity trial, his second marriage and see clips from one of his films go out on ITV (“two viewers phoned congratulations, and one phoned to ask where he could get the film”). The clippings date from when it was falsely believed that Marks and Pamela Green had been married, hence references to Vivienne Warren being his third wife when in fact she was Mrs Harrison Marks the second.

Muswell also mentions this about Vivienne Warren:

“The second wedding article mentions Vivienne's sister Vicki Martin. Vicki was also a model and actress and under the name Valerie Mewes was a protégé of Stephen Ward and close friend of Ruth Ellis. She and Ellis both worked at Murrays Club in Soho where Ward later recruited Christine Keeler.
Vicki died in a car crash in 1955(about a month before Ruth Ellis, who also knew Ward, apparently shot her lover) the circumstances of the crash have never been fully explained.
Small world eh!”

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Cinema Marquees in the Strangest of Places

Vintage footage of cinema marquees have been turning up in the most unlikeliest of places recently, last week’s Film 2011 included a quick glimpse of the Leicester Square Jacey Cinema playing a double-bill of Exposed and The Yes Girls in a piece about the release of the original Straw Dogs (to tie in with the obligatory bad remake). This was topped only by a BBC2 documentary on Lulu, which included footage of Naked As Nature Intended playing the Cameo Moulin cinema, meant to visualise early 1960s London, though I’d wager a bet that Lulu never went to the Cameo Moulin cinema to watch a nuddy film.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Suzy Mandel – Weekend Magazine 1977

‘Thigh’s the Limit’ from Weekend magazine March 9-15 1977

Friday, 7 October 2011

West End Jungle meets Times Square

Some vintage footage of Times Square, shown in a documentary on the ‘Yesterday’ channel last week, reveals our very own West End Jungle once played 42nd Street’s Lyric theatre, as second feature to Paul Newman in Hud, a peculiar double-bill if ever there was one. The film titles on the other cinema marquees- including one for The Terror with Boris Karloff- indicates this footage was from 1963.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Review: UNACCUSTOMED AS I AM (circa 1973, Harrison Marks)

In 1968 Harrison Marks told Titbits magazine that he’d turned down a fortune to shoot explicit films for the continental market. A claim that is now questionable given that the simultaneous existence of ‘Sexy Strip’ and ‘Volcano’ shows that stronger –if not exactly blue- versions of his films were being shot for overseas release during that period. By the early 1970s the allure of a suitcase full of deutschmarks must have been too much to resist, and a business agreement with German porn magnate Charlie Brown would result in Marks often shooting two versions of the same film, a black and white softcore version for the UK, and a colour hardcore version released in Germany on Brown’s Tabu label. Part of this cloak and dagger set-up would have had to involve Marks (or more likely a go between) transporting prints of the hardcore films from London to Tabu headquarters in Germany, avoiding the ever-watchful eye of British customs in the process. A situation that is likely to have given Marks the inspiration for making UNACCUSTOMED AS I AM, an 8mm sex film about smuggling 8mm sex films through customs. In fact, Marks was evidentially so tickled by this premise that he made at least three films boasting the same storyline, the black and white softcore Unaccustomed, a colour hardcore version released by Brown as ‘Die Lollos’, and a further colour hardcore production called ‘Duty Free’.

Like all these three films, Unaccustomed opens at an airport, a setting evoked by brief shots of planes hastily filmed from a departure lounge, and a cheap but efficient Custom’s desk set. At the desk the customs officer (Peter Vernon) is met by a motley crew of travellers, there is Howard Nelson –hiding his features under a pair of dark glasses-, another chap who is sporting a Tommy Cooper fez, and Clyda Rosen. Despite being the most normal looking of this bunch it is Clyda who receives all the attention from the customs officer. Clyda has time on her hands -quite literally- as the customs man pulling back her sleeve reveals several watches on her wrist. For that Clyda gets hauled out of the queue and into an inspection room. As Clyda has something even further incriminating hidden in her suitcase she uses her feminine wiles to fuck her way out of the tricky situation. With Mr. Customs highly responsive to her sexual advances, soon he is going down on her before Clyda throws her legs in the air, allowing Mr. Customs to have her right there on the inspection room table. For comic relief there are regular cutaways to Howard and his fez wearing chum waiting at the desk, complaining to each other and blissfully unaware of the naughty reason for the hold up.

The erotic draw of Unaccustomed As I Am rests entirely on the casting of the Israel born Miss Rosen, aka Vietta Taff, aka Vietta Manning, whose huge breasts and extremely hairy pussy is a sight still worshipped on the internet to this day. Like Mary Millington, Clyda was a tiny thing - 4' 10" or thereabouts – whose diminutive stature belied a true sexual dynamo, one whose enthusiasm for onscreen sex often left her male co-stars looking overwhelmed, and more than a little exhausted, by the experience. Clyda’s career would be no ‘blink and she’s gone’ affair either, and incredibly she was still appearing in pornography well into the 1990s, her appeal undiminished by age or these latter day sexploits being recorded on the less glamourous medium of videotape.

“Big tits sell” was reportedly one of Marks’ mottos during this period of filmmaking, and in Unaccustomed As I Am, Marks demonstrates just how well he knew his market, with energetic sex scenes that place heavy emphasis on boobplay, with Clyda’s breasts kissed and fondled throughout, much to the enjoyment of her male co-stars and Clyda herself. The 8mm to DVD transfer of the film under review here comes complete with its own unintended effect when during a sex scene the 8mm image momentary burns up, causing the film to blur, freeze, before flickering back to life and allowing Clyda to continue bonking away, giving the impression the scene is so hot it has literally caused the very celluloid it has been printed on to burn. In reality the print damage is of course merely testament to the original 8mm copy having had a well-loved existence, its previous owners having no doubt screened the film many times over, slowed it down, and studied it intensely. And who can blame them?, the sight of the film in its original 8mm context i.e. with Clyda projected life-size onto the wall of a heavy breather- must have been awesome.

The second part of Unaccustomed As I Am sees Clyda return home to her waiting boyfriend, who is overjoyed the contents of the suitcase have made it home safety. In an amusing touch the suitcase turns out to be jam packed with Harrison Marks films, a proud pan of the suitcase’s contents revealing the 8mm boxes of such epics as The Wrong Habit, Apartment 69, The Girl Upstairs and Medium Rare. Clyda and her boyfriend then have a celebratory fuck- a sex scene shot on Marks’ very own bed. To spice things up the boyfriend opts to stick one of the 8mm films onto the projector, only to find it is more of a distraction than an added turn on. The film within a film sequence turns out to be a wickedly funny parody of a bad 8mm sex film, featuring a man in a Batman type cowl fucking a woman on a couch. 8mm sex films were rife for parody at the time in mainstream films like ‘Freelance’ and ‘O Lucky Man!’, although here Marks arguably provides the 8mm sex film parody to end them all. Watching it you can just picture Marks suffering through several piece of shit 8mm sex films made by others, in order to secretly check out the competition, shaking his head, pouring himself a drink, then pouring himself another drink, before having an electric light bulb above the head moment and coming up with the idea of treating such feeble 8mm efforts to the piss-take treatment in one of his own films.

The resultant sequence is rich in deliberately unerotic detail, both performers overact throughout, the woman breaking into overdone expressions of sexual ecstasy for no particular reason, while the masked man constantly breaks the fourth wall by turning away from the sex to pull idiotic faces at the viewer and give ‘OK’ hand gestures to them. Everything that you imagine could be wretched about an 8mm sex film is gleefully reproduced here. A close-up reveals the masked man has kept his socks on, he initially forgets to take his underpants off as well, then when he does ends up wildly bouncing on top of the woman in a ridiculous and exaggerated manner. Further laughs are provided by the fact that the masked man character is clearly meant to be gay, and occasionally forgets he is playing a heterosexual by mincing, pouting and camping it up before returning to engage in further badly mimed sex with the woman. The punch line to the sequence, and the whole film, sees the masked man lose his Batman cowl revealing him to be none other than the customs officer. Lending Unaccustomed As I Am its ‘No Sex Please, We’re British’ type twist that the film’s straight-laced, authoritarian figure is in fact knee deep in the type of smut he is meant to be keeping an eye out to confiscate. Its a sequence that also showcases the hitherto unknown comedic ability of Peter Vernon, a veteran hardcore performer in films by Marks and John Lindsay. Vernon looks to be having a ball here, sending up his day job and displaying a Robin Askwith-like ability to elicit belly laughs out of softcore slapstick.

It feels quite daring of Marks to have thrown in an elaborate parody of an 8mm sex film slap bang in the middle of a real one. Given that unlike Freelance and O Lucky Man!, Unaccustomed As I Am is obliged to deliver the dirty movie goods as well, and finds itself juggling sex scenes played entirely for laughs, alongside sequences shot erotically straight that Marks intended as a turn on. Fortunately for once Marks got to have his cake and eat it with Unaccustomed As I Am, simultaneously having some fun at the expense of his inept competition while at the same time keeping hold of his crown as the king of the 8mm black and white sex film by delivering a great example of the sexy, good time that such things can be. Unaccustomed’s mixture of sex, big breasts and its scope for comedy and self-referential elements proving a combination that obviously fully engaged Marks’ imagination and interest throughout its construction. The fact that Unaccustomed As I Am also captures Clyda Rosen in all her horny, hairy, hebraic glory, is the film’s cherry on the cake, and makes its rediscovery a special cause for celebration among Little Miss Clyda’s many fans.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Review: Sexy Strip (1967) and Macabre (1968, Harrison Marks)

Monique Deveraux was a sight no man could ever forget, a jet black haired German beauty with a supremely 1960s beehive, and rather less common for her era a set of surgically enhanced breasts, Monique definitely left an impression on George Harrison Marks. ‘If you are looking for a beautiful face here it is, if you are looking for personality, it’s here, maybe you’re a leg man? Monique foots the bill’ Marks enthusiastically wrote on the back of the 8mm box of Magnificent Monique, one of several 8mm films he made of her. ‘Harrison Marks says he has discovered the greatest’ the box proudly triumphs.

Actually there does appear to be evidence that Marks wasn’t the first glamour photographer to get his hands on her. Billed as plain old Monique she appeared in anonymously made 8mm glamour films like ‘Massage’ and ‘Daughter of Venus’. Everything one remembers about Monique, the hair, the boobs, those equally large fake eyelashes and the drawn on beauty spot are all present and correct in these early films, but the flat, unimaginative filmmaking on display hardly does her justice, and it would take Marks’ talent behind the camera to truly make Monique magnificent.

In his 8mm film CASBAR, Monique is a topless genie let out of the lamp by a pith helmet wearing British adventurer, only for her to transform into an old witch in the film’s closing moments. Funnier still is THE WONDERBED. Hailing from a period when Marks obviously felt stronger material needed a flimsy, socially redeeming justification for its existence, The Wonderbed finds Marks espousing the value of healthy exercise in order to show Monique working out in the nude. Throughout the film Marks can barely contain his bemusement at having to use exercise demonstrations as an excuse to show off Monique’s boobs and crotch. “Your entire torso consists of a series of different muscles each requiring particular attention”, an intertitle proclaims in a mock serious fashion before the film cheekily cuts to a close-up of Monique’s pubes.

By the time of SEXY STRIP (1967) Marks clearly felt Monique could carry a film all by herself and dispenses of such silly gimmickry. Sexy Strip draws on footage Marks shot of Monique that eventually filled up two separate 8mm films. ‘Volcano’, released in black and white in the UK, was the less explicit of the two films and mostly allows Monique to keep her knickers on, whilst Sexy Strip –released in Germany in colour- offered Monique’s countrymen a lengthy look at her full frontally nude. Both these films are quite literally ‘glamour home movies’, and were shot in Marks’ own front room. A quintessential late 1960s bachelor pad, it boasts such of the period trappings as a soda syphon and a lava lamb –a huge close-up of which opens ‘Volcano’, presumably as a visual pun on the title. Personal items flesh out the décor, portraits of Marks’ favourite models adorn the walls, there is a well-stocked bar, and ornament statues of cats are everywhere (Marks being a cat lover and connoisseur of all things feline). And of course what bigger indication do we need that we are at Marks’ own gaff than the fact that there is a semi-naked fraulein seductively pacing about the place, undressing out of lingerie and smoking a big cigar. Marks throws in enormous close ups of Monique rolling that cigar around in her mouth, the phallic symbolism of which is outrageously blatant for a 1967 film. Sexy Strip is essentially a late 60s version of the nude posing films that kick-started Marks’ film career nearly a decade earlier, only a lot less asexual in tone. Raunchy camera placing, an intimate setting, and Monique’s enthusiastic cigar sucking reactions to being erotised on film, all contribute to an extremely pre- coital feel to the piece. By the film’s end Monique is naked on a couch and Marks’ camera practically mounting her as she signs off the film with one last cigar smoke filled breath and a provocative wink to the camera. Although it is unclear whether Monique was among the 1000 beautiful women Marks modestly claimed to have slept with over the years, the besotted nature of Magnificent Monique’s box notes and the aura of late night lust evoked in Sexy Strip, do put forth a convincing case for the pair of them having fucked each other’s brains out the moment the camera stopped rolling on the film. Whatever went on behind the scenes, in Sexy Strip Marks vividly brings Monique’s sex appeal to life in a way that the hacks who cranked out Daughter of Venus could only dream of.

(‘Sexy Strip’ was once screened on German TV in a full colour version as part of “Liebe Sunde” a sex magazine show that occasionally threw in clips from old glamour and stag films for a dash of nostalgia, although the only known commercial DVD release of the film is in black and white.)

Even in simple striptease affairs like Sexy Strip, Monique sticks in the memory as being quite different to any Harrison Marks model that had come before. While able to be as playfully girlie as the best of them, her enjoyment of cigars and knowledge of her way around a bar in Sexy Strip, gives the impression of her also being ‘one of the boys’ and it is easy to imagine Monique holding her own in late night drinking and smoking sessions with Marks or challenging Marks’ bodybuilder friend Howard ‘Vanderhorn’ Nelson to arm wrestling competitions in between glamour shoots. There is certainly a dash of Faster Pussycat Kill, Kill era sexual aggressiveness about Monique, a side to her that Marks played up in a few of his films. In his feature film The Nine Ages of Nakedness (1969) he cast her as an outer space dominatrix, and in Pattern of Evil aka Fornicon, aka Blue Perfume aka Don’t Change Hands (1967), she is female sadist and murder suspect Greta Marr who gets the tables turned on her in the film’s climax when she is placed on a medieval torture-rack by the hero. Now considered a lost film, Pattern of Evil was financed by shady American characters, possibly connected to New York’s Swank magazine, and as was the case with the majority of his feature films Marks ended up with a bum deal and saw little profit from the film. Stills from Pattern of Evil, which are allot easier to find than the film itself, suggest a ‘hands across the ocean’ affair that wedded Marks’ eye for female talent and uniquely British approach to sexploitation with what was floating New York’s boat at the time, which meant the ‘Olga’ films and the roughie output of Stan Borden and Distribpix. S&M, medieval themed orgies, and women in leather supervising dungeon tortures are what drives the wheels of Pattern of Evil according to the stills.

Back on the 8mm market, Marks made the similar themed MACABRE (1968) that reunites two of Pattern of Evil’s stars, Monique and Howard Nelson. In fact Macabre bears such a close resemblance to stills from Pattern of Evil that there has been some confusion over the years as to whether Macabre was merely a scene from the film released as a standalone short, or an entirely separate entity that Marks put together with leftover costumes, props and cast members from the feature film. Having now seen Macabre I feel inclined to go for the latter option. Stylistically it has the look of something shot for the 8mm market, a big giveaway being that the two performers avoid anything but the most rudimentary dialogue exchanges, which surely wouldn’t be the case if this were a stray clip from a narrative film.

In Macabre, Howard Nelson plays a door to door salesman paying a house call on Monique. Howard is immediately distracted from his sales pitch by a copy of 1960s femdom magazine ‘Bizarre Life’ on her coffee table, followed by Monique flashing a tit in his direction , two sights which Howard reacts to with nervousness bordering on fear. The worse is yet to come as Monique spikes Howard’s drink, causing him to pass out. Cue a quick dissolve, followed by Howard waking up shirtless and tied to a rack in a torture dungeon. Monique has undergone a costume change herself, and re-emerges dressed in leather and wielding a whip, much to Howard’s horror. Macabre then turns severe, with Monique whipping the bejesus out of Howard, blood flying in his face and his torso and features quickly becoming a barely distinguishable blur of muscle and blood, all intercut with Monique cracking the whip with such vigour that Marks goes in for a close up of her chest just as it looks like her cleavage might pop out of that leather outfit. Evidentially Monique didn’t spend as much effort in tying Howard down as she does whipping him, as Howard manages to break free of the rack and pursues his leather clad tormentor around the dungeon. In spite of Howard’s bodybuilder frame, he and Monique seem like an equal match for each other as they wrestle about the floor of the dungeon. With Howard weakened from the whipping however it is Monique who eventually gains the upper hand, throwing an oversized skull at Howard which leaves him with a massive head wound and vomiting up a mouthful of blood.

The violence in Macabre is the real turn up for the books here- given that there is little else in Marks’ career to suggest he was a gorehound- yet Macabre positively revels in hurling stage blood over its lead actor. Curiously the nudity in the film is extremely light by Marks’ standards and plays second fiddle to the sadism, indicating the film was an attempt by Marks to diversify and court the leather, blood and whips crowd that Pattern of Evil was seemingly aimed at. Whilst the gore in Macabre is ultimately over the top and unrealistic in a H.G. Lewis fashion, it is a textbook example of how the unregulated 8mm film world could often be more daring than the censor controlled British feature films of the time were able to be. Compare and contrast Macabre with Tigon’s horror film Curse of the Crimson Altar- made the same year- whose dungeon scenes are somewhat Marks-ian in their utilization of out of work glamour models and musclemen, but whose attempts at sadism inevitably fell foul of the censors and look tame indeed compared to what Marks was getting away with here.

Macabre might be an atypical production for Marks- no men with fake comedy moustaches or Stuart Samuels looking shocked at the sight of naked birds are on display here- buts it is perfectly cast. Monique truly bares her claws, in a way that can be jarring especially if your mental image of her is informed by the cute, alluring creature you encounter in Sexy Strip and Volcano, still it is hard to deny that she is every bit as spectacular in her kinky boots and skin tight leather gear. Howard Nelson also seems to be in his element, looking every inch like the star of a 1960s Italian peplum and cast in a role that sees him play out the bodybuilder fantasy of being envisioned as the shirtless, muscular hero able to break free of his chains and take on his tormentor.

On the basis of Macabre, Pattern of Evil- which tantalisingly offers the prospect of a feature length version of this kinky diversion in Marks’ career- could well turn out to be a doozy should it one day escape from its current obscurity.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

A Blast of the Ask

Heres “This Space is Reserved for You”

the B-Side to Robin Askwith’s only real stab at the pop charts from 1977. The single charted at 39- despite the fact that his name is spelt wrong (‘Robin Aswith’) on the single itself- leading to the A Side ‘Confessions’ being performed by Askwith on Marc Bolam’s show Marc, as immortalised on Youtube here.

For more Askwith fun check out this blog about the man and his movies:

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Howard Nelson in Minder

While watching an episode of Minder on ITV4 recently I was surprised to spot the late, great Howard “Vanderhorn” Nelson pop up as a boxer. The episode “No Way to treat a Daley” was from 1993, so this was a good few years after his last film credit, 1978’s Carry On Emmannuelle, and his 1982 appearance as a spanking milkman in Harrison Marks’ New Janus magazine. However I’m unsure whether this appearance represented a belated return to acting, or whether Howard did more TV extra work in the 1980s and 1990s that has gone under the radar. His character is allocated a name, Bill “Flying Dutchman” Van Dyke, but no dialogue and in terms of screen time its a strictly ‘blink and you’ll miss him’ appearance, or in the context of his role “blink and he’s been knocked out”. 

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Review: Wild Lovers (Mary Millington/Mountain Films)

‘Lost’ 8mm films starring Mary Millington might not turn up as regular as buses, but of late they have been appearing with agreeable frequency; what with “Sex Is My Business” surfacing in 2008 and “Special Assignment” turning up in 2009. Now, two years on from Special Assignment, “Wild Lovers” another previously thought lost 8mm short film starring Mary has been traced and transferred to DVD.

This softcore 8mm epic wasn’t made by any of the usual suspects like Harrison Marks or John Lindsay, and its origins proved to be far more obscure and undocumented. While we are sailing into very uncharted cinematic territory here-and a degree of guesswork has had to come into play during my research-a bit of detective work into Wild Lovers has thrown up an intriguing and unlikely connection between Mary Millington and the company that would become the pre-cert video label Mountain Video, as well as Mountain’s own, hitherto unknown, involvement in 1970s pornography.

These days Mountain are best remembered for their video era output, and released a truly eclectic mixture of low-budget horror, concert films, Star Trek episodes and such British sex film milestones as Eskimo Nell and The Wife Swappers onto video during the early 80s. Way before becoming a video label however, Mountain had been a huge player in the 8mm distribution world. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s Mountain issued many popular titles on 8mm in the UK, including cut-down films from the RKO back catalogue and vintage Harold Lloyd and Laurel and Hardy comedy shorts. Mountain also had a secretive hand in the 8mm skin flick business, but preferred to keep this side of their output separate from their mainstream releases, and used other company names to sell adult 8mm titles to the general public. Mountain were aka “Elysium” films, but bar a brief period in 1972 when they were calling themselves “Impact Films”, Mountain’s most common company alias was “Unique Films” which was the name they used to advertise in magazines like Continental Film Review and Cinema X. Mountain favoured acquiring their line of adult titles from established 8mm filmmakers rather than to make these films themselves, notably picking up the rights to the Heritage range of 8mm glamour films from Pete Walker when Walker left the 8mm glamour film business behind for a career in feature film directing.

Mountain did occasionally though produce their own material; as was the case in the early 1970s when they commissioned around forty 8mm adult short films that they released under the series title “Impact Double X Home Movies”. This is where Mary Millington enters into the equation, as in her pre-fame days she appeared in least two of the Impact Double X titles, “Wild Lovers” and “Love Games”. Chances are that these two films were not the highest paying gigs of her early career, as Mountain’s miserly budgets for these productions reportedly barely covered the director and cast members’ fees.

When Mountain made the transition from an 8mm film label to a video company in the late 70s, the Impact Double X titles were largely forgotten about in the process. Only three films from the series “Emmanuelle from Bangkok”, “Hot Flesh” (aka The Orgy) and “The Handyman” were committed to video by Mountain Video. Compiled into one 24 minute featurette, those three titles-complete with dubbed on narration- were issued as a video called “Emmanuelle and Friends” by Mountain in 1980. Wild Lovers wasn’t so lucky, and has remained in the pornographic wilderness for over thirty years, that is until now.

Wild Lovers certainly deserves an award for the unlikeliest premise for an 8mm sex film, since the film centres around a game of “spirit of the glass”. The players of the game, which include a bearded guy, Mary, and two other girls, clearly must have made contact with a dirty minded ghost, as the glass wildly moves in all directions, spelling out rude words in the process. Erotically inspired by this, the foursome are soon pairing off and creeping away from the table. Mary and the bearded guy are the first to leave the séance, and rather than feeling an otherworldly presence, just end up feeling each other. In their absence the two remaining girls opt for a spot of lesbian hanky panky over continuing on with the séance. Both couples are however reunited for the film’s grand finale which sees all four cast members humping away in the lounge.

On the basis of Wild Lovers and the films on the Emmanuelle and Friends video, Mountain were exploring similar sexploitation terrain on 8mm that director Derek Ford was pursuing with feature films like The Wife Swappers and Suburban Wives. Suburban settings and the sexploits of frustrated housewives, middle class swingers and au pairs appear to be the hallmarks of the Impact Double X Films. No matter what the premise, whether it be a séance, a card game or even a gardening assignment, all roads lead to group sex in the Impact Double X Films’ world. You half expect The Wife Swappers’ Larry Taylor to pop up in Wild Lovers, modelling a godawful cravat and offering to help Mary prepare a Campari and Lemonade by breaking out a few ice cubes. Visually Wild Lovers is overwhelmingly early 70s in appearance, from the loud décor of the lounge that the majority of the action takes place in, right down to the sole male actor sporting a Joy of Sex beard and the obligatory British sex film Y-Fronts.

The primitive nature of the filmmaking on display also holds its own fascination, since Wild Lovers gives the impression of having been put together by somebody with only the basic knowledge of directing and editing. Jump cuts constantly appear within scenes, shots of actors taking direction are left in, a brief snippet of one scene is accidently spliced into the middle of another, in an almost subliminal fashion. The end credits crudely employ stop motion techniques to spell out “The End” with playing cards. It speaks volumes about Mary’s sex appeal that even in these threadbare surroundings she remains a captivating onscreen presence, straight from the opening sight of her in the film, which is of a close-up of her distinct, bright red painted fingernails. Like Sex Is My Business, Wild Lovers may be something of an ‘ensemble’ piece with numerous other nude bodies simulating sex for a pay-packet, but it is Mary’s performance that you remember from the film, and her presence alone lends Wild Lovers its unintended historic importance.

Exactly who directed Wild Lovers is an unresolved question mark at present, and might be one Millington mystery that has been lost to time, given that Mountain is known to have hired several different filmmakers to shoot the Impact Double X Home Movies for them. The only person whose name has ever been brought up in relation to these films is Ken Williams, who possibly directed the films that make up Emmanuelle and Friends, something which puts him in the frame for having helmed Wild Lovers too. Williams was a glamour photographer turned 8mm filmmaker in the Harrison Marks/Russell Gay tradition. A close personal friend of Marks, Williams was actually married to former Marks model Gina Graham (aka Chris Williams). The idea that Wild Lovers was the work of a glamour photographer is given credence by the fact that its lounge setting appeared in several glamour magazine shoots in the early 70s. Williams’ connection to Harrison Marks could be key to explaining why a number of Marks’ female models- not to mention male regulars like Peter Vernon and Howard “Vanderhorn” Nelson- often turn up in these Impact Double X titles as well.

The re-discovery of Wild Lovers was a tale in itself, and was chiefly played out during a frantic weekend that saw lots of scheming taking place between myself and several other excited aficionados over the best way of going about acquiring a copy of the film. This was followed by a few weeks of suspense and speculation about whether Mary would turn out to be in the film or not, since Mountain were known to illustrate the Impact Double X 8mm boxes with stills that didn’t always correspond to the films themselves. During quieter moments in this period my thoughts inevitably drifted to Mary Millington herself and what her reaction would be to all these antics. Personally, I’d like to think Mary would be equally flattered and amused that she still gets to be the centre of attention once in a while, not to mention the fact that -all these years after her death- she still has such dedicated male groupies!!!

Special thanks have to go to Sgt.Rock who has been crucial in bringing Wild Lovers back into circulation and is currently selling copies of the film -and various other 8mm smut he has helped rescue from obscurity- on ebay. The likelihood is that none of these films would have seen the light of day again were it not for Sgt. Rock being the driving force in transferring them from 8mm to DVD, so if this sort of thing rocks your boat, the Sarge’s efforts are well worth your support I’m also indebted to “Muswell” whose prior research into Mountain Films and encyclopaedic knowledge of all things 8mm I’ve drawn on for this review. Hats off to both you two good eggs, let’s hope it’s not long before another Mary 8mm film is resurrected from the British sex film boneyard.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Millington rarity ‘Wild Lovers’ resurfaces

Two years after ‘Special Assignment’ another previously thought lost 8mm film starring Mary Millington has been traced and transferred to DVD.

‘Wild Lovers’ centres around a game of spirit of the glass, however rather than feeling an otherworldly presence, the players of this game, including a bearded guy, Mary and two other girls just end up feeling each other.
This 8mm epic wasn’t made by any of the usual suspects like Harrison Marks or John Lindsay, and its origins are very obscure but I’ll try and do a bit of research into the film and get working on a more detailed review of it soon.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Review: The House of Orchids (1982, Derek Ford)

The House of Orchids aka For Members Only, Sexo Intimo, High Society Club (1982)

The House of Orchids was one of several films born out of Derek Ford taking busman’s holiday trips to Europe after the bottom fell out of the British film market at the end of the seventies. Ford’s initial foray into European filmmaking was Erotic Fantasies (1978) aka Symphony of Love, a wild mishmash of scenes shot by Luigi Batzella and scenes shot by Ford- all scored to out of copyright classical music-and resulting in a film that almost defies description. Later in 1985 Ford got a gig in Sweden working as assistant director on Blood Tracks, a horror film cheapie that also features Ford in a Hitchcockian cameo, popping up as a location scout for a heavy metal band.

The House of Orchids is the only Ford film from his European period that he had total directorial control over, and one of the least seen of this bunch. Theatrically screened in Italy in November 1983- and later released on video in Italy and Germany- the film looks to have never made it to English language territories, despite an English dubbed version being advertised in Variety in the early 1980s and later shopped around for distribution under the saucy re-title “For Members Only”. Ford actually shot the film in 1981/82, in-between having to relinquish the directorial reigns of Riding High in 1981 and being fired from Don’t Open Till Christmas in 1984.

The House of Orchids sees Ford swap his usual haunts of Soho and Maldon, Essex for Venice, Italy. The scenery might be noticeably different, but Ford’s song remains the same and The House of Orchids features all the usual Fordian themes of swinging, respectable middle-class types being tempted into leading hedonistic double-lives and the moral repercussions of such a move.

The “House of Orchids” of the title turns out to be a swing club catering to the well-to-do women of Venice. The mysterious club issues invitations to selected women that include a code to open the club’s electric doors. Entirely run by futuristic movie type mod con devices, The House of Orchids appears to have no staff or any occupants bar the invited females. Once inside the club, pre-recorded messages encourage the women to strip off, bathe in the club’s pool and recount their problems, which begets sexually themed flashbacks. The reoccurring theme to the women’s tales of woe is male figures that have gradually become the bane of the women’s existence. Dena is a meek bookshop owner whose life is controlled by her ill, bullying father who issues verbal abuse from his deathbed and makes her life miserable. Susie Randall is a vivacious sex bomb frustrated by her relationship with a Howard Nelson type bodybuilder who prefers pumping iron than anything else and barely bats an eyelid when she interrupts his weightlifting by parading nude in front of him. Sandra Ross is trapped in a loveless marriage to a man who is fucking his secretary. A phone call between Mrs Ross and her husband ends with her screaming “bastardo” down the phone. Out of all the Orchid women Marisa has it worse, a flashback finds her making love to a stud whilst being watched by an elderly creep who is hidden behind a two-way mirror. Afterwards the old man forces her to grip money between her teeth, then in a shocking moment punches her straight in the face. Susie- the most inquisitive of the bunch- begins trailing the other women home from the club and doing her own investigation into their problems. Hooking up with Dena, Susie lures her away from her dull bookshop job and her evil father, and takes her on a gondolier ride of sexual discovery.

Catching the eye of a shop assistant, Susie enjoys an impromptu sexual encounter with the man in a backroom of the store while Dena watches on. Initially shocked by this type of behaviour Dena soon loses her inhibitions leading to a memorable scene in a glass making factory, where Dena ends up nude on a table and having a glass replica made of her bust by the factory’s only too willing to help male workforce.

Evidently Ford shot the film around the time of the Carnevale di Venezia (indicating a late February shooting schedule), an event akin to the Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Whether or not this was merely just good timing or pre-planned, Ford takes full advantage of the atmosphere with long shots of the festivities acting as great spectacle, giving the film the appearance of a bigger budgeted production than it probably was. The on-going festivities also add unexpected character to nothing-special dialogue scenes, in which revellers casually walk around in the background wearing face masks, dressed as clowns or sporting skull faced spectre disguises. Compared to the exquisite Venice exteriors the House of Orchids club itself is a tacky wonder to behold. Essentially just a sauna boasting an ugly 1980s colour scheme and excessively decorated by fake plants, it resembles a bargain basement garden centre rather than a sex hang-out for the very wealthy. In fairness one scene in the film does find Susie complaining about the overkill of plastic plants in the place, indicating that the cheapness of the club set was an intended effect.

Inevitably The House of Orchids club changes the lives of all the women who enter through its doors. For Sandra there is a positive outcome, when Susie coerces Sandra’s husband into watching Sandra stripping behind Marisa’s two way mirror, reigniting his long dormant passion for his wife and saving their relationship in the process. For others there is a tragic price to pay for entertaining this world, including the blood-splattered demise of one of the women.

The House of Orchids is the long lost Italian cousin of Ford’s earlier films Suburban Wives (1971) and Commuter Husbands (1972), in which Ford’s sympathies rested entirely with his female characters, and whose narratives generally saw sexist men having the tables turned on them. Male characters are notably side-lined further in The House of Orchids and either serve the purpose of one scene sexual encounters or only register on account of their vileness, the sickly father, the adulteress husband, the old fart who punches Marisa in the face. Even a more traditional male love interest for Susie- introduced towards the end of the film- makes little of an impression compared to the deepening bond and sexual tension between Susie and Dena which remains the film’s real focus.

These unusual takes on gender roles, especially coming from a male director working in the sexploitation field, is likely due to the influence that Ford’s wife Valerie M. Ford had on his career. An active collaborator in Ford’s on and off screen sexploits, Valerie participated in both Derek’s swinging activities as well as acting as wardrobe mistress, make-up lady and assistant on his British films. While Valerie doesn’t appear to have been directly involved in The House of Orchids, their relationship no doubt gave Ford a female perspective on the sexually offbeat circles the Fords moved in, lending a touch of authenticity to the female characters and their encounters with the dare club environment that is depicted here. Ford displays a good eye in regards to his casting. His stars- Sonia Otero, Marina Miller, Ibis Gardner and Elisabeth Ray- are all stunningly beautiful women and good enough actresses to cause you to emotionally invest in their characters’ mixed fortunes. Quite an achievement, considering that Otero was mainly known as a nude model for the likes of Playmen and only had a couple of Italian exploitation films under her belt, while the other three leads appear to have never acted before or since.

At the same time The House of Orchids does offer further fuel to the theory that the more Derek Ford’s career went on the more he began to treat the cinema as his own private swing club, with the resultant films being a means to document and play out his off-screen fetishes. The swinging concept at the centre of The House of Orchids certainly appears to have fired off Ford’s imagination and none of the sex scenes in the film are what you would call vanilla in tone. Aside from her glass making excursion, Dena enlivens a dinner for Susie’s male friends by stripping off, being blindfolded by Susie and laying naked on the dinner table, offering herself up as the main course. By far the funniest scene in the film is allocated to Sandra who finds herself being tied to a bed by a male admirer. When her husband calls her up on the phone both she and her male friend take it in turns to casually chat to her hubby whilst they make love. His rage on the other end of the line only adding to their passion. The fact that the Ford oeuvre wouldn’t have been that well known in Italy gives him the opportunity to indulge in a bit of self-plagiarism here as well, by revisiting scenarios from his earlier films. Susie steals the show at a swinger’s party by performing a spirited dance/striptease routine that recalls a similar exhibitionist’s display at a party in Groupie Girl. Sandra gets dirty phone calls from an unseen man- a la the masochist housewife in The Wife Swappers- who encourages her to go with passing men. Plus, in a charming throwback to the days of the sex education film, Ford opens the film by having its plot related to a bunch of bored students by their professor. A man whose blackboard explanations and scholarly appearance invite obvious comparisons to The Wife Swappers’ inept, cue card reading host.

In retrospect The House of Orchids seems like a crossroads in Ford’s career, on one hand the ample female nudity and sex scenes make this a logical extension of his earlier British films. On the other hand, having female characters as the leads and shooting the film from their perspective points the way forward to Ford’s later career as an author of books aimed at a female audience. Ford’s books Panic on Sunset (1988) and The Casting Couch (1990), clearly being targeted at an over 40s bored housewives demographic with their sub-Jackie Collins mixture of sex, scandal and Hollywood gossip.

Ford remains something of a tragic figure of the British sex film era, never finding critical acceptance or reaping great financial rewards during his prolific career. Going off the memories of friends and associates, as well as the Hollywood preoccupations of his books, it looks to have been a point of frustration for Ford that his career never progressed to A-List films. Ford’s friend retired porn actress turned erotic illustrator Paula Meadows is of the opinion that deep down Ford was a disappointed man who felt he’d never achieved his full potential. Passing away in the mid-1990s Ford never lived long enough to see his forgotten films dusted off, screened at the NFT and tentatively embraced by the intelligentsia, accolades currently being bestowed on such fellow travellers as Stanley Long, Pete Walker and Arnold Louis Miller.

Perhaps it is just as well then that The House of Orchids and Ford’s demented horror opus “Attack of the Killer Computer” (1989) have recently resurfaced on the film collector’s circuit. Viewed together they represent a real return to form from Ford and make the case that he wasn’t quite the spent force that the below-par “What’s Up” films or the hackwork nature of the majority of his 1980s and 1990s output would suggest. For all his mainstream aspirations both these films offer up evidence that Derek Ford was at his most entertaining as a filmmaker when working in unabashed exploitation mode and –like the heroines of The House of Orchids- pursuing his obsessions for good or ill.