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.

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