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.

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