Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Review: Moralpisser (Harrison Marks, 197?)

As regular readers of this blog will know George Harrison Marks is a filmmaker frequently championed around these parts. Aside from perhaps Derek Ford, no one quite personalised the British sex film as much as Marks. With his early 8mm glamour films and big screen outings like ‘The 9 Ages of Nakedness’ Marks reshaped the genre into his own little universe. Resulting in films whose plots were a showcase for Marks’ vivid imagination, starred the women he knew and loved, featured his mates (Stuart Samuels, Tony Roberts, Howard Nelson) in bit parts, and consolidated Marks’ damaged ego as a failed 1950s variety performer by not only making him famous, but allowing him to get his face and personality in front of the camera. The enthralling aspect to Marks is that the full extent of his career has clearly yet to be documented, what with forgotten or anonymously made 8mm films constantly resurfacing, fuelling further interest in the man, his times and his work, as well as rewarding the inquisitive.

A particularly exciting discovery of late is Marks’ hardcore short ‘Moralpisser’. Likely to have been made in the mid-seventies, it is from a time when Marks was still investing a degree of creativity into his hardcore sex films, and just before he began to find making them a chore, resulting in the films themselves deteriorating into generic, 9 to 5 pornography. A bit of detective work suggests that Moralpisser was a hardcore take on a storyline Marks had also used for a softcore short of his called ‘Medium Rare’. While I have yet to see Medium Rare- which starred a bewigged Monique Deveraux- a plot synopsis of that film matches up with the one in Moralpisser, with both films concerning phony mediums whose powers aren’t as inauthentic as they think. The premise of Moralpisser, which is worthy of a connecting sequence in an Amicus horror anthology, sees five strangers meeting up for a séance at the flat of a renowned medium. Four of this bunch (3 gals and 1 guy) are played by little known 1970s porn performers, the odd one out is a bearded older man who seems strangely familiar…… yes, its Marks himself, unable to keep his face off camera, in spite of the fact that he was meant to be directing the film anonymously.


Moralpisser captures Marks at possibly the most dilapidated he ever appeared on film. His unshaven appearance, hung-over demeanour and long greasy hair is both testament to his lifestyle having caught up with him by the 1970s and all of the good times he must have had to end up looking that way. Marks is strictly in this film for comic relief, throwing in a few effeminate glances and shrugs at his female co-stars, which recalls all the mincing about he did in The Window Dresser years beforehand. The actor playing the medium, who is attired in a kaftan worthy of Demis Roussos, is recognizable from umpteen soft and hardcore Marks shorts from this period (fellow porn actor Short Jack Gold recalls this man’s first name being ‘Paul’). The séance quickly gets underway and involves the motely group holding hands, swaying about and orgasmically moaning in an attempt to contact the spirit world. All however is not as it seems given that the medium has a couple of tricks up his sleeve, quite literally as the ‘hands’ of his the others are holding onto are actually false hands. While the others are caught up in the séance, the medium uses his real hands (which are hidden under the table) to operate a reel to reel tape recorder that plays soothing music designed to place the others into a trance. With everyone well and truly under the medium’s spell his guests are all instructed into another room, all except poor old Marks who is left on his lonesome at the table, and continues to sway about and mumble nonsense to the spirit world. Once the others are in the next room the amorous nature of the medium’s dastardly plan becomes apparent, with everyone ordered to disrobe which soon leads on to the medium presiding over a sex orgy. All very clever and conniving, even if you can’t help feeling that there must have been an easier way for a moderately handsome, big dicked fellow like him to get laid in the 1970s other than to pose as a medium and employ a set of fake hands and hypnotising music. Still, on the basis of what we see onscreen it was evidently worth all the effort, and the medium gets to have his wicked way with each of the three women, all of whom seem to dig him sexually. Enthusiastic performances, a variety of sexual positions and a more than average amount of money shots in this one present a convincing case for the cast having had a whale of a time making the film.


Marks’ previous shorts from the 1970s like A Night at the Bistro Bordello and Dolly Mixture, had been shot at a studio in Faulkner’s Alley and benefited from the set designs of Tony Roberts, who had transformed Marks’ studio into a French Bistro for the former and a mad scientist’s laboratory for the latter. Sadly this was a luxury unavailable to Marks by the time of Moralpisser (reportedly the landlord at the Faulkner’s Alley studio kicked Marks out when he discovered what was being filmed there), which was instead made at the place Marks called home, a ground floor flat at 'The Hall', an apartment block on Grove End Road in St. John’s Wood, a place Marks had been living at since the mid-1960s. To watch Marks’ films from the 1960s and 1970s is to become extremely familiar with this place, it pops up constantly as a filming location in his work during that period. Shooting at his own gaff offering the obvious benefit of privacy to Marks, which would have been essential given the legal question mark that existed over shooting blue movies during this period. Marks’ very own bed is the setting for the sex orgy centrepiece of Moralpisser. Tony Roberts’ sets and creative input might be noticeable by their absence in Moralpisser, but Marks’ own abode is every bit as visually striking as any film set, with each room seemingly boasting its own colour scheme. Bright reds worthy of double decker buses and telephone boxes appear as the dominant colour of choice for Marks’ living room, which has red walls, red chairs, a red table, pretty much red everything. It’s the kind of place that you suspect you’d never be able to forget if you’d ever been there, in fact I’d wager a bet that even today Moralpisser cast members would still be able to recall the day they ventured into Marks’ ‘red room’. Conveniently for Marks it lends itself well to doubling as the lair of a fake medium here, making you wonder if Marks hadn’t made this comparison himself and dreamt up the narrative for this film on that basis.


Just to get slightly get away from Moralpisser for the moment, and go all Sherlock Holmes on everyone, also present in Marks’ living room and visible in Moralpisser are several yellowed documents that Marks had put on display on his walls, preserved inside of picture frames with distinct, gold coloured edges. My memory bank of minute details remembered from 1970s porn tells me that the same framed documents appeared as background in a hardcore lesbian shoot that ran in the continental porn magazine ‘Pleasure’. A shoot that is notable for featuring a pre-fame Mary Millington participating in mixed combo action with an afroed black woman and masturbating with a banana (see here). The presence of the framed documents and the further giveaway of bright red walls in the Pleasure magazine shoot meaning that Marks must have taken these photographs of Mary at his Grove End Road pad at some point in time. The fact that the photos capture Mary prior to her nose job and the work done on her teeth, indicates they were taken before her meeting David Sullivan in 1975, and points to them being from very early on in her career. Whilst it is now known that Mary did work for Marks before Come Play With Me, by starring in his softcore short ‘Sex is My Business’, the Pleasure magazine photo-shoot is the first evidence to emerge of Marks employing her in a hardcore capacity in her early days too. Somehow though I doubt the current residents of 'The Hall' in Grove End Road - a building which still stands- will be in any hurry to erect a blue plaque commemorating the fact that Marks made blue films there, or that Mary Millington once pleasured herself with a banana on the premises.

Marks’ ‘red room’ in Moralpisser

Everything about Moralpisser from Marks’ played for laughs cameo to the good time sex scenes have a light-hearted tone to them, leading you to assume that the film will end on a similar note. So it comes as a surprise when Marks royally pulls the rug from under us by taking things in the completely opposite direction. Finally exhausted from all the sex they’ve been having the medium and his guests return back to the séance expecting to find Marks there on his own. Instead they are confronted by the sight of themselves still sitting around the table. The medium and his guests scream wildly at this sight, as the versions of themselves sat around the table turn around and glower at them menacingly. The final shot in the film sees them vanishing into thin air. It’s a puzzler of an ending; have the medium and his guests been dead all along? or have their bodies become possessed by evil spirits during the séance?, or did the séance cause them to lose their souls which drifted away for an orgy and failed to realise they’d become separated from their bodies till the shock ending? Whichever way you interpret this, it is a chilling conclusion and one that takes you totally off guard. Like the onscreen characters, the audience really got more than they bargained for in their pursuit of sexual cheap thrills with Moralpisser, but you can’t help admire the mischievous nature in Marks for pulling a head wrecker of a twist like that on his audience who probably didn’t expect it to be the hairs on the back of their necks that were left standing by the film. So that’s Moralpisser then, a film with laughs, another memorable Marks cameo, raunchy sex, a horror movie worthy ending and clues to a hitherto unknown Marks/Mary Millington connection. What more could you ask for from 1970s pornography?, to quote the board held up by Marks at the end of his 1964 glamour film The Four Poster “what do you want blood?”

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Stanley Long RIP 1933-2012

Veteran British sex filmmaker Stanley Long died earlier this week aged 78. I can’t make any claim to have known him, save for several email exchanges a few years ago in which he voiced dissatisfaction over the current DVD releases of his films The Wife Swappers and Groupie Girl, and tried to persuade me to buy the then forthcoming DVD boxset of his ‘Adventures of a…’ series instead… not that I needed much persuading there. I did though have a hand in reuniting him with a copy of his 1975 rarity ‘It Could Happen to You’ and his early 8mm glamour film ‘Beauty and the Beast’, and I may have once pissed him off by writing up a certain fact concerning his unmade 1979 horror film ‘Plasmid’.

The British sex film genre could boast to having many distinct characters (Derek Ford, Antony Balch, Harrison Marks) each with their own unique way of looking at the world, but Long had a brilliant, finger on the pulse intuition over what the British public wanted to see. To the degree that his career not only spans the entire history of the genre but also acts as a microcosm of its various trends and changing attitudes. Long was there right from the start, shooting 8mm glamour films in the late 1950s and his subsequent feature film career encompasses the carefree nudist film boom of the early 60s to the cautionary ‘tut, tut and leer’ approach of his mega hit The Wife Swappers at the decade’s end, before the more relaxed attitude of the early 70s allowed Long the chance to make more overtly comic sex films like Sex and the Other Woman, culminating in his massively popular ‘Adventures’ films, beginning with Adventures of a Taxi Driver in 1975, followed by Adventures of a Private Eye in 1977, and Adventures of a Plumber’s Mate in 1978. Success after success within the genre proved that Long was far more in touch with the tastes of the average man on the street than any so-called film ‘experts’ or critics. To this day cinema snobs still recoil in disgust over the fact that Long’s Adventures of a Taxi Driver out grossed Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver during its original run, but clearly as far as 1975 was concerned the average British cinemagoer was more interested in seeing Barry Evans lose his trousers then they were in seeing Robert De Niro losing his marbles.

While many British sex films fell into obscurity during the 1980s and 1990s the Adventures films -along with the Confessions series- continued to be kept in circulation via video releases and late night TV airings- ensuring these films played a vital part in forming the public’s mental image of what 1970s British sex comedies were all about. Outside of sex films Long also acted as cinematographer on The Blood Beast Terror (1967)- shooting its ridiculous moth woman monster, and became a footnote to the careers of Roman Polanski and Michael Reeves by acting as cameraman on Repulsion (1965) and The Sorcerers (1967), going way beyond the call of duty for the latter by agreeing to being strapped to the top of a police car in order to film the climactic car chase.

Personally my own introduction to Long’s films –and the two that made the biggest impression on me- were The Wife Swappers (1969) and Eskimo Nell (1974), surely the genre’s most unintentionally and intentionally funniest moments. How can anyone ever forget The Wife Swappers?, after all there isn’t a single scene in that film that isn’t memorable for some reason or another, whether it is the sight of Leonard and his wife who has fallen victim to a post-dubbing job, the hopeless actor being passed off as an ‘eminent London psychiatrist’ who is only convincing as a psychiatrist in the sense that it is hard to believe he was a proper actor, or such hysterical dialogue as “you’ve taken the act of love and dirtied it”.

With Eskimo Nell, Long got to have his cake and eat it by producing a satire on the very film industry he himself lorded over, sending up everyone from crooked film distributors to the Whitehouse/Longford/Festival of Light mob. Catching up with that film in the 1990s, further piqued my curiosity over the film world that Eskimo Nell lampooned and encouraged me to delve deeper into Britain’s saucy past.


I suspect Long rarity, if ever, saw any decent critical notices for his films while he was making them “a ninth rate skin flick with the ugliest, spottiest, dirtiest assembly of misshapen non-actors since Tod Browning’s Freaks” was Films and Filming’s take on Groupie Girl, “listless documentary about prostitution through the ages, with lots of hammy recreations from different periods. All the women have exceptionally large breasts” moaned Time Out on the subject of 1973’s On the Game. So it was rather gratifying to see a recent flurry of critical interest in Long’s films, with his ‘London in the Raw’ and ‘Primitive London’ both being screened at the BFI Southbank and released on DVD and Blu-Ray, inspiring highbrow reappraisals in the likes of The Guardian. After years of deriding the genre Long worked in ‘the intelligentsia’ had finally come grovelling. Long himself began making regular appearances at film screenings and conventions, as well as popping up on such disparate television programmes as Balderdash and Piffle, British Film Forever and the antiques show Trust Me I’m a Dealer. Even forgotten obscurities like West End Jungle (1961) managed to get dusted off, released on DVD, screened on BBC4 and inspire a Marc Almond music video (2010’s ‘Varity’). Sad as Long’s passing is, and that such a vital link to our cinematic past is now gone, there is the reassuring knowledge that he lived long enough to see his films being appreciated again, and got to tell all (or at least as much as libel laws would allow) in his 2008 biography ‘X Rated - Adventures of an Exploitation Filmmaker’.

Check out the book and the DVD releases. The former is full of great stories about his life and times, and the films themselves are rich in memorable moments. I know sights like the badly made up Marilyn Monroe lookalike in West End Jungle, a bunch of actors pretending to be beatniks eating what is meant to be cat food but was actually tins of tuna in London in the Raw, Jane Cardew’s breasts in Sex and the Other Woman, and the maniacal Punch and Judy man in Screamtime, will forever be burnt into my grey matter. Stanley Long was responsible for all of that, and I’m very grateful for it.


Long strapped to the top of a car during the making of The Sorcerers