Friday, 14 August 2009

Review: Dolly Mixture (Harrison Marks, 1973)

I first became aware of this vintage slice of Harrison Marks directed smut several years ago after reading a brief account of the film by its lead actor -who goes by the internet pseudonym of “Short Jack Gold”- which immediately caught my attention with his description of the film’s outlandish, horror themed, plot and some of the saucy goings-on that happened on set (more about that later on), all of which convinced me that Dolly Mixture must be something quite special in the Harrison Marks pantheon.

Dolly Mixture hails from Marks’ years in the wilderness, in-between directing the feature films The Nine Ages of Nakedness in 1969 and Come Play With Me in 1976. Marks made ends meet during this, what might be called his “blue” period, by shooting short sex films for the 8mm market, that were initially available through his Maximus Film Club company. Like many of the Maximus shorts, Dolly Mixture was filmed in two different versions, a full colour hardcore version for the overseas market, and -shot a week later- a black and white softcore version for the British market. The colour hardcore version, known in Germany as Vor Geilheit Kochen, which I’m lead to believe, roughly translates as “Boiling from Hornyness”, is by far the easiest of the two versions to see, having surfaced in Australia, and then been widely bootlegged on DVD and over the internet. The soft version, on the other hand, hadn’t been seen since its release on the now antiquated 8mm format in the 1970s, and was considered something of a “lost” film. So when an 8mm copy surfaced about a year ago, I immediately snatched it up, despite not really having a clue what I was going to do with it, and having no means of actually watching it, my family’s 8mm projector having melodramatically burst into flames when we last tried to get it to work, more than a decade ago.

The initial plan was to send it to my silent, partner-in-crime in this scheme and have him run it on his 8mm projector and film the image with a camcorder, an el cheapo way of doing it, but after he expressed concerns about his projector’s ability to work, and not wishing to risk destroying the film and possibly sending him to the burns department, we knocked that idea on the head in favour of Plan B; having the film professionally transferred to DVD. The search was then on to find a company that would be prepared to turn a blind eye to transferring “adults only” material, as luck would have it a fellow collector had recently used an internet based company to have the Harrison Marks/Mary Millington film “Sex is My Business” transferred from Super 8mm to DVD, so as they clearly didn’t have a problem with that kind of thing we went with the same company on Dolly Mixture. Given that their business seems to mostly involve the tedious task of transferring people’s moldy old holiday films to DVD, arguably they should have paid us for giving them something far more titillating to transfer, but there you go.

Short Jack Gold first met Harrison Marks in January 1972, after answering an advert Marks had placed in Time Out Magazine. His initial interview would prove a memorable introduction into the World of Harrison Marks, with Short Jack Gold turning up at Marks’ studio in Faulkner`s Alley just off Cowcross St in Farringdon, and being greeted by the sight of two gigging, mini skirted dolly birds leaving Marks’ studio, followed by the great man himself drunkenly calling after them "lovely darlings.. see you next week". Marks cited too much competition in the soft core/ glamour photography realm as the reason he was now making more explicit material, and preferred to shoot his clandestine hardcore films in his studio, which at that moment was being transformed into a French Bistro set by Tony Roberts, who had been Marks’ set designer since the late 1950s. On the set of his first Marks film -entitled “Bistro Bordello”- Short Jack Gold soon encountered the often mundane reality of porno filmmaking with lots of doing nothing moments, waiting around for Marks to reload the film and set up the next scene, mixed in with the immediate pressure on the male actors to get it up and go into sex the moment Marks yelled for “action”. Several of the other actors, despite being veterans of London’s insular hardcore scene, were having problems maintaining their erections, and just to add to the chaos Roberts’ set also included several crates of wine which started to disappear as the shoot went on, “god knows how much booze they (the crew) drank” Marks later recalled, although in all likelyhood he probably polished off a few bottles himself.

Bistro Bordello, sometimes referred to as “A Night at the Bistro Bordello”, evolved around an innocuous British couple -one half of which was played by Marks’ bodybuilder friend Howard “Vanderhorn” Nelson - dining out at a French Bistro, and somehow remaining unaware that the other customers are indulging in a 15 person orgy around them. Present in the female cast were the two dolly birds Short Jack Gold had encountered leaving Marks studio, as well as a shapely Hungarian model who is now a world famous sexologist. Marks had many tall tales to tell about the making of Bistro Bordello including a story about him hiring a professional accordionist to sit around the set and play music to get the cast in the mood, which, funny as it sounds is all nonsense, since Short Jack Gold -who appeared in both hard and soft versions of that film- remembers the cast were simply fucking to a backing tape. Still Marks was very proud of Bistro Bordello, especially his attempts at evoking a 1930s period setting, claiming “when I saw the rushes, I thought, fucking hell, this looks like it was shot in 1938” and went on to compare the film to the works of Rene Clair. The behind-the-scenes snapshot Short Jack Gold provided me with, which depicts Marks shooting a threesome with his Bolex camera and Mr. Gold with his head between a woman’s legs, doesn’t exactly scream a Rene Clair influence to me, but maybe I should reserve judgment till if/when the film resurfaces.

A year later Short Jack Gold was back reporting for stud duty for Dolly Mixture (which was shot in 73, but is copyrighted 1974). Despite only being required to appear in the soft version of the film, Dolly Mixture would prove to be equally as wild as his Bistro Bordello experience, thanks to the film’s frankly bonkers, Frankenstein inspired plot, and more importantly the exploits of his co-star, the legendary Clyda Rosen, a diminutive, Israeli model who boasted a super-sized chest, and downstairs what was once described as a “very large and lengthy tummy hair trail”. At the time of filming Dolly Mixture, Clyda was just starting to make waves in the British porn scene, appearing as a topless cover girl for magazines like Fiesta and 264 Juicy Jugs as well as starring in several under the counter productions.

Dolly Mixture is mainly set in a Mad Professor’s Laboratory and opens with his longhaired, hunchbacked assistant stumbling about the Lab. Had Marks shot the film with sound, chances are this character would have been called ‘Igor’. There are cutaways to such “every mad professor should have one” items such as a beating heart in a tank and a crawling, severed hand trapped in a glass jar, as well as numerous toy dolls scattered about the laboratory. Toying with the dolls, the Hunchback soon finds something far more interesting to play with in the form of the Professor’s nude female creation (Clyda), who the Prof has put together from various female body parts, hence “Dolly Mixture”. Groping her breasts while making imbecilic faces of delight, the Hunchback is quickly interrupted by the Professor himself, who shoos the horny halfwit away. It seems the professor shares the Hunchback’s odd fixation with dolls and throughout the film is seen carrying a female doll dressed as a bride who he holds one-way conversations with, while out in the hallway the Hunchback throws a tantrum and peeks through the keyhole. Enter Short Jack Gold playing an Insurance Investigator who has turned up to price the Professor’s belongings. Given the guided tour of the place Short Jack is startled -and who wouldn’t be- by the nude, large chested Israeli lady lying lifeless in the middle of the Professor’s lab. While the Insurance Investigator is distracted, the naughty professor switches on his sex-ray machine, which brings to life Ms. Rosen, who is immediately all over the -not entirely resistant- insurance investigator, pulling off his clothes and dragging him to the floor for some frenzied, multi-positioned sex.

As well as his sex ray machine, it seems the Professor also has some weird power over his dolls, who are shown bonking away in positions that match up to that of their human counterparts. If Clyda and Short Jack Gold seem to be enjoying themselves a little too much during these scenes there is good reason, as Mr. Gold explains “halfway through our shoot, Clyda got a bit carried away and allowed full sex. She was that hot!". While the pair of them go at it on the laboratory floor, the two actors playing the Hunchback and the Professor seem to be in competition with each other over who can deliver the more hammy performance, with the Professor ranting on to his doll companion and the Hunchback rolling his eyes, playing with Clyda’s hair, and doing what in less politically correct times used to be referred to as “spazzing”. All this not so simulated sex and overacting eventually proves to be too much for the sex ray machine which ends up exploding, causing Clyda and Short Jack Gold to flee, and killing the Professor in the process. After the dust has settled, the film’s surprisingly eerie final shot reveals the bride doll has taken on human characteristics while the dead Professor now has the doll’s features, and sports Pierrot-like make-up. What does it all mean? only Harrison Marks himself knew for sure.

Both Clyda and Tony Roberts really go beyond the call of duty in Dolly Mixture, with Clyda delivering a super sexy turn, displaying the sort of enthusiasm that shows why Ms. Rosen is very, very fondly remembered by her male co-stars. Tony Roberts -a real unsung hero in Marks’ story - also knocked up a sensational set for the film, full of bubbling over test tubes, posters of anatomical drawings, bottles full of potions, human skulls and body parts that really add horror film flavor to the proceedings. Marks may have been known to complain that Roberts’ sets "cost a bleedin packet", but Dolly Mixture stands as a fully realized amalgamation of British horror film and dirty movie because of them. Dolly Mixture also offers a peak at some of the porn stars and oddballs that formed Marks’ acting repertory company in the 1970s. Both Clyda and Short Jack Gold are at the outset of their long careers in porn here, with many more appearances in Marks’ productions to follow that would see Mr. Gold going on to occupy the same cinematic territory in Marks’ under the counter productions as Robin Askwith and Christopher Neil did in soft core comedies. The chap who plays the Hunchback was also something of a regular in Marks’ films -albeit in non-balling roles- having played one of the hippies in Marks’ hardcore customs office farce “Die Lollos” and part of the rock band in the groupie themed “Autograph Hunter”. In real life he was actually the boyfriend of one of Marks’ models, and while she must have given him the go-ahead to drool over and fondle Clyda’s boobs in the softcore version of Dolly Mixture, he required a body double for his character’s more explicit involvement in the hardcore version. Leaving his body double the less than enviable task of having his lower torso, including his dick, covered in green make-up to match up with the Hunchback’s back from the dead complication. The two different actors who play the Professor in the soft and hard versions of the film are both quite a sight as well, the actor in the hard version fits the ID of your generic horror movie crazy old codger down to a tee, sporting a disheveled appearance, unkempt beard and a look of genuine madness in his bleary, bloodshot eyes, for the soft version the role was played by a much younger, and noticeably more agile actor, hidden under a wig, a fake beard and heavy, ghost face make-up, resembling Alan Badel in The Stranger Left No Card. Aside from Clyda, Dolly Mixture also boasts a surprise appearance from another diminutive, furry, much loved character, in the form of Paddington Bear, or rather a doll of Paddington Bear, who makes his unlikely XXX debut here as part of the Hunchback’s extensive doll collection. At one point Paddington is even seen posed in the background of the sex scenes, looking on at Clyda, almost disapprovingly.

While its hard to take Dolly Mixture as anything other than silly, horny fun acted out for your average 1970s 8mm film enthusiast’ s delight, given Marks’ frosty relationship with the Taxman, or as he referred to them “the Tax Bastards”, fuelled even more by his 1970 bankruptcy, its tempting to view the Professor getting one over on the Insurance Investigator by zapping him with the sex ray machine, as Marks’ revenge fantasy against such nosy, paperwork obsessed types. Although whether being stripped bare and shagged senseless by Frank-en-Clyda is really a “punishment” is arguable. At times the goateed mad professor even looks like a horror film caricature of Marks himself, running about his laboratory with the power to have people strip off their clothes and act out any wild, impromptu sex scene at his demand. A comic take on Marks’ position in life and his vendetta against the taxmen then? or just an excuse to film Clyda’s enormous boobs bouncing around a Mad Prof’s lab? Either way Dolly Mixture and its Maximus kin kept its director in booze and cigarettes during a rough period.

By the mid-Seventies Marks had managed to find some regular employment providing photoshoots for David Sullivan’s top shelf magazines, an association that led to Marks being given the chance to direct Come Play With Me, as well as the opportunity to sell the rights to many of his 8mm productions - including Bistro Bordello, Sex is My Business and Santa’s Coming- to Sullivan, who subsequently advertised them for sale through his magazines. Dolly Mixture ended up in a Sullivan Advert along with several other Marks 8mm films featuring top-heavy actresses, billed collectively as “Harrison Marks Home Movies with Whopper Stars” (‘these films have been specially selected to appeal to the man who delights in the big ones’ claimed Sullivan’s spiel). Exactly who owns the rights to Dolly Mixture these days seems something of a mystery, its not one of only a handful of Maximus productions held by his estate “George Harrison Marks Enterprises LTD”. A question mark also hangs over whether Sullivan kept hold of the rights to these films as well, given that he never did anything with these acquisitions after the 8mm market gave way to the video era. The absence of any footage from, or even a mention of, the Mary Millington starring “Sex is My Business” in Sullivan’s numerous print and film tributes to her in the early 1980s, would seem to strongly suggest he no longer held the rights to these 8mm films by then, since Sullivan was actively recycling just about every picture or scrap of film he had of Mary Millington at that point.

So with these films seemingly in unloved and forgotten limbo, and with no equivalent of Something Weird Video or Alpha Blue Archives existing in the UK, it seems its left to the die-hard aficionados to personally save the likes of Sex is My Business and Dolly Mixture from the jaws of extinction and get them known about again, and when the opportunely came my way to preserve a bit of the dirty film legacy of a sweary, heavy drinking, glamour photographer turned pornographer, and his horny, hairy, hebraic honey of a star, well, how could I resist a challenge like that???

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