In reviewing all the DVD releases each week, I have
had the privilege of rewatching many of the classics from the late
sixties and early seventies, and I have been also able to watch some
of the forgotten films of that era for the first time. It has been
an edifying process, because I have been able to watch those films
with my eyes stripped of the cultural blinders of the times. I
have realized that the films of the early 1970s are not often good.
In fact, they are almost all failures. Many films which I loved back
then now seem clumsy or pretentious. Many others seem to be
prisoners of the 70s zeitgeist and the fashionable counter-cultural
ethos, and almost all of them seem quaint and naive and totally one-dimensional. It often embarrasses me to think how much I once loved
those films, just as it sometimes embarrasses me to think about some
of the things I believed and did in those reckless, free-thinking
And yet, although I have concluded
that the films of the 1970s were nowhere near as good as I
remembered them, I have also come to realize that I miss the era
even more than I ever dreamed. Looking back from today's more Puritanical
climate, it is refreshing to see the sexual and conceptual freedom
in those films. Looking back from today's era of cookie-cutter films
designed by marketing committees, it provides the ultimate nostalgic
pleasure to go back and wallow in an era when no popular films had a
number in the title. In fact, the spirit of individuality was
embedded so deeply into the consciousness of that era that it is
almost impossible to picture the era's signature films having
sequels. Harold and Maude II? Easy Rider 2? The lionization of
individuality in those years really represented an oasis of
original, personal filmmaking in between the last gasp of the studio
system in the early sixties and the onset of the blockbuster
mentality in the late seventies. Those movies from 1967 to 1975 may
not often have been good, but they were often passionate and
inventive. The most appealing characteristic that they possessed is
that they were not corporate. Many of the films of that era
expressed the feelings and bared the creative souls of the auteurs.
They were made to please their creators, as opposed to the films of
the most recent era, which seem to be made entirely to please
popcorn-oriented audiences. Yes, the films of that era were often failures tainted by
closed-mindedness, amateurishness and pretension, but they were
truly noble failures. As opposed to most of today's popular films,
they at least aspired to be art. They were daring, they were
provocative, and they were unique. Though they were not so very
good, I miss them.
Which brings us to Inserts, which may be a perfect
symbol for that entire age. Its star, Richard Dreyfuss, has two 1975
films on his IMDb resume, and the difference between them truly
represents the passing of eras. In turns quirky, erotic, poetic,
sleazy and articulate, Inserts represents the ultimate in
provocative, non-commercial early seventies fare - a film in which
mainstream female stars not only refer to their "cunts", but
actually expose them on camera. The other film Dreyfuss made that
year is one with which we are all familiar, because Jaws is
considered the grandfather of the summer blockbuster, the very
symbol of corporate filmmaking, the film which not only dominated
the 1975 box office with a total which was then a record, but did so
in convincing fashion, taking in more than the 1974 and 1976 winners
added together! Jaws was not just a movie, but a cultural
phenomenon which spawned amusement park exhibitions and several
sequels. Inserts, on the other hand, inspired no sequels and was
barely released. And I'll guaran-damn-tee you there ain't gonna be
no Inserts exhibition at the Universal Studios Theme Park.
Inserts is basically a two act play which takes
place entirely on a single set - the "home studio" of a once
successful silent film director who fell upon hard times when he was
unable to adapt to the industry's shift to sound films. This is not
an original premise, but this film is definitely not "Singin' in the
Rain," as you will quickly determine during the opening credits when
you see a naked Veronica Cartwright spreading her legs on camera.
Yes, this is the same Veronica Cartwright who once played Ethel
Kennedy, and the same Cartwright you saw in The Right Stuff and
Aliens, except you didn't see quite as much of her there as you are going
to see here, because this is a movie which takes place inside the
early world of porno films. The director (Dreyfuss) is now an
impotent, agoraphobic, and alcoholic
stumblebum using the last vestiges of his brilliance to make silent
porno reels for the mob. Cartwright plays a former silent film
starlet who was unable to cross over to talkies, and has now joined
her former mentor in the porn world. The male star is simply called
Rex the Wonder Horse, an aspiring actor like just about everyone
Hollywood, but currently paying the bills as a porn star by day, a gravedigger by night.
The first act of the film basically consists of
Dreyfuss's attempts to get his porn film made despite his junkie
female star, his unmotivated and simple-minded male star, and the
sudden appearance of the mob boss (Bob Hoskins in his early 30s,
near the beginning of his career), who is accompanied by his
ostensibly virginal girlfriend. The act basically ends with the
death of the female star from an overdose, after which the
gravedigger and the mob boss disappear to dispose of the body,
leaving the washed-up alkie porn director with the virginal
Midwestern girlfriend (Jessica Harper).
The second act is virtually a self-contained play on its own, as the two
remaining characters, comparably manipulative
and intelligent people, banter and engage in verbal foreplay, then decide that
the two of them could finish the porn film despite the fact that the
leading lady has died, simply by virtue of the fact that the girl
from Chicago has a similar body to the deceased star, and can
therefore supply body parts for close-ups. (These are the
"inserts" of the title.) The great dramatic challenge is for the
impotent Dreyfuss to somehow supply the "cum shot."
The truly astounding element of the film is that
the all of the explicit action is shot directly, showing just about
everything on camera except erections and penetration. The
characters talk dirty, Rex the Wonder Dog flashes his manhood,
Veronica Cartwright flashes her womanhood wide open, and Jessica
Harper is undressed for just about the last hour of the film
(although she never does show the "cunt" she talks about so often.)
The film was rated X in its day, and the DVD is rated NC-17. R-rated
versions have also been available on VHS from time to time. Beware
of these. The full running time is 115 minutes. The R-rated version
is 20-30 minutes shorter. I have not seen the expurgated version,
but it could not be any good, because the dialogue
continues during the sex scenes. Without the sex scenes, the true
value of the film would be lost because that dialogue is an
important element of the character development, the wit, and the
offbeat eroticism of the film.
The dialogue is written entirely in the
appropriate slang from the early 1930s, although the director is
obviously a self-styled intellectual who uses plenty of poetic
phrases and fancy vocabulary. The banter is witty, and the characters
exit and enter dramatically, as if the film really were a 1930s
stage play rather than a 1970s film. The cast handles the stylized
dialogue admirably and, despite the single set, the entire film has
a lot of energy and exhibits a lot of intelligence. It plays out as
if Eugene O'Neill had written a play about the people who make porno
reels. The final mutual
seduction between Dreyfuss and Harper builds and builds to a ...
well, I guess the word is "climax," in more sense than one ...
... all of which made me wonder who the film was
made for, until I realized that I am now thinking like a person
from the year 2005. Back in 1975, films were not made "for" anyone - they
were made "by" someone who was true to his vision and hoped there
was a large enough audience of like-minded individuals. As it turns
out, there was no audience for Inserts. Except me. OK, I admit that not many people will want to see
Richard Dreyfuss in an X-rated film with aspirations to be an Oscar
Wilde play but, dammit, it worked for me. I found the film very
funny at times, and both intelligent and erotic. You may as well.
Pennies from Heaven (1975)
I guess I may as well cover the rest of Jessica Harper's topless career
while I'm at it.
Pennies from Heaven is a truly odd pseudo-Brechtian musical about a sheet
music salesman who tries to eke out a living during the Great Depression. The
songs he peddles are also the songs sung by the characters, although the
actors do not actually sing, but simply lip synch along with actual period
recordings. The point of the film, if there is one, seems to center on the
contrast between the syrupy songs and the stark living conditions of the
time. When there is no music, the almost colorless scenes picture grim lives
filled with infidelity, prostitution, dire poverty and even murder. When the
songs begin, the film transforms into a surreal Hollywood confection, and the
realistic cityscapes are replaced with gloriously pastel sets, David Mackie
costumes, and fantastical Busby Berkeley choreography. When the songs end,
the grey faces and grim brown streets return. As you may well guess, this
point is firmly established after about ten minutes, which leaves another two
hours or so of lip synching to forgotten songs, seemingly with no additional
point to make.
I really had to struggle through this film, but you may have better luck
if (a) you are a fan of Bertolt Brecht, or (b) you enjoy the saccharine
popular songs of the depression era, or (c) you just want to see Christopher
Walken steal the movie by lip synching and stripping to a falsetto song while
dancing his heart out.
Pat's comments in yellow...
WOMEN LIKE MEN WITH LOVE HANDLES
It's More Of Me To Love! - Playgirl surveyed 2,000 readers on what's sexy
in a man, and were surprised to learn that the toned, waxed playboys who
pose nude in the magazine apparently aren't it. 47 percent like chest
hair, 42 percent think love handles are "kind of sexy" and 73 percent want
a guy who is "rough around the edges," not a metrosexual. Editor Jill
Sieracki said it shows her women readers prefer an average Joe to a
Hollywood hunk. So they're now asking average Joes to send photos to
firstname.lastname@example.org to apply for a shot in a future pictorial.
Next month's centerfold: Homer Simpson.
This finally explains how Gerard Depardieu became a sex symbol...And how
Ron Jeremy became a porn star.
Women like a man with a six-pack IN his stomach, not ON it.
Of course, the average Joes still only look at toned, waxed Playboy
PORN IS FOREVER
Porn Stars Last Longer - Australian scientist Fabiano Ximenes dug through
two dumps in Sydney to see how long it takes different types of trash to
decompose. He found that wood and paper last longest, with some magazines
thrown away up to 46 years ago still in almost perfect condition. And the
ones that last longest were pornography and glossy men's magazines.
Ximenes said it's ironic that porn is the thing that is best preserved for
future generations. He found a 1979 Playboy in near-mint condition,
possibly because of the thick coating of wax on the pages.
Uh...that's not wax.
Or maybe because porn is made to withstand a beating.
Of course, the Playboy didn't decompose: it's full of silicone.
The entire study was paid for by selling that 1979 Playboy on eBay.
HOLE-IN-ONE COVERS TWO NATIONS, TAKES OVER AN HOUR
Wow, What Hang Time! - Norwegian golfer Odd Marthinussen teed off from the
14th hole of Harstad Golf Club and not only shot his first hole-in-one, he
set two other records. The national border runs through the green, so he
hit the ball in Norway, but it landed in Finland. And since Finland is in
a different time zone an hour ahead of Norway, the four-second shot
technically took an one hour and four seconds to land in the cup.
When I watch golf on TV, this is how long everything seems to take.
Just his luck, next week, Tiger Woods will break the record by teeing
off in Georgia and getting a hole-in-one in Greenland.
BROSNAN FINISHED AS JAMES BOND
Broken Bond - Pierce Brosnan will not be returning as James Bond. Brosnan
told Entertainment Weekly he has mixed feelings, since 007 started his
movie career, but he feels liberated to be able to do other things. He
said 007 had "these stupid one-liners, which I loathed, and I always felt
phony doing them." The producers called out of the blue to tell him he was
finished as 007. He said, "One phone call, that's all it took."
He thought they'd at least throw him into a shark tank or try to cut him
in half with a laser beam.
He has mixed feelings...He's shaken, not stirred.
EMINEM CANCELS TOUR, MAY BE RETIRING
Sitting Under A Shady Tree - Citing exhaustion after two months on the road
in America, Eminem has canceled his European tour, and possibly, his solo
rap career. London's Sun tabloid claims an inside source told them Eminem
wanted to kill off the rap "character" he'd created and had planned to
retire after the tour, but his exhaustion forced him to do it now; and he's
giving up tens of millions of dollars in future revenues to concentrate on
being a dad to his eight-year-old daughter, Hallie.
He'll have to spend 24 hours a day for the next ten years making sure
she NEVER hears any of his records.
He was farting into the microphone at every concert, and
that really takes the wind out of you.
I always figured if he ever killed himself off, he'd do it in the most
violent way possible.
Funny, he never struck me as the retiring type.
SANTANA SUED OVER "SPIRITUAL CALIBRATION"
Unconscionable - Bruce Kuhlman, a former personal assistant to Carlos
Santana, is suing for wrongful termination. He claims Santana's wife
Deborah brought in a man called "Dr. Dan" to help employees grow closer to
God, develop a deeper lever of consciousness and become better workers. He
says he was fired because Dr. Dan "calibrated" his consciousness, found it
too low, and declared him not "spiritually evolved" enough.
...to fetch coffee and donuts for Santana.
Plus, there was no money for a personal assistant after they paid Dr.
So now, he's Ted Nugent's assistant.
Well, now we know who inspired the song "Black Magic Woman."