Tag Archives: Erotica

156. STRANGE FRAME: LOVE & SAX (2012)

“How fortunate are those who can frame the beauty of the strange.”–opening title of Strange Frame

DIRECTED BY: G.B. Hajim

FEATURING: Claudia Black, Tara Strong, Ron Glass, 

PLOT: In the 28th century, saxophonist Parker falls in love with songwriter and escaped debt slave Naia on Jupiter’s moon Ganymede. The two women form a band, which catches the eye of a music producer. When the producer kicks the sax player out of the band to set Naia up as a solo act, hooks the singer on drugs and isolates her from the outside world, Parker teams up with two interplanetary trash haulers to penetrate the corporate defenses that separate the women.

Still from Strange Frame: Love & Sax (2012)
BACKGROUND:

  • This is the first feature film from Hawaii-based director G.B. Hajim and the first script and soundtrack from co-writer/co-composer Shelley Doty.
  • Hajim and Doty began discussing the project in 1999, and began writing the script in 2002. They envisioned Love & Sax as the first in a series of four films.
  • More than forty Hawaiian high school students worked as interns on the film over its seven years of production.
  • The black and white live action footage edited into the film comes from the all-black feature The Duke Is Tops (1938), starring Lena Horne as a singer who is manipulated into leaving her lover behind with promises of becoming a star in New York City.
  • “Star Trek” alumnus George Takei has a vocal cameo.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Strange Frame is at its visual best when it’s a free-flowing montage: cut-out mutant space lesbians in the foreground, swirling psychedelic backgrounds drifting in and out of focus in the background. It is therefore a difficult task to isolate a single strange frame from this movie; every image is in a constant state of flux. One of the best sequences occurs when Satanically suave agent Dorlan Mig plies the women with powders and rare liquors in an upscale Ganymede nightclub populated by horned celebrity dominatrices and their monocle-wearing cat-person managers. Immediately before the lovers are launched into a trip that’s visually unhinged even by this movie’s extreme standards, we see them reflected in his mirrored shades, one girl improbably and perfectly framed in each lens, before their visages dissolve and morph into pink lips and tongues. That’s about as standout a standalone image as you’ll be able to find in this Heraclitan river of psychedelic cinema.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: This story of two renegade lesbian rock stars gigging among the moons of Jupiter is a bit odd, but really not all that weird in and of itself. It’s the visuals that (as the movie’s legend promises) “frame the beauty of the strange.” Imagine dropping a hefty dose of LSD on the set of Blade Runner, and you walk through a door and suddenly you’re in the Star Wars cantina. Now, imagine that experience animated by the team behind Fantastic Planet working under the direction of , take that result and square the weirdness quotient, and you have some inkling of Strange Frame‘s visuals.


Original trailer for Strange Frame

COMMENTS: Strange Frame is an animated psychedelic lesbian science fiction musical. Just to be clear, I would have been happy with any three Continue reading 156. STRANGE FRAME: LOVE & SAX (2012)

88. THE PILLOW BOOK (1996)

“I am certain that there are two things in life which are dependable: the delights of the flesh, and the delights of literature.  I have had the good fortune to enjoy them both equally.”–Sei Shōnagon, “The Pillow Book,” Section 172.

DIRECTED BY: Peter Greenaway

FEATURING: Vivian Wu, Ewan McGregor, Yoshi Oida

PLOT: Every birthday, Nagiko’s father draws calligraphic figures on her face while ritualistically reciting the story of creation. Nagiko grows into a beautiful young fashion model obsessed with the intersection of calligraphy and sex, seeking lovers who will use her naked body as a canvas on which to write. She meets and falls in love with a bisexual British translator who convinces her to write on others’ bodies, and together they conspire for revenge against the publisher who wronged her father.

Still from The Pillow Book (1996)

BACKGROUND:

  • The “Pillow Book” from which the movie takes its title is “The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon,” the diaristic collection of anecdotes, observations, poetry and lists by a lady-in-waiting to Empress Sadako of Japan in the Heian era (the book was composed around 1000 AD).  Shōnagon’s work, though probably never intended for others’ eyes, became one of the classics of Japanese literature and a tremendous source of historical data about the Japanese imperial court.  Greenaway was inspired by “The Pillow Book,” but the film is not an adaptation of Shōnagon.  In an interview he explains: “I took some of [the book’s] sensitivities, primarily where Sei Shōnagon said, ‘Wouldn’t the world be desperately impoverished if we didn’t have literature and we didn’t acknowledge our own physicality?’ And the movie’s just about that.”
  • Occasionally, the spoken Japanese dialogue is not translated into subtitles. This is deliberate.
  • Venerable cinematographer Sacha Vierny had shot Greenaway’s previous six feature films and had previously worked with Resnais (Hiroshima Mon Amour, Last Year at Marienbad), Buñuel (Belle de Jour) and Raoul Ruiz (The Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting, Three Crowns of the Sailor), among other notable (and weird) directors.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: There are a bewildering number of nominees to choose from, especially since Greenaway frequently places two or three images on the screen at once, picture-in-picture style.  The overwhelming repeated image is that of writing inked on nude bodies, however, and so the shot of glowing letters cast on Vivian Wu’s darkened, reclining body as she writes in her diary in bed best captures The Pillow Book‘s visual fetish.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The Pillow Book is a movie about a fetishistic, eccentric, obsessed


Trailer for The Pillow Book

character, brought to us by an auteur with firsthand knowledge of those qualities.  Greenaway splashes the screen with visual extravagances, with pictures framed inside of other pictures, and images layered on top of one another, melding one into the next.  Full of obscure musings about the nature of art and sex, The Pillow Book tells a story of lust and revenge, but subjugates the text to the image, the narrative to the cinematic.  The result is visually hypnotic, frequently frustrating, and all Greenaway.

COMMENTS: A man and woman make love.  The entwining limbs are spectral, as their Continue reading 88. THE PILLOW BOOK (1996)

CAPSULE: À L’AVENTURE (2009)

DIRECTED BY: Jean-Claude Brisseau

FEATURING: Carole Brana, Etienne Chicot

PLOT:  Sandrine, bored with sex and life in general, takes a year off from the rat race

Still from A L'aventure (2009)

and meets some libertines who explore the intersection of sex, hypnosis and religious ecstasy.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: This retro sex-drama only flirts with weirdness at the very end.  Considered as a conventional film, it’s neither profound, erotic, nor even very interesting.

COMMENTS: A post-revolutionary examination of the sexual revolution, À L’aventure feels like a talkier, less exotic Emmanuelle (1974).  The plot, involving a beautiful French woman who ditches restrictive monogamy and explores the limits of sexuality—including masturbation, S & M, group lesbian sex, and hypnosis-aided orgasm—seems torn out of a middlebrow softcore “art” film from the early 1970s.  Shout-outs to Freudian psychoanalysis, Indian maharishis, past-life regression therapy and other forms of esoteric knowledge confirm the initial impression that À L’aventure is the work of an aging hippie nostalgic for the days when sexual repression and conformity could be blamed for all society’s ills.  A celebration of that sort of lost naïveté could have made for a fun movie, but for Jean-Claude Brisseau, pleasure is a very serious and unfulfilling business.  The ecstasy seekers in À L’aventure rarely smile, and in fact spend most of the movie wearing dour, serious expressions and furrowed brows, as if they were attending a lecture on modern physics. And about half of the time they are, thanks to the presence of a part-time taxi driver and park bench philosopher who uses his screen time to explain the origins of the universe and the sociological significance of panties. The cinematography is beautiful when it focuses on the French countryside, and the sexual choreography can be arousing, but overall the project is off-puttingly pretentious.  Brisseau’s attitude towards women is subtly disquieting, as well.  In the erotic scenes men are marginalized and women fetishized; he prefers to film lesbian sex.  His obsession with the female orgasm is strange; he uses it as a symbol of unobtainable ecstasy, seeming to forget that about half his audience is capable of obtaining it.  On the surface, Brisseau appears to worship women, but there’s something in his attitude reminiscent of an 18th century European admiring the Noble Savage; he seems more interested in romanticizing female sexuality for his own ends than he is in exploring or understanding it.  In terms of its ideas, the film is confused and uncertain, but not entirely vapid.  The theme of freedom versus convention is treated more subtly than one might expect; at the end Sandrine’s sexual adventure leave her no more satisfied than when she set out, and there is a suggestion that the erotic/hypnotic experiments may have breached limits woman was not meant to transgress.  But in the end, the film’s fatal flaw is simple: it’s dull and talky, and the talk doesn’t lead anywhere enlightening.  Only an overeducated Frenchman could make sex this boring. 

À L’aventure is the third movie in a trilogy about female sexuality that began with Choses Secrètes (2002) and continued in Les Anges Exterminateurs (2006). After the first film, Brisseau was criminally charged with sexual harassment against two of his actresses, receiving a fine and a suspended sentence.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Bizarre, at times almost surreal, very sex-filled and captivating in it’s own degenerative way.”–Gary Tooze, DVD Beaver (DVD)

BORDERLINE WEIRD: DR. CALIGARI (1989)

Dr. Caligari has been promoted onto the List of the 366 Weirdest Movies Ever Made. Please visit the official Certified Weird entry.

DIRECTED BY: [AKA Rinse Dream]

FEATURING:  Madeleine Reynal, Laura Albert, John Durbin

PLOT:  The granddaughter of Dr. Caligari (of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari fame) performs illicit neurological experiments on patients in her asylum, focusing especially on a nymphomaniac and a shock-therapy addicted cannibal.

Still from Dr. Caligari (1989)

WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINE: This is a good time to explain that the category “Borderline Weird” does not refer solely to a movie’s inherent strangeness, but to whether it’s both weird and effective enough to rank among the most recommended weird movies ever made. No doubt about it, Dr. Caligari is about as weird as they come, and would make a list of “weirdest movies regardless of quality” on first pass. The problem is that this movie is held back by amateurism in the production (especially the acting) and a lack of focus in the story.  I wouldn’t feel ashamed elevating it onto the official List of 366 films, but I wouldn’t want it to take the place of a more serious and professionally produced film, either, so Dr. Caligari will be locked up in the Borderline Weird asylum until I figure out what to do with this curious case.

COMMENTS: The origin and history of Dr. Caligari is almost as strange as the film itself. Director Stephen Sayadian is better known as Rinse Dream, the creator of arty avant-garde hardcore porn films with ambitions of crossing over into the mainstream. His Cafe Flesh (1982), the story of a post-apoclayptic future where most of the population consists of “sex negatives” forced to obtain erotic fulfillment vicariously by watching “sex positives” perform, was generally well-reviewed and very nearly the crossover hit Sayadian craved. It and was released in theaters in an R-rated version for those with tender sensibilities. Seven years later, the director again attempted to return to the mainstream with this, his only work aimed directly at an audience not wearing raincoats and sunglasses.  Intended as a midnight movie, Dr. Caligari had some limited success in LA theaters, and then gained a small but devoted following when released on video.

Dr. Caligari never got a proper DVD release, however, and fell out of the public eye; most Continue reading BORDERLINE WEIRD: DR. CALIGARI (1989)

BORDERLINE WEIRD: SEX AND LUCIA [LUCIA Y EL SEXO] (2001)

DIRECTED BY: Julio Medem

FEATURING: Paz Vega, Tristán Ulloa, Najwa Nimri

PLOT:  Lucia, a waitress, falls in love with Lorenzo, a young novelist with a secret in his past; their passionate love story is intertwined with dramatized scenes from Lorenzo’s novel, with it left to the viewer to decide what is “real” and what is “fiction.”

sex_and_lucia


WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LISTSex and Lucia‘s fractured narrative is more confusing than weird.  It’s meta-narrative conceits call to mind Adaptation, another movie that ultimately felt too much like an intellectual exercise to be extremely weird. Sex and Lucia treats it’s fiction-within-a-fiction structure with more subtlety and ambiguity, though Charlie Kauffman’s screenplay exists on a satirical plane that in the end makes it the more centered and satisfying effort.

COMMENTS:  The best things about Sex and Lucia are sex (important enough to get its own paragraph!) and Lucia (Paz Vega, whose acting is as naked as her body). While counting its plusses, we should also mention the cinematography, done on a digital camera, with the scenes on the Mediterranean isle bleached like a seashell in the sun.  The story is another matter.  Many viewers find it frustrating that Medem riddles his script with narrative wormholes which shuttle the story back in time or to an alternate resolution, then demands the viewer assist in the construction by choosing what is part of the “real” story and what is in Lorenzo’s imagination. The bigger problem may be that none of the possibilities he offers have a tremendous emotional resonance.  The movie is arty and self-conscious throughout, with multiple obviously significant shots of the moon. Symbolism is pervasive and tends to make sense, but adds up to little in the way of genuine insight.  While these difficulties make Sex and Lucia less than it might have been, it’s still beautiful enough to be lightly intoxicating, like a Mediterranean vacation or a one-nighter with a beautiful woman.

The sex scenes, especially those between the gorgeous and unselfconscious Vega and Ulloa, are undoubtedly a major attraction.  The lovers’ exploration of their bodies and sexual tastes during their whirlwind courtship is erotic and tasteful; the scenes are arousing, but are also beautifully constructed to create a sense of true intimacy between the characters.  The sex is front-loaded; after the middle of the film, when a sordid and pornographic but equally erotic fantasy occurs, sex leaves Lucia and Lorenzo’s relationship, replaced by tragedy and arguments.  Medem refused to let the sexier parts of the film be cut for distribution, but the scenes of tumescent male nudity and fellatio are so brief that they are unnecessary and reek of gimmickry; it’s difficult to rationalize the director’s passionate defense of the artistic necessity of erections.  The film may be purchased in either a unrated cut or in an R-rated version; your enjoyment of the movie is unlikely to be affected by which version you choose (I can’t determine if there’s a difference in runtime between the two versions).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“At its best, Sex and Lucia works literally like a dream, like David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive or Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away — the narrative is fractured and oblique, the meaning suppressed. It will infuriate a lot of moviegoers, perhaps especially those looking for a high class dirty movie.”–Phillip Martin, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (DVD)

BORDERLINE WEIRD: GIRL SLAVES OF MORGANA LE FAY [MORGANE ET SES NYMPHES] (1971)

DIRECTED BY:  Bruno Gantillon

FEATURING: Mireille Saunin, Dominique Delpierre, Alfred Baillou

PLOT:  Two pretty young women travelling through the French countryside

Still from Girl Slaves of Morgana le Fay [Morgane et ses Nymphes] (1971)

stumble upon the castle of an elegant witch attended by a bevy of beauties and a dwarf, who promises to keep them eternally young and pampered if they will give up their souls to her.

WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINE:  With it’s hunchbacked dwarf in eyeliner, tokes off a hookah, and decadent, dreamlike atmosphere, Girl Slaves of Morgana le Fay tries fairly hard to be weird.  But the film isn’t really as committed to creating a weird atmosphere as it is in filling the frame with as many tastefully hot lesbian sex scenes as it’s running time will allow.

COMMENTS:  Despite the acres of nude female flesh and Sapphic trysts, Girl Slaves of Morgana le Fay is a serious attempt at art, albeit erotic art.  The cinematography and costumes are luscious, and the location shooting at a real French castle provides a sensuous, refined background for the ladies’ romps in the buff.  The setting is decadent, and so are the pleasure-obsessed slave girls and their mistress, who sip on wine and quote Baudelaire all day in between refined orgies and interpretive erotic dances.  It’s the kind of locale you might like to live in (especially if you’re a lesbian), but not one that’s especially interesting to watch.  The atmosphere is trance-like, but the actresses emote as if they were in a trance. Despite the high-stakes battle for the girls’ souls, everything is so sublimated and understated that little real drama emerges.  The sex scenes are of the tasteful sort where one girl carefully caresses or kissed the torso of her lover, but only briefly brushes a nipple by accident.  The ending to the film is surprisingly effective, although abrupt. 

The DVD presentation by Pete Tombs’ Mondo Macabro is really amazing for a film this forgotten.  Tomb’s writes exhaustive essays on the film, cast, crew, and even the Chateau de Val location, as well as including Gantillon’s short film, Un couple d’artistes.  It’s nice to realize that enthusiasts exist to give a film as obscure as Girl Slaves of Morgana le Fay a release that’s as every bit as loving as Criterion Collection would if it were a respectable mainstream classic.  

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The first naughty scene… is potently erotic, and it sets the tone for the dreamlike stupor of lesbianism that permeates the rest of the film… Girl Slaves of Morgana Le Fay is classic soft-core exploitation, but it is done with such fun and gusto that nary a hint of coercion or negativity intrudes.”–Rob Lineburger, DVD Verdict