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February 19, 2007

DVD Journal: "I Spit on Your Grave"; "Blood and Roses"; "Vampyres"; "Bare Behind Bars"; "Tarnation"; "Lie With Me"

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Prior to going into production on our own tacky / arty microbudget masterpiece, The Wife and I logged in some serious time watching tacky and arty DVDs. We weren't exactly preparing, though -- our script was already written. The trashy-arty DVD-viewing just happened. Hmm: Maybe tacky and arty are just where our minds live ...

* "I Spit on Your Grave." Low-budget '70s revenge / horror that fascinates many viewers. It's a violent, cheesy, no-class film, no question about that. Yet -- like "The Honeymoon Killers" -- the film transfixes because of its "objective," non-judgmental point of view. Is the rape horrifying or a turn-on? Are you rooting for the heroine to take revenge, or are you appalled by her extreme violence? You can't be sure whether the flatness of the presentation is a function of ineptness or of artistic intention. Is the film sick exploitation or a feminist masterpiece? But does it even matter? As the city girl subjected to country sadists, Camille Keaton (a grandniece of Buster Keaton) is terrific. The film's '70s color and '70s styles are a lot of fun too. (Netflix, Amazon.)

* "Blood and Roses." Sophisticated vampire erotica from French director Roger Vadim's best period. Its French title ("Et Mourir de Plaisir") means "And To Die of Pleasure" -- yum yum! Vadim was notorious for his way with the ladies (he made the early careers of Brigitte Bardot, Jane Fonda, and Catherine Deneuve) as well as for his flair with jetsetting sex fantasy. He's less well-known for two things I really love some of his work for: his appreciation for women and his alertness to the erotic dimension. The film's stylishness may well be a little tacky, though I found it a likable kind of tacky. What's remarkable about the film though are its women (Elsa Martinelli and Vadim's wife at the time, Annette Vadim), who give themselves to the camera in many-sided ways that are unusual and pleasing, not to mention rare to find in present-day movies. Are we more liberated or less liberated now than we were in 1960, when Vadim's touch was at its best? (The film isn't on DVD, but you can sometimes find a videocassette of it at Amazon. If anyone's curious about sampling what Vadim was capable of, let me also suggest trying the very decadent "The Game is Over": Netflix, Amazon.)

* "Vampyres." Passersby are lured into a country manor only to encounter two gorgeous and hungry lesbian vampires (Marianne Morris and Anulka). Yeah, baby! Cool as a cucumber English producer Brian Smedley-Aston and madman Spanish director Jose Larraz violate lots of vampire-genre rules and struggle with basic narrative coherence. Yet they deliver an excitable, hot-hot-hot movie that's primitive and surreal all at once. One fun angle that adds a lot to the creepy erotic delirium: Larraz has his actors play up the sucky/slurpy sounds whether they're kissing fondly or sucking blood hungrily. The DVD itself (put together by Blue Underground) is a lovingly-done pleasure too, featuring a good-as-new print and recent interviews with the actresses, both of whom look back on their early-'70s sex-movie adventure with a combo of fondness, pride, and mischief. (Netflix, Amazon.)


* "Bare Behind Bars." Are Netflix and Amazon aware that this Brazilian sleazefest -- said by some to be the greatest, or maybe "greatest," women in prison film -- includes a few hardcore moments? Though I'm not a connoisseur of the WIP genre, I enjoyed Oswaldo de Oliveira's movie a lot. It features glaring "Charlie's Angel" lighting, Brazilian babes of many different hues, and glamorous lesbian prison guards; it also features one scene after another of whippings, riots, and forced sex. The Wife, I should admit, failed to see the movie's charm and dozed off. Fans of non-Nautilized bodies and unwaxed crotches should find this film a pleasing notalgia trip. There are no Brazilians on these Brazilians! (Netflix, Amazon.)

* "Tarnation." Jonathan Caouette's autobiographical film is famous for having been made on a Mac, in iMovie, for $400. (In fact, once it had been professionally manicured and the music and media rights were obtained -- in other words, by the time it was in releasable form -- the cost of the film came to $400,000.) It's all about Caouette's crazy mom and his own homosexuality. It's all about ... survival. Cue much hyper-intense, self-dramatizing, over-the-top carrying-on. Caouette was feted at film festivals for his valor in enduring an impossible upbringing, and for his resourcefulness in living to tell the tale via iMovie. He even went on tour with the film. And hats off to Caouette on a personal level; he clearly wasn't dealt an easy hand of cards to play. Still, I suspect the film will test the patience of even those with some appetite for performance-art-style, men-in-makeup queening-around. At 20 minutes it might have been an impressive art stunt. At 90 minutes ... Well, I was playing pedal-to-the-metal with my Fast Forward button. Caouette seems to have been readying himself for the camera from a very early age. God knows that he's got the flamboyant, defiant victim-thing down slick. (Netflix, Amazon.)

* "Lie With Me." This dreamy and startling Toronto-set picture is my favorite art-sex movie since "Sex and Lucia." It's far more of a whirling mood piece than it is a story, yet the beauty and daring of the performers (Lauren Lee Smith and Eric Balfour) and the seductiveness of the filmmaking (directed by Clement Virgo from a novel by Tamara Berger) sweep you along. Full of warm colors, caressing light, and impulsive and instinctive camerawork, editing, and behavior, the film does an amazing job of conveying what it's like to feel drugged on your own sexuality. Like "Sex and Lucia" and "The Lover," "Lie With Me" is one of the few frankly erotic movies that women seem to love even more than men do. (Netflix, Amazon.)

Some previous trashy-arty movie postings: here, here, here, here.



posted by Michael at February 19, 2007


In this same vein, is the new movie being hustled on TV... the one where the black guys lead a shackled white girl in her panties around... arty or just straight-forward exploitation?

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on February 19, 2007 12:39 PM

One thing about these women in prison movies ... it seems like women behind bars spend an awful lot of time in the shower room!

Posted by: Peter on February 19, 2007 3:04 PM

Your mention of “The Honeymoon Killers” brings back a pile of memories, because many exterior and interior shots were filmed a few hundred feet from my childhood home. I believe the director selected the neighborhood (and funky 30s bungalow) because the road was rural, sparsely populated, and dead-ended at a dense forest. I just walked past the house this past weekend, in fact, and even took photos. It’s exactly the same – as if preserved in amber.

The most interesting part was watching the neighbors watch Shirley Stoler as she wandered down the dirt road next to my home: “She’s not from heah, aye-yup.”

I love that film, by the way.

Posted by: Maureen on February 19, 2007 4:35 PM

Over at the Internet Movie Database, the most hotly-debated subject on the message board for "Lie With Me" was: "Is the Sex Real"? It's hard to tell, and one of the message posters claimed to have worked on the set and knew for a fact that it wasn't real. But there is one oral sex scene that by God looks like someone did a little real fellatin' and a sly remark by the director in the commentary indicates that possibly a little real fellatin' did go on. So I'll open the ball here. "Lie With Me"--real sex and simulated?

Posted by: Bilwick on February 19, 2007 4:40 PM

ST -- I'm hoping its both myself. Gotta love the poster and the trailer, that's for sure.Are you feeling tempted to check the film out?

Peter -- Why not cut out the filler and make a movie called "Women in Showers"?

Maureen -- I wish something like "The Honeymoon Killers" had gotten filmed in the neighborhood where I grew up. That's a rea mark of distinction. Looking forward to seeing the pix (hint hint).

Bilwick -- It did look pretty real, and pretty thoroughly enjoyed too, didn't it? What's your hunch -- real sex or not? I kind of like being left wondering myself ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 19, 2007 7:57 PM

I Spit on your Grave doesn't sound like my kind of movie at all. However, that's a nice can on that woman.

Posted by: Brian on February 19, 2007 10:19 PM

To answer your question, M., my hunch is that the shtupping scenes were simulated, although very convincingly. I am, however, inclined to believe, based on what I see on the screen and the director's comment, that the scene in which one glimpses glistening tumescence. that it was the result of some real fellatio. I guess whether it's "real sex" depends upon your definition of "real sex" is. In the Clintonian view fellatio doesn't count and it may be that the actress didn't count it as real sex, either. I've heard women say they don't count it as "real sex;" I've even heard women say things like, "I wasn't that interested in him, so I just went down on him a little." During my dating days, I wish I had gotten more brush-offs like that!

Posted by: Bilwick on February 20, 2007 8:39 AM

Speaking of art/sex movies, you might like Michael Winterbottom's "9 Songs." But then again, you might not. It concerns two singles who have lots of sex together and then go and watch bands. And that's pretty much all they do.

Posted by: stephenesque on February 20, 2007 4:30 PM

I saw "9 Songs" and was a little startled by the non-simulated sex. (Unlike "Lie With Me," there's no doubt about what's going on. There's even a "money shot.") Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I kept thinking about the actress' parents: "What do they think about their daughter's big-screen debut?"

Posted by: Bilwick on February 21, 2007 10:13 AM

Tarnation bugged me too, mostly because I'm sick of the victim-lit thing, but man, that scene of the filmmaker at 12 or 13 years old doing a DEVASTATING and dead-on impression of an abused 30-something woman was both fascinating and horrifying to watch. The kid has talent, although for what is hard to tell.

Posted by: the patriarch on February 21, 2007 10:26 AM

My contribution to the literature is the 1980s French horror pic "Revenge of the Living Dead Girls" (La Revanche des Mortes-Vivantes), whose mishmash of gore and soft-core comes guaranteed to fry the circuits of any adolescent male.

Posted by: dvd spin doctor on February 28, 2007 2:06 AM

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