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Monday, November 28, 2011

THE DRAGON LIVES AGAIN (1977)

"Her pussy's in this plot, too! She's using it to murder me!'
-the king of the Underworld, shortly after Bruce Lee saves him from being fucked to death by Emmanuelle. (Yes, you read that right.)

If you're a regular reader of this site, you know I love and cherish movies from many genres that could kindly be called "completely fucking ludicrous." With that in mind, please allow me to introduce you the what is hands down the most insane, ridiculous, stupid, and just plain downright shameless example of the deservedly maligned "Brucesploitation" genre. For those not aware of its dubious existence, the Brucesploitation sub-genre of martial arts films were cheapie cash-ins made in the wake of Bruce Lee's untimely demise, invariably starring dudes who bore a passing resemblance to the master at best, and none of whom were anywhere near being within the same galaxy of Lee's skills. The legion of those films are mostly boring and outright necrophiliac trash, but THE DRAGON LIVES AGAIN is both wildly entertaining and an intentional comedy, and as such it deserves to be not only rediscovered but also restored and remastered. In fact, I'll even go so far as to say that this film is more entertaining than any actual Bruce Lee movie. How, you may ask, is that possible? Allow me to explain...

Bruce Lee's priapic corpse arrives in the Underworld.

It's 1973 and the great Bruce Lee is dead. His corpse, equipped with cool shades and what appears to be a raging hard-on — no, really — arrives in what is apparently an Asian variant of purgatory, and we are informed that when people die, their bodies and faces change so they no longer look like they did when alive and kicking (which is a convenient way of glossing over star Bruce Leung's utter non-resemblance to Bruce Lee). After arrogantly insulting the king of the Underworld and being given back his chucks (which were taken away when they were revealed not to be an impressive boner), Bruce wanders the local streets and encounters a number of majorly copyright-infringed characters in a noodle restaurant. We're talking Popeye (played by Chinese actor Eric Tsang) and Kwai Chang Caine from KUNG FU (played this time not by David Carradine, but by an actual Chinese guy) on the side of good, and Zatoichi, James Bond (!!!) and Clint Eastwood (played by a Chinese actor and dressed like the Man with No Name from the classic Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns).

Kwai Chang Caine, Bruce Lee, and Popeye...Motherfucking Popeye?!!? What the fuck???

Meanwhile, the aged and exceedingly horny king of the Underworld is having problems with his wives because they've gotten wind of Bruce Lee's newly-arrived presence and they, like every other woman in the Underworld, are devoured by lust at the mere thought of him, even Emmanuelle (who's apparently the concubine of the Exorcist). Yes, that Emmanuelle, and she even describes herself as "a silly little pussy."

NOTE: For you readers who may have come along after the dire days when decent porn was not as readily available as it is now, the Emmanulle character, initially portrayed by Sylvia Kristel, first showed up in a 1974 French softcore erotic film that went on to become a massive international hit, after which there followed a succession of sequels — around thirty-six at last count; no, seriously — the vast majority of which did not feature the original actress. From the dawn of home video and the ubiquity of cable TV, practically every kid I grew up with saw at least the first Emmanuelle movie and were mostly bored silly by it, its considerable amount of full-frontal nudity notwithstanding, so to those of us of a certain age the mere mention of that name is evocative of a key moment in our adolescent development. The point here being that in the world of cinema, the character of Emmanuelle was nearly as much of a household name as Bruce Lee, only reigning in the realm of tenderloin cinema rather than that of chopsocky, so her inclusion here as a usable pop culture icon makes a certain degree of sense. But I digress...

One of the king's two wives is especially into Bruce because she's a fan of his movies — how she saw them in the Underworld is not made clear — and she desires nothing more than to have him beat her with his "powerful weapon" (his chucks) and make passionate love to her...

It's at this point that I think it's appropos to note that I'm neither drunk nor making any of this up. All of this lunacy is actually in the movie.

Anyway, Bruce rejects the advances of the king's wives, thus greatly insulting them and spurring them to send Count Dracula (pronounced here as "Draculer" in the dub) and his gang of zombies to kick Bruce's ass. That only pisses Bruce off, so he dons his famous Kato outfit from THE GREEN HORNET (where he got it from and why he does this is anyone's guess) and hands out ass-whuppings like they were Halloween candy. And just when things look really bad for Bruce, he reveals the secret "Third Leg of Bruce" technique, in which he magically produces an extra leg with which to kick Dracula square in the face.

Also, the bad guys, led by the Godfather and the Exorcist (who has an atrociously bad French accent for no explained reason), want to recruit Bruce to help them overthrow the king, but cocksure Bruce doesn't give a fuck about that (or much of anything else for that matter) and seeks nothing other than a way back to the world of the living. As the bad guys launch assassination attempts against the king, including the aforementioned and memorable attempted murder by pussy, Bruce intervenes and is made captain of the king's personal guard (a plot point that goes absolutely nowhere). The remainder of the film is taken up by fight after fight after fight, in which the bad guys are killed off one by one, finally culminating in Bruce forcing the reluctant king to send him back to the world of the living, which the king does by drop-kicking him and sending him flying off into the distance as the newly-liberated denizens of purgatory cheer their thanks.

Wow. Just...WOW.

THE DRAGON LIVES AGAIN is balls-out insane from start to finish and this review doesn't even begin to communicate just how out of its mind the film actually is. It's low-budget to the nth degree, features one of the worst/best dubbed voice tracks on record, contains wall-to-wall fight scenes that look like they were choreographed by an eight-year-old, includes a surprising amount of nudity and sex for this kind of flick (which is what earned the film its R-rating), and is packed to the rafters with so much outright silliness and utter stupidity that I had a huge grin plastered across my face for most of its running time. Unlike many cheapjack kung fu films from its era, especially those found in the annals of Brucesploitation, the film is not dull for even two minutes and its loony, surreal cartoonishness moves along at a breakneck pace that suggests the filmmakers didn't want to allow viewers any time in which to actually contemplate just what kind of madness was unspooling upon the screen. No lie, THE DRAGON LIVES AGAIN gets my HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION as a must-see masterpiece of bad cinema, but I recommend holding out for the UK-region DVD of it (provided you have an all-regions player) rather than spend money on the washed-out and blurry print included in the U.S.-released ULTIMATE DRAGON COLLECTION 10-film Brucesploitation set.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

JAMES BOMB: WHICH IS THE WORST 007 FLICK?

As the 23rd 007 film, SKYFALL, gears up to shoot, I was once more set to pondering exactly which of the 22 official James Bond movies is the most cinematically worthless of the lot. Many factors can go into what makes for a lousy 007 entry and what individual viewers consider wretched is rather subjective, so I’ll focus my spotlight on the Bond films that are generally considered to be the bottom of the barrel and work to figure it out from there.

DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1971)

The Moon Buggy: a far cry from GOLDFINGER's Aston Martin.

I was six years old when this came out and my folks took me with them to see it at a drive-in. All I remember of it from my vantage point bundled up in blankets in the station wagon’s back seat was the image of that moon buggy racing over a simulated lunar surface, and in retrospect I wish that were the only memory I had of the film. Sean Connery returned to the Bond series after a four-year absence and the unfortunate departure of his replacement, George Lazenby, who starred in 1969’s superb ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE, and the regression in quality was indeed sorry to behold. Whereas the previous film dripped with style and restored 007 to a virtually gadget-free arena of straight-up espionage and shattering violence, DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER brought things back to the already-tired level of lame-brained comic book adventures and strained, largely unfunny humor, at the center of which was a visibly older and much worse for wear Connery. Looking like he’d been subsisting on a diet of pub crisps and lager, Connery sported a ludicrous hairpiece and wore fashions that made him resemble some stereotypical high-toned dockside queer on the make for some dashing Navy trade.

Oh, James...Say it ain't so!

Needless to say, such an aspect was totally inappropriate for our hero, but when one considered the quality of the so-called Bond Girls in this outing perhaps a bit of man-on-man action wouldn’t have been a bad idea. The plot was also idiotic and featured the first go-round with vehicular stunts like something out of a Hal Needham good ol’ boy flick or a DUKES OF HAZZARD episode from a few years later and felt as out of place in a James Bond movie as a twelve-inch penis sprouting organically from the loins of Jayne Mansfield.

Kidd (Putter Smith) and Wint (Bruce Glover): pernicious pooves.

The sole items of interest here were the all-too-brief inclusion of Kidd and Wint, a pair of intriguing homosexual assassins (played by Putter Smith and Bruce Glover) whose talents are barely — and fatally to themselves — put to the test against Bond, and Bambi (Lola Larson) and Thumper (Trina Parks), a checkerboard pair of athletic, gymnastic lovelies who give Bond quite a kicking…only to be defeated by the out-of-shape agent (in a pink tie/scarf, no less) when he quite unbelievably manages to maneuver them into a nearby swimming pool.

Thumper (Trina Parks) and Bambi (Lola Larson): a pair straight out of my daydreams...

Oh, and Shirley Bassey’s lovely theme tune marks what is more or less the demise of the old school classy Bond theme songs in favor of tunes provided by pop/rock stars, much to the detriment of the series’ classiness factor. But times change and DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER was there to announce James Bond’s headlong arrival into the 1970’s, for better or worse. And if you ask me, it was for the worse. Bottom line: this is one of the very few 007 films I can't sit through again for any reason. Not even Bambi and Thumper.

LIVE AND LET DIE (1973)

James Bond, now played by former-Saint Roger Moore, encounters a much different spookshow than he's used to.

Once a trendsetter, the Bond flicks would now occasionally imitate popular fads in cinema and in this case the genre being nodded to was that of black exploitation, or “blaxploitation” if you prefer. It was stupid and insulting enough to see 007 pitted against a cadre of stereotypical scary Negroes common to the genre that gave us Dolemite and Truck Turner, but was it really necessary to go there with the whole voodoo element? I think not, but at least we got a mouthwatering twenty-two-year-old Jane Seymour to make us forget the James Bond-meets-minstrel show travesty that tries to pass itself off as a spy flick. This film also gave us the first of seven 007 films starring Roger Moore as James Bond, an element that polarizes Bond fans like no other. For many Bond followers of my age group, we first saw 007 when the films were run on ABC and each airing was a big event in those pre-home video days of yore, especially when introduced to them by parents who were fans of Sean Connery. Then Moore took the role and his broadly comedic take on the character struck a chord with the slightly younger new fans, while many of us Connery groupies remained loyal to the Bond-as-school-bully version. I’ve personally never been able to stomach the humor in the Bond films and really learned to despise it with the advent of the Moore era, so I take a very dim view of all of his entries, with the exceptions of FOR YOUR EYES ONLY (1981) and THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977), although in the case of the latter I find it disposable solely because it’s pretty much a beat-for-beat remake of the Sean Connery YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1967), only with the emphasis on outer space in one and the ocean’s depths in the other. The Hal Needham-esque vehicular insanity returns with a truly fucking just-plain-crazy bit involving a speedboat, and in the middle of that madness is the unwelcome introduction of Sheriff J.W. Pepper (Clifton James), a Red Man-chawin’ redneck character who seems to have materialized from another film entirely.

Clifton James as the embarrassing redneck stereotype Sheriff J.W. Pepper.

I guess his countrified ways were meant to contrast with Bond’s perceived British sophistication, but the shit just wasn’t funny and veered straight into the downright embarrassing. And as noted with DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, the days of the old school Bond theme song were over and Top 40 pop music artists took the reigns from John Barry and his collaborators, and perhaps no other 007 theme song epitomizes this aspect as well as Paul McCartney and Wings’ overblown and epochal title song for this movie. I got sick of the LIVE AND LET DIE theme back in ’73 and could go the rest of my life without ever hearing it again; I know damned near everyone else on the planet digs it, and you are more than welcome to it.

THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1974)

Christopher Lee as Scaramanga, the world's deadliest assassin, in the process of being infinitely more cool than Roger Moore's James Bond.

Often turning up on fans' rosters of the worst that the Bond franchise has to offer, this is definitely a lesser entry but I don't think it's deserving of all the vitriol it gets. Christopher Lee out-cools Bond, the Thailand locales are exotic and surreal, a pre-FANTASY ISLAND Herve Villechaise scores as diminutive servant/assassin Nick Nack, and the whole thing comes off as some kind of odd Asian-flavored fever dream starring 007, so I can't quite slag it off. And while LIVE AND LET DIE sought to cash-in on the blaxploitation angle, THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN briefly tips its hat to the then-hot kung fu movie boom with a brief but thoroughly entertaining bit featuring Bond at the mercy of a school full of martial arts killers, only to find himself rescued by the baddest-assed pair of schoolgirls you've ever seen, one of whom, Yuen Qiu, would turn up some thirty years later in the memorable role of the endlessly chainsmoking landlady/badass in KUNG FU HUSTLE. However, on the downside are two of the series' most lackluster Bond Girls, Britt Eckland as Mary Goodnight and Maud Adams — who would return to the series nine years later as the title character in OCTOPUSSY — in the nothing role of Andrea Anders, one of the worst theme tunes out of the entire lot (sung by "To Sir With Love" chanteuse Lulu), and the Chernobyl-level unwelcome return of Clifton James as Sheriff J.W. Pepper, somehow incongruously turning up on vacation in Thailand.

Clifton James returns as uber-redneck J.W. Pepper: What the fuck is this guy doing in Thailand?

Those elements notwithstanding, THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN is a passable entry that can be enjoyed with a minimum of brain cell use.

MOONRAKER (1979)

Bond versus the enormous Jaws (Richard Kiel) atop a ski lift. Now, that's entertainment (?)!

Once more riding the cash-in bandwagon, this film can be accurately summed up with a mere five words: "James Bond meets STAR WARS." Utterly ridiculous and totally without a brain in its head, this one features an embarrassing laser gun battle in outer space between spacesuit-equipped government agents and the forces of the bad guy's private space-army, a Venetian gondola that's tricked-out a la the famous Aston Martin in GOLDFINGER (1964), a truly terrible throwback theme song by Shirley Bassey — making her the only singer to croon a Bond theme tune three times, let alone twice — , one of the series' blandest villains, a zero-G sex scene at the film's climax (which also features one of the absolute worst jokes in the series' entire run) and the return of Richard Kiel as the gigantic razor-toothed assassin Jaws, a character I found to be too over-the top in the previous THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977). This one's enjoyable enough if you were a fourteen-year-old boy when it came out (as I was), but it does not pass muster for grownups.

OCTOPUSSY (1983)

Is Bond on assignment at Lucky Cheng's?

Loaded with wall-to-wall hot chicks (many of whom could have been played by top notch drag queens) thanks to the title character having an all-girl army, this flick tested the limits of just how brain-dead a 007 movie could be. The plot is some bullshit about Faberge eggs and the theft of Russian artifacts and their replacement with fakes or some such mess, but it soon becomes just so much white noise as the film moves from one uninvolving set piece to another, yielding zero in terms of thrills or entertainment. Rita Coolidge provides "All Time High," a perfunctory theme song at best, and we actually get to witness Roger Moore literalizing his buffoonish version of Bond by actually appearing as a circus clown.

No, this isn't a Photoshopped image. Seriously.

Any movie that features James Bond in clown drag is best avoided, and that element is just the icing on this very large shit-cake. I found nothing to recommend about this film and urge those who have not seen it to do nothing to alter that state of affairs. OCTOPUSSY is wholly without worth and I can't for the life of me understand who it was aimed at. Certainly not James Bond fans.

A VIEW TO A KILL (1985)

Roger Moore's thankfully final outing as 007, accompanied by Grace Jones as May Day (and not Chris Tucker as seen in THE FIFTH ELEMENT).

As much as I loathe and detest OCTOPUSSY and all that it stands for, A VIEW TO A KILL gets my vote as the very worst James Bond movie ever made, and it earns that dubious distinction for a great number of reasons but I'll just sum it all up thusly: every single thing about this movie sucks ass, except for the Duran Duran theme song, and you just may give up on Bond for life if you sit through it. Grace Jones as a Bond Girl who's more masculine than Bond, a plot that's just a colossal "who cares?', Tanya Roberts as a plank of wood, the complete and utter waste of Christopher Walken as the uninspired bad guy (Fellow Walken fans: even the mighty Chris isn't worth sitting through this movie; he's given nothing to do and he does nothing with that nothing) and damned near everything else contained within A VIEW TO A KILL's overlong 131-minute running time would have sunk just about any other franchise and I'm frankly surprised the series continued after this creative disaster. But the one thing that made me aware I was seeing the worst James Bond film ever made occurred early in the film, during the customary pre-credits mini-adventure: while on assignment in Siberia, an ancient-looking Roger Moore as 007 escapes from enemy agents while snowboarding to the musical accompaniment of — now get this — the Beach Boys' "California Girls." Honest to God! I only saw this film when it originally came out, just over a quarter-century ago, so I don't remember if that version of the song was the real thing or a cover, but either way I guess I should be thankful it wasn't the David Lee Roth cover. Now that would have caused me to commit seppuku right then and there, spilling my assorted viscera all over the floor of Fine Arts IV, thereby providing more genuine entertainment than anything found onscreen.

THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS (1987)

Timothy Dalton's 007 tries to stay awake during what may be the most boring film in the series.

Aside from introducing us to Timothy Dalton as the world's greatest superspy and bringing him into play during a terrific pre-credits mini-adventure, THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS clocks in at an agonizing 130 minutes and is a stone-cold bore. Once seen, it's easily forgotten and even a Bond diehard like me will put the particulars of its plot out of his or her mind. Life's just too short for dull 007 stories and you will miss nothing if you turn this one off once the awful song heard during the opening credits starts, and that song annoys even more because it's the lamest thing the superlative Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders was ever involved with. Plus, at the end of the film we get the actual theme song, "The Living Daylights," as blandly droned out by the limper-than-limp a-ha of "Take On Me" infamy. I doubt even the purest Bolivian cocaine could keep anyone awake during that one.

LICENCE TO KILL (1989)

For the second time in 007 history, a wedding leads to unspeakable tragedy...(Refer to ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE if you don't know what I'm talking about.)

Many people really, really hate this one and for the life of me I can't figure out why. I've heard it explained away as folks not liking its plot having Bond go "off the reservation" in order to avenge the mutilation-by-tiger shark of his CIA pal Felix Leiter and the rape/murder of Leiter's bride as orchestrated by a vile drug lord (a chilling Robert Davi), a rampage flat-out not approved by MI-6 that features the kind of sadistic violence common to the portrayal of Bond and his world as seen in the books written by Bond's creator, Ian Fleming. Sure it's nasty, but the series started out as quite shocking and brutal in its content, but then came GOLDFINGER and its comic book touches, a successful formula that has been repeated in nearly every 007 film released since 1964. I guess the general moviegoing audience had become so used to the Bond films as over-the-top, snarky self-parodies after Connery's later pictures and the whole goofy Roger Moore run (with the notable exception of the largely-straight FOR YOUR EYES ONLY), so when the filmmakers opted to give us a gritty and violent 007 outing many were not ready for LICENCE TO KILL's meaner-than-hell attitude. I greatly enjoy the vicious Bond of the novels and early films, so the only things that didn't work for me here were the somewhat-distracting presence of Wayne Newton (who I do like, but I find him out of place in a Bond film) and the obligatory car chase/exploding secret base finale involving an eighteen-wheeler. If you like your Bond movies more genteel and sunny then I guess that's cool, but I feel both Timothy Dalton and LICENCE TO KILL have gotten an unfair rap and that's a damned shame because Dalton was a terrific Bond. Much better than Pierce Brosnan's runway model/clotheshorse spy. (Yes, I know ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE's George Lazenby was a model, so please don't write in to tell me I'm being hypocritical.)

GOLDENEYE (1995)

Pierce Brosnan cops a stay-awake move from Timothy Dalton in his debut as 007.

Bested only by THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS in the sheer boredom department, GOLDENEYE marks Pierce Brosnan's debut as Bond and it's a looooong 130 minutes that comes to life during the pre-credits sequence and 007's close encounter with Famke Janssen's memorably nymphomaniacal/psychotic Xenia Onatopp. Nothing much to say here other than to urge caution when considering sitting through it; if you choose to do so, have a comfy pillow at the ready.

THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH (1999)

007 holds co-star Robert Carlyle hostage and demands that the screenwriters alter the script so it becomes TRAINSPOTTING 2, rather than the utterly generic film that resulted.

This one offended me by virtue of it being a textbook example of a by-the-numbers entry in a long-running series. I did not give a good goddamn about anyone or anything in this rote time-waster and was especially put off by the presence of that human bobble-head Denise Richards as — I shit you not — nuclear physicist Dr. Christmas Jones (my vote for the all-time worst would-be funny Bond Girl moniker). Not only does Richards annoy the living shit out of me in everything I've seen her in (with the notable exception of a guest turn in an episode of TWO AND A HALF MEN), she's now forever captured on film as a willing participant in a post-coital moment with Bond in which he seizure-inducingly comments, "Looks like Christmas comes more than once this year." I don't ever need to see this one again either.

QUANTUM OF SOLACE (2008)

Daniel Craig's 007 and Olga Montez (Olga Kurylenko) traverse the wasteland that is QUANTUM OF SOLACE.

I've reviewed QUANTUM OF SOLACE at length, but I'll let it suffice to say I found this film extremely disappointing after CASINO ROYALE (2006) and felt it came off like I was watching someone else play a video game. The film was also very heavily influenced by the Jason Bourne films, replicating that series' propensity for confusingly-edited action sequences, and all I have to say to that is this: if I want to see a Jason Bourne movie, I'll go see a fucking Jason Bourne movie! I'm a James Bond fan, god damn it, born and bred, and I accept no substitutes. There is no excuse for Bond stooping to imitate those who followed in his wake, especially not after CASINO ROYALE, for fuck's sake!

Now that I've had my rant, what do you name as the most rock-bottom-awful 007 adventure? To quote the guy on the receiving end of Dirty Harry's infamous hard-on-inducing speech about his .44 Magnum, "I gots ta know!"

Monday, November 7, 2011

ANNIE SPRINKLE'S HERSTORY OF PORN: REEL TO REAL (1999)

WARNING!!! If the frank discussion of some of the grottier elements that can be found in porno offends you or grosses you out, you are strongly advised to give this entry a miss. And bear in mind that this warning is coming from me, so take that for what it's worth.

"Pornography is the mirror in which we can see our reflections. The same image may appear beautiful one day, and ugly the next, be liberating one year, and offensive later. How wonderful to have the opportunity to take a look. To learn and, perchance, to dream. Making porn is a lot harder than you might think. I've never even come close to capturing the magnificence of my best sexual experiences. One thing is for sure: in just twenty-five years, we have come a long way. The answer to really bad porn is not no porn, but to try to make better porn. No matter where we stand, pornography reflects us all."-Annie Sprinkle

As is probably apparent to my regular readers, I am unashamedly fascinated by pornography, not merely as a means to a solo orgasmic end, but mostly as an earthy, fleshly reflection of who and what we are as sexual human animals. And while I have been known to enjoy such material for its most obvious intended use from time to time, I’m always interested in learning about the history of the medium, a form that goes back as far as the moment when the first cave-person fashioned a curvy goddess statue from crude earth or put pigment to cave wall to depict primitive images of copulation.

So anyway, about a week back I stopped by a kiosk in Manhattan's Union Square where a couple of guys sell assorted "gray market" DVDs, and the more erudite of the two, remembering my interest in documentaries on the history of porn, offered me what he believed to be an overview of American tenderloin cinema as hosted/narrated by veteran porn star Annie Sprinkle. I accepted the disc, ANNIE SPRINKLE'S HERSTORY OF PORN, and took it home, allowing it to sit atop a "to be watched" stack for a few days before I threw it into my player for a late-night screening. (And it really was a screening and not a moment of "relaxing the gentleman's way;" I was on the phone with my equally-insomniac friend, Daisy, as I watched the first half of it, so there was no five-knuckle shuffling going on.)

Our humble raconteur and documentary subject, Annie Sprinkle (née Ellen Steinberg).

For those of you out there who have no idea who Annie Sprinkle is, she's a notorious bisexual porn star/prostitute/stripper/performance artist who was born Ellen Steinberg in Philadelphia and has re-invented herself several times throughout her career, now enriching the world with performance pieces and other works that disseminate perhaps the most sex-positive vibes in American society's hypocritically puritanical sexual landscape. For what it's worth, I really like Annie's sweet and adorable persona and the joy and utterly shameless happiness in sex that she merrily espouses like some kind of bubbly and lewd Yoda with big ol' titties, so I was totally down with her acting as a guide through the history of American porno's golden age.

Such a journey, however, was not what I got when I started watching ANNIE SPRINKLE'S HERSTORY OF PORN. It instead turned out to be a very thorough and hearftelt video autobiography/career retrospective beginning with Annie's time in assorted porn that began as conventional beast-with-two-backs reels and going up through her then-current role as a DIY sex-educator/sexual shamaness-goddess, and I could have dealt with that just fine if it had not been comprehensive enough to include footage from some of Sprinkle's more, er, "specialized" efforts. To be fair, Sprinkle herself does warn the viewer that if there's anything onscreen that they may not want to see, they can simply "cover your eyes and it'll pass, and please try to keep an open mind until the very, very end," and it's advice I wish I'd heeded in more than one instance. You see, Sprinkle's work in straight porno was already rather raunchy even by the somewhat nebulously-defined standards of the genre, and some of it could be considered "nasty" in terms of her very game willingness to do just about anything on camera, but as of the late-1970's she adventurously veered waaaaay into fetish stuff that Sprinkle claimed led to most mainstream porno directors no longer hiring her because she'd gained a rep as being "too kinky." Featured during the fetish overview are segments including the following:
  • Sprinkle's signature golden shower antics
  • dwarf-fucking (the guy in that equation, Luis De Jesus, played the vile Ralphus in the "classic" grindhouse gore opus BLOOD-SUCKING FREAKS)
  • Annie shoving a toothbrush into the orifices not found on her head (don't worry, it wasn't the brushy end)
  • Annie getting seriously rodgered with a hefty kielbasa
  • heavy-duty bondage and rape-fantasy stuff
  • Annie getting fisted (stumped?) by an amputee
  • close-up removal of swamped, bloody feminine hygiene products
  • Annie being graphically fisted herself and then graphically fisting some splayed-out skinny guy with her mitt lodged up him well past her wrist, after which she introduced his sundered butthole to an enormous dildo at least two feet in length and about as wide around as a can of Chock Full O' Nuts coffee
  • an absolutely revolting "rainbow shower" segment in which our girl pukes all over some scruffy meth-addict-looking dude, barfing into his open mouth and jerking him off with fresh hurl as a lubricant (Sprinkle somewhat defuses that last bit by stating that they actually used canned soup, which is apparent when one goes back and really examines the footage, but nonetheless yecch...)
Maybe I'm just too "vanilla" but none of the stuff on that list strikes me as erotic in any way, which is not to say I wouldn't have watched it for its curiosity value if I had been truly forewarned. And, to tell the truth, I had already seen examples of all of that kind of stuff since I hit college, so none of it was new to me. (Though I had avoided the menstrually-related material; I'm not squeamed-out by period stuff thanks to the realities encountered when involved with girlfriends and also due to most of my friends being female and very candid about their "lady business" — there is nothing in that department that I have not heard about firsthand and in medically-graphic detail — but I don't find such stuff appealing as my porn fodder of choice.)

Anyway, following that overwhelming fetish-pummeling, Sprinkle's focus mercifully shifts to 1982's DEEP INSIDE ANNIE SPRINKLE, which she claims was the first porno film conceived from a woman's point of view, and from which she moved into crafting a more female-centric pornographic experience. Then, as the 1980's got going and the era of "new age" healing and philosophy dawned (which, if you ask me, was little more than a re-discovery of the Eastern stuff the '60's counter-culture dabbled in, only now seasoned with dashes of neo-paganism), Sprinkle hooked up with a Tantric adept who guided her into her first deeply spiritual experience with sex and sexuality. She emerged from her time with him a woman energized and transformed, who sought to share her epiphany with all whose hearts and minds were open to it, as well as seeking to educate the people on safer sex so awareness would be raised and the very act of loving would not continue to be a sensually-disguised Grim Reaper in the age of AIDS. That era in Sprinkle's development can be seen as akin to a narrative in which the protagonist, having undergone the assorted tests that would forge them into a hero that rang true to Campbell's theories on "the heroic journey," comes back to the world they left behind in search of adventure and learning imparted through said trials, returning with a beatific sense of wisdom and self. Some would find such espousing of these sentiments to be just so much self-serving hippy-dippy bullshit but I definitely get where Sprinkle's coming from when she discusses it, and my buying into what she has to say on the subject goes back as far as when I read her excellent and highly recommended book, POST-PORN MODERNIST (1991).

From there, Sprinkle expanded her horizons by identifying as a lesbian and becoming an artist who appeared in pornographic "art" films and performance art pieces, such as the now-infamous "Public Cervix Announcement," in which she would appear seated onstage, sans undergarments, schlamp a speculum up herself and let intrigued audience members check out her cervix, up close and personal (which is unfortunately not covered in this documentary). She then addresses the fact that she's getting older (she was forty-four at the time) and approaches that aspect of life as another avenue for exploration and the gaining of wisdom and self-understanding. There's even a "how to make a porno" fantasy sequence in which Sprinkle appears as an aging mermaid who initiates a younger mermaid into the pleasures of the flesh and eventually dies, but not before happily passing the torch on to the younger generation, secure in the knowledge that those who succeed her will only expand upon what she has imparted. Though kind of goofily presented, that coda was actually quite beautiful and filled with more genuine meaning than anything found in any three-thousand garden variety porno flicks that one could provide as counter-examples.

This career retrospective/gentle manifesto could not possibly be more sexually explicit if it tried, and some of its content will most likely be objectionable to some members of the audience, but I, for one, greatly appreciate and admire the efforts of this porn icon who used her position as a "sacred whore" of the media to enlighten and inform. What some would condemn as a sordid career path can be seen here by the open-minded as a celebration and exploration of the limits – or rather the non-limits — of human sexuality and the positive power of self-reinvention, and if anyone is going to be a guide through those waters, I'm glad it was Annie Sprinkle (with the genuinely brilliant and far less kinky Nina Hartley coming in second). Armed with a cheery, sunshiney sense of humor and an air of earthy, womanly sweetness, I can't help but find her utterly appealing and quite adorable, and in every way the welcome antithesis to the faceless, emotionless replicants who infest the porn landscape and render it so largely joyless. If only there were more individuals with her warmth involved, maybe the porn industry would not be as reviled of an entity as it unfortunately is.