Wednesday, December 01, 2010

O come, o come, Emanuelle

When Just Jaeckin’s profound and sensitive examination of one woman’s sexual liberation soft porn flick ‘Emmanuelle’ garnered critical encomium made a fuckton of money worldwide, a sequel was inevitable. With Francis Giacobetti in the director’s chair this time, ‘Emmanuelle 2’ (or ‘Emmanuelle: the Anti-Virgin’) followed its predecessor’s soft-focus formula to the tee. Nonetheless, it’s the better film for one reason and one reason only: the massage scene.

The set-up is quite simple: Emmanuelle (Sylvia Kristel) and friends visit a Bangkok massage parlour where they are soaped up, rinsed off and and given what you might euphemistically call a full body massage by three incredibly nubile, supple and curvaceous Filipino girls. For about five minutes. (Go here for an excerpt from the scene. Warning: it’s NSFW and then some!)

What gives the scene that added zing is that one of the masseuses is played by Laura Gemser. In the same year that ‘Emmanuelle 2’ was made – 1975 – Gemser appeared in the title role in Bitto Albertini’s ‘Black Emanuelle’ (note the ever-so-slight but lawsuit-avoiding difference in spelling). In a life imitating art soft porn imitating soft porn scenario, ‘Black Emanuelle’ did enough box office that Albertini went ahead with ‘Black Emanuelle 2’. Gemser was unavailable, so he cast Sharon Lesley.

And there the story might have ended. But for the supreme and indefatigable cinematic talent that was Joe D’Amato. (That was me being sarcastic, by the way.) Born Aristide Massaccesi, he made quite a name for himself as a cinematographer before launching a directorial career. It kind of sets the pattern that his first half dozen or so movies were either uncredited or directed under pseudonyms. In fact, to the best of my knowledge, he made only two features under his own name, the first of which was the flawed but watchable giallo ‘Death Smiled at a Murderer’.

The rest of his filmography – clocking in at over 200 titles! – was pseudonymous. Covering just about every genre from sword and sandal to spaghetti western to (at the fag end of his career) hard core pornography, he utilized at least 40 pseudonyms. I say “at least”: it’s a popular theory amongst D’Amato aficionados that there remain any number of unattributed D’Amato films simply because his entire oeuvre of pseudonyms has not been fully catalogued.

Still, it was as Joe D’Amato he was best known, and under that name he gave the world that staple of the video nasties list ‘Anthropophagus: The Beast’, that tender and delicate drama of human relationships and sexual identity ‘11 Days, 11 Nights’ and that marvel of genre deconstruction and cross-pollination ‘Porno Holocaust’.

Yes, Joe D’Amato made a film called ‘Porno Holocaust’. Holding up the one bloody and tattered piece of integrity I still possess, waving it undefeated above the fetid swamp of the last four weeks on this blog, I can say with pride that I have never seen ‘Porno Holocaust’. I have, however, read a couple of reviews online. That’s the wonderful thing about the internet: there are people out there who will blog definitive reviews on the films of Albert Pyun, argue Tommy Wiseau as a misunderstood, ahead-of-his-time genius, and expend a couple of thousand words on the post-modern, anti-audience imperative of ‘Two Girls, One Cup’. I’m proud to be a part of the movement. Ahem. I digress. Point is, while I value what is left of my soul enough to continue being content not to have seen ‘Porno Holocaust’, I understand from what I’ve read that it’s a hybrid desert island/radioactive mutant/slasher/sexploitation flick. Starring George Eastman.

There is a little part of my mind that turns into an exploding catherine wheel festooning the inside of my skull with gold, crimson and silver contrails purely at the thought that this film even exists. There is a slightly larger part of me, located roughly between the lower intestine and the sphincter muscle, that lurches sickly at the same thought.

So: Joe D’Amato. The man who took up the reins of the Black Emanuelle franchise. A man with no conscience, no remorse; a man who was to cinema what Jack the Ripper was to escort agencies. What excise men were to illegal stills hidden in the highlands of Scotland. What Guy N. Smith is to the Booker Prize. What Aqua’s ‘Barbie Doll’ is to grand Italian opera. What Lindsay Lohan is to a “just say no” campaign. What Tony Blair and George W. Bush are to the truth.

Anyway, you get the picture. Joe D’Amato = cheap exploitation.

Joe D’Amato made the next five Black Emanuelle films, even going so far as to bequeath unto future film historians the penultimate of the cycle – ‘Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals’ – under his birth name. It was just plain old Joe D’Amato on the others, and it was as Joe D’Amato that he steered Black Emanuelle into the realms of sexual violence, contentious content and hardcore inserts that Ms Gemser was quick to point out she never knew about or participated in.

In addition, a further eight ‘Emanuelle’ titles, starring Laura Gemser, were made between 1976 and 1983, by such masters of world cinema as Mario Bianchi and Bruno Mattei. (If I mention that Bianchi was responsible for ‘Satan’s Baby Doll’ and Mattei for ‘Zombie Creeping Flesh’, that should tell you all you need to know.)

This gives us a total of 15 Black Emanuelle movies. But since I doubt my sanity or my wife’s patience would survive a fortnight-long trawl through the whole lot, I’ll be giving over the next week to a representative sampling of seven of them. Join me from tomorrow on The Agitation of the Libido.

No comments: