Breast intentions

Get ready for a "Night of Lust" at the Red Vic


CULT CINEMA The 2010 Academy Awards ceremony did indeed mark historic
firsts. Oh, not just the fact that a woman finally won Best Director.
I mean somebody (Alec Baldwin? Steve Martin? I forget) saying
"vagina" live to a bazillion people worldwide, some of them no doubt way short of both voting age and bedtime. Of course you can say fuckwad, fuckhole, and fuckety fuckelstein on cable. But this was network, and the Oscars besides. How community standards do change.

Turn the clock back 50 years or so, and you couldn't even say "pregnant" — when Lucy Ricardo was "expecting" on I Love Lucy, no euphemism was quite delicate enough. Before audience-restrictive MPAA ratings arrived a few years later, big-screen movies had to be pretty circumspect too, no matter that fully clothed Jayne Mansfield was more obscenely suggestive than the plain old medical-grade v-word could ever be. (FYI, Best Use of the Term in a Porn Title: Big Trouble in Little Vagina.)

That was in the mainstream, where actual public nudity was as yet unthinkable. A few rungs down the cultural ladder, however, things were gradually loosening up. Art and smut conveniently blurred from the late 1940s onward, as certain European filmmakers (Ingmar Bergman among them) began pushing toward greater sexual frankness. This delighted U.S. grindhouse distributors, who wasted little time buying exploitable features, then cutting the offending hell out of them even as their ads promised shocking, adults-only content.

Such was the case with Night of Lust, a 1962 production by Casablanca-born French producer-director-scenarist Jose Bénazéraf. In 1965 American entrepreneur R. Lee Frost announced this feature, purportedly "BANNED all over the world!," could "at last be seen in the U.S. uncut, after three years in court!" He neglected to mention he'd trimmed nearly 20 minutes from it himself.

What remained in the barely-hour-long version playing the Red Vic this week was a lurid jumble that makes it difficult to figure out Bénazéraf's original intentions, let alone why some then considered him an important Nouvelle Vague figure. (Critics abandoned him once he went into straight-up porn.) But with its continuity gaps, moralizing narrator, atrocious dubbed dialogue, and positively Freudian camera fixation on myriad bared breasts, this supposedly true crime story torn from "Interpol File 218" is campy fun, at least.

This isn't the Paris of lovers, but Sicilians vs. Frogs fighting over millions in heroin, plus strippers, stranglers, kidnappings, and catfights. Not adding any romance either is an original free-jazz-combo score by no less than Chet Baker — his trumpet playing sometimes mimed by a musically inclined mob boss — who was then living his own European heroin crime saga. It would get him imprisoned in Italy, then deported from England and Germany. Whether those events too were sprinkled with random sightings of jiggling mammaries, we'll never know. (Dennis Harvey)


Wed/17-Thurs/18, 7:15 and 9:30 p.m. (also Wed/17, 2 p.m.), $6–$10

Red Vic

1727 Haight, SF

(415) 668-3994

Also from this author

  • Con and on

    Thrilling, stylish Highsmith adaptation 'The Two Faces of January'

  • Cel mates

    Mill Valley Film Festival screens vintage and innovative animated features

  • Urban decay

    A family struggles to survive in crime drama 'Metro Manila'