'Honk If You're Horny' brings retro porn to the YBCA
TRASH It has been noted that most people didn't experience "the Sixties" until the Seventies, at least in terms of all that Free Love and chemical entertainment. But even at the latter decade's most indulgent junctures, many people's minds remained stuck in the Fifties — sniggering about the very idea of sex, using terms like "boobies," insisting women be gorgeous idiots and men perma-adolescent clods.
The 1970s may have begun with 1971's Carnal Knowledge — a bitter goodbye to the fucked-up-edness of pre-Sexual Revolution life — but the '80s began with 1982's Porky's, which signaled a return to sex as dirty joke when it wasn't harrowing in a vagina-dentata way (see: 1987's Fatal Attraction). The apex and nadir of anything-goes Me Decade public sexual expression was the existence of Al Goldstein's zine Screw, which pushed the frontiers of the new permissiveness while indulging infantile humor and fearful-hostile misogyny.
The most puerile if also most harmless expression of this was in comedic porn movies, which set a juvenile Borscht Belt tenor early on with Deep Throat (1972) and seldom aimed any higher thereafter. This ka-boom-cha! humor dominated the never-ending cycle of movie spoofs that probably started with 1970 softcore jungle send-up Trader Hornee, but they also spawned a short-lived subgenre that ever-adventurous Joel Shepard of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts is celebrating with a retrospective this month. Reviving three features from our nation's bicentennial year of 1976, "Honk If You're Horny: Retro Sex Musicals" definitely proves that if you were born too late for that era, you missed some very, very strange experiences.
Where today's trend toward "darker" versions of fairy tales on the big and small screen — Grimm, all those Snow Whites, the upcoming Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters — perhaps indicates how childish adult tastes have grown, in the Seventies those fables were used and abused to measure just how far from innocence we'd come. As early as 1963, no less than Herschell Gordon Lewis was presiding over "nudie-cutie" Goldilocks and the Three Bares, after which followed The Long Swift Sword of Siegfried (1971), the same year's The Erotic Adventures of Pinocchio ("It's Not His Nose That Grows!"), and so forth. But the zenith, such as it is, of this trend was YBCA series kickoff Alice in Wonderland: An X-Rated Musical Fantasy (1976), whose opening credits feature the unique attribution "Underwater Nude Volleyball sequences shot by ..."
In director Bud Townsend and scenarist-composer Bucky Searles' very free adaptation of Lewis Carroll, Alice (Playboy centerfold and future Jackie Chan co-star Kristine DeBell, making her film debut) is a repressed librarian led down a rabbit hole of sexual exploration and liberation. Before returning to the real world (and real delivery-guy cock), she's given a tongue bath by creatures whose costumes anticipate furry fandom; enjoys good vibrations from a talking rock; fellates the Mad Hatter; and watches unisex couple Tweedledee and Tweedledum 69 each other (what else are they going to do?) One doesn't remember stripping lesbian nurses in the original, or topless slo-mo horseback riding. The women dance like Vegas showgirls and the men seem kinda queeny; don't even ask about the "songs." Nonetheless this cheap cheesefest was picked up for release by 20th Century Fox, which cut it to an R and made a small mint.
Ergo it is perhaps not that surprising that YBCA's second feature, 1976's The First Nudie Musical, got its own mainstream release from Paramount, tacky and horribly dated as it is. Made just before star Cindy Williams began Laverne and Shirley (though after she'd appeared in 1973's American Graffiti and on Happy Days with Ron Howard, who does a cameo here), this wheezing yokfest has her as secretary to a porn producer (Stephen Nathan). It's his big idea to counter flagging box office by shooting a porno musical, though that effort is nearly derailed by his being forced to put a studio boss' idiot son (writer and co-director Bruce Kimmel) behind the camera. The kind of unfunny that for 97 minutes may make you want to kill yourself, Nudie duly has some full-frontal shots and a not-bad dancing dildos number. Otherwise — oy.
Last and possibly least even in this context is 1976's Let My Puppets Come, one of those films that must be witnessed just to confirm that it exists — no matter how much you may regret doing so afterward. Late Bronx-bred Deep Throat auteur Gerard Damiano made some of the era's most famous and most interesting porn features (usually not the same ones), but here he indulged a self-parodic whim by satirizing his own crazy career in singing, dancing, fucking felt ersatz-Muppet form.
Puppets' protagonists are a group of schmoes indebted to the mob and forced to make a porno to pay it off. (In the 2005 documentary Inside Deep Throat, the director alluded to his erstwhile mob benefactors-bosses while his still-fearful wife keeps vehemently trying to shush him in the background.) Their resulting masterpiece stars the likes of "Anthony Quimm" and "Clitorus Leachman," features a bit of make-believe bestiality (a none-too-subtle reference to Throat star Linda Lovelace's canine thrill reel), has fake commercials (vaginal deodorant, etc.), and a cameo by Al Goldstein himself.
Evidently Damiano's backers didn't appreciate the joke, since the film was released at just 40-odd minutes' length, with most of its songs cut. But Shepard promises an ultra-rare screening of the full, intended hour-and-a quarter edit. Swallow at your own risk. *
"HONK IF YOU'RE HORNY: RETRO SEX MUSICALS"
Thu/6, Dec. 13, and 20, 7:30pm, $8-$10
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
701 Mission, SF