“Stupid is as stupid does” – Excuses that are really not that much of an excuse

Lowell Altvater, 80, was charged with negligent assault in Sandusky, Ohio after he thought he saw a rat in his barn and fired his shotgun at it. It turned out to be his wife’s hat, which she was wearing. Mrs. Altvater begged police not to file charges, but they did, in part because Lowell had shot himself in the leg in 1992 in the same barn after thinking then, too, that he had spotted a rat. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel- Toledo Blade, 20-12-95; Columbus Dispatch, Nov.95]

A bomb threat that forced a Royal Jordanian Airlines plane to land in Iceland en route to Chicago was discovered to have been made by a Chicago woman who was merely trying to prevent her mother-in-law, a passenger on the plane, from visiting her. And a former USAir flight attendant was sentenced to eight months in prison in May for making a bomb threat to force a landing so she could rest her ailing knee. [Washington Times-Reuters, 11-11-95; Greensboro News Record, May95]

Reading, Pennsylvania, county controller Judith Kraines complained at a commissioners’ meeting in January about having to type letters and do other business on a typewriter because her computer was old and no one had been able to get it to work for two years. “If we had a computer,” she said, “letters would go out faster.”  Three days later, she announced that the computer she was complaining about in fact had not been plugged in to any electrical outlet and that when the plug was inserted and the computer was turned on, it worked fine. [Reading Eagle-Times, 21-1-96]

At an April court martial at Elmendorf (Alaska) Air Force Base, a sergeant was found guilty of using cocaine. He had denied the charge, which was based on a urine test. His explanation was that his part-time job as a pizza deliverer takes him to drug-using neighbourhoods; he has a habit of licking his finger when counting out dollar bills for change; and some of his customers undoubtedly used rolled bills to snort cocaine. [Sourdough Sentinel, 19-4-96]

(London) Film (Festival) Blitz

Thursday 7th. The London Film Festival begins with ‘To Be Announced’, e taut thriller based around the race to get an opening movie for the event. Ok, Urn kidding, but when their last-minute choice is ‘The First Wives Club’, a standard slice of Hollywood stodge that opens here next week anyway, you begin to wish they hadn’t bothered. Glad I didn’t sign up, sight unseen.

Friday 8th. The festival proper starts with The Funeral (Abel Ferrara). Christopher Walken and Chris Penn are gangsters whose brother has been killed: they want to track down the murderer and extract revenge. Very much an acting film, with a loose plot that leaps around in time like Doctor Who on amphetamines. But, for acting, Walken’s your scan, though Penn is also creditably psychotic. If you know Ferrara’s work, it won’t spoil anything to tell you the ending is not quite “happily ever after”. C+

Forgotten Silver (Peter Jackson) is a fake-umentary which for some reason was twinned with ‘100 Years of Polish Cinema’, a completely serious documentary. Or at least, I assume so: together with a good percentage of the audience, I bailed out after roughly Three Seconds of Polish Cinema. Jackson’s spoof biopic of a New Zealand cinematic pioneer is pitched perfectly, building to the restoration of his 4-hour silent epic ‘Salome’. Jackson himself hosts the film, with cameos from Sam Neill and Leonard Maltin. Utterly ludicrous in cold daylight, but played so straight, it’s plausible that New Zealanders invented colour film and powered flight. B+

Of course, the festival isn’t just about movies. It’s also about drinking. With two hours – and a few liver cells – to kill, what better may than to hit the National Film Theatre bar, sink some beer, and quiz Alex Chandon about ‘Pervirella’. Appropriate topic before Fetishes (Nick Broomfield), even if on balance, three pints of Stella was a bad move, as it led to an emergency exit during the film — believe me, it’s not the sort of movie during which you want to be seen sloping off to the toilet. After the slightly disappointing ‘Heidi Fleiss’, Broornfield’s back on form with an eye-popping look at an S&M establishment in New York. All human life is there, including some bits you’d probably rather not see (Jews with concentration camp fetishes?), exposed with the director’s innocent eye. Whether it’ll ever appear here is questionable, as the BBFC are notably anti this sort of thing. But it deserves a far better fate: entertaining and educational A

Saturday 9th. A day off; no tickets for ‘Crash’, unsurprisingly! But after Friday’s press showing, the tabloid press have pounced, predictably led by the Daily Mail. It’s going to be very interesting to see what happens: Ferman likes Cronenberg, and has never cut his films, but will be under much pressure to ban ‘Crash’. Seems that Westminster Council are also getting complaints, and may ban it even if the BBFC don’t, knocking Leicester Square out. I reckon it’ll get a cinema certificate (possibly delayed), but any video release will be a long way off.

Sunday 10th. Got to bed at 4am, having fallen asleep on a night bus for the first time. Up rather too early, back into town to see Abel Ferrara being interviewed. Lot of interesting tit-bits carne out: it was originally Christopher Walken who was going to be the ‘Bad Lieutenant’, and one girl in the infamous car-masturbation sequence therein is actually Keitel’s babysitter! An interesting look at an uncompromising director: rumours say a) that he lives in a New York squat and b) is not averse to the odd controlled substance. Whether true or not, I couldn’t say, but the fact that they’re plausible says a lot about the man.

Small Time (Shane Meadows) could be a British equivalent of ‘El Mariachi’, with a micro-budget of a mere five grand — though I can hardly believe that, maybe we’re talking Mariachi-style hyperbole? For Mexico, read Nottingham, and the style here plays more like a documentary, with rapid cross-cutting between the inept crooks (dogfood heists are about their level) who’re plotting The Big One. Half scripted, half improvised, it belies the budget as mentioned, and points up another rising talent. British cinema has more to offer than Emma Thompson. B-

I meet Phil Martin, the only man I know who got a ticket for ‘Crash’, and greet him warmly by the throat. Also the ubiquitous Michael Brooke, unofficial head of the Brit-pack on Internet newsgroup. alt.cult-movies. We discuss ‘Crash’, inevitably; word is it’ll either get through uncut, or not at all. It won’t go quietly, either way. Bearing in mind my ‘Fetishes’ experience, I lay off the beer before Animal Love (Ulrich Seidl). On balance. I might have been better indulging. as it singularly failed to live up to the “NB Some scenes may offend” programme note. Yes, it’s about people’s obsession with their pets, but delights in the banal to such an extent that it becomes banal itself and is the first disappointment of the festival. E. In theory, should stay for ‘Under the Skin’, but can’t face 110 minutes of Peruvian cinema, so cut my losses early and head home.

Monday 11th. Someone is Waiting (Martin Donovan) doesn’t sound like my kind of film: “a lyrical and moving tale of redemption and familial love that suggests death can offer hope to life”. But Nastassja’s in it, so I’ve got to see it — it’s like my job and stuff. Not exactly cheery: the teenage hero starts off wanted for his father’s murder, and life isn’t exactly a bowl of cherries from then on. In flashback, we see his mother (NK) getting killed by bank robbers, for which drunken father Gabriel Byrne holds him responsible. Only a sense of responsibility to his siblings and the memory of his mother keep him going, until a struggle with Dad turns deadly. The visual equivalent of a Joy Division LP: bleak. depressing. but somehow uplifting, thanks to strong performances and a great soundtrack. Though we are not talking enormous commercial potential, it’s unquestionably a worthy effort. B

Tuesday 12th – Thursday 14th. In the eye of the hurricane, a three-day break without any films. Instead, another media panic; the Evening Standard attempt to provoke more controversy by targeting the program of American underground films playing the ICA next weekend. No-one seems concemed, not even Virginia Bottomley, who wants local councils to ban ‘Crash’. Ironically, the same edition has Gong Li, talking about how the oppressive Chinese government censor her work. I feel a letter to the editor coming on… Should have been double Gilliam on Thursday, a Guardian interview and a film on the making of ’12 Monkeys’. But it clashed with Laibach in concert; after much agonising, they won, even though I’d bought the LFF tickets. Still not actually seen ’12 Monkeys’ so I decided there was little point in hearing all about it, and sold the tickets to Alex Chandon. As for Laibach, what can one say about a group whose pre-concert tape was ‘Cat Stevens’ Greatest Hits’? Sheer genius.

Friday 15th. Not sure why I went to Tokyo Fist (Tsukamoto Shinya), since I didn’t really rate either ‘Tetsuo’ movie. Tsukamoto himself plays a salaryman whose wife is seduced by a boxer (played by Shinya’s brother!), after being beaten up, he takes up boxing himself in preparation for… well, a final 15 minutes of weirdness. Unlike its predecessors, you can watch ‘Tokyo Fist’ in more than pop-promo sized chunks, but despite the odd disturbing image, by the and it still feels too much like Tsukamoto is going over the same ground once again: metal & flesh, speeded-up film, decay. Yawn. Someone suggested he’d have been an alternative to Cronenberg for ‘Crash’, but on this showing, it’d just have become ‘Tetsuo 4’. Change the script, please. D-

Saturday 16th. Oops. After Thursday’s explanation of why I didn’t go to see Terry Gilliam, I find myself listening to ’12 Monkeys’ scriptwriters, David and Janet Peoples. I’d gone on the strength of David’s work on ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘The Unforgiven’; lucidly, the discussion flows along general lines, the few ’12 Monkey’-specific sections merely pique my interest in the film more. David especially is a heartening figure, from the “I can do better than that” school of writers. He and his wife seem to make a good team; he views films as a collection of images, while she is more story-driven. I leave, with the firm intention of writing a script of my own…

Sunday 17th. Microcosmos (Claude Nuridsany). Appropriately enough for a film about insects, London Transport behaves like an anaesthetised slug: at 4pm. the bus I’m on is crawling round Parliament Square. Luckily, the LFF is also its usual tardy self and I hit my seat as the film starts. Basically, a nature film writ large; no commentary, just insects eating, fighting, breeding, living and dying. However, the big screen adds a whole new dimension — though I’m not entirely happy, twitching nervously at 30-foot high wasps in THX. Truly a cinematic experience: once this impact has worn off, there’s not much else on offer, but how can one resist a film where the leading players include “ladybird with seven spots, climbing caterpillar, bee gathering pollen”? C+

Tony Rayns is the Antichrist of Oriental cinema as far as I’m concerned. His fondness for tedious arthouse fodder over explosive action means our views usually diverge sharply so I worry over his glowing review of (Focus) Osaka Satoshi). But for once, we agree, even if he misses the obvious similarities to ‘Man Bites Dog’. Both are scathing attacks on television culture, with film crews following anti-social loners — here, a cellphone eavesdropper — who find events outstripping them; as in MBD, our sympathies flip half-way through. The cause in ‘Focus’ is an overheard call detailing the location of a pistol; is it a hoax? Course not. Shot in long, unflinching takes, while perhaps lacking the sheer venom of its Belgian brother, it certainly hits the target. B+

Monday 18th. Kids Return (Takeshi Kitano). Has boxing suddenly become incredibly popular in Japan? I ask, as it features in recent films by two major directors: in ‘Tokyo Fist’ as a means of revenge, and here as a way out of a dead-end life. The main characters are a bunch of loser schoolkids, and we follow their paths through to adulthood: one becomes a boxer, one joins the Yakuza, and one…well, just fails. I detect a strong element of autobiography here — the two main protagonists harbour dreams of fame as a comedy act — but that isn’t enough to hold interest, despite a similarly languid feel as ‘Sonatine’, where time also had a nebulous dimension. After the first hour, my interest started to wander, and never quite came back. D

Tuesday 19th. Unexpected festival surprises often turn out to be better than the planned movies. So it is with Shine (Scott Hicks). I bought a seat purely on recommendation, and when I looked it up in the program, my heart sank boot-wards. A biopic of a musician? Based on a true story? Shudder. Luckily, this is much more, especially after we pass the inevitable, cliched, domineering father. Central character David Helfgott (played by three actors at various ages) proves how thin the line `twixt genius and madness is, teetering between stardom and vagrancy. Remarkably restrained (bar Sir John Gielgud going OTT as only he can) and unsentimental, yet very funny at times and guaranteed to have you humming Rachmaninov’s 3rd. A most pleasant experience. A-

That’s more than can be said for Irma Vep (Olivier Assayas). Maggie Cheung plays herself, in Paris to remake a silent movie as a result of her `Heroic Trio’ role, only to find the production falling round her ears. It smacks of “let’s mock Hong Kong cinema”; the clips from HT are edited, cropped and grainy, to make it look cheap and tacky, plus the film portrays fans of such films as shallow or unstable. Yet the director delivers something infinitely less interesting, full of banalities that fail to amuse in the slightest. The film-within-the-film has some promise, and Cheung provides the few worthwhile moments, but it’s either the least amusing comedy since ‘Ace Ventura’, or a very nasty piece of intellectual arrogance. E+

The Guardian interview with Takeshi was slightly distancing; he spoke through an interpreter, so the sizeable Japanese contingent got the jokes earlier, and found them more amusing before translation. However, refreshing to hear a director who lets an audience come to their own conclusions, rather than forcing morals down their throat. Between directing, writing, painting, and acting, he’s a busy man: still not 100% after a road accident, he had to pause a couple of times to take eye drops. Glad he’s recovering though, we need more characters like him around.

Wednesday 20th. Aggravating letter in ‘Time Out’, from a guy bragging how three friends got tickets for ‘Crash’. despite not being BFI members. Now, how did they manage that, given it supposedly sold out before this BFI member got to it? So much for ‘priority booking’. Humph. Maybe I’m paranoid, but I really do suspect a cabal runs the LFF, distributing tickets to their friends before we poor members get a sniff. Anyway, my membership has lapsed now — and will stay that way at least until 1997’s festival!

What would the London Film Festival be, without a fix of everyone’s pet abuse object, Jennifer Jason Leigh, a long-time TC fave since her enthusiastic portrayal of Stretcho, the amazing elastic girl in ‘The Hitcher’. [That sentence will make no sense if you haven’t seen the film. But hell, you should have. Go! Now!) This year, it’s Kansas City (Robert Altman), which annoyingly opens in the West End on Friday anyway. Leigh is a gangster’s moll whose husband has been captured by some nasty rivals (led by, of all people, a very creepy Harry Belafonte) and who kidnaps a politico’s wife (Miranda Richardson) to try and get help. Though Leigh is her usual sterling self, there’s a lot of slack here: characters whose relevance is unclear, and endless footage of jazz musicians jamming. If you knew about the period and characters involved, you’d find it a lot more enthralling; as is, while there’s no denying the quality, it’s all somewhat unfocused and pointless. C-

Thursday 21st. With the Daily Mail getting more and more hysterical, and Westminster Council electing to ban ‘Crash’, at least pending the BBFC decision, it seems an appropriate, if downbeat, moment to draw this report to a close — there’s only a single movie left to see, and I do want to try and have one vaguely topical article in TC! Should ‘King Girl’ be the most amazing film I’ve ever seen, I’ll drop something in the editorial. Otherwise: ‘Fetishes’ was the best of the fest (it’s getting a cinema release — Westminster permitting, I guess), with ‘Shine’ the runner-up, and ‘Animal Love’ gets the TC Golden Raspberry for worst movie and most misleading advertising. Thank you and goodnight. Roll on next year.

Film Blitz

Pammie’s mammies: Anderson Lee and a couple of close, personal friends.

Barb Wire (who cares?) – I can see why this got dire reviews; the critics will have seen it stone-cold sober at 11 a.m, rather than, as intended, after several beers, a Big Mac and a session of manic slaughter down the video arcade. Having taken the latter route, I had a great time. The film is so shallow it’s in danger of evaporating completely, Pammie’s (fortunately limited) attempts at acting are laughable, and it’s nothing you haven’t seen in a thousand post-apocalyptic films, set in the usual disused industrial estate. Yet it works, on the most cynical, visceral level. I don’t like silicone blondes, yet even I have to admit Lee is perfectly cast, wandering round in clingy costumes (or even clingy bubble-bath!) kicking and shooting her way through the film. Like the cliché says, it’s an empty, meaningless experience, but as empty, meaningless experiences go… B

Batman (Joel Schumacher) – Exchange your brain at the door for a bucket of popcorn, and you’ll enjoy this far more. It’s fast, vacuous stuff, with our mostly concealed hero treading a dodgy line between law-man and vigilante, in a dark and highly ‘Blade Runner’-esque future. Feel free to ignore the amusing but pointless henchman, and the nicely decorative female, seemingly there just to prove the hero is no sword-swallower. On the other hand, the villains are far more colourful, sharp, and get to blow things up for no readily apparent reason. Beneath the sweeping orchestral score (naturally shoe-horning in a few rock toons, for the obligatory soundtrack LP), the real star is the set. Must be embarrassing to be out-acted by buildings… Cinema as spectacle, this is an empty barrel making a hell of a lot of noise. B-

Body Parts (Lamberto Bava) – My contribution to National Cinema Day was to sit at home and watch this 1992 giallo, now coming out through ‘A Taste of Fear’. And that’s an appropriate label, since a taste is ultimately all it provides. It’s a typically intricate, albeit slightly wobbly, storyline, with a serial killer reclaiming donor organs from their recipients because… because he’s a serial killer, y’know? Motivation is not Bava’s strong point — as anyone who’s seen ‘Demons 2’ knows, things need no justification apart from that they look good. There is the inevitably mind-boggling twist ending, but it’s helped by a decent performance from Thomas Arana as the cop leading the hunt, and bonus points for having a psychopath who looks like a young Rutger Hauer. If this film is a body part, it’s most like a pair of tonsils: nothing you’d really miss, but not completely useless. C-

Bugs (Brian Yuzna) – The title change (aka ‘Silent Night, Deadly Night 4’!) tries to cash-in on the success of ‘Ticks’, one of the more energetically entertaining horror movies of recent years, which Yuzna produced. However, it falls well short of the mark; certainly has a few icky moments, especially for those who have a dislike of insects, but it’s just not interesting, and has all the production values of a TVM. Maud Adams is the novice reporter investigating a ‘suicide’ which leads her into a dangerous cult of mad feminists who do yucky things with maggots. That’s about as far as I got before boredom finally overcame me and — this’ll give you some idea of how exciting the film is — I started watching Jimmy Tarbuck. Now, that’s what I call scary. E+

Casino (Martin Scorsese) – I’m not sure my bum can take another three-hour plus movie; at least they’re good value for money. Admittedly (though no help to my posterior), ‘Casino’ is justifiably long, covering a lot of turf, though sometimes it feels like a documentary on hotel management. Based on a true story — the stuff happened, just not in the order given here — it’s a “Rise + Fall” tale, detailing De Niro’s handling of a Mob casino, his involvement with Sharon Stone (never a good idea; hasn’t he seen ‘Basic Instinct’?) and friendship with psycho dwarf Joe Pesci. It all ends brutally: in fact, it starts brutally as well, and “brutally” is its middle name, with bats, hammers and fountain pens meeting flesh. De Niro is inevitably good, Pesci is inevitably Pesci, Stone deserved the Oscar nom, and the soundtrack provides a continual, sarcastic commentary on the action. Undeniably well crafted, it’ll put you off swindling casinos for life. A-

Casper (Brad Silverling) – What an interesting career Sherri Stoner has had: getting her bottom branded in ‘Reform School Girls’, the live-action model for Disney’s Little Mermaid, executive producer on ‘Tiny Toon Adventures’, voice actor in ‘Animaniacs’…and now co-writer of this effects-heavy movie. The last couple are influences that seep though on occasion, most notably a brilliant ‘Apocalypse Now’ homage, and the film is at its best when it updates the traditionally soppy Harvey Comics characters: Christina Ricci, as the daughter of a “ghost psychiatrist”, comes off best in this regard. The villains are scarcely threatening — Eric Idle’s one of them — ­and after it’s established they can’t hurt Casper, that side goes a bit flat. The main focus is Casper’s desire to become a real boy again, though you just know that’s going to end up being horribly slushy. Totally non-threatening, Sunday afternoon viewing. D

Castle Freak (Stuart Gordon) – The much anticipated return of Babs Crampton to the horror genre doesn’t quite deliver, spending too long setting up ‘atmosphere’. The opening sequence sets the standard, with the duchess wandering — very slowly — through her castle to feed and torture her hideously deformed son. It’d have been okay had they run the credits over it, but it simply goes on, and on and on. Then she drops dead, and heir Jeffrey Combs turns up with wife (Crampton) and blind daughter. Before you can say “Quasimodo”, out comes the freak; except, you’ve probably got time to read ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ before anything much happens. Some gross moments finally compensate the viewer, and only in the final 30 minutes does the body count mount acceptably, though up until this point, Crampton and Combs ensure this remains a cut above the usual Full Moon product. I was left feeling this was definitely a 30-minute idea stretched to a full-length feature. D-

Kim Basinger as Holly Wood — not bad, just born that way

Cool World (Ralph Bakshi) – A major flop on its initial release, looking back at it now, it’s harder to see why this adult version of ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ failed so miserably. While barely coherent, I don’t want coherence from a film about a parallel cartoon universe, peopled by the warped imaginings of Gabriel Byrne’s comic artist (I think it’s safe to equate Byrne with Bakshi). Kim Basinger is a fine ‘toon, for sure (see left), and the animated sections are well up to scratch, even if the interaction between human and cartoon is less effective than in ‘Roger Rabbit’. When Holly achieves her desire, bursting into the real world after bonking Byrne, the underlying weirdness that’s been peeping round the edges, spews up in a geyser of the bizarre. Reality just can’t compete; an entirely viable alternative to drugs. B

Delta Heat (Michael Fischa) – Another buddy cop movie. And no, there isn’t an “l” missing from that last sentence, this manages to rise above the crowd of competitors thanks to excellent central performances from Lance Henriksen and Anthony Edwards. In the other major twist, both are fish out of water, Edwards an LAPD cop down in New Orleans after his partner is messily killed, Henriksen (presumably around ‘Hard Target’ time) the former detective he drags out of the Louisiana swamp to help. Neither are welcomed by the local boys. The deftly handled interplay between them is the film’s best feature; it’s almost aggravating when the plot gets in the way, as there’s nothing inventive there. Inspired casting, to be sure, pity there’s no movie to hang it off. C+

Doctor Mordrid (Charles and Albert Band) – Full Moon have become synonymous with “crap”, because of awful movies like ‘Subspecies’; this is a better effort, thanks again mostly to the presence of Jeffrey Combs. As in ‘Re-Animator’, he makes the fatuous plausible, not an easy task when you consider we’re talking about two wizards fighting each other for the fate of the Earth. Yvette Nipar is the Barbara Crampton substitute here, and Brian Thompson plays the bad sorceror, both are competent enough, though sadly, Nipar is never ravished by a severed head. It smells faintly of ‘Cast a Deadly Spell’, but the finale lacks punch, with the fate of the planet decided by a duel between two stop motion dinosaurs skeletons. ‘Jurassic Park’ it ain’t, thankfully. C+

The Doom Generation (Greg Araki) – Self proclaimed queer film-maker Araki tries his hand at a hetero movie, another entry in the rapidly overpopulated “psychopath lovers on a cross country rampage” genre. Clueless meets Natural Born Killers here, two teenage lovers fall in with a bisexual Trent Reznor lookalike and kill people. Disappointingly ho-hum for about 80 minutes, only the final five deliver on the “welcome to hell” promise from the first scene. The finale is vicious, graphic, and may suffer at the BBFC but by that point, you just don’t care. E+

Fist of the North Star (Tony Randel) – As with both manga and anime, what stays in the mind with this American live-action adaptation is the hyper-violence, notably hero Kenshiro’s tap-tap attack which makes heads explode. The writer, realising this, opts for a script that manages to be incoherent, yet exactly what you expect, up to the obvious climax between Kenshiro (Brit Gary Daniels, looking great but struggling — as anyone would — with the dialogue) and his nemesis. Evil sidekick Chris Penn comes out best, rising above the…well, you know I don’t say this lightly, but “macho bullshit” does come to mind. A distressing amount of leather and well-oiled torsos on view; all that’s  missing is Steve Reeves. D-

The Film Blitz theme appears to be “stars with notable chests”: first, Pamela Lee; then Kim Basinger; now, er, Gary Daniels…

Judge Dredd (Danny Cannon) – Exchange your brain at the door for a bucket of popcorn, and you’ll enjoy this far more. It’s fast, vacuous stuff, with our mostly concealed hero treading a dodgy line between law-man and vigilante, in a dark and highly ‘Blade Runner’-esque future. Feel free to ignore the amusing but pointless henchman, and the nicely decorative female, seemingly there just to prove the hero is no sword-swallower.  On the other hand, the villains are far more colourful, amusing, and get to blow things up for no readily apparent reason. Beneath the sweeping orchestral score (naturally shoe-horning in a few rock toons, for the obligatory soundtrack LP), the real star is the set. Must be embarrassing to be out-acted by buildings…  Cinema as spectacle, this is an empty barrel making a hell of a lot of noise. C

Judgement Night (Matthew Hopkins) – Ah, urban nightmares. ‘After Hours’, ‘Bonfire of the Vanities’, and now this: Emilio Estevez, Stephen Dorff and friends wander into drug-lord Dennis Leary’s territory, where they see him murder an accomplice. Not good to witness, so the hunt is on. Despite obvious flaws — what mob boss could only muster four henchmen? — Hopkins screws maximum tension from every situation, though it’s immediately obvious who’ll survive and who won’t; surprises would definitely help. The major question was “Is Estevez related to Michael Douglas or has he just watched ‘Falling Down’ a lot?”  An easy way to pass 110 generally entertaining minutes, even if no-one is exactly overtaxed. Least of all the viewer. C+

Lord of Illusions (Clive Barker) – ‘Nightbreed’ seems a very long time ago now, doesn’t it? And ‘Hellraiser’, positively prehistoric. Ah, yes, I remember the days when Clive Barker actually seemed to have talent. Not that LoI is actually bad, it looks very nice, there are some great effects, and an effective Simon Boswell soundtrack. However, it all treads familiar ground; it is too obviously not just a Clive Barker film, it’s the Clive Barker film. While Scott Bakula is a decent Harry D’Amour, perhaps he exacerbates the problem that the movie plays too much like an 18-rated episode of ‘The X Files’, without the benefit of any 18-rated Gillian Anderson scenes. It all ends up on a loop, with the climax looking a lot like the start, as evil incarnate is fought. D

M.Butterfly (David Cronenberg) – This adaptation of the play was all but buried on its release here, but to me, doesn’t seem such an aberration for the man. [Warning: plot revelations imminent!] Telling the story of a French diplomat who falls in love with a Peking Opera star, only to discover she is a) a spy and b) a he, it remains true to the ideal of “body horror” and is nigh impossible for any heterosexual male to watch without squirming. Suddenly discovering the woman you love is a man must rank pretty highly among male nightmares, so a tender love scene between a man and a man-pretending-to-be-a-woman make for uncomfortable viewing, and a nice reversal of the female fears seen in ‘Dead Ringers’. Also note the echoes of ‘Videodrome’, most notably at the end where the hero commits suicide, seeing it as the only way out of an otherwise impossible situation. [End of plot revelations!] With disturbingly great performances from Jeremy Irons and John Lone, this has all the makings of a misunderstood classic, even if you may want to wash your hands afterwards. A-

Naked Killer (Clarence Ford) – One of the most infamous of the Hong Kong category III films, something seems to have gone missing between reputation and reality; while this film has its moments, certainly, it’s not the no-holds barred sleazefest one might expect from the cover. What you get, is an interesting mix of ‘Nikita’ and ‘Basic Instinct’; a hit-woman takes on a new apprentice, only for a previous trainee to come steaming back with her lesbian lover and a severe grudge to settle. The action sequences are first-class, and the characterisations are way over-the-top, like some nightmarish wet dream (probably producer Wong Jing’s). Sadly, the bits between the action are laughable, largely thanks to some truly dreadful dubbing — there is a subtitled version available, at a mere £20, but the video company sent the dub… It makes one mean mother of a trailer, but even at 78 minutes, outstays its welcome. D+

Nightwatch (Ole Bornedal) – News of the death of the horror movie seems not to have reached Denmark, going by this stylish and intelligent tale. A law student gets a part-time job at the morgue, only to find creepy things are happening; is his mind going? To add to his troubles, there’s a serial killer in town, who seems to be out to frame him. This does a slow but careful job on the set-up with the first half being so totally restrained I wondered where the “horror” tag came from. The second half delivers the groceries there, and good performances from a young cast help give this more believability than most teenagers-in-peril films. Even if it never breaks any genre boundaries, you shouldn’t feel short-changed. B+

Phoebe — no fake. this time!

Princess Caraboo (Michael Austin) – Based on a true story which took place just after Waterloo, this film manages to break the usual rule of thumb which says that PG-rated movies are inevitably dire. It stars Phoebe Cates — okay, significant plus point there — as a mysterious girl who turns up in a West Country village, and who may be the exotic Princess of the title, or may be an impostor out to con people. Her passage upwards through society towards the Prince Regent is charted, though the story itself is very slight, the acting is the film’s major strong point, and should be compulsory viewing for anyone who reckons Phoebe can’t act. She acquits herself superbly, even against one of those casts full of Britiish character actors which will have you going “Isn’t that…?” for half the movie – as in “Isn’t that Servalan?” (and yes, it is, still with a nifty line in costumes, albeit rather less S/M than in her ‘Blake’s 7’ days).  Managing to be sweet without sinking to saccharine, as “family entertainment” (shudder) goes, it’s surprisingly watchable fluff. B+

The Puppet Masters (Stuart Orme) – Hell, if ‘Lord of Illusions’ looked like an adult X File, this one starts even closer to the mark, with a government agency investigating a crashed UFO near a country town. The first ten minutes or so are cracking, a great monster and Donald Sutherland whipping up a storm as the agency head. Sadly, this doesn’t last and it degenerates into a routine action movie, in which the aliens are hardly seen. Though Sutherland continues to try his best, he just doesn’t get enough screen time; no-one else in the cast has the stature to provide the necessary memorable moments. ‘The Hidden’ did far more with just two aliens. D-

Rob Roy (Michael Caton-Jones) – “History made him a hero”…and Hollywood made him Irish. Maybe it’s revenge for ‘Revolution’ (made by Brits, with a German leading lady); directed by an Englishman and also starring an American actress. Nationalism apart, it’s stirring stuff, with few dodgy accents — Tim Roth’s plummy English is the worst on offer — and Liam Neeson is a fine kilted Celt, struggling against the machinations of Roth and Brian Cox. Despite wobbly moments (too many sheepshagging jokes), overall it confirms what we know as true: Scotsmen are all heroes, Englishmen are all scum ­– even when the Scots are actually American! B-

Roger and Me (Michael Moore) – Moore’s excellent ‘TV Nation’ show proved conclusively that at least one American understands irony. This is in similar vein, with him trying to talk to the president of General Motors, who destroyed Moore’s home town of Flint, Michigan by closing the factories. A step away from normal documentary, like Nick ‘Aileen Wuornos’ Broomfield, the film-maker is part of the movie, it’s as much a documentary about making documentaries, and is a style I like greatly. Swinging from farce to tragedy, but always under control, it leaves an acrid taste in the mouth. If I was Roger Smith, I’d find it very difficult to sleep at night. A

Species (Roger Donaldson) – Oh God, yet another adult X File; at this rate, by the time they get their film out, no-one will want to see it. Though this one has more in common with Tobe Hooper’s excruciatingly wonderful ‘Lifeforce’; psychopathic alien babe comes to Earth and starts offing people. In this case, however, she just wants to breed. Repeatedly. In a wide variety of situations designed to show off Natasha Henstridge’s breasts. Admirable though these are, they’re not quite enough to carry the film and, while Alfred Molina and Michael Madsen try hard, all the human characters are terribly flat (certainly not true about Ms. Henstridge…). Ten years ago, this would have been directed by someone like Dave DeCoteau, starred Michelle Bauer, and cost maybe 100 grand. It might have been better off staying that way. C-

Waterworld (Kevin Reynolds) – At last, a big action picture that isn’t mindless entertainment; unfortunately, it does this by avoiding the “entertainment” part of the equation rather than the “mindless”. The second film in a row to prove that big isn’t necessarily better: expanded to this scale, the word is BLOATED. While Costner’s character has the makings of a great antihero, you just know he’s going to get all soppy and New Man-ish by the end. And that blessed relief is a very long way off, it’s another 135 minute film, at least an hour of which is superfluous. Even the action scenes go on too long, which is perhaps a first, and managing to make Dennis Hopper look flat and uninteresting is also something of a feat. I fell asleep. Twice. Combined with a plot so flawed you could sail an oil tanker through the holes, this is probably the worst big-budget movie since ‘Alien 3’.  E+

The Young Master (Jackie Chan) – It’s been a long time coming, but finally someone has put out a subtitled Jackie Chan film. This is amazing, given the amount of lesser dreck which has appeared, so all praise to Hong Kong Classics, especially since the widescreen subtitled version is the same price as the normal one, rather than coming out in an overpriced cardboard box. The film itself is perhaps the best JC did pre-’Police Story’ and stands up very well, showcasing purer martial arts than the stunts/action for which he’s become renowned. The story is to do with student Jackie tracking down a colleague who’s defected from his school, though it’s merely an excuse for a wide variety of “Object fu”; stools, pipes, fans and skirts are all wielded by Jackie in the lead-up to a final bruising one-on-one battle lasting the best part of 20 minutes. Excellent stuff, that will hopefully lead to more material appearing like this. B+

“Stupid is, as stupid does”: Sex – the great motivator.

Melbourne – An Australian who posed as a secret agent for five years in order to have sex with a former girlfriend was jailed for nine months on Wednesday. A magistrates court here heard the 29-year-old man manipulated an innocent, patriotic young woman to have sex by inventing five fictional operatives to give her orders, which included oral sex to cure a fictional terminal illness. The man, whose name was suppressed to protect the woman’s identity, destroyed five subsequent relationships by sending her bogus intelligence reports on her boyfriends’ alleged affairs, the court was told. The man was granted bail pending an appeal. [Reuters, 6-3-96]

In March, police in New York City charged salesman Joel Levy, 32, with assault. According to police, Levy’s live-in girlfriend arrived home unexpectedly after Levy had just put in an order for a call girl to come over. Levy improvised a plan to intercept “Brandy” in his building’s lobby, have a liaison, and then to dash back upstairs before his girlfriend got suspicious. When he saw a good-looking woman in the lobby, Levy assumed it was Brandy, nudged her into an elevator, and, according to police, pawed and fondled her while waving a $50 bill, saying, “You know you want it. You know you’ll do anything for it.”  The woman was not Brandy but rather an assistant district attorney from Brooklyn. [N.Y. Post, 3-10-95]

North Hollywood – Barry A. Briskman, 59, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for his inexplicably successful seduction of two 13-year-old girls. According to the prosecutor, Briskman had convinced the girls that he was a space alien from the planet Cablell, sent to Earth to recruit a team of beautiful, super-intelligent girls for a female-dominated utopia headed by Queen Hiternia, who was temporarily based atop the Tropicana hotel in Las Vegas. For their trip through space, Briskman told the girls he would have to immunise them vaginally until their “IRF” counts reached 100, and following each sex session, he telephoned the “Andrak 4000” computer to report the latest infusion and to get a readout on how many more IRFs each girl needed. Briskman is presently in prison in Nevada for demonstrating similar persuasive skills on a 12-year-old girl. [Los Angeles Times, 16-9-95]

After filing a missing persons report on his wife, Leasa, Bruce Jensen, 39, learned that Leasa was really feminine-looking Felix Urioste, 34, who had convinced Bruce to marry him in 1991 after a single sexual encounter during which Urioste remained clothed. Said devout Mormon Jensen, to the Ogden (Utah) Standard-Examiner, “There’s no way to describe this feeling”. [Salt Lake Tribune-AP, 14-7-95]

Is it life, or is it…

Now that a column dedicated to the Internet has become essential for every magazine under the sun, I see no reason why TC should be any different. And since it seems hard for hack journos to write about the Net without also mentioning the words “porn”, “children” and “disgusting”, why should we buck the trend there either? Though, of course, this being TC, we will also need to use the words “Phoebe” and “Cates”. Don’t worry, all will become clear — eventually…

However, let’s start by wreaking havoc on a few primitive misconceptions. You might think that the Net resembles Soho in its heyday, with sleaze oozing from every electronic orifice. Sadly, this is not so. While not exactly hard to find mildly raunchy material, you’ll also wade through huge volumes of tiresome crap. The absolute independence of the Net, while its biggest strength, means that any geek can become ‘popular’ simply by giving his site a name implying nekkid babes ahoy. Rule #1: little on the Internet ever lives up to what it promises.

“Christina Applegate” gets worked up thinking about the potential of the Internet

The two main ways to obtain pictures on the Internet are via the World Wide Web (WWW) and Usenet newsgroups. The former is effectively an infinite ‘zine – anyone can set pages up. Newsgroups are slightly more structured, in that you subscribe to them, and hope the computer through which you connect also subscribes, but once that’s done, if you post a message, it automatically gets sent to all readers worldwide.

The WWW has become the most publicly visible face of the Internet; hardly a movie comes out now without its own WWW address tucked away at the bottom of the poster i.e. “hhtp://www.hollywood.com/debbie/does/dallas.htm”, and these can also be seen on every kind of adverts from beer to banks. Most of the pics accompanying newspaper scare-pieces come from the WWW, and are tame less for reasons of taste, than because that’s all that is openly available. Sure, Playboy and Penthouse have their sites, but just about everything else is locked out away on “pay-per-view” machines. Given a credit card, these aren’t exactly hard to access, but are scarcely the threat to youth they’re touted as.

The other major problem with the WWW is speed. Even given a relatively fast connection, at best it’s like reading an interesting magazine, v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y. Text is usually fine, but when you come across pictures of any size and quality, it runs like an anaesthetised slug. While this conceivably could be seen as adding a teasing quality to any smut you stumble across, as it slowly reveals itself on your screen, the novelty rapidly wears off. For anything more than trivial stuff, it’s a trial of endurance, and just can’t compare to more conventional media. What’s okay for editors, desperately seeking material to illustrate their animé reviews, is not so acceptable when it comes to good ol’ fashioned undressed totty.  A single, good quality, A4 pic could take thirty minutes to turn up on your machine. – by which time, you could have strolled to the newsagents, bought the relevant copy of Mayfair, and read all the articles.

This applies doubly to any computers which do have hard-core material on them. Inevitably, as soon as word leaks out, they are besieged by hordes of ravening British nerds, who swoop like locusts from the electronic sky. Attempt to access any such place you hear about will result in, first, messages telling you the computer is terribly busy, then eventually, the powers that be get fed up with the techno-gridlock and close the place down. It’s just not worth the effort.

The other major problem with the WWW is you can’t do things anonymously. Every home page has to exist somewhere, and while there are people who offer confidential accounts, there are also law enforcement agencies who do the same thing…

Far better from the point of view of the budding pornographer are the Usenet newsgroups. There are somewhere around about 15,000 of these, catering for every conceivable interest, social group, and sexual variation — as mentioned, anyone can post to them, and their message is sent to all the other subscribers to that group. An entire subsection is dedicated exclusively to pictures, and while some members are totally innocent, with pictures of trains and the like, others (see below) would give your local constabulary a fit.

The following Usenet newsgroups are a selection of those likely to contain dodgy pictures. I’ve removed the “alt.binaries.pictures.erotica.” prefix to keep the list manageable. Should give you some idea of the variety of material on offer!


When compared to the WWW, newsgroups have both problems and advantages. It’s not possible to post pictures directly, they must be converted into text beforehand, most frequently using a program called ‘uuencode’. To view them, you reverse the process; it’s all a bit tedious, especially when you’ve no way of knowing beforehand whether or not it’s worth the effort.

 “Tori Spelling” contemplates the benefits of newsgroups over the World Wide Web

On the other hand, almost total anonymity is possible, thanks to devices called remailers, which remove the identifying marks from messages. Though not 100% secure — Scientologists forced the operator of a Finnish remailer to divulge one user’s details — they’ll do for most purposes. And, of course, Britain is one of the few countries in Europe where straightforward heterosexual pornography is illegal: if you’re in Holland, who gives a toss about people knowing your identity? This is the problem with trying to censor the Internet. It’s a global system, so whose rules apply? And how do you apply them? As previously stated, it’s impossible to tell the contents from an encoded file, making policing near-impossible when the volume is taken into account: there may be several hundred new pictures every day, in a single group and any of the 15,000 groups could conceivably contain illegal material. Policing this globally is thankfully impossible.

If you’re in Britain, you might want to be slightly more circumspect, given that somewhere on a computer, there’s evidence to tie you to alt.binaries.pictures.dobermans or whatever. So you might consider doing it all from your local CyberCafe, since you can use their computers with much less chance of being traced, Though you’ll probably get disapproving looks from the CyberDyke at the next terminal as she munches on her organic CyberSalad sandwich.

Do be warned that while possession of pornography is generally not illegal, if there are kids involved, then under British law you are looking at jail, even if no-one else ever sees them. There have already been prosecutions based on material downloaded from the Internet. Worse, this applies regardless of whether the pictures are real or not.  There’s a rising trend in artificially created pictures, which mix and match heads + bodies, and are increasingly indistinguishable from the real thing. Thus, you can now go to prison for something that never happened outside of a computer. “Innocent until proven guilty” no longer seems to apply.

The power of modern computers is also used for a (fractionally) more salubrious purpose, or at least one less likely to turn you into a guest of Her Majesty. This is the faking of celebrity pornography. Fancy Gillian Anderson sucking a rather large dick? Or Meg Ryan with semen running down her face? All this, and more, can now be yours. It’s just a modern, technological version of “lookalikes” which have been used in men’s magazines for many years. I have teenage memories of “Debbie Harry” in Men Only, which was passed round at school, and also recall the almighty fuss when some French magazine had a Princess Di lookalike — though nowadays, I doubt if anyone bar Will Carling would be bothered.

See – told you we’d get “Phoebe Cates” in here somehow!

At first, black-and-white was favoured, it being easier to match skin tones.  But now anything is possible, and the quality of the finished ‘frankie’, as they’re called, is often hard to tell from a real picture. Indeed, the line has been blurred so much that little or no obvious difference exists between a good fake and a good look-alike; for most purposes, they can all be treated in the same way. Of the pictures which illustrate this article, there is one definite fake, one lookalike, and two which I’m unsure about. I leave it as an exercise to work out which ones are which!

Some spend hours fabricating pictures, or trawling the net seeking appropriate material for their iconoclastic fun. To quote one fan, “After a while, it became a fun game to try to recognize the “celebrity look-alikes” either nude or having sex in the pictures I saw on the net. At first, I thought I was the only one who could see the resemblances of celebrities in the  pics.  It was the ridiculous idea of somebody famous posing in these pictures that struck me as so funny!

On the other hand, some much prefer reality, even if it comes in the form of blurred screenshots or mere nipples peeking over the top of evening dresses: “I also received email from people who were mad I posted pictures that weren’t real!  I didn’t realize how many people take their naked celebrities so seriously…” The major problem is that some frankies are not clearly labelled as such, which does confuse the issue.

The targets tend to be the usual Net-babes such as Alicia Silverstone, with a skew towards those who don’t do “that sort of thing”: nobody bothers producing frankies of Traci Lords, far more fun to do the Pink Power Ranger. The squeakier clean the celeb, the further imaginations are let rip: there are perpetual rumours of a legendary set of pictures depicting Julia Roberts being gang-banged by a sled-dog team. However, it is suspected that ‘legendary’ is all they are..

The purpose behind them is hard to judge. Some may be produced by rabid fans, keen to see what has hitherto been concealed. At the other end of the spectrum are anti-fans, doing it to expose the star in question to ridicule, or merely as provocation. A third group of technically minded individuals do it purely for the challenge. It may be merely for amusement, with no higher agenda than to spread cheer and happiness among those of us who feel no-one is innocent. But before Hollywood starts panicking, one point. With so much artificial celebri-porn around, when a real indiscretion turns up, who’ll believe it? This has already been the case: various allegedly ‘fake’ pictures which appeared on the Internet, clearly labelled as such, turned out to be genuine, from early photo shoots or other factual sources. “Reality” is the only word in the English language that should always be used in quotes, as the late Tim Leary once said.

I wonder what the subjects themselves would think: it’s known that many celebrities have Internet accounts, including Sandra Bullock and Winona Ryder, and it would be fascinating to see what they thought of seeing themselves caricatured in such an intimate way. Would they sue? Indeed, could they? Whatever, it’s an area that’s sure to grow, with the Internet providing an excellent conduit for distribution. As technology continues to escalate, this material is going to become more and more impressive: from fake still photos, the obvious, albeit much tougher, next step is fake movies… Watch this space.

“Gabriella Sabatini” prepares for the new “beach tennis” circuit.

Let’s Talk About Sex

I felt my heartbeat quicken as I lifted the receiver. This was new territory for me. I carefully, hesitantly dialled the number. What if there is someone on the other end? As electronic clicks and beeps signalled my connection I reminded myself that this is England and no way would 38 pence per minute ‘get me live one-to-one sex talk with Mandy who likes it doggy style. And sure enough, I was right. A pre-recorded message ‘kicked in and a breathy accentless Englishwoman’s voice could be heard telling me about the late night cocksuckers’ party. I let out a sigh of relief as the perpetual teenager in me realised I wouldn’t have to make any effort and talk to a real live woman. All I had to do was listen. So I did. And it went .on from there.

Five years later I’m still bemused and intrigued by the whole phone sex phenomenon. Since I started my ‘investigations’ it’s gone through several changes as the ‘service providers’ have faced up to public and political criticism. In each case ‘they’ve adapted accordingly and admirably. floundering industries everywhere should take a page out of their book.; But then again, when you know you’ve got as surefire a product as ‘sex’ to sell, you’ll do anything to get it to the punters and then just sit back and count the money.

And it’s gotta be good money. Back in ’92 it was 38 ppm. cheap rate and 48 ppm at all other times. Now with the various restrictions set in place the calls are charged at a variety of International Rates. Not to mention the genuinely LIVE ‘talkback’ calls that are usually charged to credit cards, though some accept cheques/PO’s or put hugely inflated charges on your phone bill. It’s gotta be good money. However your average user – the dedicated punter – the phone sex ‘addict’ – isn’t worried about cost (as long as it’s ‘discreetly charged’ to their credit card bill). They want to get their rocks off. After a hard day’s toiling as a Captain of Industry or as a Kwik-Fit fitter they want a quick, satisfying and effective release of tension. Bollocks to wasting hours ‘romancing’ wives and girlfriends on the off-chance of getting a dull routine tumble. Your man of the 90’s is used to fast service – shopping, eating out, transport – and sex shouldn’t be any different. So he gets his well-thumbed copy of Men Only, flips to the back pages and browses. Whatever he wants, whatever his fetish or perversion, there is a phone line for him.

You want it, they’ve got it for you. But what are they actually like? Nowadays it’s really down to two different types – ‘Raunch’ and ‘Rip off’. It takes some practice to be able to differentiate between the two but your starter for ten is – the more the advert promises the less you’ll get. And I’m not talking about the specific content of the advert but rather the blurb that comes with it. ‘No long boring intro’s’ actually means five minutes of long drawn out tease as a pre-recorded voice continually promises to connect you to a hot horny girl in ‘just one moment’ whilst advertising other services. ‘Straight into the Action’ means two minutes of shite keyboard music with sampled moans and groans in the background. It’s a bit like buying carpets – the decent shops don’t need ‘Top Quality’ signs written on fluorescent card. And so the real ‘Raunch’ lines just play it straight, tell you what’s on offer and how much it’ll cost you and that’s it.

But what are they actually like? Be it ‘Raunch’ or ‘Rip-off’ you’ll still get two minutes of adverts for other services beforehand. This is to ensure you’re hooked – you’ve listened this far so you might as well hang on for the rest. Unfortunately in many cases the advertised service – eg. French Slut Licks Your Hairy Balls, turns out to be Filthy Lesbian Pisses on You. This can be a severe disappointment to the committed fetishist but if you’re an open minded adventurous kind of guy then you may find yourself sent off down a whole new avenue to explore. However, with the ‘Rip Off’ lines – despite what the advert says – you don’t get much more than the sort of innuendo-loaded banter you get in your average office conversation between frendly colleagues. The girl introduces herself, gives a teasing rundown of vital statistics and then starts on the foreplay. She’ll tell you she’s playing with her nipples (that are always highly sensitive) and running her hand down to her ‘love hole’ and it goes on from there. If she gets herself to ‘climax’ and you’re still on line the message abruptly cuts and another girl comes on and it starts all over again.

At one time there was a service offering a range of about 15 numbers – none of which had adverts or any kind of warning beforehand that this was adult material. You were straight into it. And they were the first I came across in the UK to offer ‘services’ hinting at anal, watersports and girl on guy strap-on action. It wasn’t unusual for there to be two girls on the tape and occasionally a guy which totally blew any chance of a fantasy developing because once he intruded you weren’t there anymore and it became a bit like sitting in a hotel room listening to the couple next door fucking.

There are some true ‘Raunch’ lines out there. The legendary 0898 numbers (that were obliterated by BT requiring all desirous users to apply for PIN code numbers to allow access) could never have been as hard-core as these lines. The adverts say ‘Our girls use all the filthy sex words’ and they mean it. You still get recorded ads prior to the service but these go on for longer by occasionally tantalizing the listener by dropping on the odd ‘fuck’ or ‘pussy’. To be fair the girls ‘talking’ on these lines really do sound like they’re into it and if they really are breastfeeding their babies or knitting as they record then they are genuinely talented and entirely convincing. Particularly when it’s a one-on-one scenario – ‘I’m going to take hold of your cock and…’ etc. The ‘last night my boyfriend and I tried something we’ve never tried before’ are just not as involving and a bit like reading graffiti on a bog wall.

Seeing as they’ve got you on International Call Rates they try to keep you on as long as possible with a slow steady build up going into great detail. If you’re into it it’s got to have an effect on you and if it doesn’t maybe you should try another line – ‘Gay Builders Gang Bang’ perhaps? All vaginal and oral fantasists are well catered for and at present there seems to be a growing fixation with ‘anal’. As buggery is still illegal in this country they get round it by putting well-placed asterisks where vowels should be or cloak it with the none-too-subtle ‘tight stinging hole’.

But for some that’s just not enough and you can always trust the British to take it one step further. Beneath our facade of respectability and decency we’re all sick fucks – if the ads are anything to go by. Below are some examples: S&M, Sub/Dom, humiliation, piss & shit, whipping, spanking, rubber fetishists, TV’s and everything else. If you can’t find it here babe they ain’t doing it.

Meanwhile the Yanks are having none of this nonsense. All they are interested in is the penetration of orifices and discharge of semen. And yet they’ve managed to make their adverts for this limited repertoire into what is almost an art form. Pick up a copy of Cheri or High Society, turn to the back pages and marvel at the artistry and ingenuity on display. A dazzling rainbow of colours and truly inventive use of graphics. I’m lost in admiration for the guys who do these – I want their jobs. How could you go wrong working on subjects like:


Now when I look at the phone sex industry today I can’t see it developing any further and it may eventually be knocked out of action by developments on the Internet. If you can get it cheaper than Intl. Call Rates with some ‘visual accompaniment’ than who’s going to pay £1.04 per minute for something less? We’ll have to see how things develop. At present there’s a burgeon-ing UK market in ‘Chat-line’ services where you can talk to ‘real live girls’. These have been growing steadily since the death of 0898 and are nothing but pure trace rip off. Unless of course you do want to swap inane chit-chat with an overly bubbly girl. Ads for these lines appear in ‘Loaded’ and other men’s publications – cashing in on the guys who haven’t got the neck to buy a proper skin mag where you get the real deal. There’s also lines that pretend to take a ‘medical’ slant where real girls give ‘frank interviews’ about sex. ‘Jill, 24, talks about masturbation’ etc. In a way you’ve got to admire the way they try to get round the restrictions but you really are pissing about with these and doing nothing but frustrating yourself further.

Most women are appalled and disgusted by the very existence of phone sex lines. The men who use them are considered sad pathet-ic bastards. I personally feel that if there wasn’t a ‘need’ for them they wouldn’t exist. Nature demands that men empty their bollocks on a fairly regular basis. If they don’t they tend to get a bit ratty. So why not phone sex? It’s certainly safe sex. as opposed to the risks prostitutes and their johns expose themselves to. A hundred years ago the North American loggers, out in the woods for months on end with nothing but other guys around, would grease up knotholes in trees and mount up. A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.

In closing I’d just like to say that I’ve listened in on all sorts of lines and I’d be a liar and possibly not a heterosexual if I said they never stirred the blood. And as I’ve always approached it from an analytical and ‘clinical’ state of mind I’ve never felt like some ‘sad old pervert’. The only time that rush of guilt and shame ever washed over me was listening to a UK service. The line title was fairly innocuous – ‘Bitch wants it deep’ perhaps? But it was immediately apparent that I was listening to what sounded like two girls of about 14 years of age in a phone booth talking about cock sucking. They were putting on fake ‘sexy’ voices and breaking into giggles while the sound of traffic could clearly be heard behind them. The longer they went on the more surreal the whole experience became – particularly as one girl talked like the dream dwarf from the last episode of Twin Peaks. I slammed down the receiver and vowed ‘never again’ but it didn’t take long for me to get curious as to what’s going on ‘out there’. Because I know in my heart that just when you think you’ve heard it all…

Rik Rawling

Porn to be Wild

Somehow, describing Roni Raye as an amateur porn star doesn’t seem appropriate. Perhaps ‘independent’ is closer to the truth, as she has become a veritable cottage industry of adult entertainment, doing everything from phone sex to videos to custom letters to used underwear, plus appearances in Velvet, Cheri and Hustler, all on her own terms and with no ‘exploitation’ apparent. Recently, she recruited sister Tamara into the fold — next stop, the world!?

Tell me a little bit about your background — was there anything in your upbringing to suggest you’d become a glamour model?

My father was in the military, so we moved around a lot – we were basically raised on army bases. My high-school years, we lived in a town of 45,000: there was enough going on, we kept ourselves busy. I was raised in a big family, five girls, one boy, therefore I was constantly fighting for attention, and modelling filled that need. I loved being able to show off and getting all the attention, it’s the perfect way for me to get it out of my system! I did some regular modelling with a photographer in the town I was living, put together a portfolio, and had talked to an agency, but nothing had actually progressed with it. He started the idea with me, about doing the posing, and I thought, “Well, I don’t know if I could do that or not”,  so I did some with my husband first, and then went to another town and did some with a lady photographer. After I had become comfortable with it, I went back to him and did some nude stuff with him. I didn’t think I’d like it at first, but when the pictures came back I learned that you can do a lot with photography! Not like on video: the video-camera doesn’t lie. That’s one good thing about amateur — I think I was probably a little bit insecure, because I had all these expectations of what people might think I should look like. Amateur is so different from ‘Playboy’. Guys would much rather speak to somebody like myself who is not ‘perfect’, because I’m more approachable.

When did you first become interested in adult entertainment, and what made you want to get involved?

I lost some weight and thought it would be fun to pose nude in a magazine, so I posed for pics and sent them in, and here we are! After I did that, I thought it would be fun to do some home made amateur vids. I loved it, the feeling of all those men watching me, it really gets me turned on, even to this day. I love that so much, it really is the best part.I do the phone calls from home, right in my bed, and I do have a lover every now and then and we do live sex calls on the phone – whether it’s a blow job or me really being fucked, it’s great!!

How do people react when you tell them what you do? What do your family think? How did your sister get started?

Those that I do tell — very few — think that I don’t look the part and are surprised. It’s not like “Hi, I’m Roni Raye and I do porn movies”. I am a real down to earth person, I do normal things like everyone else, I put my pants on one leg at a time just like everyone else. My family thinks that as long as I’m happy, it’s ok. My sister wanted to earn some extra money and likes showing off as much as I do, and started doing phone sex, then tried doing a vid or two and really enjoyed herself. My family doesn’t know that she’s done vids or the phone lines.

Though you did lose your job in a dentist’s, as a result of your first appearance in  a magazine.

I was the only full-time dental assistant in the office and we had just hired a girl to fill in. There was a mutual friend — a bit of a trouble-maker — when I told him I had posed in the magazine, he went and got a copy and thought it would be funny to show it to the boss’s wife, because he didn’t much like her and wanted to make her jealous. When she found out, she wasn’t too happy about me working with her husband. She said, “We don’t have enough hours to support you”, and the part-time girl got my job. That’s when everything started going full-force with me in the business. I’d started doing the posing because I was kinda burned-out with my job. I didn’t want to quit, but thought if I did something else on the side, it would make it a little bit more exciting.

How much control do you exercise over your output? Do you get to choose the specific pictures, etc?

The only actual layout that I’ve posed for somebody else, was the one in ‘Velvet’, where I went to New York. All the other ones, basically I’ve just sent my pictures in, and won different contests. During this whole business, I’ve been in control of everything. It’s full time, because I’m constantly filling orders from the catalogue, and I have a phone sex line, and I set my own hours on that, but it’s how I want to set everything up. I don’t have to go and pose for all these different men, or do talk shows. Since it’s me up there, I have total control over when and how much of me they get to see. If not, then it wouldn’t be me would it? I am the product of their fantasies — and judging by the response to what I’ve done, I can’t imagine how many wet dreams I’ve been part of! I have 3 PO boxes just to keep up with the mail I get, sometimes over 100 pieces a week. I get letters from all over the world and I’ve been featured in many magazines.

Born: July 3, 1967 – Elkhart, Indiana.
Stats: 5’11”, 150 lbs, 38D-26-36.
Hair: Brunette (originally a blonde!).
Eyes: Brown.
Turn-ons: Long, slow sensual massages, oral sex, role-playing, being dominant,  hugs and kisses! Lots of attention!
Turn-offs: Close-minded hypocrites who try to force their beliefs on you, egotistical males.
Favourite Movies: Rainman, Terms Of Endearment, any comedy.
Favourite Tunes: Anything alternative, any dance tunes.
Age When I “Lost” My Virginity: Age 16 (and I haven’t gone looking for it since!).
Favourite Sex Position: Doggy-style.
Favourite Sexual Act: Giving blow jobs and finishing it to completion by swallowing every drop.
What One Word Best Describes You: Exhibitionist – I love to show off, and to have sex in a public place.
Favorite Clothes: Sexy, provocative, lingerie such as garterbelt with stockings, teddies, matching bra and panty sets.
Hobbies: Lifting Weights, Aerobics, Dancing, Writing and Traveling.

Do you see what you do as business, pleasure, public service or what?

All of the above, a little bit of everything combined. Doing the vids has nothing to do with profit, and selling them has nothing to do with sex — unless you’re being fucked out of some money! And I do like pleasing men, so there’s the public service part.

What part of work do you enjoy most?

Number one, I enjoy the phone calls. I get to talk to so many different guys, in so many different lifestyles, and they don’t always talk to me about sex, they talk to me about their families and their life, and their problems. Things that they need a second opinion about, that they can’t talk to their friends or wives about. I’m kind of a sounding board, this phone friend — a little bit mysterious because they’ve never met me — but that’s my favourite part. The second part, I enjoy any writing that I do, immensely, I’ve started writing columns for different publications and eventually, I’d like to write some short stories and books. But I like the photos and videos as well, especially when I get feedback; “this turns me on”, “I like this”, that makes it all worthwhile.

On your phone line, do you get many repeat callers?

I got a lot of regular callers, some guys call me eight times a night! Very few call once and then never call again. I have a clientele, basically. It’s just like they’re talking to a doctor about therapy; I hear all kinds of stories!

What’s the weirdest request you’ve ever had?

When I first started this, everything to me was, like, “Whoa!” because I’d never heard of it before — I was raised in a strict Baptist family, we went to church twice a week, so when I first started to hear guys wanting pictures of me going to the bathroom… Or I have this one particular customer that likes me to fart, on audio-cassette, and now he wants me to do it on video. I have one guy that has a fetish for women who are missing toes, he sends me money and has me tape my big toe back and take pictures of it. A lot of them on the phone lines have their different fantasies. some of them like the little cheerleader, or nurse. There are some that are kind of risqué: I’ve had guys call me and talk about wanting to rape little girls. And I’m like “I don’t want you to do this in real life”. Should you analyse this? I’m not a doctor, but if I think somebody is a little bit bizarre, I’m going to tell them, “call someone else, you sicko”!

In some ways, you could say it’s better for them to get it out over a phone line than to go out and do it, but are they getting rid of the feeling or are you just building it up?

And I’m the one that has to draw the line there. I have guys that have specific fantasies about younger girls, which they would never go out and do, and they always specify that. I feel in my heart that it’s just a fantasy, it’s nothing they’d ever do, but they get turned on by it. I can handle doing a call with someone like that. One never can tell, but I imagine I have a little bit of experience under my belt, I’ve done it for three years, so I think by talking to someone for a while, you can get a feel for what kind of person they are.

What do you say to people who claim pornography is a bad thing, or is degrading to women?

That’s usually said by men who don’t get enough at home from their wives, or women who are anal retentive, or by your local congressman! Anyway, I look at it this way: I’m not forcing any one to watch my vids, so don’t bother me. I mean, there are a lot worse things going on in this world than sex vids, don’t you think?

You’re planning to retire and write a book – have you a fixed time scale for that?

I always say this; I’m probably going to do the phone lines till I die. There’s gonna be a certain point in life where my body doesn’t hold up — photos and videos aren’t going to go on forever. I’m going to take time out to have children, but as far as the phone lines do, I can’t see why I can’t go on doing that forever. I really don’t want to write a book right away because I feel I should get a couple of years more experience under my belt before I go and try to be an expert on anything. It would probably be ‘fiction-based-on-true-stories’, because I know a lot of people won’t want their names mentioned. Every day is a new chapter! Just the letters that I have, that guys write to me, would be a book in themselves. We’re all to a certain extent voyeurs. If people could read through a book of these letters, they would just be amazed.

How would you like to be remembered? What epitaph would you like to see carved onto the Roni Raye monument?

I came…we fucked…and you came first! Really? That I’m an honest Midwest girl, who had some fun while she was here — and left no dick dry before it’s time!

For more information on the wonderful world of Roni, send $10 for her illustrated catalogue to:
Roni Raye,
P.O. BOX 502210,
Indianapolis, IN 46250,

[The editors of this magazine accept absolutely no resposibility for any resulting hassle from HM Customs, which is strictly, absolutely and completely your own problem! Though I guess you should probably be okay if all you’ve done is send off for some of Roni’s underwear. But with these Customs geezers, who can say? Anyway, you’re on your own…]

2021 update. Roni is still going strong, more than twenty years after the above was written, in an industry notorious for chewing up and spitting out its participants. She’s now in the MILF business. 🙂


1-900-RONIRoni Raye Productions93s
Balcony BlissRoni Raye Productions95s
Bedroom Window 51Homegrown Video93q [1]
Bush League Volume 20Pearl Necklace Video93f
Bush League Volume 22Pearl Necklace Video93f [1]
Bush League Volume 23Pearl Necklace Video93f [1]
Cousin Bubba’s Country Corn PornVisual Images93q
Gorilla-GramVideo Alternatives93f [2]
Homegrown Video Volume 402Homegrown Video93q [1]
Honeymoon HottubRoni Raye Productions95s
Images Of RoniRoni Raye Productions95s
Looking At YouVideo Alternatives93f
Mistress Roni ReignsRoni Raye Productions95s
Nurse Roni: Nasty Fuckin MoviesRumpus Video93s [1]
Oral Cum FunRoni Raye Productions94s
Peek-A-BooRoni Raye Productions93s
Roni and Private PartsLBO Entertainment..q [1]
Roni and the Peeping TomSVE93s
Roni At Play: Up the SkirtRoni Raye Productions93s
Roni Blind DateRumpus Video93s
Roni CooksSamuel’s Company93s
Roni Does It GoodSamuel’s Company93s
Roni FlashesRoni Raye Productions93s
Roni Gets WetRoni Raye Productions94s
Roni’s Treasure HuntRoni Raye Productions93s
Slippery Sex 1Roni Raye Productions94s
Slippery Sex 2Roni Raye Productions94s
Voodoo DollVideo Alternatives93f

Key: s-Starring role, f-Featured (more than 1 scene but didn’t star) q-Quickie: compilation in which she appears in one scene, [1]-Pictured on the Box [2]-Nominated for award

VelvetMay 1993P
GalleryJul 1993P
Amateuir HoursAug 1993P
CheriSep 1993P
Hustler’s Busty BeautiesDec 1993P
Amateur Adult VideosMay 1994P
Naughty AmateursJul 1994P
Adams Amateur Pornv1#4 1994P
Adult Video News Directory1994
Amateur HoursJan 1995P
Rocky Mountain Oyster #958Mar 1995I page 5
Amateur HoursJul 1995P
Homefront, Thev1#4IC

Key: A – Article, B – Back Cover, C – Cover, F – Centerfold, I – Interview, P – Pictorial, R – Movie Review

(Un)Dressed to Kill 2

Our esteemed editor’s article last TC performed a valuable service in praising the merits of Brown’s, a pub which holds a special, warm, slightly moist place in my heart. But it only scratched the surface, both in terms of venues and philosophy: this sequel attempts to expand further on the topic which, after all, is one of almost unlimited interest.

Firstly, venues. While I can’t argue that Brown’s is to London strip-pubs what the San Siro is to football, there are other places which offer similar entertainment and are not quite so well known. For my first example, take the Lord Nelson. Situated down a side road just north of Old Street, from the outside it looks absolutely normal; the first time we visited it, my friends insisted I go in alone and check whether we had the right place! We did, and it has now become a regular stop on the circuit, thanks mostly to the relaxed and laid-back atmosphere. While Brown’s is very new and modern, with a lot of chrome and glass, in the Lord Nelson the pub grub is limited to dodgy-looking rolls and positively lethal pork pies, the toilets resemble a swamp, and the bar staff are surly and uncommunicative. In other words, it’s a traditional British pub, and as such, can only be loved. The most novel feature is a “wall of business cards”, which shows that the place is a favourite of people from companies as diverse as Harrods’, the Bank of England and Italian ‘Vogue’.

The stage is low, perhaps knee height, with mirrored backdrops and a few chairs for favoured punters. On the plus side, there are none of the topless-only “dance” routines, every act delivers the full bacon sandwich. On the other hand, they are spaced further apart, which can make it slightly tedious, but this depends on the company you keep, just as in any pub! At least some of the girls also appear at Brown’s, and generally they’re entirely acceptable, with one or two stunners randomly present (Anastasia will ensure that Pulp’s ‘Common People’ never sounds quite the same again).  It’s usually a lot less crowded  than the Big  B. On occasion the audience has been single figures, and that was before we left. You tend to find one girl on early evening, with two alternating from about 8:30.  For some reason or other, this place appears to be mostly staffed by Brazilian girls. Not that I’m complaining, as they are utterly wonderful, but the question does arise; if these are the ones that are deemed worthy of exporti, what are the ones they keep in Brazil like?

Continuing our descent down the quality scale, we come to the Flying Scotsman, which is conveniently located two minutes walk from King’s Cross — though maybe the best way to describe its location to TC readers is to reveal that it’s virtually opposite the legendary Scala!

This place is the McDonald’s of stripping: fast, cheap, and with the quality you’d expect at the price (I mean, have you tried those 49p hamburgers? Does anyone know what they taste of? It certainly isn’t ham — or indeed any animal native to this planet). Perfect for a half-an-hour visit while waiting for your train home, but not the sort of place you’d want to spend an entire evening. It would in any case be damn expensive — not because this is a clip joint, but just down to the sheer pace of the action. At the Nelson, it’s maybe one girl in 15-20 minutes. In the Flying Scotsman, you’ll see four or more in that time, which of course means the same number of pint jugs circulating, though 50p is acceptable here when it would get you a Hard Stare at Brown’s (and not a hard anything else). You leave, feeling like a horse that’s just been lowered into the Amazon.

These little piranhas obviously rate a little lower on the lust scale: you won’t find many supermodels in this venue, but if you like the slightly sleazy type — tattoos and piercing are common — you’ll have no complaints. With its sawdust on the floor, and generally questionable location, it’s not for the faint-hearted (while I may have criticised the Nelson for its toilets, the ones in the Scotsman simply defy description — I’m sure they inspired ‘Trainspotting’), but the clientele is varied enough: dodgy blokes with mobile phones and half of South Africa’s annual gold output round their neck, mix with suited commuters. Amazing what a common interest will do, though for the former group of customers, it’s more likely a financial interest in the girls than an aesthetic one!

And then there’s the Nag’s Head, at Aldgate East — coincidentally, near KVJ Fairdeal, probably the cheapest place in Britain to buy video tapes. Not technically as sordid as the Flying Scotsman, it could probably stand accused of “moral turpitude”, since the audience there consists almost solely of  people pretending to read newspapers. Between acts, with none of the buzz of conversation you find in a normal pub — or even in the ones reviewed previously — the atmosphere is that of a public library. Gentlemen sit at rows of tables, studiously ignoring each other, pretending to be there for a quiet pint, nothing to do with the imminent spreadeagled pussy, good heavens, no. The stage is hardly six foot square, and the girls deserve better, as they have included some of the best seen. However, the morgue-like atmosphere means this is only really interesting as an example of how sad things can get. It does have a place in my heart, as it was the first I ever found, but after discovering Brown’s, you, like I, will probably be less keen to return. Not even a ‘News of the World’ expose could save this place….

There are probably some of you out there wondering, “Yeah, but is anything more available at these places?”.

Can’t say I’ve ever been offered anything myself, but if you believe the News of the World (which I’m sure you all do), then in 1992 at the Nag’s Head (see overleaf), the pub menu didn’t stop at dry roasted peanuts…

“In an upstairs room of a seedy backstreet pub, leering punters queue up for Britain’s most depraved bar room ‘entertainment’ …Male customers lie in rows on the beer-stained carpet as four strippers perform disgusting sex acts on them [They mean ‘hand relief’, in case you wanted to know] …Some have saved their dole momey for the monthly show – two even walked from a Salvation army centre a mile away for the afternoon of wicked welfare…A Salvation Army spokesman said ‘People using our hostels are allowed to come & go as they please’.”

The piece was about a ‘private party’ — albeit one where anyone (even a NotW reporter!) could buy a ticket for £12.50.

Unquestionably such events do offer a significant bit more, as anyone who’s ever been to a stag party will corroborate! Also somewhere out in the realms of darker dubiety, beyond the pubs, there are uncorroborated rumours of ‘members-only’ places, where performances also go further than those establishments which are open to the public.

Hunting these down is roughly comparable to trying to join the Mafia. Membership is open only if you know the right people, and know enough about the ‘regular’ places to prove you’re not a cop (or, indeed, a reporter…). This behaviour, without doubt understandable, just makes them more intriguing. As a quest for next time, I’ll be working on getting into one such group, and have got to the ‘friend knows someone who might be involved’ level. If I have any success, I’ll let you know. There’ll be none of this “made our excuses and left” nonsense here!

Right at the other end of the spectrum is Metropolis, at the opposite end of Hackney Road to Brown’s. This place seems to have been custom built as an exotic dancing venue. with a circular, central stage upon which there are two vertical poles for feats of gymnastic excellence. There’s a little roped-off area where the dancers relax between sets, and video monitors scattered around which show soft-porn at these times. They switch to showing the dancers themselves when they’re performing, which is very convenient, as the odds favour a basketball player standing in front of you.

Or maybe it just seems that way, the ‘seeing’ is perhaps the worst in all of these places, thanks to the low stage, the flashing disco lights, and the gushes of dry ice sprayed in at intervals, all of which combine to make a pair of sniper’s night-sight goggles almost an essential. Personally, I find there to be something far sleazier about staring down at a girl with no clothes on, rather than gazing up at her. There’s perhaps a psychological reason for this, some kind of pedestal effect, but it is part of the reason why I don’t rate Metropolis as highly as many of my colleagues; it’s just a bit too artificial, glossy and superficial. However, I certainly can’t argue that the girls are of uniformly good quality.

Enough of the travelogue — a few thoughts on the logistics of these places. They all seem to operate almost entirely by word of mouth. Metropolis is the only one I’ve seen advertised anywhere, in ‘What’s On in London’, and many don’t even seem to be in the phone book, a discretion which may be related to licensing laws. Brown’s now has a little gilded sign claiming to be London’s #1 strip pub, a title which I can’t dispute, the Flying Scotsman has a hand lettered sheet in a window saying “Exotic Dancers 1-11pm”, and the Griffon (a rather disappointing Brown’s offshoot near Chancery Lane) has a notice warning people about the strippers, asking them not to enter if they’ll be offended. Chance would be a fine thing, but it’s a nice example of negative advertising, as if Tennant’s Super Strength had the slogan “Don’t drink this unless you want to get pissed”. The Lord Nelson is even more subdued, and positioned down a side-street, isn’t the sort of place you’d stumble across accidentally. Still, it seems to survive.

The girls appear to operate on circuits: you may see the same babe in the Lord Nelson and Browns, or the Nag’s Head and the Flying Scotsman, but there seems to be limited overlap. Maybe there’s promotion and relegation instead, with the best from Circuit B getting promoted to Circuit A. The turnover can be quite high, any outing is likely to spot at least one newcomer, though you will find yourself recognising, ah, faces if you return on any basis. And babes such as Jennifer are difficult to forget — not that you’d want to, anyway. My personal bête noire is Rebecca, whom at one point I was fated to see on  every strip-pub­crawl I attended. She’s not bad, but after seeing her do the same moves thirty, forty or fifty times, I get the feeling I know her better than her gynaecologist.

Another intriguing factor is the occasional presence of women in the audience, albeit inevitably accompanied by men. I personally find it a slightly disturbing exercise, possibly because while the woman on stage is acting as the focus for a great deal of lust, there is inevitably some seepage. Witness the tube journey home, when thoughts drift onto what that pretty girl opposite would look like up on stage. It also restricts the candid expression of opinion somewhat, but perhaps most importantly, the presence of “normal” woman hinders the suspension of disbelief, by reminding you that (sadly?), it’s still a world where not every girl is a sex-kitten. Reality is something best kept as far away as possible from strip-clubs.

  • Flying Scotsman – Caledonian Road (King’s Cross)
  • Lord Nelson – 17 Mora Street, City Road (Old Street)
  • Metropolis – 234 Cambridge Heath Rd. (Beth. Green)
  • Nag’s Head – 17/19 Whitechapel Road (Aldgate East)

In defence of ‘Showgirls’

It’s been a while since a movie has run into such a wave of consistently poor reviews as ‘Showgirls’. These things tend to be self-­perpetuating. One bad critique leads to another, and after half a dozen turn up, it’d take someone very brave — or very stupid -­- to put their head above the parapet and write something like:

‘Showgirls’ isn’t actually that bad.

There, I’ve said it. Governments have not collapsed. The Earth still rotates around the sun. And Paul Verhoeven has probably just fallen off his wife in surprise.

The problem is, a lot of reviewers seem to have totally missed the film’s point. To illustrate this, let’s take one specific review, from ’Time Out’, in which the appropriately-named Wally Hammond goes off at the deep end, starting on the wrong foot by describing it as a “sexploitation movie“. Nope. Exploitation, yes, but it can hardly be about bonking, when there is precisely one sex scene in the whole 135 minutes. Nipples abound, for sure, but it’s all incredibly casual nudity, clearly not even trying to be erotic. Now, I can understand people being peeved about this, given advertising which promised an awful lot more than the film delivered, but ‘Showgirls’ simply didn’t deserve to be an NC-17 film, banned in Ireland, and cut in Britain, I think the French got it about right: uncut, and with a ’12’ rating.

For this is unquestionably a moral tale, illustrated by the fate of the heroine’s friend Molly, who spends the whole movie gagging to meet a rock star. When she does, she is gang-raped by him and his entourage. That’s a miniature version of Nomi’s rise and fall: sometimes, when you get what you want, the price is just too high. It’s all about power, not sex.

Wally’s next complaint is that the film is “completely free of sympathetic characters“. I guess he hasn’t been paying attention to Verhoeven’s career, or he’d have realised that the director of ‘Basic Instinct’, ‘Flesh + Blood’ and ‘The Fourth Man’ doesn’t exactly tend towards standard, rubber-stamped heroics beloved in Hollywood. Even in ‘Robocop’ and ‘Total Recall’, he warped things significantly from the norm. If you want a sugar-coated, fluffy-pink view of America, do not watch a Paul Verhoeven film. Hammond indeed appears not to have watched this one, judging by his inability to tell the difference between “hot-pants” and “jeans”. That kind of dumb error does lend credence to any suggestion that some reviewers wrote their pieces before, or even instead of, seeing the movie!

Sure, ‘Showgirls’ is tacky and sleazy — with some of the most startlingly vapid dialogue I’ve ever heard. But it’s about Las Vegas, f’heaven’s sake, possibly the leading place in our Solar System as far as tack, sleaze and vapidity goes. Whaddya you expect, Noel Coward? That even discounts the irony obviously present behind comments like “if you want to last longer than a week, you give me a blowjob”, which went well over the heads of many writers. Bearing this in mind, there was hardly a false note in the movie. Every incident on its own was eminently plausible, all ‘Showgirls’ does is condense them in time & space, standard TV soap technique.

Wally bemoans: “the ample opportunities for camp excess are stringently avoided“. But if he’d take the whole movie as an exercise in serious, rather than camp, excess — after all, Verhoeven is probably the least “camp” director in Hollywood — he would probably have had a far better time. Note that I mean serious, and not serious. Taken on that level, it’s two hours of solidly melodramatic entertainment, like a Busby Berkeley musical with tits. With MGM one of the co-producers, Verhoeven is undoubtedly aware of the historical precedents.

Certainly,  Eszterhas’s script is not worth the alleged $3m+ fee, being little more than a tarted up Harold Robbins novel. And while we’re complaining, it’s at least half an hour and two minor characters too long, the Princ…er, Mr.Symbol songs grate horribly, and I don’t know where the $40m budget went. But the director plays with the audience more than it seems at first sight; even in something as carnal as the lap-dance sequence, there are interesting questions raised about precisely who’s screwing who. I do think history will be kind to it, and it will be better remembered than, say,  Oscar-nominated movies about talking livestock. Already, it’s done a lot better on video than at the cinema, which isn’t too surprising since it’s hardly a date movie, is it?

Here’s one final quote, from ‘What’s On in London’:

An impressive, wide-ranging cast in what is, at twisted heart, a decadent morality…not one of the characters commands our sympathy or affection …Betrayal, double-dealing, alarms and skirmishes follow each other in florid succession against suitably impressive – yet crumbling backgrounds.”

Oh, this didn’t relate to ‘Showgirls’, but to ‘Flesh and Blood’, Verhoeven’s 1985 period piece. Despite being set several hundred years and the odd continent apart, the two movies seem to have generated similar critical reaction, and met with equal financial failure, ‘Flesh and Blood’ being described as “Too politically incorrect and morally dark for the American market“. And there are distinct parallels with ‘Keetje Tippel’, another decade further back, in which Paul Verhoeven previously told the story of a young girl trying to make her fortune in the city (see TC16/17). Although in that movie, the heroine never looks back once she sets out on her career path, it is definitely a pointer towards ‘Showgirls’.

One note for optimism is that he bounced back after ‘Flesh and Blood’ with ‘Robocop’. It’ll be interesting to see what he makes of ‘Starship Troopers’, the Heinlein adaptation which is his next project. It’d certainly be a shame if one of the few true maverick directors in Hollywood was driven out because of misconceived and ill-considered reviews.