Sunday, May 04, 2014

Adventures with Black Emanuelle!

I'm not sure what's come over me but I'm beginning to actually like the Emanuelle films. Don't get me wrong - I've not suddenly found hidden depths of meaning or unplumbed pockets of brilliance in these rambling T & A movies - but I have somehow found a frame of mind in which I understand their appeal much more than when I saw them as pointless excuses for nudity and soft-core groping. This change of heart happened while watching 'Emanuelle in Bangkok'. Usually I would have been frustrated by the lack of any real story or forward momentum but instead I found myself caught up in the pure sensual pleasure of looking at beautiful women and beautiful places. I felt at ease; maybe even comforted by the pace of the film with its essential lack of story and almost complete absence of conflict. It soothed me... Nay, it washed over me like warm soapy water dripping from a naked oriental massage girl. But I've gotten ahead of myself.

A few years back Severin released a series of boxed sets of the "Black Emanuelle" films and I have worked my way through them. Produced in the 1970s and '80s, they were a huge international hit quite apart from the Emmanuelle (spelled with two M's) films they were imitating and they now have a much more vocal fan base in the 21st century. Whether by accident or design the three movies I'll talk about here show Laura Gemser's Emanuelle move from lustful sex kitten to crusading journalist to penitent daughter of Christ. It's a long strange trip but I definitely enjoyed it.

The onscreen credits give the title of the first film in the set as 'Black Emanuelle En Orient' but the more common name is Emanuelle in Bangkok. The credits both at the beginning and end of the film are clearly taken from a much inferior French language print and these sequences look awful. Happily the majority of the picture looks infinitely better. The movie begins with American photojournalist Emanuelle (Laura Gemser) in Thailand visiting her archeologist lover Robert (Gabriele Tinti, Gemser's real-life spouse). He's there to participate in a dig upcountry while Emanuelle is going to Bangkok to try to interview the king. Roberto obviously wants the beautiful lady all to himself but she's not ready to settle down. Indeed 'settle down' is a phrase I'm not sure she would even understand as 'E' is easily one of the least inhibited women in history, with one eye on the lookout for new sexual experiences at all times.

So off she goes, bouncing from one encounter to another as she's shown around the country by royal cousin Prince Sanit (Ivan Rassimov) while waiting for a chance to meet the monarch. She dallies with a young hotel employee and is sent to a special massage parlor by the prince, where she's given a full body bath by cute little Gee (Koike Mahoce). Gee shows her new friend around some of the less prosperous areas of the city; then Roberto shows back up in the company of a rich American tourist couple. The prince joins this odd group for a night on the town, the highlight of which has to be the stripper that insets ping pong balls into a very personal, private place. I never thought I'd see that, let me tell you!

After a group opium smoking session at the prince's house an impromptu orgy breaks out that sees the American couple decide that maybe they weren't made for each other. And as both of them end up sleeping with Emanuelle, maybe this reporter has a vocation as marriage counselor in her future. Up until now the film has been a plotless but gorgeous travelogue of Thailand, interspersed with nudity... Then suddenly the prince disappears because of an attempted coup and Emanuelle is gang raped by a bunch of thugs! As shocking a turn of events as this is its nothing compared to how she then befriends the rapists, who send her on her way with the warning to get out of the country for her own safety. I guess E is just so damned good in the sack that no one can have her and dislike her. Bizarre. Since her passport and camera have been stolen she has more sex to procure a way out of Thailand and heads to Casablanca with the American wife to link back up with Roberto. Of course, there is sex on the plane with the newly liberated wife. Man! If life was only like this! Once in Morocco Emanuelle meets the cute young daughter of the American ambassador, befriending her and impressing her father. While waiting for the ambassador to get her a new passport E ventures out into the desert to find Roberto and his new English fiancée. Within a few hours all three are on very friendly terms and the two girls have even gone off on their on to play with some nice Arab gentlemen. There is no situation you can't screw your way out of, huh? The film concludes with Emanuelle having a touching lesbian romance with the ambassador's daughter that ends when a new assignment comes in from her newspaper editor. The girls part sadly at the airport as the credits roll. 

Now I would never claim Emanuelle in Bangkok is a great film but I did enjoy it. Devoid of plot, characterization, logic or even conflict (except for the out-of-place rape scene) it is less a film than a tone poem about nothing more than enjoying the exotic and erotic sights it scrolls before you. It's soothing and arousing in almost equal measure and just might be perfect for an evening's viewing with that special someone. This is what sex films can be when they strike the right notes.

But as I advanced to the next film in the set, Emanuelle Around the World (onscreen title Le Vice Dans La Peau), I find that director Joe D'Amato (real name Aristide Massaccesi) opted for something different this time out. He decided to have not only conflict, but a story! Not necessarily a bad idea, but a funny thing happened on the way to a plot. While Emanuelle in Bangkok was fun in a silly way, by injecting a serious tale of white slavery into Emanuelle's world the tone goes from silly to stupid. While EIB was ham-handed in its construction and character motivations (when there were any), it didn't matter so much as we weren't being asked to take things seriously at all. But in EATW we are confronted with all kinds of sexual cruelty that repeatedly destroys the occasional eroticism. At best we are placed in the arena of the drooling voyeur crudely trying to see where that banana is going to be shoved. It’s a film at least as technically accomplished as EIB but it is just not enjoyable in the same fashion.

The film starts with Emanuelle arriving in San Francisco after having spent a few months out of touch with the world living on a desert island. D'Amato uses the first few post credit scenes to get across a coming change in tone with E telling a friend, "I was looking for happiness but I got lost." It's almost as if both director and star are symbolically throwing away Emanuelle's old values of 'looking for love' anywhere and everywhere to do something positive for society. Of course the subject they tackle is white slavery. Big shock that it would be something that involved naked women, huh? In Frisco Emanuelle talks with her colleague Cora Norman (Karen Schubert) a crusading reporter famous for crime exposés. A letter from her New York editor begs Emanuelle to come back to work, so she flies there in the company of a new acquaintance, Dr. Malcolm Robertson (Ivan Rassimov, returning to the series). Robertson works at the United Nations on third world policy focusing on hunger relief. Emanuelle tells him how she’s never wanted to be a serious reporter and likes the fame her sexy photographs bring. In keeping with her past adventures the newspaper sends her to India to interview a new guru. The fellow (played by George Eastman looking like a sexy Jesus!) has a 'School of the Kama Sutra', teaches tantric sex and turns out to be a pretty crappy lover. He does stage an interesting "orgasm-free" orgy, though.

After this sad encounter our feisty girl reporter decides she wants to do something important with her life and selects violence against women as her target. She travels to Rome, meets up with Cara who is already working on a white slavery story and in short order has gotten herself kidnapped by bad guys. It's as easy as looking for a white Rolls Royce! The abduction turns nasty with an unnamed scar-faced scumbag raping a young girl before we jump cut to the next day. We're told the cops arrived, the bad guys have been arrested and everything is wonderful again in Rome - I'm not kidding. The movie completely skips from scumbags raping girls to "Aren't we lucky Emanuelle had that guy follow us when we were kidnapped." It ignores the chance for suspense, tension or anything approximating excitement just to get on with things. I guess this is just not that kind of movie. Instead we're treated to Cora getting raped by more white slavers as a lesson to her not to interfere. Or something like that. I wasn't really clear why she got raped other than it just seemed like ALL the female characters in this film get raped.

Clearly emboldened by their success (and forgetting the rape, I suppose) the two reporters follow another lead to Hong Kong, where they dig into the Oriental white slavery market. Here we witness more rape and some forced bestiality with a German Shepard before we learn that an Arab emir is the true beneficiary of the slave trade. He turns out to not be too bad a guy; in exchange for sex with both Emanuelle and Cora he ends the white slavery ring operating out of Macau! Is there nothing that woman's moist nether regions can't accomplish? After this triumph Emanuelle gets a lead on a crooked politician in Washington so it's off to D.C. for another bout of rape courtesy of a group of bums enticed by a naked girl forced to dance before them. Once again we jump to the next day, with the cops having arrived to fix everything and Emanuelle getting out of the situation with little more than another rape or two. At this point the film has passed the 90 minute mark so our intrepid do-gooder sails off into the distance with Dr. Robertson for a vacation. The End. 

After the casual sexual shenanigans of Emanuelle in Bangkok this one was a bit of a shock. The same playful tone is present at first, but with the shift to pursuing criminals it takes on a nasty feel that no amount of poorly written moralizing can purge. By the fourth or fifth rape I began to feel like I was being asked to witness evidence in a sex crime trial. Where's the fun? Where's the joy? Ah, Black Emanuelle — where is the graceful abandon of consensual lust?

So following her conversion to conscience-driven reporter it's a little easier to accept the major change the divine Ms. E makes in Sister Emanuelle. Having become disillusioned by her hedonistic lifestyle, she has entered a convent and become a nun. Trying to put her lustful past behind her, she strives to overcome her sexual desires but this is made much harder when a new student is enrolled in the convent's school. Monica (Mónica Zanchi) is a beautiful young girl forced by her rich father to attend the convent. Showing a healthy appetite for both sexes, Monica tempts Emanuelle even before the girl climbs into her bunk on the train ride to the school. The sister holds her off so she slips out to have sex with the conductor. Nymphomaniacs just want to have fun! Once at the secluded school the new student quickly seduces her prim roommate and then by pure luck finds a fleeing criminal named René (Gabriele Tinti) hiding in the woods nearby. Working her considerable charms on the bankrobbing killer, she sneaks him into the school and hides him in an unused tower. (A girl's got to have some variety in bed.) Contriving to have Sister Emanuelle find the two of them puts René in the position of forcing the nun to keep silent by threatening to kill everyone. Monica then informs Emanuelle that René wants the virginal Anna (Vinja Locatelli) brought to him, prompting the nun to offer herself instead. Monica brings Anna up to watch E and René having sex but the girls are spotted by the mute, guntoting groundskeeper. The resultant mess finally gets the lascivious girl expelled but as Sister Emanuelle drives her to meet her train a new surprise is in store.

The only movie in this set not directed by Joe D'Amato, I really enjoyed this one as it managed to have a story (if slight and ultimately shaggy-doggish) and be quite erotic without the nastiness of EATW. That Emanuelle is not the main lovely engaging in the romps is also a nice change. Mónica Zanchi steps up to the challenges of the central role quite effectively, bringing both a natural beauty and a bed full of enthusiasm to every scene. Of course it wouldn't be a Black Emanuelle film without Ms. Gemser showing off her fine form and eventually making with the horizontal bop, but the change of main feminine scenery was inspired. Having the young nympho be a conniving pain in the ass also added to the interest level, throwing a few curves that I really couldn't see coming. There is very little wasted time in Sister Emanuelle aside from the silly few minutes spent on an older nun's bladder control problem (!); the film's conclusion made me curious about the further adventures of the beautiful Emanuelle. That's something I never expected to say about this series of movies. I should mention that there is one odd moment near the end where there is obviously some footage missing... After Emanuelle strings Monica up in a barn the girl goes from fully clothed to mostly naked with a jump cut that just screams 'trimmed for content'. With all the flesh on display I wonder what might have prompted this edit?

No comments: