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PRIVATE AFTERNOONS OF PAMELA MANN (1975)
DVD (region 0)
d. Radley Metzger (as Henry Paris); pr. L. Sultana; scr. Jake Barnes, Henry Paris; ph. Marcel Hall; m. Robert Rochester; ed. Doris Barrow; cast. Barbara Bourbon, Georgina Spelvin, Sonny Landham, Darby Lloyd Rains, Eric Edwards, Kevin Andre, Jamie Gillis (76 mins)

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FOREWORD: THIS DVD REVIEW IS OF A MODIFIED ADULT RELEASE - CHECK BACK FOR DETAILS OF THE UNCUT ORIGINAL MOVIE

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Pioneering Hardcore Pornography as a Valid Discourse

In the early 1970s, following the high-profile release into mainstream cinemas of such hardcore pornographic works as Deep Throat and Behind the Green Door, adult cinema began to be scrutinized by mainstream critics. 

It was felt that hardcore was a genre which was potentially as valid as any other and should be held critically accountable.  Just as the genre was being legitimized by these works, so too it began to get more ambitious thanks in part to many of the practitioners attracted to it – directors as much concerned with the nature of explicit sex as they were for the possibilities of the medium.  It was the golden age of porn as a genre.  One such practitioner was Henry Paris.  Paris was a pseudonym for mainstream director Radley Metzger, effectively the first ever recognized “name” director to cross over into adult cinema.  Metzger had made a name for himself with high-class sophisticated erotica very European in look and design.  Indeed, Metzger has sensed the visionary potential of such European soft-core erotica and when he bought the rights to and slightly re-edited the controversial film I, a Woman effectively opening up the US market to sophisticated erotica.  He continued to explore this field in his own soft-core works, such as Camille 2000 but the next step for Metzger was to embrace explicit hardcore in The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann followed by the classic The Opening of Misty Beethoven

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Synopsis (contains spoilers)

The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann is a comedy which follows the exploits of the title character and her friends as seen through the perspective of a private eye (a character type that was enormously popular in the early days of porn cinema). 

A homosexual client watches an incriminating film of his partner made by a private detective.  The detective is then hired by a husband who feels that his wife – the title character Pamela Mann (Barbara Bourbon) – is doing something sexual outside the confines of their marriage.  The detective then follows Bourbon around, observing her sexual behavior with an assortment of strangers.  Bourbon has a friend, a prostitute (Georgina Spelvin), with whom she shares a lesbian encounter after Spelvin has confided in her the details of her work day – which included pretending to be seduced into converting an actor pretending to be gay.  Bourbon is approached on a park bench by a man and a woman and led away (the sex scene that would normally follow this, involving veteran Jamie Gillis, has been “self-censored” by the distributors as inappropriate for contemporary audiences).  In a sign of the liberal times, Bourbon and Spelvin smoke a joint.  After her usual park pickups, Bourbon confronts the private eye hired to follow her and the two of them get involved.  The detective then returns to the husband, telling him that he can’t continue – but this may be part of the husband’s plan.

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Henry Paris and the Sexually Explicit Comedy of Manners

Paris’ first hardcore film is a slyly knowing comedy which cleverly invokes social standards concerning sexual mores and gently satirizes sexual behavior.

It is a self-conscious film well aware of the need – imposed upon by the censors of the day – to “justify” all sexually explicit depictions with socially relevant content.  Thus, as a running gag, a young college student asks Bourbon a series of political questions at inopportune moments throughout the movie.  It is as if Paris is merely gently playing with the current conventions of explicitness, balancing in the process emotional honesty, comedic sexuality (an hilarious running gag about a secretary who dons a bib and watches as a mail delivery man jerks off onto her face, afterwards merely commenting “that’s really disgusting” until she eventually succumbs to the impetus to fellate him) and a sly discourse about the playfulness of human inter-relationships.  As so much of the film depicts this sensibility of playfulness, the sex is tender (except for the scene that has been removed from the movie, which reportedly introduced a darker side into the movie) and naturally erotic, Paris concentrating on bodies in pleasure.  What is perhaps most remarkable about this film is its sly script and its ability to combine eroticism and humor into what is a very humanistic celebration of 1970s swinger morality.  It is teasing and playful and contains an uplifting approach to human sexuality.

At the time of its cinema release, The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann was hailed as one of the best porno films ever made. 

Although time may have disproved that somewhat, the film remains a valuable social document of the genre at both its most self-consciously ambitious and simultaneously playful.  In it Henry Paris perfects the use of explicitness as a necessary adjunct to the exploration of human sexual inter-connectedness.  Sex is vital to human conduct and is for Paris something to be celebrated as liberating.  Thus the film’s final revelation of the games played between consenting husband and wife serves effectively to contrast what Paris feels is a liberated playfulness with the kind of paranoia he associates with traditional mores as represented by marriage.  Thus, he knowingly begins the film on the hook that a husband could distrust his wife enough to have her followed (perhaps symbolic of the traditional Patriarchal fear of female sexual liberation as espoused at that time) only to subvert this notion by revealing that it is all a consensual game between a man and a woman who enjoy an open marriage.  This implied contrast between traditional fidelity and liberational promiscuity may date the film but clearly marks it as an embrace of carnality as the means to true emotional fulfillment and personal liberation.  It is in the full celebration of sexual behavior that this film emerges as a joyously optimistic comedy.

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The Naturalism of 16mm Cinematography

The visual transfer in fullscreen is full of artifacts but preserves the seedy naturalism of porn films of the era shot cheaply on 16mm film. 

It has a sense of spontaneity and comedy all too lacking from contemporary glossy porno flicks.  The two running gags – the secretary wearing the bib and the student asking political questions – are handled knowingly and even function as neat punctuation marks in the narrative.  The sex scenes are quick and there is a notable use of slow motion in one ejaculation scene – romanticizing the male orgasm as “art” – as well as effective backlighting of the genital action so that penetration and copulation are shown in near silhouette.  Handheld work features alongside more regimented camera work and there is a concern for the natural look of bodies in sexual congress.  Georgina Spelvin’s scenes are a wonderful reminder of what a natural porn actress she was and the fine lesbian number between Bourbon and Spelvin is truly beautiful, poetic and delicate in its tender and sexy realization by Paris – the tender cunnilingus scene evokes a rare concern for the true affection felt in sexual congress and enhances the sense of the celebration of sexuality found in this film.  There is tremendous variety to the sex scenes and exquisite use is made in the film’s final sequence of montage effects: it is here that Paris reveals his truly cinematic flair for explicit sexuality as art.

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The Self-Conscious Humour of Sex and Sexy Talk

The sound transfer is available in Dolby digital mono only but it is true to the limitations of the era and the initial design of the movie. 

The score is delightfully light and bubbly, well in keeping with the film’s comedic tone.  It is perhaps Europeanized in its free, open blending of diegetic and non-diegetic sound as when the score blends with the whirring of the private detective’s not-so-hidden camera.  The script is always knowing and self-conscious with many references to voyeurism and undeniably playful.  The use of overlapping dialogue in some scenes is effective.  Balancing evocative rock and romantic allusion, the score is quite elaborate and attuned to the balance of humanist comedy and behavioral observation in the movie.  Such ambient effects as traffic noise and a sudden storm work well to ground the film in a naturalistic and open sense of place as does Paris’ use of locations, both interior and exterior.  Both score and dialogue vary from scene to scene and there is an emphasis on minor characterization in supporting roles which is always engaging.  The script also boasts some clever innuendo, typical of its sense of playful knowingness and some of the dialogue attempts to place the film in the context of then contemporary socio-political issues, whilst playfully lampooning this same drive to contextualize sexual behavior accordingly.  The piano accompaniment to the final montage scene is also well sustained.

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Treats for the Devout Pornhound

The DVD release boasts a decent special features package. 

There is a cast information page, a photo gallery and a selection of behind-the-scenes production stills.  Of interest is a nifty hall of fame photo gallery narrated by Jim Holliday which offers shots of and profiles such well-known adult film star luminaries as Ginger Lynn, Ron Jeremy, Marilyn Chambers, John Leslie, Joey Silvera, Peter North, John Holmes, Sharon Mitchell, Tom Byron, Vanessa del Rio and Christy Canyon.  Also featured are the original box art and the original press book.  A “classic comments” section features some commentary by Jim Holliday about the missing Jamie Gillis scene and the film in general, serving as a useful introduction.  Distributor contact and internet details are also featured.  Also found is a commentary track by veteran actress / producer Veronica Hart and performer Eric Edwards (the detective).  They speak of the main differences between film and video, the aesthetics of the 1970s as opposed to contemporary porn and the use of long versus short sex scenes.  It is a light commentary track, by veterans reminiscing of the old days of the adult industry and is loose, engaging rather than insightful into the film itself.  They talk of filming fellatio, filming the process of the male erection (getting hard – rarely seen in contemporary porn), the missing Gillis scene and the intricacies of Paris’ aesthetics at work.

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