Sex Stars System uncovers erotic cinema around the world.
Here's a little treat for Monday, because Mondays are universally acknowledged to suck. Above is the cover and below are a ton of scans from the cutting edge cinema magazine Sex Stars System, which billed itself as “Le Magazine du Cinema Erotique.” It was published out of 55 Passage Jouffroy, in Paris, France, and for a while it was the top magazine with reviews and features on the new, sexually liberated mainstream cinema of the early 1970s, and the new pornography of the same era. Because porn was taken seriously as an art form back then (hard to imagine, we know) certain magazines discussed and critiqued the films and regarded the performers as equal with those in mainstream cinema. We talked about this phenomenon with Cine-Revue a few years ago. Sex Stars System was similar, but much edgier, as you'll see.
On the cover and in the centerfold you see Croatian born star Sylva Koscina (a mainstream actress), and elsewhere you get Emmanuelle Parèze (porn), Dany Carrel (mainstream), Valérie Bosigel (mainstream), Karin Schubert (both), Catherine Spaak (mainstream), Ornella Muti (mainstream), Chesty Morgan (porn, obviously), Marilyn Monroe (mainstream, though some scam artists claim she was the other too), et al. They don't make magazines like this anymore, because they don't make cinema like this anymore. Sex in U.S. movies is strictly taboo, unless, generally speaking, the actors keep their clothes on. You do see it on cable television, however, though such shows generate reams of online criticism about how terribly wrong it is (we agree, however, that more sex and nude scenes need to be filmed from the vantage point of the female gaze). In Europe, as always, things are a bit more liberated.
We aren't sure how long Sex Stars System published. It debuted in 1975. Also in 1975, or possibly 1976, a magazine called simply Stars System appeared. Stars System had a softer editorial approach and featured solidly mainstream cover celebs such as Jane Fonda and Romy Schneider. At some point it changed its name slightly to Star System and, thus rebranded, published at least as late as 1982, which seems to be longer than Sex Stars System was on the scene. The information online about these magazines is, as you can probably guess, a jumble, but we'll keep looking into it and maybe have something more concrete to report later. There's also a Star System celeb magazine around today, but it's Canadian and presumably unrelated. Many scans below, and we have a few more issues we'll post later.
The thrill of the Chasse.
This promo poster from Colombia Pictures was made to promote the Belgian run of the film noir Chasse à l'homme, better known as The Glass Wall. This is an interesting one. Starring Vittorio Gassman and Gloria Grahame, the movie is set at the end of World War II and tells the story of a Hungarian refugee who arrives in New York harbor as a stowaway on a ship. Onboard immigration cops catch him, but he eludes them and jumps ship to search for a war buddy who can prove he has the right to legal residency under a special exemption for those who aided Allied soldiers. He must find this friend who can prove his bona fides, and do it within twenty four hours or be permanently barred from the U.S. A photo in the morning paper alerts the public and Chasse à l'homme becomes a double manhunt—the hero's search for his buddy, and the cops' search for the hero. The film is obviously a piece of light propaganda concerning the desirability of life in the U.S., but as a noir it also shows a darker side to American society, such as when Gloria Grahame is under threat of eviction, and when the landlady's son tries to force himself on her. Gassman was an experienced actor by this point, and Grahame, as noted on the poster, had already won an Academy Award for The Bad and the Beautiful. Both do solid work here. The movie opened in the U.S. in March of 1953 and reached Brussels, Belgium today in 1954.
Tate gives chase in an international fortune hunting comedy about a missing chair.
In ¿Las cual de 13?, aka 12 + 1, aka Twelve Plus One, an Italian barber played by Vittorio Gassman inherits thirteen chairs and, deeming them useless, sells them to a London antique shop. He later discovers one of the chairs contains a fortune, but when he returns to the shop he's told they've all been sold. So he offers the antique shop employee Sharon Tate half of the fortune to help him track down the chairs, which of course have scattered to the four winds. Their search takes them to Paris, Rome, and beyond, in 1960s screwball fashion with its expected pratfalls, mix-ups, and sticky situations. Gassman and Tate do reasonable jobs with the goofy script that's been made of Soviet authors Ilf and Petrov's satirical source novel, and the film is boosted by appearances from Vittorio De Sica, Mylène Demongeot, Terry-Thomas, and Orson Welles. This was an Italian production, but the poster above was painted for the film's Spanish run by Carlos Escobar, who signed his work “Esc.” This is the best we've ever seen from a very good artist. Since the movie didn't premiere in Italy until after Tate had been slain this month in 1969, and didn't reach Spain until mid-1970, the poster very likely was painted post-murder, which means Escobar probably was thinking of how to best portray someone who'd become a tragic figure. We suspect he put special effort into his work as a tribute, and if so, a fitting tribute it was.
Sharky's Machine hums along nicely, but only up to a point.
This poster for the 1981 thriller Sharky's Machine was made for the movie's premiere in Bangkok. Every blue moon or so Hollywood decides to update a ’40s film noir. Sometimes these are excellent movies—Body Heat as a rework of Double Indemnity comes to mind. Sharky's Machine is based on William Diehl's novel of the same name, which is a restyling of 1944's Laura. If you haven't seen Laura, a detective falls in love with a murdered woman, focusing these feelings upon her portrait, which is hanging over the mantle in her apartment. In Sharky's Machine the hero, Atlanta vice detective Burt Reynolds, falls in love with Rachel Ward via his surveillance of her during a prostitution investigation, and is left to deal with his lingering feelings when she's killed.
When Ward observed years back that she had been too prudish in her artistic choices, we imagine this was one movie she had in mind. We agree. Reynolds' 24/7 surveillance of a high priced hooker is not near frank enough. This is where vice, voyeurism, and sleaze as subtext should have come together overtly, as it does in Diehl's unflinchingly detailed novel, rather than as stylized montages, which is what Reynolds opts for.
Sex and nudity aren't always gratuitous. The plot driver in old film noirs is often sex, but it couldn't be shown. Remaking a noir affords the opportunity to explore the sexual aspect further, as in Body Heat, where it's literally the lure of sex with no boundaries—exemplified in that famous (but implied) anal scene—that snares the hero in an insane murder plot. In Sharky's Machine it's sexual objectification that is the initial driver. Reynolds loves Ward's body first and her personality later, but the surveillance that is the key to this is barely explored.
It's a missed opportunity to not only make a better thriller, but to examine this lust-to-love transition as an aspect of all romantic relationships. Reynolds doubled as both star and director of the film, and while his relative newbie status in the latter realm may be a reason he didn't push the envelope, he still manages in his third outing helming a motion picture to put together a final product that is stylish, dark, and neon-streaked—everything a neo-noir should be. Upon release many critics had problems with tone—violence and humor seemed to clash. Reynolds' was a semi-comedic cinematic figure and his previous two directorial efforts had been comedies, which may have led to jokes leaking into unusual moments of the film. But these days the mix of violence and comedy is common, so we doubt you'll be terribly annoyed by these few incongruities.
The main flaw with the movie, besides its chasteness, is not its tone, but that it feels compressed in the latter third, especially as relates to the love subplot. True, the film is already a shade over two hours long, but it's time that flies by, populated as it is by so many interesting roles and great actors (Bernie Casey, Brian Keith, Vittorio Gassman, Charles Durning). Another seven minutes would not have hurt. Still, we recommend this one. It should have been as bold a noir rework as Body Heat, but there's plenty to entertain in other areas, and Hollywood may make this film perfect yet—a new version of Sharky's Machine is in development with Mark Wahlberg in the lead. Hah hah—who are we kidding? They'll screw it up completely. You already know that.
Josep Renau Berenguer cooks up a classic poster for a classic film.
Arroz Amargo, with Silvana Mangano, Vittorio Gassman, and Doris Dowling, was originally made in Italy and called Riso Amaro, or Bitter Rice. We already delved into this particular rice paddy, but we wanted to show you this beautiful alternate Spanish poster painted by Catalan artist Josep Renau Berenguer. The movie premiered in Spain four years after it opened at the 1949 Cannes Film Festival and had a long run in Italy. That was today in 1953. If you’re interested you can read our original write-up and see the Italian poster here.
We gotta get out of this place if it’s the last thing we ever do.
This great poster was painted by Italian illustrator Dante Manno to promote Riso Amaro, aka Bitter Rice, one of the neorealist movies that came out of Italy during the post-World War II period. If you watch the movie you’ll find that some elements aren't very “real,” but remember that the term neorealism refers to a rejection of the phoniness of Fascist-era film production, rather than a broad description of cinematic properties. Basically, the movie is about two petty criminals, played by Vittorio Gassman and Doris Dowling, who hide from the cops by posing as lowly rice pickers. What’s real here isn’t the rice pickers (whose female ranks are uniformly beautiful and sexily clothed), nor some of the action (typified by a scene in which the workers break into perfect operatic harmony even though the tune they’re singing is being made up on the spot). No, the realism is in the themes and production values. Riso Amaro deals with weighty issues and was made on location by director Giuseppe De Santis in the rice fields of Italy’s Po Valley in crisp, documentary style black and white.
One of Riso Amaro’s rice pickers is the voluptuous Silvana Mangano, who catches Vittorio Gassman’s eye. Since he’s a criminal, he spies opportunity in his circumstances, and while chasing Mangano also plots to steal the entire rice crop while everyone is occupied during an end-of-season festival. Mangano, who has her choice between the slick Gassman and the honest rice picker Raf Vallone, is symbolically torn between American-style and traditional values. Doris Dowling has the same dilemma to a lesser degree. The choice both make will be crucial. Riso Amaro is a good movie, beautifully rendered, and consistently interesting. Tame today, it’s easy to see how provocative it must have been when first released. As with many films, certain elements resonate more over time, and here the secondary theme exploring tensions between legal and illegal workers fascinate. The legal workers resent the presumed loss of jobs, but the illegals must eat somehow and are willing to toil much harder than the legals. All the while the bosses reap the benefits. Sound familiar? Riso Amaro premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in early September and opened in Italy today in 1949.
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