Charles Aznavour’s Sex Dungeon

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From THE ADVENTURERS (1969).

I’d read about this movie in two places — one was Robert Evans’ autohagiography The Kid Stays in the Picture, where he blames Paramount CEO Charlie Bluhdorn for choosing to make this bloated, old-fashioned Harold Robbins adaptation with untested star Bekim Fehmiu, much against his wishes. The movie tries to compensate for its dated approach by pouring in sex by the bucketload, with decorous nudity provided by the gorgeous Delia Boccardo and Leigh Taylor-Young, but to no avail. There’s a rather zany, zoomtastic sex scene with the former and Fehmiu which must have been startling stuff in ’69.

The other place I read of it is Lewis Gilbert’s autobio, All My Flashbacks, where he bitterly bemoans being removed from his dream picture, OLIVER! and forced to make this pile of tat. The fact that Carol Reed won the best directing Oscar for OLIVER! in his stead perhaps has something to do with the intensity of his regret: if Reed could win for the rather tired job of work he put in, surely an eager hack like Gilbert could do likewise.

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Gilbert seems to have put all he could into the turkey he was handed, stuffing it with orgies, battles, proto-disco fashion shows (with UV lighting and splitscreen) and star cameos. Claude Renoir shot it and Anne V. Coates cut it and it still sucks. “It was a bullshit story,” is Gilbert’s own, accurate, description.

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Also included — Charles Aznavour’s sex dungeon, a groovy, queasy palace of porn. Tony Masters, who had just designed 2001 (and would go on to DUNE), created the sets, and one feels Kubrick must surely have been watching. In fact, Masters creates an even more stylish, beautiful and sinister objectification parlour than John Barry (not the composer) would achieve for CLOCKWORK ORANGE. Both designers must surely have been influenced by the kinky sculptures of Allen Jones (in fact Kubrick admitted it and initially tried to buy Jones’ work) but Masters’ versions are BETTER — they throw in a Hans Bellmer influence, merging body parts and furniture together in a way HR Giger would approve of (the HR stands for Human Resources, in case you wondered).

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The groovy entrance hall gives way to a more dungeon-like stage, with soft screens hilariously distorted by mannequin breasts which press against them from behind, making pseudo-erotic bulges in the fabric. It’s a ludicrous and tragically mechanistic parody of sex, and fills one with pity and revulsion for Aznavour’s character — the thought of anyone going to all that trouble to so little effect. I have no idea if that was the emotion we are supposed to feel, but there it is. I don’t mean the red room with the white sculpture furniture, which would suit an erotomaniac Bond villain — we’d all like one of those. I mean the green-tinged dungeon stage set with the titty wall.

THE ADVENTURERS may be three hours of mainly tedium, and an embarrassment to everyone who worked on it (certainly to Evans and Gilbert), but you have to admire this one setting. Or maybe you don’t. I’m not you.

All My Flashbacks

The Kid Stays in the Picture: A Hollywood Life

The Adventurers

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9 Responses to “Charles Aznavour’s Sex Dungeon”

  1. david wingrove Says:

    Totally longing to see this! Isn’t it the one where Olivia de Havilland does a nude scene? (Well, almost!) My oh my, is nothing sacred?

  2. It’s an artfully draped bed scene, and pretty restrained compared to what’s going on elsewhere, but sexier!

  3. CHARLES AZNAVOUR’S CAFE OF ROMANTIC DISAPPOINTMENT

  4. david wingrove Says:

    Looking forward even more…Olivia was (is?) a very sexy lady and very few films have taken advantage of that!

  5. It’s still a dreadfully dull film for at least two and a half of its three hours.

  6. H.R. Giger, BTW, makes occasional appearances on the “Superego” podcast. I particularly recommend his reading of “The Night Before Christmas” (about a third of the way through this episode):

    http://www.gosuperego.com/podcast-episode-3-10/

    (But apparently the H.R. stands for “Hey – Really Giger!”)

  7. And the PG in PG Wodehouse stands for “Parental Guidance”.

  8. david wingrove Says:

    Have you ever read Pauline Kael’s review of THE ADVENTURERS?

    “It’s a case of global pollution and sirens need to be sounded.” A gem!

  9. That’s pretty accurate. Gilbert was able to film in Colombia, which had not yet become a deadly lair of warring drug barons. One wonders if the Robert Evans connection is what turned the whole country bad.

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