The Sexy Sex Secrets of Sexy Sex

vlcsnap-508224

Not, it’s not Sexy Week again, but it IS Antony Balch’s lamentable masterpiece SECRETS OF SEX, which I received through the generosity of cartoonist Douglas Noble. I am forever indebted!

Balch, a William Burroughs associate and cinema owner, collaborated with Burroughs on THE CUT-UPS and later made HORROR HOSPITAL, a deranged Brit-horror comedy thing, which has to be seen to be belittled/bemoaned/befouled. “Starring” Robin Askwith and Michael Gough and a dwarf, with a magnificently inebriated guest appearance by Dennis Price (one might call it a “walk-on” except he doesn’t walk and probably couldn’t) as a talent agent who leers at Askwith’s denim-swathed bulge, and featuring a Rolls Royce with DEATH RACE blades for decapitating fugitives from the titular place of healing, it’s not exactly good but it’s far far more imaginative than most British horror films, bearing comparison with the likes of SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN (whose writer, Christopher Wicking, just died, all too prematurely).

But SECRETS OF SEX is something else again. A little closer to Balch’s Burroughsian side, it’s a scrapbook of ideas strung together by the narration of Valentine Dyall as an Egyptian mummy. Because naturally, when you make a sex film, you want it narrated by an animate corpse, don’t you?

It may be time to re-alert Shadowplayers to Operation Prole-Wipe, the initiative put in place by the Heath government to reverse the postwar population explosion by putting the British public off sex. While America and Europe bathed in a fountain of hardcore filth, some of which, by virtue of it’s sheer gynaecological explicitness, could be seen as vaguely instructional, plebeian Britain was subjected to an endless and debilitating stream of softcore “comedies”, designed to make sexual activity of any kind seem off-puttingly ridiculous, undignified and ugly. While the ruling classes continued to yank their planks to yellow-sleeved volumes or erotica with Aubrey Beardsley illustrations, the proletariat were suddenly exposed to the sight of Robin Askwith’s heaving bum working away like an oil derrick amid the soap-spew of a malfunctioning washing machine, Liz Fraser as a character called Miss Slenderpants, and graphic shots of the face of Bill Maynard, a gifted comic whose “distinctive” appearance radiates anti-orgone, the sex-destroying energy, causing him to spend his life within a force field of celibacy, a walking bubble of not-getting-any.

Britain’s acting establishment threw themselves into the proud task of sterilising the nation’s manhood, and renowned thespians such as John LeMesurier, James Robertson Justice, Irene Handl and future prime minister Tony Blair’s father-in-law Tony Booth, rushed to wallow in the steaming tide of buttock-thrusting pantomime. While low-grade pornographers like Derek Ford found themselves elevated to near-mainstream status, with actual budgets and actors to contend with, respected filmmakers like Val Guest enthusiastically mutilated their own reputations with tosh like CONFESSIONS OF A WINDOW CLEANER and AU PAIR GIRLS, films whose existence can only be accounted for by their makers’ fierce dedication to the production of widespread erectile dysfunction.

vlcsnap-484854

Into this realm of conspiracy comes Antony Balch, with a project boldly conceived to rip the lid off this covert sex/class war. SECRETS OF SEX renders the anti-erotic propaganda overt, so that it can no longer be hidden. What other excuse for the repeated ECUs of an eye with a loose contact lens; the man terrifying a Hill’s Angel with his pet lizard; the male homosexuality, which in 1970 would have struck terror into hetero wankers; the glove puppet deformed baby; the closeups of puckered and wrinkled derrieres; the castration/disembowelment by guillotine blade; and that damned mummy?

Just as Goebbels reckoned Leni Riefenstahl’s TRIUMPH OF THE WILL was too overtly propagandistic to be effective, Balch’s overseers in Whitehall blanched at his deliberate flaunting of their anti-erotic mission, and effectively blacklisted him from their 1984-like plan to pacify the masses with porn. But what remains is a truly demented Odyssey through the sick, the strange and the transweirdening. The only thing that really gets fucked is your head.

vlcsnap-504868

Like Jerry Lewis’s SMORGASBORD/CRACKING UP, Balch conceives his film in the loosest terms, then violates those terms wantonly. A highly colour-coordinated spy spoof starring Maria Frost (Lindsay Shonteff’s PERMISSIVE, but she’s — incredibly — not good enough for a starring part there) stops dead while the characters watch a silent porno where everybody is in drag and nearly everybody is a violent rapist. Storylines are introduced (by the nodding mummy) to illustrate some philosophical point, but never do. The battle of the sexes is introduced as a theme, and Balch seems to take this VERY seriously, seemingly longing for the day when it becomes a shooting war, but no theme could truly account for the souls reincarnated as flowers skit, the bit with the lizard, or the grand fireworks display at the end.

vlcsnap-518820

Whaaa?

SECRETS OF SEX may actually be the weirdest film I’ve reviewed here — the weirdest thing about it being that it’s seemingly intended to fulfill some sort of commercial purpose. Antony Balch is hereby inducted posthumously into Shadowplay’s LEGION OF UBER-HEROES.

Advertisements

24 Responses to “The Sexy Sex Secrets of Sexy Sex”

  1. Glad you enjoyed it! As I’ve said previously, the key sequence for me is the seemingly endless repetition of “Imagine making love to this boy. Imagine making love to this girl.” It seems to go on forever, and by the end of it you do think to yourself that a cup of tea might be preferable after all.

  2. It has a very strange effect, though not quite as mentalizing as The Cut-Ups.

    I posted it on YouTube and it was immediately removed. It hadn’t occurred to me that it was in any sense pornographic! Balch succeeds only too well in de-eroticizing the erotic.

  3. One of the boys we’re invited to imagine making love to us is reading Burroughs’ “Nova Express.”

    Sorry to hear about Chris Wicking. Scream and Scream Again (a favorite of Fritz Lang’s) is a masterpiece.

  4. One has to temper Lang’s enthusiasm for SASA with the knowledge that he was largely blind when he “saw” it. But it IS rather a remarkable film, and he would no doubt have enjoyed its Mabusian elements.

    We always tell students not to include posters for their favourite films in the background of shots, because apart from in Breathless it always looks cheesy. But books are good!

  5. RIP Christopher Wicking. I will miss him. Scream is, of course, excellent, but I prefer Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb. Lovely mix of greying suburban Britain and the Exotic supernatural. Some great great moments in there-many provided by James Villiers:”The meek shall not inherit the earth…They can’t be trusted with it.”

    Also he wrote the brilliant Absolute Beginners (everyone forgets that one because it doesn’t feel like a Wicking) and the promising but flawed Dream Demon (what went wrong with that?) the only film which tried to make Jimmy Nail and Timothy Spall uglier than nature intended.

    Speaking of Britian’s unerotic studs of yesteryear -Kenneth Cope is back! On Coronation Street. Bald Pasty and now without eyebrows, he’s still got that lovely slightly lost look that charmed us all

  6. Hooray for Kenneth Cope.

    Agree very much re Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb, which was mostly directed by Seth Holt, a talented fellow who died towards the end of shooting from a very bad case of hiccups.

    Apart from the splendid Villiers, it also has PR Deltoid from Clockwork Orange, and the Hi Karate girl and mighty Scotsman Andrew Keir (the best Quatermass) and music by experimentalist Tristram Carey (The Ladykillers) if memory serves.

    Haven’t seen Dream Demon but I get the impression director Harley Cokeless messed iy up somehow. I think the look is all wrong, it’s like cut-rate Hellraiser when it could’ve achieved surrealism by including some realism (love what you say about the suburban nature of Mummy’s Tomb). I just read The Beetle, a horror story that sold better than Dracula the year they both came out, and it carefully locates its worst horrors in the depths of suburbia (which, if you read PG Wodehouse, was obviously a source of fear and loathing for the middle and upper classes).

  7. That may well be the ultimate James Villiers line. Thanks.

  8. The line he was born to say!

    Must write a piece about that concept.

  9. Peter Cushing started work on Mummy’s Tomb in the Andrew Kier role but dropped out after a day due to his wife’s illness. There are some stills of him and Valerie Leon from that day’s shooting.

    Leon was cast at the insistence of Sir James Carreras, despite misgivings of both director and producer who wanted Amy Grant. Carreras told them “You guys are the movie geniuses here – YOU make her an actress!”

  10. I have basically been given the same line by a producer in TV. My philosophy is nobody should be in charge of casting decisions who doesn’t have to deal with the consequences.

    Are you sure Amy Grant is the right name?

  11. It’s the name that Howard Brandy, the producer, mentions in interview. She’d played with the RSC, apparently. I don’t think it’s the singer.

    This is from Hammer Studios – The Elstree Years by Wayne Kinsey, again. I’ve mentioned it before, but there’s a lot in there.

  12. No…not the singer. I just wondered, because I couldn’t find her on the IMDb. Terrible to think that could have been her big break in movies. But then, it didn’t do a huge amount for Valerie Leon.

    Maybe I’ll ask for that one for Christmas.

  13. It is a strange one, that’s for sure.
    I’ve not seen it for years and years, I rented it out on video back in the day, and it was entitled ‘Anthony Balch’s Bizarre’ on video in the UK.
    Yeah, I wouldn’t mind seeing it again.
    That scene above is very Burroughsian (and also reminded me of some of Gilbert & George’s video pieces in ‘The World Of G & G’ with it’s repetition)
    There was a scene in this movie shot in my local park in Crystal Palace, South London, I recall.
    Can’t remember much about the scene itself, apart from the distinctive Victorian dinosaur statues there being prominent (obviously the sole reason behind the segment being shot there, I’d imagine)

  14. Yes, the dinosaurs are key. I must visit that park next time I’m down in the Big Smoke, I never knew where it was, but always fantasised about going there when I was a kid.

  15. […] bit of apparatus, was the father of Valentine Dyall, familiar to Shadowplayers for this voice-over. Anyhow, shots are fired, a scandal is caused, and a divorce is […]

  16. Caveh Zahedi’s I Am a Sex Addict is quite interesting too.

  17. I laughed a lot at The Complete History of My Sexual Failures, but it seems to have died the death.

  18. there is a scream woman in the night it feel so horrible.. i hope i don’t see her

  19. there is a ghost… or blood or anything in my town, the city of ghost

  20. Sometimes a doctor can help, if you explain these problems.

  21. MitchelinMan Says:

    Hi, I was scrolling through the google list for screenwriter Christopher Wicking and was led to some comments left here around the time of his sudden and sad passing. Scream and Scream is quite rightly considered a masterpiece, and I was heartened to see someone else thinks Absolute Beginners is a good movie as I like it a lot too.

    I was wondering though – has anyone ever seen a movie called Medusa? It was a Chris Wicking script filmed in 1972 starring George Hamilton and Cameron Mitchell. I’ve seen it on video and think it is fantastic and I now rate it alongside Scream and Scream. I was curious whether anyone else had seen it.

  22. I haven’t, but it sounds incredible! Do you have a copy? Wicking had a marvelous, strange career, didn’t he?

  23. MitchelinMan Says:

    I do have it on video – but it’s a very ropey one, taped from the tv. I did check once to see if it had made it on to DVD yet. I thought it had been once – but then when I checked again it wasn’t there.

    I was toying with the idea of transferring it onto DVD and/or getting another video copy as it might be pretty rare I suppose?

    Yes, Wicking was a true cineaste and had a varied career. Scream and Scream to Lady Chatterley’s Lover to Absolute Beginners to episodes of The Professionals.

    One of his last pieces was for a BBC children’s series called Powers (which I haven’t seen yet).

    He was quite prolific and had many scripts that were never produced (like many writers). But he was always working and writing and dreaming up new projects. He was way ahead of his times in many ways.

    I remember he liked to use this line from a Chinese proverb, “Be careful what you wish for, you might get it…”

    I read a few of his scripts over the years and he was always popping that in there when appropriate (and if it had not been used yet of course).

    But now you hear that line being quoted in many films and tv episodes I have noticed.

    He is sorely missed.

  24. Me and Shadowplayer Paul Duane were just regretting his passing — there’s the prospect of a new Hammer documentary to which he would have been an invaluable contributor.

    I bet he was pleased that Fritz Lang greatly admired Scream and Scream Again!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: