I first heard about ACTING OUT in editor Ralph Rosenblum’s book When the Shooting Stops… The Cutting Begins, a very engaging and insightful look at RR’s life as a film editor, which includes transforming/rescuing films from William Friedkin, Mel Brooks and Woody Allen. His work with Allen, from TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN to ANNIE HALL particularly comes to mind when viewing ACTING OUT (rescued from obscurity by trashmeisters Troma) —
The film is a sort-of documentary about sexual fantasies. Various New Yorkers are interviewed, then auditioned, then finally invited to attempt to enact their fantasies in real life on a plush estate outside the city (Project: Nim was probably being enacted a stone’s throw away… the building is also slightly reminiscent of the orgy palace in EYES WIDE SHUT, and it seems likely that, given his interests, Kubrick would have screened this).
Well, it doesn’t all go swimmingly, although probably most of the participants are glad they tried. A learning experience. “It was completely asexual,” complains one young woman, after her fantasy of medical domination turns out off-puttingly real. I would think anybody capable of imagining such a scenario might also be able to imagine how different it might all feel in reality, with a movie crew present…
Woody Allen lines kept cropping up in my head as I watched:
“A large vibrating egg. Well, I ask a psychopath, I get that kind of an answer.”
“I am in love with my sheep.”
“She is elderly, and she uses her wrist a lot.”
The up-tempo jazz tracks don’t do anything to dispel the hilarity, and the dry VO is a killer: “John Smoczyk and Karen Frohardt from Seattle, Washington, who wanted to make love to clowns in a funhouse surrounded by distorting mirrors, got lost in a pleasant but aimless orgy and forgot about completing their scene.”
“You may be interested in why am appearing without, uh, my face. I’m very interested in getting into this show naked and I’m interested in telling you my fantasy. BUT — I thought this was going to be a porn movie, and I have a family… they might think it unfair. My – my wife know about this, being in this p-picture, b-being in this interview, my children don’t know a thing about it. And I worked in civil service, and I was quite straight, and now that I’ve retired, I felt, Gee, modern times, why not get into all the act? So, uh, I’ve been out to the, uh, beach, and I’m going to tell you what my fantasy of sex is. I went out to the beach at Brighton. I don’t mean Brighton. I-I went out to the breach, ah, beach, I won’t give the name of, uh, they now have people… dressing… without any clothes. And it seemed very exciting and so on. And my fantasy is that I’m out there and everybody’s sitting there, some with clothes, some without clothes, and I fall asleep. And then I wake up and there’s a young girl come over to me… she’s interested in tickling me, she’s interested in having me have a party with her, and… either we have a party on the beach, or we have a party in her place, and, um, my fantasy goes on to all sorts of fun there, lots of fun similar to what you’ve probably heard in other people’s fantasies…”
My theory is that this guy just wants sex. That this isn’t his sexual fantasy — how could it be? I mean, I know he’s a retired civil servant, but still… The other stuff in the film is properly whacky and sometimes a little disturbing (only the men are disturbing), and mainly I was thinking “This is HIGHLY personal stuff… are you sure you want to be putting it out there?”
Rosenblum, I seem to recall, says in his book how moving he found the experience, and for the most part, although porn actors were used in staging the scenes, the movie is as far from the exploitation of “adult cinema” as you could wish. Except that not everybody seems to be going into the scenes knowing what to expect, which raises questions about informed consent which the filmmakers don’t seem inclined to answer. There’s also the straightforward incompetence, as when the guy with the dream of being a Salem impuritan (one of America’s F***ing Fathers?) and tickling a bunch of men’s penises with a feather goes awry when they line up a bunch of straight guys (including a lead player from CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST) who don’t, ah, respond as he’d hoped. The guy’s pretty upset about this, as well he might be — it’s like he’s gone to Fantasy Island, and Herve Villechaise won’t put out.