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Passion & Power: The Technology of Orgasm
Wabi Sabi Productions
There are two distinct storylines in Emiko Omori and Wendy Blair Slick's 2007 documentary: the history of technology used to aid female orgasms and the story of Joanne Webb, a Texas woman who was actually prosecuted in 2004 for selling vibrators. That's right, prosecuted.
See, in old Texas no laws govern the number of guns you can own, but women can't have more than five vibrators. And Webb was on the stiff side of the law while selling sexual aids at a Passion Party (that'd be a Tupperware bash that buzzes instead of burps). Her story here plays against a background of documented opinions about female orgasms from the 1700s to the 1970s. That alluring feminine mystique metamorphosed from something condoned to something condemned. Rudimentary sexual stimulants were originally used to relieve women of "hysteria" brought about by such independent activities as "reading French novels while tightly corseted." Once brazenly advertised in magazines and the Sears Roebuck catalog, the personal vibrator was ubiquitous as electric lights.
Passion and Power doesn't adequately explain the vibrator's disappearance and the devolution of female sexuality in the United States. Interviewees — such as noted sex educator and author Betty Dodson — gaze back to days before women had proper sexual education, as if those times have vanished. While this is a wonderful idea for historical purposes, it's far from today's sexual milieu. Audiences need only witness Joanne Webb's tale of Texas justice to see how far we've yet to go.
Unfortunately, neither Webb nor the vibrator gets enough attention during this 74-minute work, leaving viewers unsatisfied. Worse, interview subjects are framed in crooked, floating boxes in a way that doesn't mask shoddy camerawork. Instead, they point out just how poorly shot the documentary is. An interesting concept, Passion and Power is but a big tease. —Mike White
L'Innocente, the final film from Italian neorealist pioneer Luchino Visconti, was not well-received upon its 1976 release (shortly after the director's death), but has seen a much more favorable reappraisal in the 33 years of relative obscurity since. Looking at L'Innocente today, I'm inclined to think its original detractors got it right. Set amid the 19th century aristocracy, the film captures the period with baroque fidelity, but it plays out as a mechanical soap opera of brooding faces and weeping strings. Wealthy aristocrat Tullio (Giancarlo Giannini) dismisses his once-faithful wife Guiliana (Laura Antonelli) for his sexier mistress (Jennifer O'Neill). But when Guiliana dusts herself off and partakes in her own affair with a famous writer, it becomes too much for Tullio to bear, resulting in a quiet tragedy. But there's a lot of tedium in the lead-up, and you'll feel every second of the 125-minute running time. It doesn't help that the most arresting feature of Visconti's color films, from Senso to The Leopard and beyond — their exquisite cinematographic beauty — is totally lost in this wretched, VHS-level transfer from Koch Lorber. —John Thomason
Dead of Night
Dark Sky Films
Is there a horror fan who doesn't remember fondly the great 1975 made-for-TV movie Trilogy of Terror? It was a tremendous fright flick featuring the genius of Karen Black, who played multiple roles in three shorties. (Oh, man ... the final segment, "Amelia," sees Black terrorized by a pint-sized Zuni fetish doll!) It was scary as hell for a "Movie of the Week," especially if you were growing up in days before a million cable choices.
Anyway, Trilogy was the brainchild of Dan Curtis, who, along with writer Richard Matheson (The Twilight Zone, I Am Legend), made a cottage industry of '70s TV frighters, including Dark Shadows, The Night Stalker and Dracula. Trilogy's success was undoubtedly the motivation for Curtis to revisit the three-parter concept with 1977's Dead of Night. In it, "Second Chance" features a college student (played by the eerily unchanged-by-time Ed Begley) who fixes up an old Jordan Playboy and takes a spin into the past. "No Such Thing as a Vampire" is a gothic story, set in 1896, about a vengeful doctor (Avengers alum Patrick Macnee) in Romania whose wife may be the victim of a creature of the night. Like Trilogy, the first two yarns here are but benchwarmers for the final and best segment, "Bobby," in which a distraught mother uses black magic to bring her dead teenage son back from the grave. It's a tense and creepy shocker whose ending one can't underestimate.
There's an abundance of extras here too, including deleted scenes, alternate versions of the spooky opener and a gallery of stills. There's also an isolated Rob Cobert score, and its eerie, string-rich arrangements alone can frighten. But the pièce de résistance is a pilot by Curtis that was to be a Dead of Night TV series featuring a trio of investigators looking into things that bump in the night. It feels like a precursor to all the paranormal investigation shows we now have (like Ghost Hunters). Talk about your visionaries! —Paul Knoll
Warner Home Video
While watching The Outrage, you can almost hear a studio exec chomping his cigar and growling, "You know what would make that Rashomon movie better? Will Shatner, that's what." Sure, a little Shat often makes things a whole lot better, but he can't help Outrage.
Despite A-list actors (Laurence Harvey, Edward G. Robinson, Paul Newman), it's simply impossible for a viewer to enjoy this pale 1964 imitation of Akira Kurosawa's seminal 1950 film, transported to the Old West. Even those who've missed Rashomon will find it difficult to tolerate Martin Ritt's film, mainly 'cause of Newman's embarrassing turn as Carrasco, a Mexican bandito, looking fresh off Newman's Own Salsa jar. If Outrage's set was cookie dough, Newman would've gained a hundred pounds, easy, and he makes Toshiro Mifune's animalistic thief in Rashomon seem restrained. It also doesn't help that Michael Klein's screenplay fills the actors' mouths with terribly clunky dialogue.
Alas, there's ain't enough Shatner to go around. —Mike White