You gotta love exploitation pioneer Harry Novak. Name another producer of proto-porn who can take any premise and turn it into a sensational sleazoid escapade, and this celebrated skin merchant's name is probably already associated with it somehow. This is the man who turned Little Shop of Horrors into the skin flick fun of Please Don't Eat My Mother, who made the extraterrestrial tawdry by creating the interstellar eros of Wham Bam, Thank You Spaceman. With a readily recognizable style (exposition followed by endless faux friggin') and a penchant for providing maximum bang for your grindhouse buck, he remains completely in sync with the raincoat crowd. Take the pseudo documentary Prostitution Pornography U.S.A. . Posing as a fact-based expose on the second oldest profession (and its cinematic offshoots) we get standard Novak naughtiness filtered through an early '70s sense of smut. While dull at times, it's also a great deal of dopey fun.
Set up as a collection of four "true" stories (though a fifth fatso appears briefly), we meet high class call girl Joanne, sullen streetwalker Marilyn, pampered porn star Donna, and junkie whore Lauren. Our first professional walks us through the tricks (and the 'tricks') of the trade. We see her bathe, primp, and then service two older clients. The second regales us with horror stories about pimps and abusive Johns. Naturally, she screws two sailors, and gets her body beaten by an S&M perv. Number three allows her story to be told while working on two film shoots. She extols the virtues of making movies, including the caution one needs to apply when working with well-equipped donkeys (?). After a brief interlude with an obese babe (who uses food as a means of overcoming a teen years gang rape), we meet the mainlining queen of the BJ. While oral quickies in the dirtiest bathrooms available are her basic bread and butter, she also services female clients with her tongue talents and varied collections of sex toys. Toss in an interview with a love merchant and a man on the street sequence, and you've got an amiable overview that's short on truth but long on softcore lewdness.
Prostitution Pornography U.S.A. is the perfect exploitation film. No, it's not without its massive moviemaking flaws, and it doesn't mean it's the most entertaining or enlightening effort to come down the prurient pipeline. But if all you're after is simulated puff and stuff without all that unnecessary plot pointing getting in the way, this is the film for you. In the true spirit of every other Harry Novak efforts, this 79 minute sizzler is a solid 60/40 - 60% carnality and 40% narrative nothingness. In fact, if you take the faked Q&A as part of the foreplay (there's lots of dirty talk here), you could push that ratio to 90/10. While the mock documentary has served the smut peddler well in the past - just stick the modifier "Mondo" in front of anything and watch the bloated businessmen bubble - it's the right format for what's being attempted here. Granted, none of the women featured are actually hookers. The only one whose story resembles her onscreen situation is real life flesh pet Matla, who appeared in the Novak nonentity Street of a Thousand Pleasures (other notable names include Barbara Mills and fabled sleaze stud Norman Fields). But because we are dealing with sex for sale, the premise provides an excellent excuse for nonstop schtupping.
Of the four and a half stories offered, the first two are the most interesting. That's because Mills makes a fetching strumpet and the anonymous actress essaying Marilyn has a wonderful Girl in the Worn Out Gold Boots quality. Both get bare-ass naked and do the dirty with men who really make your skin crawl, but as a reflection of the demographic the film was aiming for, the recognizablility of the reprobate is right on target. Also, while employing a two way mirror to capture the copulating, it's clear that pseudonymed director Arvin Tokunow was well versed in the Bethel Buckalew style of shooting. We get lots of arcane angles, mis-framed flopping, and crotch encounters pitched about two feet away from anyone's actual groin. We know this is supposed to be fake falderal, but such blatant bait and switch is part and parcel of the exploitation ideal. In fact, the whole Prostitution Pornography U.S.A. experience plays out like a series of sex show stand-ins. We come to the carnality expecting to be blown away by its authenticity and aggression. Instead, we get middle aged men talking smut smack while paid paramours look bored and/or nauseous 'in the act'. Maybe there's some truth to this factual fiction after all.
By the time we get to Donna (and Malta's pendulous hooters) we've grown tired of the bountiful bump and grind. Thankfully, the film feels our pain, and after showcasing our starlet doing the dirty boogie on a yacht, we see a trailer for something called Bang Bang. Turns out, it's an actual Italian offering that indeed sold itself as a "sexual explosion". Finally, our semi-legitimate actress treats us to that rarity in hard R randiness - personal grooming. That's right, in a known novelty for Me Decade performers, Malta shaves her nether regions, on camera, while discussing the pros and cons of bestiality. It turns a bizarre sequence into something all too surreal. After our chubby chick stuffs her mug (why, exactly, is she here?), we meet our final femme, and things go downhill rapidly. Whoever was hired to play Lauren obviously earned her acting degree via a correspondence course. When she's supposedly strung out on smack, she's simply sleepy. When revved up and ready to service a new female client, she's equally half-conscious. As the dildo-based erotica goes on and on (and on and on) we find we're now bored with Prostitution Pornography U.S.A. . This doesn't mean the movie isn't an excellent example of the pre-post-modern movement in outsider cinema. It simply indicates that, like most offerings within the genre, it overstays its already limited welcome.
Obviously forged from Novak's own collection of expertly preserved negatives, the 1.33:1 full screen image provided for Prostitution Pornography U.S.A. is almost pristine. Sure, there are a few age issues, and some places where the colors appear slightly faded, but overall, the print here looks very good. Of course, there is no accounting for waxy skintones, unctuous complexions, the lack of sun or the semblance of a tan, or one actor's horrible back acne (so unsightly small Band-Aids are used to cover it up). It's all part of the movie's supposed 'authenticity'.
There's not much one can do with standard Mono moviemaking circa 1971, and Cinema Epoch doesn't even try. The Dolby Digital mix is good, but nothing to write home about.
Unlike fellow flesh peddlers (and Novak supporters) Something Weird Video, Cinema Epoch presents Prostitution Pornography U.S.A. in a blatantly bare bones DVD package. The lack of added context here is indeed shocking especially when you consider how much material there is out there about exploitation and its larger than life purveyors. While it could be a matter of contractual obligation, or cost, a title like this demands additional insight. Leaving it as a blank cinematic slate reduces its appeal to both collectors and the curious.
Judging exploitation is always complicated. One man's corporeality is another's camp, and there are certain instances where no amount of skin and/or kitsch value can salvage some sloppy sleaze. Still, for anyone curious as to the continued intrigue regarding the total grindhouse experience, Prostitution Pornography U.S.A. offers a pretty good example of the genre. You get the nudity and the noxiousness, the desire to titillate and the reality of subpar onscreen sex. While many would consider this a rental at best, a rating of Recommended actually does a better job of illustrating the film's effectiveness. Some will find the skin and sin boring and dull. Others will enjoy ever single slutty minute. Whatever your proclivity, Prostitution Pornography U.S.A. does one thing very well. It highlights Harry Novak, and why he stands as a significant part of the independent filmmaking fraternity. Without him, the craven cinematic category just won't be the same - for better, and for worse.