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Refinements in Love
With: Liz Renay, Devon Mayer, Anita De Moulin, Edwig Sands Ph.D., Jim Mayer, Ron Darby, Geoffrey W. Patterson, Susan Bergdahl, James Fuller, Santiago Burwell, Bill St. Pierre, Paul Herbert, Micky Hanes, Vera Angel, Danny Sanders, Roland Peters, Kathy Phidel, Judy Lane.
Virtually presenting itself as Exhibit A in the censorship debate that was heating up as the "porno chic" movement arrived in the early '70s, "Refinements in Love" is both a porn film and documentary about porn. Liz Renay, the late B-movie bombshell and John Waters leading lady, is the "hostess" for this 1971 goof, in which seemingly serious interviews about censorship, sexuality and mental health are intercut with illustrative sex scenes. The movie is inept by mainstream standards then or now, but it does deliver quite a bit of the "redeeming social value" that director Carlos Tobalina points out was always the first line of defense for pornographers in obscenity cases.
The artifact opens with shots of a San Francisco cable car sporting Rice-A-Roni placards as it cruises past a One-Hour Martinizing shop, with narrator Renay noting "the new morality -- a kinder, less violent, more understanding attitude is taking over." (So were dry cleaning and food in a bag.) Cut to a TV interview with director Tobalina (the Burt Reynolds of this "Boogie Nights"), who suavely explains the beauty and salutary value that can be found in well-made sex films.
Be that as it may, the sex here is on the tame side: straight, one-on-one, racially homogeneous action, with no cum shots and often with no direct sound; only one or two interludes include the actors speaking. Though she is not credited on screen as such, Rene Bond, a busy L.A. porn performer of the day, has a scene involving a man and lots of talcum powder.
More screen time is devoted to the "professional" opinions of a "renowned attorney," a "prominent psychiatrist," and to the overheated narration. Renay, sometimes shown sitting on a stool in front of a mike, her platinum hair up to here, offers gems like, "Oral copulation is not only for all to enjoy but highly recommended, doctors and psychiatrists all over the world agree," and "Sex, long affected by our now-dying Victorian influence, is once again free and healthy."
There is a stunning moment when a lawyer is questioned about the then headline-grabbing Presidential Commission on Pornography, which concluded that all restrictions on adult use of porn should be abolished. Asked about the president's decision to ignore the findings of the expensive and time-consuming report, the lawyer says: "This is a big political mistake of Mr. Nixon's. ... The majority of citizens, especially the younger generation, I think, will tend to distrust a man who ignores the sound and sane recommendations of a highly qualified commission." It is always thus.
Funniest scene: a sweaty, middle-aged "psychiatrist" treats a beautiful young nymphomaniac by hypnotizing her and using his body as a "tool" to bring her to "her first, full climax." Polite and professional to the core, he awakens the naked woman and asks, "Mrs. Carmichael, would you mind if I have intercourse with you." (Un)naturally, she has no objection.
The whole crazy enterprise -- the opening credits appear at the 45-minute mark -- ends with the brilliant on-screen statement: "The day they outlaw sex, only outlaws will have sex." To which we hold up our fist and shout "Right on!"
There aren't many extras to be found for a forgotten early-'70s grindhouse skin flick. Impulse Pictures' DVD has no deleted scenes, no on-the-set interviews, just the film and a 12-chapter, still-frame menu. But unlike Tarantino and Rodriguez's "Grindhouse," there are no "missing reels" here; we have the film in its 88-minute entirety, presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1). And despite the Eastmancolor having faded to mostly pink, the picture and sound are crisp.
A few frames are noticeably missing in a shot of "hostess" Liz Renay speaking to the camera, and there are a couple of instances of debris and vertical scratches, but overall, the movie is certainly watchable.
The inclusion of contemporary porn trailers might have helped put things in context and would have nudged the disc into the "recommended" category. As it is, unless you're a serious porn buff or historian, this is a rental item.
"Refinements in Love," an oddball combo of hardcore sex film and sociopolitical documentary -- probably influenced by the 1960s Swedish sensation "I Am Curious (Yellow)" -- retains whatever value it has today mainly as an artifact. Those looking for nonstop raunchy action will be disappointed, but viewers interested in the long continuum of cinema sex will find it of more than passing interest. The performances are stilted, the allegedly genuine interviews with medical and legal experts seem scripted and acted, and the narrative focus wanders badly. The best you can say is that there's really nothing else quite like it.