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We're entering into a very specialized world, one in which I have some interest but no expertise. Oddly enough, DVDtalk's own Bill Gibron apparently has just such expertise, because he contributes an essay as the special feature on this disc. In the interest of journalistic integrity, I'll forego reading his contribution until after writing this review - wouldn't want to cloud my judgment. Welcome then, to Mr. Gibron's world (one of them, at least) - the world of foreign '60s fetish movies.
Little Girls, in crude and arty style, tells the story of four very young 'girls' that get mixed up in prostitution and sexual blackmail. We refer to them as 'girls' because, even though one of them is supposed to be only 14, the actresses are so obviously over the age of consent that pedophilia remains only an intellectual sticking point. Only your mind will recoil at the stylized depredations these girls encounter, even though in concept this is sick stuff. Anyway, through bizarre voiceover we learn how a young woman named Dani sinks all her money into a nightclub that quickly founders. Hiring Mike to help, Dani cooks up a scheme involving budding young teenage girls hanging about the neighborhood. Why not pimp these girls out to the skeevy old club habitués, but instead of relying solely on easy hookin' money, blackmail the skeeves with compromising photos and such? I mean, if you're going down that path, why not take it all the way to crime central, with the added bonus of pissing off and losing some of your customers?
Filmed in striking black and white, Little Girls definitely sports some high-falutin' style, or maybe I'm just hoping for more from a T&A reel that tells its story through narration that seemingly comes from a drunken Roddy McDowell? But what the customer wants is frothy perversion. We get plenty of bondage. (Want to break the ice with a potential date? Show her some bondage porn!) We get the 14-year-old pretending she's the 12-year-old daughter of one of the - ahem - more tightly focused old lovers. Mike, while getting too close emotionally to the action, goes for one of the more-traditional prostitutes who usually 'helped him to forget,' while we get to look in on that old taboo - interracial love. A cute Madame tries to lure our adolescent heroines into the straight version of the oldest profession while riding a swing. (She's later kicked around a bit by a man, just another fetish to check off the list.) That 14-year-old is even set up with her own stepfather, who when rebuffed stiffly showers her with money. He thinks he knows what girls want.
Savage and moralistic by the end, Little Girls, to this reviewer's eyes, represents a fairly unique version of perversion, with some seriously sleazy subjects tackled blithely. One suspects it's all in the name of displaying some delightful flesh (no problems there) while pushing the envelope, as it were. While on one hand the entire movie is extremely distasteful, (by prudish American standards, anyway) even the shocking conclusion seems delivered with a wink. Clear artistic talent potently mitigates some questionable choices - the awful narration continually draws one away from the proceedings, even though providing much-needed information on what the heck is going on. Framing and camera movement in particular are often quite elegant and simple. Little Girls is a cheesy, sleazy conundrum; hamstrung by nearly unforgivable transgressions (pedophilia and horrible narration, for instance) it manages some grace while piling on the boobs and buns.
Video: As the DVD box says, Little Girls deliver a brand new digital transfer from the only known existing 35mm print. In this world of digital information overload, that's a special statement. The 16 x 9 anamorphic widescreen presentation is pretty surprising in that regard. I fully expected this to be a scabby looking fullscreen print. Film damage, some grain, reel-change markers and all of that stuff is willfully attendant, but the dang thing is in widescreen! It's really a luscious looking black and white, despite bits here and there where it looks like (possibly) light was leaking into the camera. Nothing in the way of compression artifacts were noticed on this fairly sharp transfer.
Audio is of the no-frills variety, though that's not much of a surprise for such a rarity. Dialog and that lousy narrator are both adequate and easy to discern. The only complaint is tied to the overpowering and way-loud psycho-synth score. Keep your hand on the remote if you're watching this after the wife has gone to bed.
A string of video covers for Other Cinema Epoch Releases is the only extra, (unless you count Chapter Selections) joining with Bill Gibron's Film Essay about Bob Cresse, the gentleman who imported this European oddity for stateside trench coat-wearers. The auto-navigated text essay discusses in fine (but brief) fashion Cresse's part in exploitation cinema history, and his decision to bring Little Girls to America (while adding bondage scenes). Be prepared to read fast, as the pages move a little quickly, and (at least on my laptop) the pause button often fought with the DVD, meaning I had to work a bit to finish the darn thing,
While it's true I'm not exactly the type to look back fondly on soft-core porn that was made a few years before my birth, I can see the value in Little Girls. As Gibron states, the movie uses sexuality to tackle (kind-of) issues of morality and responsibility. It's also full of sick stuff, including Bob Cresse's bondage inserts. If this is your tumbler of straight vodka, then Little Girls throws some nice style on top or your boobies and such. And though this widescreen presentation seems to be something rescued from the abyss, you might want to Rent It before determining if it needs to be in your permanent collection.