Thursday, 27 August 2009

The Sexplorer / The Girl From Starship Venus

This is apparently Quentin Tarantino's favourite British sexploitation film, one that he saw on its initial US release at a drive-in in the mid 1970s; it's also a film that he liked enough to acquire his own print of, which he has screened in some of his Grindhouse type events.

While Tarantino's endorsement is undoubtedly useful for attracting curious audiences to The Sexplorer, the truth is that it's such a fun little film it's hard to see anyone not being won over by, which knows it strengths and weaknesses and plays to them, encouraging you to laugh along.

An innuendo laden US poster for the film, under its Girl From Starship Venus title

We open with a cheesy sci-fi theme - one of several - and a mock-portentous voice over, as the Starship Venus prepares to land on the planet Dom, the Purple Planet, to investigate its inhabitants. The spaceship, which proves to be the size of a ball bearing, lands in what is described as an uncharted sea. But it is actually a puddle in the middle of Picadilly circus, London.

Having extricated itself, the tiny spaceship discharges one of its crew, the surveyor, who then takes the form of a Dom, or human. The surveyor's cover is that, if anyone asks, they are the author Mark Twain.

Never mind that Twain is 170 years old, nor that 'he' has the form of a female, more specifically German-born nude model and sexploitation actress Monika Ringwald, nor that looking down at her naked, "ugly" form for Twain's moustache, described by the spaceship's data bank as a patch of superfluous hair, the surveyor identifies it with her pubic hair.

Given the potential for misunderstandings in all this, it's fortunate that the first place the surveyor happens to investigate is a sauna, where most of those present are also nude. Thinking that she has been robbed, the staff kit her out with a dress and send her on her way.

Having made the discovery of "another Dom of differing configuration," "some sort of mutation," flatter and with their moustache spreading further up, the surveyor next ventures into an adult bookstore, followed by a gents, together allowing for some initial observations: The "canopies," the tribe of her assumed form, seem happier and the norm, while the "tubulars," the other, perhaps dangerous, mutant tribe, seem overly anxious.

By this time another pattern also begins to in the Surveyor's interactions with the tubulars: When they aren't running away, they are keen to take advantage of her. The bookstore manager tries to interest her in a photo shoot and telling the photographer on the phone that his new find is "a bit dim but well stacked - just the right combination." Then, in a porn theatre, another patron tries to "refuel" her with his "probe" in the manner that the tubulars on the "holoplay" screen have just attended to the canopies.

Significantly, the film-makers use these misunderstandings in a self-deprecating manner, with the theatre manager throwing the Surveyor out and remarking that they deal strictly in fantasy, not reality. His bookstore counterpart, meanwhile, was played by Ringwald's real-life manager, Alan Selwyn.

Though it would be stretching the point to call the film feminist, there's nevertheless a definite something to Sexplorer's mocking of its primary male audience, even as it gives them the T&A that they've come for.

Indeed, given the way in which the men often respond to the surveyor's tendency towards silence, I was reminded at times of the dynamics of Abel Ferrara's Ms .45 and Zoe Tamerlis's mute heroine, perhaps as hybridised with John Sayles's Brother from Another Planet, as a film with alien whose 'just happening' to look like an African-American also leads to all sorts of misunderstandings.

There's also perhaps a hint of a vegetarian subtext as the Surveyor later passes a diner and wonders about the Dom's putting pieces of scorched bird into their bodies, as a "ritual" she describes as being "primitive" in a manner recalling an early, unreflexive, 20th century colonialist anthropologist.

Although The Sexplorer isn't what you would call imaginatively or particularly well directed, it doesn't need to be. The voice-off dialogue between the surveyor and the crew back on the ship and the survey and the Doms she encounters are witty, while Ringwald herself is attractive to look at and suitably unconscious about showing us her goods. More generally, her foreignness appears a help rather than a hindrance, precisely because not knowing how to act, react or speak like a member of the culture is what the film is all about.

Being a Derek Ford production, The Sexplorer was also released in a different version to that reviewed here, one incorporating hardcore inserts. Whether these feature Ringwald or an other female performer I don't know.

To finish with the obvious pun: Anyone out there come upon this hardcore version?

[See for another review of the film]

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