Thursday, 14 July 2011

Emmanuelle in Soho

Young couple Paul and Kate (Julie Lee) and their bisexual flatmate Emanuelle (Angie Quick, billed as Mandy Miller) are short of money. Paul and Emmanuelle try their hand at glamour photography, while Kate gets a job as a stripper at a nude review, Hang About Sebastian. Paul takes his photos to Bill (John M. East), who tells Paul that they are not really what the punters are after and kindly offers to take them off his hands for £50, then sells them for several times this. After Bill has worked this scam several times, Paul realises he is being conned and schemes his revenge. He invites Bill and his secretary cum mistress Sheila to a party, also attended by the cast and artistic crew of Hang About Sebastian. Inevitably, several of the guests pair off, including Bill. Paul secretly films Bill, then blackmails him...

Released to cinemas thirty years ago this month, Emmanuelle in Soho pretty much marked the death of the British sex film as a theatrical form.

The once proud Tigon tiger-lion...

British Cinema: From Blow-Up to this in the span of 15 or so years...

Blackstone and Hooper should be familiar names to students of the genre, with the latter also having some surprise Italian connections...

The film was bankrolled by porn baron David Sullivan as a vehicle for Julie Lee. She was a half-Chinese model who was being groomed as the successor to Mary Millington, who had committed suicide two years earlier and whose legacy it was becoming harder for Sullivan to exploit.

Keep it on!

Lee was originally cast as the Emmanuelle character. This could have suggested more of a connection, however tenuous, to the unofficial Emanuelle cycle from Italy insofar as these had similarly stressed the exotic appeal of 'Black' Emanuelle and 'Yellow' Emanuelle. Any sense of Oriental(ist) fantasy is however immediately dispelled when Lee opens her mouth and reveals her broad Yorkshire accent; had it been an Italian film, shot silent and post-synchronised, this could of course have been avoided.

East and some publicity for other Sullivan product

Lee and Miller swapped roles when it became apparent that she really could not act. Think about that: One model in a sex film being replaced by another because the quality of her performance was not up to scratch!

It is not, however, that the rest of the cast are much better. The actor playing Paul -- I use the term loosely -- performs primarily through raising his eyebrows, while producer and co-writer East reprises his Max Miller comedy routine from the Millington cash-in Queen of the Blues, firing off gag after gag, mostly unfunny.

The direction from first and only timer David Hughes is perfunctory. There is however the odd moment, such as the rack focus from Paul and Emmanuelle in a potentially compromising situation to Kate as she enters the room positioned in the back of the frame, in between them, which suggests someone making an effort.

The version under review ran barely an hour, with much of the running time padded out by the various performance and softcore numbers -- or, depending on your point of view, there is not enough of these and too much of plot stuff.

Signs of the times

Internationally it was also released with a documentary type introduction to Soho and with hardcore inserts. For the present day viewer, meanwhile, its interest is more as a classic piece of trash and for the incidental historical, social and cultural details, ranging from dialogue indicating a pre-AIDS fashionability of bisexuality (though other lines predictably suggest this was exclusively for women); to the giant top-loading VHS machine that was killing off this kind of cinema; to the size of flat the three supposedly impoverished friends have; to Paul's massive bouffant cum mullet.

Lee tragically died less than two years later after crashing her car and suffering massive burns. She was on her way home from a beauty contest in which, as the Monopoly card has it, she won second place...

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