Wednesday 19 September 2012

On the Game

This 1974 entry from producer-director Stanley Long examines the theme of prostitution through the ages via a series of vignettes that take us from prehistoric times through to the present day or even the future, giving several interesting facts (or possibly factiods) along the way.

We begin with a low-budget pastiche of the opening sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey as a male ape barters the sexual services of a female in exchange for some eggs that he has gathered. It may be a black monolith moment in the history that Long is recounting, but there is no triumphant music nor a match cut bridging countless millenia.

Following this the narrative turns to ancient times, identifying Biblical taboos on prostitution along with the different approaches found in Babylonia, Greece and Rome.

In Babylonia, we are told, women were required to serve as religious prostitutes until they had lost their virginity, the sting in the tale being provided by a man approaching a woman only to then find out that she is a severe butterface --- i.e. everything else is fine, but her face isn’t.

In Greece brothels served as places of sanctuary, the problem being that having entered it was frequently impossible to leave.

In Rome prostitutes were licensed by the state, but having assumed the role were then forbidden to marry. Apparently they also had to wear blue or yellow wigs.

One exception to the first point was the Empress Messalina, whose exploits servicing the needs of several legionnaires are depicted via two ever increasing piles of breastplates and coins.

Following this there is the a jump in time to the Victorian era, where a masked husband and wife are predictably shocked when they unmask one another.

So far, very much a fun romp through the ages, Charles Grey’s voice-over getting the right mondo-style balance between serious and supercilious, while also helping paper over the usual weaknesses in the acting department when many performers are cast for their looks and willingness to disrobe and engage in softcore shenanigans. (Grey would, of course, undertake a similar narrator role the following year for The Rocky Horror Picture Show.)

It isn’t all fun and games, however, with a sequence in which a woman accused of being a prostitute is treated to the ducking stool treatment by an angry mob that results in her demise – images that perhaps intentionally recall Matthew Hopkins: Witchfinder General, Long having served as cameraman on Michael Reeves’ previous film, The Sorcerors.

Another, more jarring tonal shift occurs between vignettes of a German army field brothel in the First World War and of Second World War era British conscripts being shown a film about VD that includes several stills of diseased male and female genitalia that clearly came straight out of an actual sex hygiene film or a medical textbook.

Trivia fans may also care to note that the De Wolfe library cue that plays over the opening cartoon credits later appeared as that supposedly being played by the musicians in Mary Millington’s World Striptease Extravaganza.

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