Friday, March 23, 2007

Boston Underground Film Festival Opening Night: American Stag

First, I'd like to note that I've got a review up on HBS for Maxed Out. It'll show up in the blog next week, along with the Hot Fuzztival and HD/BD viewings that surrounded it.

First night of the Boston Underground Film Festival last night. It's definitely a laid-back atmosphere - the festival started with the Alloy Orchestra accompanying silent adult movies, programmers Kevin Monahan and Anna Feder joked with the audience when there were early technical issues, and later tossed a vibrator into the audience as a door prize (hey, they're a festival sponsor).

There was also a short film, "Beyond the Pearly Gates of Ill-Repute", that fit with the theme of the night quite well - it was silent, a bit risqué, and funny.

Today's plan: Work, then Dante's Inferno and The 4th Life. Hopefully I'll be able to get screeners of some of the stuff I'll miss, because End of the Line looks pretty darn good (but has already been reviewed for HBS/EFC), and Bulldog in the White House looks agreeably bizarre.

American Stag

* * * (out of four)
Seen 22 March 2007 at the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival IX)

No matter what the subject, apparently, it's possible to say things were better before everything went commercial. At least, that's the case made by American Stag, which has its eye not on the modern porn film, but on the blue movies made up until about 1968, when the courts ruled that film was protected by the First Ammendment.

After all, as soon as something is legal, it's ripe for commercial exploitation. Before this, American Stag tells us, blue movies - called "stag pictures" or "smokers" because of how they were exhibited in the smoke-filled, men-only rooms in V.F.W. halls or Elks' lodges where "stag parties" were held - were generally the work of amateurs. They were shot on consumer 8mm or 16mm equipment, were seldom more than one reel in length, and produced in almost complete anonymity due to their questionable legality. Even well into the sound era, they were frequently silent films.

And, based upon what director Benjamin Meade shows us, kind of charming. Production values weren't that great, and the people involved tended to be ordinary people, with original-issue breasts, pasty skin, excess hair and all. The staging and camera work isn't sophisticated, but there is the sense of people having fun, telling a story and having sex because they enjoy it. Certainly, not everyone will agree with this assessment - Meade has fun juxtaposing a female film historian discussing how they were disgusting and even worse when interracial pairings were involved with a male one saying they could be considered educational (where else were men going to learn new ways to please their partners at the time?) and, hey, they were integrated when people of different skin colors couldn't even hold hands in commercial film. Admittedly, there' s no real response to the charge that these films presented rape as good fun.

Full review at HBS.

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