Thursday, March 6, 2014

Prison Girls (1972): Sexuality is Complicated

Prison Girls (1972)
dir: Tom DeSimone

Prison Girls originally had a gimmick: it was a 3D porno. It wasn't the only 3D porn to be made in the 70s, but watching it in 2D makes it seem like a useless exercise. The other adult movie in 3D from the 70s that I've seen, The Lollipop Girls in Hard Candy, had the inverse problem, it seemed like a useless exercise in porno.

Prison Girls was directed by Tom DeSimone, a director who had got his start directing gay porn under the name Lancer Brooks, some of it quite rapey and forced, a sensibility which would bleed into Prison Girls in a now-squicky way. of course, DeSimone hates Prison Girls, saying that it was a compromised vision, and all the behind-the-scenes arguing makes it not his film.

In the 1970s, porno chic was in full force, as was sexploitation, in which women were physical fodder for the grindhouse. Prison Girls is just one among many of these sexploitation/porno crossovers which had sleaze on the mind under the guise of exploiting the new found sexual revolution. Even with the downer ending, it never is honest about its intentions, and leaves a lot of the morals of the film up for grabs.

The concept of the film is ludicrous, even for porno chic terms. 6 female prisoners are given weekend passes in order to start organizing their lives since they'll be getting out of prison soon. In the beginning, the women are having shower fights, and talking about beating each other's asses with bars of soap. As they see the prison shrink, she espouses a lot of clap trap about how some of the women are frigid, and others need to get a deep dicking in order to be more placid prisoners. It's all under the guise of the new sexual revolution morality, but its all hooey anyways.

The first girl goes to her old pimp in order to get her clothes. But, her pimp slaps her around then screws her on some fantastically deep shag carpeting that looks more like the back of a Sasquatch than an actual carpet. The pimp slapping is problematic, as it is total domestic abuse. The girl eventually does give in to screw, but she fought the scene until past the point where its not comfortable. But, there is deep shag carpeting to consider.

The second girl goes to her husband, who has werewolf sideburns, and has sex with him in a peaceful place for once in order to experience her first orgasm. Because she was frigid before, or something. She has a wonderful orgasm, and everything is peaceful.

The third girl visits her brother-in-law, when a biker gang shows up and forces them to have sex. This isn't like a cutesy have sex in front of us thing, this is full on rape and violent sexual abuse. And, it goes on for a long fucking time. Even for a sleazy porno, I don't know how many people signed up for extended rape sequences that just fall out of the sky. Here I was, enjoying the hell out of terrible carpeting, when suddenly a biker gang comes in and sexually assaults a girl and forces her to have sex with some guy.  Jesus fuck.

The fourth girl meets up with her rich artist ex-boyfriend or something. He's busy painting flowers on paid model/prostitute's tits, because he's rich. But, when the girl shows up, he's pleased, and they happily shag. Then, the fifth girl shows up, who was the fourth girl's prison girlfriend, and is all possessive. She beats the guy, and then the girls shag a little until the guy joins in, and its a merry MFF threeway once all the sexual freedoms are figured out amicably.

The sixth girl has a boyfriend who is on the lam himself. And, they finally meet at some hiding place, and shag. But, then the cops come in, and shoot her in the back while trying to arrest him. But, at least they shagged happily until the cops broke it up.

As it turns out, in the denouement, the prison shrink had set up the weekend passes to catch the boyfriend, and the last girl was just in the way. So, while everybody did get to have a bit of fun, it was a To Catch A Thief type scenario, except the sixth girl didn't know it, and ended up dead in the end.

But, OMG, the sexual politics in this movie are all over the fucking map. And, it doesn't help that Tom DeSimone is a gay man who probably likes S&M, based on his first few movies, like Assault, where men kidnap other men and sexually abuse them, but then turnabout's fair play. One of the ongoing topics of feminism is what to do with fantasies of power exchange. Rape fantasies are actually valid forms of fantasy for both men and women. Some men have fantasies about being raped, some women have fantasies about being raped. Some men want to hold the power, so do some women. These are just facts of humanity that have existed since the dawn of time. Power exchange turns people on.

Sexploitation and porno chic exploit these fantasies for the male dominant side, consistently. They're always by men and mainly for men. Prison Girls is no exception. It's a movie which is constantly exploiting the female body for the man's pleasure, and never once do we see wang (at least in the current version which has an MGM logo on it!). A knee-jerk feminist reaction to this movie would be that it frequently removes agency from women, so it's not a healthy form of expression.  Especially since there are two extremely problematic scenes, neither of which are presented as completely problematic. At the end of the movie, the raped girl, we are hinted, ends up in the hospital...but she'll survive and recover, according to her prison mates.

But, Prison Girls gives agency to the married girl, the girl with the rich painter (who fully asserts her individuality to both the painter and the prison girlfriend), and to the final girl who ends up dead. These three girls all have full control over their sexual expressions, and who they're hooking up with. Even if it is for the male camera, the girls are making decisions in the story.

With three stories of girls with agency, and 2 stories of girls without, what are we to say about Prison Girls? What does it say about the society it was constructed in? It doesn't seem to have any problems with the sexual revolution. At all. In fact, the downer ending has nothing to do with damning female sexuality and everything to do with how fucked up the system is. And, the male in the rape story is also forced into having sex with the girl, so its a rape of both parties. A dual gender rape scene is rather unusual.

This is looking too deep into a crappy movie that is all but disowned by its director (who would go on to direct things like Reform School Girls with Wendy O. Williams, Heavy Equipment with Jack Wrangler, and Hell Night with Linda Blair). The sexual politics are squicky. The dialogue and plot is ludicrous. The sense of pacing is awful. It's not XXX in its current state. It's now in a very ugly 2D (though, I can't help but imagine what the 3D shag carpeting would look like). And, there's not that much going for it. It's a throwaway picture, but it has a lot of weird gender politics in it, which makes it one of the more interesting pictures of the 70s porno chic films.

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