Devil in Miss Jones (1973)

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*. I don’t think Devil in Miss Jones (the title has no definite article) is a great movie, but it may be the greatest porn movie ever made. It really transcends the genre, with imagination, professional workmanship, and a riveting lead performance. But how unlikely was this?
*. Incredibly unlikely. Indeed, that Devil in Miss Jones turned out so well is one of the most unlikely things in the entire history of film. I’ll try to explain what I mean.
*. In the first place, it followed hard on the heels of the mainstream success of Deep Throat, the movie that really inaugurated “porno chic” or the Golden Age of Porn. But Deep Throat was a total piece of shit, no doubt about it. And since movies, and porn movies in particular, usually don’t want to mess with success, what incentive was there to do any better? None at all.
*. Second: Not only did it come after Deep Throat, but it was written and directed by the same auteur who wrote and directed that film, Gerard Damiano. So in addition to the aforementioned inertia (not wanting to mess with a successful formula) we also have the same creative mind at work. So why would anyone expect anything different?
*. Third: Most porn movies rise or fall on the strength of their stars. Those are the girls who are put on the poster or the box cover. But the woman who was going to be the star of this film backed out at the last minute, leaving Damiano to cast the crew’s cook, Georgina Spelvin, as Justine Jones. At the time Jones was 36 years old, which is old enough by Hollywood standards, and ancient for porn (at least before the increased prevalence of cosmetic surgery and the advent of MILF porn). Spelvin had been on stage as a chorus girl, and appeared uncredited in a handful of exploitation flicks, but she was hardly an “accomplished actress” (as she is described by the narrator of the BBC series Pornography: The Secret History of Civilisation). She’d never had a lead role or done hardcore. She was not conventionally beautiful and at one point the Teacher (Harry Reems) even evaluates her and finds her body merely “practical,” without the roundness most men desire.
*. Given all this one could be forgiven for betting that Devil in Miss Jones was going to be not just another piece of shit, but an even worse piece of shit than Deep Throat. But that’s not what happened at all.
*. Instead of being more of the same, and less, Devil in Miss Jones moves light years beyond Deep Throat into all new porn territory.
*. It’s a dark film with passages of black humour but none of the slapstick of Deep Throat. I can imagine the raincoaters wondering what the hell was going on as they sat through over ten minutes of prologue before Justine gets her chance to be consumed by lust. The suicide is totally asexual and downbeat. But once the spark is lit, look out.

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*. If the sexless suicide prologue wasn’t enough to tell you that things had changed, the editing and camera work would give the game away. We’re in a different world here. Someone has put some thought into all this. Note how, immediately after her suicide, we don’t see Justine’s face until we’re into her interview with Mr. Abaca. Since we haven’t heard her voice in the opening scene, we can’t be sure who it is we’re seeing walk into this room. We don’t expect it to be the same woman we just saw kill herself, and if we do we might think that this is a flashback. But the dead don’t know they’re dead (or so we’ve been told), so her fate, like her face, is only gradually revealed.
*. Which brings us to Georgina Spelvin. She’s on fire here, a knockout with striking feline features and a non-stop dirty mouth (Damiano just told her to keep talking until the scenes cut, so all of the dirty talk was improvised). She looks terrific, and dives right in to a surprising amount of transgressive sex (anal is the showcase in this movie, and at one point Justine even gives herself an enema in the bathtub). I mean, as for what she’s doing with that snake . . . well, all I can say it that it’s not my thing, and that I hope they were both all right after.

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*. If the raincoaters were mystified by the slow beginning I’m sure they left in a daze after the ending. But can one imagine a more fitting end to a porn film than a vision of hell as a state of eternal sexual frustration and unsatisfied desire? I hope Justine is into edging. It’s an unforgettable screen moment, brilliant in its originality and ambiguity. That’s Damiano himself (credited as Albert Gork) as the Man in the Cell — though is he a man, and is that a cell?
*. Maybe he’s the devil himself, just there to watch, like the Jigsaw Killer. I’m still not sure what he’s going on about and I think what he says probably means different things to different people. In any event, I love it that Justine isn’t paying any attention to him. This is closer to my own image of hell: two obsessed people talking at each other with neither of them listening to what the other is saying.
*. A lot of people don’t consider this to be a porn movie, instead insisting on its art-house status. I don’t think this is right. You can’t take the sex out of it. Rather, the sex is the element that this vision of hell is immersed in. “The way is to the destructive element submit yourself,” Conrad has one of his characters say. Devil in Miss Jones shows a woman who is engulfed in that element, using her hands and her feet, and her mouth and other orifices, to keep herself afloat. A woman who dies falls into a dream, like a woman who falls into the sea . . .

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