Behind the Green Door (1972)

*. I hope it won’t offend anyone too much if I confess that I have some — not a lot, but some — respect for Gerard Damiano (director of Deep Throat and Devil in Miss Jones) and the Mitchell Brothers (Artie and Jim, the team behind Behind the Green Door).
*. The thing is, they didn’t have to try to make good movies. They could have made a lot of money with no effort at all just shooting stag films. But they didn’t take the easy route. Maybe they didn’t see themselves as creating great art, but they at least thought they were aiming in that general direction. Doesn’t that count for something?
*. Of the Big Three films that defined the era (or was it only a year?) of porno chic, Behind the Green Door may not be the best (I’d give the nod to Devil in Miss Jones), but it is, in my opinion, the most erotic. There are scenes here that are still sexy nearly fifty years later, and Marilyn Chambers looks stunning, even when wearing a toque.
*. Some people complain that they find the proceedings a little dull. Look, all porn films are dull. They aren’t trying to tell a story. They have very little in the way of narrative. And the sex scenes here do tend to go on too long, even when the pay-off is a fantastic slow-motion money shot painted in psychedelic gusts of abstract jizz. Nevertheless, some of it still works, and this despite the alienating air of artiness.
*. My favourite scene is Gloria’s induction, where, after a hypnotic-erotic massage to warm her up, she’s offered like a victim to the brides of Dracula. I think one reason this works so well is because the “female attendants” (as they’re credited) stay fully clothed throughout, making Gloria’s body a spotlight of attention. All things considered (lighting, composition, editing) this is the high point of the film.
*. Just with regard to this same scene, Danny Peary describes the attendants as being dressed as nuns. I don’t think they are, but it’s interesting that he saw them that way.
*. I mentioned the brides of Dracula feasting on Gloria, and if there’s a theme to the sex here it’s in that notion of eating. This is one of the most oral porn films ever, and the fact that it begins in a diner, with its neon EAT sign prominently featured, probably wasn’t an accident.
*. We also have what was possibly the first interracial sex scene in an American hardcore feature (with Chambers and Johnnie Keyes). That’s something else to appreciate, isn’t it? And the thing is, despite being seen as taboo at the time the movie doesn’t play it as anything particularly transgressive.
*. Again we have the emphasis on sex as performance: the porn movie as act of voyeurism. As I said in my notes on Night Trips, porn movies aren’t about people having sex, they’re about watching people having sex. So there’s Marilyn Chambers being “loved as never before” while the audience masturbates and then break into an orgy. Gloria is just there to start the fire. You get the point.
*. After the initiation rite things go downhill. The rest of the sex I do find dull, even with the trapeze, and outside of the sex it seems a very strange movie indeed. Of course the premise of a woman being abducted and then initiated into various public sex acts that she comes to enjoy would not be well received today. For all the talk there was at the time of Gloria being a willing participant in the proceedings, she is presented as largely without agency. Indeed, she seems at times to have been placed on a kind of sexual conveyor belt, and doesn’t even have a voice (Chambers has no lines in the film, even after she’s left the club).
*. Then there is the strange framing narrative. What’s up with that? I’m not sure I understand what is going on even on re-viewings. I imagine audiences seeing it for the first time were totally lost.
*. Jim Mitchell had studied film a bit at university, and at least at one point had ambitions of being a serious filmmaker. But I’m not sure even that explains the odd art-house flavour to the proceedings. Though, as I began by saying, neither does any commercial impulse.
*. I have a hunch that the artistic flourishes were just part of the spirit of the age. Even fringe, exploitation filmmakers wanted to be doing something different, something creative in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Not to make money, but just because they could. Even porn could be art for art’s sake. If they don’t make porn movies like this any more, well, I think we have to add that they no longer make many movies like this in any genre. In the Internet age sex may be more a performance than ever, but is it a cinema of personal expression or just a routine?

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