Famed Kubrick Producer James B. Harris Diffuses A Fetish in 1973’s “Some Call It Loving”

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“Some Call It Loving” Screened On Sept 23, 2015

Recently, on a very humid Wednesday night, my wife and I traveled to a unusually empty Cinefamily screening of a somewhat notoriously fetishistic and ethereal film by James B. Harris entitled “Some Kind Of Loving.” A few years earlier, I was in the midst of a obsession of the writings of James Ellroy and found a copy of “Cop,” a 1988 film that Harris directed, which was based on Ellroy’s novel , “Blood On The Moon.” I really loved the book and appreciated what Harris had done to bring it to the screen, but I later found out that the film had been mercilessly panned by critics on its release back in the day.

Before going out to see “Some Kind Of Loving,” I had read a few critiques of the film written shortly after its release in 1973 and found them to be equally vicious in their attacks, with many of the reviews simply calling it “pretentious.” I could shrug a few bad reviews off, but unlike “Cop,” the source material was a short story by John Collier whom I have never been that great of a fan of, and the film starred Zalman King, the softcore writer-director of the “Wild Orchid” films of the late 1980s and 1990s, which were one-dimensional twaddle as was his screenplay for the immensely popular Adrian Lyne sex film, “9 1/2 Weeks.” Still, with little else in the theaters, why not see “Some Call It Loving” to see if perhaps Harris had been onto something, directing his second feature film away from producing Kubrick’s brilliant early works;  “Lolita,” “Paths Of Glory,” and “The Killing?” After all, Harris’ directorial debut, 1965’s “The Bedford Incident” was a tightly told thriller starring Sidney Poitier that goes down as a lost action gem from a decade packed with excellent films in that genre. It should also be said that of Harris’ five directorial efforts, “Some Call It Loving” is the only non-action film with Harris’ last film being the very average Wesley Snipes police shoot em up, “Boiling Point.”

“Some Call It Loving” has for its center, an exquisitely bored, 70s natural looking adopted jazz saxophone player named Robert Troy (Zalman King giving a purposeful trance-like performance), who one evening attends a carnival to only be lured into the tent to witness an actual “Sleeping Beauty,” who our carny barker claims has been asleep for eight years. Our barker/carnival doctor begins charging a tent of overly creepy men a dollar a person to kiss our comatose yet seraphic maiden in the false hopes of awakening her, but our hero Robert chooses to not pay the dollar for the cheap thrill and instead opts to purchase Sleeping Beauty outright for twenty thousand dollars paired with what appears to be a beneficent set of motives. For his twenty Gs, Robert gets the entire carny act including the fair Sleeping Beauty and the good doctor’s Ford microbus, complete with a hippy’s painting of the act’s star attraction on the side of the vehicle. It is now back to his European-style villa where Robert sets Beauty up with elegant sleeping quarters, which doesn’t seem to phase the two women he lives with, who are coupled together in a bed of their own. One has to wonder from this point forward if Robert’s blasé countenance is due to a constant over-stimulation of libido and what role will Sleeping Beauty play in the further awakening of his own sexual malaise.

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Robert’s Goes Numb While Jennifer Awakens

Soon after, with Sleeping Beauty tucked away, Robert goes off to the local jazz bar where he plays a set for a posh audience and for a virtually incomprehensible blathering junkie called “Jeff,” whom Robert considers his best friend, played by none other than Richard Pryor, who had played alongside Zalman King two years earlier in the now forgotten 1971 comedy-drama, “You’ve Got to Walk It Like You Talk It or You’ll Lose That Beat,” where Pryor plays another substance abusing character against King’s freewheeling hippy. To say that Pryor plays what Spike Lee normally refers to as “The Magical Negro” to King’s Robert in “Some Call It Loving” would be fairly accurate if it wasn’t for the fact that to assume that cliched role, the black character would have to say something that was somewhat philosophical or least coherent. Here Pryor takes his patented wino character to the ultimate extreme and makes him otherworldly in his inability to communicate any distinguishable word. I’m a lifelong Pryor fan, having listened to his albums all through my adolescence, but it was all beeps and buzzes to me here in this film. My best guess is that Pryor represents the unbridled soul that Robert represses with his stoic appearance.

Once back at home, Robert finds Jennifer (Sleeping Beauty’s actual name) awake and begins what would be a romantic and nurturing relationship, which by this point we can assume is less than what will be required based on the carrying on of Robert’s roommates. Bit by bit Jennifer embraces her freedom of sexual expression and becomes a willing participant in the fetishistic games that go on the mansion, which appears to disappoint Robert and his need to satisfy his voyeuristic desire to see her innocence corrupted, causing him to emotionally retreat and one one occasion, to even leave the mansion in order to seek out erotic stimulation from other women, which inevitably ends in failure as their willingness to participate through financial compensation only dampens his voyeuristic tendencies even more. With an acceptance that his sexual desires will not be fulfilled, Robert decides to flee the mansion and its ominous suggestions of depravity behind and takes Jennifer and the micro bus on a short road trip that eventually leads back to the mansion and to a scene of religious repression for the sake of the purification of all involved.

Though the plot of “Some Call It Loving” sounds a bit pretentious, I genuinely feel Harris’ intentions were to create an American version of the films that were successful in Europe during the late 1960s, as there are similar examinations of voyeurism in the Nouveau Roman novels and film work of French director Alain-Robbe Grillet for example. Past the issues mentioned before with a few of the performances, “Some Call It Loving” does possess great merit in its storytelling style and demands a second viewing. The intense diffusion used in the film was lensed by Italian cinematographer Mario Tosi, who a few years later would effectively layer diffusion all over Brian DePalma’s 1976 nightmarish horror classic, “Carrie.” It is clear that the deliberately slow pace of “Some Call It Loving” would not and did not go over well here in the USA, both with critics and audiences in 1973 as stated earlier, but the film was widely applauded in Europe as stated by Harris in this 2008 Q&A done with the director at Cinefamily:

The screening we attended last Wednesday was not a 35mm print, but a recently released Blu Ray from Etiquette Pictures, who did an excellent job with the transfer of this film. I personally am excited to pick up a copy as it possesses commentary and a featurette with director Harris and cinematographer Tosi, which I hope might shed more light on the low budget production of this misunderstood film that broke up a Wednesday evening and fostered an intense discussion and more than a few confused looks between my wife and I on trip home on that tepid evening last week.

Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice and a Whole Lot of LSD: The Sexorcists From 1970 Seen With The Cinefamily

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Original poster from 1970 Beautiful People/Sexorcists

My wife Lily and I have recently relocated to Los Angeles, and for one of our first film experiences here in the city, we went on down to the Cinefamily/Silent Film Theater on Fairfax, which is widely known for its rare niche programming to see “The Sexorcists,” a film that they even described as “one of the great white whales of sexploitation cinema—so elusive and rare, even we haven’t seen it yet.” Armed with that too tantalizing blurb we were thrilled to spend our late Thursday night on one of the plush couches at the Silent Film Theater.

Before I get into the experience of seeing this rarely seen cult film, directed by Louis Garfinkle, one of the screenwriters of The Deer Hunter no less, I should say that as a lifelong East Coaster, I have to address my preconceived notions of California that I concocted during my adolescence of watching spacey exploitation films depicting California as land of sexed out LSD ingesting freaks who are always trying to “experience” things that most East Coast Catholic boys would simply deem as satanic. Even more “mature” California scene films ranging from Mazursky’s 1969 film, “Bob And Carol And Ted And Alice,” to Bill Persky’s massively underrated 1980 film, “Serial,” did little to change my hardened heart that the other coast was a deranged place of self-help gurus and orgies. So, now that we know where I stand here, let’s address “The Sexorcists.”

Originally released in 1970 as “Beautiful People” to cash in on the aforementioned psychedelic scene, the film was re-titled and re-released (with a few scenes added in to keep it up to date with its new epitaph) as “The Sexorcists” in 1974. The film begins with Dr. Voxuber (in Halloween quality devil’s attire) letting you in on his evil plot to control the desires of his group of victims. We then cutaway to a pastoral camp known as “Godiva Springs” where our not good doctor runs a camp in which a group of California clichés is put together to “learn more about their bodies than they would ever dream of learning.” The group consists of Boobs (Leigh Heine), a gorgeous example of a wild 1970s California love child, Ruby Begonia (Sonja Dunson), a repressed African American church woman who is not too thrilled to be surrounded by a gaggle of messed up Caucasians, Shrink (Sina Taylor), a pretty housewife who is looking for a quick screw, Howitzer (Frank Whiteman), a hunky and slightly uptight man looking to lay whatever he can find, and Ding Dong (Ann Staunton), a spinster teacher who never gets much screen time. There is also Bubblegum (John Quinn), a blonde surferboy who chews a lot of gum and does little else, Sheena (Branch Halford), a gay transvestite who takes his character to a place that would make the average liberal arts school undergraduate snap in half from political incorrectness, and finally Burp (Harvey Shain), who is mute except for the occasional expressive oral flatulence.

Voxuber has a list of draconian rules that he announces to his California clan at the start of their stay that includes one that causes more than a few arguments which is “no touching under the waist and above the knees.”  Howitzer seems the most pissed by this development and the doctor would spend the entirety of the film, pulling him off of almost every woman in the camp at some point, much to the delight of the Cinefamily crowd. And as I now write about this evening’s crowd at Cinefamily, I would be remiss in my duties to not share their favorite moment, which seems to go off about every ten minutes of the film: an EST-style primal scream that each character does in an ISO shot directly into the camera. They come as randomly as the rest of the plot, and those moments are always met with a good laugh from the audience because they frankly are pretty damn funny. Voxuber spends most of the film putting our group of 1970s California cartoon characters through a series  of random self-help exercises but seems to spend most time with the most repressed Ruby Begonia, trying to bring her to  a state of self-induced seizure orgasm while our campers watch in amazement and joy. Even after such an experience, Ruby is still filled with enough uptightness to freak out a room of Junior League women.

You may be wondering where the mandatory LSD scenes are hiding, and they are of course near the end of our film when or Voxuber dispenses his LSD infused brandy. An all-night group grope ensues of the trippy kind, but the next day the fuzz is there to whisk Voxuber away because (drum roll) he’s not an actual doctor. Oh no! What is our group to do with Dr. Voxuber’s list of commandments? I guess they just have an even bigger orgy involving a series of shots of underwater boobies and wee wees which is really the only time the “sex” in “Sexorcists” appears on the screen.  Now comes another added scene of Dr. Voxuber (now  looking a tad like Jon Lovitz’s SNL devil) explaining his successful execution of his master plan or the “orcists” portion of “Sexorcists.”

The evening ended with the Cinefamily curators receiving an ovation of the almost packed house and a promise from them to search for more lost cult films if we liked “The Sexorcists.” I then wondered at this moment how a film like this would’ve played out to an East Coast cult film crowd who might be looking at these characters with the same level of “you see, I told you they are all freaks out here” lodged in their subconscious as it was with me at the start of this evening. Then the thought occurred to me that California residents in attendance might actually have known real people like the ones depicted in the film, which brought me my first moment of actual horror from the evening.