Friday, January 8, 2010

Joe D'Amato's Sesso nero (1980)

Luigi Montefiori (aka George Eastman) tells the tale of how his story and screenplay for the Santo Domingo production and Joe D'Amato film, Sesso nero (1980) had its genesis:

The first film he [Joe D'Amato] worked on as a director, as director and producer, was made in Santo Domingo. I don't know if I've already told this story. We'd gone to Santo Domingo, invited there by Aristide [Massaccesi, D'Amato's real name], to make a series of three movies. One was supposed to be a serious film, and the other two were sort of erotic, movies you don't have to do much work to make. He showed me pictures of Santo Domingo, which I liked, so I went there, really for a vacation. While we were shooting these three films, I was crazy about gambling at the time, and I lost my entire pay for these films and all the other money I had in one week. So I was penniless at the end of the first week. Not even enough to pay for the hotel room. In fact I had to share a rooom with Dirce Funari one of the actresses, despite the fact that we weren't romantically involved. I'd be sleeping at four a.m., she'd come in--we caught some sleep when we could. Since I had no money, and Aristide refused to give me and advance on other jobs, I tried to convince him to do another movie. I said, "Why don't you shoot something of your own? You have the actors, the location..." So while we were shooting the other films--we'd do a scene, change our clothes, shot the scene of another film--to use the same set--I'd be the good guy one minute and the bad guy the next--So I said, "Let's do another story. You can bring home another film that's all yours when we leave." He said, "No, I don't have a story..." and I'd say "I'll write one for you." So we agreed on my salary, and in three days I wrote "Sesso Nero." [note: in the interview collection, Spaghetti Nighmares, Eastman says, "I'd written the script and persuaded Massaccesi to do it so that I could make up the money I'd lost in one of my habitual nights out at the casino. I based the story on Max Frisch's Homo Faber and put it together over a weekend, and despite the fact it had been a lightning job, it turned out to be a real success."] When it came out it made a lot of money. He read it, liked it, and made it. I played a small part, as a nightclub manager, in a scene we shot back in Rome, however. I was paid two million lira. It cost him about twenty million to make. It ended up making hundreds of millions, a great success. That was the first film produced and directed by Aristide. Of course he'd directed others, but none that were completely his. (from the documentary, "Joe D'Amato Totally Uncut" included on the Shriek Show Anthropophagus DVD) From a story borne from desperation, Sesso nero is about Mark Lester (Mark Shannon) who receives some bad news from his doctor: he's required to have an operation which will render him impotent (in a dream sequence, he imagines himself completely incapacitated and vulnerable on the operation table, while a doctor hovers over him with a scapel and his literal manhood sitting in a tray to the side). Mark has to have the operation within fifteen days, so he decides to take the preceding time before his operation to visit Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic as a vacation, an opportunity for some final sexual escapades, and to possibly revisit some memories. One day while wandering the streets of the city, Mark sees a reflection in a store window of a young woman, Maira (Annj Goren), who he had met on the island years ago and she looks completely the same. Mark has a couple of quick flings, one with the hotel maid and another with his friend Jack's wife, Lucia (Lucia Ramirez), before running into an old friend at a nightclub (Eastman) who tells Mark that some voodoo incidents have been reported on the island. Soon after, Mark spies Maira again.Sesso nero is the spontaneous production born in Santo Domingo while presumably the three original films to which Eastman alludes in his anecdote are Hard Sensation (1980), Erotic Nights of the Living Dead (1980), and Porno Holocaust (1981). Shannon, Eastman, and Ramirez would appear in all four productions, while Funari is absent from only Sesso nero and Goren absent from only Erotic Nights. The original three productions, especially Holocaust, are notorious for the inclusion of their XXX scenes, side by side with its horror. Italian cinema had seen sex and violence (and sexual violence) at its extreme before, for example, with Pier Paolo Pasolini's Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma (1975). D'Amato, himself, wasn't a stranger to mixing the two elements and pushing the extreme with his Emanuelle e Françoise le sorelline (1975; also starring Eastman) and especially Emanuelle e gli ultimi cannibali (aka Trap Them and Kill Them) (1977), for example. D'Amato is asked in an interview, "Later, the series [the Black Emanuelle films with Laura Gemser] was linked to the Cannibal films (Trap Them and Kill Them). Was it a great success?" D'Amato responds, "Yes, all the Black Emanuelle films made a lot of money." The interviewer responds to his answer with the statement, "It was quite a violent film." "Yes, definitely," says D'Amato. "I had done everything with this series except mix it with splatter-type horror. (interview from European Trash Cinema, Issue #12, ed. Craig Ledbetter, Kingwood, TX, July, 1995.)" The inclusion of XXX scenes in horror films wasn't alien either, as myriad European horror films often had various versions by different distributors for specific markets, including those with hardcore inserts. The three Santo Domingo productions, however, by D'Amato were calculated hybrids of horror and pornography, especially Holocaust. In Spaghetti Nightmares, D'Amato is asked: "What can you tell us about Emanuelle e gli ultimi cannibali and Le notti erotiche dei morti viventi [Erotic Nights of the Living Dead]?" D'Amato responds, "They were both made along erotic lines, and having said that, there isn't much else to tell about them, really. The former, like the others of the series, was a reasonable commercial success (especially abroad), while Le notti erotiche dei morti viventi was a total fiasco. I had endeavored to mingle my two favorite genres, tending more towards the erotic side in this case, but the film was rejected by the public." After an interviewer comments that "When you made Porno Holocaust...There's a scene where a zombie gives a blow job to a woman. And she dies. I mean that's incredible isn't it?! (laughs)," D'Amato responds, "Yeah, we thought that when two people fuck, that's when the zombie arrives. This is what it's about. The maximum combination of horror and sex! (from an interview in Flesh and Blood, Issue #6, ed. Harvey Fenton, FAB Press, 1996)"Despite it being the only non-horror film in this grouping, Sesso nero delivers its darkest tale. Anticipating a future which lacks the joy of sex and a reduced virility, Shannon's Mark embarks on his present, temporary quest of engaging in joyless sex and humiliating situations, as a figure from the past, Maira draws him down deeper than he could imagine. The joylessness and lack of intimacy are inherent in the initial XXX scenes, as with Mark's first trist with the hotel's maid: the photography (shot by Enrico Biribicchi) has to focus on the close-up shots of penetration for credibility to the scene's unsimulated acts. Likewise, following another perfunctory explicit sex scene, this time Mark with Lucia, the viewer sees Mark writhing in pain and grabbing his goin (as he has had a flare-up of his condition), as Lucia sits coolly at the dinner table watching him, looking as indifferent when she had pleasured him. Mark has to be carried back to his hotel room by the man whose wife he "seduced." Mark's most intense emotional scenes come with the woman towards whom he has the strongest emotion, Goren's Maira, but Maira also, with perhaps Sesso nero's most erotic XXX scenes, uses her strong sexuality not to tempt and seduce Mark but to induce jealously and emotional pain, as she has sex directly in front of Mark (to his credit, Shannon's performance is better than his colder performances in the other three Santo Domingo productions). The most erotic scene comes near the end of Sesso nero and involves Ramirez's Lucia and Shannon's Mark. The photography isn't explicit and focuses on less subtle physical movements, such as two's hands on each other and Ramirez's looks into the eyes of Mark. Sesso nero's ending has its most shocking and symbolic scenes. Sesso nero is ultimately more interesting conceptually and less interesting entertainingly, despite the fact that D'Amato's direction, Biribicchi's photography, and especially the music by Nico Fidenco being quite good. Shannon and especially Goren standout above the other performances. Eastman's story and screenplay, motivated from gambling losses, creates an ironic tale for an adult film: the loss of male virility, the desire for emotional intimacy, and the depiction of a darker take on sexuality. So how did audiences take to Sesso nero (as Eastman relates that it was a big success financially)? When D'Amato is confronted with this statement in an interview, "The most surprising fact about your pornos is that they have a real storyline," D'Amato responds, "That's right. The first one I made, Sesso nero, had a story even though it dealt with hard-core sex. But most distributors didn't consider it commercial enough and so they cut out the dialogue and left in the ordinary fuck scenes. And that's the reason why this kind of film is not an art form. The audience is there just to see people fuck. As a filmmaker, it is of no real interest to me (taken from the European Trash Cinema interview as noted and cited above)." I suppose with Sesso nero, there are no safe bets.


Alex Bakshaev said...

"Sesso Nero" is in my Top 10 D'Amato films, cardcore or otherwise. Thanks very much to including Eastman's tale of the film's genesis, I was often curious how it came about. "Sesso Nero" certainly is a modest film in terms of production values, but it's inspired and goes well beyond the limits of a mere rush-job. It is capable of making an emotional impact, unlike the curious but mindless "Porno Holocaust".

Hans A. said...

Thnx Alex for taking the time to share your thoughts and opinions. I agree that Sesso nero is a very compelling story and a provacative one at that.

Mr.LargePackage said...

Sensual review, Hans. You know, when I tell people I watch adult films for the story, they always laugh at me. Fucking assholes. And that is large and in charge.