Hollywood Goes Porn Serious: Hardcore (1979) + Inserts (1975)

August 29, 2017 | By

There’s a point in Paul Schrader’s commentary on Twilight Time’s Hardcore Blu-ray in which he raises and answers a question that’s been popular with writers, directors & producers for decades.

Will there ever be a studio produced adult-drama hybrid?

His answer is an affirmative No.

Terry Southern wrote a novel called Blue Movie (1970), in which a director and major stars make a hardcore film and screen it in one country in one cinema with a hefty admission price – a device that may well have been technically possible in a pre-home video era, but impossible during the camcorder late 1980s, and certainly today with cellphones which could render such an exclusive engagement useless.

According to Southern, Stanley Kubrick was very interested in adapting the novel, but like many projects in his Maybe pile, it never came to fruition, perhaps because the nudity, any softcore imagery, or the insertion of hardcore bits would’ve branded the film X and created headaches with print ads and distribution (although home video would’ve been a peach).

The name Blue Movie has been used to brand other films, and outside of the porn realm, there’s Andy Warhol’s 1969 film, the Dutch 1971 production by Wim Verstappen (Obsessions), Alberto Cavallone’s shit-slimed 1978 assault, and to a slight degree Zalman King’s Wild Orchid 2: Two Shades of Blue (1991) which was originally titled Blue Movie Blue before the distributor felt a rebrand would boost its profile among connoisseurs of King’s 1989 cult hit.

In subsequent years filmmakers have inserted hardcore bits or filmed actual adult content – the finale of Vincent Gallo’s The Brown Bunny (2003), John Cameron Mitchell’s multi-character drama Shortbus (2006), Michael Winterbottom’s 9 Songs (2004), inserted hardcore in the finale of Olivier Assayas’ Demonlover (2002), penetration shots in Baise-Moi (2000), and more recently CGI trickery in Lars von Trier’s 2013 Nymphomaniac diptych and Gaspar Noé’s Love (2015).

The common thread within the aforementioned is none were produced by a major Hollywood studio, and Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut (1999) was originally released in North America with obfuscations for visible naughty bits because Warner Bros. didn’t want a poisonous NC-17 rating and wanted to make sure the film’s ancillary sales wouldn’t run afoul of local outlets and broadcasters.

Schrader’s No stems from the theory that graphic imagery halts the brain from processing a film’s ongoing drama and characters; it’s a kill switch that turns the viewer from a cineaste to a voyeur in search of relief. It’s a theory that might be a little biased in terms of what a conservative filmgoer with a Calvinist upbringing similar to Schrader’s might suffer when scenes of unsimulated sex appear, recede, and recur a few times before the drama’s resolution.

One could argue Europe’s shown softcore can work in drama, romance, horror, comedy, and blatant sexploitation, especially in the 1970s, and America needed some time to catch up, but I think it’s the historians on the second Hardcore commentary track that observe the film being among the last gasps of provocative independent productions made within the studio structure that were already being phased out.

The boy and girl wonders signed to single and multi-picture deals were no longer worth the risk, and with the arrivals of Jaws (1975) and Star Wars (1977), small scale meandering, play-like, frank, character based tales with unresolved, sometimes nihilistic endings were passé. It is ironic that the Star Wars references in Hardcore – a massive billboard to trumpet its theatrical release, and Schrader’s cheeky riff on the light saber duel in a porn club with a disco styled, soundalike main theme – act as signals of what would dominate modern studio film production, but both Hardcore (1979) and John Byrum’s Inserts (1975) represent two stages of Hollywood’s tolerance for and waning interest in adult-themed dramas.

Inserts represents the period when studio gambling on an unknown writer-director with a sexy script seemed right, but when completed, was sold badly to audiences with an inept campaign and edits that may have harmed its potential. Byrum’s premise is unique and seemed to appeal to UA: Richard Dreyfuss, fresh from Jaws, plays a former silent film boy wonder director, making porn loops in his fading mansion for an investor (Bob Hoskins).

Here’s a series of ad campaigns that show how poorly this unsellable work baffled the studio’s publicity department:

 

The pull-quote option: the studio hope reviews will motivate what the publicity department couldn’t wrangle on their own.

 

The catchy visual metaphor option, tying the black comedy to notorious literary and erotic dramas in the hope the latter crowd will see and like Inserts.

 

The Italian poster, a painted and full colour version of UA’s almost monochrome alternate pastiche that still says nothing, infers who knows what, and fulfills the minimum contractual requirements to deliver a poster.

 

Schrader’s Hardcore has a devoutly religious father (George C. Scott) traveling to California in search of his daughter who’s surfaced in a hardcore porn loop and whose life expectancy seems brief. Unlike UA, Columbia knew how to sell the film by fudging things a little using classic misrepresentation. The famous tagline “Oh my God, that’s my daughter” is bullshit; Scott never utters the phrase.

 

 

 

 

Moreover, the girl on the DVD cover isn’t the missing daughter sought by daddy. That’s a bit player seen for a moment in front of a porn theatre with a pimp just before the film’s villain is dispatched in the finale. Sony may have felt Ilah Davis (middle poster as said “figlia,” in a pose also not in the film) wasn’t pretty enough, so the marketing department opted for more curves. It’s also an ugly video cover, but that’s another bone to pick in a later column – bad studio-crafted video art, which continues into the present.

In addition to reviews of the two films, I’ve also contrasted the extras for Twilight Time’s 2016 and Indicator’s 2017 Blu-rays, each sporting significantly different extras. This is also the first of several Twilight Time-Indicator and Twilight Time-Eureka / aka Masters of Cinema A-B comparisons. Some of these British editions are region free, and are becoming more widely available in North America via select importers and vendors.

 

 

Mark R. Hasan, Editor
KQEK.com

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Category: EDITOR'S BLOG

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