BR: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* But Were Afraid to Ask (1972)

February 17, 2018 | By

Film: Very Good

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Good

Label:  Twilight Time

Region: All

Released:  July 18, 2017

Genre:  Comedy / Satire

Synopsis: Dr. David Reuben’s best seller becomes a series of comedic sketches covering tomfoolery, sodomy, assorted perversions, and a giant smothering breast.

Special Features: Isolated Stereo Music Track / Theatrical Trailer / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment and www.twilighttimemovies.com.

 


 

Review:

One of the toughest challenges for any film built around a series of thematically connected sketches is consistency of quality, and offering enough variation so that no segment is redundant nor feels disconnected from the original concept. Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex is largely successful because Woody Allen knew when it was time to move on, and made sure the type of ridiculous scenarios offered something very distinct from the others.

Adapted from the same-titled but very nonfiction book by Dr. David Reuben, Allen launches the film with a Medieval take on the efficacy of aphrodisiacs. Playing an unfunny Fool for the King (straight-faced Anthony Quayle), Allen attempts to woo the Queen (Vanessa Redgrave) as per the instructions of his father’s irritable ghost. He uses a potion concocted by a sorcerer (magnificent voiced Geoffrey Holder), but his efforts to have some royal whoopee is blocked hard by the Queen’s chastity belt. Felix the joker is a fish out of water, as Allen speaks a mangled style of contemporary doubletalk, and clunky poetic evocations of the refined old English dialogue and puns.

Sodomy is the film’s second and most disturbing (if not Wrong) segment, and it works only because Gene Wilder plays his role of a humble and once moral doctor who loses it with a straight and earnest face. Dr. Ross initially tosses out a patient (prolific character actor Titos Vandis) for seeking help with his excessive romantic liaison with a sheep named Daisy, but Ross soon develops an attraction for the creature, ruining his marriage to a lovely wife (Elaine Giftos), losing his entire practice, and ultimately his soul. Allen directs the segment as quiet drama, substituting a sheep for ‘another woman,’ and Ross’ ruin unfolds just as tragic as a human-to-human love affair gone sour. There’s also a peculiar docu-drama tone to the segment, especially in a scene where Ross tries to survive as a coffee shop waiter until he loses his shit: the hand-held camera hovers like a tabloid news crew pouncing on an emotional money shot, and the final shot on skid row also bristles with location grit.

The third segment is one of the funniest as Allen spoofs a Fellini sex comedy, even going as far as performing the dialogue in Italian. Newly married Fabrizio and wife Gina (Louise Lasser) encounter a lack of bedroom acrobatics, and the search to ignite her lust takes the desperate hubby to friends, the clergy, and assorted foreplay devices until the pair discover the magical combination of the How and the Where, solving their intimacy hurdle. Sunglassed Allen does an amusing take on Marcello Mastroianni, and strikingly styled Lasser plays blonde Gina with a steeped degree of ennui. The camera movements and close-ups ape Fellini’s visual style, and it’s unsurprising Allen would do his own variation of 8 ½ (1963) in Stardust Memories (1980) in which a successful director has lost touch with his fickle fans (including aliens) who want his earlier ‘funnier’ movies.

Brevity dominates segment 3, “Are Transvestites Homosexuals?” and deals with a long-married couple invited to a dinner with old friends, and the husband sneaking upstairs to try on the hostess’s wardrobe. It’s basic farce as the husband ends up on the street where his little fixation is revealed. Also brief is segment 4, a spoof  game show presented as a kinescope of What’s My Perversion? hosted by Jack Barry. Celebrity guests Regis Philbin and Pamela Mason must guess a man’s perversion, going through possibles like rapists and child molesters before the big reveal, after which an older gentleman is brought on stage and his ridiculous perversion is enacted for the audience while his wife munches on a leg of lamb.

The sixth segment is among the longest, and has an unlikely pair of future lovers (Allen and Heather MacRae) traveling to a clinic to respectively assist and interview a disgraced sex egghead. John Carradine is perfectly cast as an outcast of the original Masters & Johnson group who conducts bizarre experiments, including premature ejaculation among hippos, and a giant breast that soon escapes and threatens a nearby town. Carradine almost steals the film from Allen with the best lines and ickiest behaviour, but it’s the Blob-like tit that smothers the segment as the fleshy mass lurches forward and flattens or drowns unsuspecting human chum in pressurized milk. The police dragnet handles the emergency with total professionalism, and there’s their lingering fear that the other boob might suddenly emerge…

The seventh and last segment ostensibly re-enacts the stages that precede and lead to ejaculation, substituting muscles and cells with a miniature NASA-like human bureaucracy. Tony Randall is the team leader, Burt Reynolds and veteran character actor Oscar Beregi are management level technicians, and Allen is one of many sperm who parachute into the uterus after a couple engage in some luv making after dinner & drinks. There’s teams of construction workers, computer technicians, and assorted sets evoke the body’s key departments working together with military precision, and the segment wraps up the film on a positive (if not uplifting) moment.

David Walsh’s cinematography is gorgeous – this must have been a fun film to shoot with seven distinct segments requiring unique approaches in lighting and tone – and Eric Albertson’s editing keeps the pacing and punchlines brisk. A rare score by jazz guitarist Mundell Lowe (Satan in High Heels) is sparse but quite fun, especially during the Felliniesque orgasm segment where the aim is to match the film’s trendy style with slick cues.

Twilight Time’s release includes a stereo isolated music track, and the lovely HD transfer also showcases Norman Gorbaty’s gorgeous title designs featuring a mass of albino rabbits gazing suspiciously at the camera. The soft focus shots of furry bunnies is rather creepy, especially the recurring macro images of pulsing bunny noses.

Julie Kirgo’s essay also contextualizes the film’s position as fresh cinematic (and comedic) material for the first generation to benefit from the Sexual Revolution and Reuben’s non-fiction book, published in 51 countries. Released the same year as Bernardo Bertolucci’s very serious erotic art film Last Tango in Paris, Allen’s own brand of dairy tinged erotica represents the fun side of sex – acknowledging its ridiculous components, but also making it zaftig, instead of masochistic and tragic.

Both films benefit from exquisite cinematography and jazz scores by two greats, but where Mundell Lowe was able to drift from satire to almost gravitas, Tango‘s Gato Barbieri (with orchestrator Oliver Nelson) transformed that film’s romance, its characters’ passion, and ennui into a classic statement of mad, tragic, buttery love.

Kirgo points out Sex remains Allen’s most profitable film; perhaps it’s a case of perfect timing, clicking with several generations of filmgoers whose fondness never wavered. It’s worth pondering whether the film could’ve been funded and theatrically distributed by a Hollywood studio today, let alone during the 1980s and 1990s, when the emergence of eroto-thrillers seemed the safest venue for filmmakers to package sex – most of which was aimed at ancillary cable and home video streams.

For the 1986 film version, David Mamet’s 1974 play Sexual Perversity in Chicago was cloaked as About Last Night, shielding the MPAA rather than audiences from its commentary; and that same year Casual Sex? reworked a woman’s hunger for sex by having her seek a clean, AIDS-free certified John at a swanky resort. 1994’s Exit to Eden was a giant dud in attempting to blend undercover cops with the source novel’s fetish content. Neither of these American films managed to crack the same nut and maintain a balanced amalgam of humour and titilation, perhaps because Allen’s formula was seeded with a multitude of absurd circumstances for its wriggling characters. As a film comprised of comedic segments rather than a continuous plot and characters, it shouldn’t have aged so well nor remain so satisfying.

Woody Allen films released by Twilight Time include Bananas (1971), Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask (1972), Love and Death (1975), Interiors (1978), Stardust Memories (1980), Zelig (1983), Broadway Danny Rose(1983), The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), Radio Days (1987) September (1987), Another Woman (1988), Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), Husbands and Wives (1992), Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993), and Allen starring in the Red Menace satire The Front (1976).

Also reviewed are Take the Money and Run (1969) and Men of Crisis: The Harvey Wallinger Story (1971).

 

 

© 2018 Mark R. Hasan

 


 

 


 

External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB  —  Soundtrack Album — Composer Filmography
 
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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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