The Films (2/5):
This double feature spotlights the early work of Matt Cimber, a filmmaker who started off directing theater before switching to film, namely early, “educational” softcore porn. The two included here were made after the success of his earlier film, Man & Wife: An Educational Film for Adults, which Vinegar Syndrome credits as the first American film to feature real, explicit sex. Later, Cimber would move onto exploitation and even some semi-respectable mainstream cinema, most notably the notorious Pia Zadora vehicle Butterfly. That the director of the two features included here would someday work with Orson Welles is oddly inspiring.
Both films use the pretense of education as a pretense to feature lots of softcore action (and even some hardcore bits) without facing prosecution. The Sensually Liberated Female, adapted from the bestselling book The Sensuous Woman, features a narrator (Lindis Guinness, uncredited in the film) instructing the (presumably) female audience on how to explore their sexuality alone and with a partner. Masturbation (with a variety of tools, some improvised), foreplay, oral sex and even anal sex are all covered in detail, all illustrated with Guinness’ amusingly clinical narration. It’s a mostly sleepy experience, occasionally livened up by Guinness’ matter-of-fact explanation of, say, how a douche nozzle might be used as a sex toy (sidenote: the sex toy industry sure has come a long way).
He and She, which features a professorial male narrator, is more focused on couples, juxtaposing a young man and woman trying out different sexual techniques on a sparse, vaguely psychedelic set with shots of the young couple having a grand day out. It’s a bit more entertaining than The Sensually Liberated Female for two reasons. First, there’s the narrator’s hilariously mangled pronunciation of “fellatio,” which sounds like “philacchio.” Second, there’s the movie’s strange ending, which touts itself as using film techniques to go inside the mind of a man and a woman during sex. This consists of flashbacks to childhood spankings, stock footage of a rocket launch, and more nonsense like that. It made me chuckle. To Cimber’s credit, though, both movies repeatedly emphasize a shame-free approach to sex and the importance of consent; even if “education” was merely a pretense for beaver shots, at least the advice these movies give is pretty credible.
The Sensually Liberated Female is presented in a 2K scan from a 35mm archival print. The source elements are pretty uneven and, given how drab the original movie’s lighting and production design are, the transfer seems to be an accurate representation of the film. He and She, which was scanned from a 35mm color reversal intermediate, looks a bit better, more so in the studio-shot segments. Neither ranks among Vinegar Syndrome’s jaw-dropping restoration work, but given what they had to work with, they look pretty good. The mono soundtracks are clear throughout.
Included is an 12-minute interview with Cimber, who talks about how he moved from theater to film and how he came to adapt a best-selling book into The Sensually Liberated Female.
The two movies included here make for a pretty sleepy double feature, but they’re fun for completists, particularly anyone interested in the industry’s transition into hardcore, and Vinegar Syndrome’s presentation is characteristically solid.