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ANGEL OF H.E.A.T (1982: d. Myrl Schreibman)
d. Myrl A. Schreibman; pr. Myrl A. Schreibman; scr. Myrl A. Schreibman, Helen Sanford; ph. Jacques Haitkin; m. Guy Sobell; ed. Barry Zetlin; cast. Marilyn Chambers, Mary Woronov, Stephen Johnson, Milt Kogan, Remy O'Neil, Dan Jesse (93 mins)
Softcore Sexploitation Cinema responds to the Hardcore Boom
The 1970s saw the proliferation and legitimization of hardcore pornography as a distinct genre of sorts.
A number of pseudo art-house adult movies succeeded in bringing so-called “respectable” audiences into adult films. Some of these films were even reviewed by mainstream critics, alongside conventional films and genres. This brief flowering of so-called porno chic in the 1970s effectively ended with the introduction of cheap videotape technology in the early 1980s but by then a number of adult actresses had become recognized media celebrities. Foremost amongst these porn stars was Marilyn Chambers, a former dancer and topless model who had achieved some fame as the poster girl for “99 & 44/100% pure” Ivory Soap when she became the most talked-about porn actress of the decade after starring in one of the breakthrough porn movies, Behind the Green Door. Unlike many actresses in the business, Chambers had a financial cut of the profits and was able to limit her subsequent career in porn to a highly selective number of well-chosen roles. She was so popular that towards the end of the decade, she attempted a non-porn acting career, resulting in two cult peculiarities – David Cronenberg’s intriguing Rabid (still Chambers’ best work outside of porn) and the woeful spy-spoof Angel of H.E.A.T. Although nothing came of it, the attempts have their own minor cult following.
Synopsis (contains spoilers)
In the lacklustre Angel of H.E.A.T, Chambers stars as Angel Harmony, the leader of an elite team (or a “tight core” as the film blurb describes them) of professionals – known as Harmony’s Elite Assault Team – who have left the intelligence community to form their own vigilante organization.
Ex-Warhol Factory superstar Mary Woronov is a lesbian scientist who discovers there are possible thieves in her midst, responsible for the leaking of valuable new microchip technology. As Woronov and her sidekick (Stephen Johnson) follow up whatever leads emerge, Woronov soon discovers that her rival, Chambers, has also been assigned to investigate the case. They have run into each other before and seem to carry a respectful grudge. Nevertheless, Woronov is distracted by her sexual interest in the wife of a peculiar scientist (Dan Jesse) who is increasingly linked to the missing information. Soon, the wife assists them in their investigation of her husband, but is unusually protective of him, although torn between the remnants of heterosexual loyalty and her newly awakened “love” for Woronov. Chambers and Johnson explore Jesse’s home and uncover a secret laboratory where he has been amplifying and modifying sound waves for use in a dastardly but vague plot to take over the world. Now Woronov and Chambers must put aside their differences to stop this demented patriarch.
The Bungled attempt to use Porn to Radicalize the Mainstream Spy Movie post-Charlie's Angels
Although appropriately marketed as throwaway camp sexploitation, this film is never erotic or revealing enough to be titillating to its presumed male audience. Indeed, considering Chambers’ reputation, this film is decidedly timid and without the expected sexual content emerges as a sluggish, clumsy and insulting spy parody.
What there remains of eroticism is voyeuristic and it is ironically the awakening of women’s lesbian inclinations that become a more emotionally affecting subplot than either the lame spy parody or Chambers’ muted seductions. In that respect, it is the statuesque Mary Woronov who emerges as the true “star” of the film and her scenes command an interest (such as there is in this film anyway) that are lacking in Chambers’ work here. What is unforgivable in terms of the expectations of the exploitation audience this film so actively courts, is that the film never makes anything out of the opportunity to have such cult stars as Woronov and Chambers interact (let alone the promise of a sexual scene between them that the film asserts and then denies). Despite their characters having a past history, there is little rivalry or shared sexual tension between them, the film obviously desperate to keep Chambers as purely a heterosexual object of desire. This results in a bungled opportunity to use porno expectations to potentially radicalize a mainstream genre.
Yet, despite its absolute failure to live up to its mediocre promises, Angel of H.E.A.T is nevertheless thematically bound to the porno movie ethos.
Thus, its women are all sexually insatiable figures whose desires give them their control and dominance of the situation – in that, they are arguably a revolutionary threat to what is portrayed in the film as a demented Patriarchy. But, in that they operate to purge an unseen patriarchal structure, they too must be subsumed into a patriarchal mindset. In turn, the very sexuality that gives them control also codifies them as erotic objects for a male gaze – such are the operations of even this film’s low-grade sense of sexual spectacle. Sexually active women thus have the future responsibility to maintain or restore order – a potential paradox lost on these film-makers. The film is still obsessed with the idea that women live in perpetual “heat” and rampant sexual excitement (the arguable ideal of much utopian pornography as Linda Williams has analyzed the genre in some detail) but the application of this conceit to such a stale plot does not result in a generic hybrid. It is almost as if this film is afraid of the links to pornography that it tries to simultaneously market. The fact that women here are not confined to sexual reaction alone is not enough of a statement to carry this terrible movie. As a mainstream showcase for a porn actress, this film is also a dud.
Concealing the Woman who had Once Revealed All
The visual transfer on this DVD is little better than VHS, if at all, and is presented in fullscreen only. The film itself has a rough assembly-like editing rhythm and the scenery of Lake Tahoe is not helped by such a murky transfer, often seeming smudged and indistinct.
An odd title sequence, of Chambers doing a martial arts dance sometimes in the nude, has a vaguely James Bondian aspiration but like much of the film comes across as charmlessly tacky rather than endearingly camp. The sense of browning, late autumnal cold offsets some of the nudity, although the heat of the indoors offers scant contrast to the cold of the exteriors for there to be any juxtaposition. A moving vehicle point-of-view shot is a highlight, one of the few on offer that are not crudely sexual in nature. Nude female mud wrestling makes for a protracted sequence, showcasing Woronov but not Chambers – actually Woronov comes across as far more open and adventurous than the non-entity Chambers. Indeed, as much as Chambers is supposedly in control, one of her sex scenes is decidedly humiliating (nude on all fours as she is ridden by a midget) before she reasserts control (was this her punishment for control?). The sex scenes are clearly aimed for male spectators and the lesbian theme ultimately becomes a source of ridicule. When the film turns towards science-fiction, the camera never explores the makeshift sets.
Sounding Out the Sexy Ridiculous
.The sound transfer on this DVD is equally poor, not helped by a cheap and banal sound mix and the “cheesy” score expected of such cheap sexploitation.
A title pop song by Denise McCann also dates the film rather than give it the intended touch of class. It is a poor mono transfer, flat and mostly undifferentiated throughout, with a pronounced hiss that occasionally drowns out the voices. This almost overwhelming hiss is the worst of DVD audio and will need adjustment in systems with such potential. Occasionally the film’s attempts at humor come through, as in a running joke about an Oriental martial arts master who speaks with a camp German accent, and jokey subtitles in Oriental script. Chambers’ delivery and dialogue is flat, further tilting the film in favor of the more vivacious Woronov. The use of a subjective amplified heart beat to signal the awakening of lesbian passion also merely signals the condescending, cheap-laugh nature of these filmmakers. Even the inevitable dialogue reference to Behind the Green Door falls flat in a film whose aural design and script is truly dire. In this context, the cheap synthesizer allusions to classical music (Bach) seem most peculiar additions. The score does however effectively, if crudely, parody the cliff-hanger accompaniments of silent films during a river rafting scene. The shrill tone of the mad scientist’s secret weapon adds some novelty.
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(UPDATED: January 13, 2013 20:47 )
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