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*Director John Lamond planned a sequel, Felicity in Tahiti, but it was never made.
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d. John Lamond; pr. Russell Hurley, John Lamond; scr. John Lamond; ph. Garry Wapshott; ed. Russell Hurley; cast. Glory Annen, Chris Milne, Joni Flynn, Jody Hanson, Marilyn Rodgers, John Michael Howson (90 mins)
Sexual Socialization in Australia and the Birth of a Local Sexploitation Industry
When in the early 1970s Australian exploitation turned to examine issues of sexual behaviour and sexual socialization in Australian popular culture with The Naked Bunyip, it birthed a local sexploitation genre.
Soon followed by sex comedies like Alvin Purple, Fantasm and The Story of Eskimo Nell, Aussie sexploitation by the end of the decade found its most devout practitioner in John Lamond. Lamond was a former publicist for the Village Roadshow corporation who began to examine sexual issues in a documentary format in The ABC of Love and Sex Australia Style before, influenced by the spectacular success of the European hit Emmanuelle and the liberalization of censorship codes in the 1970s, he sought to create distinctly Australian adult product.
What was remarkable about Lamond’s approach to erotica was its progressive and liberalizing approach to the joy of free sexuality. Setting aside religious convention, Lamond sought to bring to Aussie film an open sexuality which celebrated individual choice, maturity and sexual diversity. While the moral majority may have lamented the age of permissiveness reflected in Lamond’s films, the Aussie public responded to them with vigour. In Lamond Australia had an adult auteur and an approach to sexual openness which reflected that emerging from Europe (and giving the Aussie censors no end of trouble). And Lamond’s most Europeanized film was Felicity, a sexual travelogue about a young woman and former Catholic schoolgirl travelling through Asia and discovering / exploring her sexuality with like-minded, free-spirited men and women.
Australia's Celebration of Feminine Sexuality post-Emanuelle
“I ain’t mama’s little girl no more no more no more”. At a convent school, Felicity narrates her own burgeoning interest in sex, despite the prohibition of the nuns.
In that, Felicity emerges as a feminized take on the issues of developmental sexuality facing young boys studying at a Catholic seminary in director Fred Schepisi’s The Devil’s Playground. But though the two films explore similar issues regarding the sexual socialization of young people in a religious-dominated climate, Schepisi’s film was considered artistic whereas Felicity was dismissed as male sexual fantasy, never mind the fact that the film celebrated a woman’s coming to terms with her own sexuality as a means of her independence in the same way that had enamoured such films as Emmanuelle to audiences worldwide. In Australia, as Lamond relates in an interview included as a DVD special feature, anything positive and erotic to do with sex was considered pornographic.
Felicity is a celebration of youthful feminine sexuality in the manner of David Hamilton in such films as Bilitis and First Desires. It is about a young woman’s first sexual awareness of her body and her resultant pride in her femininity as an appreciation of the physical sensations of attractiveness, sensuality and sexuality.
Ravishingly photographed, Felicity is a film in praise of feminine sexual awareness – of oneself and of the effect that one’s body has on both young and old men. In this, Felicity is not about the sexual objectification of its heroine but about her sexual subjectification, the way she accepts and asserts her sexuality as a measure of her maturity as a young woman. It is erotic, open, free and sensuous and in that remains one of the finest of Australian films of the 1970s, less a male sexual fantasy than a pro-feminist story of sexual liberation and the importance of sexuality in women’s lives: how a new generation of Aussie womanhood face the opportunities offered them by the sexual revolution inherent in such soft-core products as Emmanuelle and The Story of O (books which the title character reads eagerly).
The importance of Felicity in Australian cinema matches the influence of Emmanuelle in international film and in that it is a rare accomplishment – a defiance of Aussie prudery and a celebration of sexual self-assertion, acknowledging such developmental stages as lesbian interest and masturbation. Felicity re-stages some of the set-pieces (sex on an airplane) and the international travelogue of Emmanuelle but differs in one respect – Sylvia Kristel playing Emmanuelle was a fully mature woman whereas Glory Annen playing Felicity is in the process of maturation. Thus, Felicity functions in part not just as a re-deployment of Emmanuelle but a partial deconstructive precursor, examining what youthful experience and attitudes would result in a mature and independently sexual woman. As a sexual coming of age story thus, Felicity offer for women what generations of men had been exploring in literature, film and the arts but had been denied women by just the religious socialization inferred at the beginning of this film.
The Australian Appreciation of Erotic Cinema's Aesthetic of Joy
And also implicit in this film’s celebration of a young woman’s developing sexuality is an appreciation of the joy in explicit erotica.
Director Lamond has repeatedly admitted that he intended his films to be turn-ons for the viewer, a fact which alienated him from Australia’s critical establishment who considered any sexual depiction meant to arouse the viewer as at best un-artistic and at worst, pruriently pornographic.
But in making Felicity as a turn-on for men, women and couples, Lamond perfects what was always central to erotic film before the anti-porn radical feminist movement had it demonized as pornography – the artistic depiction of sexual explicitness, desire and socialization: the art of Eros. Subjectifying rather than objectifying woman’s sexuality ensures that Lamond is not merely concerned with sexual awakening and desire but with the emotional commitments and circumstances that accompany sexuality. Thus, although the initial part of the film develops the character’s incipient sexuality and increasingly considers her perfectly natural desire to lose her virginity as an erotic journey worthy of explicit filmic celebration, the second part of the film addresses the emotional maturity which by necessity must accompany sexual expression. In that, Felicity emerges as a triumphant, sexy and joyful look at the wonder of sexuality as a uniquely human experience, all the more remarkable is that it celebrates such though the perspective of a woman – the gender whose sexuality religion has traditionally denied but which erotica (and pornography) have liberated from theist oppression into a true humanist subject worthy of discourse.
Recognizing the Global Appeal of the Sex Film post-US Sexual Revolution
From an Australian convent to exotic Hong Kong, Felicity is a sexual adventure full of rare optimism. It is never naïve but rather honestly straight-forward, up-front and in its attention to developmental sexual psychology, quite responsible.
Power and gender are issues here, with notions of submission and dominance in sexual initiation re-staging in a more accessible format some of the sado-masochistic eccentricities of such films as The Story of O. Assertive masculinity plays a role in the deflowering of the virgin Felicity to an older, wiser man but never is such against her will. In this, the film contrasts her sexual desires with the reality of the gender power structures which socialize men and women. Never heavy-handed, Felicity renders in easy to appreciate terms the complexity of female sexual independence in the era of sexual permissiveness. In that, it is the film’s openness and earnest sense of social responsibility which perhaps distinguishes it from the films it evokes and re-configures.
With an informative commentary track by director Lamond and star Annen, the Umbrella DVD release of Felicity is a landmark in erotica all the more remarkable in that it was an Australian production at a time when Australia’s traditionalist “wowsers” were doing their utmost to ensure that such films never received their critical due. Now that Australian society has for the most part transcended wowserism – despite the continued efforts of such irrelevant buffoons as the Reverend Fred Nile – the beauty, joy, honesty and responsible eroticism of such as Felicity can be not only appreciated but restored to the pantheon of quality Australian films from which it has for too long been excluded. In this, Felicity joins a series of quality erotica releases by Umbrella DVD, including the likes of First Desires and the Black Emmanuelle films Emanuelle Around the World and Emanuelle in Bangkok and such Aussie exploitation classics as Fantasm and The Story of Eskimo Nell.
Sexy, clever and progressive, Felicity is a transcendent erotic movie and one of the finest if least appreciated Australian films of the 1970s.
Heterosexuality, lesbianism, group sex and a rare Asian eroticism distinguish this slice of 1970s soft-core sexploitation, a film which absolutely revels in female sexuality not simply as male fantasy but as the groundwork for a genre of erotic cinema which empowers women. On the basis of Felicity, director Lamond deserves to be re-evaluated as an eroticist as important in the development of sexually explicit adult filmmaking as David Hamilton and Just Jaeckin – the figureheads of European soft-core erotica. Felicity is an outstanding, smart and sexy piece of quality Aussie filmmaking as effective as erotica as anything emerging from Europe at the same time.
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(UPDATED: January 15, 2013 10:16 )
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