Emmanuelle in Soho (UK - DVD R2)
Reviewers the Wilson Bros don't know Emmanuelle, but they know Soho well...
The 1970s were a boom-time for the British sex comedy—studios large and small were cranking them out with a ferocity that was only matched by the public’s appetite to get in line outside cinemas to see them, all wearing the requisite dirty mac, of course.
With the oncoming storm that was home video, the writing was on the wall for the kind of soft-core, low-budget high jinks that had been packing them into picture palaces up and down the country (though mainly in adult cinemas in Soho). Video (to misquote the old Guild Home Video slogan) was about to become alive and people were certainly going to live with it, especially the discriminating pervert whom realised that it was possible to watch harder material in the privacy of his own home, not having to worry about possibly getting arrested for acts of gross indecency. The pornocrats desperately squeezed the golden goose as it was given the last rites.
If George Harrison-Marks’ extravaganza Come Play With Me (which we recently reviewed on this very site) was a relatively star-studded last hurrah for this particular sub-genre, then David Hughes’ Emmanuelle in Soho—which was released in 1981, well into the home video boom—was the final eerie post-mortem escape of air from the corpse. With the Emmanuelle movies still fresh in the public’s mind, to the point where the Carry On series had just spoofed it, the theme was an obvious one. It’s just a shame that they forgot to not that Carry on Emmanuelle was enough to kill Britain’s’ most enduring film series.
The story is a relatively simple one: Husband and wife Paul (Keith Fraser) and Kate Benson (Julia Lee) are scraping by whilst living in that seedy are of London known as Soho. Paul is a photographer and Kate is a struggling actress, but they both have ambitions of living an affluent lifestyle and both of them have drifted into the world of adult entertainment in order to make it big; Paul takes pornographic pictures and Kate is up for a part in a nude review entitled ’Hang About Sebastian’, but a falling out with pornographer Bill Anderson (John M East) gives Paul the chance to finally make big bickies in the smut picture racket.
After realising that he's being exploited by the shady pornographer, who tells him his work is crap in order to buy it cheaper, Keith hatches a plan to ensnare Anderson, by way of organising an orgy, with the smut peddler the guest of honour. All Keith needs to do is catch the randy old bugger on the job and make sure that the lens-cap is off to capture him in the act. When the pics are taken, he'll blackmail Anderson into letting him become a partner in the business, or he'll let Anderson's wife see the nicely-photographed pics of him in the sack. What could go wrong?
Plenty. Where to start? Right. From the outset, the very fact that Kate and Keith are pleading poverty in a swish Mayfair flat creates a credibility gap the size of the generational one between a forty year old and MTV’s target audience. They don’t work in banking, so aren’t using it as a crash pad during the working week, and spend weekends at their retreat in the country. Nor is Lee a call-girl, and so aren’t renting it out to bring clients back to. They drive a lovely Merc, which could be yours by pulling the right Christmas-cracker. If you hear a whizzing sound followed by that of breaking glass, don’t worry; it’s just credibility flying straight out the window.
In an effort to swell the coffers, Paul organises a lesbian photo shoot between his wife Lee and the titular Emmanuelle, (‘Randy’ Mandy Miller) a blonde, Princess Diana-a-like. ’Jesus, we’ll make a fortune form these shots…’ he salivates, as the girls do what comes naturally at an all-female Buffy convention. The pictures in question aren’t really capable of generating too much trouser-arousal; sure, there are a couple of naked birds going at it, but the blonde lassie goes about it with such unbridled zeal that she looks like a starving cannibal attacking a dolly-bird covered in maple syrup with a sprinkling of hundreds-and-thousands.
Julie Lee and Keith Fraser are a perfect pairing, both looking as though they stepped out of the same grooming parlour. ’I’m a straight guy in a bent business…’. Say that again with conviction, ducky, as hair like that says otherwise. His photographs of Emmanuelle posing in and around a wicker chair are obviously supposed to reference Just Jaekin’s most famous movie, but there is a high degree of arrogance at play when smut-peddler Anderson declares that they get ’this sort of rubbish’ in every week. Okay, he’s being played, but don’t bite that hand that your nicking scraps from.
There is a real irony that the supposedly ruthlessly cold and driven Julie Lee died on the losing end of her battle to be a star, whereas the delightful Mary Millington took her own life when various pressures associated with her fame got too much for her. Millington demonstrates how the porno industry has moved on so much in the last three decades—hell, even in the past five years—in that the women look so different here than those today. Emos and Generation X’ers are used to augmented, plastic girls with built-in eating disorders, effectively caricatures of the female form. To put some adolescent in front of the nudity on display in films like these would scarcely induce boner one in them, doubtless attracting cries of ’ugly’, ’fat’ and ’dog’ because they aren’t the silly, cartoonish forms the industry has weaned them on.
The acting really isn‘t up to very much, prompting one of our Missus‘ to comment that ‘…it’s like some sort of school play…’ at the collective efforts of Lee, Miller and Fraser. Leave it to a woman to really pick something apart, but she incisively pointed out that Fraser raises his eyebrows every time he talks. When a three-handed conversation ensues between the trio, it was enough to prompt ‘Er Indoors to chip in with: ’Oh bless her. The one on the left (Mandy Miller) is trying her best. She’s trying to put a bit of emotion and depth into her performance….’
We‘ve found that there is no more honest an appraisal of erotica than the opinion of a woman, and ‘Er Indoors stuck around for the ‘orgy’ sequence. When confronted by the first of two strippers, the brevity of the initial act was greeted with: ’Blimey, that was quick. She’s not very good at it. It’s lucky for her that she’s not being paid by the minute!’ The second burlesque artiste received a more favourable reaction: ’At least she puts a bit more effort into it. She’s actually teasing during a striptease, rather than flinging her clothes off as fast as possible’. Ah, two girls at it in a bath—one of the most hardy of male fantasies. ’This does nothing for me. Is it doing anything for you? That bathwater looks really dirty’. Well, there’s another anniversary idea in the bin…
Going back to the acting, the three leads are all pretty poor, with Julie Lee coming off worst; Fraser's pretty flat, too, with near-lifeless line readings and precious little in the way of facial acting. Miller is just your quintessential non-acting starlet from that period—all enthusiasm and negligible talent. John M East seems to bluff things by just rattling off one-liners that would be too fast for a radar-gun to pick up—he does in a relatively monotone manner that wouldn't sound out of place in a music hall. We wouldn’t advise those of anti-Semitic persuasion to watch East at work, as his character seems to embody all the Jewish stereotypes known to mankind. If they had launched an official line of John M East punch-bags to promote the movie, they’d have gone flying off the shelves.
However, Julie Lee is the star here, but she is not the Emmanuelle character in this particular film—Lee had a Chinese mother and this adds a subtle and interesting Asian look to her. Her casting was probably in an effort to cash in on Laura Gemser’s take on the randy strumpet. Lee was supposed to be the title character, but her complete lack of acting ability saw her lines and character reduced. Born in Sheffield, her fairly broad Yorkshire accent doesn’t help when trying to portray an object of sexual desire (for those of you who think that we’re being unfair to Yorkshire folk, our father’s side of the family are from the Dales, so we’re not—it’s merely our opinion). Julie Lee’s accent is so strong that you expect to see her hand covered in fur up to the wrist. No, her husband hasn’t persuaded her to pose for really explicit shots with Emmanuelle, but with a voice like that, Sooty can’t be too far away.
Lee certainly had a high degree of sex appeal, as she was a very striking woman, but acting was not her main strength and only appeared in one other film ( Mary Millington’s World Striptease Extravaganza, but this was reportedly just using recycled footage from Emmanuelle in Soho), before her tragic demise from the burns sustained in a car-crash in 1983 at the tender age of twenty eight whilst driving back from coming second in a middling beauty contest.
Some of the dialogue in the film is amusing—East gets to utter the best line about Soho being ’the only place in the world where it's shady on both sides of the street’. One of the most curious lines in it comes in the following: ’I hear it was a marvellous opening night, as the bishop said to the actress’. At the risk of going all Seth McFarlane, what the hell was that? What does it even mean? Are you making innuendo that an actress invited a member of the clergy to a seedy stage production? That’s not really an appropriate place for a highly-placed figure in the church to be seen at. Or is it just that either the dialogue was incorrectly written or—as is more likely—the useless Julie Lee blew her line. Now if they had gone with ’I hear you had a marvellous opening…’, it would have worked much better. Still, this was before Julie Lee blew lines rather than selling them.
The Missus was heartened to eventually see an instance of full-frontal male nudity during the party scene. She pointed out that it’s always frightfully embarrassing when you are about to jump into bed with someone and you find another girl already in there. Suggestions to use the next room never seem to be graciously accepted in this situation.*
Once again, we’re pointing out ludicrous gaps in credibility, but we had to mention it. Our shady porno producer spots star potential in a passing tradesman, and comes up with the perfect role for him. He orders the bewildered-looking guy over to Shepperton studios the following morning for filming. You have to be joking! Having worked there, we can confirm that tacky porno from producers in a cramped in Soho were not shot on these estimable stages. Sure, people get shafted there, but usually not in front of the camera.
Keep an eye out for Linzi Drew, who was almost omnipresent in the 80s British sex industry, as one of the chorus girls. There was more than one occasion where a filmmaker kept her number on speed-dial when they needed a reliable set to baps out in a hurry. She has both: camera presence, coupled with a most impressive rack, and they stick out a mile. Couldn’t resist it! Oh, the depression.
Possibly the most interesting aspect of Emmanuelle in Soho is the location shots of the title location (Soho, not Emmanuelle), which certainly look like the era in which it was made. There’s something nostalgic for people around our age (mid-late thirties), who were too young to remember London in the seventies, but were exposed to it in the early eighties. We are more than familiar with the area, to the point where some of the ‘emporium’ owners know us on sight. The place hardly changes, especially good ol’ Walker’s Court.
There seems to be a motif throughout the movie about the hiding of doors, with one example being a continuation of a blue-glass design running across the walls surrounding it. More notably, the one in Anderson’s office is covered in the same artexing which adorns the walls, obscuring it from view. You could read a lot into this, serving as a metaphor for the world of the porn industry being easy to walk into, but once ensnared, it is difficult to find the way back out. The medication is wearing off. Or is it kicking in?
We had to chuckle when Keith’s grand plan for blackmail is unfurled on a Sony Betamax video machine. Well, it was fish-in-a-barrel as to which company was going to be supplying the machine, as Sony was far too protective with their patent, leading to the eventual demise in favour of JVC’s inferior VHS line. The footage looks pretty grotty, with flesh tones so high into the red spectrum which wouldn’t look out of place in a documentary about the Apache. We used to make short films at our local Youth Wing in the mid/late 80s, and the resulting picture quality was exactly the same as Keith’s handiwork. One of our efforts had Doctor Cocktopus in it—watch and learn, Keith, watch and learn.
It was fairly obvious that the odious Anderson would need to ply the birds with drink to get laid, but it must say something about how our minds work when we took one look at the scene and were entranced…
…by the glass he pours the scotch into—our parents used to have a load of those things years ago! Ah, nostalgia.
Lee’s final sex scene proves that she really could deliver the goods when she threw herself into it. Well, just as long as she kept her mouth shut. She is a whole other animal, far from the rabbit-in-the-headlights performance in the rest of the movie. With a little more coaching, some due care and attention, not mention toning down her ruthlessness, she might have gone on to be an international porno actress, as there were few with her exotic Asian looks and British accent on the American scene at the time. Great in the sack, couldn’t act. On that fitting assessment of the career of Julie Lee, let's see how Emmanuelle in Soho scrubs up...
Though the sleeve states that Emmanuelle in Soho has been remastered, you'd scarcely know it from looking at it; in short, it's not so hot, seemingly sourced from an old video master, with a quite extreme form of aliasing that is present on any areas where high and low contrast mix. Colours are fairly subdued, but this was the early 80s, after all—however, the red colour scheme seen during the orgy sequence looks pretty good. It’s pleasing enough, but after the efforts used for Come Play with Me, video-like elements are always going to look second best.
About as good as you can expect, given the miniscule budget and the conditions it was filmed under. It’s reasonably clear—probably as clear and decipherable as it’s going to get and the disco tunes that are reused during the film are sonically pleasant enough. One of the tracks played will be instantly familiar to anyone who sat through Electric Blue tapes during their adolescence.
Alternate Opening: This extended prologue was compiled for the American release of Emmanuelle in Soho. Running for around seven minutes, it was supposedly included to fill US viewers on the nature and background of Soho, but it's screamingly obvious that it was only really tacked on to bump up the pitifully short running time to make it scrape past the required duration to officially have it classified as ‘feature-length’. The alternate opening is quite entertaining, but feels totally alien to the main feature—there is even some footage thrown in from True Blue: The Mary Millington Confessions.
Alternate Party Scene: We can‘t put our collective fingers on it (oo-er), but the origin of this American-aimed footage is unclear. The new material seems seedy enough to have been shot alongside the existing stuff, but the patently phoney accents suggest that they are either British artists trying to Americanise it by mangling US tones or that the scene was shot silent and actors on the other side of the pond decided to give Dick Van Dyke a run for his money in the poor British accent stakes. Just listen out for the line: ’I’m so horny I could f*ck the bahh-daall’ make up your own mind. Oh, and while the new sequence is more arousing than you would expect, it’s tempered by one of the women wearing so much heavy makeup that she bears a remarkable resemblance to Dee Snyder from Twisted Sister. Come out and play, indeed.
Trailers: As with other similar titles from this Odeon Entertainment series, there are several trailers for other movies in the same vein. All the usual suspects are there, but it's always good to see them.
Booklet: As with Come Play With Me, Odeon have thoughtfully included a booklet, with the writings of Simon Sheridan, who provides more information than you would have imagined available on Emmanuelle in Soho. The most interesting of which comes when Mr Sheridan details the sad and tragic decline of the career of Julie Lee, which—as mentioned above—saw her coming second in a tacky beauty contest, then driving home in a foul mood, which was the beginning of the end. It’s wonderful stuff and we doff our caps to Mr. Sheridan and we strongly urge to you to check out his book, Keeping the British End Up: Four Decades of Saucy Cinema.
We should point out that people expecting to see the documentary Wildcats: Mud Wrestling will be disappointed because it was pulled from this disc. There were apparently rights issues that could be resolved, but Odeon are hopeful that it can be included on another title in the future.
We'll be honest and say that Emmanuelle in Soho is not a great film; it's not even a particularly good one. The writing was on the wall for this type of movie several years before it was released, but there are still elements to Emmanuelle in Soho that will make it required viewing for British cineastes—the interesting nudity, the music and fashions and the witty one-liners from East will be enticing, as will the period shots of London—it's still very much worth checking out for titillation purposes. Most of all, it’s required viewing as the Alpha and Omega of Julie Lee’s short career as a porno star: a woman who wanted fame so badly that her desperation and subsequent failure ended in a ball of flames rather than a blaze of glory.
* Thanks to guest contributor Clare. We'll get you a saucer of milk later, dear.
Review by Wilson Bros
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 7th June 2010
Disc Type: Single side, single layer
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0
Extras: Alternate opening sequence, Alternate party sequence, trailers, booklet
Easter Egg: No
Director: David Hughes
Cast: Julie Lee, "Randy" Mandy Miller, John M East
Length: 65 minutes
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