Dec 14, 2013

Café Flesh

After re-watching the avant-garde cult art-porn flick Nightdreams (1981), I felt it was about time that I watch another film created by Austrian-born American auteur Stephen Sayadian aka “Rinse Dream” (Dr. Caligari, Party Doll A Go- Go!) and the obvious choice was his delightfully decadent and deranged directorial debut Café Flesh (1982); a dystopian fuck flick of the darkly dippy and fiercely farcical sort set in a post-apocalyptic hellhole of hyper-horniness where most people are sexually impotent (aka “Sex Negatives” aka “Erotic Casualties”) and thus seek the erotic entertainment of the sexually virile (“Sex Positives”). Indeed, while Café Flesh is a more narrative-driven work that has developed a larger cult following, I must admit that I still prefer Nightdreams and it’s truly eclectic collection of erotic and anti-erotic petite vignettes and terrifying yet titillating tableaux. That being said, I still regard Café Flesh as a merrily misanthropic and culturally pessimistic masterpiece of quasi-arthouse pornography. The first fuck flick to fully crossover as a Midnight Movie as a hardcore porn work that played at repertory movie theaters in the United States and Europe throughout the 1980s, Café Flesh follows in the aberrant aesthetic footsteps of Georges Bataille in transcending the typically fine line between pornography and art. A sort of more lurid and loony Liquid Sky (1982) meets Vicious Lips (1986) and Total Recall (1990) for those filmgoers that do not mind a cum shot here or girl-on-girl cunnilingus there in their sinema, Café Flesh is a fucked fetish-fueled fantasy for the pre-apocalyptic age that makes a potential upcoming Armageddon scenario seem like a slightly less perturbing prospect. Like Nightdreams, Café Flesh is a rare porn flick that was shot on 35mm film (auteur Sayadian recently claimed only two prints were made of the film, with the only surviving print being located at the Kinsey Institute at the University of Indiana) and even managed to replace cult masterpieces like John Waters’ Pink Flamingos (1972) and David Lynch’s Eraserhead (1977) in Midnight Movie theaters across the country. A curious celluloid combination of German expressionism, old school film noir, 1950s b-movie sci-fi, and vaudevillian-esque satire of the quasi-Spenglerian sort, Café Flesh is pornographic celluloid chaos at its most ridiculously risqué yet wrongfully refined. A wonderfully wantonly wayward work made at the inevitable end of The Golden Age of Porn, Café Flesh was a failure as a porn flick but a startling success as an aberrant art flick and rightfully so. Indeed, Café Flesh is nothing if not an exceedingly anti-erotic piece of sardonic sexual sadism of the superlatively surreal and even spectral sort that could probably only arouse the nefarious naughty bits of a sadomasochistic sexual psychopath who masturbates to footage of atomic bombs and concentration camp footage. Featuring rat-like humanoids licking ladies’ lilies as if it were cheddar cheese, voyeuristic man-baby werewolves with human-bone rattles, and human-pencils that know how penetrate a bored and frigid secretary, Café Flesh is a socially scathing celluloid treasure trove of high-class art-porn-trash as if directed by a bawdy and bodacious Beelzebub with a brutal sense of humor and an unwavering and unhinged hatred of humanity, thus making it mandatory viewing for any serious (and semi-sick) cinephile. 

As narrated at the very beginning of Café Flesh by a seemingly aroused but ultimately impotent lady narrator, “Able to exist, to sense…to feel everything—but pleasure. In a world destroyed, a mutant universe, survivors break down to those who can and those who can’t” and “99% are Sex Negatives. Call them erotic casualties. They want to make love, but the mere touch of another makes them violently ill. The rest, the lucky one percent, are Sex Positives, those whose libidos escaped unscathed.” Indeed, it is 5 years after World War III and a coitus-castrating Nuclear Holocaust, and with the majority of the human population dying to get their degenerated genitals wet, they all gravitate to sex clubs, or as the fecund-free female narrator states, “After the Nuclear Kiss, the Positives remain to love, to perform…And the others, well, we Negatives can only watch…can only come…to…CAFÉ FLESH…,” but, of course, none of them can cum as perennial voyeurs who can do nothing but watch in resentful admiration. Indeed, as one would assume by its rather blatant title, the majority of Café Flesh takes place at the eponymous Café Flesh, a patently and perturbingly yet playfully perverse playpen of pleasure where one can witness a “tableau of desire in decline” and see real live libertines of the superlatively sexually virile post-apocalyptic sort unload their loads in a lunatically lecherous fashion of exquisite anti-erotic excess that would even tickle the toes of the Marquis de Sade.

 The quasi-heroes of Café Flesh are Sexual Negative couple Nick (Paul McGibboney) and Lana (Pia Snow aka Scream Queen Michelle Bauer), who used to share a hot and steamy sexual romance before the cock-nuking apocalypse and are now rather reluctant regulars at the futuristic fuck club. Nick is Brando-esque ‘tough guy’ with a sensitive side who cannot get his manhood up for his little lady Lana, so he gets all moody and broody whilst watching Sex Positive superstars perform at the café. The Master of Ceremonies at the Café is a charismatic yet hyper-cynical smart-mouthed jerk-off who cannot jerk-off named Max Melodramatic (Andy Nichols, who played the male doctor in Nightdreams). While mad Max misanthropically verbally reams any individual who has the decided dishonor of catching his warped gaze, he is kept in check and casually cuckolded by the café’s matriarch owner Moms (Tantala Ray, who has starred in such classic porn flicks as The Rocky Porno Video Show), who forces the mischievous MC to get on his knees and recite the following line in a most humiliating manner in front of patrons: “I’m little Maxie…The star of the show, but under my boxers nothing will grow. There’s pozzies and neggies, but I’m in between cause I lost my weapon in World War III.” Meanwhile, a young and beauteous debutante named Angel (Marie Sharp) arrives from the devastated nuclear South to become a regular at Café Flesh, but she is a virginal Sex Positive fugitive and is eventually arrested by a prick with no prick named ‘The Enforcer’ (Dennis Edwards) and is ultimately forced into sexual slavery, but she ends up enjoying it in the end after having her truly priceless cherry popped. When a Sex Positive superstar named Johnny Rico (Kevin James, who ironically died of testicular cancer in 1990) shows up to perform at Café Flesh, Nick and Lana’s sexless relationship is tested by the newcomer's legendary testicular prowess. Unbeknownst to Nick, Lana is a closeted Sexual Positive and Johnny Rico gets her all hot and bothered. In the end, Lana gives in and gets prestigiously publicly pounded by Mr. Rico, but not before getting her little lily licked by a lesbo ‘cunning linguist,’ and naturally Nick leaves the Café Flesh forever in abject embarrassment. 

 Followed up by two worthless shot-on-video/direct-to-video sequels—Café Flesh 2 (1997) and Café Flesh (2003)—that auteur Stephen Sayadian had nil involvement with, Café Flesh would ultimately go on to win “Best Art Direction – Film” at the 1984 AVN Awards and would later be inducted into the XRCO Hall of Fame, yet the idiosyncratic fuck flick really demands more attention than the small and ultimately worthless speckle bestowed upon it by the artless void that is the ghettoized porn world. After all, if the Criterion Collection can release aesthetically/thematically/historically worthless works featuring unsimulated sex like I Am Curious (Yellow) (1967) and I Am Curious (Blue) (1968), they should have the gall as good little progressive leftists to release Café Flesh; the ‘virtual Casablanca (1942) of pornography’ (actually, I think Café Flesh has more artistic merit and wit than that absurdly overrated anti-German Humphrey Bogart flick). As director Sayadian, who somewhat recently developed a rare terminal strain of hepatitis C and thought he would die of cirrhosis of the liver in less than a year, revealed in a 2013 interview with, “In 2008 I finally got a liver transplant. I took about a year to bounce back, and once I did I went and adapted Café Flesh as a stage musical.” According to Sayadian, he also recently got the go-ahead to direct a new film, which he stated of, “We just finished the script and getting it ready to shoot. I think it’s something dying to be released. Not because I’m doing it, but because nobody else is.” Indeed, with the world of avant-garde art-porn being all but totally dead, I am certainly looking forward to Sayadian’s newest cinematic effort, even if it will probably not hold up to the perverse cynicism of Nightdreams, Café Flesh, and Dr. Caligari (1989). Co-written by Bad Boys II (2003) writer Jerry Stahl (Sayadian purportedly stated to friend, “I forgive you for writing Bad Boys II, but you’ll never be forgiven for using your real name!”), immaculately accented by a standout synthesizer-driven new wave-ish musical score by prolific mainstream musician/recorder producer Mitchell Froom (Meet the Parents, Toy Story 3), and featuring Judaic actor/stand-up comedian Richard Belzer (Homicide: Life on the Street, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit) in an undignified small role as café audience member, Café Flesh is ultimately a downright bizarre piece of celluloid story made at a time when some Americans actually preferred audacious aesthetics and comical cultural pessimism over mere gigantic tits and dicks, thus indicating that we are probably closer to doomsday scenario than we really think. 

-Ty E


LC said...

Too bad nowadays it seems like the only person even attempting "artistic" alt pornography is Jack the Zipper... and maybe Bruce LaBruce.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Jack the Zipper is OK because hes heterosexual but Bruce LaBruce must be destroyed because he is a faggot.