Sep 28, 2014

3 A.M. (1975)

While he did splice a couple single-frame erect cocks in the iconic montages featured in his ‘modernist horror’ masterpiece Persona (1966), and had somewhat of a talent for erotic tension when need be, Swedish master auteur Ingmar Bergman never directed a porn flick. Unquestionably, the next best thing to a Bergman blue movie, however, is the erotic melodrama 3 A.M. (1975) aka 3 a.m.: The Time of Sexuality directed by Gary Graver (Garage Girls, Indecent Exposure) under the pseudonym ‘Robert McCallum.’ It should be noted that the film was not directed by just any hack pornographer, but a protégé of none other than Orson ‘Citizen Kane’ Welles. Indeed, on top of starting his filmmaking career by working on the unfinished Welles feature The Other Side of the Wind, Graver appeared in and did still photography for F For Fake (1973) and the cinematography for Filming Othello (1978). In fact, Welles felt so indebted to Graver for working on The Other Side of the Wind that he gave him his 1941 Oscar which he had won as the co-writer of Citizen Kane. On top of working with Welles, Graver was the second unit camera operator for Curtis Harrington’s underrated Oedipal serial killer flick The Killing Kind (1973), camera operator for John Cassavetes’ A Woman Under the Influence (1973), director of photography for Paul Bartel’s Renoir reworking Eating Raoul (1982), and countless other cult classic, exploitation flicks, and even Disney films. While best known as a cinematographer that worked with everyone from Roger Corman to Ron Howard, he would truly master directing pornography, with 3 A.M. being arguably his greatest and most mature work. Indeed, if it were not for the graphic sex scenes and pseudo-Anglo American accents, the film would easily be mistaken for a European high drama. Featuring arguably the most lavish and exquisitely lit ‘shadowy gold’ cinematography that I have ever seen in a fuck flick and set mostly in a beach house in an unnervingly beautiful yet melancholy location that looks like it could have been shot on the other side of the island featured in Bergman’s Through a Glass Darkly (1961), 3 A.M. is certainly a lecherous yet equally lavish ‘posh porno’ that makes the oftentimes pretentious works of Radley Metzger seem like pseudo-aristocratic phony twaddle by comparison. Indeed, if there is a fuck flick that will offend the vulgar and philistinic sentiments of the Lumpenproletariat, it is Graver’s elegantly titillating assault on the ultra-urbane American upper-middleclass, as well as an amorous depiction of bourgeois angst. 

 Kate (genuinely talented actress Georgina Spelvin of Gerard Damiano’s 1973 crossover hit Devil in Miss Jones fame) is an old spinster with graying hair, but she is certainly not a sexless virgin as she has been carrying on a hot and heavy love affair with her brother-in-law Mark (Frank Mauro) who, with his curly black hair and overall swarthy Semite appearance, looks sort of like a more masculine and muscular version of Hebraic would-be-ladykiller Norman Mailer. As Kate intimately narrates at the beginning of 3 A.M. while she can hear her brother-in-law and sister Elaine (Rhonda Gellard) have sex: “My name is Kate and I live in this house. This is my sister Elaine and her husband Mark…and this is their home. I have lived with them for a longtime…long enough to help raise their son, Ronnie…long enough to help raise their daughter, Stacey. This is me, Kate…and I have lived here long enough for Mark and I to have been having a love affair for 15 years. I knew loneliness…I didn’t want to hurt Elaine, but I desperately need Mark’s love to help me fill this void. I used my loneliness to justify many sins. I knew the love of other women…even Stacey, my own niece…but this night was to inalterably change the lives of each of us…and the end began at 3 a.m….” Indeed, after having passionate (and secretly recorded) sex with Elaine that concludes with him accusing his wife of being a “half woman” and declaring to her, “what I want to do is be as far away from you as I possibly can…for the rest of my FUCKING LIFE. That’s what I want,” Mark heads to his boat where he meets and has carnal fun with his mistress Kate, but things get ugly from there. After Mark declares, “I left her [Elaine] and I’m leaving you and I’m finding me!,” like some over-the-hill beatnik suffering from a midlife crisis, Kate hysterically declares, “You’re not going to leave me! I want you!,” and proceeds to hit her secret lover over the head with a large bottle, thus leading to his death via drowning after he falls unconscious and falls overboard. 

 Flash forward “Several Days Later,” and the bourgeois family of 3 A.M. is suffering a crisis due to the tragic and rather dubious death of patriarch Mark; indeed, so much so that the circumstances will erupt into an orgy of melancholy incestuous sex. Not surprising considering the unexpected death of her great, beloved husband after the two had a nasty fight that they never had the opportunity to resolve, Elaine is a self-destructive suicidal mess, declaring “I want to die” and downing some pills with liquor as a chaser, which pisses her sister Kate off so much that she calls her a “silly bitch” and forces her vomit in a sink. While all by her lonesome and thinking about past sex with Mark, Kate declares regarding her sister, “How could you know…you’ve never known love,” and proceeds to hump her pillow. Of course, Kate “swings both ways” as demonstrated by the fact that she gets in a heated carpet-munching session in a shower with some random hippie bull-dyke who randomly shows up at the beach house. Somewhat wantonly warped, Kate is also carrying on a lurid lady-licker love affair with her fire-crotched teenage niece Stacey (played by porn star/exploitation actress Clair Dia, who starred in the strange 1972 experimental porn anthology flick Ramäge (Mobility Cathexis)). 

 Meanwhile, Widow Elaine is a total mess due to her loneliness and inability to mourn her husband's death, so she ends fornicating with some dorky hippie dude who wants to buy her late hubby’s boat.  In fact, despite her sorrow over the death of her beloved, Elaine bangs the guy on the very same boat that her husband was in before he drowned.  Despite having sex with her, the hippie beach boy more or less tells Elaine that having sex with random men won’t help her find what she is looking for and that, “The peace will come…when you learn to accept you loneliness.” After his sister Stacey attempts to seduce them after a beachside horse ride, teenage bourgeois bitch boy Ronnie (played by Charles Hooper, whose sole other film credit is Graver’s 1979 fuck flick Tangerine) starts an affair with an ex-model named Vicki (Sharon Thorpe), who tells Elaine that she saw a woman with Mark on the boat the night he drowned. Needless to say, lovelorn Kate eventually becomes so plagued by guilt and sadness due to her accidentally killing of her great love Mark that she records a confession on a tape, which her nephew Ronnie walks in on her doing. From there, Kate leaves the beach house, strips off her robe, and commits suicide by walking into the sea, but her nephew Ronnie makes no real effort to save her, even stopping his sister Stacey from helping. While Elaine and Stacey scream for Kate to comeback, Ronnie gets the cassette his aunt recorded and throws it into the ocean with her, thus forever burying the truth behind the tragedy that lead to his father and aunt’s deaths. 

 While clearly specially tailored for a more cultivated audience that expects more out of their fuck films, 3 A.M. is easily the greatest pornographic condemnation of the bourgeois that I have ever seen, even making Cecil Howard’s classic works like The Final Sin (1977) and The Scoundrels (1982) seem rather redundant by comparison. Indeed, in its depiction of the cowardice of the bourgeoisie, especially when it comes to perennially living a lie and not confronting open secrets that ultimately result in easily preventable tragedies and heartbreak, Graver’s work certainly recalls Bergman, though, aesthetically speaking, it also resembles the early pre-Hollywood works of Roman Polanski. Arguably, the most telling scene of the film is when protagonist Kate’s teenage nephew complains, “Nothing’s ever different,” as a young man who’s already come to realize that, due to his class background, he is plagued with a life of softness and domestic banality. Undoubtedly, 3 A.M. also has a somewhat vague ‘counter-culture’ vibe about it as is especially apparent in a “spirit of ’69” scene wherein siblings Ronnie and Stacey mutually exchange oral sex 69 style to the less than soothing sounds of generic psychedelic rock. Unquestionably, it is easy to believe that the film was assembled by a protégé of Orson Welles who mainly worked as cinematographer. Indeed, the warmly lit cinematography of 3 A.M. is immaculate and, pornographically speaking, the storytelling is fairly fluid, though I can certainly see why Graver found his niche in the pornographic realm as the film’s greatest weaknesses lie in its acting performances (though Georgina Spelvin is characteristically great as the somber spinster) and structuring. If you ever wonder if wantonness and Weltschmerz can be seamlessly blended together for a curious celluloid combo that is more bitter than sweet but wholly sensual, Graver’s porn chic era blue movie masterpiece of upper-middleclass decadence is probably your best bet.  Indeed, if the hallmark of a great hardcore flick is that you forget it is a hardcore flick while watching it, 3 A.M. indubitably one of the best porn pieces ever assembled.

-Ty E

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