Sep 22, 2014

The Last Bath

Maybe it is just pure wishful thinking on my part, but I like to think that stoically sardonic writer, satirist, and small-time American Civil War hero Ambrose “Bitter Bierce” Bierce (“The Damned Thing”, The Devil's Dictionary) would have gotten a kick out of the idea of someone adapting one of his works into pornography. On the other hand, I am not sure he would have been too keen on some high ass hippie college student degenerates creating a hedonistic “head” flick featuring out of one of his most classic works. Indeed, some seemingly dope-addled debauchees did just that for the psychedelic quasi-avant-garde blue movie, The Last Bath (1975) aka Dark Dreams, which seems to be a rather ‘loose’ and uncredited reworking of Bierce’s fierce classic 1890 short story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” aka “A Dead Man's Dream”, which has been cinematically adapted countless times, including by French auteur Robert Enrico under the title La Rivière du Hibou (1962) aka The Owl River aka An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge (notably, this classic Academy Award winning short was later released in America as an episode of The Twilight Zone in 1964) and by British auteur Rupert Wyatt under the title The Escapist (2008). Additionally, the story has been referenced in everything from songs by the The Doobie Brothers (the 1975 song “I Cheat the Hangman”) to episodes of The Simpsons (season 25, episode 6, “The Kid Is All Right”), but unquestionably The Last Bath has to be the most idiosyncratic, surreal, and surely ‘salacious’ nod to Bierce’s beauteously brutal short story as an experimental hardcore flick of the somewhat esoteric and incoherent sort that reminds one why filmmaking and hallucinogens do not always make a sensible combo. 

 Not be confused with the inferior occult-themed vintage porno piece of the same alternate name Dark Dreams (1971) aka Inner Circle directed by Roger Guermantes, The Last Bath was assumed lost for about 25 years but unearthed a couple years back and subsequently released by the vintage smut label After Hours Cinema, though the surviving film print that was released on DVD looks like it was raped by a film projector with a bad case of vagina dentate, thus adding to its already glaring hypnotic sleaze appeal. The story of a young, well hung, and handsome pornographic still photographer who finds himself to be prey in a psychosexual psychedelic nightmare involving two bisexual nurses—a less than homely honkey slag and her no less unattractive quasi-bull-dyke negress friend—and recurring dreams of a bridge-based suicide, this little known hardcore flick is anything but banal, but if you're looking for a cheap masturbation aid, look elsewhere as the film is barely hardcore and mostly features close-up shots of sloppy blowjobs juxtaposed with kaleidoscopic psychedelic imagery. Owing blatant influence to the cine-magic works of meta-queer Crowleyite Kenneth Anger (Fireworks, Scorpio Rising), Maya Deren’s avant-garde micro magnum opus Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), and Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg’s counter-culture classic Performance (1970), as well as similarly esoteric erotic works like the Amero Brothers’ esoteric hardcore horror filmic fever dream Bacchanale (1971) , The Last Bath is certainly a ‘lost classic’ of sorts, at least where obscure vintage porn is concerned.  Somewhat shockingly directed by self-proclaimed “Seattle avant-garde independent filmmaker” Karl Krogstad (under the pseudonym ‘Charles Straumer,’ which the director used in tribute to the cinematographer of the 1959-1963 TV series The Untouchables of the same name)—a rather unknown auteur who made a couple forgotten low-budget thrillers during the 1980s like Catharsis (1982) and Strings (1985) and is arguably best known outside of Seattle for being a friend of Hollywood homo auteur Gus van Sant—The Last Bath, not unlike the nihilistic pornographic works of Roger Watkins aka 'Richard Mahler' (Her Name Was Lisa, Midnight Heat), is the sort of fuck flick that was clearly directed by a man who had no interest in actually making a fuck flick, as an oneiric celluloid non-orgy of orgasmic imagery where the male protagonist is prettier than the female performers and where the psychedelic special effects easily trumps the pornographic imagery, though they do manage to mix well together. 

 In an alluring opening sequence that is clearly a rip-off of Kenneth Anger’s 3-minute Ford Foundation-produced short Kustom Kar Kommandos (1965), a bronze-colored Jaguar E-Type is depicted in a flagrantly fetishistic fashion. From there, hippie-like protagonist David (Templeton Blaine) is depicted running away from two prostitutes in a rather goofy way, as if he is too high or drunk to out chase two horny little girls. When the two vaguely attractive hookers catch David, they slam the back of his head against the wall and proceed to perform fellatio on him in a somewhat violent fashion, with a rather aggressive ebony she-bitch taking the biggest chomps out of the boy's cock. After the involuntary oral sex ends, David has otherworldly visions of a bridge and awakens in his rather quaint beach house. After getting dressed, David bangs his blonde babe girlfriend, but soon wakes up again, thus revealing he is trapped inside a dream-within-a-dream, or as he mumbles to himself in a somewhat strange monotone fashion that makes him sound like a disgruntled middle-aged man, “I dreamt I was in a bridge in between dreams…maybe I’m still dreaming…or wide awake. I must get up in time to go down…to go down to work in the dark.” The “dark” that David speaks of is his dark room where he develops porn photos. When not dreaming of sex, David dreams of committing suicide by jumping off a bridge. Of course, after beginning a nightmarish ménage à trios with two rather unattractive cabin-dwelling miscegenating nurses, David will eventually realize that suicide might offer him the sense of solace that he has been looking for. 

 While hitchhiking, the film’s too-cool-for-school protagonist David is picked up in a convertible by a high yellow black chick with a micro-afro named ‘Husky’ and her sub-homely honky homegirl Donna. Despite being wine-chugging pill-poppers of the carpet-muncher sort, both women work as nurses and they plan to give poor David a full physical. Being witchy and bitchy nympho nurses that live in a old secluded cabin in the woods, Husky and Donna are also into the occult, but that does not interest David because he just wants to fuck. When David complains, “sooner or later I gotta take a bath” while eating dinner with the girls at their cabin, Husky runs a bath for the boy in the hope that he will bone her, but he does not seem to like dark meat, as he coerces Donna to take a “bath” with him instead. In between fuck sessions with Donna that are largely comprised of close-up shots of the protagonist getting his pole smoked, David catches up on his “work” by taking nude photos of both girls. When the image of one of the photos begins moving, it becomes clear that David is either having a bad acid trip or that he is dead (considering how incoherent the film is, one never really knows for sure). Hoping to finally get humped by cracker boy David and his swollen white snake, Husky coerces David into going on a trip with her to the beach and on the way they pick up some bananas in a not-so-politically-correct scene associating the negress with monkeys (and of course cocks and bananas). After David fucks Husky in a field, the two screw next to a beach and during mid-coitus, the seemingly unhinged negress flips out and kicks the white boy and he falls into the water. After some psychedelic special effects, it becomes rather clear that David is dead (and has been dead the entire time) and the film concludes with the two naughty nurses having sex with one another in a bathtub and the protagonist running into some sort of never-ending acid-addled psychedelic abyss. 

 As a film with a title that is in reference to the protagonist’s pre-death segregation-based bath with an ugly white wench who he chooses to defile over the similarly ugly jigaboo chick that kindly ran the bath for him, The Last Bath is, quite thankfully, a conspicuously politically incorrect porn piece that is just as racially insensitive as it is compulsively ‘avant-garde.’ Indeed, the protagonist of the film is somewhat vocal about his disinterest in bedding butch negress Husky (who later molests him when he is asleep!) and when he actually does allow himself to commence coitus with the creepy colored girl, it results in him hitting a literal, as well as figurative, ‘rock bottom’ on a beach and subsequently entering a sort of perennial psychedelic pandemonium of no return. Featuring a plot-hole or two, absolutely horrendous dubbing, undeniably unattractive chicks with unimpressive tits (among other things), and an innately incoherent structure, Krogstad’s piece of exceedingly eccentric experimental erotica may scream of abject artistic failure and decadent dilettantism, but it also makes for a reasonably entertaining celluloid trip that is more psychedelic than it is pornographic. Considered assumed “lost” until a surviving print was magically discovered a couple years back, The Last Bath apparently stars “a member of one of the oldest and wealthiest families in the city [Seattle]” (notably, assumedly pseudonymous lead ‘Templeton Blaine’ never stared in a single other film and some have speculated that his family members bought and destroyed every print of the work that they could find, hence its ‘lost’ status for quite some time), thus making it a work that will probably be of more interest to Seattle locals than the average eccentric pornophile, though both groups will probably find something to like about it.

 Of course, for those looking to see what an erotic reworking of Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” might be like it were it directed by the LSD-addled heterosexual brother of Kenneth Anger, The Last Bath makes for a curious celluloid oddity that demonstrates that sometimes there is not a very fine line between art and pornography, as well as avant-gardism and fetishism.  Once advertised in a newspaper alongside an ad for a rival screening of Orson Welles' Citizen Kane (1941), the film was created during a seemingly unfathomable time when the aesthetic potential and artistic integrity of pornography seemed unlimited, hence why the era is rightfully dubbed the ‘Golden Age of Porn.’ Being a work created by a group of film students at the University of Washington in Seattle, The Last Bath certainly permeates a certain youthful spirit and energetic freedom of expression that few other pornographic works can boast.  Indeed, it may be a hardcore fuck flick featuring suicide, interracial sex and belligerent drug use involving red pills being chugged down with wine as a chaser, but The Last Bath certainly has a sense of innocence and naivety about it that makes it strangely charming and even unforgettable.

-Ty E

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