Sep 11, 2014

Visions of Clair

While I never have really put too much thought into, I can say without the slightest bit of hesitation that Bacchanale (1970) directed by the Amero brothers is one of my favorites, if not my favorite, fuck flicks, not least of all because it contains a completely singular phantasmagoric yet psychedelic hermetic netherworld of the orgasmic offbeat gothic sort that is big on atmosphere and low on cheap soulless sex and limp drug-ridden dicks. With that begin said, I am always on the lookout for hardcore flicks in the spirit of the Ameros' unsung masterpiece of celluloid lechery and luckily I just discovered one with a similarly sinister essence of foreboding aesthetic excess. Indeed, Visions of Clair (1977) directed by Zachary Strong (Resurrection of Eve, Confessions of a Teenage Peanut Butter Freak)—a sexually eclectic pornographic auteur who assembled both hetero and homo hardcore flicks and worked with in various different genres—is esoteric erotica at its finest as a somewhat inexplicable arthouse-hardcore hybrid that has the grand distinction of being the only fuck film produced by hardcore heavyweights Cal Vista that managed to lose money. Indeed, a sort of metaphysical blue movie that features, among other things, ancient archetypes, pseudo-spiritual hippie gibberish, psychedelic penetration and ejaculation, Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 and an ambient transcendental original score, pleasantly politically incorrect quasi-beatnik lingo, left-hand path lechery, and random references to ancient Egyptian mythology, Visions of Clair is a hallucinatory hardcore horror flick with wayward airs of aberrant aesthetic majesty. In short, there is no other film quite like it, be it obscure vintage fuck flick or otherwise. The closest things to a pornographic take on Ingmar Bergman’s masterpiece Persona (1966), albeit focusing on three seemingly mentally damaged dames as opposed to just two, as a work featuring arcane lipstick lesbianism, psychic vampirism, and metaphysical horror, Strong’s work may be preposterously pretentious for a porno flick, but somehow it all more or less works as a filmic fever dream with a genuinely foreboding atmosphere and authentically sensual sex scenes. In its counter-culture-cultivated depiction of three very different yet seemingly equally internally wounded women becoming “one” and dichotomous use of gender archetypes, the film also surely owes a heavy aesthetic debt to Donald Cammell and Nicholas Roeg’s Performance (1970). Originally advertised with the rather aesthetically misleading tagline, “a film in the style of EMMANUELLE but with the raw passion of THE STORY OF O,” Visions of Clair—a work featuring pillows with decidedly decadent England dandy Aubrey Beardsley’s iconic illustrations and images of the ancient Egyptian ‘ankh’ (aka “key of life,” “the key of the Nile” or “crux ansata”)—is a porno that, at the very least, cannot be properly pigeonholed, though it is safe to say that the creators had their fair share of recreational drug use and resentment towards masculinity and the male sex in general. 

 Visions of Clair begins simply enough with a frustrated young hippie-like artist named Ron (John Rolling) complaining to the young unclad model he is painting, Clair van der Meer (Annette Haven), that he is more or less incapacitated by her supposedly stunning beauty, even rudely stating to her: “Shit…I lost my momentum. I guess you’re too beautiful for me, Clair. I mean, your beauty is not the kind I usually paint…it’s too conventional. You’re too womanish, Clair. Look at you…big tits, nice ass…beauty, pretty, or whatever…but not attractive to me. Alright, I rather not paint you in the nude. A costume perhaps. Anyway, most women don’t commission nude portraits from me.” When Clair asks the angst-ridden painter what it is about her body that really disturbs him, Ron irrationally replies, “It’s not real…I can’t even imagine having sex with your body...No, it’s not real.” In a noble attempt to calm down the agitated artist and to prove that he can indeed imagine having sex with her, Clair makes the mighty expiatory sacrifice of sucking off Ron and proceeding to fuck him, thus causing the seemingly sexually frustrated painter to liberate his seed. Shortly after they finish and the artist disrespectfully wipes his spilled seed on the model’s dress, Ron’s girlfriend Daphne (Bonnie Holiday) randomly shows up at the studio and seems quite bewildered by the fact that her best beau is cavorting with a blatant psychic vampire of sorts. Of course, it is only matter of time before bitchy ‘artiste’ Ron is out of the picture and Clair and Daphne become inseparable partners that even seem to share the same soul.

 Flash forward four years later and Ron is now dead as a result of a supposed “accident” he had while he was drunk. Clair and Daphne have now become an ‘item,’ with the latter becoming the perennial ‘shadow’ of the former, as she is the ying to the other’s yang.  They live in Clair's mansion where they have all the time in the world to get wild and wanton, as neither woman seems to work.  Meanwhile, a third woman, a seemingly borderline mute painter named Roahne (Susan Bates), has entered the picture as she has been commissioned to paint a somewhat amateurish Crowley-esque portrait of Clair, Daphne, and assumedly herself. Roahne is accompanied by an intolerably bombastic and vainglorious “bobo” (aka bourgeois bohemian) named David (Jay Gamble), who claims to have known Clair when he was younger, stating of her, “I’ve always been rather attracted to her. I mean, when I was a child, I thought of her as a god, you know? She was so unapproachable…I was actually in love with her. Still am, somewhat.” When Roahne and David meet with Clair at a diner while the latter is buying a golden ancient Egyptian necklace from some swarthy hippie pansy, it results in rather awkward consequences. Indeed, upon entering the diner, David immediately goes up to Clair and rather rudely interrupts her while she is talking with the antique dealer and mentions how their families know one another, but she says nothing, which rather infuriates the young man, who later complains to his quasi-muse Roahne: “I can’t get over how fucking rude she was. It’s not like I’m nobody from nowhere creeping up on her to demand a piece of ass or something….And then she takes a good damn mentally retarded nymphomaniac out of the gutter and then she has the gall to put on airs with me?!” David also accuses Roahne of being a “good damned zombie” due to her rather flat affect and her seeming aversion to mindless chit-chat, but little does he realize that he is a nuisance to the three women, who will come to form a sort of ‘metaphysical ménage à trios’  of Sapphic meta-womanhood.  Indeed, whether it is by her mysterious golden necklace or own innate ominous yet orgasmic aura and penetrating sexual magnetism, Clair will lure Roahne to her secret world of quasi-satanic Sapphic spirituality.

 Although they never seem to get around to actually talking, Roahne seems to know everything about Clair and Daphne, stating to herself, “Clair…a Goddess. Daphne…a Priestess. Her isolation…forms a shield…to which others’ illusions are drawn and attached as to a magnet. Like a magnet. Lust…in its basic form.” In a remark that makes it seem like she has seen Bergman’s Persona one too many times while high on cheap acid, Roahne also declares, “To know Clair, I must become Clair.” On top of painting her and her lover’s portrait, Roahne is also to be ritualistically bequeathed with the gold Egyptian necklace that was bought by Clair from the antique dealer who David thinks is a fraud and describes as a, “faggot hustler.” When David attempts to “make love” with Roahne after she passes out after he makes her a dubious Italian dinner (David claims that his marginal amount of Guido blood has given him the innate power to be a master cook), he proves to be completely impotent and eventually dies while suffering what seems to be metaphysical ‘cock block,’ thus disappearing from the story entirely, as if Clair willed his pathetic demise via black magic. Towards the end of the film in what amounts to a semi-sadomasochistic lesbian montage, Clair and Daphne share a ritualistic dance together that evolves into passionate mutual cunnilingus while Roahne enters their home in a seemly possessed somnambulistic state to finish their portrait. Indeed, Roahne becomes a Sapphic somnambulist of sorts who masturbates with an ancient Egyptian dagger while Clair and Daphne devour one another’s bushy naughty bits. In the end, Roahne finishes the painting and the three women become one, though cunty goddess Clair is clearly the true goddess of the superlatively sacrilegious spiritual threesome. 

 A lesbian horror flick where all the male characters, who are more or less exactly the same in their bourgeois-bred effeminacy and lack of virility, mysteriously drop dead and all the three female characters become one big Sapphic spirit of the sinisterly sensual sort, Visions of Clair is unquestionably one of the few lesbo fuck flicks that I have ever seen where the sex and sensuality actually seemed sincere as opposed to the conspicuously contrived counterfeit carpet-munching that one can almost always expect from such works. Of course, more importantly, the film is one of the most aesthetically intriguing, hypnotic, and wildly idiosyncratic porn flicks ever made, which is something that only European filmgoers have seem to have taken notice of, as demonstrated by the fact that the handful of online reviews that exist on the film were written by Europeans. Notably, auteur Zachary Strong was bisexual, though it seems like he sides more with his female side in the film, as the two male characters are exceedingly arrogant assholes whose pathological narcissism seems to be a mere cover for their sexual inadequacy, which is demonstrated via the characters' literal and metaphysical impotency.  It should also be noted that while the male characters are nothing short of spiritually retarded, the female characters, especially the eponymous lead, have almost supernatural intuition as if they have a sixth sense or something.  Indeed, it is apparent while watching the film that Strong understands women very well and has a sort of jealous contempt for masculinity, which he only a seems to understand in a sort of detached and deracinated fashion, thus making him a kindred spirit of sorts to Tennessee Williams in that sense. With Visions of Clair, Strong also makes it quite clear that while men are more literal and to-the-point in their sexuality, the so-called ‘fairer sex’ is more sensual to the point where sex is an (un)holy ritual for them that takes a wholly spiritual form, thus making the metaphysical overtones of the film not so ridiculous as they might seem upon a superficial glance. In terms of Western esotericism, Visions of Clair is clearly a work of the left-hand path, which is innately dark and feminine in its very essence. Indeed, if Christian Evangelists need a good example of true spiritual heresy in pornography, there is probably no better example than Strong’s film which, on top of featuring entrancing lesbian orgies involving tender nipples being cut open with daggers, is certainly at odds with the benign spirituality of the right-hand path.  Undoubtedly, for fans of classic porn chic era dreamlike hardcore horror/fantasy works like the Amero brother's Bacchanale (1970), Jonas Middleton's Illusions of a Lady (1974) and Through the Looking Glass (1976), Kenneth Andrews' Night of the Occultist (1973), Chuck Vincent's Visions (1977), Cecil Howard's Neon Nights (1981), Roger Watkins' Corruption (1983) and Midnight Heat (1983), and Pieter Vanderbilt's The Dark Angel (1983), Strong's sinisterly seductive skin flick is simply mandatory viewing, as a cream of the crop piece of surrealist celluloid sensuality from pussy-licking purgatory. Indeed, if you ever wondered what Robert Altman's 3 Women (1977) might be like on X-rated acid, checkout Visions of Clair

-Ty E

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