Oct 8, 2014

American Babylon

Before prematurely concluding both his porn and filmmaking career with the apparently forgettable shot-on-video effort Decadence (1988), Roger Watkins aka ‘Richard Mahler’—the man who forever delightfully debased the horror realm with his misanthropic work of nefariously nihilistic Mansonite artsploitation The Last House on Dead End Street (1977)—blessed the world of bizarre blue movies with his penultimate piece of eccentric celluloid excess American Babylon (1987) aka Babylon USA, which like Fred Halsted's Sextool (1975), was one of only a handful of porn flicks that was shot on 35mm film stock. A film made to mock the raincoat crowd and Pee-wee Herman types, as well as the banal and equally bored American suburban bourgeoisie that could afford the pricey projectors and film reels to jerk-off in the dark in the privacy of their own basements, Watkins’ reluctantly wanton work is positively penetrating anti-porn at its most darkly humorous. Indeed, a piece of mischievously mirthful meta-cinema and porn-within-a-porn-within-a-porn about a basement-dwelling porn addict who watches fuck flicks in a literal raincoat and a motorcycle helmet and his considerably whipped neighbor/’best friend’ who calls his conspicuously cunty wife ‘mother’ and is good at taking orders from other people, especially wanton women, American Babylon depicts via a secretly seedy suburban microcosm the pathetic loneliness that oftentimes ‘comes’ with pornophilia, extramarital affairs, and religious fever. An iconoclastic assault on Christian evangelism, marriage, middle-class living, and porn addiction, Watkins’ work is nothing if not a totally and shockingly singular work made on the brink of the death of porn chic, which probably has largely to do with the fact that the auteur had total creative freedom with the film, or as he stated in an interview with David Kerekes featured in Headpress 23: Funhouse (2002): “CORRUPTION and AMERICAN BABYLON are two I had absolute, total control over.” A timely work created around the time when the porn industry drastically degenerated into the soulless and malignant smut tumor it is today and started producing plot-less and artless shot-on-video twaddle that was meant to sexually excite the most moronic of debauched dullards and delinquents, American Babylon is a sort of unofficial declaration of the pornographic apocalypse. 

 Meek ‘house husband’ Thomas (played by actor/porn star Michael Gaunt, who appeared in everything from the late-1960s BBC children series Jackanory to Lucio Fulci’s 1980 classic City of the Living Dead) arrives home calling for his domineering wife Mary (played by Chelsea Balke, who starred in Sharon Mitchell’s delightfully titled 1985 work D.O.D.: Dick of Death), but instead finds a sandwich, glass of milk, and note reading, “Honey, Tuesday night is aerobics night. See you after a time. Your loving wife, Mary.” Rather annoyed by his wife’s absence and her use of the nonsensical non-phrase “See you after a time,” Thomas decides to head over to the house of his small, swarthy, and sleazy neighbor Robert (played by pornographic ‘character actor’ Bobby ‘Clown Prince of Porn’ Astyr), who is a pathetic yet exceedingly arrogant and narcissistic porn addict who spends virtually all of his time watching fuck flicks and denies sexual pleasure to his undersexed wife Joan (Tish Ambrose, who appeared in virtually all of Watkins’ fuck flicks). Indeed, when Joan begins masturbating in an attempt to turn on her horndog hubby, he bitches with a gutter-grade NYC Jewish accent, “Joan, I really wish you wouldn’t do that. It’s distracting. Enough is a fuckin’ nuff'.” Together, Robert and Tom watch vintage black-and-white films together like “Teenage Pigment In Heat” a film by ‘Bernard America.’ An early casualty of porn addiction who lives and breathes amateur blue movies, Robert excitedly describes the poorly directed fuck flick to Thomas as follows: “Get a load of this footage, Thomas. No adult cinema, this. No, no contemporary triple X theater, this is a dirty movie. The screen just literally drips guilt. The debasement is what does it. Look at the cunt. You can’t tell but I know it. It’s just dripping wet and stinks to high heaven.” Indeed, Robert is so enamored with porn that he will not even notice Thomas beginning an affair with his wife Joan right in front of his face. 

 Spiritual cuckold and human doormat Thomas is indubitably his wife Mary’s little bitch and he has no problem admitting it, even to women who he is cheating on his spouse with. When Thomas fails to drink the milk she left him while she was at aerobics, she complains, “son-of-a-bitch didn’t even drink his milk” and forces him to drink it later, but not before berating him a number of times. When Thomas walks in on Mary, who he lovingly calls ‘mother,’ masturbating, he ruins her orgasm by driving his face into her gash, but he makes up for it by dining on and penetrating her naughty bits. After sex, the two go to bed, but they are both awakened by a phone call from Robert’s wife Joan, who demands that Thomas meet her at 2 pm the next day at a local pizza joint because, as she says to the whipped married man, “I want to suck your cock.” Of course, being a cowardly cuck who can be easily manipulated by any woman, Thomas follows Joan’s orders and soon finds himself receiving head in the lady’s room of the pizza joint, though he complains, “Joan, this is a public restroom. Anyone can walk in here” during the middle of the blowjob. After blowing his load, Thomas, proclaims, “Gee Joan, that was swell. I’d really love to do it again sometime, if it is at all possible,” to which his friend’s wife replies while semen is dripping from her face, “I can't hardly wait.” Indeed, the next time Thomas comes over to Robert’s place to watch a fuck flick called “Butt Girls in Bondage,” he is treated to a handjob from Joan, whose husband is so hypnotized by the hardcore reel that he does not notice that his “best wife” (indeed, Robert seems to think he has more than one wife) is stroking the pole of his “best friend.” When Robert later walks in on his wife Joan being fucked by a butch bitch with a strap-on while Thomas masturbates nearby while absurdly sporting old school beatnik garb, he does not even notice a thing and goes on to pathetically proclaim how glad he is that he just found his Swiss army knife like the proud man-child that he is. 

 Unquestionably, American Babylon becomes much more bizarre and intriguingly inexplicable during the last 20 minutes or so. After Robert tells a bogus bullshit story about how he once had an affair with two bisexual sisters that just magically happened to show up in the upstairs bedroom of his home while he was vacuuming downstairs with his beloved Hoover vacuum cleaner (indeed, he seems more aroused by the thought of his vacuum than the two imaginary incestuous sluts he encountered), the film begins to deconstruct. To differentiate between sections of the film, director Roger Watkins opted for shooting the film’s main narrative in color and the fictional fuck films that the characters watch in black-and-white. Of course, by the end of the film, the main characters are also depicted in black-and-white, thus rudely demolishing the imaginary ‘Fourth Wall’ of the film and making the viewer well aware that they are watching a porn flick. Indeed, when the character Robert states to Thomas, “Only a fool would believe a story like that. I mean, think about it,” after he fails to differentiate between fact and fantasy, he is really speaking to the viewer from the perspective of auteur Watkins, who seems to have only the bitterest contempt for his audience. During the last 10 minutes or so of American Babylon, a title card for an imaginary film entitled “Menopausal Males in Bondage” (A film by Thomas and Robert) appears and various scenes from the movie appear in an abridged recapping of the entire film, thus forcing the viewer to come to terms with the fact that they have been ‘had’ by the director and are, not unlike the characters of the film, ‘Menopausal Males’ in bondage to pornography and impotency.  Like Thomas and Robert, the viewer lives their life vicariously through television characters and dope-addled porn stars.  Also, towards the end of the film, Thomas’ wife Mary shoots her TV with a shotgun after becoming quite agitated with what she sees on the screen, thus suggesting that porn and television are just two heads of the same incapacitating and lobotomizing American beast. In the end, American Babylon concludes with a pop-art-like portrait of Abraham ‘Honest Abe’ Lincoln, who not only symbolizes America’s degeneration since the last century, but also how the nation itself is founded on myths, with pornography itself being a perverse product of this mythmaking. 

 More than any of Watkins’ other films, American Babylon reveals the director’s venomous contempt for Christian evangelism, which is most apparent during a scene where the character Robert listens to some carny-like radio preacher and states to his neighbor:  “Thomas, I have a theory about these self-appointed sanctimonious radio proselytizers…I think they’re all suffering from some massive guilt complex. Somewhere in their seedy little pasts, each and every one of them has committed some heinous act for which they can find no absolution. So what they’ve done is beat themselves over the heads with it, and after eons of introspection some kind of dark knights of the soul, they have been metamorphosed into what I like to call ‘Leapers into the Light.’ They are going to beat us over the head with it, buddy, and there ain’t no gettin’ away.”  While Watkins has made it quite clear in various interviews that he got involved in the porn industry for monetary reasons, one certainly gets the feeling while watching American Babylon that he also did it to attack the medieval-minded so-called “Judeo-Christian” (itself, an oxymoron) evangelists who have turned America into the great laughing stock of the world. 

 While Roger Watkins was fairly dismissive of most of his hardcore flicks, he seemed to have a ‘soft spot’ for American Babylon as revealed in his remark in Headpress 23: Funhouse: “I made that with my own money. I like that film. I can’t even find a good tape of it now. I have a bootleg. It’s interesting to me; it’s about boredom. It’s about two men who sit around bored watching pornography. Basically that’s it. I kind of like it. I think the last shot is an eight minute static, b&w shot of these two forlorn guys sitting near a window in a bar listening to ‘Glory Glory Hallelujah’ or something.” Although somewhat inaccurately describing his own film (he was known to have drug problems throughout his entire life), Watkins is correct when he states American Babylon is hard-to-find, as even I had to track down a poor quality bootleg copy, which is rather unfortunate considering it is one of the few true masterpieces of porn, not to mention one of the most sophisticated and iconoclastic works that the industry has ever produced, as the sort of fuck flick Godard might have directed had he been a forsaken drug-addled American exploitation auteur. While some might suspect that the title of the film might have been inspired by the scandalous and oftentimes salacious pages of Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon (1959), Watkins revealed otherwise, stating, “There was a porn series that made a lot of money – BABYLON PINK, BABYLON YELLOW, Babylon whatever. AMERICAN BABYLON capitalized on all that, but I had written it in a more imaginative way.” Lauded as the “last great adult film to come out of New York,” American Babylon is unquestionably the sort of fuck flick that transcends porn ghetto, as one might describe it as one of the most eloquently obnoxious assaults on both the American porn industry and America in general. A work that depicts suburbia as a sort of American pie that is completely rotten inside where the men are either cuckolded automatons or impotent porn addicts and the women are hyper horny undersexed deviants looking to fuck anything and everything that moves, American Babylon innovatively manages to portray what everyone knows but is too afraid to say by using the taboo art of pornography for a practical purpose, which was certainly one of Watkins’ greatest talents as a filmmaker. Indeed, Watkins is the only filmmaker I can think of who would have probably made socially keen snuff films were he given the opportunity. 

-Ty E


jervaise brooke hamster said...

I like the close-up of the birds arse and twat, and the bird on the poster, and the bird in suspenders in the studio, and the bird jerking off who looks a bit like Cyndi Lauper, i`d love to bugger them all senseless (as they were in 1987 when this film was made, not as they are now obviously).

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Ty E, porn is the truth and the future. Its Hollywood and TV that is lies, hypocrisy, and the past.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

In that cartoon picture Abe Lincoln looks like a faggot wearing pink lipstick.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Ty E, believe it or not i`m completely OK with the geezer touching the chopper because its a birds false dildo chopper, the geezer is there-by still retaining his heterosexuality and is not a woofter.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Ty E, America is indeed a world-wide laughing stock for the rea-daughters that you girl-tioned with regards to all the religious bull-shit that is still poi-daughter-ing vast areas of American society, however what you conveniently forgot to girl-tion (as you so often do in these reveiws) is that America is still very much 'in charge' (as it were) simply by virtue of the fact that it has a lot more hydrogen bombs than anyone else, UNDERSTAND ! ! !.

Jennifer Croissant said...

The first two syllables of the word "babylon" is the word "baby", rather interesting dont you agree ! ! !.