Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Submission (1969)

Something Weird's Times Square triple pack contains three grindhouse classics from the late 60s, Vibrations, Fluctuations and Submission. I’d already ordered this one before reading a review of Submission - if I hadn’t, I would certainly have done so after reading that review. Submission is 60s sexploitation at its most delightfully weird.

Vicki and Barry make a living by talking their way into rather ill-defined employment with rich women. They then fleece the women, and in some cases at least cover their tracks by arranging fatal accidents for their employers. Vicki and Barry have a relationship that is somewhat on the kinky side, a mixture of S&M and candy. Vicki is the submissive, and she clearly enjoys playing this role. When she’s a good girl, she gets rewarded with a chocolate candy bar, which she consumes in a very disconcerting manner. The opening scene shows her fellating a candy bar with every sign of enjoyment. It’s typical of this odd little movie that a scene that could have been merely sleazy also manages to be both disturbing and disturbingly erotic.

The couple’s latest victim is Linda, an ageing fashion designer. Things don’t work out quite as expected though - Linda and Vicki take a liking to one another, their friendship becomes increasingly emotional, and before very long becomes sexual. So where does that leave Barry?

This is one of those low-budget exploitation movies that tries to combine skin and sleaze with art, and the blends is more successful than you might expect. It’s one of those cases where the weaknesses common to so many low-budget films actually become strengths - its lack of narrative coherence and confusing use of flashbacks and what may be fantasies rather than real flashbacks all combine to give the movie a generally very unsettling atmosphere. We’re not entirely sure what’s going on, and that makes us both uneasy and intrigued. Added to this, we have surprisingly compelling characters and some striking images, and also some fairy nifty and very attractive black-and-white cinematography. As a result, we’re drawn in sufficiently that we find ourselves caring what happens, which makes our confusion more unnerving.

There’s a particularly effective film-within-a-film sequence, when Vicki and Barry discover a movie projector and a movie which features Linda engaging in what appears to be some kind of sapphic orgy. But we don’t really know if this film is dimply a porn film in which Linda appeared, or whether it depicts an actual event, or even whether it was filmed with Linda’s knowledge or not. And is it an orgy, some strange erotic ritual, a group seduction or a lesbian gang-bang? How willing was Linda’s participation? We’ve been shown Linda’s deepest darkest secret, but it’s frustratingly ambiguous. This could have been a flaw, but in fact it makes things more interesting.

The acting is another strong point in the movie’s favour. All the players give reasonably effective performances, but the standout is Jennifer Welles. She went on to become one of the legends of 70 hardcore, but she really is an impressive actress. She makes Vicki a fascinating, strangely engaging and very disturbing character indeed. And she projects an alarmingly weird eroticism. The scene with the lit candle being a good example; I won’t tell you what she does with the candle, but I’m sure you won’t have too much trouble guessing. There’s lots of skin and sex, and it’s moderately explicit by softcore standards, but these were the days when directors of low-budget grindhouse features actually bothered to try to film sex in an interesting and imaginative way.

As always Something Weird manages to present an amazingly obscure movie in an astonishingly gorgeous print. It’s absolutely pristine. Submission is an entertaining dark thriller and a bizarre but undeniably erotic little oddity. Definitely worth a look.

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