Saturday, 25 July 2009

Vibrations (1968)

As much as I love the sexploitation movies of the 60s and 70s have to admit that their charm more often than resides in their weirdness and/or their camp value. Since I’m a fan of both weirdness and camp that isn’t a problem for me. Joe Sarno’s movies on the other hand are rather different. Sarno had more serious intentions than the average sexploitation director, and his movies have a real edge to them.

Many of Sarno’s movies deal with the sexual obsessions and lusts lurking beneath the surface of respectable society. Movies like Sin in the Suburbs and The Swap and How They Make It lift the lid on the hidden world of kinky sex in suburbia. Vibrations, which dates from the late 60s (there seems to be some doubt about the exact year), explores similar territory, but this time in New York City.

Barbara is trying to realise her dream of being a writer. To pay the bills she types manuscripts for other writers. She has a small but comfortable apartment and seems to be reasonably content, until her older sister Julie shows up on the doorstep and invites herself to stay indefinitely. Barbara and Julie had been close when they were young. Very very close, but not quite in the way generally considered acceptable for sisters. Julie would like to re-establish their earlier intimacy, but Barbara rebuffs her in disgust. In fact both sisters are excessively preoccupied with sex; they simply express their obsession in different ways. Julie deals with her obsession by having lots of sex while Barbara deals with hers by not having sex and trying (unsuccessfully) not to think about it. And by thinking of Julie as a slut.

This situation would be stressful enough in itself, but then there’s their neighbour. The neighbour is young, blonde and attractive, and she has a couple of friends - one male and female - who spend a great deal of time with her. The sounds of obviously very satisfying love-making coming from her apartment attract the attention of Julie, and when she finds the neighbour’s door open the following day she can’t resist investigating. She discovers a rather impressive-looking sex toy (hence the name of the movie), and soon Julie has become a more than willing partner in these people’s sex games. She finds that while threesomes can be fun, foursomes can be even more fun. Things reach a climax (so to speak) when she finally persuades Barbara that fivesomes can be even better and that she really should join in. To complicate matters further Julie spends her spare time seducing a hunky writer for whom Barbara had been typing manuscripts, and for whom Barbara had developed the beginnings of a romantic obsession. But the game doesn’t end the way Julie expected.

Apart from being a very competent director with a fine sense of pacing and an ability to explore the emotional costs of sexual obsessions Joe Sarno also had a knack for getting exceptionally good performances from unknown and often completely inexperienced actors. The two actresses who play Barbara and Julie not only take their roles seriously but manage to bring their characters to life and to give them some real emotional depth.

This is of course an erotic movie, but in the world of 60s/70 sexploitation that doesn’t necessarily equate to copious amounts of sex and nudity. In this case there’s quite a bit of both, although it’s very softcore. On the other hand it is genuinely erotic, and the two lead actresses are both very attractive and very sexy while still looking like real human beings rather than the miracles of plastic surgery who dominate such movies today. Vibrations is as much a psychological study as a sex move and it succeeds pretty well on both levels. Any Joe Sarno movie is worth seeing. It comes packaged (courtesy of the good people at Something Weird Video) with two other sexploitation movies of the same era, Fluctuations and Submission. While the other two features can’t be considered to be in quite same class as Vibrations they are delightfully weird and highly entertaining. Which makes this Times Square Triple Feature exceedingly good value. Highly recommended.

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