Thursday, 15 July 2010

Fantasm (1976)

I'm slowly working my way through Umbrella Entertainment's ozploitation boxed sets. All the movies are available for rental through Quickflix (like Netflix but Australian). Fantasm (1976) is no masterpiece but it’s fine for what it is. It was the second collaboration between director Richard Franklin and cinematographer Vincent Morton and like their first effort, The True Story of Eskimo Nell , you could argue that it's directed and photographed with a lot more style and class than the material really requires, or deserves. Even on the lowest of budgets they seemed incapable of making a movie that didn't look good.

It works better than The True Story of Eskimo Nell because being merely a series of vignettes the weakness of the writing doesn't matter, and it's a lot more focused. It knows what kind of movie it is. It's a good example of 70s softcore porno chic, kind of an Australian Emmanuelle. Like Emmanuelle it what was an attempt to appeal to a slightly broader audience including couples rather than just the dirty raincoat brigade by being ostensibly a series of female sexual fantasies. Since it's all supposed to be fantasies and it's filmed in a style that makes it clear that these are fantasies it's much less offensive and sexist than a plot synopsis would suggest.

There’s a framing device, which adds a touch of humour as the renowned sex therapist Dr Notafreud introduces the various case histories. It works well enough.

A couple of the episodes do achieve a genuinely erotic quality (especially The Beauty Parlour sequence), and fans of Uschi Digard will be pleased to see her in all her glory.

It’s an unusual film in that although it was entirely an Australian production it was mostly filmed in Los Angeles, an interesting reversal of the practice that had been so common in previous decades of overseas companies shooting movies on location in Australia.

It ain't Citizen Kane, but it's stylish 70s softcore and doesn't try to be anything else, and it compares quite favorably with similar movies from other countries from the same era.

The sequel, Fantasm Comes Again, included on the same disc, is basically just a retread of the original. Both movies were relatively tame compared to the sex movies being shot in the US and Europe at that time, being strictly softcore (although one or two sequences are borderline hardcore). But considering the very strict Australian censorship they must have been pushing things about as far as it was possible to go in Australia at that time.

They also demonstrate convincingly the essential superiority of softcore over hardcore - when you can’t show everything you have to actually put some effort and imagination into proceedings to achieve the desired erotic frisson, and these two movies generally manage to do that. And they’re representative of a vanished era in Australian film-making.

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