Monday, 20 January 2020

Babette (Return of the Secret Society, 1968)

Babette (the actual title of the film is Return of the Secret Society) is a 1968 sexploitation feature directed by Peter Woodcock and it’s a kind of vague sequel to his Daughters of Lesbos. But Peter Woodcock is of course a painfully obvious pseudonym and no-one knows who actually directed this movie.

Babette (Linda Boyce) has thrown herself into New York’s underground sex scene, a world in which there is money be made (and Babette likes money) and thrills to be had (and Babette likes thrills). You gain entry to this world by answering contact ads in certain magazines. Pretty soon Babette is doing nude modelling for photographer Ramon, indulging in lesbian romps with one of his other models and offering herself as the entertainment for private sex parties and of course orgies.

Eventually Babette encounters the Daughters of Lesbos and some lesbian hijinks ensue. There’s also an orgy which is a kind of campy precursor to Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut.

Babette is a movie that is not all that highly regarded even by fans of the genre. It doesn’t have the outrageousness and stylistic weirdness of the best 60s sexploitation films. This is pretty much sexploitation at its most basic and straightforward. It’s about getting the actresses naked.

Having said all that it does have a few things going for it. The soundtrack is surprisingly kind of good. And while it might not have much more going for it beyond wall-to-wall nude women the nude women here are rather luscious. The biggest plus though is that it stars sexploitation legend Linda Boyce. She certainly looks very fetching without her clothes on but she also has a genuine and very definite screen presence and when given the chance (which isn’t really the case here) she could act.

A nice touch is the giant stuffed toy bunny rabbit on the bed on which the girls do their nude posing. There’s also the scene with the girl pleasuring herself whilst clutching a toy puppy dog.

This was 1968 and sexploitation movies like Babette were starting to up the ante as far as nudity goes. There is a stupendous amount of female nudity and a fair amount of it is full frontal nudity. This is however still very much a sexploitation movie and it’s still quite a long way from the full-blown softcore porn that would soon dominate the industry. In Babette couples and even threesomes do an awful lot of naked writhing about on couches and whatever it is that they’re doing they are very clearly not having sex. This is not the simulated sex of softcore. It’s more like a kind of simulated nude heavy petting. This is one of the things that makes these movies so appealing - this is a movie that tries desperately hard to achieve shocking levels of decadence but in fact it’s amusingly and even charmingly innocent.

It’s perhaps amusing that there’s only one scene that could truly be described as a simulated sex scene and the male partner is a stuffed toy donkey.

There are attempts to be shocking and perverse and mostly they come across as strange and amusing. The innocent young girl being initiated into the secret society doesn’t seem like she’s being brutalised. She’s relaxed and cheerful and obviously thinks it’s all a great lark.

Go-go dancing enhances any movie. Nude go-go dancing is even more of an enhancement. This movie not only has nude go-go dancing, it has fully frontally nude go-go dancing. Whatever its other faults might be no movie that can make that boast could ever be considered a failure.

I guess when one watches a movie like this one does have to ask oneself what exactly is it that can make a person a devoted fan of 1960s American sexploitation movies? I’m told that some fans are so dedicated they’ll even watch such a movie and then sit down and write a review. I really can’t imagine that too many people today would actually watch these movies to get their rocks off. We live in an age in which porn is not merely ubiquitous but almost inescapable. There are countless thousands of videos and millions of images available at the click of a button so if it’s naked women you‘re after you don’t really have to seek out 50-year-old black-and-white movies on DVD.

Of course this odd genre offers much more. Stylistic eccentricity in abundance. Not just cinematic weirdness, but multiple variations on cinematic weirdness. The chance to see movies made by people who either knew nothing or cared nothing about any of the established conventions of film-making. The chance to see movies made by people who often had a very distinctive vision. There’s the decadence, often combined in an unsettling way with innocence. There’s the whole retro thing. 1960s furnishings. 1960s fashions. 1960s hairdos. When the cameras venture outside, 1960s cars and 1960s streetscapes. And of course there’s the fascinatingly different erotic aesthetics of the 60s. There are more than sufficient reasons, apart from the naked chicks, to enjoy these strangely entrancing movies.

But then you must face the slightly unsettling question - would you watch these movies without the naked chicks? I think the answer has to be no. It has to be admitted that the mild titillation induced by the nudity is a part of the appeal.

Babette tries to be sexy and wicked and decadent and actually manages to be sexy and goofy. It’s very much a lesser entry in the genre but it has very attractive unclothed ladies and one of the unclothed ladies is Linda Boyce.

Something Weird have paired Babette with Monique My Love and of course a large selection of extras. The vintage bra and girdle ads are a hoot. Not sure I’d recommend buying this one unless you’re intending to amass a collection of every single one of the Something Weird-Image Entertainment special edition sexploitation DVDs (and I can think of worse ambitions to have).

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