9.03.2011

The psychotronic diaries: "What do you think I am, some two-dollar hustler?"




A suggestive use of montage editing from A Smell of Honey, A Swallow of Brine (dir. Byron Mabe, 1966; great title).  It’s a particularly vile piece of sexploitation cinema, produced by prolific sleaze auteur David F. Friedman; the DVD edition from Something Weird Video even includes a commentary track with him that’s worth a listen.  According to Friedman, this low-budget roughie was shot by none other than Laszlo Kovacs, the legendary cinematographer who later worked on such films as Easy Rider (1969). 

Like the other Friedman-produced films included on the DVD (A Sweet Sickness, 1968; The Brick Dollhouse, 1967), A Smell of Honey… is a nudie flick that only runs about an hour, most of which time is taken up with extended scenes of its lead actress, Stacey Walker, in various stages of undress.  The plot involves Sharon Winters (Walker) taking sadistic pleasure in seducing a series of men and letting them strip her down to her panties, at which point she cries rape.  (One of her “victims” ends up in jail, another flees town, and a third actually is driven to rape a random woman on the street after he’s turned out of Sharon’s bed.)  She even indulges in some heavy petting with her lesbian roommate, then accuses her of being a pervert and kicks her out of the apartment (memorable line: “I may be a bitch, but I’ll never be a butch!”).  In some weird way, Sharon’s sexual bait-and-switch seems related to the rules regarding on-screen nudity to which the film defers: because the film can show bare breasts and buttocks but not full-frontal nudity, things pretty much have to come to a halt before Sharon’s bottoms come off.  The sexual frustration of the male characters on-screen thus could be said to mirror that of the male members of the audience; both Sharon and the film deny men the pleasure of “going all the way.”  The sexual violence that ends the film disturbingly suggests a release of that pent-up frustration. 

It’s pretty obvious that this is a film made by, for, and about men—as opposed, say, to much hard-core pornography from the 1970s, which targeted mixed audiences and which often made an effort, however pathetic, to consider women as consumers of erotica.  (Radley Metzger’s Score, which I wrote about several months ago, is a good example of an “equal opportunity” adult film.)  A Smell of Honey... not only makes no such effort, but it is also a virulently misogynistic film, one that basically tells men that cock-teases like Sharon who lead men on and then accuse them of rape deserve to get raped for real.  The final scene of the film is particularly painful in its, um, driving home this point. To be sure, Sharon’s behavior in the film is cruel, but the film’s setting her up to receive a particularly brutal punishment is even crueler.  It’s the visceral, sexualized anger toward women in this film—not its excessive nudity—that really leaves a bad taste in the mouth.       

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