|Marilyn Chambers at the center of a ritualistic sex performance in Behind the Green Door.|
Earlier this week I proposed that we might make distinctions between different types of hard-core pornographies on the basis of tone. Just as the rollicking bawdiness of Fanny Hill takes place worlds away from the spare, nihilistic horrors of Histoire de l’oeil, the basically comic approach to hard-core sex that we find in Deep Throat should be distinguished from attempts by films like Behind the Green Door (dir. Artie and Jim Mitchell, 1972) to explore the ritualism and mysteriousness of sex. Even seen today, alongside the twenty-first century's glut of explicit online pornography, Behind the Green Door is a powerful film, creepy and bizarre. It’s shocking, not because it’s necessarily any more graphic than what we’re likely to see online (if anything, it’s comparatively restrained) but rather because it’s so conceptually ambitious. (I challenge readers to come up with any other hard-core film in which clowns and mimes figure prominently.)
The plot is sketchy, nightmarish. A beautiful young white woman, Gloria (Marilyn Chambers), is abducted and taken to a private sex club, where she participates in a series of erotic rituals in front of an audience of masked spectators. She is first attended to by a masseuse, then by a bevy of handmaidens dressed in black robes, then by a handsome black stud done up in kitschy African jewelry and white crotchless tights. Soon an orgy has broken out among the members of the audience, and the entire spectacle builds to an orgasmic finale in which images of male ejaculation appear as they would in an avant-garde film. At bottom, it is an avant-garde film—one in which sex becomes abstracted, heightened, de-familiarized.