14 May 2007 | marshall crist
The GONE WITH THE WIND of retro feminist sexploitation films.
The demented genius behind A VISIT FROM THE INCUBUS strikes again. Seriously, though, what is VIVA? Caught this about seven months ago and am still trying to take it all in. I loved this film because I never knew what was going to happen next, despite it following the model of '60's/'70's sexploitation films pretty closely. The first few minutes are simply exhilarating. A young housewife leafs through a skin mag in her bathtub, gets herself ready for the outside world, and blasts off in some bad-ass muscle car, just as the wonderful piece of vintage loungecore music on the soundtrack reaches a crescendo. (At least that's how I remember it.) Sublime; I'm at a loss to think of a better opening scene. (TOUCH OF EVIL, studio cut, perhaps? It's too close to call.) Then we settle in for the long haul. The housewife is hanging out with her friends, a married couple. Things get inappropriate. How far will it go? Exactly what kind of a movie is this? That's really the question that VIVA dares the viewer to answer. I'm still not sure. Satire or pornography? Happily, the answer is yes.
The film is two hours. That would be hard to justify if it were just a slavish imitation of vintage softcore porn. Or just a spoof of same. Instead, it's almost a suspense film. How long has it been since an American film had me wondering who among the cast was going to disrobe? Who was going to disrobe NEXT? Who will have sex next? Will it even be consensual?! All those people constantly cruising each other. Predatory. With the color-soaked visual panache of Radley Metzger in Eastmancolor, but with a storyline from a Joe Sarno film where everyone thinks and talks about sex all the time, has weird, anonymous, masked sex all the time, and never enjoys it. Almost exactly like the adult world seemed to me in 1972. Plus deadly serious feminist self-reflexivity for the unwashed masses and nude dancers with their wieners bobbing hilariously for intellectuals like myself, courtesy of a nudist camp scene that is exactly like Blake Edwards WOULD have done it in A SHOT IN THE DARK, if Hollywood censorship had already relaxed, and he was on angel dust. And all the while, the deliciously arch Jared Sanford does his best to act dozens of naked people off the screen. Two hours was barely enough. Bring on the 70mm IMAX release, the three-disc DVD special edition with the signed and numbered lithographs, and the "Vote for Viva" t-shirts in every trendy mall novelty store.