DVD Review: ABCs OF LOVE & SEX/AUSTRALIA AFTER DARK Double Feature
John Lamond began his career in the director's chair with this pair of documentaries. He later went on to direct iconic Aussie slasher, Stage Fright, and soft erotica film Felicity, both available via Severin Films. There is a definite appreciation in Lamond's skills between Australia After Dark and ABCs, with the second film being miles more entertaining than the first. It would appear that even though the mondo craze was starting to wane in 1975, Lamond decided to make one for Australia, only to discover how difficult it was to make it work properly. As a follow-up, ABCs of Love and Sex is a huge improvement because of Lamond's new focus and staging which allowed him to call it a documentary without relying on reality's notorious unreliability.
Australia After Dark isn't a bad mondo film, mind you, it just pales in comparison to ABCs. The film doesn't have the exploitative pop required for a film like this to work. If there was anything that Lamond knew how to do, though, it was capture women in all of their natural glory on film, and Australia After Dark does that quite effectively. The film's lack of focus just about does it in, though as it sort of meanders without the sense of humor required to make a mondo film of this type work.
Jacopetti and Prosperi invented the mondo film a little over ten years before this film came out with Mondo Cane and hit upon the keys to it's success, In order to be a memorable mondo experience, a film must take what is normally an exploitable element and exaggerate it near the point of unbelievability. The selling point can be sex (Women of the World), blood (Africa: Blood & Guts), bizarre ritual (Mondo Cane), or really anything, but it has to go beyond the viewers expectation, and that is where Australia After Dark comes up short. Luckily, Lamond learned his lesson, and the resulting film deserves to mentioned among the upper echelon of mondo films.
The ABC(s) of Love and Sex is a fantastic sexploitation mondo documentary in the guise of an educational film. The film puts itself out there as an educational guide regarding sex, and to be honest, it mostly fulfills that promise. Lamond uses the alphabet as a device to explore sexuality (O is for Orgasm), and also as a means to stage his set pieces as reenactments rather that observational documentation. As a tool it works beautifully, and for the first third of the film, there really isn't anything that a school couldn't show in a sex education classroom, but then the figurative gloves come off.
The bulk of the film was shot in Australia, but there was a little bit of footage that Lamond needed to go overseas to get. L is for Love is probably the most notorious segment of the film, and probably the longest as well. This scene features a couple in Sweden from a sex club having actual sex for Lamond's camera. There are plenty of penetration shots, though nothing obscene, but it is perfectly obvious that they are really fucking. I get the impression that Lamond's intention was to normalize the sexual act somewhat in a film about all aspects of sexuality, but it still kind of comes off as crass and exploitative simply because of the fact that it goes on a bit too long.
L is for Love is the centerpiece of the film, and the crescendo to the action. The letters after L all seem to get short shrift and are frequently very brief in their descriptive skits. Oh well, I guess you can't win them all. Overall The ABCs of Love and Sex is a fantastic and fun little film that is sexy but never offensive, which is a nice thing. It is the kind of thing that might be weird to watch with a buddy, but not too harsh to watch with that special someone. Of the two films, I give ABCs a solid recommendation.
These two DVDs from Intervision are available separately, but I chose to review them together because they are related in many ways. As far as the technical aspects are concerned, ABCs is by far the better visual presentation. Even though Australia After Dark is only two years older, the source materials must have been in pretty rough shape because this print isn't that good. They are both anamorphic, though, and ABCs is much better looking than I would've expected. The audio on both discs is certainly passable, and I do recall the score from ABCs being a very fun little ditty.
The discs are rather light on extras, but the one extra they share is significant. Each film gets its own commentary from director John Lamond, moderated by Not Quite Hollywood director, Mark Hartley. Lamond is rather laid back in his delivery, but he is full of anecdotes and behind the scenes stories. Hartley is well informed enough about this age of Australian cinema to know what questions to ask to keep the commentary moving, so they are a great pair. Apart from that they both have a trailer reel for Lamond's work, much of which is available via Intervision/Severin.
Of the two films, ABCs of Love and Sex is clearly the winner, and a winner all on its own. Definitely make room for it in your collection.