DVD Review: NAKED CAME THE STRANGER
Naked Came the Stranger has a very interesting history, even before it became a film. The back story involving the book and its author(s) is detailed in this package, but I'll give you the Reader's Digest version. In 1969, a columnist at Newsday decided to conduct an experiment and deduce how far our collective literary standards had fallen in the wake of trash novelists like Jacqueline Suzanne taking over the best-seller charts. Mike McGrady assembled a number of his fellow Newsday writers and asked them to each pen separate stories surrounding Gillian Blake and her sexual exploits. The only requirements were that the chapters be vulgar and poorly written, beyond that he gave the authors carte blanche. The resulting novel was published collectively under the pen name of Penelope Ashe, who didn't exist.
The book, which was so salacious and vulgar that is should have failed, was a huge success. The group nominated one of their own sisters-in-law to play the part of Penelope Ashe and go on TV and radio interviews regarding the book. Eventually McGrady and his team couldn't take it anymore and outed themselves and the entire hoax, hoping that it would put an end to the book's popularity, however, it had the opposite effect and sales got stranger, which eventually led to a "major motion picture" adaptation by Metzger/Paris, and that's where we find ourselves now.
Radley Metzger was a master of erotic filmmaking going back to the mid-60s. His series of steamy films including The Lickerish Quartet, Camille 2000 (briefly referenced in Naked), Score, and many others, were a watershed collection of films which no other filmmaker could touch. The mix of opulence, sophisticated art design, and modern sensibilities made his films huge hits both at home and abroad. However, with the advent of Deep Throat and the resulting era of porno chic, Metzger's brand of cinematic teasing became passe. His two choices were to either jump on board the hardcore train, or stop making films, and so Henry Paris was born with the introduction of The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann.
Metzger was not one to completely surrender his own style in order to make a living, though, and his hardcore films retain much of the style of his early work. His adaptation of Naked Came the Stranger works perfectly well as a raunchy romantic comedy if you can somehow manage to extract the penetration. That is what makes him such a great filmmaker, the urge with the films of Henry Paris is to fast forward through the grinding to get to the next dialogue sequence. He has a remarkable eye, and an ear for clever dialogue. What could have been a mindless series of sexual encounters is actually an engaging comedy of errors in which we follow the lead, Gilly, as she discovers her own sexuality and eventually realizes that what she was looking for was in her bed all along.
All that being said, this is a porn, there are no two ways about that. There are numerous sex scenes which leave nothing to the imagination and are just as explicit as anything you might see today, only shot with more style and sense of humor. First and foremost, Metzger/Paris was a storyteller, and the story in this film is very entertaining. He cuts no corners and created memorable tableaux for his erotic encounters in places like an abandoned ballroom, the top of a double decker bus on Fifth Ave in New York, or even in the stairwell of a 5th floor walk-up. Metzger does his best to infuse these sequences with a bit of style, but ultimately most porn becomes tedious pretty quickly, and the demands the genre work against him to some degree. However, the film works, and the handful of Henry Paris films that came out of the seventies are among the most accomplished hardcore films ever made.
It is important to recall the era in which these films came about, and what it meant to make them. The breakout success of Deep Throat ushered in an era where everybody was going to see what all the fuss was about. The era of the porn star was born, and among this tight knit community there was an idea, however far fetched, that they were pioneers. These women and men felt like they were the first among a movement that would blur the line between hardcore films and mainstream cinema. In fact, a few of them were able to make a living on both sides of that fence, but not many. Of course, that never happened, and as our country seems to revert to more and more puritanical values, it will probably be a very long time before it does.
Naked Came the Stranger is a historically significant film in several ways. First of all, as an adaptation of a best selling book, it is certainly worth looking at. Second of all, it shows what hardcore adult films are capable of achieving artistically. This is a fun movie, even without the naughty bits, and that is something that probably can't be said for much porn these days. I definitely recommend this title to anyone interested in '70s sleaze, or just looking for a good time. If you're okay with lots of close-ups of people doing the business, I can't imagine anyone not liking this as a film. Definitely recommended.
This is my first review from DistribPix, and I asked for the title after really enjoying Cult Epics' releases of Metzger's softcore work. I must say that I'm incredibly impressed with what they've done here. The film has been remastered from the original elements and looks absolutely fantastic. Naked Came the Stranger is presented in it's original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio in an anamorphic transfer that looks gorgeous. In addition to that, DistribPix have gone all out and provided not only an original mono track, but also an uncommonly good 5.1 surround track created from the original four track recording. That anyone spent this kind of effort on an adult film is stupefying, but it really does the film good. DistribPix is all right in my book.
I could write an entire review just about the bonus content included with this disc, but I've written quite a bit already, so I'll try to keep it brief. The first thing that catches your eye (no pun intended) is the fantastic box art created in part by DistribPix with help from Cinema Sewer's Robin Bougie which adorns the cover and slipcase. Upon opening the case, we're met by a 40 page booklet detailing the history of the book and film, which is absolutely fantastic. If you read my reviews, you know I'm a sucker for booklets, and this is as good as any I've seen. Once you pop the disc in the flood of solid bonus content continues. There is a commentary with Metzger, a "fun facts" subtitles track along with proper subtitles in a ton of languages. There are also a few brief featurettes including one revisiting the shooting locales thirty-five years later, there is one detailing the process of remastering the audio and video which is really cool since we don't usually get to see that part of the process, a few deleted scenes which are mostly cutaways from the hardcore action, and a hard-vs-soft split screen comparison showing how the film was re-edited to take out the explicit action which also includes entire alternate takes of the action.
This set is amazing. Naked Came the Stranger is a fantastic film on its own merits, but DistribPix have really done it up right and I'm glad that there is someone out there putting in the effort required to keep these films from fading away. This is seriously some Criterion level work, and I would challenge any company working with classic adult films to put out something this good. Highly recommended!
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