Dave tells of how a classic of European cinema served as inspiration for an X-rated masterpiece.
“My sensibilities have always been towards foreign films,” said Gary Graver to journalist Harvey Chartrand shortly before his death. “I’m sort of a film snob in a way. I read Sight & Sound, Films in Review and Cineaste, but I come from both spectrums of the motion picture world”.
It’s continually a great source of amazement that Graver, the guy who was once Orson Welles’ right-hand man, also had a long history in porn, where he worked under the pseudonym ‘Robert McCallum’ (a nom de plume that remained a secret well into the ‘90s). Having said that, the fact that many of Graver’s X-rated early works are held in such high regard should not come as a surprise. While a lot of them don’t quite match the artistic and dramatic brilliance of 3AM (1975), we are able to catch a better glimpse of the real Gary Graver in the European flavour and high-end design of 1979’s, ‘V’: THE HOT ONE.
Indeed, as David Flint wrote in his 1999 book Babylon Blue, “It may be no great shakes in terms of plot, but it has production values to match any film you care to mention, porn or otherwise”.
Flint is right about the sumptuous surroundings that grace every scene, but he’s probably a little too dismissive of the storyline. After all, ‘V’: The Hot One is effectively an adult remake of Luis Bunuel’s Belle de Jour (1967), which saw Catherine Deneuve play the well-to-do housewife of a career-driven professional who embarks on a secret life of prostitution. In Graver’s movie, it’s the gorgeous Annette Haven who plays the titular ‘Hot One’, Valerie. Instead of a doctor, her husband is an ambitious lawyer called Paul (John Leslie) who harbours many of the same character traits as Pierre (Jean Sorel) in Belle de Jour – chiefly, maintaining a relationship of awkward frigidity with his wife. Valerie even shares a memory of childhood molestation with Bunuel’s lead, having endured a rape in the grounds of her childhood home, her mother responding with an unsympathetic “you little whore!”.
Although the similarities to Belle de Jour continue, it’s important to underline the fact that ‘V’ has no trouble asserting an identity of its own. Graver’s trademark humour plays a pivotal role in this as we’re treated to a succession of deliciously irreverent clients that include a school principal (Ray Welles) with a predilection for being spanked, and the ghoulish Joe (John Seeman) who has a fetish for muted lighting and fucking his mother. A special mention must also go to Jean Clark (a veteran of over twenty Graver pics) as the hysterical cinema usher who interrupts some movie house merrymaking with an offended screech of “STOP THAT SUCKING! STOP THAT SUCKING!”
The monopoly of Graver’s creative influence is etched into the very frame of ‘V’, and you have to wonder just how The Boys (1981) or Moon in Scorpio (1987) would have turned out had he been given this level of interference-free control across their tumultuous productions. Graver’s camerawork is an absolute joy; the dinner party sequence alone, as we watch the fluidity of the way it glides between guests, makes you part of the conversation. Additionally, he’s aided by a superlative score which is a bone of contention among commentators. IMDb edges towards Vangelis, but others point to either Pierre Henry or Jon Lord. In any case, it’s a fine piece of music that works its magic during the end party sequence-cum-orgy, where the throbbing synths match the writhing bodies beat for beat.
Annette Haven is Graver’s muse in so many of his XXX’rs, but ‘V’: The Hot One eclipses her work in both Co-Ed Fever (1980) and Peaches and Cream (1981). John Leslie is subdued and controlled in an impressive performance that really displays his range, while Brit icon Kay Parker makes her adult movie debut (in a non-sexual role) before going on to star in Dracula Sucks (1978) and Taboo (1980).
Until Vinegar Syndrome answers our prayers and announces a gorgeous Blu-ray of ‘V’: The Hot One, then the best we can do is seek out the lush looking DVD release from Wild Side in France. It really makes the quality of this movie pop, and I’d urge you to avoid streaming it for the sole reason of being able to savour the experience from a reputable release.