Girl on Top – Sandra: The Making of a Woman (1970)

A few months before Gary Graver hooked up with Orson Welles, he made what should be regarded as an exploitation classic. Dave takes a look. 

You have to hurl a big ‘what if?’ at whether we’d still have access to thousands of sexploitation movies had Mike Vraney not founded Something Weird Video in 1990. While we wouldn’t lose sleep at the concept of some disintegrating in landfill right now, the absence of SANDRA: THE MAKING OF A WOMAN (1970) would demand a heavy dose of temazepam.

The story of a teenager escaping her small town life and heading to San Francisco to immerse herself in the free love movement doesn’t exactly go zing with originality, but this picture found Gary Graver in a purple patch of creativity in-between rent-a-DP gigs for Al Adamson and David L. Hewitt. Though he shares a screenwriting credit with Robert Aiken, the Michigan-born bit-part actor whose only other writing credit was a certain Moon in Scorpio (1987), Graver is running a virtual one man show here, juggling direction, cinematography and editing – and it’s all sublime.

His cutting alone leaves you dizzy with its intricate dynamism as Sandra’s (played with a deft astuteness by Switchblade Sisters (1975) star Monica Gayle) traumatic upbringing at the hands of her (sadly uncredited) alcoholic father is skilfully punched into the narrative with forceful aggression. He’s a pathetic figure, reading jazz mags and necking moonshine at the kitchen table while hurling abuse at his eighteen year old daughter: “You rotten slut! You’re just like your mother!”, who, we later learn, escaped the clutches of this raging inebriant and into the arms of another man.

When her father’s car careers off a cliff, Sandra sees this as the perfect opportunity to escape the bad vibes and inbred yokels of the boondocks, so she sells up and begins her journey to the city. Naturally she meets a cornucopia of carnally-concerned characters along the way; from hitching more than just a ride with stocking salesman Phil Gordon, to a salacious affair with her married boss, Dr. Lockhart, but it’s a path that offers more than a fumble in the dark.

The title Sandra: The Making of a Women hints at a kind of leery, misanthropic, deflowering exercise, but in reality it’s anything but. Graver layers the character of Sandra with independence, single-mindedness and determination. Yes, she’s exploring her sexuality, but it’s on her own terms, and not without a degree of frustration too: “Everyone talks about [sexual freedom], but when the time comes to deliver, down goes that fist”.

It may miss some of the humour that’s usually laced through Graver’s films (although keep an eye out for the comically pervy Leonard, played by Graver stalwart Jean Clark), but his stamp is etched into the fabric of this cheapie. From the arthouse cinema where Sandra goes to see a foreign language movie, to the vigour of how he shoots San Francisco on the ground – the artistic and technical hallmarks of the protean filmmaker stand out a mile and it’s a glorious sight.

USA ● 1970 ● Drama ● 90mins

Monica Gayle, Jean Clark, Uschi Digard ● Dir. Gary Graver ● Wri. Gary Graver, Robert Aiken

209

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s