Chuck-le Vision: Wildest Dreams (1990) & Party Girls (1990)

From porn to parody: Dave charts Chuck Vincent’s path to the video store, and picks out two of his best collaborations with scripter Craig Horrall.

Swinging between adult features and more orthodox fare was a common theme in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Folk like David Worth (Pink Champagne (1979)) and David DeCoteau (Bad Boys Dormitory (1986)) preferred to leave their days of smut behind them after breaking into the mainstream, while John Hayes (Pleasure Zone (1983)) and Gary Graver (Suzie Superstar (1983)) occasionally slipped back into the skin trade for the sake of paying some bills.

Chuck Vincent seemed to succeed by blending elements of the two, but in his own dynamic and middle-fingered manner.

In an era when many of the preceding icons shied away from assigning their real names to their XXX endeavours, the openly gay Vincent was audacious enough to rack up a slew of pornos like Roommates (1982) and In Love (1983) without the cloak of an alias, and drop a few ‘legitimate’ video store staples – Summer Camp (1979) and Preppies (1984) – into his ribald resume too. In ’85, Vincent managed to bag a ten picture deal with Vestron Video, and he had no qualms about utilising adult industry hall-of-famers such as Veronica Hart and Marilyn Chambers for prominent roles.

Described by critic Ben Sachs as “the closest exploitation cinema ever got to producing a George Cukor” due to his frequently subversive critiques of heterosexual relations [1], Vincent’s formative years are quite something. Born Charles Vincent Dingley in Michigan, Vincent relocated to New York in his twenties, and it was here that he racked up a dozen years of theatre experience, including a five-year stint as stage manager at the infamous Tappan Zee Playhouse. It was here that he was closely involved in plays like the 1965 production of Gigi with George Hamilton, and the 1967 presentation of A Streetcar Named Desire with Robert Forster and Julie Harris. By the end of the decade he’d been bitten by the filmmaking bug and headed up Rockland County to make the excellent Blue Summer (1973).

Succumbing to AIDS in September ’91, with his writing partner Craig Horrall predeceasing him by six months, it’s the fruits of their multi-picture partnership – a union established in 1984 – that remains the most untapped in terms of discussing Vincent’s prolific career.

Firstly, their collaborations were technically impressive. Vincent had a negative cutting room in Long Island that he used to edit down all his features, which was partially down to his love for 35mm and his refusal to shoot on video. His quest is helped immensely by the fine eye of long-time cinematographer Larry Revene. Revene had scored an AFAA nomination for Roommates, and he’s able to match Vincent’s penchant for shooting quickly yet stylishly, giving a quality to the lighting and camerawork that belies the rat-tat-tat pace at which these movies were made.

Secondly, although they’d venture across genres with the occasional thriller (If Looks Could Kill (1986)) or horror (Deranged (1987)), it was comedy that the pair would always return to, with their final two comedies in particularly deserving a tip of the hat.

Released by Vestron in February 1990, even though it was shot almost three years earlier, WILDEST DREAMS is a grin-inducing ninety minutes of buffoonery, as the delightfully camp Bobby (James Davies) finds himself in charge of his parents’ (Veronica Hart and Harvey Siegel) antiques business while they’re away at a convention. When he discovers a mysterious lamp hidden in a shipment of treasures, a cursory rub summons a genie who grants him the opportunity of true love. There is, however, a devastating flaw. The luscious djinn has forgotten how to cancel out the pre-wished wishes, so poor Bobby must contend with a series of besotted beauties who won’t leave him alone, even though they’re a mediocre mismatch.

With its exaggerated caricatures, farcical set-ups, and telegraphed tomfoolery, Wildest Dreams could well represent comedy hell for a chunk of the audience. That said, you’d have to be a stone-hearted sourpuss not to find some elements of joy in Vincent’s multi-girlfriend farce, primarily because scripter Horrall is so adept at creating a rainbow of colourful characters.

The notion that Vincent’s best comedy should not only be his final film, but also his only movie to hit video stores posthumously is quite poignant [2]. PARTY GIRLS, which wound up on cassette under the title Party Incorporated‘, happens to be a meta-mountain of a fourth wall breaker that’s an absolute delight.

Marilyn (Marilyn Chambers) has fallen on hard times. Her husband has died deep in debt, leaving her facing destitution. Thankfully, being the ever-enterprising entrepreneur that she is, Marilyn hatches a plan to launch a bespoke party business which has the potential to be a real money-maker, and the welcome solution to her fiscal woes.

The genius of Party Girls is two-fold. Not only are Vincent’s crew in on Marilyn’s scenario and part of the gag (think of it like a proto-MTV reality show from the ‘90s), but we’re privy to an audience of guys and girls watching it on TV too; meta on meta if you will.

It’s not flawless. The premise is so wafer thin that the movie is prone to becoming a collection of vaguely connected sketches – though the first twenty minutes alone make for the most glorious self-referential comedy. But with crew reflections, boom mics deliberately creeping into shots, musical numbers, high camp (a jockstrap parade!) and, of course, our final glance at the irrepressible Mr. Vincent, its imperfections are an effortlessly forgivable part of its tapestry.

[1] On Wednesday, Doc Films Begins Another Eclectic Summer Program by Ben Sachs, Chicago Reader, 20th June 2014.
[2] ‘Party Incorporated’ was released on VHS via New World Pictures on 10th October 1991, seventeen days after Vincent’s death. The film did, however, air on the Playboy Channel several times in April 1990.

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