Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Love Captive (1969)

Bewildering soft-core weirdness from the 60s

"This painting is a bit obscure in meaning; it was painted by a madman a week before he died." so say Sybil, the fugitive on the run.. A conscious evocation of Virginia Woolf's To The Lighthouse, The Love Captive, is a 60s pioneering stream-of-consciousness sexual horror narrative in which a painting figures prominently as a metonymic representation of the text's overarching structure. This insightful comparison (if I do say so myself) only collapses once you realize that Virginia Woolf was one of the great writers of the twentieth century, whereas the makers of The Love Captive were probably drugged-out, illiterate maniacs. 

A blonde woman steps out of a subway stop and strolls down Greenwich Village while a narrator monitors her, making sure not to help us at all by confining his observations to the visually obvious -- "she's evidently a stranger to these parts," he informs us. "With a [hand]bag like that, she could be a model, or an actress." Yeah. Thanks. 

The woman, Jane, checks into a hotel and as the desk clerk moves his lips to the accompaniment of silence, we realize that the film has no synchronous soundtrack. Instead, director Larry Crane has tried to dub the film in post-production, and poorly -- spoken lines often follow lip movements by several seconds, or emerge magically from closed mouths. 

Jane takes a guided tour of a museum of the macabre next to the hotel, and gets locked in. She appears to have done this intentionally. A vampire rises out of something, a hunchback shambles around for a while, and another vampire (indicated by the presence of makeshift fangs) is remarkably sanguine while a slobbery werewolf kind-of drools on her. Piercing screams surge from the soundtrack, but the vampire actually seems to be suppressing laughter. She and two other gals bob up and down with the werewolf for about five minutes and forty-five seconds while bongos play. Maybe they're supposed to be phantasms who haunt the museum, but it's hard to say for sure. Jane watches patiently, with no appreciable reaction. 

Back at the hotel (the next day, the previous night, ten years later?), the desk clerk strolls in and casually undresses Jane, and the two make out while the narrator expresses his disapproval. Meanwhile Gail, another tenant, straps on a dildo alone in her room. Cops next door are pursuing a fugitive, Sybil, and play a series of tape-recorded accusations ("We know who you are, girly") through speakers pressed against the hotel-room wall. But they don't know which is Sybil's room and press the speaker to Gail's wall by mistake. Gail hears the disembodied voice, freaks out, and flees to Jane's room. Jane and Gail make out. This time, however, the narrator doesn't complain. 

The sinister Sybil, as close to an antagonist as a film without a clear conflict can come, is unperturbed by the accusatory voices. She seduces the owner of the museum, then takes over the establishment after convincing him to go on a long vacation. Her guided tours are more suffused with sex and violence than the museum owner's had been, and she figures out how to make a little money on the side by selling Gail into prostitution. The cops come back and play the tape recording some more, once again using the wrong wall. This puts Jane into a confessional mood and she opens her closet door to reveal that she's been keeping the cowed hotel clerk in shackles as a "love captive." Once more the narrator disapproves. Where would we be without his moral guidance, I wonder? Trying to summarize this "movie" is like trying to tell somebody about a dream you've had. Its narrative is largely incoherent, and the only way to understand it at all is as the cinematic equivalent of a psycho-sexual rant. Then it starts to adopt a sort of deviant logic: the clumsy voice-overs throughout make the characters' conversations almost indiscernible from internal monologue, as though they were communicating by telepathy. The cops, with their motiveless surveillance and their accusatory tape recorder, embody a sort of hallucinatory paranoid delusion. In no way, though, is the film about these things; it's more accurate to say that the film is affected by them, that it is, on some level, an acting out of hallucinatory and delusional fantasy. 

When Gail straps on the dildo while evaluating her reflection, Freud's primal scene and Lacan's mirror phase simultaneously spring to mind: "Aw, that should do it," she says, "I'd fool my own mother." She really wouldn't, of course - though she has this funny thing stuffed into her underwear she's still every inch a woman. Perhaps in her own mind she appears literally male, and this is Lacan in its essence: our sense of identity is troubled from the outset, presenting us with a self-image immediately distorted by cathexis and psycho-sexual illusion. Strange enough. Naturally Larry Crane manages to make it still stranger, introducing this fascinatingly perverse notion of fooling one's mother by wearing a prosthetic phallus. Fool her in which sense, Mr. Crane: by preventing her from recognizing you, or by using it and making her believe the phallus is the real thing? 

This is one of many scenes that raise the question whether Larry has packed enough sandwiches for his picnic. It's probably relevant that the narrator never ponders the reason behind Gail's autoerotics, instead praising her for how well she's managed to make herself look like a man. I reach for the rewind button here, figuring I must have missed the scene that explained why Gail's doing this in the first place. But it's never explained, just as it's never explained why the two cops broadcast recorded accusations instead of eavesdropping, or why Jane imprisons the hotel clerk. They are simply to be taken on faith, just as the schizophrenic never feels it necessary to clarify the mechanisms by which he has mysteriously become Lyndon Johnson, or reveal who paid to launch the satellite that is now beaming microwaves into his brain. These events exist not to forward a plot or to get at any character's interior life* but to construct disconnected images. In other words, they are fantasies apparently intended to assuage the sting of some psychological pain, since obscured by the passage of time and by the sufferer's lack of insight. 

This person suffering this pain is probably not Gail but the narrator - and probably, by extension, Larry Crane. Among those with severe personality disorders Crane is at least fortunate enough to be able to turn his image formations into feature films, however shoddily crafted. Another of his works - on my "to-see" list, as soon as I recover from this one - is instructively titled All Women Are Bad. Poorly sublimated much? 

And yet for all The Love Captive's unembarrassed weirdness, it is most entertaining and informative (all the time despite itself) when you realize that this is, after all, a soft-core porno movie from the late 60s. This coarse act of genre classification serves to answer some questions, though maybe not others: why does Gail get mostly naked and strap on a dildo? Why does a werewolf appear from out of nowhere and molest a vampire, who also appears from out of nowhere? What's with all that languid bobbing up and down, and who's playing those bongos? 

Well, the most obvious answer is that it's all an excuse to show nude or semi-nude women. And though that interpretation encourages a dismissive response to more interesting interpretations of The Love Captive, it also helps illuminate a notion that's lost in better-made adult films. Whatever else these movies are about, they are also about fantasy, and its oft-forgotten connection with confusion and pain. Remember that the next time you check out some flick such as White Bun-Busters or Gang-Bang Girls . They lie. At least The Love Captive gives it to you straight. M.W


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