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Behind the Green Door

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There’s a rumor that Stanley Kubrick once considered making a big budget pornographic film just to show people how it should be done. I’m not sure it would have worked. Hard-core pornography has a way of moving beyond eroticism and into images of clinical detail. I’ve always found soft-core movies more erotic.

But it would be interesting to see how a really great director would handle the subject. The most erotic films I’ve seen have been more suggestive than explicit, and a short list might include Ingmar Bergman’s “The Silence,” certain passages from Fellini, Eric Rohmer’s “Chloe in the Afternoon” and a Chicago Film Festival winner, Vera Chytilova’s “The Fruit of Paradise.”

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The only hard-core film I’ve seen that was effectively erotic was “The Devil in Miss Jones” -- and it was erotic not because of its hard-core content but in spite of it. It worked because its star, Georgina Spelvin, was so able to project emotion, involvement, and abandon. Now comes a porno movie said to be even better, “Behind the Green Door.” It isn’t.

It doesn’t work even though it has high-quality camera work, imaginative use of music and visual effects, and Marilyn Chambers. She is the most beautiful porno actress yet. (You may find her smiling out at you from the front of our Ivory Snow box.) And there’s no denying that in the movie’s trapeze scene she qualifies as the busiest actress in porno history.

But the movie doesn’t succeed in overcoming its explicit sexual content. It gives us too many close-ups without context; too many joyless couplings without dramatic meaning. The genius of “The Devil in Miss Jones” was that the title character had a fictional reality and motivation that made the sex scenes credible.

As for the scenes in “Behind the Green Door,” the least you can say of them, I suppose, is that they’re incredible. The plot (if I may misuse the word) involves a series of fantasies in which Miss Chambers is forced to undergo public humiliation at an orgy attended by various freaks. She puts up a token resistance for about seven seconds, after which we get an hour of surrender. Who knows? It might have been more interesting if she had resisted.

Pretty as she is, Miss Chambers gives no clue in the movie as to whether she can act. She doesn’t have a single line of dialog, although in the heavy breathing department she puts in the best sound effects since “Therese and Isabelle.” But the scenes don’t build, and the explicit close-ups are constantly interrupting the editing rhythm. If only once a dirty movie would forget about proving how dirty it was and try to exist on a human level. But maybe that’s a job for Kubrick.

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