Sunday, April 17, 2011

Far Out Films from the Seventies: A Sharon Mitchell Double-Feature

When listing the greatest performers in adult cinema history, one would have to include Sharon Mitchell. The New Jersey born beauty always proved a great addition to any film she graced and she would turn out to be one of the most admirable people in the adult world, thanks to her tireless work in providing AIDS information and testing for other performers. Mitchell, now a PHD and the founder of the Adult Industry Medical Health Care Foundation, is a survivor, who made it through everything from hard drug addiction to a terrible attack and rape from a sick stalker, and she is deserving of a whole lot of respect. She’s also one of my favorite actors from Adult Films' Golden era. Let’s take a look at two of her films from the swinging seventies.

First up we have one of Sharon’s greatest films, the extremely well done Joy (1976), in which Mitchell plays the title character. Shot on location in New York City in 1976 by director first-time director Harley Mansfield, Joy is one of the most entertaining adult-films of the seventies and one of the funniest.

Joy is quite a wicked politically incorrect black comedy, as well as a startling revenge thriller that tells the tale of a teenage girl who begins ‘raping’ the men of NYC after she is attacked in her home at the beginning of the film. Joy’s sexual exploits starts a wave of copycats all over town that leaves the cops baffled and puts an end to all other crime in the city.

If the plot for Joy sounds somewhat ugly, Harwell’s successfully satirical slant takes much of the sting away. Joy is, at heart, a vigilante film about female-empowerment being told in a period where society was still mostly male-dominated. As the title character, Sharon Mitchell is an absolute delight and she gives one of the best performances in all of seventies adult cinema. Mitchell manages to be laugh out loud funny, as well as extremely sexy, and Harwell films her wonderfully. Everything from a back-alley hook-up with the great Robert Kerman (R. Bolla) to an audacious subway sequence with Frank Kewood is handled expertly and it is impossible to take your eyes off the 21-year-old Mitchell, who was at her most fetching in 1976.

While Joy is basically a vehicle that highlights the charms and talent of Sharon Mitchell, some other adult icons are on hand for Mansfield as well including Melinda Marlowe, who appears as a Burglar in one-scene, Gloria Leonard, in a blink and miss cameo, and Herschel Savage, who gets taken advantage of by three eager ladies in an elevator. Bobby Astyr and Eric Edwards are also on hand for the festivities, as well as scene-stealing Jake Teague as the hapless Lt. Handcock.

Harley Mansfield’s IMDB listing states that Joy was his only work as a director and that is a surprise as the film is so well done. Mitchell would become an accomplished director later on in her own career so one can imagine her taking notes on the set of Joy, as it is finally such a succesful work.

Joy is available from VideoXPix on DVD and it is a nice disc, featuring a well-preserved and clean print of the film. No film-specific extras are on the disc but it is an essential addition for adult film fans.

Up next on our Sharon Mitchell double feature is a work from one of adult films greatest auteurs, Chuck Vincent. Visions (1977) is an ambitious, if not entirely successful, work from Vincent that is more of an avant-garde piece than a typical narrative film. Focusing on a composer named Larry, played well by Wade Nichols, who enters a sexual otherworld after being hit on the head by a burglar, Visions plays out as an almost silent film and it is an admirably forward-thinking work. Ultimately though I didn’t find the film to be among Vincent’s best works like the more dialogue driven pieces he would later make with great actors like Kelly Nichols and Veronica Hart. Visions is a fascinating work though and it is always great to see a filmmaker pushing the boundaries as Vincent does here.

Sharon only has a small part in Visions and appears in just a couple of scenes. Wade Nichols is the real star of the show and he is joined by memorable figures such as Susan McBain and Victoria Corsaut, who would prove to be quite unforgettable in a couple of lesser-known Gerard Damiano films from the period.
Perhaps the most noteworthy thing about Visions is that none other than much-loved cult filmmaker Roberta Findlay handles the cinematography, operating under the pseudonym of Anna Riva. It is finally the fantastical look of Visions that separates it from most adult films of the period and Findlay does an excellent job, considering the miniscule budget and quick shooting schedule.
Visions isn’t one of VideoXPix’s sharper DVDs and a remastered version would be a very welcome addition to their catalogue. While I don’t think this is one of Chuck Vincent’s more successful films I think Visions would make a splendid title for special edition status down the line. More information on Joy and Visions can be found here at the official site and blog for Distribpix and VideoXDVD.

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