Allan Fish Online Film Festival: Pornography (2012)

Each year (this is the second such) the splendid movies’n’more website Wonders in the Dark runs an “Online Film Festival” in honor of Allan Fish, the site’s co-founder, whose tragically young death came as a shock to all connected with WitD. Here’s my contribution to the 2018 AFOFF.

If you’d like to see it in context on WitD, here’s the link.

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A charmingly innocent (well, sort of) romp, all done to the music of the Tango!
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US / 16´ 24´´ / bw / Tango Silent Films
Dir & Pr & Scr: Joe Leonardo
Cine: Mauricio Carvajal
Cast: Matthew Mičetić (Reynold Clifton), Julene Beeson (Natasha Primrose), Jenna Hastreiter (Mabel May), Lilah Wallach (Harem Girl), Jerry Wallach (Genie), Evan Halbert (Natasha’s Genie), Steve Correl, Elango Samy Manin, Julian Prokofiev, Patrick Bledsoe, Carol Hess, Monte Hess, Ted Roe, Christopher Duff, Graham Powrie, Jessica Kimmet

The fifth, last, most ambitious and in my opinion finest of the Tango Silent Films series of short movies made by Joe Leonardo with the participation of various members of the Portland (Oregon) Argentine Tango Community. You can find below details of #1–#4 in the series, plus an ancillary song-short. A recurring backdrop in some of the movies is the Portland center Tango Berretín. The soundtracks to the movies consist of Tango music, plus the whirring of a (supposed) projector. Verisimilitude is enhanced by the use of black-and-white stock, occasional fluctuations in brightness, and of course the performances of the cast.

Pornography has two acts. In the first, set in the Tango Berretín, rich Reynold Clifton (Mičetić) is incensed when trophy spouse/girlfriend Natasha Primrose (Beeson) flirts outrageously to the room. Reynold responds by doing his very best to get into a clinch with alluring barfly Mabel May (Hastreiter). Just before a fight can break out between the two women, Reynold takes Natasha home.

Julene Beeson as Natasha Primrose.

Act two starts with the couple spatting:

Reynold: “Frankly, this conversation is beneath me.”
Natasha: “Well, that’s the only thing that will be beneath you tonight . . .”

She stomps off to bed while he retreats to his study and his stash of vintage cheesecake. As he peruses a photo essay called “The Dance of the Harem Girl” it comes to life in his imagination as a scene of a belly dancer (Lilah Wallach) performing for a genie (Jerry Wallach). This transforms, as Reynold’s fantasies get more feverish, into a scene of Mabel May dancing for him . . .

Jerry Wallach as the Genie.

Jenna Hastreiter as Mabel May.

Matthew Mičetić and Julene Beeson (like Jessica Kimmet, who alas has only a bit part here but stars in others of the series) have brilliantly expressive faces, which makes them perfect pieces of casting for a silent movie; Mičetić in particular can have me chuckling with just the flicker of an eyebrow, while Beeson’s caricature of the incandescently hot superbitch trophy wife offers a wonderful foil.

Matthew Mičetić as Reynold Clifton.

In an email, creator Joe Leonardo explained to me:

Pornography deals more abstractly [than the earlier movies] with the concept of objectification and fantasy, which still have strong roles in social dancing, though the story itself has the least to do with actual tango dancing.

Natasha (Julene Beeson) discovers the seductive joys of unadulterated SMUT.

The movie’s attraction for this particular viewer, aside from the humor and the cleverness of the cinematography, is the fact that it’s such an effective piece of fantasy. Yes, of course it echoes the fantasies you’ll find scattered through countless Arabian Nights-style feature movies, not to mention any number of pre-Code and later romantic comedies, and it does so deliberately, but at the same time, because the movie signals its allegiance to two quite different periods, the 1920s (if not before) and the twenty-first century, the fantasy gains an extra layer that gives it a quite surprising impression of freshness.

You can find the Tango Silent Films on YouTube and Vimeo, but a better option is to go to the project’s own site, where you can watch the complete series. A long interview with creator Joe Leonardo on the Oxygen Tango site goes into far more detail about the background to the movies than I have space for here.

 


The Tango Silent Films Series

Although each of the five movies stands on its own (especially Pornography), the fact that they share a number of recurring characters and become progressively more expansive means there’s a lot to be gained by watching them as a set, in order.

Brief notes on the others:

#1: A Christmas Present for Hannah (2009)
US / 10´ 55´´ / bw / Tango Silent Films
Dir & Pr & Scr: Joe Leonardo
Cast: Joe Leonardo (self)

A circular tale, in that the movie itself is the Christmas gift, made using the camera (in fact a Kodak Brownie or similar) that, within the movie, Hannah leaves for Joe as his Christmas present. According to the Tango site, this was made as “the experimental prototype and template for the Tango Silent Films project.”

Joe Leonardo in A Christmas Present for Hannah.

#2: The Private Lesson (2010)
US / 11´ 25´´ / bw / Tango Silent Films
Dir & Pr & Scr: Joe Leonardo
Cine: Wayne Williams
Cast: Jessica Kimmet (Patience Trueheart), Jade Luiz (Sadie Bloom), Ted Roe (Rudy Valentine), Julene Beeson (The Two O’Clock)

Two wannabe students of the Tango—the flamboyant Sadie Bloom and the mousier-seeming Patience Trueheart—have been given clashing appointments by dance teacher and lothario Rudy Valentine.

#3: Oh My, What a Night! (2011)
US / 12´ 23´´/ bw / Tango Silent Films
Dir & Pr & Scr: Joe Leonardo
Cine: Wayne Williams
Cast: Christopher Duff (Buddy St. Cloud), Graham Powrie (Chance Beaumain), Jessica Kimmet (Patience Trueheart), Julene Beeson (Natasha Primrose), Ted Roe (Rudy Valentine), Matthew Mičetić (Reynold Clifton)

Everything conspires tonight at the Tango Berretín to stop the shy Buddy St. Cloud getting a girl to dance with him, and the advice of his pal Chance Beaumain doesn’t help. Fat-walleted Reynold Clifton lures away Buddy’s second preference, Natasha Primrose, while his ideal, Patience Trueheart, seems out of his league. But then . . .

Jessica Kimmet as Patience Trueheart in One, Two, Three!

#4: One, Two, Three! (2012)
US / 13´ 20´´ / bw / Tango Silent Films
Dir & Scr: Joe Leonardo
Pr: Joe Leonardo, Jenna Hastreiter
Cine: Wayne Williams
Cast: Jessica Kimmet (Patience Trueheart), Graham Powrie (Chance Beaumain), Christopher Duff (Buddy St. Cloud), Ted Roe (Rudy Valentine), Jenna Hastreiter (Mabel May)

At Tango practice, pals Chance Beaumain and Buddy St. Cloud have a contest of testosterone to see who gets to dance with the lovely Patience Trueheart. (Ans.: Neither.)

Jade Luiz as Sadie Bloom in Sadie’s Song.

A Tango Silent Films Short: Sadie’s Song (2011)
US / 2´ 30´´/ bw / Tango Silent Films
Dir & Pr & Scr: Joe Leonardo
Cine: Wayne Williams
Cast: Jade Luiz (Sadie Bloom), Graham Powrie (Chance Beaumain), Ted Roe (Rudy Valentine), Matthew Mičetić (Reynold Clifton)

Essentially a song-video, this features Sadie Bloom and three of her admirers.

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