Saturday, 24 March 2012

Emanuelle In America

A powerful rebuttal to naysayers who dismiss Italian Exploitation films as mere rip-offs, Emanuelle In America is a fine example of how the Italians imposed their own unique slant on the latest cinematic trends, and beat everyone else at their own game. Made just three years after the original 1974 Emmanuelle, Joe D'Amato's film with it's staggering mix of hardcore sex and gruesome violence seems an awful long way from Sylvia Kristel's soft-focus fumblings. Before Blue Underground's landmark release of the film in 2003, the full uncut version was seen only by a small cadre of savvy film collectors and thanks to coverage in the underground press, the film amassed a near mythological reputation. Even after 10 years of the film being widely available on DVD, Emanuelle In America is one of the few films from the Golden Age of Exploitation which still retains it's power to shock and awe1.


After her romp across Bangkok and Casablanca in the previous episode, Emanuelle finally gets down to some serious investigative journalism, first infiltrating a millionaire's mansion (as the new girl in his harem, naturally) to gather evidence of illegal arms smuggling, followed by a quick visit to Venice to do a story on the decadent rich, and finally returning to the US where she goes undercover at a stud farm for rich women who like to be serviced by well hung beefcake, which leads to the discovery of so-called snuff films... Wayward plotting is one of the hallmarks of the Black Emanuelle series, but nowhere is it more evident than Emanuelle In America, the most episodic of the films, and best understood as D'Amato's take on the Mondo film (in fact D'Amato would make a genuine mondo in 1978 called among other things, Emanuelle and the Porno Nights with Laura Gemser as the hostess). D'Amato admitted that the film was as much a response to French distributors who were looking for something stronger from the next Black Emanuelle film, but America feels like D'Amato was testing the limits with this genuinely provocative work - as well as introducing harder sex into the series, the film features some bestiality, in a scene where a woman is masturbating a horse, a taboo usually confined to underground stag loops. One wonders what French cinema-goers made of it all back in 1977.


Of course the film's other major talking point is the final section where Emanuelle chances upon a snuff film and follows the trail of breadcrumbs back to a US senator who invites her along to witness (albeit drugged) one in production. Unlike the ludicrous hit and run attempt that was Snuff, the sadistic torture footage seen in Emanuelle In America feels uncomfortably authentic. The footage D'Amato shot for this sequence was deteriorated to the point where it resembled a worn, grungy 8mm loop. What is interesting about these scenes is that when Emanuelle actually visits the torture chamber where a murder is being filmed, there is no distinction from what she actually sees and the earlier ragged looking loop - which implies a continuity error, or perhaps D'Amato had something more subversive in mind, intending to hoodwink the audience into believing the footage was genuine, that he had appropriated it, much like old World War II newsreel footage was used in war films in the place of expensive special effects. Even more disturbing the sequence ends as the senator lifts up Emanuelle's dress as they watch the carnage unfold - the spectacle of torture and murder as titillation. Ultimately D'Amato shows his hand in the otherwise superfluous coda of the film when Emanuelle and her boyfreind are seen relaxing at a native village, only to discover that it is in fact a film set, D'Amato suggesting that everything can be faked.


The atrocity exhibition
Blue Underground's fully uncut DVD of Emanuelle In America was a heaven-sent release for fans of European Cult Cinema, and a huge leap forward from fuzzy nth generation copies of the rare Venezuelan Telehobby tape. The 1.85 anamorphic transfer looks fantastic, while the snuff sequences retain their distressed beaten up texture. The English audio is fine too. Extras include an 11min audio interview with Laura Gemser (with a great selection of stills and promo art as a visual accompaniment). Next up is a 13min interview with Joe D'Amato, taken from the feature length Joe D'Amato: Totally Uncut! documentary (which was later made available awkwardly enough split over Shriek Show's Images In A Convent and Anthropophagous DVDs). The final extra is a very worthwhile text essay on the Black Emanuelle series by the ever reliable David Flint.

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Notes
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1. Emanuelle In America has long been associated with Videodrome - David Cronenberg cited the film as an inspiration when he spoke to Tim Lucas on the set of Videodrome, when Lucas was writing for Cinefantastique. (See Emanuelle In America DVD review, Video Watchdog #99)

6 comments:

  1. Great review! I actually only seen the Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals but I have the blue underground release of In America at home. I guess I just forgot to watch, I will do so now!

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  2. Many thanks Jesper, and yeah I know what you mean, I have a lot of discs that have to be watched - I think that is one of the reasons I keep this blog - it motivates me to go and watch stuff, otherwise I would just end up watching junk on TV and being lazy !

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  3. That's exactly why I started to blog too! I was watching to many bad hollywood movies and crappy tvshows and I wanted something to motivate me to watch all these movies I love to watch again. Now I have written over 200 reviews and the obession of watching movies and write about them is bigger than ever! And all the response you get from people who reads them and enjoys them (or not) are priceless. I have a vision of starting to write reviews in english as well (I choose swedish cause there aren't that many of them around that still write them in that language) but there is so many movies out there so little time! Keep up the great work Wes!

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  4. Great write up. You're spot on about this being one of a small number of films to be able to still genuinely shock today.

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  5. Jesper, even though I don't speak Swedish, I like that you do your reviews in Swedish - it makes your blog stand out from the rest of the Cult film blogs out there. I'm always looking for a way to make my blog different but in the end it's just another film blog, just another review of Emanuelle In America.

    Holger much appreciated. There's not a lot of dramatic films out there that can still shock and provoke - another film that made me shift about in my seat was Farewell Uncle Tom - a film that entirely justifies the tag "they don't make 'em like they used to" - in fact they probably never did...

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  6. Which reminds me that I have been meaning to watch a double feature of FAREWELL UNCLE TOM and MANDINGO for ages but never came around to it yet. One of these days, one of these days....

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