“Maybe I was bad; maybe that’s why I can’t remember.”
The fractured reminiscences of an elderly woman might not sound especially erotic, but then Memories Within Miss Aggie is not really an erotic film. It’s an explicit film, an adult film, but not a film that can really be characterised to as erotic.
Our principle cast is comprised of an aged couple – the eponymous Aggie (Norah Ashera) and her companion Richard (Patrick Farrelly) – who appear to be suffering from a variety of ailments: He is ashen-faced and confined to a wheelchair, while she is physically able – as evidenced by her scrubbing the floor at the film’s outset – but may not be mentally sound. Stepping outside, she ‘sees’ a young couple running hand-in-hand – an image which is subsequently presented as a memory. Furthermore, when she discards the water with which she’s been cleaning, she momentarily perceives the previously-white snow to be stained with blood.
“You wished for someone to come . . . and I did.”
Damiano’s second artistically-significant feature is a sombre affair in which nothing is quite as it seems. Throughout much of it’s duration we’re privy to the memories of our eponymous protagonist – memories we quickly come to realise are far from reliable. The film is actually structured around three of these reminiscences, with Aggie assigning herself a different form in each. Initially we observe a naive blonde (Kim Pope) succumbing to the advances of Eric Edwards, before a strange brunette (Mary Stuart) gives herself to Harry Reems, and finally a mature seductress (Darby Lloyd Rains) enjoys a torrid interlude with a paying customer. While the radically different incarnations of Aggie are themselves enough to cast doubt on the validity of these recollections, the real problem is that they’re all attempts to recount the same event – her initial encounter with Richard. Whether it’s symptomatic of dementia or insanity, Aggie appears to be reconstructing the past with little regard for authenticity.
Although it’s not entirely clear when these events take place, the physical environment is more significant to our story than the precise period in which it occurs. Our heroine inhabits a world that’s barren and unforgiving, a landscape where snow is abundant and signs of life are scarce. There’s nothing approximating a community on view – indeed, Aggie’s dilapidated dwelling is virtually the only building we see – and the sense of isolation is palpable. Under these circumstances, loneliness seems inescapable, and beyond that the spectre of madness looms large.
Whatever weight we attribute to her unhealthy physical surroundings, there’s another factor that seems to have contributed to Aggie’s plight: her relationship with her mother. The sequence featuring Mary Stuart and Harry Reems reveals the young Aggie to have been a literal prisoner in her own home, and repeatedly refers to warnings her mother had given her about men; she even asserts that she was blamed for the departure of her father. Of course, the veracity of these claims is debatable but they’re the closest things to evidence we have at our disposal. It’s also worth noting that Rupert Holmes’ score references Amazing Grace throughout the film (Aggie even goes so far as to hum it), although religion plays a minor role in the narrative itself. Aggie does profess her faith towards the end of the film, but it’s fair to say that her problems led her to religion rather than the other way around.
Given that a number of Damiano’s films are relentlessly bleak, I was surprised to see the writing of ‘Miss Aggie attributed to a ‘Ron Wertheim’ rather than the director himself. Of course, the credits on adult films of this period tend to be about as reliable as Aggie’s memories, so perhaps it’s sufficient to say that whoever actually wrote it did a fine job. Phrases echo back and forth across time as our heroine constructs and reconstructs her past around scraps of facts. In addition to the recurrence of key dialogue, the entire script utilises a curious discourse – a rudimentary, childlike English in which repetition is common and pronouns are frequently omitted. Presumably the intention was to reinforce the dementia of our fantasist, but the technique adds considerably to the weirdness of an already unusual movie.
On a visual level, the age of the leads immediately differentiates this from most hardcore films. The snowbound exteriors are as important aesthetically as they are thematically, and the same could be said about Aggie’s modest abode. There are only three sex scenes in the entire film and, unsurprisingly, none are particularly erotic. The scene with Kim Pope and Eric Edwards is notable for its languid pace and emphasis on facial features, but the other two are pretty routine. That said, the most striking imagery in the film is of a sexual nature, and precedes the encounter between Mary Stuart and Harry Reems. Aggie, apparently locked in her room and unable to escape, takes to masturbating with a childhood toy; the attendant footage of her inserting a baby doll – head first – is not easy to forget.
“You can sleep in the memory room.”
A casual viewer could be forgiven for thinking that Damiano had taken leave of his senses with this film, but it’s important to remember that hardcore features were still in their infancy in 1974. The genre had yet to establish legitimacy, let alone direction, and productions which would now be unthinkable were allowed to see the light of day. It’s been well documented that the finance for many of these films came from, if you’ll pardon the euphemism, independent sources, and this will have afforded the budding auteur certain freedoms. Given the novelty of the form and relative dearth of competition, it’s likely that even something as sombre as ‘Miss Aggie would have made a profit, albeit one imagines it would have bewildered more patrons than it delighted. All of which makes the film sound like something of an anachronism – and so it is. I really can’t see the decision-makers at Vivid or Digital Playground entertaining a scenario that features two middle-aged leads and a dénouement that calls to mind Psycho.
In terms of quality, ‘Miss Aggie is a thoughtful and thought-provoking film but probably too slow for its own good. Its despairing tone is also apparent in Damiano’s The Devil In Miss Jones and Odyssey but I find those more satisfying overall – more involving somehow. Miss Jones’ predicament causes the film to burn with intensity, while Miss Aggie’s plight is ultimately depressing. Of course, the film remains required viewing for anyone interested in the early years of hardcore; it just doesn’t quite measure up to the director’s fully-fledged masterpieces.