Jim and Artie Mitchell, proprietors of San Francisco’s infamous O’ Farrell theatre, were true pioneers of hardcore cinema. Their first foray into feature length films came in 1972 and, thanks to considerable serendipity, resulted in one of the most famous adult movies ever made.
Behind the Green Door was apparently based on an anonymous short story the Mitchell’s had encountered as students. Its premise is simple enough – a young woman is abducted, taken to a mysterious club and ritualistically ravished in front of its patrons – and the movie is actually little more than a series of elaborate sexual set-pieces. However, irrespective of its cinematic merits, the film did have a considerable asset in the shape of its star, Marilyn Chambers. Although they were completely unaware at the time of casting, one of Ms Chambers’ previous assignments was modelling for the Ivory Snow packaging; Ivory Snow being, at that time, the number one washing powder in the US. Understandably, the Mitchell’s milked this happy coincidence for all it was worth, and the controversy generated – the symbol of purity and motherhood starring in an X rated movie – quickly translated into box-office returns.
Given the enormous success of their previous outing, it’s little surprise that the Mitchell’s also cast Chambers in their next feature. However, unlike its predecessor, which was largely bereft of narrative momentum or characterisation, The Resurrection of Eve is actually quite a sophisticated film. Of course, its low budget is evident throughout and it’s not as technically polished as some of the later Golden Age movies, but it remains one of the most involving films of its type.
The movie chronicles the relationship between the eponymous Eve and her lover Frank, a hirsute radio DJ. Despite Eve suffering a horrendous car crash – an accident that immediately followed a row born of Frank’s jealousy – the two are married and appear to settle into domesticity. Unfortunately, the prospect of marital bliss is soon shattered by his suggestion that they attend a swinger’s party. Although she reluctantly agrees, the first such party – a mock-Roman orgy – is a disaster. Frank happily indulges himself with a friend’s wife but Eve is horrified. A bitter row ensues in which she is chastised for her sexual inhibitions and blamed for making others feel guilty. Brow-beaten, she agrees to try again, and after a couple more parties, an unexpected role-reversal begins to take place. Suddenly Eve is the one enthusiastically agreeing to attend parties while Frank is increasingly reticent. Having turned his wife on to swinging and unfettered sexuality, he can no longer control her. Perhaps we should be careful what we wish for. In freeing his wife of her inhibitions Frank has doomed himself to lose her.
This is clearly not a stereotypical adult movie, and a number of underlying issues provide a socio-political context for the unfolding drama. Child abuse and sexual politics in the workplace both feature early on, the former presumably being the cause of Eve’s sexual inhibitions, and racially-based sexual envy is more prominent throughout. Indeed, Franks fear is graphically illustrated early on in the film; he becomes enraged at the realisation Eve has been to one of Johnny Keyes boxing matches. Later on, as she attempts to console him with a routine sexual encounter, he is distracted by (presumably unwanted) visualisations of Eve sucking a large black penis. There can be no mistaking the racial aspect of Frank’s jealousy either. In the row that precedes her accident, he rages “perhaps you need some of that black stuff”. It’s almost inevitable, then, that the films symbolic climax – the second of Eve’s two resurrections – is an encounter with Johnny Keyes.
The screenplay and direction is credited jointly to John Fontana and Artie Mitchell, rendering their specific contributions unclear. Irrespective of the precise division of labour, the film is undoubtedly an artistic success – albeit a qualified one. The camera set-ups and movements are generally quite simple but the film is very ambitious in its structure, at times perhaps too ambitious. For example, the discontinuous time-structure, which cuts between the events leading up to Eve’s accident and her recovery from it, is interesting but not entirely successful in its realisation. In fact, all the cross cutting between seemingly unrelated events – the dynamics of a relationship between two young people, a woman in hospital and a boxer preparing for a fight – all of which occur after a prologue involving a (very adult-looking) 12 year old girl, makes the first 20 minutes or so quite confusing. Luckily, the stunning San Francisco locations prevent the film becoming too frustrating even when it’s at its most oblique. Of course, it’s also worth noting that the disorientating effect of the first part of the film is partly a result of casting decisions, with the pre and post-accident Eve being played by two entirely different actresses. Marilyn Chambers, the films undoubted star, doesn’t actually appear until near the half-hour mark.
Having acknowledged that some viewers might find the structure frustrating, it would be remiss of me not to mention the same possibility regarding the films sexual content. First off, there’s relatively little sex during the first hour – as the narrative is established and the characters developed. There are a number of group sessions once the couple start ‘swinging’, but even these offer little scope for arousal, being relatively brief and rarely followed through to ‘conclusion’. It’s also worth noting that, although the sex is very mild by today’s standards – for example, it only contains one or two external cum-shots, both very late in the film – two major taboos are broken by the presence of homosexual sex and the involvement of an obese woman during the final group scene.
The Resurrection of Eve is a gem of an adult movie – ripe with the pioneering spirit of the early hardcore years and dripping with seventies ambience. It’s not perfect, and will certainly try the patience of viewers expecting a linear narrative or a constant parade of naked flesh, but it is a perfect example of why people remember this period so fondly. The Mitchell’s would go on to produce a number of features with bigger budgets and better casts – most notably The Autobiography of a Flea and The Graffenberg Spot – but it’s debatable whether they ever bettered this.