“There’s nothing of value anymore.”
At an unspecified point of the 21st century, war and poverty have been eradicated, marriage has become obsolete, and work a fleeting concern. Of course one man’s meat is another man’s poison, and while Griffin (Herschel Savage) happily indulges himself with prostitutes – with the Satisfiers of Alpha Blue – Algon (R. Bolla) agonises over the absence of meaning. A harmonious society has been established but at what price?
The Satisfiers of Alpha Blue is often cited as the best adult Science Fiction film but, regardless of whether or not that’s a reasonable assessment, it’s certainly not Gerard Damiano’s best film; it may, however, be his most explicit. Not only is the sexual content of the film afforded a great deal of screen-time, it’s extremely graphic. Engorged penises and accommodating vaginas fill the frame, and whereas isolated body parts had been used to create a dreamlike abstraction in The Story of Joanna, the effect here is much more clinical. Exposed by bright light and scored with progressive rock, the explicit imagery herein is more likely to turn the stomach than arouse the libido. Of course the unflinching presentation makes perfect sense thematically – sex at Alpha Blue is a commodity, and neither intimacy nor modesty has any role to play. Nevertheless, the sheer abundance of these scenes is a problem. In the director’s genuine masterpieces, the narrative and sexual sequences have a symbiotic relationship – each benefiting from the existence of the other. Here, we don’t even have equilibrium – the sex has the effect of smothering the narrative, of up staging it.
Despite its faults, The Satisfiers of Alpha Blue is an interesting endeavour. Presumably inspired by Huxley’s Brave New World, the sets and costumes are quite ‘low rent’ but this isn’t the kind of science fiction that relies on elaborate effects: essentially it’s a film of ideas, one that dares to ask, at what price progress? In this vision of the future, sex has become purely recreational, and Griffin’s favourite pastime sits awkwardly with his ‘day job’ dispensing vials of semen to solitary females (“congratulations, it’s a girl”). Meanwhile Algon and ‘805’ (Lysa Thatcher) – the bemused object of his affection – salivate over the tactile delights of eating a real roast chicken; their normal diet of pills doubtless meets their nutritional needs, but where’s the joy in that? Indeed, though Algon is the only one to express a desire for the pleasures of the past, one wonders if a subconscious yearning is more widespread; huge screens show scratchy footage of people skiing, while there’s no evidence of ongoing outdoor pursuits.
I’m in danger of making the film sound more successful than it actually is, because while it’s interesting, I’d struggle to call it entertaining. The central characters are little more than ciphers, and poorly portrayed ones at that: R. Bolla (Robert Kerman) is his usual reliable self but the rest of the cast fail to make an impression. Damiano presents us with some memorable imagery – most notably the silhouetted love-making of the title sequence – but the film is hardly a masterpiece of cinematic technique. As for the sex, some of it is quite subversive but, as we’ve seen, it’s far too graphic to be appealing. Again, the tone is in keeping with the film’s narrative concerns – for example, we see a ‘hostess’ (essentially, a madam) dispassionately critiquing the performance of two satisfiers – but that doesn’t make it any more palatable.
“Why must it be so complicated?”
It’s worth bearing in mind that, while Damiano is best known to the general populace for directing Deep Throat, his finest films are dark and uncompromising. The appearance of the grey-haired auteur – grinning at the camera – during the closing credits is thus rather curious: Is this the mischievous smile of the man who brought philosophy to the grindhouses, or something more benign? Critical theorists have long argued that the rationalisation of society will be at the expense of individual freedom, and Damiano’s portrait seems similarly dystopian; strange then, that he chooses to end the film on a happy note. Whether it’s indicative of optimism or some sort of concession, it’s certainly uncharacteristic. Frankly, it’s a little disappointing; as is the film as a whole.