by Rich Moreland, April, 2014
A story with character development is rare in a film business that cranks out thousands of shoots a year. That said, The Sexual Liberation of Anna Lee is a truly an exception to traditional adult fare. With a bigger budget and more time, New Sensations might have turned this gem into an indie film marketable in legitimate Hollywood, sans the hardcore, of course. If this reviewer used stars to rate film, then Anna Lee would be a five-star knockout.
Sexual hang-ups and the psychology of their destruction is the theme of a New Sensations romance titled The Sexual Liberation of Anna Lee, another superb collaboration by writer/director, Jacky St. James, and cinematographer, Eddie Powell.
Maddy O’Reilly is Anna Lee, a young woman raised by a sexually inhibited single mother who insisted her adolescent daughter cultivate chastity. Budding into young womanhood, Anna has reached her exasperation point. Turning to Dr. Sabato, (a cameo appearance by Jacky St. James), Anna learns of a clinic, Variel House, whose unorthodox methods combat the emotional and sexual paralysis caused by repressed desires.
During her stay, Anna meets a fellow patient, Emmett (Xander Corvus) whose sarcasm and surliness conceal a fear of women as claimants to his erotic sensibilities. While Anna pursues emotional connections to her sexual awakening, Emmett is evasively headed in the opposite direction, preferring his fornications to be nameless and faceless.
The clinic is run by a brother and sister team, Gaige and Whitney Savage, whose intuitive techniques sometimes reflect their surname. Played by Steven St. Croix and India Summer, the pair holds the narrative together with outstanding performances and solid dialogue delivery. The viewer homes in on their every word, following the logic of their treatment and the warmth with which they deliver both advice and action.
The Statue of Five
A St. James/Powell film exists on three levels, creating a sumptuous feast for a reviewer. First is the story which is closely linked to the second, its theme and motifs. Of course, the final level is the sex, filmed by Powell in a way that keeps the camera interacting with the lovers. More on that later.
St. James and Powell love to plant images and symbols, turning their films into artistic statements. The Sexual Liberation of Anna Lee has a sentinel to watch over Anna’s quest and protect her spirit: a modern art statue of five figures positioned in a circle with arms intertwining each other. The figures are of different sizes with the smallest embraced by the others. When Anna checks into her room at the clinic, Whitney places the figure on the far right side of the shelf behind the bed. Four candles already occupy the shelf space away from the figure to the far left. Coincidentally, a night stand contains two smaller candles apart from the others, one with a capped top and the other an open one. Symbolic on two levels, these candle are male and female with emotions hidden and open.
The bedroom explains the film. Four people staff the clinic, Whitney and her brother, and their two helpers, Michael (Johnny Castle) and Elize (Jessa Rhodes). There are two patients in residence, Anna and Emmett, who are apart from them as shown in the arrangement of the two smaller candles. But, the Statue of Five is the key to the narrative because the staffers will sexually interact with each other on some level during Anna’s treatment, then welcome her into the circle with her final task.
The sex scenes are crafted to move with the narrative. Each one is carefully placed within the storyline and indicates where Anna and Emmett are psychologically in their treatment. Appreciate the flow of the scenes, especially Eddie Powell’s ability to move his lens around lovers as they kiss and caress, then pull away and float back when the penetration begins. The statue’s encircling intimacy metaphorically comes to life as the sex plays out on the screen.
For Anna, disentanglement from her past and her sexual rebirth is a work in progress, an opening up that intensifies as the story moves toward its conclusion. Sexual awakening appears in repeated images throughout the film. Various pictures of flowers in bloom, the stuff of Freud and Victorian dream analysis, dominate the rooms.
Anna is informed that she must keep a video journal of her stay and is cautioned not to interact with Emmett. A fair warning, indeed, because he will eventually emerge as confusion and apprehension for her, a sexual time bomb that might derail her therapy.
Anna’s treatment requires that she complete a series of tasks with Whitney presenting the first. It’s tactile, focused on the male anatomy, and a reminder of behavioral desensitization and relaxation techniques. This is Anna’s initial dip into the churning waters of her own sexual doubts, longings, and anxieties. Little wonder there is a small figure of Buddha on the table when she experiences maleness through her imagination. Stay calm and absorb the present.
The first sex scene emerges from this task and involves Whitney and Michael. Blindfolded, Anna kneels in front Michael and under Whitney’s guidance experiences his manhood with light touches. For the record, this part of the scene is shot with a sensitivity that is a welcome departure from much of today’s gonzo porn in which female talent eagerly open their mouths to stuff themselves, gagging on an all-you-can-eat buffet.
The sex scene is run-of-the-mill vanilla, but appropriate for where Anna is at the moment because she is instructed to relax and listen. India Summer’s mature sexual nature carries the scene beautifully; she and Johnny have chemistry. The shoot lines up the standard series of sex acts and ends with a pop that is not a facial. As is Eddie Powell’s habit, both bodies are framed equally and, in this case, he cuts into the action with darkened silhouetted images as Anna would see the lovers in her mind. It’s a warm-up for our repressed heroine.
By the way, Maddy O’Reilly is perfectly cast as Anna. She begins with a school girl innocence, conservative in dress and manner and reticent about what is happening around her. Maddy is huggable with a girl-next-door prettiness and a hint of naiveté that is foreign to the normal expectations of a porn performer. As Anna, Maddy must open up as story progresses, take on a more exotic look until Anna’s acceptance of her body (as illustrated in a nude stairwell scene) completes her transformation. By the film’s conclusion, the viewer is joyously invested in Anna, the proof of a superior film and Maddy’s acting talent.
When Anna inadvertently meets Emmett, he sticks in her consciousness. Later when she is taught to self-pleasure (the best is the shower scene with lighting that accentuates Anna’s curves and Maddy O’Reilly’s eroticism), visions of him drive her mind’s eye. He will haunt Anna’s dreams, both day and night, forging a bond with her imagination that is unknown to Emmett until it’s many layers are peeled away in a deepening narrative.
Anna’s next task is to ditch her conservative appearance. A closet filled with party clothes and “do me” heels is at her service. In a fabulously shot meeting, Anna and Whitney face each other reflected in two oval mirrors on the wall beside them. Reality and image are combined in the manner of traditional cameos framed in small portraitures, gifts to lovers a century ago. Ann is told, “If you dress the part, you’ll feel the part.”
Anna Lee is now positioned to break from the past and escape the admonitions that shamed her childhood. Whitney encourages Anna to live the moment, like the frozen presence of cameos in the mirrors, and not over think and analyze every situation. Another quick peek into Anna’s bedroom reveals a hint of things to come and an image easily unnoticed at first. Over the shelf is a painting of woman with her nude back to the artist. A guidepost, she is leaning to the right in the direction of the Statue of Five.
The narrative switches to Emmett. He talks of a girl he hires to provide him with kinky pleasures.
“Do you always pay for sex,” Whitney asks.
“Yeah, every time,” he responds with off-putting flippancy.
Emmett describes the hired girl as the camera cuts away to the masked Marielle (Natalia Starr), tied to a bed. Emmett says she’s a body (a prostitute?) to use with no identity and no feeling on his part.
Unseen, Anna slowly approaches the conversation, eavesdropping made easy because the door to the therapy room is open.
“She craves that stranger fuck just as much as I do,” Emmett says of Marielle, swearing that he will never get lost in another person. Has Anna often faced the same demon for a different reason, a psychological paralysis her body imposes upon her?
The sex between Emmett and Marielle is a visual romp for male domination fans. He rips away her fishnet outfit and they play rough and tumble with hard driving thrusts. Emmett’s detached expression during Marielle’s oral work sells the atmosphere of their mutual disinterest in each other. Though anal and a facial might seem appropriate here, any hint of further degradation is avoided. Not surprising, because Jacky St. James wants her films to be couples oriented and many women don’t get excited about anal penetration or cum stinging their eyes regardless of their partners’ attitudes.
Later when Marielle checks the envelope, she starts to remove her mask.
“Don’t do that,” he says.
“I don’t need to see your face.”
“Too real for you, huh?” Marielle answers haughtily and leaves, dropping her mask in the hallway.