by Rich Moreland, February 2019
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Sexual Harassment is a Hard Art production starring a bevy of porn performers with Niki Snow, Robby Echo, and James Bartholet playing pivotal roles.
Directed by Sally Forth and co-directed by Jake Jacobs, the film features a musical score by Archie Brunswick. Misty Stone’s voice graces the theme song.
The premise of the story is a long-standing Hollywood trope. Lucille Le Seur, played by Niki Snow, leaves her Iowa hometown to venture westward for a career in film. Once she arrives in Tinseltown, roles are hard to come by, as we might expect. To pay the rent Lucille turns to the easy money (if there is such a thing) offered by filmed sex. From there the story moves into a commentary on the #MeToo Movement.
Overall, the narrative is well-paced with a comedic touch to keep the viewer engaged. In other words, there is never a dull moment.
The Old Days
Much of Sexual Harassment is as throwback to the old days of porn when good shooting was at a minimum. For example, during sex scenes the verbal soundtrack of grunts, moans, and sighs was often out of sync with the lip movements of the performers. And don’t forget the cheesy background music that seemed an afterthought to the action on-screen.
Both were frequently looped (repeated) as the sex progressed. Needless to say, it was all very amateurish and not at all a problem. Porn in those days was hardly Hollywood.
And, there is more. The cinematographer’s lens concentrated on closeups of the penetration shots as if every shoot was a gynecological or oral exam. The camera was remiss in framing bodies equally on-screen, a direct contrast to modern directors who prefer to show the sex as human interaction. The result? Gonzo techniques, often attributed to Evil Angel’s John Stagliano, took over the industry.
Director Sally Forth is well aware of these shortcomings and cultivates the old days with humor. By the way, she throws in the “no-no” of modern porn during the film’s second sex scene. Claudia Fox reminds us of the past when she glances at the camera while doing her oral duty.
It’s worth a comment that Sexual Harassment’s fifth sex scene highlights the journey porn shooters have taken into modern times. It’s a three-way between Allessa Von Camp, Brad Sterling, and Niki Snow who walks into the boy/girl action as the French Maid, another old porn trope. The bodies are shown in their entirety with an emphasis on pleasure. This is the best carnal scene of the film.
Sexual Harassment mixes its porn time periods with tongue (yes, just tongue) firmly planted in cheek. When Lucille is looking for work, she picks up a newspaper similar to the still-in-print LA Xpress. Also, a cordless phone circa last century graces a couple of scenes to remind the viewers that we’re visiting the past.
But modernity is always close at hand. By the time Forth’s narrative reaches its final act, LCD computer monitors appear in Herb Weinsteins’ Hollywood offices. Technology, like the porn act, has been updated.
Oh yes, a couple of things to spice up the viewer’s interest need mentioning. After she makes her mark in porn, Lucille drops in an adult book store and sorts through DVDs of her movies. The DVD came out in the late 1990s and it’s a good bet that had old video tape box covers been available for the scene, they would have found a place in the director’s heart.
Also, when a cross over opportunity knocks for Lucille, she takes a shot at B picture fame in another Hollywood stereotype, the horror-gore flick. We get a quick glance at the feature performer, the “Chainsaw Man,” who cuts his way through his cameo moment wearing a mask.
There’s some history there that dates to the second year of the Porno Chic era when the Bryanston Production Company distributed The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The company ran into trouble when its producer, mobster Anthony Peraino, faced obscenity charges resulting from his involvement with Deep Throat, the film that began the modern adult industry in 1972.
Of course, the mask concept recalls another old stereotype that shows up the stags of yore when men donned only in black socks concealed their identities.
Give Some Head
As the film winds down, Lucille makes an impression on Hollywood mogul, Herb Weinstein (played by James Bartholet who, by the way, is Sexual Harassment’s executive producer).
Lucille’s encounter is set up by Herb’s “interview” with a new intern (Destiny Love). Yielding to Herb’s insistence, she hears, “If you want to get ahead, you have to give some head . . . suck like your career depends on it.” Not exactly original dialogue, but it fills the bill nicely. Herb pops on a photo of Lucille who is next on his harassment list while an ignored Destiny quickly vacates the room.
As you might expect, Sexual Harassment has a Harvey Weinstein ending. From that perspective, Sally Forth’s production is imbued with strong female empowerment. In fact, Lucille is in control of her career from the very start and that in itself is a welcome update on Porn Valley’s checkered past. To underscore her point, director Forth can’t resist throwing in Lucille’s snarky indictment of “Mr. Limp Dick” who can’t get it up for their scene. Oh, those pre-Viagara days!
All Over Your Body
There is an abundance of sex scenes in Sexual Harassment that feature the following performers: Jesse Bunyan, Claudia Fox, Black Ken, Robby Echo, Payton St Clair, Jay Crew, Jayde Symz, Chad White, Vanessa Cage, an uncredited female performer, and the already mentioned Niki Snow, Allessa Von Camp, Brad Sterling, and Destiny Love.
Pay close attention to the abrupt ending of Chad and Jayde’s scene. It’s a nod to rising adult writer and director, Bree Mills of Pure Taboo fame.
There is much to love about Sexual Harassment. It is cleverly written and sharply filmed. For example, when Lucille shows up for her test stills early in the story. The photographer Bernie Hyman (maybe hymen with an “e” is more accurate because Lucille, who is no virgin, is being primed for the porn camera and has to be initiated into sex for pay) is played by AINews managing editor Steve Nelson.
Steve is skilled with the camera and it shows in the scene. He offers up an amusing line when he pulls down her top to free her boobs and lifts her skirt for the treasures “down there.” Lucille is caught off guard. To ease her mood, Steve says with a chuckle, “skin’s good, skin’s good . . . it’s all over your body.”
And at film’s end, Herb’s mug shots will stand in vivid contrast to Lucille’s test photos in this scene.
Like in the old Hollywood production A Star is Born, Lucille’s name will be dropped in favor of something a bit catchier. “Helen Bedd” becomes her stage moniker and another kind of “star” is popularized.
There is also a love element in Sexual Harassment. Robby Echo plays Ray, a writer and Lucille’s newly found off-camera romance. Their sex scene is sweet and make no mistake, Niki Snow is easy on the eyes. At one point Ray says, “We’re both trying to become something.” That something is unclear, but their satisfaction is heightened when they later see the #Metoo images on TV that reinforce Herb’s arrest.
There are other characters in this film that are worth a look. There is Lucille’s caustic female agent, the cleanup crew who takes a moment out of their task to have a jolly encounter, Herb’s obese secretary, and Donnie Rock’s cameo as a film editor.
In fact, for an adult film there are perhaps too many personalities on-screen because the viewer never gets to know any of them well.
Who is Lucille?
For the porn fan who might miss the film’s ingenious nod to cinema history, allow me to fill you in.
Writer/director Sally Forth pulls off a coup with Lucille Le Seur. You see, in the 1920s in old Hollywood a young woman by that name became a star in silent film and moved into talkies with aplomb. Eventually, she became a Hollywood legend, winning an Oscar in 1947.
But the rumor persisted (and still does today) that this real-life Lucille shot stags, the earliest of porn films. Nothing was ever verified, no films ever emerged, but the story always hung over her. By the way, Lucille’s sleeping around with both men and women honed her reputation for a prolific sexual appetite among the Hollywood crowd. Thus, she was “hell in bed,” just as Sally Forth tells us with her version of Lucille.
So, what was the stage name for this real-life Hollywood icon? Joan Crawford.
A Final Word
Bright, sassy, and whimsical, Sally Forth is a quality filmmaker whose sense of movie history permeates Sexual Harassment. I’m certain her future work will be equally as engaging.
There is one thing, however.
The good folks at Hard Art have got to clean up their print editing. The cast is overly large and this may have led to occasional sloppiness regarding proper documentation. Some names are misspelled on the box cover while other names are left out entirely, particularly an uncredited female performer who gives her all in her sex scene. Remember that directors, cinematographers, and performers consider adult film to be their art. Let’s not short change them.
That said, I highly recommend Sexual Harassment, a film that shows us how we got from there to here in a business that is often vilified and dismissed as culturally irrelevant.