The Ecstasies of Women (1969)

There’s a new player on the cult film home video scene called Vinegar Syndrome, and they’ve obviously set out to establish themselves with something “special”, to wit, three hitherto lost Herschell Gordon Lewis films, from camera negatives no less… Not that Lewis himself is likely to be thrilled at their rediscovery, since they come from his late 60s/early 70s detour into sexploitation, he was apparently a hired hand rather than the auteur and owner (which seems to be why they vanished, cos Lewis himself never kept them), and he’s been known to occasionally deny having directed at least one of them… but, with a little help from Kickstarter, here they are anyway.

Let us begin, therefore, with the earliest film in the set. More like the ecstasies of Harry, our “hero”, a lingerie salesman about to enter into his second marriage, so three of his mates haul him out to a strip club for one last night of freedom and getting really hammered. During the course of said night, he keeps thinking back over some of his past boudoir conquests (I supposed we’re left to decide for ourselves whether or not this libido of his is why the first marriage collapsed). Complete fantasy, of course; neither occasion when I’ve been to a strip club myself ended in an orgy involving me and the “talent”… and the apparent youth of one of the visitors to Harry’s love boat—not explicitly stated in the film that I can remember, but given as 15 in the film’s trailer (far funnier than the film itself)—opens Ecstasies up into a potential moral grey area. Maybe just as well the sex scenes are all softcore (that particular one fades out before Harry even gets his underpants off)… Anyway, though Lewis reckons he was just doing work for hire, the film still has that sort of Lewis signature shabbiness. Although being sourced from the negative means the film not only looks better than any other Lewis release I’ve seen but actually sounds adequate too—which is definitely not something I’m used to from his other films—and there’s a certain period charm at work, it’s still hard to say the film is actually particularly good as such, being somewhat rudimentary on the level of actual filmmaking much like, let’s face it, most of his oeuvre. Indeed, for me the most amusing part comes relatively early in the film, a scene in the club where Harry and friends are getting drunker and drunker, and one of them gets Harry’s name wrong, being corrected by one of the others. Now, this just looks like the character being, you know, miraculous full, but if the glorious anecdote in the DVD booklet is true, this WASN’T scripted; apparently Lewis got his old partner in crime David Friedman (just visiting the set) to direct the club bits for him while he dashed off to the toilet (!) and the actors fucked them up amazingly, not only didn’t they know their lines, they didn’t know their character names either… and when Lewis returned from the bog, Friedman asked him did he want to reshoot the scene, and he said no. Which is hilarious, obviously, if true, although at the same time you could read it as sadly symptomatic of Lewis’ approach to film in general…


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