Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Bolero (1984)

US Poster

Our particular friend in Vancouver, S, has harangued us for not posting anything on this blog for over a year.  We had, in fact, been working on a post about another film, which was really the first erotic film we saw at the cinema, as opposed to on television.  After her ranting on about the fact that we didn't have to post films in the order of us having seen them,  she suggested we just post the next one we had watched and go on from there.  So, coincidentally as we had just watched such a film this week, we decided we had better do as we were told and so we have the much derided Bolero (1984)

UK Poster

We first became aware of this Bo Derek-starring feature following a pictorial in Playboy's July 1984 feature.  Playboy was always a great advocate of Derek in the early eighties and featured her in several pictorials and on a number of covers.  At this time, it was easier to buy Playboy in London than it is now and we used to frequent a newsstand in Piccadilly circus which also stocked the full range of newsstand specials.

Bo featured on the cover, in something of a Clint Eastwood style, in one of her costumes from the film.  This was something of a classic issue as it also featured the luscious Liz Stewart, as Playmate of the Month, and a pictorial on an advertising executive, Robin Avener, which contained one of the finest Playboy rear-end shots of all time.

Australian Playboy cover August 1984

It was the 1979 film '10' that had seen Derek become a global sex symbol overnight.  Her husband was actor, director and photographer John Derek who had been married to Ursula Andress at the time she made a similar leap to starrdom in Dr No (1962) .  He was married to Linda Evans when he met the sixteen year old Bo (born Mary Kathleen Collins in Long Beach, California in 1956) during the shooting of his film Fantasies (not released until 1981 after Bo had become famous) in Greece in 1973.  He began an affair with her but because of her young age, which would have had him liable to a statutory rape charge in California, he lived with her in Germany, until she was eighteen,  He divorced his wife, actress Linda Evans, married Bo and returned to California.

Following '10' Bo appeared in two critically panned films, A Change of Seasons (1980) with Anthony Hopkins and Tarzan, the Ape Man (1981) directed by John Derek which really featured the character of Jane (Bo Derek) rather than Tarzan, much to the annoyance of Edgar Rice Burroughs' estate.   As a result film offers dried up so Derek decided to work with notorious Israeli B movie producers, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus (who ran Cannon films) to produce Bolero.  The collaboration was not a happy one with John Derek wanting to make a camp sex-comedy (or at least that is what he claimed afterwards) and Menahem Globus wanting something more serious.

Bo and John Derek on the set of Bolero

A war of words erupted between John Derek and Globus with the latter telling the press that the film was terrible and that MGM/UA agreed and wouldn't release it.  Derek tried to buy back the film from Cannon.  Then it was announced that the film would be given an X rather than an R certificate (there was no NC17 in those days); a rating usually reserved for porn films and the kiss of death at the box office.  In the Playboy piece, John Derek said that Globus later claimed that all the bad things he had said were just to drum up publicity and that he was very happy with the X rating. Derek then released the film without a rating so he didn't have to cut it.  Derek also claimed that MGM/UA were very happy with the film.

John Derek on location in Spain for Bolero

The title of the film seems like an obvious attempt to cash-in on Bo's sex scene in '10' but John Derek claimed they were going to use the Ravel piece again although he also claimed they wanted to call the film Extasy (sic). In his Playboy interview Derek comes across as somewhat paranoid, constantly rebutting real or imagined slights and totally unaware that what he was producing was utter crap.

So, thirty years after we first became aware of the film we actually sat down to watch it with a lady friend and, appropriately (as we shall see) a bottle or two of Rioja.  The pictures are a mixture of production stills and our screen captures from a European DVD (it's not available in the UK at present).

The film opens with Lida MacGillivery (Bo Derek) and her best friend Catalina (Ana Obregón) watching a Rudolph Valentino film at the cinema (it is set in the twenties).  Afterwards, Mac (as she is known) ventures that she would like to loose her virginity to a sheikh of the sort depicted by Valentino.

She's not just a nice pair, you know

Shortly afterwards, as the titles run, she graduates from her English school (which of course we don't do in Britain) and promptly decides to prance around the school grounds topless until her long suffering Chauffeur. played by George Kennedy (we hope this fine actor was payed well), covers her up with a blanket.

The single finest frame in the entire film

The location for the school is easily recognisable as Beaulieu Abbey in Hampshire, England, home of the National Motor Museum and, therefore, a very handy source for the vintage cars in the scene.

Anyway, faster than you can say Webster's Dictionary she is Morocco-bound, with her new inheritance, accompanied by the regularly incomprehensible Catalina. Obregón, apart from her heavy Spanish accent, is not bad, actually, and certainly regularly exposes Bo's acting "skills".

Bo attends a party wearing a beaded headdress which (we are sure. not coincidentally) reminds us of her braided hair in '10'.  Hooking up with a sheikh he whisks her off in his aeroplane and attempts to take her virginity on the beach.

However, for some reason, he insists on dribbling honey all over her lovely torso before promptly (and unbelievably) falling asleep.  This is a scene which they try to play as comedy and as erotic; a combination that rarely works.

Still, it gives John Derek the opportunity to ensure there are lots of lingering shots of his wife's body including a rare glimpse of (golden) fluff.  Anyone who has seen Bo in Fantasies knows that this is not her natural hair colour.

Bo's attempts to communicate some form of erotic passion here are really quite risible as she gurns, mugs and flaps her hands around like a circus seal.

Anyway, giving up on the sheikh idea she is persuaded to travel to Spain by her friend where we see the group at a bullfight and, hence, introduce us to our hero, sensitive bullfighter (he never kills the bulls) and winemaker Angel played by Italian actor Andrea Occhipinti.  Here we also meet the third major female character in the film, gypsy girl Paloma, played by Olivia D'Abo (Maryam (The Living Daylights) D'Abo's first cousin once removed and the daughter of Manfred Mann lead singer Mike D'Abo).  

Not Spanish at all, as we first thought, of course, she was born in Paddington, London and her credit reads "Introducing Olivia D'Abo".  She also appeared in Conan the Destroyer the same year and went on to a successful B movie acting career which continues to this day.

Olivia D'abo in Conan the Destroyer (1984)

She is alright in this film, in a sort of nymphet crossed with a hyper-active hamster sort of way, which is not saying much. A slightly sleepwalking George Kennedy must have known he was appearing in a farrago from the start. D'Abo's Paloma character is supposed to be thirteen and is saving herself to became engaged to Angel when she is fourteen.  Given John Derek was forty-six when he first started having sex with the sixteen year old Bo Derek he presumably didn't think there was anything odd in this.

Corrine Russell exits the hot tub

Bo, of course, immediately decides that Angel is going to be the one to take her virginity and sets off to seduce him.   The problem is that Bo isn't the only one after Angel but she essentially buys off young Paloma with shiny trinkets who takes her to where Angel is.  Unfortunately, he is in what looks like a hot tub (in Spain, in the twenties?) with a curvy, naked lady.

The lady is played by an uncredited Corinne Russell, then a popular Page 3 girl, who would feature on the cover of and as centrefold in Oui two months after the Playboy Bolero issue.  Corrine also appeared as a Hills Angel in The Benny Hill Show and as one of the silhouette dancing girls in the opening credits to Octopussy (1983).

After their night time expedition to find Angel the girls return to have a good hot bath.  An ideal opportunity to showcase Bo Derek's figure again, you might think.  Instead her husband makes sure she keeps her clothes on and instead has D'Abo naked; artfully shot in the reflection of a mirror.

Now, despite Bo sluicing water over D'Abo's naked body there is nothing sexual about the scene.  It is gratuitous, however, especially when you consider that, as we discovered afterwards, D'Abo was just fifteen at the time.  It's not a body double either, which was our first thought.

After what seems an interminable period (pacing is not one of the film's strong points), Bo gets Angel into bed and there then follows one of the film's two main sex scenes.

Now the problem with John Derek as a director is that he had no idea how to move the camera, so while his photographic stills are often quite effective many of the scenes in this are completely static.

Basically he shoots the scene from one angle, occasionally panning along the couple's bodies but otherwise not moving viewpoint at all.  For four minutes!  Maybe it would have worked better with the originally planned Ravel's Bolero but instead we are treated to a wailing love theme by the otherwise usually reliable Elmer (The Magnificent Seven) Bernstein.

He makes sure that he gets a shot of his Bo and Angel's pubic hairs rubbing against each other in what is quite an explicit scene, especially given it's his wife.  The faux thrusts are quite graphic as is the moment that Bo's character is penetrated for the first time.  However, when the film came out, after all the controversy over the proposed 'X' certificate, cinema goers were, apparently, disappointed that the sex scenes weren't more explicit.

However, inevitably, rumours started to circulate that Bo and Occhipiniti did it for real on set.  You can certainly see his balls briefly between Bo's thighs at one point (above) but that, of course, means nothing.

Now, apart from the unlikely scenario of a director filming his wife having sex with another man for footage that would not show this in the actual film (unlike, say Lina Romay and Jess Franco) Bo, again, fails to provide any convincing passion. She is acting passion (badly).

Well, next there is a lot more plot about Bo buying Angel's vineyard and Bo wanting one of his horses.  But the next Bo naked opportunity comes with a sauna scene.  Again, a sauna?  In nineteen twenties Spain?  This has our three principal ladies in various degrees of undress with Bo actually the most covered up and D'Abo (right, above) the least.

These publicity shots show a much more naked Bo but a still topless D'Abo. Ana Obregón stays covered up as ever.

These two shots of Bo on her own were much used in the film's subsequent publicity but do not reflect her state in the actual film.

Then we get a twist in the film as Angel is gored by a bull and suddenly fines himself unable to perform sexually.  There is a "comedy" kidnap attempt from the sheikh from earlier in the film. At this point too a bizarre Scottish lawyer in a kilt turns up purely to provide Catalina with some romantic interest.

So what is Bo to do?  Well she tries to revive Angel's interest by riding a horse naked.  As you do.  Bo rides horses a lot in this film.  It is apparent that she is a skilled horsewoman and her husband certainly makes that point again and again.

Bo also posed for a series of publicity pictures on a different horse from the one in the film.  This white horse seems more interested in lunch, however.

At this point Bo's friend Catalina gets a sex scene with the Scottish lawyer and, guess what, Derek films it from the side in exactly the same way as Bo's earlier scene.  Ana Obregón manages to be completely naked without displaying any naughty bits at all. 

Eventually, after what feels like a geological age Bo manages to get Angel up for it again and we get another four minute sex scene.  This time John Derek does manage to vary the angles a bit.

To make this four minute scene different from the other four minute scene we also get some flashy lighting and really quite a lot of dry ice, for no explicable reason.

For another inexplicable reason we get two neon signs in the background saying "ecstasy" and "extasy".  This relates back to a discussion between Bo's character and Catalina's at the beginning of the film when they argue over how the world is spelled.  Given that this dialogue happened what felt like hours before, whether anyone would notice or care is doubtful.  

 Bo gets on top!

Normally when you have a film that is a mixture of good and bad it is often called a curate's egg (a strange English expression which we have never really understood) but it's hard to find too many good parts in this.   The camp tongue in cheek elements don't work with the sex scenes (Cannon films wanted to drop the comedy, probably wisely).

Really, we suppose it is about how much you relate to Bo Derek as a sex object.  She has outstanding nipples (upon which her husband's camera understandably lingers) good legs but a skinny bottom. We just don't find her that sexy, which is a problem for a film where her erotic presentation is really all there is.

Some of her continental co-stars are difficult to understand sometimes and the general level of acting is pretty hit and miss too.  The photography and set design are good, however, so it never looks like a cheap film.

In the 5th Golden Raspberry awards Bo Derek won the worst actress award, the film won worst screenplay, the worst music award, John Derek won for worst director and it also won worst picture.  Poor George Kennedy and Olivia D'Abo were nominated for worst supporting actor and actress.  But D'Abo came back and won Worst New Star.  It's record of nine nominations and six awards tied the record at that time. It was later nominated for the worst film of the decade award.

So, is it worth watching despite all this?  Probably not, really.  Is it erotic?  Not really.  We actually spent more time admiring the set decoration.

Film: 2/10 
Women: 4/10 
Explicitness: 5/10 

Overall: 3/10