Appellate Judge Becker was going to use Titanic Tom as his alliterative soft-core porn name, but he didn't want to get a whoopin' from Gigantic James Cameron.
"The lights will be shining so bright."
"Hollywood is really a phony place, and should I ever come here again,
the first thing I'll do is spit on the sidewalk."
Chantal (Misty Mundae, Sinful) arrives in Hollywood determined to become a star. Like thousands of pretty young innocents, she has scrimped and saved her baby-sitting money, packed her cardboard suitcase, put on her best gingham dress (with lace collar), bid farewell to her agrarian hometown, and followed her dream to become…
Clara Bow? Mary Pickford?
Chantal takes that old chestnut about pretty girls being laid to waste on the Boulevard of Broken Dreams, sets it in the present day, and gives us a character who would have strained credibility when FDR was president.
Mundae and Director Tony Marsiglia (Lust for Dracula) really try to go beyond the exploitation mold here, and in some ways they succeed. Chantal is more concerned with story and character than with presenting a series of set ups for sex scenes.
Unfortunately, the story is all-too predictable and the character too broad. We're supposed to accept Chantal as a starry-eyed naïf, but she's not so much an innocent as an idiot. She should probably be institutionalized. Looking like she's tricked out to play Alice-in-Wonderland for the local parks benefit, Chantal wanders around Hollywood proclaiming, "I'm an actress, I'm going to be a star," blissfully clueless about things like agents, headshots, and auditions.
Needless to say, our dim-but-plucky heroine ends up end up, defiled, reviled, and stock-piled by all manner of greasy characters, including a pair of leather-clad lesbian pornographers who get their licks in at our girl's expense when they demand she "pay in advance" for some headshots (she convincingly simpers and attempts to demur); a gun-toting old man who forces her to conjugate with a hard-bitten LA chick on what's supposed to be a non-sexual escort call (she doesn't mind this one); and a slick hotel desk clerk, whose post-coital surprise doesn't involve flowers.
All this would be fine if Chantal were intended to be a parody (my initial reaction), but apparently, that's not the case. Marsiglia and Mundae present this as a serious, cautionary tale, as well as a breakthrough role (of sorts) for Mundae.
You've got to hand it to Misty. I don't know if she's a particularly "good" actress, but she's got presence to burn, and she's touchingly sincere here. We don't really identify with Chantal, since she's merely a composite of so many old scripts and urban legends, but our hearts go out to Misty, who does everything short of self-immolating in her efforts to breathe new life into this cliché.
Filmed in 2003, Chantal is (supposedly) the last film being released with the actress known as "Misty Mundae"; she is now going by the more prosaic name "Erin Brown." Mundae toiled long and hard for Seduction Cinema, and this two-disc set is a nice send off for her.
Disc one gives us the film with two commentaries, one by Mundae and Marsiglia, the other with Marsiglia and Producer Michael Raso. Both are interesting listens with lots of anecdotes, both are a tad self-congratulatory, and both give a lot of insight on the life and career of Mundae. Distractingly, the film is playing in the background of both interviews and is not quite synched up to what we are watching. A "Making of" feature is an interview with Mundae about the script and the character with some on-location footage.
Chantal is actually a remake of a 1969 soft-core film by Nick Philips (Uta). The second disc gives us the original Chantal along with a good amount of appropriately retro bonuses.
The Viet Nam era Chantal is a quasi-interesting relic. Had it been shot in Greenwich Village in the '80s instead of LA in the '60s, it might be an NYU student film. We get a lot of shots of locations, and a lot of Chantal just strolling around, narrating her story of Hollywood heartbreak. This Chantal is a bit more cynical than the 21st century model, and she seems more a creation of Jacqueline Susann than Lewis Carroll. She does some topless "bust-enhancing exercises," ruminates on a few sexual fantasies, plays around with a female "agent" and a guy who says he's a producer, and watches an "erotic" dance by a pair of zaftig "actresses" who look like they're auditioning for a late-night cable Jenny Craig ad.
Chantal herself looks a bit hard, and occasionally mannish. In some shots, she resembles Michael Caine in Dressed to Kill; in others, she looks like Tobey Maguire dressed up like Audrey Hepburn in Two for the Road.
Philips sits down with "42nd Street Pete" for a commentary track that is casual, charming, and informative. Philips is an amusing, self-effacing guy, but there are a few bits of dead air here, and Pete has to do some heavy lifting to keep things moving. When Philips does share, his stories and observations more than make up for the lack of any real action on screen. A separate, 5-minute interview with Philips talking generally about shooting Chantal and giving a little background on how '60s exploitation films were sold is marred by some unnecessary and cheap digital effects.
The best extra on the set is a 20-minute exploitation short from 1956, These Girls Are Fools. These foolish girls are small-town beauty contest winners who, like the foolish Chantals, go to Hollywood seeking fame and fortune only to find despair and degrading work as topless models. The cheesy melodramatics seem more at home and oh-so-brief flashes of nudity more daring in this Eisenhower-era cheapie, which in some spots has so much print damage, it looks like a science-fiction epic.
Both versions of Chantal get good transfers. The Mundae-Marsiglia version has a deliberately washed out, surreal look, while the Philips version has a pretty sharp black-and-white image for a 40-year-old, low-budget "grindhouse" film. Audio is decent on both, though some of Mundae's more dramatic moments are overmodulated, a fault, I'm guessing, with the source material. Both discs sport trailer vaults, and there is a great 12-page booklet with tons of information and insights on both Chantals, as well as background on Mundae and Philips, from film historian Ed Grant of Media Funhouse.
Seduction Cinema once again gives low-budget exploitation fare its due, and then some. While neither Chantal is exactly ground-breaking cinema, both films are goofy fun, and the supplements are terrific.
Hollywood is a tough town. Those poor girls do desperate things.
Well, we don't want anyone climbing to the top of the DVD Verdict sign and nose diving.
The ladies are not guilty, and Seduction Cinema gets the court's commendation for a job well done.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Seduction Cinema
• Commentary on Chantal (2007) with Tony Marsiglia and Misty Mundae
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