Appellate Judge Rob Lineberger appreciates the fine Danish carpentry and mod '70s fashion that distracted him during the mediocre sex.
Sooner or later…every father must face the day his "little girl" becomes a woman…
Retro-Seduction has hit a rich vein lately by releasing obscure Joe Sarno films packed with commentaries, interviews, and carefully written liner notes. An antidote to the slick, plastic, emotionally vacant flicks that pass for softcore, Sarno's work explores complicated psychosexual relationships that power his erotic action. No relationship is more psychosexual than that of a single father with a buxom, sexually repressed, and isolated teenaged daughter. Retro-Seduction, Sarno, incest…is this a certain softcore hit?
Facts of the Case
Katja (Helli Louise, The Ups and Downs of a Handyman) and her oft-traveling father Eric (Ole Wisborg, Reptilicus) live together in relative isolation. Though Eric and Katja have deep affection for each other and he does the best he can to provide for her, his frequent absences have left Katja both self-sufficient and sheltered. Her sexual awakening will not go smoothly, and it comes at a particularly bad time…just as Eric is marrying his secret lover, Svea (Gio Petré, Fanny Hill).
Sarno made his name by firmly rooting his erotica in an emotional context. To detractors, this navel gazing element (which manifests itself in extended conversations, pensive walks along the water, penetrating glances into the mirror, and heartfelt sighs) is melodrama at best and pretentious filler at worst. To Sarno, the interludes are as important as the action. If you just want to see lots of skin and a sight gag or generic bar scene for a change of pace (a la most Skinemax flicks of the early '90s), Sarno films will be like watching paint dry.
To his fans, Sarno's approach to softcore is a revelation, an uncompromising voice of reason in a boring sea of plastic bodies and dispassionate writhing. You can count on Sarno to write audacious erotic prose and then make his actors deliver it with deadpan, almost clinical, seriousness. You can count on Sarno to let the camera linger, not cut away every half second in an artificial frenzy. You can count on Sarno to find ravishing unknowns and put their natural assets to good use. In other words, you can count on his good taste in a genre fundamentally lacking good taste.
Daddy, Darling pushes many of Sarno's signatures to their extremes. For example, what human relationship is more psychosexual than a blossoming young woman lusting for her handsome, widowed father? In other hands, such a topic could be interpreted as a free pass to sink into exploitation or depravity. Just look at Jerry Springer, for example ("Daddies who Do" at 11!). But Sarno takes the high road. Daddy, Darling is an honest exploration of burgeoning sexuality. Young Katja makes modest, then serious, advances towards her father and vents her frustration in non-clichéd ways. There are no depraved sex parties here, no madcap spirals into drugs and prostitution. Instead, Katja takes up art and asks for her father to have patience with her. She is frustrated because Daddy does not take the bait. Eric is nothing but loving and considerate towards Katja, though his concern is evident. He never rebuffs her, but clearly lets her know that her behavior is inappropriate. Instead, Eric makes time with his lover, Svea.
If you're thinking this doesn't sound like much of a softcore romp, then…you're right.
Daddy, Darling is played straight—much like Moonlighting Wives, which has no sex at all. The problem here is that Daddy, Darling is so provocatively pitched. The DVD cover proclaims that it "nicely exemplifies both the limits and the possibilities of softcore erotica." The film was even self-Rated X in its initial run. For the life of me I cannot see why. Daddy, Darling has an atypically brief scene with Katja staring at her voluptuousness in the mirror; such scenes in Sarno's work are typically long enough to drink in the sights and project some deep thoughts into the heroine's mind. There's the pivotal "incest halluctination," which is set to stark bongo drums, shot in slow motion, and cut more than most of Sarno's work. The rest of the sex scenes, which are admittedly frequent, are dark, unfocused, and more jumpy that they should be. Nothing here pushes the erotic envelope like Laura's Toys, which features unfussy editing, nasty talk, and real orgasms—and truly does exemplify the limits of softcore.
Perhaps expectations are to blame, and perhaps Daddy, Darling will play better the second time, but I was frustrated by the departures from Sarno's usual erotic mastery and uncompelled by the psychodrama. The movie is of higher purpose than Sarno's other work, and gains point for that…but if so, the marketing should tone town the tawdry element and focus on the artistic aims. As it stands, the eroticism in Daddy, Darling is a poor interpretation of Radley Metzger's work and far below Sarno's usual achievement.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Nevertheless, Daddy, Darling has capable acting and camerawork in its favor. Helli Louise and the supporting actors are stilted-but-serviceable while Ole Wisborg and Gio Petré shine. They express themes and emotions subtly through body language and eye movement. They are adults trapped in the maelstrom of teenage emotions who simply want to explore their own relationship.
Mikael Salomon provides impressive cinematography on a shoestring. From tasteful crane shots to telling compositions, the camerawork is sure throughout. In his interview (aside from extensive liner notes, the sole extra), Sarno lauds Salomon's work without reservation. He has pleasant words for his partner and editor in the production, Kenn Collins, but to my ear Sarno is saying that he would have edited the sex scenes differently.
Retro-Seduction takes great pains to disclaim the video and audio quality of this disc. Critics like myself are to blame for this caution, but in this case it is appropriate: the print looks well-worn. In fact, it has badly deteriorated and they've done what they can to salvage it, but do not expect a light and sound show.
On the whole, Daddy, Darling is another treat for Sarno completists in that it features a nice interview and well-researched liner notes while preserving an endangered Sarno film. Erotica is very personal. This one didn't tickle my bone, but if you buy into the innuendo-laden daddy-daughter vibe it might work for you. In any case, Retro-Seduction earns applause for continuing to seek out "lost" Sarno films and bring them to DVD.
Daddy, Darling is grounded for one week. You heard me, young lady.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Seduction Cinema
• Liner notes by Michael J. Bowen
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