Coincidentially, Judge Bryan Pope was once asked to be a judge at the 2004 Erotic Shadow Puppet Games, so he's fully qualified to weigh in on this flick.
She starts where Emmanuelle left off.
I'll say one thing about '70s softcore films: Even if they don't always work as erotica, they make excellent travelogues. Emmanuelle took us on a tour of Thailand. With Hubert Frank's Vanessa we get opulent Hong Kong. We also get the loveliest of guides in Olivia Pascal, nabbing the title role of a naughty Catholic school girl whose sole remaining relative dies, leaving her a chain of bordellos and a plantation. No sooner does our heroine step off her slow boat to China when she's befriended by Uschi Zech, a girl of roughly the same age who seems to leave discarded clothing in her wake everywhere she goes. It's quite a sight, and God bless her lack of inhibitions.
Do I even need to say that the story is a bunch of hooey, a schoolboy wish-fulfillment fantasy with a touch of silly black magic and more than enough skin to make Sybil Danning blush? Although Pascal was 20 by 1977, when the film was released, she easily passes for jailbait material. That's great when you're a boy of, say, 13. But a guy my age can't help but feel like a letch watching her get sponged off by the chambermaid, pop her top for the seamstress, and practically beg for a spanking in the bathtub, to name just a few instances where Pascal shows off both orchestra and balcony. The girl can't act her way out of a wicker basket and, like so many women in these types of films, her distinctly, um, European manner of grooming won't be for all tastes. But she has soft features and that fabulously long '70s hair that blows carelessly in the breeze, caressing her supple…
Titillating this movie is not, no matter how much Franz Lederle, the DP, labors to give each scene the look of a retro Playboy spread. And his work is gorgeous, make no mistake. There's enough soft focus, warm lighting, and luxuriant red and gold hues for a thousand Sylvia Kristel skin flicks. His work is a celebration of Hong Kong's busy streets and often exquisite architecture, and a reminder of how cheap today's skin flicks look by comparison.
Composers Mathilde Basedow and Gerhard Heinz give the film a score that is two parts lush symphonic orchestra and one part '70s porn funk. But it was the ridiculously overblown romantic title song that aroused my funny bone. Still, for all its sexual posturing, which includes goofy erotic shadow puppet games, carefully choreographed lesbian encounters and fun with instruments of pain and pleasure, Vanessa did little to arouse anything else. It's all foreplay and no payoff.
Wham, bam…now what, ma'am?
Vanessa has evolved into something of a cult classic, and Severin Films has produced a package that should be cause for celebration with most fans, at least as far as the transfer goes. The film is presented in its original 1.78:1 widescreen format with an anamorphic transfer, and I suspect it looks better than it ever has. There are occasional blemishes and scratches (particularly noticeable in the upper right corner of the picture), but the vivid color palette is beautifully restored. The Dolby 2.0 Mono is serviceable for a film of this type.
Most fans will drool over the 28-minute interview with Frank and Lederle, a chatty, engaging twosome who seem to remember the film as if they filmed it yesterday. Particularly amusing is how the resourceful Frank, hired as an "improvising director," recalls scouring Hong Kong, including the seedy nightclubs, for film locations after being told the city had nothing visual to offer.
Aside from a theatrical trailer that isn't in half as good of shape as the film itself, the package also includes 16 minutes of extremely rough behind-the-scenes video footage. Sans audio, "Vanessa Revealed" is nowhere near as revealing as its title suggests.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Severin Films
• Interviews with director Hubert Frank and director of photography Franz X. Lederle
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