How to explain the Emanuelle films? Okay, well, the first, "Emmanuelle" was a French movie, based on a popular French book about a diplomat's wife in an open marriage and her sexual awakening. It was one of the first softcore X movies and was fairly well-made, and it made a shit-ton of money. The French made a bunch of official sequels. And the Italians figured they could capitalize off that success with another series about a sexually-liberated woman named "Emanuelle", with one M, almost always played by the lovely Indonesian actress Laura Gemser. I'm currently working on a script about a boxer named Roquie.
Emanuelle in America is one of the most popular of the American knock-offs and one of the best films director Joe D'Amato ever made; this, however, is setting the bar pretty close to the floor. Here, Emanuelle (Gemser) is a photographer in New York in the 70s, which we can tell by the Marlborro Man billboards and the great leisure suit she wears, both of which had become historical artifacts by 1982. She's actually a photojournalist in most of these movies. Emanuelle photographs naked women and lives with a pop artist and is generally a sexually-liberated women- sexual liberation also being an artifact of the 70s. The music is somewhere in the space rock-glam-disco continuum, so the soundtrack is pretty awesome.
In general, I do find something appealing about the attitude these movies have about sex- that it's a fun, zesty enterprise, and not very serious or a means of control over another person. I like that Emanuelle does what she wants and the stories never really condemn her for her freedom. Note that her boyfriend never questions her love for him, in spite of the fact that she sleeps with everyone. Compare this to any recent skin flicks and the female degradation they all seem to feature, and then tell me that social mores are improving! However, it's seldom totally clearcut female empowerment in this series- they always seem to include one rape or degradation scene in the Emanuelle film as a sort of nod towards the patriarchy. But, and this is a big but- Emanuelle always pulls through and overcomes the misogynists. Here, her escape seems a bit callous and blithe and, frankly, I think they should have left out the "snuff movie" subplot altogether, since it makes no sense. But, we'll get to that in a second. Another general point- a lot of what happens in Emanuelle movies makes no sense- they're pretty loopy.
The film is episodic. In the first story, a psycho kidnaps Emanuelle at gunpoint and tells her he's going to kill her for moral reasons, since she photographs naked women. They park and she blows him, which changes his attitude about sex entirely. Next, for 'research', Emanuelle infiltrates a mafiosi's harem in which each girl was born under a different astrological sign. She gets the dirt on him and takes part in an underwater nude girl lesbo session scored to space rock- I'm fairly certain this was the scene filmed expressly for the stoned people in the audience. While in the harem, she has sex with a few men and a woman. Also, in order to fulfill the requirement that every Emanuelle film has to have one scene that makes you somwhat uncomfortable, in this one a girl jerks off a horse named Pedro. This scene made the film somewhat notorious. No word as to how horses felt about the scene.
Moving right along, Emanuelle goes to Venice and visits a Duke and Dutchess, helping their marriage with a threesome. She thanks them pointedly for showing her that she doesn't want to be married, which is pretty bitchy of her and surprisingly judgmental considering that they really seem to love each other, and she has lots of casual sex with everyone she meets. What a snob. Anyway, after she insults them, the couple takes Emanuelle to an aristocratic orgy and she takes pictures for "research" and screws some guy. At this point, I was wondering why the film wasn't called Emanuelle in America and Italy.
Returning home, Emanuelle visits a cathouse for women, also for "research". It's very lucky for Emanuelle that the magazine pays her to do investigative research that involves getting laid a lot. She's caught spying in the female brothel but escapes by a clever stratigem involving lesbian sex. Whew!
The story gets more serious as Emanuelle investigates a snuff film that is being swapped by the rich and powerful. The snuff scenes are of interest to horror/exploitation fans because they're startlingly horrifying and realistic for a sex romp. The investigation brings her to Washington DC, where she meets a Senator from the establishment, man, who wants another war to set the younger generation right and then tries to pork her, shows her another snuff film, gives her LSD, and takes her to see the Central American right-wing rebel snuff film makers. At this point, the film seems like it will turn into a serious crusade against a powerful conspiracy story.
However, her editor buckles under pressure from the man not to publish the story and Emanuelle quits in anger, which inexplicably makes her feel like "the happiest girl in the world", a pretty unique response for someone who just recently witnessed war atrocities and has now given up completely on exposing American involvement in those crimes, or saving their victims, or getting any sort of justice. Basically, she sells out completely. So Emanuelle is now the happiest accomplice to war crimes in the world- in celebration, she goes to an African tribal village with her boyfriend, who sells her to the chief and there's a wedding celebration.
At this point, I started thinking that maybe the younger generation really does need to be sent to war.