Sunday, May 11, 2008
CONFESSIONS OF A YOUNG AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE (1974) d. Joseph W. Sarno
Reviewed by Rick Trottier
During the early and mid-1970s, American culture began to move away from many of the innocent and guileless mores of the 1950s and the optimistic and lofty ideals of the 1960s in the wake of the Vietnam War and Watergate. Literature, art and film sometimes paralleled that shift and even blazed new societal trails as Americans disassociated themselves with the culture of their parents and grandparents to strike out on new paths of pleasure and passion. Retro-Seduction Cinema’s release of Joseph Sarno’s CONFESSIONS OF A YOUNG AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE is another brilliantly preserved historical gem that is a trip down another branch of memory lane for those who wish to revisit the time when the “Me Generation” took center stage and tried to rewrite the rules of a country that had once been the province of the Puritans.
CONFESSIONS OF A YOUNG AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE is the story of Carol, her husband Eddie, their neighbors Anna and Pete and Carol’s mother Jennifer. Carol lives in an open, swinging marriage in which she shares life and love with Eddie, Anna and Pete. Her youthful, vibrant sexuality is at war with some still unconquered older values that resurface when her striking and amorous but widowed mother comes to visit. Before long, Eddie, Anna and Pete are all desirous of Jennifer’s incomparable sensuality, and Carol feels the pull, even as she struggles with feelings of inadequacy in comparison to her mother. Jennifer struggles with overwhelming feelings of passion and longing, even as she reexamines her views on monogamy and age-appropriate relationships. By the end, no one is the same person they were before Jennifer’s arrival, but everyone understands and accepts their role in their complex association.
CONFESSIONS OF A YOUNG AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE is a fascinating exploitation film that blurs the line between an avant-garde sexcapade and porno chic, which by the mid-70s was exploding in popularity. It is an introspective story that somehow successfully grafts the moodiness of Carol and Jennifer and the melancholy soundtrack with lively and sensuous sex/love scenes between the characters. Rebecca Brooke who plays Carol and Jennifer Welles who plays Jennifer develop a rich emotional chemistry that is one part mother-daughter love and respect, one part generational angst and gender-role struggle and one part incestual attraction. Even the figures of the two actresses are symbolic of the times they represent. Carol is tall, trim and willowy, with a trendy haircut and bright but reflective eyes that sparkle with the present. Jennifer has a womanly figure reminiscent of the pinups of the 1950s, lustrous long blonde hair and dark eyes as deep as the sea. Their multifaceted relationship with each other and even more intricate bonds to vivacious and comical Anna and the randy and ludicrously aroused Pete and Eddie establish levels of sexual tension and suburban anxiety that make this seemingly simple story and simpler screenplay surprisingly profound.
Beyond the fascinating character interplay, there is a tapestry of visual imagery that is both evocative and contemplative. When indoors, the apartment rooms and their mod furnishings are representative of the growing affluence of the American suburbs, but there is also a starkness to many of the interior sets as well, conjuring some of the emptiness that the hip and hedonistic 70s lifestyle induced. The kitchens and the women in the kitchens were lavishly sprinkled with classic icons of American family life like aprons, apple pie, Gold Medal flour and overflowing grocery bags. When contrasted with the sometimes graphic sex scenes and explicit nudity, the obvious symbolism of the sea-change in sex in relationships is unmistakably potent. When the story shifts outside into the New York City parks and forested trails and walkways, Carol and Anna’s aimless ambles and their chats are marked by closeness dappled with unease. One can’t help but be struck by the winsome feelings and strains of sorrow, especially when accompanied by Jack Justis’ acoustical guitar ballads that are so very reminiscent of James Taylor or the more soulful songs of the Rolling Stones. Despite being a low budget exploitation flick, there are also some artfully composed shots of the actresses, especially Rebecca Brooke’s emotive face and Jennifer Welles’ unrivaled figure, and the end result is a film that goes a long way toward capturing the essence of the mid-1970s, as America reaped the bitter harvest of a cultural and political revolution that had somehow gone horribly wrong and sought escape in pleasure and passion to drown the grief of lost dreams.
CONFESSIONS OF A YOUNG AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE has a wonderfully diverse set of extras. Normally, most 2-disc sets offer more visual entertainment, but disc 2 of this set is a CD collection of the music that the late Jack Justis did for Joseph Sarno’s films. On the dvd, in addition to the restored film, there is a 17 minute interview with Joseph Sarno that is simply splendid. As has been my experience when listening to or reading interviews with exploitation pioneers, they all turn out to be interesting, likable chaps. Who knows if they were that way on the set, but Mr. Sarno certainly has kind words and fond memories of his co-workers and experiences. There is a small selection of 3 deleted scenes which are actually the most graphic sex scenes, probably snipped to tighten the film’s pace and possibly to please censors, since this was not “pornography”. There is the usual Retro-Seduction trailer vault that, like a good lava lamp, helps to create the right mood. Capping this superb experience is the liner note booklet by the erudite Michael Bowen and replete with some lovely, never-before-seen photography of the comely Rebecca Brooke by Ed Seeman. I have yet to be disappointed by the Retro-Seduction booklets, which are always more worthwhile than any historical monograph unearthed from a college library.
By itself, CONFESSIONS OF A YOUNG AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE is a thoroughly enjoyable viewing experience that whisks you back to a time that you may or may not have been able to experience first hand, but you’ll feel like you were there. When taken as part of the Retro-Seduction library, which has marvelous examples of 1950s and 1960s exploitation cinema, some of which I’ve previously reviewed, the experience is even richer, for an astute student can see the evolution of American society unfold right before your eyes. The patient and thoughtful film lover can ride the ebb and flow of American ideals as they changed in a country that wrestled with a Puritan past that once abhorred sex, to a country that has become somewhat obsessed with it. CONFESSIONS OF A YOUNG AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE is another outstanding addition to the exploitation film historian’s library for the reason that it isn’t escape that is up on the small screen, but instead what we were truly thinking back then, but wouldn’t admit.