Whatever it takes

How stars are made, not born

Published: Apr 22 2014, 01:01:am

UP 'N' COMING. Written by Jim Holliday. Music by Mike Lyman, Chet Moore and Jim Moore. Produced and directed by Godfrey Daniels (Stu Segall). Running time: 85 minutes. (B.C. running time: 80 minutes). X-rated feature at the Seavue Theatre, Blaine, Wash. (Restricted entertainment with the B.C. Classifier's warning: completely concerned with sex.)
Wednesday, February 16, 1983.
MARILYN CHAMBERS HAS A talent for self-promotion. Energetic and outspoken, she is an international traveller, logging thousands of kilometres each year in the effort to meet the press and her public.
    Last year, between flights, she made her debut as a country and western singer. Backed by a five-man band called Haywire, she played to the paying customers in a Las Vegas night club.
    This month, she made her debut as a TV star. Love Ya, Florence Nightingale, an hour-long series featuring Chambers as a sex therapist, is currently available to pay-television subscribers in various parts of the United States.
    Chambers is best known, of course, as a pornographic movie star. "I'm not ashamed of my X-rated pictures," she says. "Without them, I wouldn't have a career."
    No mere stepping stone, the porn business is Chambers's chosen milieu. "Even if I was to become a big celebrity in another area of the entertainment industry, I wouldn't want to give up explicit films," she says. "After all, I enjoy them and I owe it to my fans to continue."
    Her fans may be disappointed by her new feature. A backstage biography, Up 'n' Coming is a sour look at a country and western singer's struggle for success, a picture in which Chambers performs dutifully but without any real feeling of commitment.
        Cassie Harland (Chambers) is introduced to us as a young studio performer ready for her big break. During a recording session, she is spotted by a promoter, who is impressed by her potential. "You sell sex the way Colonel Sanders sells chicken," he says. "Tell me, are you really as good as you seem?"
    "I'm better," Cassie promises.
     Following the obligatory intimate audition, she is signed to tour with Althea Anderson (Lisa Leeuw), an aging legend whose performing days have been numbered by "booze, pills, the whole routine."
    "Godfrey Daniels" (director Stu Segall) conceived the project as a hardcore A Star Is Born. On one hand, he has a recalcitrant, self-destructive star. On the other, there is the bright-eyed aspirant, the girl who says "I'm willing to do whatever it takes," and means it.
     What's missing, unfortunately, is character development.
    The music business portrayed in Up 'n'  Coming is a mechanical system that requires interchangeable parts. An Althea who becomes flabby, demanding, and less productive can be replaced by a Cassie, the lean, compliant new novelty item.
    This is a cold and cynical fantasy in which sex is either a transactional extension of the performance, or an exercise designed to relieve job tensions. Since Cassie seems to understand and accept these rules before she enters this world, there's no room for her character to grow. She is already the perfect machine part. and her success is assured.
        "Daniels," who tried to give a lush, Emmanuelle-like look to Chambers's last feature, Insatiable, uses a staccato, rather perfunctory style here, presumably to underline his dramatic intent. His efforts are undermined by a script that sounds improvised, inconsistent lighting and muffled, often muddy sound recording.
    Since its January world premiere in Blaine's Seavue Theatre, Up 'n' Coming has been re-edited. The print now on view includes a climactic encounter between Chambers and John Holmes, here coyly identified as an "outlaw country singer just out of jail."
     The only purpose the scene serves is to demonstrate Chambers's ability to handle Holmes in a variety of circumstances.

Friday, January 20 1984
B.C.'S FILM CLASSIFIERS AREN'T cutting movies any more. On the other hand, when faced with a picture like Up 'n' Coming, they're not cutting any less, either.
    The current attraction at Granville Street's Towne Cinema, Up 'n' Coming, is what the trade calls an "adult film," the industry's euphemism for features built around scenes of explicit sexual activity. The uncut version, premiered last January in Blaine, Washington, is already available in Vancouver's videotape shops.
    The B.C. theatrical print, by contrast, is missing approximately five minutes. Even so, the picture remains "adult." The fact that it contains much explicit material raises a number of questions about B.C.'s current film-cutting policies.
    The film classifiers have two problems. On one side, there is a Vancouver market for sexually-explicit motion pictures, a market large enough to support three adult movie theatres on the U.S. side of the border; two in Blaine and one in Point Roberts.
    On the other side, there are various citizens' lobbies who traditionally view such material with alarm. Determining the community's standard of tolerance is no easy task.
    In March, 1978, the B.C. attorney general attempted to do just that. In a guideline memorandum issued to police and crown prosecutors, he specifically banned materials depicting sex with violence, with animals (bestiality) and with juveniles.
        Consenting adults involved in sexual situations are another matter. In November, 1979, the classifiers began a "quiet test" of community tolerance toward such scenes in theatrical motion pictures.
    For the first time, the classifications branch permitted scenes of mouth-genital contact (what sex therapists call cunnilingus and fellatio) in films passed for exhibition in Granville Street's Kitten Theatre, a 16mm storefront operation catering to the adult-film audience. They continued the policy of cutting close-ups of oral and genital intercourse, as well as ejaculation scenes.
    In July, 1981, the controversial costume epic Caligula was passed uncut for exhibition in B.C., and the general public was made aware of the new cutting standards. The response was such that Caligula ran for 66 weeks, during which time a second 35mm theatre, the 492-seat Haida on Kingsway, successfully adopted an adult-film policy.
    At the same time, home video stores were proliferating. Although many had explicit sex films under the counter, one chain drew attention to itself by specializing in them.
    In November, 1982, two Red Hot Video shops were fire-bombed by an urban terrorist group calling itself "the Wimmin's (sic) Fire Brigade." In May, 1983, a Victoria provincial court judge ruled that three videotapes distributed by Red Hot Video were obscene.
        Obviously the problem of community standards is far from settled. Emphasizing the fact that her office functions as public service, B.C. classifications director Mary-Louise McCausland says that "until we get a clear indication one way or the other, we'll make no further changes."
    For the moment, then, the film classifiers are in a holding pattern. The unintended result is that movies like Up 'n' Coming offer audiences a particularly skewed impression of human sexual activity.
    Because the picture's explicit intercourse footage has been eliminated, Marilyn Chambers and her co-stars seem to spend a disproportionate amount of time orally connected. Such explicit stimulation notwithstanding, none of the males in the film is seen to climax.
    The problem here is not one of content, but of logic. People who disapprove of explicit sex films probably disapprove of oral-sex scenes as much as genital-sex scenes.
     Those who approve would probably prefer that such films be shown uncut.
    Up 'n' Coming tells the story of Cassie Harland (Chambers), an aspiring country-and-western singer who does everything to succeed. Though it's no great work of cinematic art, its sex scenes all involve non-violent, consenting adults and, as such, pass muster by the standards currently in force.

The above are restored versions of two Province reviews by Michael Walsh originally published in 1983 and 1984. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: In the early 1980s, B.C. film classifier Mary-Lou McCausland's "quiet test" was one unusually intelligent civil servant's attempt to turn private reality into public policy. The 1980 feature Insatiable, and the promotional visit Marilyn Chambers made to Vancouver to do an interview on its behalf, made it possible to bring an articulate porn performer's voice into the discussion. In 1981, with Italian director Giovani Tinto Brass's controversial feature Caligula still playing in Vancouver, the NFB released its anti-porn documentary Not A Love Story (1981). A year later, activists firebombed two local video stores. When Chambers returned in 1983 to promote Up 'n' Coming, we talked again, this time in the sort of question-and-answer format that allowed her to speak directly to the anti-porn lobby's talking points. Today, porno movie houses and video stores have gone the way of most downtown department stores. Even so, pornography remains with us as an "issue" in discussions of the Internet. And Chambers's common-sense words on the subject remain worth reading.         

See Also: For a comprehensive consideration of her life and career, I recommend Jared Stearns' website Private Chambers, The Marilyn Chambers Online Archive.