Midnight Confessions #02: Her Name Was Lisa (1979)




    Just give us a little information, this won’t take long.
    Of course.
    The woman’s age?
    Twenty-six years old.
    Occupation?
    Just put down … ‘entertainer’.


Becoming reputable again is an easy thing to do … just die. And maybe you will end up like poor titular Lisa (Samantha Fox) in the opening montage of Roger Watkins’ bleakest masterwork. Lifted up by the power of a morgue elevator rather than some intricate voodoo magic or toxic waste exposure she rises, strictly metaphorically speaking of course, from the dead, approaching the viewer until her plastic wrapped bare-it-all-pose turns decidedly uncomfortable. But this sad state of existence shall only be a temporary one as Lisa enters rebirth shortly after on the undertaker’s table, ultimately ending up dressed just like Snow White waiting to be kissed awake in a marvelous casket amidst last life’s acquaintences. Becoming an object of fetishization again is an easy thing to do – even after death. Restored to a serene beacon of what is perceived as beautiful she stays there while they turn to reflections on her life in episodes, episodes telling their stories entirely via the means of color, lightning and the copious sex framed by them.

Lisas descent started just like countless other cinematic morality tales would start, but the spark of subversion is already glowing when the sleazy photographer that kickstarts her new career seeks her out because of hearsay as he freely admits rather than typical plotting devices like poverty or a strange craving for paid sex with ugly customers. A side note one might say but in fact the key to Watkin’s deconstruction of our viewing, listening and lastly opinion-forming processes. Achieving this are not the conflicting multi-perspective testimonies of Kurosawa’s classic essay on objective reality “Rashomon” (1950), Bava’s “Quante volte… quella notte” (1969) or newer spiritual successors like “Gone Girl” (David Fincher, 2014) but the comparatively simple and yet so refined method of eschewing all introspective thoughts from the, in other respects quite vivid, ramblings of her former associates. No one seemed to be able to grasp her motivations, her hidden desires, her dreams and fears during lifetime, all they can offer is a deeply subjective take on moments shared. Human beings as mere projections waiting to be filled, mental images born out of desire, irreal expectations or plain carelessness – this is the underlying theme connecting the increasingly harrowing vignettes.

More than once this theme is alluded to by the brilliant cadrage of the sadly uncredited cinematographer’s collected images, who are prepared for consumption by clever cuts – the filmmaking process as a double mirror. During Lisa’s job interview with that certain other captor on filmstock she taunts him: “You like to watch me, don’t you?”, and with that close up of her staring directly into the camera’s eye this question gathers another, not film-immanent audience the moment it leaves her mouth. But we’re not given time to answer for ourselves, Watkins the nihilist does it for us: The male gaze is unforgiving, unescapable – mimicking it the camera slowly wanders down her body, just far enough to erase her head, housing her thoughts and marking her as an unique human being, from the frame. Not an uncommon occurrence in many women’s lives but seldom captured in a more concise and unforgiving manor on film. In the year of Harvey Weinstein “Her Name Was Lisa” seems remarkably fresh and doesn’t give a single iota about the feelings of its presumably still predominently male audience. Watkins conveys the implications of selling your body more precisely than almost anything made in our allegedly more enlightened times, purely visual, not once getting explicit, preachy or wordy in a narrative sense and most importantly without giving a relativizing damn about the rationale behind these exchange deals, which tend to get twisted to fit an at least partially misogynist perspective, to provide means of weighing the fates of more or less deserving women in a suspicious lot of cultural narratives. Only Lisa herself will ever know why she did what she did, whether she worked as an “entertainer” by choice or under coercion and while we are clearly suppossed to symphatize with her the viewer is forced to come to one’s own conclusions nonetheless. Just like her final visitors. She is an individual and individuals have their secrets, can’t be judged that easily. In a way “Her Name Was Lisa” is one of the most ardently feminist films of it’s day and a male filmmaker, perhaps only remiscent of and a sister film to Antonio Pietrangeli’s now widely acclaimed last hurrah “Io la conoscevo bene” (1965), even sharing it’s antecedent’s episodic nature that ties in so flawlessly with the interlinking theme of mental images.

The at first cold blue backdropped sex scene that permanently ties Lisa one of her greatest tormenters, aptly named media as well as smut mogul Mr. Sweet (David Pierce) condenses all feelings involved in just a couple of minutes: A vicious snark battle between the two antipodes turns into a lovemaking session the second he mentions money, a tender love song swells up only to turn melancholy, heavy on sax without any indication, Lisa seems to regret her decision and yet she goes through with it. From this moment onwards the superficially, by the numbers fucking amidst film equipment turns into a proper roller coaster ride of daring color dramaturgies – as the soundtrack turns funky the montage begins to stoke up a little picturesque narrative. Watkins doesn’t need to tell us that Lisa is not “some whore”, we can see it plain and clear – her life is compressed into a single jazz track right before our eyes. While the fucking is still heating up another green backdropped angle of the room becomes featured more prominent. Changing more rapidly now these color coded moods paint a grand panorama of human emotions, finally grinding to a halt on the brownish floor when orgasm approaches – his orgasm of course. The music fades out slowly, sprinkling spots of soft melancholy again.

Brown – the color, the influence of patriarchy it seems. For services rendered Lisa is gifted a flat clad almost entirely in a myriad of it’s many shades, a somber contrast to her girlishly rose gown and an inseperable appendix to Sweet’s dress code, which relishes in remarkably similiar tones when entering this domain. The outlines of possession will be reinforced, blurred, sometimes twisted over the course of the subsequent sex scenes. First up is an explicit sado masochistic encounter between tormenter and tormented, roles that may or may not be dissolved in the proceedings, amidst her brown shackles she proclaims: “Don’t touch me!” Play or reality, male or female power fantasy – we’ll never know. The contrast between surroundings and demeanor is as striking as the dissent between her words and actions. “I won’t let you come, even if you beg me, I won’t let you come!” … then she let’s him. Almost whispering Samantha Fox’ soft, mellow voice resonates through the billowing steam of a roman bath right into Vanessa del Rio’s imposing, power auguring physique – the Golden Age’s strong willed, first female lead of color, she never seemed as untouchable as here, cast alongside an array of neither particularly tall nor otherwise splendorous men. The ranks of Lisa’s proprietors, they follow a strict, linear progression – Paul the photographer offered a camera, Mr. Sweet money, the final entrant unmeasurable, almost hypnotic power and it’s all in the hands of a woman. A cut as sudden as the one leading to this otherworldy interlude plants Lisa back into her flat, right vis-à-vis with Sweet, harboring a slight, near larcenous aggression in her throat, her new turquoise dress holding out a mysterious prospect of femininity refreshed.

Tied to each other through the means of two further sex scenes constituting the two sides of a coin the heinous crime of rape escalates the story together with the discourse on sexual power struggles. Masturbating along to frenzied bongos drowning out, at other times accelerating Lisa’s pleas and two shady cronies of his having their way with her Sweet relegates himself to the watcher role voluntarily, mimicking the behaviour of a moviegoer indulging in the newest roughie flick – a subtle jab at first, transformed into an impaling strike, then a content twisting of the blade when Watkins picks up from here just moments later. But first a deceptive interlude: The roman baths again, Lisa snuggled in the arms of her female lover and big soul sister, an upbeat piece, the dominance of all clearing white implying some sort of inner tranquility. Engaging in tender caresses Carmen’s pleasure giving finger is slowly crept up upon by the camera, measured as if lovestruck till the pulsating red of her nail polish dominates the screen near completely. Lisa licks her now unusually lush lips. They’re plotting something and Watkins is obviously in cahoots with them!

Once again a harsh localities bridging cut hauls back into the centre of attention the dreaded flat, Sweet passively sits in place as if he had never left whereas the red polish has curiously shifted onto the nails of the formerly more submissive woman. Intently the voyeur’s and the camera’s eye measure her from head to toe, sweeping her face out of the composition one more time in an exact reenactment of the male gaze’s former visualization in Paul’s office. Only the context has changed – he who is convinced that he is in charge is very much not. Gloriously unaware he twiddles his thumbs whilst a driving song rears his head, insinuating danger as Del Rio enters the stage attired entirely in black – the black angel of death. Compared to the rape n’ revenge-films that were all the rage in the 1970’s “Her Name Was Lisa” offers up a rather different, lasting solution to that revenging part. Seduced by the two women he shoots his load real quick and intercut with his member shriveling up, turning into a tiny piece of meat Lisa fondles a huge black strap on, her very own, far larger phallus that she promptly forces into his behind. As shocking as the taboo subject if female-on-male-rape must have been to a 1979-audience it still oozes a dark, nihilist form of empowerment – the former loudmouth just lies there, whimpering, crying and yet one feels curiously incapable of feeling sorry for him. The Gordian Knot is not shattered, Sweet unceremoniously killed and the starting situation thus restored as if nothing ever happened. No, he is simply subjected to the very same torment that people like him inflict on others on a daily basis and gets to remember it for the rest of his life – just like every other victim of sexual abuse. His tears at Lisa’s casket are not directed at her but at his own beaten and bruised male pride. This is the last we ever see of him.

When written about “Her Name Was Lisa” is quite often made up to be some sort of drug drama even though this only comes into play during its final episode, its pessimistic afterword that spins all we have witnessed till now wildy. It’s just like the last third of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s “Angst essen Seele auf” (1974) that mercifully lifts the societal pressure on its intercultural as well as intergenerational couple only to bare the fact that the toxic climate of abuse has already seeped into their relationship. Gone is the patriarchic bond that agglutinated our two heroines in the first place, it went out with a bang alongside the last fleshed out male figure in their lives but its influence lingers on still. Again the change is evident in Watkins’ sophisticated color dramaturgies. Pretty neigh indiscernibly the world, or rather Lisa’s flat, which she obviously seldom leaves by now, has turned a couple of slight shades darker. Wrapped up in a cold light blue blanket she stares at Carmen, who’s watching over her, eagle-eyed, dressed in dark blue onesie (a boys color they say, don’t they?), more distant right from her entrance. Veiled in shadow play right out of a German expressionist film the former friend injects a fix of heroin in the broken creature’s arm. A delirious dream plays out: Lisa engages in sex with a couple that blurs the line between the consensual and the unconsensual, between the predatory instincts of both the man and the woman involved. Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused” is blared louder and louder into a room coated in only the slightest hues of grey and green, a drab existence, a world colorized by the naked flesh of the involved, nothing more. Post cumshot, female pleasure is omitted once more, Lisa finds herself in front of mirror surrounded by gloom. Broken finally – not by the countless men unable to extinguish her thirst for life no matter how hard they tried but by the woman she trusted, deemed an ally against the cruel world.

Her final moments of life provide bookends to a story told entirely through sliding color, music, architecture scales: A greasy haired living skeleton wedged in a lifeless black shirt is far from the spitting image of the woman a smarmy photographer had once visited for the beauty attributed to her by other men only to be temporarily stunned by her confident persona. In desperation her stare is fixated on Carmen, who cleverly retreated to the edges of the frame so it can drill right into each and every viewer’s heart. “Her Name Was Lisa” is also, at every single moment a reflection on the industry that gave Roger Watkins work and surprising creative control after his non-pornographic films failed to attract a larger audience but only intensified his bleak outlook on life and broke countless others. An industry that, at least to some degree, preys on sexual frustrations to feed them with abraded caricatures of human beings doing it, to create the mental pictures of people we have never encountered. In one the film’s final images the customer from the dream sequence tries to gently lay his hand on Lisa’s renewed beauty – Carmen, surprisingly protective again, presses it away, taking final control of the deceased’s public image. This restoration effort alpha and omega of “Her Name Was Lisa” revolve around is a dead ringer for this very special moment that reliably crops up among internet communities after a female porn performer’s untimely demise is announced, that peculiar moment “She’s just some porn slut, bro!”, turns into “I’ll have 24h fap-a-thon in her honor!”, or just: “Her name was Lisa!”


Her Name Was Lisa – USA 1979 – 88 minutes – Direction: Roger Watkins (as “Richard Mahler”), Robert Michaels – Production: Robert Michaels – Screenplay: Roger Watkins (as “Richard Mahler”) – Cinematography: ? – Editing: ? – Music: Kraftwerk, Led Zeppelin, Passport a.o. – Cast: Samantha Fox, Vanessa del Rio, David Pierce, Rick Iverson, Bobby Astyr and many more


Dieser Beitrag wurde am Mittwoch, August 22nd, 2018 in den Kategorien André Malberg, Blog, Blogautoren, English, Essays, Filmbesprechungen, Filmschaffende, Midnight Confessions, other languages veröffentlicht. Sie können alle Kommentare zu diesem Beitrag über den RSS 2.0 Feed verfolgen. Sie können diesen Beitrag kommentieren, oder einen Trackback von ihrer eigenen Seite setzen.

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