‘The pain of being a woman is too severe!’ – The films of Roberta Findlay: Angel Number 9 (1974)




    I’m beautiful in my way
    ‘Cause God makes no mistakes
    I’m on the right track, baby
    I was born this way

    (Lady Gaga – Born This Way)


Appearing almost too simplistic in condensed paper form the basic premise of Roberta Findlay’s “Angel Number 9”, one the earliest all-out hardcore films of her career and thus the starting point of her creative peak as a filmmaker, is a prime example of her remarkable ability to elaborate further just by the powers of a thoughtful mise-en-scène. Following an argument with his pregnant girlfriend scumbag Steven (Alan Marlow) is in a karmic twist of fate promptly run over by Marc Stevens’ VW bus, which is – for the sake of fellatio at the hands of another seemingly abused soul (she simply wanders away post accident) – lacking a focussed wheelman. But to learn his lesson he’s immediately resurrected by divine intervention to walk the earth again gender-switched.

That’s it – the rest of Findlay’s film is a mere yet supremely sophisticated array of copulation. Stephanie (now played by Darby Lloyd Rains and for further alienation purposes voiced by Findlay herself) gets her being-a-woman-package delivered entirely by means of thrusting penises and the odd vagina alone – a rather fabolous and somewhat bleak evaluation of the human condition at the same time. It must have been exactly this quick-witted association technique that aided Findlay in far exceeding her meager budgets time and time again for the course of more than 20 exciting, above all commercially successful years in genre filmmaking and is reduced to its core mechanic, its pulsating heart in this exceptionally cheap effort. Adapt and change seems to be not only the course of action in regards to filming locations, which rarely stay for long, but more importantly a visual narration technique undermining a certain story imminent change. The fleeting, carefree existence evoked by almost strolling travelogue shots featuring Marlow or even originating from inattentive Stevens’ side window is officialy announced over when this directorial salience slowly creeps into the background following Stephanie’s emergence, making room for a more elegiac pacing. A clear split among so many others, “Angel Number 9” is filled to the brim with opposing entities of filmic but also philosophical nature.

The single most important one among these being on prominent display during our heroine’s short-lived stay in heaven. Steven, who is according to future tormenter Angel Number 9 (Jennifer Jordan) entitled to “one last affair with a woman” (patriarchy’s obviously a thing in heaven too), shifts his form in a scene that can only be called the striking opposite of his graphic final act: non-existent. His female counterpart is not the result of a slow, special-effects-laden transformation scene akin to the likes of Mario Bava’s “La maschera del demonio” (1960) – it merely appears post-coitus out of some foggy primeval soup engulfing the composition, suggesting complete rebirth rather than a fluid transition. Man and woman – they’re cleary not the same in Findlay’s film, as different as moon and earth and yet strangely entwined: Never, not even for one second is this integral transformation not a curiously flawless one, Stephanie instantly thinks of herself as a woman, accepts her upside down world utterly devoid of any second thoughts. Mounted in immediate neighborhood to the above mentioned creation sequence her ecstatic excursions into lustful self-discovery with a shower head as well as former girlfriend Linda (Day Jason) create a sharp contrast, a double mirror and perhaps an early reminder that it’s our identity not a pre-assigned gender dominating our lives. Alan Marlow’s take on this two-edged character seems as much in denial as Darby Lloyd Rains appears to be an enthusiastically blooming flower. As per Findlay’s usual penchant for remarkably – especially in light of the early Golden Age’s penchant for rather depressing fare – sex-positive juicy parts even they make a curious u-turn towards fervour once our stinker turns into a sensual female. She, Rains and Findlay alike, nails it herself: “At this rate I’m gonna turn into a nymphomaniac!”

But good things don’t last, they say. In its relentless positivity the first half of “Angel Number 9” nearly succeeds in painting this metamorphosis as a liberating act almost comparable to a long striven for sex reassignment surgery … only to let it all crumble down in another shocking split separating the movie but more precisely all preparatory work from a card house’s rapid time lapse destruction over the course of two for once inseparable sex scenes. Craving through what can accurately be described as “My Dinner with Jamie” Stephanie falls for everyone’s favorite Golden Age sleazebag. The famed Concierto de Aranjuez’ second movement strikes up and confronted with a sudden wish for marriage Mr. Gillis let’s out a “Sounds great!” so utterly uninvested in its intonation that it’s bordering on the comical and yet restrained by an unforeseen lack of humor on the directress’ side. Findlay is obviously in cahoots with us, already knowing what Stephanie should know about her saviour. With the outcome of this dinner thus predetermined this quintessential date scene is transformed into the most bitter subversion of its kind. Romantic only for a few seconds – then, as the sex ensues or even before, pure melancholia, slowly escalated by Rodrigo’s exploding composition alone while the compulsory open fire glows mockingly in the backdrop.

Music is integral to Findlay’s bridge-building vision of cinema – her work being equal parts rock opera (“Sweet Punkin I Love You….” [1976]), seedy punk concert (“Tenement” [1985]), cantata (“The Altar of Lust” [1971]) as well as exploitation flick, the displayed taste is impeccable and the narrational direction driven, then halted out of the blue by the smallest musical flourishes. There is no more eclatant diversion in our love birds’ second big sexual encounter than the cues employed. “He stripped my soul bare!”, contemplates a devastated Stephanie drink in hand and the stellar opposite of nude at a raging party’s counter, distant while everyone around her is not only undressed but engaging in rhythmic fornication set to Ravel’s ever-marching Bolero. Jamie, now bedding the once repudiated Linda, is jollier than ever, enthusiastically celebrating each and every syllable when not moaning in pleasure. The subdued version of of his unhinged mid-seventies screen persona peeled away, a flaming phoenix is ready to get off. It’s blatantly obvious: His shackles are the only ones being rattled in this film. Explaining the difference between two sexual encounters never seemed as easy as Findlay’s pragmatic staging makes it appear.

Woven between these bizarre counterparts, shapeshifting and mirroring techniques is a fine band connecting the two most important sex scenes, heartpieces of “Angel Number 9” – almost as if serving as tin and string phone for secret inner monologue, a plot to arrange the most fiendish wake up call imaginable. Or as the titular character proclaims: “She will beg me very soon for her release!” It finally comes along in the guise of two beautifully carved bookends connecting Steven’s/Stephanie’s last minutes as a man and woman, soldering together both sides’ experiences in a glorious exercise in meta-side-switchery. Going through an exact replica of the opening scene there are two distinct differences between alpha and omega, one spatial in nature, one just plain cruel. Almost parroting Marlow Gillis evokes the former’s defining statement when confronted with Rains’ pleas: “No one makes a fool out of me!” And in a little twist of fate the roles of aggressor and victim are being reversed by the cadrage. Where Marlow once shouted at his girlfriend from the screen’s left field, Rains is now verbally – all too soon physically as well – trashed to the right hand corner. A defeat escalated by another woman snuggling against the lying one’s chest in the strategically placed bed-foreground. Even if a once more masculinized Steven is allowed in heaven again, without his last affair offer condemned to an eternity of decidedly non-penetrative gymnastics with Angel Number 9, it is this horrid transgression that sticks around after all is said and done. In the end it’s always sex teaching the lessons here, all insight stems from entangled loins caught on screen by a filmmaker so subtle in her approach it’s no wonder at all she was for the longest time deemed nothing but a tradeswoman for hire. Real world Injustice does not end like it does in the movies, pandering to the whims of a directing hand. It has to be challenged. And in case of Roberta Findlay’s reputation this is long overdue.


Angel Number 9 – USA 1974 – 75 minutes – Direction: Roberta Findlay – Production: Roberta Findlay – Screenplay: Roberta Findlay – Cinematography: Roberta Findlay – Editing: Roberta Findlay (as “Anna Riva”) – Music: Joaquín Rodrigo, Maurice Ravel, (Roberta Findlay?) – Cast: Darby Lloyd Rains, Jennifer Jordan, Alan Marlow, Jamie Gillis, Day Jason and many more


Dieser Beitrag wurde am Samstag, Februar 2nd, 2019 in den Kategorien André Malberg, Blog, Blogautoren, English, Essays, Filmbesprechungen, Filmschaffende, Midnight Confessions 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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