The First Time (1978) or: How to separate sex from sex with Anthony Spinelli

Have you ever pondered about the question of how a film centered around authentic, thus outwardly far more equable renditions of intercourse can manage to tell encounter from encounter, to dinstinguish the metaphysical weight being thrown around so freely? Anthony Spinelli’s „The First Time“, the prolific director’s final offering in a longstanding streak of outré, highly avantgarde films preceding his second coming as careful constructor of more narratively inclined fare, seems to have been constructed entirely around this very idea and adds the further challenge of answering without ever sacrificing its carelessly understated tone.

No more than two, later three perspectives does he need to properly flesh out the mood of the first sex scene. A formely frozen mouth in profile serving as a westbound backdrop during credits comes to life and begins sucking on a cock incoming from the cadrage’s previously empty left field. When we first come face to face with the owners of these hacked off body parts the direction of impact has been reversed in one of Spinell’s playful but almost mathematically precise juxtapositions. Now his dick is pushing into her from the initial position in an american composition. The final angle finally introduces as to their features. There’s something odd about this decidedly construed flow of images, an imbeded feeling of fakeness. It’s all a machination, they’re just going through the motions. A close up of his torso, even closer, climax – then the camera furtively pulls back from the proceedings. We’re at a porn shoot, she is Sue (Mimi Morgan), our heroine for the remainder of these fast-paced 70 minutes, he just a random performer granting Sue „The First Time“. On screen.

Like with so many of Spinelli’s luckless protagonists from this era, retrospective vignettes enlighten us about the meaning of the titular phrase’s meaning. Sue did formerly experience sex with Jan (Joey Silvera), but even then something not immediately tangible felt wrong. Offering variations of out of tune elements – music, montage, acting – that’s what Spinelli brings to the table as a hidden cogency beyond his hardly ever interrupted flow of carnalities. Few did employ the dreaded revue style of porn filmmaking in a comparably potent and affective fashion. Here, back in the beautiful house they shared when they first loved, it is music that’s missing the point time and time again. Far too gentle in nature it ponders over the scene, unable to offer the two any guidance on how to move, caress or feel – just floating along. Harmony can’t last if it never properly gets into gear. Mere minutes and a ruthlessly contrasting ellipse later Jan is unemployed, toxic and rapes his girlfriend on a far less silky bed – or pretends to do so. Rash humping, a now gaudy score, her smiling face – she’s enjoying this!

Illusion, illusion, illusion (a frequently evoked one in Golden Age pornography) – reanactments of illusions, these three on a surface level highly distinct scenes all serve to underpin this notion. Our perception of filmic reality is slowly twisted by striking directorial choices. Characters transform not through real developmental curves but much rather the way they perform horizontally – Jan’s rapid descent from from tender lover to good for nuthin‘ deadbeat is more pronounced in bed than outside of it, with both approaches to sex acting as spikes in disparate directions. There is a third layer to the linguistic construction „The First Time“: Sue meeting Jake (Jack Wright) back in the present mere minutes after the very shoot that caused her to reminisce about the past. Invited to a party of his they inadvertently end up between the sheets together. Extremely long foreplay – that includes his member being extensively fondled through the briefs as well as an ice cube insertation with real time melting – and a once more shapeshifting soundscape – now the composition has a distinctly mysterious ring to it – mark a difference: The penetration itself is comparatively short – almost as if this were real life and not just a fantasy in another fantasy, an extended array of them.

The more Sue reconnects with her buried sex life, the more physical and real everything becomes. This is her true first time – coming out as a self-proclaimed „whore“ and taking a liking to it. Immediately post-intercourse she whips another female partygoer and although dialogue suggests male insistence, the underlying rhythm reveals it’s actually the other way round. That whipping itself incites montage, music and a barrage of always just a sliver harsher shouts from the audience. „Harder, harder!“ – and still you’re the master of your feelings. Another Spinelli reversel, highly remiscent of a strangely similar scene in his earlier household drama „Confessions“ (1977) employing decadent varietes of food as a stimulant for indulgence at a festivity. Sex is a framing device for Spinelli, a means to reveal everything his minimalistic 70’s plotting purposely leaves out, act by act. A woman desires, gets raped, breaks out of personal or societal boundaries and gets raped once more for good measure as well as her troubles.

You read that right – we’re haven’t reached our final destination yet. Jan doesn’t take kindly to Sue’s new found self-fulfillment and promptly hurls himself at her again when she catches him in another woman. Experimental, at first exclusely drum based attack tunes are slowly infused with lurking bass lines and paint a far more resonant than hitherto experienced picture from the get go. Far less enthusiastic features spout pleas that linger on even after Sue is drugged with an oversized syringe. Discovering rape as a reality or more precisely: realizing past experiences with a glued to your back partner where precisely this all along. Few managed to capture the sad mental processes associated with marital rape as offhandedly and breviloquent as Spinelli. „The First Time“ is also the singular moment in time where you finally grasp what a potent drug patriarchal structures and concepts like marriage or exclusive relationships can, at their very worst, form. The way the first instance of sexual abuse was recounted to us actually served to nourish a distrust in our instincts, the very same instincts love or its mental image can potentially clog in our everyday interactions. Accordingly the force of impact is doubled now. „Fuck her!“, exclaims Jan while he forces his new lover to peg the discarded one with a strap-on. Symbolism too heavy-handed for most movies but fitting right in as a further spike in Spinelli’s escalation tactics, the progressive slidings of displeasure. Actualities can shift freely from minute to minute.

Hopping out of bed Sue triumphs: „Personally, baby – I don’t give a shit!“ – „Please don’t leave me!“, Jan is obviously reduced to shambles, but it’s too late. Those were the final words, in slow motion her open mouth wanders to the right, towards the door, exit bound. Cut. Credits. The relationship arc from Fassbinder’s „Die bitteren Tränen der Petra von Kant“ (1972) shortened to a mind-bending take. What Spinelli’s nonchalant attitude masks is this: An understated tone can reap even more thought-provoking fruit. Streamlike his mise en scène allays the alertness until you seriously hit your toe at something unexpected beneath the serene surface – the smuggled goods of radical thought in your everyday fornication film.

The First Time – USA 1978 – 70 minutes – Direction: Sam „Anthony Spinelli“ Weston (as „Leonard Burke“) – Production: Allan Schatz – Screenplay: „Richard Delong“ (?) – Cinematography: James Barbetta – Editing: ? – Music: ? – Cast: Mimi Morgan (as „Mimi Morga“), Joey Silvera (as „Joey Sivera“), Jack Wright, Suzannah French (as „Georgia Ilene Drugg“), Sonya Spizer and many more

Dieser Beitrag wurde am Montag, Februar 3rd, 2020 in den Kategorien Ältere Texte, André Malberg, Blog, Blogautoren, English, Essays, Filmbesprechungen, Filmschaffende, Filmtheorie, 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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