Getting Personal (1985)

One of the last really good 35mm movies made by the late Ron Sullivan before he descended into interchangeable shot on video inferno, the relentlessly downbeat Getting Personal feels forged from the same fabric as Andy Warhol's Paul Morrisey trilogy (chronologically : Flesh, Trash and Heat) as it focuses exclusively on the dead end attempts of a couple of bottom rung "lowlifes" to pathetically change their destiny, fearlessly risking audience alienation in a genre that had become rigidly staid and formulaic by 1985. Ron "Arthur Ben" Dorfman's mesmerizingly moody cinematography wholeheartedly wallows in the grime of the dark and dingy San Francisco Bay area dive bar where much of the action, adult and otherwise, takes place. Even Barton Leslie III's characteristically cheesy score feels right at home in such soul-shattering surroundings.

Delivering groceries to hardened hooker Wanda (erstwhile sexploitation starlet Sharon Kelly turned "Colleen Brennan"), immigrant from an unnamed country Willie (Herschel Savage) sabotages the door to her apartment while she's busy servicing john Blair Harris so he can come back later and steal her earnings. Hiding under the bed as she comes home sooner than expected, he learns of the scheme she has got going with crooked lawyer Segal (an all too convincingly sleazy Jon Martin) to supply eager immigrants with green cards through pretend marriages to the tune of $ 2,000. Seeing the dark side to such a deal from another stop on his delivery route, Nina Hartley's material girl Gloria who defiantly declined to divorce once her husband in name only started to do rather well for himself, Willie proposes to the apparently all business, no nonsense Wanda who needs the cash too much in the wake of the burglary to refuse. Her reluctance to kiss him during their wedding night consummation provides one of several subtle touches enriching the narrative.

Soon enough, Willie has become embroiled in Wanda's wicked scams like fleecing shy college professor Henry (Mike Horner) when he takes a walk on the wild side with fellow floozy Lucille (Rita Ricardo, occasionally "Rita Erotica", one of Alex deRenzy's Girlfriends) posing as the desperate wife of a laid-off factory worker. Willie turns up as the latter to catch the couple in flagrante and seal the deal so to speak. Played almost entirely for laughs, this sequence successfully walks the tightrope between wry humor and disheartening pathos, Savage's melodramatic posturing straight out of South of the border daytime TV a particular asset. When Willie's naive enough to entrust the devious Lucille with their illegal gainings, Wanda gets into hot water with loan shark Jimmy the Jinx (director Sullivan in one of his best acting roles ever) who proposes she take care of slumming socialite Sylvia (Sharon Mitchell, really letting her hair down as the sexual shark in a Chanel knockoff) to pay off her debts. This agreement leads to the sad sight of Wanda halfheartedly straddling Sylvia's slurping face as she leans backwards into a toilet bowl in the bar's men's room, blowing a boozed out of his skull Paul Thomas while Willie whacks off on a urinal.

Proving rock bottom's still a few steps down, Wanda agrees to convince runaways Bob (eternally youthful Tom Byron, absolutely perfect for the part) and Judy (Patti Petite, an extremely enthusiastic late '80s starlet shown to spectacular advantage in Bud Lee's Ribald Tales of Canterbury as well as Greg Dark's hit or miss Devil in Miss Jones 4 : The Final Outrage) - who don't want anyone to know they're actually brother and sister - to perform in Jimmy's live sex show for a $ 1,000 "finder's fee", which will go towards paying her tuition at hairdressing school and maybe even Willie's dream of opening his own restaurant. Tension mounts palpably as Wanda, who's well aware of their blood ties, coaxes the nervous teens to overcome their inhibitions, much to her husband's horror. Final scene has the washed up couple reminiscing with regret, Willie admitting he feels scared as a result of the callous depravity he has encountered since he and Wanda got hitched, to which she indelibly retorts : "Welcome to America, Willie !"

An uncompromising Sullivan script comes vibrantly alive through some of the hands down strongest thesping ever witnessed in adult. Savage has probably never been better yet top honors must go to the incomparable Brennan who manages to imbue the pathetic Wanda with humanity even as she's plumbing the depths to make ends meet, taking a stand for her character's lack of choice in the matter as well as allow herself to look realistically haggard without becoming a sexual turn-off altogether. This is still porn after all and the sex proves all the more memorable for being both dramatically justified and performed entirely within character, adding a positively electric charge to even such seemingly throwaway set-up like Wanda's "taking care" of sleazy legal eagle Segal to cement their scam, kneeling pants pulled halfway down beside the bed while Willie's stashed underneath.

Directed & written by Ron Sullivan (as Henri Pachard). Produced by Caballero Control Corporation. Photographed by Ron Dorfman (as Arthur Ben). Music by Barton Leslie III. Edited by Ted Ryan. Starring Colleen Brennan (Wanda), Herschel Savage (Willie), Sharon Mitchell (Sylvia), Nina Hartley (Gloria), Patti Petite (Judy), Tom Byron (Bob), Jon Martin (Segal), Rita Ricardo (Lucille), Mike Horner (Henry), Paul Thomas (Wino), Blair Harris (Wanda's Trick) & Ron Sullivan (Jimmy the Jinx). Running time : 84 minutes.

Latterday Lust Legend Colleen Brennan, formerly known as simulated sex siren Sharon Kelly