Infinitely Insatiable : Memories of Marilyn Chambers

When Marilyn Chambers was found dead in the Spring of 2009 at the Los Angeles mobile home pecuniary problems had recently forced her to move into, mainstream media's approach accorded the obituary mere footnote status, painfully stressing the ongoing chasm between popular entertainment and the pornographic variation thereof.  Shuffling off this mortal coil little over a week before turning 57, Chambers (née Marilyn Ann Briggs) was arguably the first consciously created carnal superstar, meticulously built up for maximum audience impact by San Francisco's Mitchell Brothers taking full benefit from that brief window in time when porn was indeed chic.  Taken aback by her passing resemblance to MOR movie star Cybill Shepherd, whose own career barely recovered after starting at the top in mentor/paramour Peter Bogdanovich's finest film The Last Picture Show, the bros went absolutely ape shit when the struggling thespian - then still hesitant about doing hardcore, although she had already appeared nude in Sean S. Cunningham's sexploitation effort Together - confided that a poorly paid modeling job for Procter & Gamble had landed her as the squeaky clean mom holding the baby on their Ivory Snow detergent box, 99.44% pure !  Grooming her for the big time, as much as a scandal sheet "cause célèbre" as for any thespian or titillating talents she might possess, the Mitchells defiantly declared her "99.44% impure" when their 1972 landmark Behind the Green Door hit theaters.  Even though the company was quick to withdraw stock already delivered, Ivory Snow became the bestselling soap in the country, snapped up by adoring instant fans.

Honoring a return engagements for the SF siblings (whose own tragic fate has been the subject of numerous tell all biographies and one made for cable movie, Rated X starring real life related Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez) in their 1973 fuck film follow-up Resurrection of Eve, Marilyn moved more into the mainstream - well, sort of - with David Cronenberg's characteristically crazed body horror Rabid.  While many a cinema critic took it to task for being a weak tea variation on his earlier austere Shivers starring grand guignol goddess Barbara Steele, most of them also agreed that Chambers (of whom admittedly they expected little) acquitted herself admirably in a "proper" part.  Unfortunately, horror represented its own ghetto at the time and, since adult's novelty value had already worn off by decade's end, would be as close to the multiplex as Marilyn ever got.  Preferably a big fish in a small pond, she returned to the genre that had helped her establish that reputation in the first place, only to find that she was all but forgotten.

One of the all time adult blockbusters, mainly because of Marilyn's much awaited return to the fuck film fold after taking that hardcore hiatus. As far as her sex industry status was concerned, she was well aware that she could pretty much call the shots in ways her abruptly aborted mainstream work would never allow. For her heavily hyped comeback extravaganza, she wisely called upon the talents of easygoing "Godfrey Daniels" a/k/a future TV producer Stu Segall, who had made a seamless transfer from sexploitation (including rough stuff like Saddle Tramp Women and The Dirty Dolls) to full color penetration with a slew of frothy fornication farces like the ludicrously titled but effortlessly entertaining Teeny Buns with Nancy Hoffman and Kristine Heller, the terrific Laurien Dominique showcase Summer School and the sprawling Spirit of Seventy-Sex, his most elaborate (almost epic) and ambitious feature to date. As he would put Chambers through her passionate paces on several more occasions – the sequel, the Country & Western carnal concoction Up 'n' Coming and even some of Marilyn's popular Private Fantasies videotapes – we can safely assume that their collaboration was indeed a happy one.

Production and distribution was handled through Segall's newly founded Miracle Films, with the unforgettable tagline – borrowed from Roger Corman's 1976 cult favorite Hollywood Boulevard, something of a boot camp for future Hollywood honchos Joe Dante and Allan Arkush, previously ported over to porn by the Amero Brothers with their wickedly witty Blonde Ambition – "If it's a good film…it's a Miracle !" Sugarcoating aside and disregarding its top spot on many a favorites list of those in the know, Insatiable actually proves a flawed film in some respects, perhaps none more so than its unnecessarily disjointed narrative. As wealthy heiress, world-famous model and budding movie star – enough already ! – Sandra Chase (Marilyn, natch) wanders through London's tourist traps, complaining to elderly aunt Victoria (well-played by renowned British stage soprano Joan Turner, who was to turn up in Curtis Hanson's superior Cameron Diaz chick flick In Her Shoes) how lonely life is at the top, the story proper unfolds through flashbacks within flashbacks in a structure that would be sophisticated if there were any story substance to support it. Auntie gets the flick's best line as she counters Sandra's selfpitying soliloquy with the remark that you can be lonely anywhere, "at least at the top, the food's better !" Much is made of our have it all heroine tragically losing both parents in a car crash on a trip to Switzerland a few years earlier, hopefully providing an explanation for her naughty needs, but Chambers doesn't seem terribly traumatized, just a happy healthy girl who likes sex a lot. Surely, porn had long passed the stage where supposed psychological aberrations were required to underpin such "bad" behavior in the name of "socially redeeming value" !

Better to focus on the film's handful of – admittedly, perfectly realized – sexual scenarios and let them tell the story instead. Sandra carnally congregates with reigning Hollywood superstar Renée Reynolds (Serena) in a steamy hot tub encounter that now feels frustratingly truncated in most versions due to the elimination of fist insertion footage. Much more satisfying is Sandra's pick-up of adorably dorky Artie Goldberg (Richard Pacheco), resplendent in full baseball Little League regalia, whose car has broken down on the way to the big game. Excellent acting by both stars with dialogue that feels completely natural – as it does throughout the entire movie – heightens the eroticism of the explicit pay-off. The scene everyone remembers, Sandra losing her virginity to crude family gardener David Morris (Georgina Spelvin's tennis pro from Ron Sullivan's superlative Babylon Pink) on the pool table as recounted to sympathetic personal assistant Flo (the incomparable Jesie St. James), has proved problematic for some female viewers as it's one of those "they may (mildly) protest at first" numbers. In its defense, and as far as rape fantasies go (and any Cosmo girl knows by now that it's perfectly natural to have them), this kind of scene has rarely been done to better effect. A tender tryst on a nighttime patio between Flo and matinée idol Roger Adams (John Leslie) supplies a romantic counterpart – complete with marriage proposal ! – with the timetested chemistry between the perfectly matched stars (who worked together on Talk Dirty to Me, Hotline, Matinee Idol, etc.) very much in evidence. Rightfully refusing to be eclipsed, Marilyn brings up the rear – in every sense – with an extended fantasy sequence involving Morris, Mike Ranger and, replying to her murmured pleading of "more, more, more", the King Himself John Holmes !

Production was clearly designed to achieve opulence on a limited budget, establishing a visual style that would become the stock in trade of the straight to tape/cable "erotic thriller" of the '80s. Sandra lives in a huge mansion, drives a convertible and has guests flown in by helicopter. 'Nuff said ? Plus, location shooting, however ineffectual, always gives the impression of tons of money having been spent, with Europe looking particularly expensive to American audiences for some deepseated "Old World" reason. Subsequent TV camera ace James Bagdonas (a/k/a "J.R. Baggs"), who wound up shooting Boston Legal, makes everything and everyone look good with soft hazy lighting. An original song-filled soundtrack, a Segall trademark, completes the package. Even commonly cut-throat carnal connoisseurs like the late Jim Holliday seemed a bit overly impressed with its shiny wrapping paper. Maybe Marilyn's awardwinning theme song "Shame On You" sums it up best : "Sometimes love ain't nothing but a misunderstanding between two fools…" Read into that what you will !

Four years after their box office obliterating firstborn, Supernova Marilyn and producer/director Segall returned for a second helping. Production proved comparatively frugal. Gone was the extensive – yet ultimately pretty pointless – location shooting and even Sandra Chase's luxurious lifestyle, which has gone from opulent to comfortable, seems to have suffered somewhat from the all too familiar "Golden Age drawing to a close" syndrome that marks the difference between adult movies made in 1980 and 1984. In my opinion, such "restrictions" actually help the film out on this particular occasion.  If the original was a fairly overblown affair, erotic fireworks notwithstanding, the sequel proves more straightforward, detractors might even claim formulaic, but the boinking turns out far more enjoyable without all the baggage.

More or less picking up where Insatiable left off, Sandra Chase still rules the world, or at least the entertainment industry as model turned actress turned authoress of tell all autobiography. Ace journalist Morgan Templeton (ageless Juliet Anderson who was to sadly depart soon after Marilyn) wants to learn whether all of her lofty carnal claims are actually true or mere fabrications to further increase her box office bankability. In the process, she learns a thing or two about her own all too long suppressed sensuality as a single mother of two teenage daughters on the verge of erotic awakening.  That's the "plot" in a nutshell but as with its predecessor, though a sheen of surface gloss effectively papered over the cracks, the sex scenes tell the real story. In this respect, the movie's considerably less Marilyn-centric than the first installment and, truth be told, none the worse for it. Sandra's loss of maidenhead to the gardener is somewhat lazily recycled from the original which makes it a flashback to a flashback ! At least it's a great scene that still has not worn out its welcome on this reappearance.

Hotter still as far as I'm concerned, since Marilyn's no longer required to act the coy teenager and can thus be her startling self instead, is Sandra's "afternoon delight" with experienced bondage master Jamie Gillis, by far the heated highlight on this second time around and a great "how to ?" manual for couples looking to experiment. The always appealing Anderson proves no slouch either in another scorching solo – one of her specialties, as Chris Warfield's superlative sleeper Purely Physical ably attested – and her grand finale with Chambers and Bobbie (not Robbie nor Billy) Dee as the photographer who receives one of the most mouthwatering blow jobs ever caught on film from Marilyn earlier on, though eagle-eyed viewers will spot veteran performer Ron Jeremy "stunting" for the inserts. For those whose tastes run towards younger women, there's the dynamic duo of a very youthful Shanna McCullough and Valerie LaVeaux (who turned up in Eve Milan's girlie shows First Time at Cherry High and The T&A Team) as Juliet's hot to trot offspring, ganging up on Sandra's befuddled manager Paul Thomas. Hey, he's got no reason to complain !  Arguably one of the most accomplished cinematographers gainfully employed by the adult industry, Jack Remy works wonders with comparatively limited resources, tripping the light fantastic to make seasoned sirens such as Chambers and Anderson (and, in a steamy fantasy sequence, the notoriously hard to photograph Janey Robbins) look like the goddesses we, true fans, always knew them to be.

Marilyn would return to the material once more, kind of, making her third explicit comeback after toiling in the trenches of increasingly generic cable fare with Chuck Vincent's Party Girls the pick of the litter more than a full decade later in Veronica Hart's disappointing Still Insatiable, very much a sequel in name only.  Her lucrative career as a fantasy femme of small screen softcore hitting the skids as she was pushing 50, she felt compelled to renew her adult acquaintance yet again.  Supremely selfconscious about her image as a sexually active older woman (American Pie, which would immediately popularize the term "MILF", only came out that same year), she was weary to compete with a younger and tighter crowd so she chose a production company that was as close to politically correct as porn could possibly get.  Prior to Larry Flynt's take-over, VCA proudly played by the rules that would hopefully gain them a degree of mainstream acceptance.  Safer sex guidelines were rigidly adhered to.  They had a historical track record with the massive roster of classic titles to prove it.  Plus they were one of the few carnal conglomerates to regularly employ a female filmmaker who had done time on the battlefield herself, in this case Veronica Hart who was well within the same age bracket and therefore instrumental in convincing Marilyn to take the penultimate porno plunge in an intimate industry (which was by now the exact term for it) she barely recognized. 

Major missed opportunity then to find that all Hart, comfortably backed up by Russ Hampshire's production resources, managed to come up with was a slightly above average shot on video feature with some surprising sloppiness in areas you wouldn't immediately expect, especially with regards to sound and editing. Seems like VCA lacked faith in the old gal's appeal. They were after all perfectly capable of creating the type of sexual showcase worthy of an erstwhile superstar, as Seka's American Garter and Ginger Lynn's Torn prove without a doubt.

Though the title and Marilyn's presence suggest otherwise, this was not so much a sequel to the earlier Insatiable movies as another fairytale version of reality the adult business intermittently likes to dish out. You know the chestnut, where an uptight senator campaigning for a crackdown on the porn industry (Chambers - you almost have to appreciate the irony - as senator Charlotte Ballworth) has a change of heart through exposure to some very friendly people, leading her to deliver an enthusiastic pro-porn message to the people who, naturellement, seem to have just been waiting for someone to tell them it's okay to enjoy sex rather than proving themselves the smallminded bigots they really are ! To their credit, VCA did put every last one of their contract girls at the time in this movie, though I think they were trying to divert attention from their seasoned star. They need not have worried. Though by now definitely on the far side of zaftig (a problem they've attempted to solve by forcing her into a corset she never takes off, tactics smut scribe Pat Riley refers to as the "cummerbund effect"), Chambers still effortlessly established herself as one of the sexiest women to ever grace the blue screen, relishing every erotic act in which she partakes, in stark contrast to the detached professionalism demonstrated by most of the younger women.

One exception would have to be the phenomenal Chloe however, practically devouring her male partner (the otherwise underwhelming Steve Hatcher) in the film's first sex scene, a peep show segment which could have turned tawdry but becomes sublime instead. The rest of the sex ranges from lukewarm to seriously stimulating, most of Marilyn's workouts fitting squarely into the latter category. The most distressing thing was the sheer amateurism of the dialogue scenes however, not only hampered by spotty sound quality but often delivered in a fashion as if the performers were being fed lines off camera at the last minute. Hey, anyone who has witnessed our girl's ascent among adult ranks, even though she regularly went AWOL, knows full well that Marilyn could act rings around most of the other chicks in the fuck flick field, making it look like they were deliberately trying to sabotage her blue movie comeback.  Doubly disappointing as the screenplay by Legs McNeil, one of the authors of adult's oral historical account The Other Hollywood, carried definite potential had the odd rehearsal been scheduled.  Chambers fared little better filling out her contract quota on Hart's Dark Chambers and Edge Play, even though VCA's publicity department gave her the proper star treatment the actual features skimped on.  A little older and wiser still, she was to make one last bid for sexual stardom with the self-produced Nantucket Housewives in 2006, the proposed pilot for an ongoing pornographic series which sadly failed to materialize.

Insatiable (1980)
Directed by Stu Segall (as Godfrey Daniels). Written by Daniel Short. Produced by Segall for Miracle Films. Photographed by James R. Bagdonas (as J.R. Baggs). Music by Dennis C. Nicklos & Don G. Sciarrota. Song "Shame On You" sung by Marilyn Chambers. Edited by Joe Diamond. Starring Marilyn Chambers (Sandra Chase), John Leslie (Roger Adams), Jesie St. James (Flo), Richard Pacheco (Artie Goldberg), Serena (Renée Reynolds), David Morris (Nick the Gardener), Joan Turner (Aunt Victoria), Mike Ranger & John C. Holmes (Sandra's Fantasy Lovers). Running time : 77 minutes.

Insatiable II (1984)
Directed by Stu Segall (as Godfrey Daniels II). Written by Manny Haten. Produced by Segall for Miracle Films. Photographed by Jack Remy. Edited by B.J. Cutter. Starring Marilyn Chambers (Sandra Chase), Juliet Anderson (Morgan Templeton), Shanna McCullough (Denise), Valerie LaVeaux (Sheila), Paul Thomas (as Phil Toubus) (Craig Williams), Jamie Gillis (Steven the Dungeon Master), Bobby Dee (Gary the Photographer), David Morris (Nick the Gardener), Janey Robbins & Craig Roberts (Fantasy Couple). Running time : 76 minutes.

Still Insatiable
(1999)
Directed by Veronica Hart. Written by Legs McNeil. Produced by Hart & Chanze for VCA Pictures. Photographed by Barry Wood, Earl Ninn, Wit Maverick & Early Chaos. Music by Lauren Alexander. Edited by Hart & Hugh Briss. Starring Marilyn Chambers (Senator Charlotte Ballworth), Juli Ashton (Taylor), Kylie Ireland (Kerry), Stacy Valentine (Jackie the Chauffeur), Ron Jeremy (Master of Ceremonies), Chloe & Steve Hatcher (Peep Show Performers), Julian (Roger the Bodyguard), Nikita, Vicca & Tyce Buné (Viewing Room Lovers), Mr. Marcus & Julian St. Jox (Bar Pick-Ups), Georgina Spelvin, Gloria Leonard & Veronica Hart (Party Snobs). Running time : 138 minutes.