Zazel : The Scent of Love (1997)

On the surface just another attempt by a rival porn production company – in this case Metro – to ape the sophisticated style of Playboy photographer turned pornographer Andrew Blake, the award-showered Zazel far surpassed its source of inspiration, courtesy of the presence of a true artist rather than a pale imitator behind the cameras. Dutch picture snapper Philip Mond was known and revered by connoisseurs of glossy print carnality for the much needed shot in the arm his idiosyncratic visuals had provided for then somewhat dwindling Penthouse magazine in the early '90s. Their mutually beneficial cooperation begot Mond's first movie, self-explanatory titled Sex Off the Runway, one of Bob Guccione's groin child's infrequent stabs at cornering the explicit erotic entertainment market and a virtual dry run for Mond's subsequent masterpiece. The no brainer winner of AVN's Best All Sex Film prize for 1997 – along with additional compensations for the director's awesome camera gyrations, art direction and famed fornication filmmaker in his own right James Avalon's exquisite editing – Zazel took the industry by storm with its flurry of Penthouse Pets (noblesse oblige !) featured in invariably startling, not to mention subtly kinky, sexual scenarios.

As a matter of fact, if there's anything predictable or pedestrian about the movie, it must be the unifying premise tying together its out of left field flights of fancy. Tortured artiste Zazel, portrayed by ravishing raven-tressed Sasha Vinni who had also decorated Mond's virgin cinematic effort, has to come up with an innovative ad campaign for a new perfume and looks towards nature as well as iconography both religious and pagan for inspiration. Breathless voice over blubbering portentous purple prose that sounds profound but means squat aside, that's it as far as anything resembling a proper plot's concerned, but the images will absolutely take your breath away. Vinni emerges from a crystal pool, painted bright blue and wearing a gold turban as a Hindu love goddess, slowly seducing blond, busty Grace Harlow. Former Vivid contract star Lené Hefner, who proved herself a decent actress under the tutelage of Paul Thomas in movies like Mask and Control, sensually submits to the probing caresses of tattoo artist Devin Deray in a tantalizing tribute to the Japanese erotic classic Irezumi : Spirit of Tattoo. The tiger and orchid body painting interludes provide a stunning "trompe l'oeil" (which literally means : to deceive the eye) effect that viewers are unlikely to ever forget.

The sepia-saturated cherub climax is something to behold as it answers the age old theology conundrum whether angels possess genitals or not. Guess what ? They do, even if they're not their own as Anna Romero and Kevin James (not the Golden Age performer who passed away from testicular cancer in 1990) conveniently "stunt doubled" for the penetration parts as Antonio Valentino proved unable, unwilling or probably just uninvited to sully Sapphic sirens Vinni, Helena and Brooke Lane, who displayed no such qualms in Michael Ninn's Forever Night and Shayla's Web. Ironically, this heavily doctored tableau went on to win AVN's Best Group Sex Scene award, thereby unwittingly scoring another triumph for its behind the scenes technical prowess. Romero returns to chew up the scenery, among other things, as a scarlet devil woman for contrast, beheading Sasha and employing her severed noggin for oral gratification ! Still, my personal choice for best of show would be the black and white coupling of Gina LaMarca and Jon Severini, which really does look like some pretentious perfume ad, with the added appeal of the pervasive passion these real life lovers so obviously share. For those of you, like me, enamored of this delectable duo, they supplied a very modest repeat performance in Brad Armstrong's perfectly palatable Breeders prior to prematurely calling it quits on the porno front.

Mere words can't begin to do justice to the sheer level of perfection Mond and his tremendously talented collaborators bring to each aspect of production, all to glorify the beauty of its ladies to the hilt. Yet rather than with Blake, to whose increasingly tepid universe we forcibly return through continuous critical comparison, these women explore their innate Earth Mother wantonness rather than stand around looking bored amidst spotless designer interiors ! Coloring each sequence with an appropriate musical tone, the amazingly eclectic Dino and Earl Ninn (formerly Double Vision, but settling on their monikers courtesy of their fruitful association with fine filmmaker Michael, subsequently abbreviated to plain old Dino & Earl) still manage to outdo themselves, impressive track record notwithstanding. Reeling from both actual achievement and awesome audience response, Mond took a full decade to return to movies with the astonishing Insexts and the Club Jenna blockbuster Sinema.

Directed & photographed by Philip Mond. Produced by Kenneth Guarino for Metro Inc. Music by Dino & Earl Ninn. Edited by James Avalon. Starring Sasha Vinni (Zazel), Anna Romero (Devil), Gina LaMarca (Black & White Seductress), Lené Hefner (Tattooed Girl), Grace Harlow (Water Nymph), Brooke Lane (Angel), Helena (Angel), Nikie St. Gilles (Blonde), Devin Deray (Tattoo Artist), Antonio Valentino (Angel), Kevin James (Gargoyle), Drew Reese (Demon) & Jon Severini (Black & White Lover). Running time : 120 minutes.