Centerfold Fever (1981)

Like all great inventions that have facilitated mankind’s further existence, Richard Mailer’s recipe for perfect porn proved almost deceptively simple.  Take lots of pretty people.  Put them in permutations of two, three and well beyond, the more the merrier.  Turn them loose so they can cheerfully screw each other’s brains out, occasionally oblivious to your fly on the wall camera trailing their every move, looking like there’s absolutely nothing they would rather be doing.  Obvious, you say ?  If you have watched as much porn as I have, even from the genre’s hallowed halcyon days, you should already know that such honest erotic enjoyment is anything but a given.  Mailer’s untimely passing at the age of 62 in 2008 – allegedly self-inflicted, as he had been suffering from a muscle-deteriorating disease for several years – merely merited a fuck film factory footnote, even with over quarter of a century of industry activity under his belt (not to mention continued gainful employment almost up until his death, handling Wicked Pictures’  Old World starlets in their natural habitat of Eastern Europe at the dawn of the new Millennium on features like Prague by Night and Meridian Makes a Movie), indicative of his low key approach to both life and art, ever the soul of discretion.

Leaving the existential angst to his contemporaries like Joe Sarno and Gerard Damiano, even foregoing the bemused observations on the folly of human relationships that were Chuck Vincent’s bread and butter, Mailer’s unfettered approach to the form meant critical (if not popular) acclaim was not forthcoming any time soon, even nowadays the genre’s glory days are albeit rather begrudgingly being acknowledged by “serious” sources that previously wouldn’t have touched porn with anything less than a ten foot pole !  Apart from an uncharacteristic early Vanessa Del Rio roughie, the self-explanatory Rape Victims from 1975, he quickly found his footing with a series of lighthearted fun fuckfests he would frequently sign as “Grey Poupon” or “Mr. Mustard“, on account of his unusual predilection for the condiment in question, occasionally embellished with a touch of schmaltz as was the case with One Last Fling, a disease of the week weepie for doe-eyed Bree Anthony.

Pushing past the one hour mark with 1976’s relatively ambitious Safari Club, notoriously reworked in MST3K fashion by Ed Powers for long defunct 4-Play Video in 1992 as PopPorn, he graduated to the big time with the starladen Centerfold Fever.  His most profitable project to date, it paved the way for Connie Money’s comeback vehicle A Taste of Money, Jacqueline Lorians in Classical Romance and Shanna McCullough in Physical Attraction, his deft handling of reputedly temperamental starlets gaining him something of an inside industry reputation.  As such, the suave softspoken confirmed bachelor and gentleman pornographer – appreciated by his peers for his elegance, eloquence and cultured tastes for the finer things in life – proved ideal to put lovely but lethargic Angel through her paces in a series of signature showcases for Intropics (a company he had established himself as Island Home Video prior to take-over) which included Angel of the NightAngel Rising and Honky Tonk Angels among its more effective entries.  Providing an answer other directors perhaps didn’t, Mailer mastered the art of putting the skittish starlet at ease, coaxing an erotic energy and confidence out of her that previous performances at best had only hinted at.

In addition to qualities already mentioned, Centerfold Fever also proves Mailer’s capacity for wrangling considerable crowds without losing his way, always a nightmare when shooting an orgy scene, of which this movie contains several.  Giving credit where it’s due, he received considerable aid from a pair of seasoned professionals he “borrowed” lock, stock and both barrels smoking from Chuck Vincent : the already esteemed director of photography Larry Revene, most likely porn’s best ever, and James Macreading on editing.  Their combined efforts preclude the need for a road map to keep audiences clued in as to who’s doing what to whom at any given moment !  A particularly pleasant title song (“Beautiful Forever” by Miss November and the Calendar Girls, incidentally the East Coast critics’ deserved selection for best adult theme tune that year) sets the tone as credits appear over a montage of actual photo shoots the film’s female stars did for men’s magazines like OuiVelvet and Swank, wittily intercut with a Ron Jeremy interview and Marc Stevens’ advice column (both of which feature conspicuous nude shots of their long-schlonged subjects !), literally climaxing with a copious fake pop shot over a centerspread’s upturned booty.

Editor of fictitious top shelf publication Female Skin, the aptly named B. Scuzzi (Bob Bolla, doing his best kid in a candy store impression) has tired of the conventional route for casting each month’s centerfold, confiding that he “can’t look another pussy in the face“, so he advertizes for a female investigative reporter instead.  He figures that the applicant’s willingness to go that extra mile to get the inside scoop will prove her mettle as model material.  Dim but devoted Kandi Barbour gets the assignment to go interview Marc Stevens, the notorious “Mr. 10 and a half” who’s rumored to be coming out of retirement.  The quips fly fast and furious as accompanying magazine photographer Maniac (motormouth Ron Jeremy living up to the moniker) notices Marc lives at number 10 and a half – what else ? – and the Legend himself (mostly in his own mind, with Stevens in on the joke and gamely playing along) launching into a self-aggrandizing soliloquy that leaves the airhead reporter gasping for air.  Trying to get a rise out of her subject to substantiate the size myth, Kandi’s best efforts are rudely interrupted by his jealous live-in girlfriend, post-op tranny Jill Munro, who took her nom de porn from Farrah Fawcett’s character on Charlie’s Angels and sadly died the following year.  The carnally curious can catch Jill in all of her pre-op splendor in Sarno’s scorching Tigresses and Other Maneaters and Damiano would dedicate her final film, his offbeat thrillseeking catalogue Consenting Adults, to his/her memory.  Retiring from the drama taking place inside, the Maniac lures abused domestic Heather (“introducing” Tiffany Clark in her first real lead following bits in Damiano’s The Satisfiers of Alpha Blue and Joe Sherman’s Plato’s : The Movie) out onto the balcony to doggy her standing up with the Empire State as a breathtaking backdrop !

Having sexually slaved for Stevens for “10 and a half months” (enough already !), Heather figures it’s time for a career change – especially now that he wants her “to do windows !” – with the Maniac providing the proverbial foot in the door, introducing her to the salivating Scuzzi who wants her to probe this month’s midsection cutie Lisa Be whose chirpily recited Playboy profile (with a few straightfaced non sequiturs thrown in to sidesplitting effect) smoothes the path for a luscious lesbo liaison figuring heavily among the film’s heated highlights.  Yep, Heather’s a shoo-in for next month’s centerfold.  Not to be outdone, the ebullient Suzanne (an extremely energetic Samantha Fox) brutally charges into Scuzzi’s office to demand her own shot at skinbaring stardom.  Finding him in the midst of “dictation” with his loyal secretary (demure strawberry blonde Jahn Gold, who’s only other credit’s for group stuff in Sarno’s Inside Seka), she immediately dives in for a dueling knob job, prefiguring a certain Oval Office oral that was to cause waves across the world over a decade and a half down the line by proclaiming Bolla’s prick “presidential material” – huh ? – and advising Gold on “giving head to get ahead” !

Up until now, the movie has been fast-paced and funny with Mailer’s breezy style favorably compared to the zaniness of Mel Brooks by more than one contemporary smut screen scribe.  This comfortable mix of chuckles and chubbies has to clear the way however for the gargantuan group sextravaganza that takes up most of the movie’s second half, first with Suzanne’s undercover expedition inside a porn theater where there’s more action in the seats than on the screen, followed by Stag magazine’s launch party for Heather (who’s the centerfold at a rival publication, huh ?) perpetuating until pic’s end.  Now, the orgy or group scene or clusterfuck or whatever euphemism you wish to employ was a mainstay of ’70s sexploitation with filmmakers of poor imagination piling up cast members in lieu of a proper dramatic dénouement.  Most of them also happened to be confusingly shot and edited and seemed to drag on forever.  As mentioned, Mailer adroitly avoids that trap by dividing the global action into distinctive miniature vignettes that are elegantly drawn together as they are all taking place in a single location.  Hence, Susaye London’s avowed obsession with big breasts inspires an ever expanding all girl mini orgy inside a larger orgy as such bountiful beauties as Susan Nero, Lisa Be and the late Kathy Harcourt generously offer their bosoms for the toothsome cuie’s sustained probing and fondling.  Come to Mama !

Veri Knotty pulls her familiar party trick as part of a mild domination set piece with one shot slave Sharon presented as the evening’s entertainment, followed by a return engagement from Stevens and Munro tripping the light fantastic to that sub-Donna Summer disco ditty (breathless female vocalist cooing “I like it, I like it a lot” ad infinitum) that has adorned many an adult soundtrack.  Overnight sensation Heather presents her latest paramour, identified solely as a rock star (Marc Valentine), quickly pounced upon by a particularly peroxided Robin Sane and blah blonde Bobbi Bell, another single stab starlet, prompting the hilariously generic query : “You’re him, aren’t you ?  That rock star ?”  Left in the lurch, Tiffany’s tenderly consoled by elderly Jake Teague whose succulent spouse (portrayed by Our Lady of Orgasms herself, the inimitable Annie Sprinkle) gets it at both ends – and, briefly, both in one end – from Joey Silvera and Bobby Astyr.  Marking perhaps its debut, Annie’s playful bosom ballet (later to become a staple ingredient of the stage performances she would tour half the world with, my lil’ old Belgium included, yay !) closes a mighty active sex section on a curiously innocent if far from inappropriate note.  Cast as something of a swinger supreme, she gets the movie’s last laugh when responding to the Maniac’s offer of centerfold celebrity with a mock shocked : “What if my mother found out !”

Directed by Richard Mailer (as Richard Milner). Written by Mailer & Kay Wolf. Produced by Mailer & Wolf for Bradford Productions. Photographed by Larry Revene. Edited by James Macreading. Starring Tiffany Clark (Heather), Samantha Fox (Suzanne), Kandi Barbour (Kandi), Robert Bolla (B. Scuzzi), Ron Jeremy (Maniac), Annie Sprinkle (Annie), Marc Stevens (Himself), Jill Munro (Herself), Lisa Be (Lisa), Susaye London (Julie), Veri Knotty (Mistress Veri), Jake Teague (Leo, Annie’s Husband), Marc Valentine (Rock Star), Mike Filene (Porn Theater Usher), David Morris (Flasher), Marilyn Gee (as Dusty Lust) (Porn Theater Patron), Jahn Gold (Scuzzi’s Secretary), Sharon (Mistress Veri’s Slave), Bobby Astyr, Joey Silvera, Robin Sane (as Carlyn Sand), Bobbi Bell (Swingers), Alan Adrian, Kathy Harcourt, Susan Nero, Roy Stuart, Bobbie Burns, Angel, Leslie (Movie Patrons/Party Goers) & Colette Connor (Movie Critic). Running time : 78 minutes.

Tiffany, Ron & the Empire State : Who said porn couldn’t make you feel patriotic ?

By Dries Vermeulen

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