Ring of Desire (1981)

Ted Roter a/k/a “Peter (sometimes Pierre) Balakoff” was a peculiar man. Born in Brussels in 1930 to Jewish parents, he was tragically orphaned during the war. He survived in a refugee camp where the acting bug bit him. As an adult, he crossed the Great Atlantic to make his name as a supporting actor on numerous B movies and TV shows like The Man from U.N.C.L.E., though he had already achieved a respectable degree in psychology with resulting psychiatric practice in his (and my) homeland. He founded the well-regarded Santa Monica Playhouse, dedicated to celebrating Jewish culture past and present, yet simultaneously embarked on a career on both sides of the camera in pornographic filmmaking, wearing his ethnic heritage on his sleeve by adopting the nom de porn of “Tovia Borodyn” or even “Tovia Israel” when performing !

His highly idiosyncratic body of work initially favored plot and (not always well-motivated) thespian histrionics over erotic content but he would yield towards carnal convention near the end of his career with the likes of Little Girls LostThe Master and Ms. Johnson and Scandalous Simone, his swansong. He passed away at the dawn of the new millennium, aged 70.  From the pretentious early stages of his creative carnal career, letting it all hang out in the wake of the disputable delights offered by his simulated directorial debut with 1970’s Norma (a sexed-up version of Hitchcock’s Marnie), the unwieldy – not to mention jaggedly edited to the point of outright incomprehensibility – Paul, Lisa and Caroline strove to be the type of torturous relationship drama that John Cassavetes was then gaining fame and, in some circles, notoriety for.  The year was now 1976 as Roter would proclaim himself very much a selfmade man, making adult movies unlike anyone else’s. Clearly, this was not always a good thing…

Duly supported by his repertory company (Gena Lee, Monique Fabergé and John Hollyfield, none of whom seem to have worked for any fornication filmmaker other than Roter, begging the question whether they were actually renegades from his legit theater troupe slumming in sexploitation), frequently present and accounted for throughout the dozen or so dirty movies he wound up doing, he would eventually supplement his déjà vu casts with many of the bigger name performers at the time.  This thankfully meant less “realistically” droopy female flesh, the flabby Fabergé a notable offender, nor disparagingly flaccid manmeat (all too often his own) on display, definitely cranking up the heat a notch or two in the process.

By far his most erotically effective effort of a highly checkered career, Ring of Desire once again borrows its structure from Arthur Schnitzler’s oft-filmed play Reigen a/k/a La Ronde (immortalized by Max Ophüls’ and Roger Vadim’s mainstream cinematic adaptations as well as countless porn movies, the first presumably 1971’s barely remembered Hot Circuit by real world renegades Paul Glickler and Richard Lerner cutting their teeth) through a series of couplings with one of its participants invariably instigating each successive encounter until the story winds up back with the first character and the circle is completed. Adult has frequently employed the gimmick of an object, usually a piece of jewelry (in this case a ring, natch) that inspires lust in its proprietor. It is handed out among a group of easily recognizable (and, on this occasion, generally well-acted) archetypes who then proceed to get down to business.

Buying the trinket from a teenage runaway, lawyer Kevin James (the quintessential ’80s toned muscle hunk taking over from saggy ’70s studs, he sadly passed away from cancer at the ridiculous age of 32 in 1987 after wowing fans and critics alike with impressive comedic prowess, especially in Kirdy Stevens’ Taboo II and IV as well as Fred Lincoln’s sincerely sidesplitting Mitzi’s Honor) passes it along to his smoldering secretary Drea after their desktop dalliance. Bill Margold’s significant other at the time, she failed to make waves as a performer, barring a rare lead in Sven Conrad’s stunningly shot Doing It!, but proved a solid directrix with groundbreaking all black fare like Hot – and its sequel Hotter, duh ! – Chocolate. She needs a long lunch break to check up on philandering photographer boyfriend Paul Thomas who proceeds to put the moves on nervous nude model Jennifer West, who essayed the title role in Gary Graver’s steamy ‘Mom & her girls’ movie Tangerine and showed considerably more range than naysayers gave her credit for with an indelible non-sex turn in Stephen Sayadian’s incomparable Nightdreams. Returning home to her jealous lesbian lover, bestselling authoress Georgina Spelvin, the poor girl is put through the wringer as to what really took place under them hot studio lights.  Cue a Master class in LOL lovin’ (as in lady on lady, to all you Twitter twits out there !), something Spelvin could always be counted on.

A party predictably turned orgy thrown by big time movie director Margold, in an unusually subdued performance for this not always appropriately respected pillar of the adult industry, finds him bagging the ring for his troubles in gratitude for Georgina’s sweltering threesome with a pair of blonde twins, the female half of which is little-seen Diane Martin who popped up as one of the ballet school troublemakers in Graver’s criminally underrated Indecent Exposure. It is subsequently snatched by hooker Gena Lee in a positively inspired riotous routine, playing mischievous little girl to Bill’s punishing papa, who has it in turn taken from her by pimp John Hollyfield, as reliably hammy as ever. He offers it to naive Hollywood hopeful Hillary Summers, shining star of Ron Sullivan’s The Budding of Brie and only slightly overdoing the country girl cluelessness cliché.  One of the film’s most charmingly acted and genuinely sweet moments comes up next with Hillary cheerfully turning tricks with an unbelievably svelte Ron Jeremy (hey, the Hedgedhog was a hunk at one time !) who’s kind and considerate towards her, marking him out as the jewel’s next owner. As a “physical therapist” (rather a masseur with an in-depth bedside manner), he pays weekly visits to hefty-hootered housewife Fabergé who just happens to be the wife of the attorney the movie kicked off with.  Their steamy shower suck-off concludes tonight’s entertainment.

Aided by frequent partner in porn Joe Bryant’s candy-colored cinematography and his by now customary classic selections including yet again Ravel’s hackneyed Bolero, Roter wastes scant screentime on intricate intrigue, finally emphasizing sex over story for a change warmly welcomed by viewers worn down by the director’s empty arthouse aspirations. Performers are therefore constricted when it comes to fleshing out their characters in all but the most obvious of ways, varying success dependent of individual prowess. The seasoned Spelvin, stock seductress Lee (a dead ringer for Julianne Moore, who delivered an unlikely career performance in Roter’s maddeningly uneven One Page of Love) along with too often taken for granted manmeat Margold and Jeremy come up trumps, perfectly able to breathe life into wellworn stereotypes.

Directed by Ted Roter (as Pierre Balakoff). Written by Roter & Jaime Michaels. Produced by Roter for HNR Associates. Photographed by Joseph Bryant. Music by Frédéric Chopin, Maurice Ravel & other classical composers. Edited by Stanley Katz (as Sterny Herpowitz). Starring Drea (Brenda), Kevin James (as Chris Parker) (Tony), Paul Thomas (Mark), Jennifer West (Erica), Georgina Spelvin (Pat), William Margold (Rick Kelly), Gena Lee (Starlet), John Hollyfield (Vic), Hillary Summers (Carol), Ron Jeremy (Pete), Monique Fabergé (Tony’s Wife), Diane Martin (Twin Sister), Dusty Reeves, Ken Starbuck & Wayne Reynolds (Party Guests). Running time : 83 minutes.

Ron Jeremy was still slender enough to accomplish this frankly rather mindboggling feat !

By Dries Vermeulen

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