The Story of Joanna (1975)
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Hauntingly sad-eyed Terri Hall plays the titular Joanna, an innocent débutante singled out by wealthy womanizer Jason (the always intriguing Jamie Gillis) for degradation. As any long-suffering literary heroine worth her salt, Joanna takes it all on the chin (trust me, no pun intended...) in the name of love. There is method to Jason's madness however as we find out that he is dying of a mysterious disease and,as a final grand gesture, wants to be killed by one who loves him above all else.
In one of her earliest adult film appearances, Hall brings a touching sincerity to the role of Joanna, the occasionally awkward line reading notwithstanding. A former dancer with the Stuttgart Ballet, she also performs an exquisitely choreographed routine, wearing little more than a modest pubic shield. Her male partner in this memorable sequence is Steven Lark, who was featured in Chuck Vincent's FAREWELL SCARLET and Bill Milling's ORIENTAL BLUE, frequently partnered by Hall, begging the question whether perhaps there was a personal off-screen connection between the two. The only other female performer is Juliet Graham as maidservant Gina. She's best remembered for portraying the evil Queen of Hearts in Bud Townsend's legendary porno musical ALICE IN WONDERLAND as well as the various incarnations of hapless anti-hero Jeff Hurst's fantasy girl in Howard Winters and Roberta Findlay's engaging Walter Mitty adaptation FANTASEX.
The three cigar-chomping aristocrats Joanna takes on in a bid to prove her limitless devotion to Jason are one shots John Koven and Roy Carlton with the bulky bearded guy being regular "roughie" mainstay John (occasionally "Francis X.") Bush, who appeared in Zebedy Colt's UNWILLING LOVERS and a couple of grimy Joe Davian sleaze operas made for notorious New York based Avon Productions, APPOINTMENT WITH AGONY and DOMINATION BLUE. Speaking of Colt, here he delivers one of his most accomplished albeit restrained acting turns - diametrically opposed to his equally indelible loose cannon ranting in Tim McCoy's SEX WISH - as loyal manservant Griffin who performs well above and beyond the call of duty, as witnessed by his obedient oral servicing of his Master, a rare sight in heterosexual hardcore even in the anything goes decade that was the 1970s. A proudly out of the closet gay man with bi-curious leanings, long before the term became fashionable, Colt was never the most potent performer sexually, so it's safe to assume he was stunted for in his mesmerizing extreme close-up lovemaking scene with the heroine.
Setting the story in some vague past (there are hints that these could be either the 1920s or '30s yet nothing too specific), Damiano weaves a monumentally gloomy melodrama that just happens to contain a considerable number of explicit sex scenes, some of them quite nasty, such as Joanna receiving a severe whipping across the thighs in a mirrored room, yet many of them also unexpectedly tender, choreographed to almost resemble sacred rituals. The whole film's gorgeously photographed by Joao Fernandes (as "Harry Flecks") and memorably scored with a mix of real classical music and new tracks emulating well known classical favorites. Best of all in this respect is the repeated use of Albinoni's swooningly romantic Adagio in G Minor, at one point even transformed into a torch song with fitting doom-laden lyrics by Colt, employing two thirds of his real name ("Edward Earle", his last name being Marsh) in this capacity.
The film has a classical setting and it's almost like the director was spoofing the classic romance pictures as the mood, music and performances all adhere to a higher level than what is usually expected from a porn film. This is one of my favourite things about The Story of Joanna; it does feel very high quality and it bodes really well with the sadomasochistic sex scenes. Both the leads approach the film well and put in good performances. Terri Hall is absolutely beautiful and fits into the title role well and convinces as the submissive side of the central relationship. In contrast, Jamie Gillis is mysterious and brooding as the dominant partner which bodes well later on when the twist in the tale is revealed. The sex scenes are of course what most people will see the film for and the director clearly knows how to film something erotically as the sex in this movie is very good. It's also not overused and actually feels like the director is holding back on it at times; which is actually refreshing as porn with wall to wall sex can be a bit dull. Overall, this is a fantastic porn film and comes highly recommend; I'd rate it the second best S&M themed porn after the masterpiece The Punishment of Anne.
The story has wealthy socialite Jason (Jamie Gillis) recounting his seduction of a woman called Joanna (Terri Hall). He meets her in a bar and romances her, bringing her to his lush mansion and securing a place in her heart. Once he's weaselled his way in there, he forces her to have sex in the front room, humiliating her. Then follows the first example of what turns out to be the film's elliptical approach to narrative: Joanna is tied to a chair in a mirrored room, being whipped for an "infidelity" by Jason, with a fierce-looking dominatrix overseeing the event. How the relationship between Jason and Joanna developed this far, what her infidelity was, when in relationship to the previous scenes is unclear - all we know is that he's upped the ante in her humiliation considerably since the last scene. The film then proceeds as a disorientating fragmented narrative, with scenes of Joanna having sex with Jason's socialite friends and his faithful servant (Zebedy Colt).
An unkind critic might think that Damiano was simply being narratively incompetent here, or someone has hacked the film down from a longer version. But disorientation and fragmentation seem to be the codes of the road here, as the viewer is constantly trying to piece the story together, figure out the relationships, find some ground in shifting sands. Damiano's most daring scene has - out of the blue - Jason being fellated by his male servant, a sequence which must have a provocative and dizzying effect on the male heterosexual viewer. It is almost as if the film is playing an S&M game with its audience, pushing their limits and testing their stamina.
The film is beautifully designed, photographed and framed. Classical music accompanies much of the action, with particularly lush use of Albinoni's Adagio in G minor investing the images with a depth of emotion which touches profundity; there's a very odd and quite beautiful sexual ballet at one point.
The Story of Joanna is a dark film, as it turns out that Jason is dying and therefore training Joanna to be his executioner. It is a film designed to have strange and unfathomable effects on the viewer, erotic but also aesthetic and Thanatos-raising. This is a good place to start for any attempt to see Damiano not merely as a hack porn purveyor but as a genuine auteur.
"Story of Joanna" is a dark vision into obsession, voyeurism and dominance. Terri Hall is Joanna, a lovely woman who seeks love, but enters a dark world of sexual dominance under the spell of Jamie Gills, a man obsessed... Gillis has a dark plan for Joanna, a plan that will change their lives forever... and the ending will leave you in utter shock! This film comes close to being an art film, with solid directing and good performances from Gillis and Hall... A recommended film!
** (out of 4)
Gerard Damiano's take on "The Story of O" has millionaire Jason (Jamie Gillis) meeting Joanna (Terri Hall) in a club and soon he takes her home where he sexually humiliates her. At first Joanna is turned off by this but soon she starts to feel something and wants to experience more. THE STORY OF JOANNA isn't as well-known as some of the director's other films from this era like DEEP THROAT and THE DEVIL IN MISS JONES and I think it's pretty easy to see why. This one here is certainly a lot darker and contains some rougher elements that I'm sure most casual porn fans of the day weren't overly interested in. In fact, the film doesn't have its first sex scene until nearly fifteen-minutes into the movie and there's even a male-on-male encounter towards the end of the picture, which I'm sure shocked 1975 crowds, although it won't play that way today. For the most part this is a fairly average porn movie that has a few interesting ideas but nothing great ever comes from the story. I've seen several adaptations of "The Story of O" and I must admit that I really haven't been a major fan of any of them. The screenplay here just isn't interesting enough and neither of the main characters are written well enough to where you even care. Even worse is that I found many of the sex scenes to be rather boring without any erotic nature to them. For the most part I found Gillis to be good in his role but Hall just doesn't work at all. With that said, I think the film is well-directed and there's no doubt that Damiano has a certain eye for this type of film. If the story grabs you then I'm sure you'll enjoy it a lot more.