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Three unrelated stories. The first is about a dissatisfied, hurtful couple clinging together to spite each other rather than take the risk of finding a relationship. The second story consists of a series of female clients at a psychologist's office that each tell their bitter and sad stories of how they developed their attitudes towards men or sex in general. The final story is a day in the life of a model that can't seem to get past posing for the men's magazine circuit, the daily abuse she deals with, her feelings of enslavement, and the impact upon her sanity. Written by
Celebrating its 30th anniversary at this moment of writing, Gerard Damiano's most ambitious and metaphor-filled movie has stood the test of time rather well, presumably because it was ahead of its time back when it originally came out. The film opens ominously with the caption how in the beginning we are born, in the end we die and the middle is called life. Immediately, you're aware that this is not going to be your typical, run of the mill fornication flick even as it follows a traditional vignette structure, splitting things up into three separate episodes, roughly corresponding to the aforementioned birth/life/death triptych. Each segment has its own tone, beautifully communicated through intricate writing and accomplished acting, along with its appropriate visual style courtesy of for once NOT ace cinematographer and back then Damiano regular Joao Fernandez (a/k/a "Harry Flecks") but the otherwise rather undistinguished Beyen C. Mitchell of LET MY PUPPETS COME infamy, further enhanced by a superb score mixing original music with library tracks with Johnny Pearson's popular "Sleepy Shores" employed to particularly haunting effect.
Kicking things off with searing intensity is an eye-popping psychedelic disco scene straight out of Roger Corman's THE TRIP ironically, one of few dated elements here as we're flung into psychodrama with the hateful relationship between Nancy Dare (formerly "Nina Fause" of Carlos Tobalina's MARILYN AND THE SENATOR fame) and Robert Kerman (a/k/a "R. Bolla"). The wife freely admits to her despairing best friend (excellent Crystal Sync in a non-sex bit) that her only reason for maintaining their miserable marriage is that she doesn't want to make her husband happy by actually leaving him ! Some sort of counseling is definitely in order for these two and Bob's buddy, well played by the always intriguing Michael Gaunt, directs him towards the highly theatrical brothel of Madame Zenobia (heavily accented character actress Celia Dargent). Panting passion princesses, including superstar Terri Hall of STORY OF JOANNA in a blink 'n' miss cameo, line the path that leads a bewildered Kerman past men dressed as women and vice versa allowing lanky Tony Mansfield and the angularly alluring Sharon Mitchell to strut their stuff with his own masked mystery lady awaiting him in the last room.
The movie's mid-section is undeniably the most conventionally conceived of all three, at least on the surface. A sympathetic female psychiatrist (Sue Bright) listens to the tales of woe recounted by her consecutive patients. Samantha Fox first appears as a young girl whose feelings of guilt towards her own sexuality were alleviated by her listening in on sister Leonie Mars' lovemaking with her husband Herschel Savage in the darkened adjacent room, leaving only the contours of their bodies discernible though muddy video versions have completely obliterated the effect. The bitter divorcée up next is surprisingly well-played by little-seen Linda Maidstone, star of Roberta Findlay's subversively sleazy RAW FOOTAGE, in a deliberately unsatisfying one night stand with less than hunky Phillip Marlow, who was also in Zebedy Colt's rough FARMER'S DAUGHTERS. Gloria Leonard, still Ms. High Society at the time, brings up the rear so to speak as a lonely boutique owner lusting after pretty young client Victoria Corsaut from Chuck Vincent's VISIONS, billed as "Valerie Adami", in a very beautifully shot lesbian encounter.
Narrative coherence returns in the final and often considered finest episode concerning shy model Nicole Andrews (a career performance by lovely, underestimated Susan McBain, the underworld nymph from Chuck Vincent's sleeper VISIONS) who makes ends meet as a much in demand call girl. Great '70s New York footage as Nicole flits about town from one assignment to another, slowly losing her grasp on sanity with ultimately devastating results. Seems like everyone wants a piece of her, whether it's lecherous magazine editor Damiano (face unseen, but the voice is familiar) or the clients seeking sexual services (and, worse, her whining mother) filling up her answering machine at all hours. An orgy sequence involving the cult favorite likes of Vanessa Del Rio, C.J. Laing and deceased Big Apple denizens Bobby Astyr and Wade Nichols might strike as gratuitous but looks and sounds so ghoulish due to creative camera angles and inspired use of an echo chamber that it fits right into this doom-laden tale.
ODYSSEY (appropriately subtitled "The Ultimate Trip") rarely receives the same accolades accorded to other Damiano masterpieces such as DEVIL IN MISS JONES or STORY OF JOANNA, though it absolutely belongs in that illustrious line-up as far as I'm concerned. True, there's a thin line separating ambitious from pretentious and not everyone agrees that the director managed to stay on the right side thereof. Several viewings I watch the movie at least once every two years have revealed such a multitude of minute subtleties that could fill an entire term paper however that I stand by my personal assessment of the film as one of the most daring, intellectually challenging as well as erotically stimulating adult endeavors ever assembled.
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