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Campy porn, worthy of the Charles Ludlam or Charles Busch treatment
Now that John Waters has emerged, improbably, as a taste maker and even a Broadway hit, Joel M. Reed's CAREER BED is worth perusal as a potential camp classic for the Great White Way.
I got to know Reed in the mid-1980s when he was palling around with Sleazoid Express founder Bill Landis. Like so many other indie filmmakers I would run into back then (Abel Ferrara, Amin Chaudhri, Maggie Greenwald, Jack O'Connell, Katt Shea, Tim Kincaid, Bill Lustig, Andy Sidaris, Ted Mikels, Jim Jarmusch, Ed Mann, Joseph Vasquez, Sam Raimi, Lawrence Foldes, to name a representative cross-section) he had grandiose dreams and high hopes, but will forever be tagged as the guy who made BLOODSUCKING FREAKS. Well, at least he hasn't been completely forgotten like Mann and O'Connell.
CAREER BED saw Reed in a distinctly overachieving mode, trying to become the Joseph L. Mankiewicz of soft porn. This tale of the ultimate of stage mothers, wantonly sacrificing her own body to get her child a foothold in show biz, has the sharp dialog Mankie made famous in classics like ALL ABOUT EVE, but with a dirty edge. Combine that with the constant howler delivery mode of star Honey Hunter and you have non-stop camp. Why my local Chelsea cinema is not showing CAREER BED every Friday night with Hedda Lettuce hosting is beyond me.
Making for double-barreled entertainment is the casting of Jennifer Welles as Hunter's young pig-tailed daughter. Having debuted the year before in Reed's SEX BY ADVERTISEMENT, Welles' appearance here is literally a "star is born" occurrence, mirroring the fictional role, as we see her going to casting calls with her portfolio of beautiful still shots, and watch the painful ascent towards (elusive) stardom.
Both Hunter and Welles drop their tops for full-bosom nude shots throughout the film, and it is remarkable that the mature Hunter actually keeps pace with the starlet, both sporting spectacular figures.
Georgina Spelvin, who easily could have played the Hunter "mommy" role (but it wouldn't have been funny, since Spelvin can act) is cast as a butch lesbian talent agent who briefly and literally takes Welles under her wing. For the fans, Spelvin also has a topless scene. Once again, Reed also discovered this future porn superstar, whose first two films were these (BED and ADVERTISEMENT) made by him in the '60s, before a long hiatus until Damiano launched her in DEVIL IN MISS JONES.
The rest of the cast (which includes Reed himself as both actor & clapper board snapper in a Welles screen test segment) is mainly perverts, all the better to conjure up stage grotesques should someone take me up on the adaptation bait. There's an obnoxious still photographer (credited as "Stioge Glyspayne" (!)),who seems in love with a blow-up Bugs Bunny doll (!), and who both fellow cast members and the audience cringe at the sight of.
Bald and sleazy producer Ross Miller is played by Charles Buffum as deliciously evil -this guy was also comically successful in PUTNEY SWOPE. The Mr. Nice Guy role goes to John Cardoza (he has a rather spotty career according to IMDb credits), unconvincing as a too-good-to-be-true Broadway director. I kept wanting him to suddenly paw Welles and show his true colors, but no such luck.
Reed keeps a strong leash on the cast until the final reel (when he himself shows up on screen), as the film suddenly turns dark, unfunny and generally taking itself too seriously as it wends towards a "more cynical than thou" pretentious finish. I guess he thought this exercise in camp might be taken as art, when in fact it has had zero impact, and not even created much commotion when more recently revived on video by Something Weird.
Black & white photography, including the requisite atmosphere shots of '60s Manhattan, is very well done by future pornographer Ron Dorfman.
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