Tabitha Stevens teams up with former late night cable soft porn auteur Gary Orona for the porn propaganda film SANATORIUM.
I had become aware of Orona's absurd pretensions with the preposterous CRIME & PASSION softcore movie a decade ago. Rarely have flashbacks been so poorly and contrivedly handled. His forté was more in the HOTEL EROTICA series mode, and lately Orona's been paying the bills by cranking out some of those horrendous XXX parody videos.
But for SANATORIUM he thinks he's the next Kubrick. Rarely have I seen a filmmaker (and credit be due, Orona does use film rather than video cameras) so self-confident in his clearly over-reaching intentions. Orona make fellow pornmeister Zalman King look like Mr. Modesty.
For anyone interested in Orona's intentions (he baldly states "you probably have to see the film four or five times to understand it"), you can listen to the ego-tripping director's commentary track -I couldn't bear more than 5 minutes of its drivel. I will deal with the finished product, minus the spoon-feeding, which after all should stand on its own, even in this decadent DVD/Blu-Ray era.
The actual auteur is star Tabitha Stevens, who hooked up with Orona for a self-reflexive soul-searching vehicle. No, it's not the "INSIDE" movies of porn stars that were so popular 30 years ago as crafted by Joe Sarno or Wes Emerson. Instead we have an abstract, mystical and frankly idiotic tract complaining about not only Tabitha's personal problems but her more universally felt issues with the Adult industry and our repressive society. It makes for tough sledding for the viewer, who is doled out the requisite XXX sex scenes from time to time as sustenance.
Perhaps a fan of Brecht, Orona has structured the film as a pair of dialectic arguments between Tabitha (playing herself) and a straw man Republican Senator Harold Grimm from Utah, as well as an evil puppet-master figure named Marcellus, convincingly overplayed by a guest star from the music industry, former Guns & Roses keyboard man Teddy 'ZigZag' Andreadis.
Alternately waxing poetically or just confrontationally, Tabitha expresses her resentment to these two creeps, who basically tell her to eat it. Of course oral sex is Tabitha's forté, and her fans receive quite a few examples of it over the course of the 131-minute film. But in between the heavy Orona trip of would-be symbolism and stark, negative imagery is tough to bear.
Flashbacks, dated from 2005 to 2009, give us glimpses of what Tabitha the porn star has to put up with. Basically, she's dealing with a cruel industry made up of mercenary producers, of whom Marcellus is the personification of what's the worst. We see a video being directed in May 2005 by Ron Jeremy, in which Ron yells cut! repeatedly, but is overruled by Marcellus, intent on turning a routine roughie into a snuff video. This snuff motif recurs later when one of Tabitha's collaborators seemingly shoots a starlet to death in a remote shack, an image that haunts our star.
The title refers vaguely to Tabitha's alter ego Kelly trussed up in a strait jacket and disgusting masochist's head gear, freaking out locked up SAW-style in Marcellus' back room (or is it a real sanatorium?). True to his nature, Marcellus is often playing little intro passages on the organ before launching into his tough talk with Tabitha -you can't keep a good keyboard man down.
Silliest segment of this overlong exercise in tedium looks like Orona watched a video of Harold Becker's fine (but never appreciated) 1985 movie Vision Quest. I interviewed Becker when he was promoting that film in its pre-release phase and have always admired his work, but Orona takes the Native American concept and has Tabitha ludicrously dressed up in a Fred Olen Ray bikini version of an Indian lass outfit, heading to a cave in the desert for four days of fasting, cleansing, meditating and getting mystical. Despite some pretty desert vistas of rock formations, it's stupid footage and won't earn Orona a DGA card (unless his Cinemax efforts have already snuck him in).
Nick Manning as the Senator is a terrible actor -after all, having a big cock and humping are all that matters on his résumé. He's a pivotal character here and I was heavily distracted by his resemblance facially to Jean-Claude Van Damme! Mr. ZigZag fares better, though he is such an overbearing performer that it threw the film off for me, sort of resembling what happens when a similar guy Penn Jillette is allowed to hog the screen.
But SANATORIUM is basically about Tabitha Stevens. At age 40 she has a right to complain about the Industry's sexism, when Marcellus points out that "luscious young girls are what the public wants". Ironically, just such a being, Kagney Linn Karter, is cast as the type of starlet supplanting Stevens, and her sex scene in a 2009 flashback is more arousing than T.S.'s many outings here. Similarly, a four-way orgy starring buxom Raylene, Francesca Le' and a couple of guys (one of them, Mark Wood, Le''s real-life hubby) is a major turn-on, with Tabitha just watching this sequence as a voyeur nearby.
Stevens' hard-edge look, very fake lips (she resembles Steven Tyler facially, way too much for my taste) make her difficult to endure in the nude and having sex for the better part of an hour and a half. Worst scenes are her high-handed monologues addressed at the viewer or the hypocritical Sen. Grimm. They play like a porn industry PSA - complaining tediously about the "preachers, lawyers and politicians" who stifle individual freedom. Just as I rush to turn off C-SPAN whenever the Tea Party folk or Libertarians mount their daily soapbox, it's hard not to turn off this video when Tabitha starts running off at the mouth.
Tech credits are impressive, in a lost cause.
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