For those keen on filmmaking history and a taste for big-bust nudity (and a few docile willies), Secrets of Sex is a chuckle-inducing romp from the ‘60s that manages to educate and entertain respectively. Antony Balch’s first feature (co-written with John Eliot, Martin Locke, Alfred Mazure, Maureen Owen and Elliott Stein) uses the conceit of a centuries’ old mummy (delectably voiced by Valentine Dyall—too bad his bandages weren’t in sync with the lines, a detail that wouldn’t pass muster today) sharing seven tales of woman/man relationships where in all but two, the partner most frequently on top ends up squarely on his bottom.
In effect, the result is a loosely linked series of short stories, guaranteeing variety of locations, situations and skin tones. The music tracks provide extra zest. The opening back-story has a marvellously- cheesy orchestra-score with violas leading the way amidst much brass, accompanying a buff threesome—literally—having a roll-in-the-hay. J.S. Bach organ works back a somewhat stilted striptease from a woman in black leather before the cast is visually introduced over the rhetorical statement: “Imagine you are making love with this young woman(man).”
More, er, organ and a touch of harpsichord set the aural scene for the torture chamber story (curiously alike to The Book of Revelation and Sebastiane—cross-references below) where the male model is well hung indeed, but not in the manner one might expect (the dwindling hourglass and cigarillo add subtle, metaphoric reinforcement to the action).
Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture opens the cat-thief cum bed-mate story with flair only to be followed by a Johann Strauss Waltz as bodies dry off (but heat up) after a painstaking wash with lemon-cucumber soap. The Cobra radio is fully scripted between the musical offerings to provide much sly innuendo—another deft touch from the artistic trust.
A zany, silent, black-and-white film-within-the-movie (replete with piano and full-screen captions) for the spy-spoof yarn (re-cue the menacing muted brass) is a hilarious send-up of TV secret agents. Much more daring in 1969 (ah, how appropriate) are the same-sex couplings that make their one and only appearance before Agent 28 (a.k.a. Lindy Leigh) brings new meaning to the term “safe house.”
A literal creepy-crawler lives out a lizard fantasy with a blood-curdling scream and a few comic-book “zaps” exciting the ear at key plot moments. Soothing café music is the perfect foil to a greenhouse full of an aging “Madame’s” 17 former lovers (each one now a blooming flower with stamens well tended). An unexpected voice from the past—in what surely ought to be titled What the Butler Saw—settles past-due accounts and provides much fodder for the composter.
Being the era of free-love and permissiveness, the closing group-sex scene effectively sums up that decade’s comings and goings (over-the-top are the seemingly endless stream of fireworks cutaways …). Marvellously, as the bare threesome have an encore—Balch’s last straw?—the orchestra delivers a combo pack of Beethoven’s “Pastorale” Symphony (not intentional) and some slightly altered strains from Duke Ellington’s “Caravan.” The journey into the hearts, minds and undergarments of women and men seeking “desirable/unattainable” encounters only to be “aroused then disappointed” with their partners concludes with the bodies-beautiful untangled at last.
Balch has pulled this collection of strange bedfellows into an intriguing whole. Promoted as “The film they tried to stop!,” one really has to wonder what all of the fuss was about in 2010.
Also included in the generous helping of extras are two short-films from Balch. Towers Open Fire (1963, 10 minutes) is a disturbing cinematic/opium trip into the dark side of white supremacists (featuring William Burroughs). With no music but a cantus firmus of male voices (largely “Yes, hello” in varying inflections and speeds, along with the repetition of medical/psychiatric examination questions such as “Does it seem to be persisting?”), The Cut Ups (1966, 19 minutes) is a mesmerizing voyage into symbolism (much related to the Vietnam war) and beauty (a young man’s torso is seen from various points of view). Both productions reveal the ability of Balch to effectively raise a host of issues even while experimenting with his craft. JWR