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Not in my Wheelhouse: Café Flesh

Not in my Wheelhouse: Café Flesh

Welcome to “Not in My Wheelhouse,” a weekly column in which one of our staff members recommends a movie to another that is outside of their cinematic comfort zone! See other entries in the series here.

The Film
Café Flesh (1982). Directed by Rinse Dream (Stephen Sayadian), written by Rinse Dream and Herbert W. Day (Jerry Stahl).  Starring Andy Nichols, Paul McGibboney, Pia Snow (Michelle Bauer). Recommend by Dan Santelli as a double whammy of sci-fi and pornography.


How Far Outside My Wheelhouse isCafé Flesh?
Dan zeroed in on two genres I don’t watch much. I tend to ignore adult films because they are part of huge film industries that I can’t wrap my head around. (I feel the same way about Bollywood). And science fiction is just not my thing; I’m a realist. This film is both science fiction—it’s set in the future, after a bomb goes off making humans Sex Negative and Positives—and it’s XXX-rated. At the titular café, Negatives go to watch Positives copulate in graphic detail. 

That said, I have been perversely curious about this film since it played at the Theater of the Living Arts, back when I was a teenager. It came out around the same time as Liquid Sky, a cult film I greatly admired, so there is a chance I might like this. 

Pre-viewing Impressions
I have an affection for cult films of the 80s. (See the aforementioned Liquid Sky). I also figured this film would have some terrific new wave-ish production design. I went in with more optimism than trepidation. 



Post-viewing Verdict
I know, that’s a buzzkill, but I could not stop thinking about AIDS as I watched this film. Given all the talk of Positives and Negative, my mind went there, and stayed there. 

I liked Max Melodramatic (Andy Nichols) the emcee at Café Flesh, and even if he was an obvious nod to Cabaret,I enjoyed Max’s patter, his costumes, and even his teasing of Nick (Paul McGibboney). I would rather have watched him perform than all the Positives having sex. 

While I did think the “performance art” scenes were sometimes inventively staged—and the film’s avant-garde set design/art direction were interesting—I was like a Sex Negative. I just didn’t feel anything.

And this is why I don’t watch pornography. I was bored by the sex. Not just because it was mostly of the straight, vanilla style (and felt endless). It’s because I need to feel something for the characters who are fucking. I prefer emotion-infused romance. This was just sex as spectacle. I don’t mind explicit sex scenes, but I found a scene where Lana (Pia Snow) kisses Nick—he’s Negative and becomes sick as a result—and a scene of her pleasuring herself solo far more passionate and erotic than any of the on-stage blowjobs or scenes of penetration or cunnilingus. I cared about Lana and Nick and wanted their relationship to be—ahem—fleshed out more. The film felt too slight for me. The science fiction element(s) were minimal, too; merely a framework to justify why Negatives were watching the Positives have sex. 
I didn’t mind the acting, which reminded me of the flat and affectless performances in Andy Warhol/Paul Morrissey films. Those films are more my style.

I wonder if I would have liked this film more if I had just watched the PG-13 version. 

 Passing the Baton
For Dan Scully, who doesn’t watch costume dramas, I assigned him The Age of Innocence, which he might appreciate because it’s filmed in Philadelphia and directed by Martin Scorsese. It also stars Daniel Day Lewis and Michelle Pfeiffer. I love costume dramas, but I found The Age of Innocence stifling the first time I saw it. I gave it another look and thought it was a masterpiece, so I’ll be curious what Scully thinks. 


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