FELICITY (1978) Blu-ray
Director: John D. Lamond
Severin Films

FELICITY gets deflowered anew in high definition with Severin's packed Blu-ray of the eighties late night cable staple and two other works by Aussie erotica auteur John D. Lamond.

Private schoolgirl Felicity Robinson (Glory Annen, Norman J. Warren's PREY) goes from knee-highs to silk stockings when her absent father arranges for her to spend her holidays in Hong Kong with libidinous family friends Christine (Marilyn Rodgers, PATRICK) and Stephen (Gordon Charles). Having already experimented with schoolmate Jenny (Jody Hanson) and spied on a lovemaking couple on the plane over, she feels no guilt about spying on her hosts in the sack but finds herself increasingly hot to lose her virginity. After her inauspicious and painful first time with an older sophisticate (David Bradshaw, THE MAN FROM SNOWY RIVER) who turns out to be a lech, Felicity agrees to some sensual sightseeing with mysterious Me Ling (Joni Flynn, OCTOPUSSY) who shows her the flesh dens of Hong Kong in between helping refugees from Mainland China. When she is rescued from purse snatchers by Aussie photographer Miles (Chris Milne, THIRST), his inability to perform due to drunkenness allows the two to become friends before they becoming lovers. After a three-day whirlwind romance with much semi-public lovemaking (including a blowjob in a cinema showing Lamond's THE ABC OF LOVE AND SEX), Miles departs for a photographic assignment and Felicity discovers through subsequent encounters that the physical just isn't the same without the emotional and sets off with Me Ling's help to track down Miles.

While the story of a virgin inducted into an exotic world of decadence is certainly not a new one, FELICITY models itself strongly after the success of Just Jaeckin's EMMANUELLE (the FELICITY title card even echoes that of the font for the title cards of the official EMMANUELLE series), the novel of which she is seen reading (along with THE STORY OF O and FEAR OF FLYING) and is also mentioned in the film's dialogue. Hong Kong stands in for Thailand, but the film largely eschews the model's pretentious of sexual philosophy in favor of a fleshy, fun, and guilt-free romp through scenic backdrops by an uninhibited and frequently undraped cast (particularly the engaging Annen). Released to cable and VHS in 1984 as a Private Screenings title, FELICITY first hit DVD stateside in an anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen transfer via Severin in 2006 (they later re-released it in a boxed set with the German VANESSA and LAURE from the writer of EMMANUELLE). FELICITY'S HD upgrade is a 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1 widescreen transfer retains the heavy grain and blooming highlights of the film's heavily diffused cinematography. Colors are bold but never quite pop off the screen while close-ups of faces and bare flesh are not as detailed as one would hope. This seems more a combination of the original cinematography and perhaps an older HD master. The original mono audio is available in a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track in which the Linda George theme song (far catchier than Pierre Bachelet's song) and library music have more presence than the dialogue and effects.

Carried over from the DVD is the audio commentary with Lamond and Annen in which the director admits that it is a male fantasy but that it was meant to appeal to women too (Annen calls the film pro-female). The Canadian actress discusses her lack of inhibitions regarding nudity in general but her initial trepidation about doing a sexy film (citing the filmmaking slump in the UK that made an independent production more attractive), adapting to be both Australian and Asian culture after attending drama school in the UK. They both fondly recall shooting on location in Hong Kong, grabbing shots, renting a tram to shoot a sex scene with real "extras" wandering up to their level, and arguing for the differences between pretty erotica and ugly pornography (Lamond admits that he like making sex look pretty and idealized). Lamond discusses the film's successful reception internationally while it was hated by critics domestically but loved by Australian audiences. He also mentions that it was the first of his films that Australian and British censors passed uncut (with the BBFC examiner telling him it was a "pretty" film compared to the American erotic counterparts).

New to the Blu-ray release are outtakes from Mark Hartley's interviews for NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD (59:03) with actress Annen, director Lamond, cinematographer Garry Wapshott (NIGHTMARES), and AUSTRALIA AFTER DARK/ABC OF LOVE AND SEX co-writer Alan Finney (then head of production at Roadshow Distributors, now Village Roadshow). She recalls being just out of drama school, having done only one film role with nudity, and touring on stage with PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM. She liked the idea of traveling to the Far East and her agent convinced her to learn as much as she could about acting for the camera for future roles. She recalls the backlash she received for doing the role from people who had not seen the film and seeing it on the screen with her mother and grandmother in attendance. She expresses some rather conservative views on pornography and violence, but it seems more understandable in the context of her hoping that nothing she had done on screen has resulted in anyone being hurt by any weak-minded individuals who might have been influenced by what they see in the movies. The soft-spoken Lamond, speaking while a stripper pole-dances in the background, gives a rather circuitous talk about his dislike of political correctness, courting controversy, and his preference for shooting sex scenes as nice and idealized compared to American counterparts before offering some discussion on the three films while Wapshott reflects on the "fun and scary" experiences shooting AUSTRALIA AFTER DARK and THE ABC OF LOVE AND SEX and honing what he had learned shooting commercials to give FELICITY more polish (he also reveals that Lamond had him screen EMANUELLE and THE STORY OF O to study their visual style). Co-writer Finney sums up Lamond's success better than the director himself in that he tackled subjects and genres no one else in Australia was doing but with a strong local appeal.

Three years before, Lamond travels behind and beyond Australia’s strip-clubs and gentlemen’s clubs to show us the real AUSTRALIA AFTER DARK (1975). Opening in the salon of Madame Lash (aka Gretel Pinninger) – a disciple of the Marquis de Sade and VENUS IN FURS author Leopold Von Sachar-Masoch (from whose name the term “masochism” is derived) where we witness some rather tame by today's standards (or by the standards of stateside porn) bondage and whipping, to studios where men can rent nude models to paint and create living works of art. After a detour to explore ancient rock art, we head back to the studio of Sir John Sulman prize winner Wes Penberthy who also paints his models before dragging them across giant canvases to create living murals choreographed to classical music. A visit to the Melbourne Gaol gallows shows us a more morbid art style: the death masks of noted criminals including Ned Kelly and a British émigré believed to be the real Jack the Ripper. Things get lighter with a visit to Alice Springs where the locals conduct “dehydrated regattas” (while drinking enough beer to float a boat), and then to the Gold Coast where designer Barry Goodwill custom fits bikinis (which requires the “intricate skill of a watchmaker and the eye of a birdwatcher”). Beach-goers who prefer all-over tans head on over to Daydream Island where bikinis are formal wear. The more sober look at alcoholism among the aborigines, “stone aged men […] rushed into the twentieth century” drinking to “forget memories of the Dreamtime.” Alcoholism among the white residents of the Northern territories – estimated at fifty-two gallons per person per year – is handled more lightly (and why shouldn’t it, they got the Guinness world record for the longest bar).

White witch Eddie Pielk seeks to free topless inductees from the mental prisons of Christianity, but things get more salacious with a SATAN'S SLAVE-esque Black Mass in the woods under the full moon which includes naked witches and a green-skinned Satan. How can you out-weird that: why not a trip to the “very gay city” of Perth where the Reverend Mario Schoenmaker presides over the union of two long-haired, somewhat androgynous-looking blokes in biker gear? Schoenmacker – purportedly a gifted clairvoyant as well – did indeed conduct the first gay marriage in Perth in 1973. Somehow, homosexuals and transsexuals (a Gypsy Rose Lee-esque stripper with a little something extra) transitions to the 1966 saucer invasions in Tully, Queensland as documented by Claire Noble, who believes that the likeness of Trobriand gods are actually extraterrestrial visitors who stop by to collect resources from Earth. The Daily Planet is not the work place of Superman; rather, it is an exclusive gentleman’s club where work-weary gents can get the hot oil treatment from naked chicks. Next, we visit the studio of stag film producer George Schwartz, seen here instructing two performers to gyrate to the rhythm of a musical toilet paper roll. Performance artist Count Copernicus and his troupe strive for the provocative. Copernicus fellates a banana while a topless female stokes a handgun and his clown band wear signs sporting malapropisms like “God Speeds” and “Jesus Shaves.”

Despite a heap of nudity (and a hardcore vignette restored here), AUSTRALIA AFTER DARK is rather tame by contemporary standards (or even in comparison to some of the other Australian films coming out around that period). Lamond’s definition of “after dark” is rather loose in the MONDO CANE mold, combining the controversial (gay marriage, transsexual strippers, alcoholism among the aborigines as well as the whites in the Northern territories, pornography) with the weird (UFO sightings, the deathmasks, various fetishists, black magic) or the simply unconventional (the alternative community) or the exotic (aboriginal art, bikini culture, nude beaches), and some of the segments run a bit too long (particularly the UFO sighting and bum fetishist montage bits). The extended music video-like Count Copernicus sequence would have closed the film with a bang; however, Lamond finishes the film off with an extended bit with a nude Gina Allen diving among the tropical fish (photographed by NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC cameraman Ben Cropp). The end result is more interesting as a historical document than as titillating exploitation (as the director himself admits now). Lamond’s grouping and ordering of subjects – witchcraft to gay marriage to pre-op transsexuals to aliens, for instance, or sticking displaced “stone age” aboriginals and alcoholism in between bottomless boat regattas and drinking contests – may be a tad questionable, but Lamond’s script (narrated by Dennis Gascoigne) is more politically incorrect than intentionally condescending or condemning. Producer Tim Burstall had previously directed a segment of the erotic anthology LIBIDO and later directed the psycho-thriller END PLAY and the period film ELIZA FRASER. The film was also the first of several feature collaborations between Lamond and cinematographer Wapshott, and executive producer Alan Finney (now general manager of Buena Vista International) would collaborate with Lamond on the script for his follow-up THE ABCs OF LOVE AND SEX.

AUSTRALIA AFTER DARK was released on DVD in Australia on a double feature DVD with THE ABCs OF LOVE AND SEX by Umbrella Entertainment. This version was then reissued as part of the six-disc THE OZ-PLOITATION BOX VOLUME 3 (with FELICITY, BARRY McKENZIE HOLDS HIS OWN, MAD DOG MORGAN, PATRICK, and LES PATTERSON SAVES THE WORLD). Sourced from an aged tape master, Intervision Picture Corp.’s 1.78:1 anamorphic disc of AUSTALIA AFTER DARK was somewhat painful on the eyes (presumably the Umbrella disc was also sourced from a tape master as the specs list is as being a 4:3 presentation). It seemed as though 1.66:1 would have been the better aspect ratio as the title card was clipped at the top as were the heads of actors in some long shots; and, as it turns out, the SD version on the FELICITY Blu-ray is presented in 4:3 letterbox at 1.66:1. While the PAL-mastered DVD ran 82:40 as per the Australian R-rated cinema version, the PAL-mastered SD Blu-ray presentation runs 87:42 because it restores previously unseen footage mentioned on the commentary track but not part of the earlier master (the commentary is silent during these segments). The Madame Lash scene gains three minutes of whipping and frontal male nudity while the black mass gains about twenty seconds focusing on the genital area of the sacrificial victim as she is oiled up by the cultists. The stag film sequence gains over two minutes in two snippets which feature some hardcore oral sex and penetration. Although these sequences from the director's master tape are time-coded, it might have been better had Severin used the master tape for all of the feature rather than creating a composite because the time-coded master is better-looking overall. The Dolby Digital mono audio (mainly comprised of narration and library music) is in good condition, although the restored segments also sound a bit better too.

As with Severin Films’ DVD of Lamond’s NIGHTMARES, Ozploitation documentary NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD director Mark Hartley prompts the director on a commentary track exclusive to this release. Lamond reveals that the $50,000 (Australian dollars) production was only possible because of Hexagon’s success with ALVIN PURPLE and that it was very influenced by the Italian mondo films (including Lamond’s choices of library music). He points out that the white witch footage was real – Pielk composed the song “Turn Back the Times” heard over the aborigine footage (the song was sung by Leonie Goodwin, who is seen as one of Pielk’s inductees) – and the black mass was stage (MAD MAX producer Byron Kennedy appears as one of the extras during this scene). The mud fetishist was also a real person who let Lamond film her, while the milk fetishist was a staged bit with actress Marilyn Rodgers (who later appeared in THE ABCs OF LOVE AND SEX and FELICITY, as well as the long-running Australian TV series PRISONER). Lamond mentions that the film was shot in 16mm and blown-up to 35mm, and that he went to Sweden to have this work done after screening the theatrical cut of Ingmar Berman’s 16mm-lensed miniseries SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE. The back cover lists a “John Lamond Trailer Reel” – presumably the one that appears on both the Umbrella and Severin DVDs of NIGHTMARES – but it is not present as a menu option or as an Easter Egg.

Dr. Leonard B. Lovitt lectures his creepy-looking stop-motion animated class in the A-Z of sexual education Australia’s THE ABCs OF LOVE AND SEX (1978). Lamond's second feature film is more consistently entertaining and explicit, although it is somewhat hampered by its alphabetical structure (one wonders if Lamond shot all of the vignettes with specific letters in mind or if the script was organized around the existing footage as if it were a real documentary). “A for Anatomy,” is not very clinical, but it confirms “Yes, there will be full frontal nudity” while “B for Birth” thankfully excludes a “birth reel.” “C” hastily takes us into the world of contraceptive devices. Fantasies and fetishes are spread across the alphabet seemingly at random, some in “D for Dreams” and others in “E for Erotic” (the phone sex vignette – featuring TWINS OF EVIL’s Peter Thompson – probably would have fit equally in “W for Words”).

The narration for “L for Love” stresses the emotional aspect of love-making over some hardcore grinding; there’s more of that in “O for Orgasm” while “P for Pornography” features some stills of adult magazines and a surprisingly tamer look inside the Chat Noir sex club in Sweden. “F” turns out to stand for “fun” and features some random fumbling in a bubble bath while the narrator reminds us that sex is supposed to be enjoyed, while “G for Genitals” features model Katie Morgan straddling an oversized prop phallus (disturbingly seen mobile via stop-motion earlier in the film), and a close-up considerably more explicit than the whole of “M for Masturbation.” The narration of “H for Homosexuality” tells us that not all homosexuals are not all “feminine men and masculine women,” but the sequence illustrates just that with a cocktail party full of bitchy, back-biting “queens” bad-mouthing each other behind their backs (“You’ve heard of Madame Lash; well, she’s Madame Lush”). We then cut to a more crowd-pleasing, soft-focus Sapphic interlude. “I for Innocence” (as well as “Ignorance”) juxtaposes an idyllic woodland sexual encounter with the more common drive-in back seat one, the contemporary reversal of the social stigma of pre-marital sexual experience, and the dangers of sexual ignorance. “J for Jealousy” addresses the double standards of sexual experience between the sexes with a gender reversal sketch in which a leering, PLAYGIRL-reading woman chats up a more reserved man in a bar. “R for Rape,” on the other hand, stresses that rape is not a female fantasy, and Lamond refrains from the exploitative here (sexual violence not going over well with the censors, although Lamond would combine blood and breasts in NIGHTMARES a couple years later).

Lamond had traveled to Sweden to have their labs perform the 16mm to 35mm blow-up on AUSTRALIA AFTER DARK, and returned for this film to shoot interview footage with Swedish Institute for Sexual Research's Maj-Brith Bergström-Walan – who also appeared in the Swedish MORE ABOUT THE LANGUAGE OF LOVE which did really well in Australia – as well as the film’s hardcore interludes (producer Anthony Ginnane had to go to the United States to find noted performers for his softcore FANTASM and FANTASM COMES AGAIN). Lamont drops these bits like bombshells in unexpected places (not “E for Erotic” but “L for Love” and “O for Orgasm” rather than “P for Pornography”). The hardcore sequences are certainly that, and were probably shocking at the time – well, they would have been had they not been censored – and are still surprising now; however, they only show enough to prove the point that they are real (these sequences were heavily edited for the theatrical and cassette releases). Two suggestive letters Q and V are entirely absent, and X is squandered on “excellence” (spelled with a big X). On the other hand, Y for “you” is of interest since it seems to use up every last outtake that Lamond shot for the film, including bits where the actors seem to be taking direction from offscreen, and moments where the performers break “character.” Like AUSTRALIA AFTER DARK, this film is scored with library music; however, it also includes the very catchy main theme “You’ve Got What It Takes” sung by Madeline Bell (this song, and the other Bell song “Your Smile” heard here, also appeared Alex de Renzy's PRETTY PEACHES as well as the Australian WIP TV series PRISONER: CELL BLOCK H which premiered the following year). THE ABCs OF LOVE AND SEX is also more interesting as a product of its time, even if does feel more like it parody sex documentaries rather than using the format to exploit the greater permissiveness of the Australian R rating (which, nevertheless, did not encompass some of the harder footage on view here).

Unlike AUSTRALIA AFTER DARK, Intervision's DVD of THE ABCs OF LOVE AND SEX was the recipient of a new transfer used for the Australian Region 4 Umbrella DVD and that same 1.78:1 anamorphic master has been carried over to the Blu-ray still in standard definition with the PAL timing retained. The version represented is the longest version at 82:51 at PAL speed (the theatrical version was cut by three and a half minutes, and the VHS edition lost roughly five minutes for the same R rating). Some bits of audio are a bit scratchy, but the dialogue and narration are always clear.

Recorded for the Intervision release and carried over to Severin's Blu-ray is another audio commentary by Lamond moderated by NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD director Mark Hartley. Lamond discusses his earlier work in advertising at Roadshow Pictures (he shot the film’s theatrical trailer, which prominently features model Katie Morgan, who is truly the film’s most photogenic face and body). Lamond also discusses the challenges at that time of finding performers who could actually act and would be willing to take off their clothes (as well as the objections of spouses and boyfriends). Hartley sometimes has nasty things to say about some of the cast – including Bergström-Walan, Thompson, and Morgan (who reportedly tried to get an injunction against the film – but he has some interesting things to say about Australian censorship (Hartley’s documentary, which excerpted the “money shots” from various Ozploitation films out of context, was somehow deemed suitable for all ages while the films themselves are still restricted). The Blu-ray closes out with a Lamond trailer reel including NIGHTMARES, THE ABC OF LOVE AND SEX, FELICITY, PACIFIC BANANA, BREAKFAST IN PARIS, and SKY PIRATES. (Eric Cotenas)