The seminal Canadian teen sex comedy is out this week on Blu-ray from Arrow Films. Indy Datta girds his loins.
Video rental stores in the early eighties, before the Video Recordings Act and the advent of the likes of Blockbuster, were like the wild frontier of the movie business. Pirate copies of Hollywood blockbusters rubbed shoulders with video nasties, softcore pornography from long-defunct labels like Electric Blue, exploitation classics such as Deadly Weapons, featuring the artfully named Chesty Morgan, and shelf after shelf of purportedly saucy comedies from every corner of the globe. Every store would feature a landslide of grubby Robin Askwith vehicles detailing the sexual exploits (the, if you will, “sexploits”) of a variety of itinerant tradesmen, of course, but you could also find films from further afield, like the Israeli teen-centric Lemon Popsicle series, and the boss of them all, Bob Clark’s Porky’s.
The still instantly recognisable poster for Clark’s film, which doubled as the VHS box art, promised horny schoolboys a feast of female flesh of a plentiude otherwise only accessible to them via scraps of grot-mag found discarded in shrubbery in the local park, and sharing some of the samizdat frisson of such foraged hedge-porn. You couldn’t get into the cinema to see Porky’s if you were a snotty-nosed twelve year-old, and you certainly wouldn’t see anything like it on British TV, but if you could scrape a quid together between a few of you, and bunk off school for an afternoon, the world of cinema was your titty oyster. Thirty-plus years and a thousand imitators later, can Porky’s still outrage, arouse and amuse?
Well. A strange thing about Porky’s is that it was, in conception, no cynical exploitation piece, but a long-cherished passion project for its journeyman writer-director, who found himself in a position to realise his dream after the success of films like the proto-slasher Black Christmas and the Sherlock Holmes/Jack the Ripper thriller Murder by Decree. Clark’s big idea was to finally represent the high school culture of his own 1950s youth without sanitising its role as the crucible where adolescents discover sex, and so to be able to say something more substantive than previous high school pictures had about the business of growing up. Of course, by the time Porky’s hit cinemas, films like American Graffiti had already started to gently unpick the idealized nostalgic vision of American teenhood that Clark was purporting to shatter, and contemporary films like Fast Times at Ridgemont High were more scabrous and pointed. Clark also aspired to comment on social issues (most notably in the subplot about a Jewish newcomer to the school encountering anti-semitic prejudice) but his film falls short in dramatising those issues, and also in evoking time and place in a way that would put them in context (shooting 1980’s Florida for 1950’s Florida on a low budget means that there is hardly an establishing shot that isn’t of a car park). Reviewers certainly found little, in general, to admire in the film on its initial release, although it had notable highbrow partisans including, if Clark’s commentary is to be believed, Norman Mailer and Arthur Miller.
Considered purely as a vulgar comedy, the legacy of Porky’s is more robust. Its episodic template of a group of teenage boys undertaking various would-be sexual escapades (if you will, “sexcapades”) has, as noted above, been copied to the point of plagiarism, most notably by 1999’s American Pie, which went so far in copying Porky’s as to have its teenagers played by actors who were conspicuously in their twenties. Comedy dates, of course, and while Porky’s doesn’t feel too tame to make an impact after all these years (the female nudity in the infamous shower peephole scene is frank by any standard, and the ensuing scene with fat-joke-butt Beulah Balbricker (geddit?) grabbing hold of one lad’s tallywhacker (“penis is so personal”) through the peephole to stop him running away could easily play in a Farrelly Brothers film, although they would be able to use a big stretchy rubber dong to, er, milk the scene for laughs a bit more) it is largely not very funny, and Clark’s reliance on high school urban legends for the bulk of his story means that most of the jokes would have felt old in the 50s, never mind the 80s. One wonders if the scene where the lads prank call a female schoolmate in her evening job as a diner waitress and get her to ask the diner patrons if “anyone has seen Mike Hunt” was ever fresh enough to be funny on film, for example.
Newcomers to Porky’s may be disappointed to learn that the eponymous strip joint and brothel features relatively little in the film’s plot, particularly as the strain of southern-fried rural grotesquerie that Clark indulges in that plot strand has more real flavour than the rest of the film put together. We only really see Porky’s, and Porky himself, at the top and tail of the film, as our boys are fleeced and humiliated in front of an audience of howling rednecks, and as they take their spectacular revenge. An interesting side note is that the corpulent Porky and his incompetent and corrupt sheriff brother are strongly reminiscent of Boss Hogg and Rosco Coltrane in the TV show The Dukes of Hazzard, itself based on Moonrunners, a film produced some years earlier by Clark.
Porky’s is not a notably handsome film, but the Blu-ray transfer (sourced from Fox) is impeccable. Sound is monaural but, again, probably as clean and intelligible as it has ever been. There is an old commentary from Clark (who died in a car crash in 2007) which consists alternately of score-settling with people who didn’t appreciate his film at the time and comic overappreciation of his own achievement (“my shots are so expansive” he purrs, over a typically unexpansive shot), and an EPK monologue which is more of the same. The best extra on the disc is a monologue from Jim McBride, aka Mr Skin, who in his own lowbrow way places the film more accurately in its historical and artistic context than Clark does – noting, for example, that the heyday of the genuinely raunchy teen sex comedy was fairly brief, and ended by the advent of the PG13 rating, at least until American Pie made R-rated teen comedy bankable.
Par for the course for Arrow, there is an excellent booklet, featuring an excellent essay by Paul Corupe of Canuxploitation.com, as well as a previously unseen interview with Clark.
Porky’s is out on blu-ray this week.