Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Force Awakens

Are movies that explore the darker side of human sexuality inherently exploitative? Does watching movies that feature characters with kinky, depraved sexual fetishes mean that the viewer has kinky, depraved sexual fetishes?

There's no way around it, Toys Are Not for Children (1972, Stanley H. Brasloff) is an exploitation movie. And if this argument were based on the poster alone, I'd say no contest. But, whereas typical sexploitation movies of the Seventies frequently utilized non-explicit sex scenes and some nudity gratuitously, Toys Are Not for Children has a Freudian, highly dysfunctional family backstory that its lead character JAMIE GODARD (Marcia Forbes) is in constant torment from through psychotic flashback episodes that lead her toward a deeply troubled pursuit of a singular goal that unravels gradually through this twisted gem of low-budget filmmaking. I recently attended a screening of a 35mm print projected of Toys Are Not for Children.

I'm not at all ashamed to say I admire Toys Are Not for Children for its craft and bizarre imaginative attempts at melodrama. And for a low-budget, who the hell could this movie's audience possible be? venture, it is an inspiration that someone went through all the way with this. Also, on a technical and formal level, the tons of flashbacks, sometimes quickly intercut, running parallel concurrently alongside the present day narrative, sometimes jumbling adult and child Jamie interchangeably, electronic stinger cues (my favorite), great score, and deliriously taboo weirdness executed with a straight face are compelling. And every moment of Toys Are Not for Children ties into its overarching themes.

Toys Are Not for Children opens cold in an underlit bedroom with an undressed teenager writhing in her bed fondling a nutcracker-style toy soldier repeatedly moaning, "daddy." Her mother bursts in and goes into a hostile tirade that is and will be the only things the mother ever talks about: "It's unnatural!" So, we learn from this first crescendo rant that Jamie's mom is violently inconsolably distraught because Jamie's dad sends his daughter toys, but no longer lives at home, and is off "with his whores," as Jamie's mother will reiterate countless times to come.

Jamie it turns out, is actually in her mid-twenties and works in a toy store where she is loved by her boss, customers, and CHARLIE, whom she marries early on in the movie. They move into a new home together but the honeymoon is no sex for Charlie and Jamie stubbornly argues with him against giving up her toys, until he caves then she unpacks her toy soldier so she can sleep in peace.

Charlie patiently remains the understanding husband, and the toy store owner MAX is funny as Charlie's confidant, I mean these dudes are so bro'd out. When Max happily asks how married life is Charlie tries asking for help, "Maybe you can love toys too much, Max." But Max is sure there's no such thing.

Okay, this plot is way interconnected too. In the first toy store scene Jamie helps customer PEARL who happens to offer her a place to stay in the city, if she would ever so need. Turns out Pearl is one of the whores Jamie's dad slept with, and Jamie's mom knows it. So that's why Jamie's mom keeps telling her why men are no good and she doesn't want her daughter to end up like Pearl, "a painted pig."

Jamie actually thinks Pearl's occupation is really cool and wants in (unbeknownst to Pearl for quite some time). Pearl lives with her bf/pimp EDDIE who keeps trying to have sex with the innocent Jamie, Pearl's friend. One day when the ladies are out having a carefree lunchdate together, Jamie genuinely wants to hear more about Pearl's work and after some resistance on Pearl's part Jamie finally exclaims "But you are a whore aren't you?" The innocence and teenybopper pluck of Jamie gets me. The whole time all I kept thinking was what the hell am I watching and wow this is so good.

Back at home Charlie and Jamie are fighting now. And triggered from another flashback of her parents' ongoing fights Jamie relives her mom's defense of "Is that what you married me for? To get a housekeeper. Then stop complaining." Charlie starts drinking and going to the bar, having sex with random women, which he has no problem finding.

Well, by the midpoint Toys Are Not for Children gets even more awkward to watch as Jamie has succeeded in getting Eddie to pimp her out behind Pearl's back. New haircut and some really slutty work attire don't change Jamie's attitude though, she still projects herself as a nice girl working in a toy store. Oh and Jamie plays childish games with her Johns and calls them daddy. It's tough to watch. But okay, this is going somewhere. Jamie's really doing all this obviously just so she can find her real Daddy. And as the third act climax, it's definitely unnervingly suspenseful when their date becomes imminent. The foreshadowing up to this point has described her Daddy as Pearl warns "a lousy drunk and a John who gets his kicks by putting down women."

Jamie's so happy to be reunited with her Daddy. And the John is loving his date. And it takes him a long time to realize that the reason she keeps calling him Daddy isn't part of the act. He flips out and starts yelling at her, a struggle ensues and Jamie pushes him out of the window to his death.

Poor Jamie. The final low angle shot of her naked, slumped in a corner, staring off into space catatonically as the camera zooms into her eyes while the closing song plays, with the lyric "How Lonely Am I?"


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