Essays on cinematic narrative. The focus is a set of dynamics collected under the concept of folding, a related system of techniques to model agency and causality.


Published: 14 May 2012

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Private Teacher (1984)

A Welles-influenced set of folds with a Shakespearian bonus.

This has to be one of the best cases you can make for paying attention to some porn.

The film was written and directed by a fellow named Gary Graver. In the seventies, he worked for free as the cinematographer for Orson Welles' last and most ambitious project: 'The Other Side of the Wind.' Welles basically invented cinematic folding and this was to be an extreme adventure.

It never saw the light of day. Later, Graver discovered that he could make films with some flexibility and get paid for it, so long as it had porn sequences. This is the most interesting one. It has enough sophisticated ideas that one is tempted to use it to imagine what Welles had in mind.

We have two story lines, both involving porn shows that are entered.

One follows a woman who is horny (of course). While we watch her, she watches a TeeVee show. That show is about tuning into your own sexual awareness. While she watches, the sexual guide literally steps out of the TeeVee set and they have sex. Impressed, she hires this guy as her 'teacher' and they go (I think) to Las Vegas, where they have more sexual adventures.

Meanwhile, she has a teenaged nephew living with her that she is concerned about. While she watches her TeeVee show about discovering sex, he is watching his own show: the house next door where two sexy airline stewardesses who dress up in silly costumes for sexual romps in their own ‘shows.’

The aunt hires a private teacher for this boy while she is out of town, but in this case, she is supposed to be an academic tutor. As she is played by the star — then quite famous — we know that sex will develop.

How this happens is very cool. The only academic lesson the teacher gives is one on Shakespeare, where they read aloud.

Now, there are many, many Shakespearean passages that deal with lust, sex and romance, but this passage deals with something far deeper. It is the instruction Hamlet gives to the players of the play within the play. It is the very touchstone of folding in film.

The passage is Hamlet advising his actors to be passionate but not so much so that it seems fake. So it is doubly apt in a porn film.

Shakespeare appears again as the teacher leaves. Again from Hamlet, it is the passage where Hamlet mentions his 'incest couch' which he shares with his mother. Then — back in the porn story — our teen indulges in incest with the now returned aunt.

This business of shifting between viewing-the-story and in-the-story is pure Welles.

A less sophisticated example from this era is ‘Behind the Green Door,’ (1972) which is a simple folded show within a show that relies on some literary references.

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© copyright Ted Goranson, 2012