Thursday, May 14, 2015

Hardcore (Paul Schrader, 1979)

The only explanation I can come up with to explain why the glass partition in the nudie booth where George C. Scott hooks up with/enlists the help of Season Hubley is so thoroughly jizz-laden, is that the spunk cleaners must have been having some kind of labour dispute. I mean, how else can you explain why the glass, and, I suppose, the floor (some guys are dribblers), was covered with, to quote N.P.H., "love stains"? Unless what we saw was the result of only ten minutes of self-abuse. Think about it, it's 1979, and people loved to ejaculate sperm in places other than their home. Nowadays, no one does anything away from home. They jerk off, they watch movies, they jerk off to movies, they play video games, they read books (or book-like facsimiles) and they consume massive amounts of carbohydrates all within the confines of their own home. In Paul Schrader's Hardcore, however, if your teenage daughter runs off to do porn in L.A., you going to have to physically get on an  airplane (i.e. leave your home) and pretend to be a shady, toupee-wearing smut peddler if you ever want to see her again. Imagine someone doing that today. Actually, if this film was made today, I bet the parents would be the one's driving their kids to audition* for, oh, let's say, "Anal Face-Fuck Fuck-Face Fuckers Vol. 17" -- thanks to E! and MTV, depravity and indifference are in vogue.

And the reason has nothing to do with bad parenting skills on the behalf of the parents. It's because porn is viewed differently today. At the present time, thanks to the internet, porn is everywhere. But back in the 1970s, porno was still seen as taboo. Oh, sure, the climate that created porno chic was a real thing. That being said, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, specifically, its Dutch Calvinist community, porn is the personification of pure evil.

I don't know if this was done on purpose, but the first twenty minutes look like something straight out of one of Lawrence Welk's wet dreams. Meaning, it's extremely square and lame as fuck. Seriously, Christmas caroling, turkey craving, tobogganing... white people in sweaters?!? What is this shit?

Call me callous and somewhat deranged, but I let out a mild cheer when Jake VanDorn (George C. Scott) learns that his daughter Kristen (Ilah Davis) has gone missing. It's not that I want anything bad to happen to her, it's just that I want this small town nightmare to end; it's like watching a greeting card come to life.

Anyway, over in California to attend some kind of church camp, Kristen apparently took off while at Knott's Berry Farm. And like any good father, Jake flies over to L.A. to talk with the police. Since the cops are swamped with cases involving missing teens, Jake decides to hire Andy Mast (Peter Boyle), a sleazy private detective.

I'd like to say, before I continue, that I couldn't help but notice how pervasive Star Wars was in this film. Now, of course, I'm acutely aware how insanely popular the movie was back in the late 1970s, but I had no idea it was this popular. There are at least three separate instances in Hardcore where the film is referenced. The first comes when Jake pokes around his daughter's bedroom looking for clues that might shed some light on her disappearance and we see a Star Wars calendar on her wall. The second occurs when a Star Wars billboard is briefly visible on the side of a building near Jake's hotel. And the third, and my personal favourite, takes place when Jake enters a sex club and we see two strippers mock fighting on stage with light sabers.

What I think I'm trying to say is this: It baffles the mind to think that something that was originally conceived to amuse ten year-olds in 1977 is still being talked about. In fact, J.J. Abrams–yeah, that's right, the guy who did the score for Night Beast–is apparently making a new Star Wars movie. Weird, wild stuff.

Okay, let's get back to George C. Scott's journey into the scummy yet strangely beautiful world of porn, shall we?

Realizing that neither the police nor Peter Boyle are fully committed to finding his daughter, Jake strikes out on his own. This strike out, by the way, is signified by a deep, synthy-sounding synth flourish followed by the sound of a screeching guitar; the film's score is composed by Jack Nitzsche, Cruising (another film with great synthy-sounding synth flourishes).

Of course, who is the first person George C. Scott runs into during his initial foray into the porn world? Why, it's Repo Man's Tracey Walter! Just as Jake is about to start browsing the shelves of an adult bookstore, the clerk (the aforementioned Tracey Walter) informs him that there's a fifty cent browsing fee. Can you believe that? A browsing fee.

The next stop on his foray are a couple of pseudo massage parlors that offer "body-to-body contact." As you might expect, Jake gets nowhere at these places, and leaves with nothing but a bruised face (his failure is punctuated by being thrown face-first into a parked car by a bouncer after getting rowdy).

Deciding to employ a different tactic (and a different wardrobe), Jake pretends to be a businessman from Detroit who is interested in becoming a porn producer. After getting his foot in the door, Jake eventually meets Nikki (Season Hubley), an adult film actress, who agrees to help him, for a sizable fee, naturally.

Even though Season Hubley's Nikki walks the same streets as Princess, her character from Vice Squad, I think her performances are vastly different. And that difference has a lot to do with George C. Scott, who brings out the best in Season. Not to imply that she isn't good in Vice Squad. It's just that Wings Hauser is no George C. Scott. Look at George's body language when he enters the adult bookstore run by Tracey Walter and compare it with the body language he displays when he enters another adult bookstore later on in the film. He was able to convey a change in his character simply by the way he walks. Now that's fine acting.

While the film ultimately has more to do with snuff films (pure fantasy), Hardcore is a pretty authentic look at the porn world pre-videotape. Well, everything except the scene where the show a porn being shot outside at night. Edit: Having recently seen Alex de Renzy's Pretty Peaches, I can confirm that some porn films did in fact shoot outside at night. Nonetheless, I'm sure it's still kinda rare.

* Audition? How cute. Your teenage daughter is making a D.I.Y. version of "Anal Face-Fuck Fuck-Face Fuckers Vol. 17" in her bedroom as we speak. Go check. I'll wait... Pretty rad, eh?


  1. Yum-Yum! Great post and selection. Got turned on to this by "Every 70's Movie" blog a couple years back, it's a great film with some great acting performances despite it's subject matter. Your screenshots are awesome!

  2. Excellent site Yum Yum, one question though, do you know one way or the other if director Paul Schrader got permission to film in the very conservative town to quote this article "Grand Rapids, Michigan, specifically, its Dutch Calvinist community" that George C. Scott's character has lived supposedly all his life. Schrader told the community leaders the film was to titled "The Disciple" or something similar, only to do a 180 degree turn and use the title "Hardcore" as if changing the name of the film would really keep the citizens of Grand Rapids from having a good old fashioned conniption fit when the film was eventually released. Thanks again for the site, it's a great place for a weird film fanatic who is just pushing 60 years old and misses so many of the films you've listed here.

    1. Thank, jeanmacgreen.

      I have no idea how Paul Schrader went about getting permission to film in Grand Rapids. But I do know that Schrader was born there and based Scott's character on his Calvinist father.