People (1978)

Playing like a series of rough draughts for skits that didn't make it into his 1977 epic "circle of life" sexathon Odyssey (ominously subtitled The Ultimate Trip), à la Disney's perpetual "work in progress" Fantasia, Gerard Damiano's People has too often been casually dismissed as a merely minor effort by one of adult's avowed auteurs.  True, its straightforward, six-chaptered vignette structure with little in the way of a connecting theme, other than the way characters from various walks of life relate to each other sexually, must have seemed like a retrograde step at the time for the director immediately following his most daring and experimental work.  The passing of time has been kind to this particular picture however.  As a matter of fact, it would make the perfect place to start for anyone intent on exploring his richly varied and often surprisingly personal body of work as it could practically serve as a calling card for then future employment, exploring different styles in both sex and storytelling.  One might refer to it as The Many Faces of Gerard, if only this didn't make it sound like a pathetically poofy piece of porno claptrap, surely something the former hairdresser from Queens would have been adamant to avoid !

Half a dozen self-contained short subjects, some of which predominantly focus on sex as performance for an audience of one (or more), while others have the feel of acting school exercises, think Strassberg without the wardrobe.  All but two scenes are exclusively oral, female to male (in other words : fellatio, or good oldfashioned cocksucking), the director's proclaimed personal favorite among sex acts, lovingly slow and sensuous, just the way he liked 'em, with the notable exception of Jamie Gillis jackhammering Serena's tonsils in the first instalment, entitled The Game.  He's a housepainter whose work's not coming along as fast as she, his snooty customer, would like.  Her verbal abuse leads to his turning the tables on her while she's getting herself off in the bath.  As most are aware, Serena and Jamie were a couple both on screen and off, playing out their kinky fantasies privately as well as in public.  Obviously, they were good at it, taking turns in assuming the parts of master and slave.  Although fairly weak tea by their standards, their energetic encounter - at the end of which they're revealed as roleplaying husband and wife - allows Damiano to strike raunch off his roster.  Diametrically opposed at the other end of the emotional spectrum's Goodbye, predictably a two-hander involving a struggling ad man bidding a fond farewell to his long-suffering lady love, who can't afford to tag along (offering a dose of sadly still all too relevant economic reality adult audiences then and now were quite unaccustomed to), now that he has been offered a job on the West Coast.  While Bob Bolla does his usual sterling job, the real revelation proves an uncharacteristically brittle Christie Ford, frequently typecast as a bug-eyed dizzy blonde - in Jim "Clark" Buckley's original Debbie Does Dallas or Ron Sullivan's sophisticated A Girl's Best Friend - but hauntingly poignant here as her resistance gradually crumbles in the face of her boyfriend's sincerity.  Somewhat overused in adult, Johnny Pearson's Sleepy Shores still provides the perfect soundtrack companion.

Chapter three, evocatively entitled Once Upon A Time, shows the filmmaker shifting gears once more, creating an incredibly effective otherworldly mood through glamorous sets and costumes (courtesy of subsequent S&M Maestro Vince Benedetti), set to the obsessive strains of Ravel's Bolero.  An alluring feather-masked innocent (an unrecognizably attired Kasey Rodgers, the hot redhead with Jake Teague in Bill Milling's affable Blonde in Black Silk) is ritualistically prepared by her very hands on handmaidens (cult goddesses Marlene Willoughby and Sue McBain, billed as "Paula Pretense" and "Sue Swan") for apparent sacrifice to jaded millionaire Eric Edwards.  The pace is slow and deliberate as Kasey erotically engulfs Eric's mighty member time and again, adjusting her rhythm as the music builds to crescendo.  Photographic duties have been evenly split between Damiano's longtime collaborator Joao Fernandes (formerly "Harry Flecks" and a mainstay since the days of Throat and Miss Jones) for more intricate glossy set-ups such as these and Jim McCalmont, who was to hit his professional stride on the director's awesome Satisfiers of Alpha Blue, handling their more down to earth counterparts with equal aplomb.  Next up's The Exhibition, a comparatively brief and slightly surreal dungeon number with one shots Michelle and Kelly Green as dominatrix and submissive respectively, putting on a show with an uncredited willowy blonde male slave for the benefit of a peeping pair, the female half of which is fly by night starlet Ellyn Grant who also popped up in Chuck Vincent's Misbehavin'.

Psychodrama's catered for by Samantha Fox thespically strutting her stuff in First Things First as daddy Damiano's little girl Sally easing her doting parent into accepting her fullgrown sexuality.  Always a good actress, Fox alternates eloquently between wisely underplayed adolescent mannerisms when relating to her father, an unusually "deep" cameo for the director, and brazen sensuality as she puts on make up to meet her lover.  Bringing up the rear (so to speak, any anal action conspicuous by its absence) is the late Bobby Astyr, bagging the flick's sole AFAA award for Best Supporting Actor, hitting just the right note somewhere halfway between comedy and pathos as a lovable lonely shlub holed up in a sleazy motel room, waiting for The Hooker.  What he gets is inexperienced and possibly underaged Mary Lou, sweetly played by fan favorite Heather Young (billed as "June Meadows"), soon to deliver a breakout turn in Milling's excellent Satin Suite, bravely standing up to a bulldozing Sam Fox.  Juggling darkness and light, the former episode leavened by unexpected humour just like the latter's given weight by wistful poignancy, beautifully brings Damiano's resumé to a satisfying close as the credits kick in to a mighty strange little ditty called Nursery Rhyme, warbled by obscure off Broadway performer Susan McAneny and composed by none other than Alan Silvestri, prior to hitting the big time as Bob Zemeckis's soundtrack supplier of choice !          

Directed and written by Gerard Damiano.  Produced by Damiano for Maturpix.  Photographed by Joao Fernandes and Jim McCalmont.  Music by Maurice Ravel, Johnny Pearson and Alan Silvestri.  Edited by Damiano and James Wentzy.  Starring Samantha Fox (Sally), Jamie Gillis (Carl), Serena (Carl's Client), Christie Ford (Louise), Robert Bolla (James), Heather Young (Mary Lou), Bobby Astyr (Mr Jones), Kasey Rodgers (Feathered Woman), Eric Edwards (Mystery Man), Marlene Willoughby (Handmaiden), Susan McBain (Handmaiden), Herschel Savage (Manservant), John Thomas (Sally's Lover), Michelle (Dominatrix), Kelly Green (Submissive), Ellyn Grant (Female Voyeur), Vince Benton (Male Voyeur) and Gerard Damiano (Sally's Dad).  Running time : 76 minutes.