Tuesday, October 7, 2008

R.I.P., Henri Pachard

I feel awful that it took 10 days for me to get this news. Apparently the adult movie biz isn’t quite as mainstream as it seems.

The adult film world lost one of its most original voices on September 27 when director Ron Sullivan (who worked under the pseudonym Henri Pachard) passed away after a long battle with cancer. His name will mean nothing to those unfamiliar with the XXX film world, but anyone with even a passing interest will likely hold Sullivan in high esteem. His 300+ long resume as a director shows the adult industry full range of extremes, from the soul-killing, fetish fragmented output of more recent years, to some of the most critically acclaimed, shot-on-film productions of the late 70s and early 80s.

Though Sullivan began his directorial career in the late 60s by generating product for the NYC grindhouse palaces of the ‘deuce, but it was the release of Babylon Pink in 1979 that really launched his career. Released at the height of the “porno chic” era, Babylon Pink consisted of vignettes centered on the fantasies of the female characters; the concept itself wasn’t new, but the stories never felt as though they were born in the brain of a cigar-gnawing capo kicking back in his chair, trying to think of what gets broads hot. While no one would accuse Sullivan of being a feminist, the women in his films (particularly his earlier ones) were allowed to express the limits of their sexuality without judgment, whether this meant dominating their partner, or being dominated themselves. Sullivan was one of a handful of adult industry filmmakers who could showcase the submissive side of feminine sexuality without making you want to call the police.

Sullivan was also one of the few directors working in the 80s and 90s whose films you could actually laugh with instead of at. The Devil in Miss Jones part II (1982) turned out to be the classic that people assume the first film to be – until they actually see it – a handsomely produced, smart, and at times, laugh out loud picture. The scenes in Hell where Jack Wrangler as Lucifer and Robert Bolla (a professional actor whose sideline in porn became a career) as his advocate are genuinely hysterical, as they watch the spirit of Justine Jones move through the bodies of various women on Earth, including a high class prostitute (Jacqueline Lorians, looking better than ever), an Army recruit (Joanna Storm), and even a nun (Samantha Fox). The film, like most of his early work, is also beautifully photographed (it was likely made with legit Hollywood talent moonlighting on the crew) showcasing the heights that the industry could reach when time and budget allowed. It’s also important to mention that the casts of these ‘golden age’ films featured performers with professional training and stage experience; in the second half of his career, Sullivan would be denied these levels of money and talent and titles like Obey me, Bitch began to appear more frequently. But part of what made Sullivan special was the care and energy that went into even the cheapest shot-on-video feature. He loved seeing how far he could push the boundaries of acceptability, and probably no other director has used a toilet as the centerpiece of a sex scene more often and with more humor.

Ron Sullivan was a giant in an industry that isn’t known for cultivating talent behind the camera, and he will be sorely missed. The Adult Video News website has a much more in depth write-up here, and I’ll include a ‘top of the head’ list of some of his more memorable titles below.

American Garter (1993)
Hothouse Rose 1 & 2 (1991)
The Nicole Stanton Story 1 & 2 (1988)
Babylon Pink 2 (1987)
The Brat (1986)
Great Sexpectations (1984)
Maid in Manhattan (1984)
Sexcapades (1983)
Outlaw Ladies (1982)
The Budding of Brie (1980)
October Silk (1980)
Babylon Pink (1979)