There was a weird period in the 1970s where pornography moved from backrooms and stag parties to mainstream multiplexes, with mob-funded films like Deep Throat and Debbie Does Dallas playing alongside the likes of Woody Allen’s Play It Again, Sam and Hithcock’s Frenzy. Court cases alleging obscenity violations flew left and right, and film fans were left to wonder if the gate had been opened for a future with actual mainstream films depicting explicit scenes for artistic instead of masturbatory reasons. Obviously, that didn’t happen, and anyone with a webcam can be a porn star now. However, along the way there were some filmmakers we’d actually know who dabbled on the adult side. For example, a post-Star Trek: The Original Series, pre-Star Trek: The Motion Picture Gene Roddenberry wrote and produced a somewhat sleazy sexploitation murder mystery Pretty Maids All in a Row in 1971. He even put James Doohan in it! It wasn’t a hardcore movie, though. When Bo Derek’s husband John needed money in 1979 he co-starred with adult film actress Annette Haven in the hardcore flick Love, which Bo apparently produced. In 1984, Brian De Palma desperately wanted his Melanie Griffith movie Body Double, a sleezier take on both Rear Window and Vertigo, to be the first big budget picture to feature unsimulated sex scenes. Not surprisingly, Columbia Pictures shot that idea down.
Those cases have been well documented over the years, but this past week the internet seemed to collectively learn for the first time (even though it’s actually been known since 1977) that Orson Welles, of all people, actually sat in on an editing session of an honest-to-goodness hardcore adult film in the mid-70s. The Citizen Kane guy? Who later narrated all those fishticks commercials? And weird Nostradamus documentaries? And provided the hilarious template for Maurice LaMarche’s vocals as the titular Brain of Pinky & The Brain?
Yep, that’s the guy we’re talking about. Take it away, Vulture:
Josh Karp’s new book, Orson Welles’s Last Movie: The Making of The Other Side of the Wind contains a marvelous, little-known story about the legendary filmmaker’s involvement in a high-end mid-1970s pornographic film. Welles, wrote Karp, “wound up editing a hard-core lesbian shower scene that he couldn’t resist cutting in Wellesian fashion with low camera angles and other trademark flair.”
3 A.M. was directed by Gary Graver, Welles’s cinematographer on The Other Side of the Wind. (The productions have several crew members in common.) It is the gloomy story of a dysfunctional family: Elaine and Mark are married with two kids, and share their California home with Elaine’s sister, Kate — played by Georgina Spelvin, who appeared in 1973’s classic The Devil in Miss Jones. The opening minutes, suffused with a great deal of moaning, are a vivid demonstration of Mark and Elaine‘s healthy sex life. Welles’s presence in the editing suite was owed to his own impatience. He’d been working with Graver on The Other Side of the Wind, his unfinished project shot over seven years. Alas, Welles didn’t have the budget to pay the crew. To offset this volunteerism, Graver, who had a family to provide for, worked on erotic films. Welles… reciprocated by working without credit on one of Graver’s hard-core films, 3 A.M. Fuming that Graver was busy editing it instead of working on his projects, Welles volunteered to cut a sequence to speed the film’s completion.
The scene is now being referred to as positively “Wellesian,” with low-angle and high-angle shots which recall his earlier works and fun with audio, specifically the moans from the two women, harkening back to Chimes at Midnight. The whole thing is positively bizarre. You know how sometimes we’ll find some singer or band’s long-lost song or album well after they’ve died, like Kurt Cobain’s last Nirvana song popping up for a best-of album nearly two decades after his suicide? Well, this is kind of the same thing for film lovers, except the long-lost Orson Welles scene we found was from a mid-70s adult film, albeit apparently a remarkably well-made one for the era.