Its 1970 and you’re a struggling, low budget movie producer. You decide to invest in yourself and direct your own movie. You manage to complete your sexploitation opus and you are ready to take it on a tour of America’s less reputable theaters when, to your horror, you find that one entire reel of your movie is missing. I am guessing that this is what happened to Paul Rapp. As necessity is the mother of invention I believe that Mr. Rapp devised a “workaround” of sorts and this film, The Curious Female, is the result of his efforts. I can’t prove it but one of the characters in the film actually makes reference to a scenario just like this.
Here is the premise of the film. Its the year 2157. Los Angeles is small island off the west coast ruled over by a master computer named Master Computer. All morality is gone along with any sense of fashion. The only hope for humanity is a rebel cult that meets in a technologically advanced cave on the beach. There they screen twentieth century movies to learn about when society had morals. As they sit and watch these films they caress each other’s half naked bodies in a continuous orgy. Actually that is too generous a description. Actors and actresses lay in piles of gold lamé and beads while they paw at each other with clumsy exaggerated gestures in an attempt to feign sex. But that’s not the point. The point is that as they watch these films they come across one that they really like but it is missing a reel! Aha! This means they have to skip a chunk of the movie right in the middle!
Paul Rapp only ever directed two films, a documentary called Go For It and The Curious Female. Most of Rapp’s career was spent as a production manager. He worked on quite an interesting range of productions from numerous Laverne and Shirley episodes as well as Happy Days episodes, to the infamous Boxcar Bertha, and then Scorsese’s Mean Streets. His career surely had an interesting trajectory.
If The Curious Female is actually a Frankenstein film made by splicing together two movies we need to include the possibility that it was actually made from three movies. The Curious Female is a science fiction film, its a nudie film, and its goofball comedy about a computerized dating service. What ties them together is an inconsistent, incoherent but very insistent moralizing about modern sexual politics.
The Curious Female came out the same year as Russ Meyer’s masterpiece Beyond The Valley of The Dolls. Society was still reeling from The FDA approval of The Pill in 1960. Susan, one of the main characters, clumsily illustrates the mood of the time while sunbathing naked with some other young coeds, “To put it bluntly I think its about time we cast away our chastity belts. I’m telling you girls we’ve got to stop fighting things and just let the chips fall where they may. I’m not saying we should run right out and rape the first guy that we see but if we meet somebody that we really really dig why, why not just relax and let it happen.”
Despite its decidedly hetero bent, this film definitely has a lot to say about being gay in 1970. All of the sexual upheaval opened an opportunity for the LGBTQ community to be heard and seen in a way it had not been before. The Stonewall riot happened in 1969. Gay characters abound in The Curious Female but are mostly the source of comedy. The orgiastic generation of 2175 is however amazed to hear that back in the 1970s men were not allowed to marry men and women were not allowed to marry women.
As for the acting, I’m thinking Paul Rapp was very concerned with etiquette on set. The actors are all exceeding polite with each other. They each deliver their line and then pause before the next actor recites her line. This way no one interrupts anyone and everyone gets heard.
Joan: “You couldn’t even wait one day? Not one day? And with a cheap two bit whore?”
Pause to let the other actor get ready while the momentum of the scene drains out on to the floor like so much spilled milk. Then Paul retorts
Paul: “But Honey…” In a less polite film this would be the cue for Joan to interrupt Paul but instead she waits while the two actors rest and stare at each other a bit before delivering her line.
“Well I guess that’s the best you can afford on a med. student’s allowance!”
You can really see Rapp’s time on the sitcom circuit shining through. Its particularly evident when we are in the future world of 2157. It feels very much like a Star Trek episode. Particularly one of the many where a half-naked, female, space alien, looks longingly into Captain Kirk’s eye and asks “What is this thing you Earthlings call kiss?”
The film the people in the film are watching is about three virgins. They are all in college and all end up using the same computer dating service. The service relies completely on its computer and alternately pleads and curses it. Between this computer and The Master Computer of the future we have a rather heavy handed message about the dehumanizing effects of technology. In 1970 they were still using punch cards but people were sure these new fangled machines would one day take over.
We follow the three virgins as they try different dates and then regroup to compare notes. They face harassment, molestation, and miserable dates but eventually they each lose their virginity. One loses hers at a drug fueled orgy which provides Rapp an opportunity to get groovy with the psychedelics. One of the revelers has a rough trip and yells out all sorts of stuff while the screen goes wild with cheap special effects. There’s colored solarization, split screen, projections on their bodies and of course lots of far out music.
The young, black, virgin discovers after an unsatisfactory sexual encounter that she is a lesbian. She has a proto-feminist talk with a white chick and they get it on, while the music swells and repeats the lyrics “just a little bit of soul” over and over.
The last virgin begins the film as a straight laced, good girl and ends up married to a brute who walks all over her. She loses her virginity to him while breathlessly yelling “No Paul, not like this. This isn’t beautiful!”
In case you have forgotten, this film is being watched by a future generation searching for morality in a world that has lost it. There is no effort to make sense of this idea. Watching nubile, young ladies “cast away [their] chastity belts” is probably meant as a satire showing us that the supposedly loose morals of 1970 are not so loose compared to what they could be in 2015, but then we see that the future generations long for these past moralities. There is no way to make a coherent message out of what we see on screen.
Rapp does manage to take some jabs at the film industry. At one point a scene is abruptly interrupted by a clip of a motorcycle stunt. The people of the future ask why this nonsnequityor is in the film and the woman showing the film explains that focus groups found that movies sell better if they have a motorcycles in them. Rapp also cuts short the interracial, lesbian, sex scene with a screen that reads “censored.“ Our hostess explains that back in ancient times they disapproved of inter-racial sex.
The Curious Female covers a lot of ground. It's a sexploitation film, a comedy, a social and political satire, a psychedelic odyssey, a confused feminist manifesto, two steps forward and one step back for LGBTQ community and a low budget grab at makin’ some bread. It may be a mess but its an entertaining and layered mess.
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