The title card of Expose Me, Lovely
  • The title card of Expose Me, Lovely

Tomorrow night Doc Films will screen a fascinating oddity of American cinema: Expose Me, Lovely, a hybrid of gritty film noir and hard-core pornography shot amid Manhattan’s nascent punk scene in 1976. The film offers a vivid portrait of that particular time and place, and its depiction of alternative lifestyles is surprisingly sensitive for something categorized as exploitation. To get some background information on the film and its director, Armand Weston, I called up my old friend Joe Rubin, a nationally recognized scholar of hard-core and exploitation cinema. For several years Joe and I worked together at Bucktown’s Odd Obsession Movies. We’ve since moved on to other jobs—for the last couple years, Joe’s been involved with Process Blue, a film-restoration outfit based in Connecticut, and he serves as an archivist for a few separate film libraries—though we still talk to each other regularly about film history, both under- and aboveground.

Ben Sachs: So, Doc Films is screening Expose Me, Lovely on Friday . . .

Joe Rubin: I know. It’s our archival print. It’s a near-mint, almost-never-run print.

Could you tell me a bit about its director, Armand Weston?

Weston started his career as a graphic designer and a painter. He was a pretty prolific poster designer in the 60s and 70s—filmmaking was sort of a side project for him. What I like about his work in X-rated films is that they reflect his artistic background. His films are always focused on how sexuality fits into a landscape, cultural or environmental.

You can see this in his second movie, Personals [1972], which is a combination of documentary scenes and reenactments about various people who have placed sexual personal ads in underground newspapers in New York. The interview subjects range from a transvestite, who describes an experience of being picked up by a man who didn’t know he was really a man, to a husband-and-wife porn actor team, Jason and Tina Russell. The reenactments are abstract, almost minimalist; the sets are usually large, open, single-colored spaces.

After Personals, he focused on more traditional narratives—including two he made for Jason Russell, who stopped being an actor to become a producer. Those films are interesting for being bleak, nasty cultural allegories. The Defiance of Good [1975] is about a teenage girl from a middle-class background. Her parents discover her doing cocaine and insist on sending her to counseling. She goes to this rehab center where she’s abused by both the patients and the doctors until she meets a nice doctor who takes her to his special “youth clinic,” which turns out to be more or less a cult. You could say it’s responding to Jim Jones and the People’s Temple and things like that.

Weston’s follow-up film was based on the real-life case of a woman named Inez Garcia, who was kidnapped, held hostage, and raped by two men. She faked Stockholm syndrome and convinced them to let her go home to get her belongings before she went on the road with them; then she got a gun, came back, and killed them both. Weston’s adaptation, The Taking of Christina [1976], is relentlessly bleak, but it’s set in this snowy town in upstate New York, which is actually rather beautiful.

It’s worth pointing out that many of the sex scenes in these movies are not meant to be arousing.

Weston said in one of his only interviews that he felt an obligation to the producers to shoot hard-core sex scenes in a certain way. But he intentionally shot the central rape scene of Taking of Christina as soft-core because he didn’t want to run the risk of making it seem arousing.

  • The Taking of Christina

What about the hard-core scenes in that movie, then?

Those are pretty routine, but they’re dissolve-heavy and place an emphasis on camera movement. Weston felt that X-rated films allowed him to explore sexuality the way he wanted to, because there was this obligation to have an extended sex scene every five or ten minutes. But he also felt those scenes detracted from the drama he could have created around the sex . . .

Expose Me, Lovely is probably his most ambitious film. It’s a sprawling neonoir that makes wonderful use of New York locations . . .

That was what struck me about the movie. It doubles as a document of the New York underground during a fascinating period.

All the locations have a very authentic feel. I especially like the scene in the abandoned synagogue where the plaster caster artist works.

[Note: The rest of the interview contains spoilers.]

The movie ends with a rather sensitive portrayal of a transvestite character, which would seem to continue the transvestite subplot in Personals.

There are also gay and lesbian characters in the film.

That’s the sort of thing that disappeared from straight hard-core movies in the video era, don’t you think? Once pornographic movies started being made for individual, rather than public, consumption, it seems like every sex scene or sexualized character had to reflect the sexual predilections of the intended viewer.

One thing to bear in mind with Expose Me, Lovely, is that one of the early sex scenes involves Bobby Astyr as a girl, but later we discover she’s a man in drag. The film is playing a bait and switch on the audience.

Another striking thing about the narrative of the film is that the transvestite’s motive in committing murder is that he’d been hounded by his father—a conservative senatorial candidate who’s afraid of the scandal that would come from people knowing he has a transvestite son. So, the criminal activity is rooted in homophobia—which is something the film deems problematic.

What happened to Weston after the 70s?

He died in the late 1980s—of what, I’m not sure. I think it was cancer or a stroke. He was in his mid-50s at the time. His last two major films were Take Off [1978] and The Nesting [1981].

I’ve seen Take Off. It’s really goofy.

It is really goofy, but it also shows his ambition. It’s this sprawling piece that tries to jam in as many cultural references as possible.

That’s right. It begins as a spoof of The Picture of Dorian Gray, then there’s a Public Enemy parody, a Casablanca parody, a Wild One parody . . .

I don’t think it’s a total success. Weston was trying to bite off more than he could chew; also, the woman who wrote the script for Take Off [Daria Price], who also wrote the script for The Nesting, wasn’t all that great of a writer. The Nesting is a pretty god-awful film.

  • Gloria Grahame in The Nesting

What was that about?

It was his sole attempt to make a R-rated, mainstream horror film. It has John Carradine and the last screen performance from Gloria Grahame, of all people. I think the problem is that while Weston flirted with violence in some of his films, he didn’t really know how to make it scary. He tried to inject more psychological stuff, but the narrative just didn’t allow for it.

It’s remarkable how much creative freedom he enjoyed in his 70s films.

He had narrative creative freedom. In that interview with him I read, he said he always felt burdened with making X-rated films because the producers would demand that sex always be shot in specific ways. He didn’t feel comfortable with that—he felt that photographic representations of sexuality shouldn’t be hindered by these expectations of framing and kinds of footage.