Danny Steinmann Week: High Rise (1973)

Image courtesy of Shots of Anarchy (chosen by Steve Carlson).

The first film directed by Danny Steinmann is the first opportunity we have to approach the strange and eclectic style that seems to fill all the spaces of the frames directed and created by the American director, and it’s also one of the first clues regarding his own identity as a filmmaker, as he used another name to shoot and release this particular movie: Danny Stone… I guess he wasn’t fooling anyone, as he was immediately recognized to this day for this movie, even though this was the only one he made in the 70’s.

Why would he change his name for this movie? Well, it’s not uncommon for directors to use a pseudonym when they are filming, but they usually end up changing their name or becoming known as that until the day they die… but not him, he wasn’t known as Stone, he was Steinmann. Like many other directors he changed his name once or twice in his career for specific and special reasons.

Let’s play a game for a minute… what does the directors Abe Snake, Jimmy Boy L, Louis Su and H.V. Spyder have in common? Besides the fact that they all have great names, they all made either one or two films in their careers and then disappeared completely. Why is that? Because they don’t exist, they are pseudonyms used by soon-to-be famous directors, they used these strangely awesome names to direct (usually) their first features, that could be catalogued as hardcore pornography, so that would later don’t impact in their careers.

Danny Stone/Danny Steinmann falls into the same category, as this particular feature film debut was a hardcore adult film that, at the time of its release was among the most profitable and successful porn film after ‘Deep Throat’ (1972), and according to Steinmann it even came in first place at the box office for a week or two. The difference between the Stone pseudonym and the likes of Snake, Boy or Su, it all boils down to the fact that the other directors (Wes Craven, Abel Ferrara and Lloyd Kaufman respectively) wanted to distance themselves from the work they did in that much maligned genre.

Steinmann, on the other hand, wasn’t able to do so because he imprinted so much of himself, of his personal view of life into this movie that it even replicates with those that came afterwards. You could even say that, in the end, it’s one of the most interesting and stylistic/artful porn films that you could have the chance to see, though that doesn’t mean that it’s any good.

The plot of the movie barely exists, but it surprises by the amount of plot that it manages to get into this 65 minute film, in which most of the time we just see two, three or enormous quantity of bodies having sex one with each other. Steinmann plans the movie as an anthology of short stories with an overarching plot that ties them all together.

The plot follows adult actress Tamie Trevor playing the role of Susie, a woman that is worried about the state of her marriage, she is young and she wants to know how she can make her husband react and make him have sex with her in a more wild manner. From its opening scenes we can see an anarchic and almost surreal approach to the plot, where she tells her psychiatrist that she never had sex with any other man than her husband, but that she did do it with a frog once when she was very young, and she even adds that ‘it was very gentle’.

She is supposed to see apartments in the evening after her appointment, so her specialist suggests a crazy plan for her to find the sexual energy needed to revitalize her damaged marriage. We quickly cut to images of her walking down the street and into the high rise buildings of the city as the opening credits show us cast and crew, reminiscent of the shots of Linda Lovelace in her car in the influential ‘Deep Throat’ (1972).

This peaceful walk (the calm before the storm you could say) is accompanied by a song called ‘High Rise’, that is inserted in what I would like to call the highlight of the film: the soundtrack. With songs like that and ‘I’ve been bitten by the Kissing Bug’ you wonder how this film doesn’t have a soundtrack selling thousand of copies, it’s just astounding what is achieved here: catchy tunes and happy/great singing voices telling us about desire, love and kisses, how nice is that? If you see this movie you’ll easily find yourself singing along or even in the streets, but no one will know what are you really singing.

This is when the anthology narrative starts to take place, she’ll visit a bunch of apartments where different people live and there she’ll have different sexual encounters and experiences of all kinds. The first one is maybe the most memorable, she enters the room of a grown adult that maybe has never touched a woman in her life, is obsessed with his toys (trains and trademarked figures fill the room, an attention to detail that most porn filmmakers wouldn’t care about) and has mother issues. She practically entices him into committing something that he had never done before, by flashing her breast and then touching his penis (I don’t know why I’m writing this stuff, but it’s important!).

That particular segment ends in a really funny manner when the mother of this grown man knocks on the door desperately as Susie and him are having sex, and the only thing he manages to do is yell ‘I’m coming/cumming!’ louder and louder every time, until the mother finally breaks in (check the opening image for her reaction) and our protagonist can’t stop jumping on the man and just turns her face back to the mother and waves saying ‘Oh, hi’. Of course seconds later we see her leg it down the aisle, putting her clothes on, in a speedy motion.

And that’s how the rest of the film goes, she enters the apartment of a lesbian couple, a well established and sex obsessed couple and an orgy, all these prefaced with title cards with pun-worthy names. Also the movie has some kind of experimental humour towards it, as there are times where we see how the film is made, showing us the technicians make mistakes when they call out the take, or when they yell out ‘Cut’ and the sex keeps going on even after they turn off the lights of the set in which it was being filmed.

This is maybe among the best porn films that you will see in terms of aesthetic and plot value, mainly because it tries to experiment with colors and lights in such an eccentric manner, that you actually forget that it’s trying to excite you. The reason why this movie isn’t really watchable after all these elements (though I find myself fond of it at times) is that it’s boring: the sex is boring, specially when you don’t see attractive people on the screen.

It’s not a statement against the actors, but maybe it was the way that it was shot (16mm) that makes it look like an amateur film shot on one long sequence during the sex scenes. The film stock is perfect for other moments in which the ironic and surreal elements of the movie become more apparent, but in the sex scenes it all seems ugly, hairy and with maybe just too many fluids for it to be aesthetically pleasant.

The overall attitude of no-balls (but with maybe too many balls, haha, shoot me) visual aesthetic and close-up crazy approach would be replicated later in the rest of the films of Steinmann’s filmography, and while he would never make porn films again, he would retain a certain taste for the beautiful bodies of its female leads and the sexual as a way of liberation for them or as their enslavements, the showing of their bodies as an important plot point in the continuum of the plot.

This is also maybe the first and last movie by Steinmann that has a cheery and sunny way of looking at life, but it is a movie that looks mostly to have fun with its audience, and that is something that will always be in the lookout for Steinmann, he made movies to entertain people, and maybe here is where he was the most successful at that, but the rest of his movies are so much more worthwhile (and they’re all great to top that statement) that I guess I wouldn’t blame you if you miss this porn debut in your explorations of this fine director.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s