10 April 2012

Teen Lust

United States - 1978
Director - James Hong
Lightning Video, 1985, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 30 minutes

The distinction between savage and civilized culture is often a hazy and subjective one. Our parents humor seems naive to us now while ours seems cynical to them. But that’s a long and ugly debate which is better served elsewhere because I’m not here to argue about comedic-relativism except as it applies to Teen Lust, an independent comedy produced and directed in 1978/9 by the man of the week, Mr. James Hong.

By most measures, Teen Lust is just your average, albeit extra low budget, teen sex comedy. It’s got sweet cars, over-acted nerds, stoners, an overweight outcast, nudity and loads of lowbrow humor. The protagonists are two just-graduated high-school girls who take summer jobs at the local police department as part of the Explorer Scout program (now called Venturing.) Over the course of the film’s antics and jokes about the mentally disabled, both girls end up having sex with their cop-mentors. These days of course statutory rape is pretty much frowned upon. Relatively speaking though, in 1979 it was a humorous opportunity to show adult men fondling (what are supposed to be) teen aged girls. I would like to think that this indicates some measure of cultural advancement since then, but I doubt that a movie genre that fundamentally relies on sexist objectification is much of a litmus test.

Still, while wallowing in the usual, Teen Lust does do something rather uncommon. Boys in these films are typically congratulated for having sex with older women (getting experience) and/or sleeping around (proving their manhood,) while the girls are confined to the virgin/whore/ dichotomy. In Teen Lust though Carol and Neely essentially reverse this role and become “self actualized” through this little act of rebellion. It’s a bit of a slippery twist the film is performing at this point, suggesting that it is both okay for women to be sexually liberated and yet, still necessary (or at least recommended) for their identities to be defined by their sexual utility and/or attachment to men. The box art is a perfect example of this faux-rebellion, giving us a double-layered objectification experience. As the girl on the box ogles (or hallucinates?) the undressing hunk, we ogle her ogling. In a way it lets us off the self-analysis hook by saying more-or-less “See, they do it too, so it’s okay!”

Without getting too pedantic and concocting a bunch of wind-baggy socio-cultural analysis it would be best to cut to the quick; Teen Lust is not a very good movie. Released under at least three different titles at various times in its 33 year history, it has earned a mostly negative reputation from the people who bother to write online reviews. Appealing to some of these viewers is the fact that Carol is played by Norwegian actress Kirsten Baker who graced a dozen or so low budget features in the early 80’s. But between the boobs (not hers,) which can only carry a movie so far, the jokes only get worse (and more offensive) and Teen Lust begins to drag. It reminds me of Tim Kincaid's "legit" films with the disjointed narrative feeling of a porno minus the sex. It has a sequence of events and a conclusion, but in many respects they feel unrelated. They exist in the same space, but seem unable to coalesce. Sure, Hong's first attempt at non-adult directing is bad in that endearing low-budget laughable-good-try kind of way, but in the end, especially at the end, it doesn’t have much point.

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