Directed by Roberta Findlay
Starring Jerry Butler and Shauna Grant
This review is Part Four in our look at the life and career of Shauna Grant.
Prolific director Roberta Findlay, who had been grinding out exploitation sausage for two decades, was coming to the end of her hardcore run in 1983. She has freely admitted in interviews that she never viewed her film output as an attempt at leaving a legacy, but simply as a way to make money doing something she enjoyed. Fair enough, I suppose, but she did manage to crank out memorable exploitation classics such as FANTASEX (1976) and A WOMAN’S TORMENT (1977) along the way. Interspersed with her more imaginative fare came the filler films: competently-made, if uninspired, moneymakers.
By 1983, videocassettes had become the preferred way for viewers to experience adult films; no more trips to seedy, dangerous cinemas on the wrong side of the tracks. You could simply head down to your local Ma & Pa video store, grab one of the thousands of tapes that were flooding the market, take it home, and enjoy it in privacy and on your own terms. As sales exploded, quality declined. It seemed every schmoe with a camcorder was now a porn director. There were a still a smattering of features shot on film for cinema exhibition, and these had to work hard to pull in the punters. Storylines soon diminished, and the sex scenes became more frequent to mirror their video counterparts.
Like many of these early-1980’s entries, GLITTER doesn’t so much have a plot as it has a premise. A premise is a pretty wobbly framework on which to hang a 82-minute feature, and GLITTER doesn’t quite pull it off.
Nerdy academic David Preston (Jerry Butler, IN LOVE), inherits his ruthless father’s glamour agency, Glitter, after Preston Sr. falls ill. David is a bit of a wet fish with a sexually-domineering fiancée (Tish Ambrose, WANDA WHIPS WALL STREET), and is quickly under the thumb of his father’s second-in-command Ms. Benson (the ubiquitous Marlene Willoughby, FOXTROT). He also plays the perennial second-banana to his womanizing college buddy Brad (Michael Knight, SHAUNA: EVERY MAN’S FANTASY).
We first meet David at the apartment of his fiancée who leads him through a sexual encounter designed to humiliate him for her pleasure. Sex scenes in narrative features work best when they balance the desire of the audience to watch a stimulating sex scene with a hint of character development. Thus, the film starts out well. This is lost, however, as the film veers off into sex scene after sex scene that really take the film nowhere.
It’s not that the sex scenes are unsuccessful in their aim to convey erotic heat to the viewer. They are mostly shot and performed with enthusiasm. It is their interminable frequency that doesn’t do the narrative any favors. Rather than advancing the story, the story grinds to a halt to accommodate the grinding. This has the side effect of wasting a talented cast by having them strip off and bump uglies just as things are getting interesting.
Marlene Willoughby has a blast in her scenes as the ball-busting Ms. Benson. She ridicules David’s inexperience and youth, asserting her domination over the agency’s staff and direction. Willoughby chews the scenery with entertaining aplomb, relishing each dismissive glace and well-placed barb.
This is immediately tossed aside as she falls into a paint-by-numbers clinch with a client and devolves into the prototypical porn “older woman.” She turns from a exaggerated feminist caricature into a simpering mess, begging her married lover (Ashley Moore, NEON NIGHTS) to leave his wife and give her a picket fence and 2.5 children. This undermines things a bit when she returns to the narrative with more barbs towards David, watering down the character and making her just another comedic harpy. This is an opportunity lost, as Willoughby excelled at tart, assertive woman roles.
Things perk up a bit when two models, the sultry Marcie (Kelly Nichols, IN LOVE) and the doe-eyed Amy (Shauna Grant, SUZIE SUPERSTAR) appear at the agency to audition. Nichols manages, as always, to find a character in the bare bones of the script. There is also an interesting spark of chemistry between Grant and Butler that is nicely watchable. Grant wasn’t known for dramatic flair but, paired with two good actors, she lets down her guard a bit and really shines. Amy’s budding romance with David is very sweetly played. Unfortunately, like many of the narrative strands of GLITTER, it is quickly swept away in the lahar of sex scenes. When the romance is given room to breathe, however, this blossoming relationship is the film’s most successful line.
Speaking of room to breathe, the film picks up steam in the second act with a bit of location shooting. Outside of the cramped sets and onto the streets of New York City, the film comes alive. A sequence of Butler and Grant bicycling around a rather picturesque park does more to develop their relationship than the wordy dialogue scenes that surround it. Grant seems more at ease working one-on-one with another actor (such a similarly-effective scene with Joey Silvera in the gym in SUZIE SUPERSTAR). It doesn’t hurt that she is propped up by uncharacteristically understated performance by Jerry Butler. The occasionally bombastic Butler plays things a bit closer to his chest in this outing, which benefits things considerably.
While the frequency of sexual encounters somewhat bogs down the narrative, one in particular is among the film’s more effective moments. In a beautifully-filmed fantasy sequence, David imagines himself a Valentino-esque sheik who seduces the virginal Amy. Dialogue in the scene is minimal, as the scene is aping a silent film seduction. Freed from dialogue, Grant excels by relying on her big, expressive eyes to convey emotion. Her peaches and cream beauty was made for the camera, and those bewitching eyes were worthy of Pickford. Always more of a presence than a performer, had Grant appeared on celluloid in the silent era, I believe she would have been one of the more memorable actresses of the milieu.
Spoilers Perhaps realizing that the threshold had been met to call the film a feature, things wrap up very quickly. Amy and David commit to each other, Brad’s womanizing ways earn him a comeuppance, the shrewish fiancée is dispatched from the narrative, Ms. Benson is de-clawed, and David grows a set all in the last 10 minutes of the film. Roll credits. End Spoilers
Even with the star power of Butler, Grant, Ambrose, Willoughby, Knight, Nichols, Moore, Rhonda Jo Petty and Tiffany Clark, a film needs a story and a story needs conflict. No one tries to stand in the way of the two young lovers, save a throwaway line where David’s father objects to his son’s love for a woman of modest means. With no doubt that Amy and David will end up together, there isn’t much for the viewer to invest in. Without conflict, all that is left to draw the audience is the sex scenes; all of which are stimulating, none of which are memorable.
While GLITTER wastes a good cast, Grant has rarely looked so beautiful or more at ease. The film brings little to the table, but is worth a look for fans of its lovely blonde star. A pleasing title song by Barry Levitt is a highlight, and the production values are on par for the era. Still, the flimsy narrative and predictable couplings leave GLITTER without gloss. This Shauna Grant vehicle is parked squarely in the middle of the road.
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PART ONE Introduction
PART TWO The Young Like It Hot
PART THREE Suzie Superstar
PART FOUR Glitter
PART FIVE Frontline: Death of a Porn Queen (Coming Soon)
PART SIX Shauna, Every Man’s Fantasy (Coming Soon)
PART SEVEN Shattered Innocence (Coming Soon)