The Christian Bible has long been used as a source of inspiration for filmmakers, dating back to a French production of “Samson and Delilah” in 1903. It’s not surprising, of course – films based in Christian lore have a huge target market and the stories are both well-known and in the public domain. The use of Biblical tales in exploitation film is fairly limited, though David Friedman certainly struck gold with 1956’s ADAM AND EVE, which should be shocking to anyone who’s actually read a complete version of the Old Testament, as there’s certainly enough sex and violence on display as part of morality tales to satisfy any genre fan’s lustful palette.
With that in mind, you may not be all that shocked to know about the adult-oriented sex film BIBLE!, the latest release from Vinegar Syndrome. Behind the director’s chair for BIBLE! is Wakefield Poole, a photographer and filmmaker most known for his influential gay hardcore classics BOYS IN THE SAND and BIJOU, so you may be expecting something akin to the ultra-obscure all-male Jesus Christ film HIM, filled with blasphemous suggestions and a flippancy to the source material one naturally think of when artists of a more “anti-establishment” medium address material held in great regard by billions.
At least that’s what I thought. And I was very wrong.
I should have known better, having seen BOYS IN THE SAND. 1971’s BOYS was a landmark in all-male hardcore film due not just to its erotic content, but because of the stunning cinematography and genuine effort to make a beautiful, dream-like film out of unrestricted sex. Composed of three segments, all involving SCORE’s Casey Donovan, BOYS features virtually no dialogue and instead emphasizes the beauty of the human body and the world around it, and the whole film feels more like a bizarre, well-lensed, sexually explicit fantasy than the slapdash porn that was emerging at the time.
1974’s BIBLE! follows the same structure as BOYS, adding ladies into the mix in visually stunning recreations of the stories of Adam and Eve, David and Bathsheba and Samson and Delilah. While there is humor on display, mostly in the second segment, the stories themselves are treated reverentially, and while there is certainly plenty of nudity and softcore-level sexuality involved, all three segments are clearly made with an artist’s eye significantly more respect for the material than you’d surmise from a title sporting an exclamation point.
The film’s opening segment presents the tale of Adam and Eve in minimalist form, as we see the first humans on Earth meeting for the first time, Adam (Bo White, one of the leads in Chuck Vincent’s BLUE SUMMER) emerging from a cavern and Eve (Caprice Couselle) rising out of the clear water. The two encounter each other and make love based purely on instinct, and Poole’s camera captures the pair and their surroundings at their most picturesque. There’s not a whole lot more than that, but the segment makes great use of the outdoor scenery and the attractiveness of the stars.
The second segment is more of a screwball affair, turning the tale of David and Bathsheba into a farce worthy of a Benny Hill episode with more nudity. Georgina Spelvin plays a quirky Bathsheba, who grows weary with trying to distract her husband Uriah (Robert Benes) from their nubile dancing servant girl, so she takes a bath and finds herself watched by (King) David (John Horn). David soon starts pursuing her in a sped-up sequence more akin to a “Scooby-Doo” chase than a biblical epic, and while the whole affair is played for laughs, it’s never bashing the source material, serving as a playful adaptation in an equally playful environment.
The most captivating segment, however, is the final third, a surreal and gorgeously-staged adaptation of the story of Samson and Deliliah featuring the stunning Gloria Grant, a model-turned-make-up-artist who, despite what the IMDb claims, is the same person who would later work on the likes of MALCOLM X and LORD OF WAR. Staged on minimalist sets but pantomimed and shot to perfection that wouldn’t be out of place in a Fellini film, with albino little people as servants and fantastic wardrobes, the final segment is a sight to behold.
Wakefield Poole’s BIBLE! is certainly a unique film and one that has unfairly languished in obscurity for years, and Vinegar Syndrome has finally given it the treatment it deserves. (Poole himself gets a similar treatment with the new documentary I ALWAYS SAID YES: THE MANY LIVES OF WAKEFIELD POOLE, currently in festivals.) The film itself, while not presented on Blu-Ray, still looks marvelous, and you can see the restoration efforts in place after viewing the unrestored 3-minute trailer that serves as essentially a highlight reel.
Several retrospectives are also on hand to accompany the film. A 10-minute interview with Spelvin takes us through the beginnings of her career and the origins of her name, and the actress is refreshingly nonchalant about her career. Even more intriguing is the 6-minute interview with Grant, who came from a family of ministers and regrets no longer having the dress she wore in the film. 30 minutes worth of random behind-the-scenes footage accompanied by the film’s music are also on hand and serve as a great way to see how unremarkable-looking sets can be turned into eye candy by the talents of those behind the camera.
A 6-minute segment from a public access show in the late ‘70s interviewing Poole is a nice touch, and Poole talks about how the film was a financial “disaster.” Any disdain for the film has been eradicated over the decades, however, as Poole contributes both an introduction and a lively commentary track, wherein he reminisces about the film, points out a shot that’s been newly-restored for this release and talks about the influence of Hollywood classics on specific scenes.
It may seem pretentious to name-check CITIZEN KANE and THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH in the making of what could be dismissed as a sex film, but BIBLE! actually justifies such a comparison, and Vinegar deserves a huge amount of credit for bringing their usual amount of effort to such a relatively obscure film. One hopes that cult film aficionados will be able to discover this underseen work, one of the sole times in history where religion and sex intersected and everything turned out perfectly for everyone involved.
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