Pamela Pearl (Trini Alvarado)’s place of employ in Times Square, the Cleo Club, certainly has its sartorial splendour. As Magazine Machine writes, “Why can’t all strip clubs be like this one instead of a cheesy lucite heeled den of broken dreams? Boohoo.”
The Cleo Club is described on a photo slip in the Times Square press kit as a “sleazy nitery.” The publicists are being too kind; the club is a nefarious dive. First of all, despite its elegant ambiance, it is a strip joint in the pre-gentrified New York City. Secondly, its manager is Roberto. (Roberto is played by the late, great Miguel Piñero, actor, poet — he co-founded the Nuyorican Poets Cafe — and playwright. Piñero’s play Short Eyes, which is prison slang for child molestor, was written while he was in Sing Sing Prison, and won an Obie and New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play and a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding New Playwright.) “Roberto” was last seen here, as Go-Go –> (Piñero in the film version of Short Eyes, for which he also wrote the screenplay. The film was directed in 1977 by Robert M. Young; two years later, Young would direct Trini Alvarado in Rich Kids.)
Finally, and most frighteningly, it is a place where poetry is written and recited openly:
The humanity! This is certainly no place for impressionable minors.
Well, maybe if they are accompanied by a parent or guardian.
OK, I’m going to give up.
And watching Nicky (Robin Johnson) performing “Damn Dog” — apart from the other minors pictured above — is this woman…
Sharon Mitchell’s cameo in this scene is a fascinating one. Mitchell, best known for her performances in numerous pornographic films, is, according to LA Weekly “[k]nown among skin-flick fans for her wiry frame and New York City streetwise sexuality.” As Robin Johnson’s presence in Times Square represented for Allan Moyle a “downtown” vibe — which I take to mean edgy, unconventional, and just plain cool — Mitchell fulfilled a similar role in the world of cinematic porn. It’s as if she is there to testify to a fellow traveller. Mitchell also conjures the truly X-rated Times Square that could not be shown in such a film. Possibly, she is there to perve at Nicky / Robin in a raw and somewhat disconcerting manner (and as this is a brief cameo, to escape the eyes of the producers / censors). I’ve certainly seen that expression elsewhere in Mitchell’s filmic oeuvre…
Although I have not seen all of Sharon Mitchell’s films, I feel confident in stating I have seen her best. Kamikaze Hearts, (dir. Juliet Bashore, 1986), described as “[u]ncompromisingly underground and fashionably feminist,” won Best Film at the Torino International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival in 1990. In the article “Kamikaze Hearts of Gutter Punk Lesbians,” Robin Bougie writes “It’s a documentary, but […the…] film isharder to peg than simply that. This one-of-a-kind 16mm porn industry time capsule shifts nearly unnoticed between the real and unreal, as Mitchell and company become actors portraying themselves in reenactments of scenes leading up to and following the footage a documentary camera crew captured while behind the scenes of a cum-coated mid 80’s porn film.” Mitchell invokes this intersection and arbitrary boundary between narrative fiction and non-fiction when she tells the audience at a live show (in a venue not unlike the Cleo Club) that she has given the film the working title of “Truth or Fiction”; she says it is “a surrealistic look, I guess, at myself and my girlfriend and the way we look at the X-rated film business and our relationship with each other, and it’s very nice… I don’t know whether I’m more truth or more fiction.”
For her part, Tigr (Tina Mennett) explicates her attraction to Mitchell, describing their meeting while filming a sex scene in Sulka’s Wedding (dir. Michael Striker, 1984): “She comes in: leather jacket, New York, bit of a punk. I immediately flashed to… too cool, what is a woman like this doing in a business like this? . . . I became different. I changed. I wanted to be like her. I wanted to be streetwise. I wanted to know how to use a needle… Goddamn irresponsible, gorgeous, sleazy porno slut. And she has it. And I mean, she’s this woman from New York City, who’s Italian, and she’s hot, and she speaks street language, no can can fuck with her, right? And there was some sort of power that she had that a porno person doesn’t have.” In this way, the film is a fascinating exploration of (what is more overt in same-sex) desire, in which the desire to be like and the desire to have can become conflated. We see a similar movement in Times Square where Pammy’s desire to have the attributes of the powerful, streetwise Nicky are as strong as her desire for Nicky. It is not as obvious, but I would suggest that Nicky’s desire for Pammy is imbricated in her desire to be like her.
In his review of Kamikaze Hearts, Jonathan Rosenbaum writes, “Alternately distressing, instructive, contestable, and fascinating. . . . Rarely has the alienation implicit in the porn business been so tellingly exposed, but in the process of exposing the film raises a few questions about its own tactics and complicity. And it isn’t only porn that gets deconstructed; the central relationship between Mitch and Tigr seems to have been figuratively and literally taken apart.”Kamikaze Hearts works as a meditation on what it means to be “in love” with someone, at one point Tigr stating that their relationship was only ever a “porn relationship,” one of convenience to deter sleazebags and thereby offer protection in the porn world, at another asking a character: “You think I love her? Does she think I love her? I don’t know if I love her. I mean, I love this part of her, but it’s possible that we never actually were lovers. . . . Of course I love her. Of course I love her.” TimeOut‘s review of Kamikaze Hearts states, “The peg the film hangs on is the relationship between lithe, gorgeous porn star Sharon Mitchell and doggedly devoted Tigr, her lover and director; the viewer’s sympathy switches nervously back and forth between the two women. Mitch is a shameless camera-hog, rabbiting on about joy and fulfilment through porn; Tigr is superficially less flaky, but collapses dramatically in the harrowing last scene. There are moments of humour, and the glimpses of the porn movie set enthral; but the film belongs to the frighteningly blank Mitch, who has clearly been turned inside out and torn in the process. A tough cookie who’s also a figure of supreme availability, she embodies the contradictions explored in the film.” The concluding scene referred to by TimeOut is indeed devastating; I find the film endlessly fascinating, but every time I reach that scene, am again undone. It is similar in tone to the scenes in Times Square after Nicky finds Pammy with Johnny LaGuardia at the pier; she literally takes apart their home, destroying what is left of their life together, and after throwing herself in the river, enters the radio station… to come apart.
As with my post on Freeway II, I am not trying to draw a comparison that would do a disservice to both films, but instead to suggest that like Times Square, Kamikaze Hearts raises interesting questions about desire, power and identity. And with this brief cameo in the Cleo Club, Mitch and Tigr are connected to Nicky and Pammy, two of the great lesbian couples of the cinema.