Felicity Robinson (Glory Annen) is a boarding pupil in a well-heeled convent school in Australia. She receives the gift of a trip to Hong Kong from her father. Inspired by her reading of Emmanuelle and The Story of O, Felicity goes on an exploration of the mysterious world of sex...
There are plenty of people who would like to believe that the Australian Film Revival of the 1970s began with the respectable likes of Picnic at Hanging Rock. But in fact, it began with lowbrow comedy: the Barry McKenzie films and, particularly relevant here, Tim Burstall's Alvin Purple. The introduction in 1971 of the R rating, restricting admission to the over-eighteens, was key: soon filmmakers were taking advantage of the new rating, and the likes of The True Story of Eskimo Nell, Libido, Fantasm were the result. This brings us the oeuvre of John D. Lamond. His first two features were documentary exposés of how they get it on Down Under: Australia After Dark (1975) and ABC of Love and Sex: Australia Style were made cheaply and did well with audiences, if not critics and censors. With Felicity, Lamond moved on to a full-length drama, made on a higher (if still not huge) budget, which allowed for location shooting in Hong Kong. Gary Wapshott's camerawork is in that glossy, filtered style that resembles a perfume advert. There's no script credit on screen: the writing is mostly Lamond's work, though his wife wrote Felicity's voiceover.
If it didn't acknowledge the influence up front, you'd have to wonder if Lamond and co had seen that enormous softcore hit of the Seventies. Felicity follows the template of Just Jaeckin's film quite closely: from sapphic explorations in school, to defloration by an older man, adventures with a female friend Me Ling (Joni Flynn), developing a penchant for sex in public places before finding True Love with “the youngest dirty old man in Hong Kong”, Miles (Christopher Milne) and realising that sex and affection can be and often are separated but are much better together.
Picking holes in this film is a working definition of shooting fish in a barrel. Despite Mrs Lamond's attempt to add a female perspective via Felicity's voiceover, the film remains blatant male fantasy from start to finish. Even compared to Fantasm, made three years earlier, it seems quite tame. While Lamond has Glory Annen and/or another female cast member disrobe every few minutes, he goes to some effort to avoid showing a penis on screen. (That's something the makers of Fantasm and its sequel Fantasm Comes Again were not shy about, otherwise why would they have cast John Holmes in both films?) Also, there's only one use of strong language in the film: when Felicity refers to Erica Jong's Fear of Flying and its concept of the zipless fuck. There's nothing of the rape fantasy of the two earlier films or indeed Emmanuelle: no doubt then just a boundary to be pushed but uneasy viewing ever since. Apart from the odd line, Felicity isn't played for laughs and might have been better if it had. The result may be well made, but it's unimaginative and repetitive, blandly acted and 90-odd minutes of this is more than enough. Like many of its kind, it preaches liberation but is essentially deeply conservative.
After a sidestep into the then-current slasher-horror genre with Nightmares (1980), though without foregoing the full-frontal female nudity, Lamond returned home with Pacific Banana, which is played very much for farce.
The review copy of Felicity was a NTSC-format DVD-R encoded for Region 1 only. I am told that the release version is all-regions NTSC. If this is not the case, I will update the review.
Felicity is presented on DVD in a ratio of 1.85:1 and is anamorphically enhanced. It is taken from Lamond's own uncut copy. As I say above, the “Singapore Airlines” filming style (Lamond's own description) comes over well, as any softness is entirely intentional. The night scenes in Hong Kong, using lenses and film stocks which allowed shooting with available light, look very good.
The soundtrack is mono, as was the case on the film's cinema release. Not much to say here, as the dialogue is clear (though somewhat hollow-sounding – presumably post-synched in places) and the track is well balanced. The music score is, er, rather of its time, and proves if nothing else that no self-respecting session guitarist in 1979 ever left the house without his wah pedal. There are no subtitles, which is unfortunate.
Given Felicity's upper-crust Aussie, almost English-sounding, voice in the film, it's a bit of a surprise to hear Glory Annen's native Canadian accent on the commentary track. She shares chat duties with Lamond, who comes over as personable and occasionally self-deprecating. (He's occasionally inaccurate: in the UK, Felicity was cut by the BBFC for cinema release, despite what he says.) Annen has a few things to say about the harder end of the porn genre, but defends Felicity as essentially innocuous.
Also on the disc are the theatrical trailer (3:40) and a stills gallery.
Following their release of Roman Polanski's What?, the UK division of Severin Films continue in their mission to bring vintage smut to the British public. No complaints about the presentation of the DVD, even if Felicity is hardly a film to stand the test of time.
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