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Monday, September 8, 2014

The Early Films of William Lustig: THE VIOLATION OF CLAUDIA (1977)

Most moviegoers back in the early eighties wouldn't have have blinked an eye at the casting but, for those in the know, Sharon Mitchell's brief bit as "2nd Nurse" in William Lustig's ferocious 1980 masterpiece Maniac was a small but significant milestone for the both of them.  The New Jersey native Mitchell was just shy of a year younger than the Bronx bread Lustig when they first met during a New York casting session in early 1977.  The close proximity of their ages wasn't all Mitchell and Lustig had in common during that first fateful meeting.  They were both hungry (literally and figuratively) and struggling to make a name for themselves in the electric, and sometimes insane, world of film in the New York cinema in the seventies.  Just past twenty in 1977, Mitchell was smart, feisty, lovely to look at and a junkie.  A former N.Y.U. film student, Lustig had a very small pot to piss in at the time but he had managed to find a small handful of investors in that sweltering summer of 77 to fund what would turn out to be his first feature as a director and Mitchell was his ideal, if surprising, leading lady.  Inexperience and youth be damned, the two were an perfect team and the little film they made together, The Violation of Claudia, would help launch two extraordinary and wild careers that would be as unpredictable as they were influential.  New York in 1977...a year of blackouts, Berkowitz and Billy 'fuckin' Bagg.

Written, edited and directed by William Lustig under the pseudonym Billy Bagg in just a few days for a measly budget even the most seasoned filmmakers could have barely cut a trailer on, The Violation of Claudia is a shockingly well made and effective feature.  An adult take on Bunuel's 1967 stunner Belle de Jour, Lustig's first film is a fascinating hour long time sex film that is both erotic and witty.  Label it exploitation but it is intellectually driven exploitation crafted by a man clearly immersed in film history and captivated by all things cinema.  

Dealing with sexual repression in an openly sexual arena, The Violation of Claudia would be an essential entry in William Lustig's filmography even if it wasn't his first feature.  What could have been a by the numbers quickie becomes a truly rewarding and satisfying experience.  You can sense Lustig's creativity and drive in every shot of The Violation of Claudia.  For a film shot so quickly by an artist so young, there is a real clarity and fluidity in the direction of The Violation of Claudia and Sharon Mitchell's performance as the frustrated title character is really quite wonderful.  Had she been around in Hollywood's Golden Age, Mitchell could have been a real contender, a Myrna Loy with a 'fuck me' smile.  Sharon Mitchell is more than a good actress, she is a unique one and her work in The Violation of Claudia is both endearing and surprisingly touching.

Mitchell isn't the only on-screen powerhouse appearing in The Violation of Claudia.  The mighty Jamie Gillis turns in a typically strong supporting turn and the legendary Long Jeanne Silver also makes a brief, but memorable, appearance.  

Distribpix's new special edition of The Violation of Claudia is another grand slam.  Paired with Lustig's second feature, Hot Honey (post coming soon), The Violation of Claudia has never looked or sounded better and the extras Distribpix have assembled include the original trailer, a slideshow of vintage articles, clippings and pictures and a terrific hour long podcast featuring Lustig talking about his background and films with Distribpix's Steven Morowitz.  The best extra is the incredibly informative and entertaining commentary track featuring Lustig and the extraordinary Nicolas Winding Refn.  Recorded while Refn was filming Drive, the commentary track alone makes this one of the great releases of this now not so young year.  

 More information on this release can be found the Distribpix blog, their main site and their sales section.  It can also be ordered at Amazon.

-Jeremy Richey, 2014-