1982, Starring Sophie Lorain, Gilbert Comptois, Alpha Boucher, François Trottier, Nanette Workman. Directed by George Mihalka (RSL).
Guest Review by Ralph Elawani
Inspired by an offbeat true story, George Mihalka’s 1982 feature film Scandale is by far the most sexually explicit film to emerge from the "maple syrup porn" era; it progresses from softcore nudity and sex to full on hardcore action by the final reel. Shot in under a month with a budget of less than $500,000, Scandale is a goofy attempt at sexploitation humour in which a group of frustrated white collar government workers decide to shoot a pornographic film with the province’s own audiovisual equipment. Featuring notable Quebec celebrities, Canadian musical acts and some terribly second-rate humour, Scandale makes Valérie look like a Fellini movie.
Produced by Robert Lantos (L’Ange et la femme, Léolo, Crash), Scandale followed two of Mihalka’s Cinepix-produced classics, Pinball Summer and cult Canadian slasher My Bloody Valentine (both starring soon-to-be Lance et Compte sweetheart Carl Marrot). Shot in la Vieille Capitale [Quebec City] with a plot that could fit on a bumper sticker, the film opens with a shot of Le Chateau Frontenac as seen from the South Shores of Quebec City during winter time. The credits start rolling as soon as a giant phallus emerges from the depths of the frozen St-Laurent River, setting the mood for what the French like to call "une comédie de moeurs légères."
Following drastic budget cuts at the Ministry of Culture, a group of employees led by Lucille (Sophie Lorain) and Claude (François Trottier) gather in the men's washroom to drink beer hidden in the toilet’s water reservoir and conspire on how to make a little money outside the office. They decide to shoot a porno film using the government’s equipment — obviously they must figure it would be easy to find film distribution! When Lucille marvels, ‘‘What will I do? I have no cinematographic skills at all!’’, Claude shoots back ‘‘Perfect, then you’ll be the director!’’ It's the best line of the film, self-reflexively poking fun at the nature of Mihalka's near-the-knuckle production. The crew starts shooting its "film de cul" at Studio Q on the following day in good old do-it-yourself fashion; almost everyone spends equal time in bed and behind the camera.
Meanwhile, Lucille and Claude's boss, Ministry of Culture superintendent and dirty old man Albert Rousseau (Gilbert Comptois) is busy deciding who will be Canada's official representative at Cannes. He and Minister Gosselin (Robert Desroches) settle on (fictional) director Gilbert Poitra, given that the Ministry of Culture invested $300,000 in Poitra's latest film and, more importantly, he is France’s most beloved Quebecois director.
When they discover that their early attempts at filmmaking (literally) blow, Lucille suggests to Claude that they hire "real pros" from the province's most debauched city: Montreal. The pair immediately head off to Sainte-Catherine street’s most excellent strip clubs to the sounds of Men Without Hats’ 1980 single "Modern Dancing." Although their mission to "Sin City" initially proves unsuccessful, Lucille and Claude run into Coco (Douglas Leopold), a flamboyant disco dilettante who, using campy hippety-trippety over-the-top Franglo slang, leads them to a private club where the pair witnesses several musical performances — at least until the club’s sound system goes berserk and starts emitting farts and belches, sinking the (already abyssal) ship of intelligence a few feet lower. Eventually, however, Lucille and Claude end up casting the perfect actors for their film.
When Rousseau starts to figure out what his employees are up to, Lucille hires an escort (ironically played by Sylvie Boucher) to "take care" of him until shooting finishes, and the comedy gets cranked up a notch when the escort takes a piss standing up in the men's room during a subsequent scene. An uncanny progression from softcore to hardcore is perceptible throughout the film, starting with an orgiastic re-enactment of a pagan ceremony. But Scandale goes from bad to worse (or vice and versa) during the film's final orgy, as literally truckloads of swingers re-enact a party at Queen of Sheba’s court while The Silver Darts’ new wave single "Voyage a Istanbul" provides background music. With a video camera in hand to collect evidence, Rousseau watches it all go down, waiting for the right moment to send in the cops. But Coco, disguised as a nun, starts a food fight just as Rousseau realizes that his frivolous (English-Canadian) wife is taking part in the orgy too! Lucille uses her good looks to charm Rousseau’s attention away so she can steals his videotape.
In the film's final sequence, Gosselin, Rousseau, the French Minister and a few others gather at a screening of Poitra’s rushes before the film is wrapped for the Cannes Festival. A tough-as-nails, chain- smoking man of few words, Poitra appears in a leather coat and orange shades, his character bearing an uncanny resemblance to Gilles Carle. But, in an unpredictable plot twist (hum), the French ambassador is brought in for a private screening of the film only to discover that someone has swapped Poitra's reels for another film, Porno-Bec. Potshots are taken at the French's sweet tooth for perversion and the ambassador christens Poitra the "new Fellini."
Scandale is graced with every required element of a classic sexploitation flick, but with a level of humour that could, at best, only rival Ernest Goes to Jail. Fart noises, flying dildos and a running gag where Rousseau's genitals appear to be a magnet for paper clips, are about the norm. And Rousseau’s involvement with the morality squad division of the Montreal Police can’t help but recall Les Chiens chauds (Hot Dogs), a goofy 1980 cop epic by original maple syrup porn contributor Claude Fournier (Deux Femmes en or) with its bribed cops and their struggle against perverts roaming the streets of Montreal.
By far, Scandale's most surprising feature is the ridiculous plethora of well-known names that worked to make so little out of...so little. There's Quebec cult figure ''La Poune'' (AKA Rose Ouellette), whose nationally televised cooking show is abruptly interrupted by porno sequences that the gang had previously shot in yet another plot diversion. A quick perusal of the history of disco in Montreal also reveals that star Douglas “Coco” Leopold was a central figure in the Montreal disco scene of the late 1970s. Paul Doucet played a fictionalized version of himself in Daniel Roby’s abominable film Funkytown, and Leopold later appeared in the role of a gay man in Max Reid’s Wild Thing, which also starred Guillaume Lemay Thivierge (!) in the role of 10-year-old "wild thing." Sadly, Leopold died of an AIDS-related illness in 1993 after having left Montreal for Hollywood to pursue a career in show business.
The music featured in the film is often just as notable. Scandale's theme song was written by Luc Plamondon, who became famous for his musicals Starmania and Notre Dame de Paris and penned songs for Celine Dion, while Tony Roman (Quebec’s own version of Kim Fowley) wrote the music. Other notable bands turn up too — aside from the aforementioned tracks by Men Without Hats and The Silver Darts, the Montreal club scene features performances by Les Frères Brosses and Les Soeurs Ciseaux (Scissor Sisters), a duet of S&M punks backed by a music score provided by no-wavish Montreal-based group Thérapie. Coming after Les Soeurs' leather saltarello, Nanette Workman’s performance of her 1982 single "Call Girl" also deserves an honourable mention.
While its humour does not translate the same way today as it may have during the cocaine cowboy years, Scandale's daring mix of hardcore sex and comedy makes it an entirely unique Canadian exploitation film that is probably worth watching at least once — especially if you’re aware that an actual [French] porno film produced in 2003 by Fred Coppula (!) bears the same title!