I don’t want to shock anybody, but I’m really not much of an expert on the late Sonny Bono and his onetime wife Cher. However, I’m assuming 1969 was fairly early in their association. With youth flicks generating surprise hits like Easy Rider, studios big and small were anxious to cash in. However, the Hollywood establishment was woefully behind the cultural curve, a state of affairs that resulted in some of the most memorably awful films produced in any era.
With Cher a burgeoning pop star, and Sonny her manager as well as her singing partner, it’s no surprise that he also attempted to get her aboard the cinematic money train. The result? Well, I don’t have any box office figures for this film.
However, consider the following: The film’s director, Alessio de Paola, never worked on another film. Sonny never wrote or produced another film, as he did on this one. And Cher? She wouldn’t appear in a movie again for another thirteen years.
In sum, these facts suggest that Chastity was a sizable financial debacle. This is especially true for a film whose 83-minute running time, amongst other factors—chiefly the fact that it was released by the notoriously stingy American International Pictures—suggests a modest production budget.
Cher’s subsequent film career is one of those truly bizarre show biz tales. After sitting out the ’70s entirely, she returned to the screen in 1983. Thus was launched an immediately successful and critically lauded acting career. She quickly gleaned a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for Silkwood.
Four years later she took home a Best Actress statuette for Moonstruck. At that exact moment she was as hot as anyone in Hollywood. (On the other hand, career slumps directly after winning an Academy Award are hardly unusual.)
It was at this point that she made a major miscalculation, by starring in a typically cheesy TV infomercial for a cosmetics company she partly owned. While this reaped her a huge amount of money, it also made her an instant industry laughingstock. Her reputation in Hollywood plummeted instantly, and she never regained her status as a major movie star. These days she’s reduced to starring in a telefilm version of Mame. Lucille Ball, you are avenged.
Chastity opens with a white silhouette of Cher’s head set against a black background. In this void appears a succession of painted images. These range from the mundane (a bird; the moon) to the pretentious (Jesus on the cross) to the abstract. Well, you can’t say they waited too long to kick off the unbearably ersatz artiness. On the other hand, the notion that Cher ‘thinks’ via a limited series of simplistic pictograms struck this reviewer as oddly credible.
The sequence is accompanied by a rather frenzied and bombastic orchestral piece, one that sounds hauntingly similar to the theme music from Airplane! This will prove more than a little appropriate, as Airplane! also was a comedic disaster film.
Soon—relatively speaking—the young Cher herself appears in the silhouette. Clad in a purple top and tight pants, she’s seen running towards the camera from some distance away. She continues to lope towards us. At some point the silhouette disappears, allowing this provocative image to fill the screen. And still she approaches. This sure is taking a while. Perhaps her inability to reach the camera symbolizes the audience’s urge to run in the opposite direction.
In the end, we watch Cher jog towards the camera for well over a minute straight. To get an idea of what we’re talking about here, imagine a Director’s Cut of the opening credits for TV’s The Bionic Woman. Admittedly, here the action just seems to be happening in slow motion.
If we take anything away from this sequence, other than a severe headache, it’s that women should be really, really glad that somebody came along and invented the sport bra. Ouch.
Eventually, Cher’s image fills the screen. By this point I was fully expecting her to mumble “It’s” and for the credits of Monty Python’s Flying Circus to begin. Instead, we cut to a presumed flashback of her standing in the rain and accepting a ride from a trucker.
Cher enters the cab (patently stationary and being hosed with water to indicate the inclement weather) and glowers resentfully at the driver. A middle-aged, pudgy blue collar stiff, he starts chatting her up, while she responds with bored cynicism. Young, but oh-so-wise to the ways of the world, this one.
Arriving at his hotel room, or apartment, or something, he decamps and runs for the door. When Our Heroine Chastity fails to follow, he runs back into the downpour and opens the passenger side door for her. His palpable excitement indicates his belief that he’s going to be getting a little something something, which, considering this was made during the late ’60s isn’t an entirely outlandish assumption.
However, his expectations are dashed when she reacts to his bumbling overtures with jaded hostility rather than carnal fervor. He accepts this with little fuss and a fair amount of equanimity, and comes across more as a bumbling schlub than a sexual predator. Given this, I thought her continued and somewhat exaggerated hostility towards him more than a little off-putting:
Unsure Trucker: “Do you mind if I get undressed?”
Bored Chastity: “I don’t mind if you slit your throat!”
She turns away while he strips off his outerwear, staring angrily at the imposition of this jerk removing his saturated clothing in this own hotel room. “Are you through yet?” she snarls after about twenty seconds. Leaving his shirt and shorts on, he quickly jumps under the covers. She turns off the light, whips a blanket and pillow off the bed, and bunks down on the floor.
Presumably having trouble dozing off—an affliction I myself did not share at this juncture—her host inquires, “Why are you running away?” (Which, presumably, was what she was doing out on the highway.) Her reply sums up the attractive nature of her character: “I don’t know. If I did, I wouldn’t tell you.” Perhaps fearing that her subtlety has left her position unclear, she gracefully adds, “You’re not exactly the kind of guy a girl wants to pour her heart out to.” Were I in his place, I’d be the kind of guy who’d be throwing her ungrateful ass out in the parking lot.
Blissfully relieved of the chore of pleasuring the horse-faced, bristling teenager, the all-too lucky trucker lapses into a well earned slumber. Seeing this, Our Heroine produces a joint and lights up. Then, apparently annoyed at being denied the opportunity of further lambasting her benefactor, she grouses “How can you go to sleep so fast?” Believe me, lady, if you were watching this film rather than appearing in it, the mystery would be solved.
Denied her victim, she instead commences blabbing to herself. “Don’t you know there’s a world out there? People are dying, girls are getting raped, kids are in the back of cars, making it.” This perceptive recital inevitably brought to mind the musings of Glen or Glenda narrator Bela Lugosi, who pondered, “The world is a strange place to live in. All those cars. All going someplace. All carrying humans, which are carrying out their lives.”
Chastity concludes her soliloquy with the humble munificence that is already her trademark. “How would you know?” she rhetorically asks her sleeping roomie. “You’re just a dumb slob.”
The next morning we see Chastity literally skipping along, presumably having left ere the trucker awoke. Meanwhile, the opening credits begin over a rather obscure ditty sung by our star, “What About the Good Life?” Turn about is fair play, I feel, so in response I ask, “I don’t know, but what about a good movie?”
The first credit humorously informs us that the film was produced by the inappropriately monikered Progress Motion Pictures. This text is accompanied by some very rough line drawings, including what might be a beanstalk or something of that nature, and what I guess are two very loose drawings of, perhaps, our heroine herself. Actually, they work best as Rorschach tests.
Soon Chastity wanders into a field of daisies. Perhaps lacking a tree to hug, she instead fixes her seemingly yet stoned gaze upon the flowers, with a look that seems to query, “Wow, man, have you ever looked at a daisy. I mean, really looked at one?”
At one point she lies down in the field and begins stroking her face with flowers, whereupon I got a sense of embarrassed intrusion, of the sort one might get were he to inadvertently find himself looking at someone cooing to themselves in a mirror.
Chastity soon returns to the sidewalks of whatever small town this is, whereupon she is further assailed by swinish men. “Hey,” one such cad calls from his car, “you wanna do a thing, honey?” A jaunty harmonica is heard as Chastity leans over, indicating that the reprobate in question is in for some good, old-fashioned verbal payback. Sure enough, our cheeky heroine informs him, “You gotta have a thing to do a thing, creep.” Snap! I think she was implying something derisory about his genitals, but in any case, way to give that lout what for, Chastity!
There follows a montage of Chastity ambling down a wide variety of roadways. I began to hope she’d bump into The Hitchhiker, because man, what a meeting that would be. Sadly, though, this promising union does not come to pass. However, at one point she reaches an intersection and begins heading for the opposite curb only after ascertaining that she’ll be crossing against a red light. I believe that this is her way of ‘giving it to the Man.’ You go, girl! Signs, signs, everywhere a sign, right, Chastity?
Arriving at a dilapidated gas station, Chastity pauses to interrupt a mechanic who’s busily working on a car engine. “Could you kindly direct me to the ladies’ restroom?” she inquires of him. It’s a good thing she asked, because counter intuitively, the door to this chamber is located at the side of the gas station. Good grief, she could have wasted hours searching for it.
While she’s, er, otherwise engaged, a white station wagon pulls up to a pump located in the back of the station (?). Of course, such a stolid vehicle could only be driven by some suburban jerkwad—a fact confirmed when we see that he’s wearing a yellow sports jacket, a necktie and clunky black glasses—so we impatiently wait for him to reap some sort of hilarious comeuppance from our sassy protagonist.
Chastity leaves the washroom. Seeing that the mechanic is still engaged with other duties, she heads over and offers to fill the driver’s gas tank.* Now, the narrow-minded bourgeois viewer might view this as theft, twice over, in fact, as she’s stealing both the gasoline and the customer’s money.
However, when he sees her walking over, he checks her out in a lascivious fashion. So, you know, he obviously deserves what’s coming to him. As for the gas station, uh, I guess the mechanic might have been a little surly when Chastity asked after the ladies’ room. Anyway, you know, Our Heroine is all in your face and authentic and stuff, so only a hopeless square would judge her for her wacky acts of street justice. Take that, guys who drive station wagons and own gas stations! Viva la revolution![*As a historical note for our younger readers, there was a time in which one stayed in one’s car at the gas station, and an employee of same, called an ‘attendant.’ would come out and fill your gas tank for you. If I remember correctly, this practice was ended by Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.]
I’d like to make a brief digression here. I suppose some readers may have taken offense to my earlier description of Cher as being ‘horse-faced.’ Therefore, I’d like to be absolutely clear: By that, I only meant that she has a face like a horse. My point being, I personally find the idea that every man who looks upon Chastity would fall into an instant Dionysian fugue to be somewhat comical.
Now, obviously, there have been plenty of men who found, and perhaps yet find, Cher to be an attractive woman. Moreover, one can hardly fault her then husband for being one of them. And certainly her charms here are not as comically suspect as those of, say, the antediluvian Mae West’s in Sextette. Even so, the film’s contention that all men are instantly seized with a paroxysm of lust upon beholding her remains a fine example of an Informed Attribute.
Explaining that her dad owns the station and that she “helps out,” Chastity is told to fill the tank. She proves ‘comically’ awkward at this task—again, it was not a normal thing in those days for civilians to pump their own petrol—and manages to spray a good amount of fuel upon his vehicle before getting the nozzle placed correctly.
Oddly, her on-looking customer seems to find this merely humorous, as if that’s about the best you can expect from a girl. Perhaps later when his car bursts into flames and he’s being horribly immolated, this will teach him a valuable lesson about objectifying women.
He also asks her to check under the hood, which was another service those bygone attendants once performed. By now I thought it was stretching credulity that no actual station employee was noticing Chastity’s wacky shenanigans, but hey, poetic license, or something.
Meanwhile, this stuff is 14 karat Comic Gold, m’man, and the filmmakers can’t be faulted to running with the side-splitting hilarity. For instance, Chastity has problems getting the hood open. OK, I’m going to take a moment here and wipe away the tears of laughter.[Roughly thirty seconds later.] OK. Whew! Man, that’s just priceless stuff. By the way, the station wagon’s hood is like twenty feet across. Damn, they made huge cars back then. Plus, the twenty-five gallons of gas his car ate cost south of seven bucks, including a posted 10¢ taxes per gallon. Those were the days, all right.
So Chastity flails around the engine compartment, awkwardly checking the dipstick and suchlike. She reports that he’s a quart low, and he instructs her to put it in. This involves grabbing a can of the stuff—which were always at hand in piles, back in those days—and inserting a nozzle through the top of the container.
This she also proves comically clumsy in performing, and man, this all this is just getting funnier by the hour. Wait, I mean minute. I guess. I mean, it certainly seems like ‘by the hour’ is right. Yet according to my DVD timer display, it’s really only been a few minutes since this scene started. Can that be right? I better have that thing checked.
Well, all good things come to an end, and on an unrelated note, so does this section of the movie. She ends up asking for five dollars, which he gladly pays, since she rung him up for well over six bucks worth of gas, not to mention the quart of oil. (Of course, most of that she ended up spilling atop his engine block, so it’s really only fair.)
Running off with her ill gotten loot, she ponders what to do. “Now that you’re a financial success,” she thinks to herself, whereupon I became deeply concerned that she’d start narrating the film during those brief interludes when she wasn’t just, you know, constantly yammering, “have you decided where you’re going to dine tonight?”
Having posed herself a question, she now answers herself. (Making this, admittedly, her most benign moment, as she is at least not victimizing some other poor soul.) “Not exactly,” she replies Sybilisticaly, “but I suppose the usual upper-class restaurant.”
Here we see the ‘upper-class restaurant’ of which she speaks, which proves—ho ho!—to be but a humble hot dog stand. I’ll pause here for a moment, lest you were drinking milk and sprayed it all over your computer monitor upon reading of this further japery.
Still, you can’t let such a masterfully droll premise die so quickly, so her voiceover continues on in this uproariously ironic vein: “But one never knows these days. Even in the finer restaurants, the service is so poor that one finds it quite difficult to enjoy one’s dinner. But I suppose we must all make sacrifices, times being what they are.” Indeed, and in that very spirit, Chastity’s speech has convinced me to keep watching this movie.
There follows a montage of Chastity once again hitchhiking, etc., accompanied by one of the many different arrangements of the opening theme music. It is perhaps at this point, roughly fifteen minutes in, that one first begins thinking, “Damn, this sure is a looong 83 minute movie.”
That night, Chastity stops to rest upon a park bench. From this vantage she espies a valet parking attendant, who is just getting off his shift. When he climbs into his car, she crosses the street and walks in front of his vehicle. Needless to say, once he catches sight of this siren, this Aphrodite, he’s hooked. Another victim hopelessly ensnared, she nonchalantly continues down the sidewalk.
Enchanted by her charms, he slowly cruises along side, speaking to her through the open passenger window. “Can I give you a lift somewhere?” he suavely inquires. The fellow is pretty white bread, the sort of character that might have been played by Judge Reinhold had the film been made fifteen years later. Our Heroines plays hard to get, naturally—no man can claim such a prize so easily—and refuses his offer. However, she does agree to meet him at a late night coffee house a couple of blocks down the road.
By the way, it’s not merely my inability to discern Cher’s putative allure that makes Chastity’s ability to bewitch every man who sees her so laughable. Even those who do generally find the actress attractive will not find her at her best here. Although 23 at the time this was filmed, her face often sports the bloated features of an adolescent. Given that she gave birth soon after this film was released (and yes, she named her daughter after her role in this picture), it’s entirely possible that she was in the early stages of pregnancy during the shoot, which might explain her often doughy looks.
However, it’s not her looks that make her putative irresistibility so fanciful. It’s Cher’s performance, although the script certainly wasn’t helping her any. More to the point, the actress and screenplay contrive to paint Chastity as having two basic personality modes; a morose, monotone indifference and manic hostility. In essence, she’s generally either a complete drip or a frightening nut bag, neither of which lends credibility to her being an object of inescapable attractiveness.
Moreover, from about this point on out there’s barely a moment when Chastity isn’t flapping her gums. Here, as she strolls to her rendezvous, she engages in one of her patented conversations with herself. Indeed, this character doesn’t so much speak as vomit words, as if they must be continuously expelled lest she explode. Sometimes she manages to inflict these dissertations on other people, but just as often she rambles on to and with herself.
Unfortunately, though, we in the audience get to hear her spiels in either case: “OK, Chastity, now what are you going to do? I don’t know. He’s not exactly my idea of Prince Charming. But then who is? I hope he isn’t the octopus type. They’re the worst. Next to the bulldog type. Of course, they’re the worst. Maybe he’ll be a lamb, though. I could tell he wasn’t a peacock. I guess it really doesn’t matter. I mean, they all want the same thingâ€¦”
Yes. For you to SHUT THE FRIGGIN’ HELL UP!! Sadly, though, our collective entreaty goes unheard.
“â€¦They all want the same stupid thing. They want to pant, and grunt, and groan, and then roll over like a dead body. Chastity, you’re not being very nice. You’ve got to be civil in this uncivilized world. What difference does it make what type he is? They’re all the same. They’re all men. What difference does it make?”
We cut to Our Heroine arriving at the aforementioned greasy spoon, where her latest suitor is sitting in a booth, impatiently awaiting her appearance. There’s already a cup of coffee there for her, positioned in such a way as to invite her to sit next to him. Being big on establishing boundaries—besides, do two lone people ever sit next to each other in a restaurant booth?—Chastity slides the cup over and sits opposite him.
Her Wannabe Beau fidgets nervously as she pours heaps of sugar into her coffee, not knowing how to break the ice. She initially helps out by allowing him to buy her a meal. More the point, however, Chastity abhors a verbal vacuum. So all he really has to do is wait ten seconds and the ‘awkward pauses’ portion of their relationship will be a thing of the past. In fact, this itself becomes the subject of her latest monologue:
“You know, this is always the worst part. This part’s such a drag. The ‘Hello, how are you? What’s your name?’ ceremony. You put on a big front, I put on a big front. Then we talk for about half an hour, trying to figure out what we both like. Then we figure out what we both like. Then we talk about what we both like until we can’t figure out anything else to say about what we both likeâ€¦”
Blah blah blah blah blah. Needless to say, the ‘we’ she uses here is presumably the royal version, since her conversational victims seldom get a chance to actually interject a comment as she spews out an almost literal stream of consciousness. In fact, ‘stream’ doesn’t really cover it. It’s more like a raging river swelled by a torrential downpour.
Cut to them outside and strolling around. In an attempt at artiness, their location changes every couple of seconds, but her monologue continues linearly:[Strolling in front of theater.] “Well, my name’s Chastity. That’s not really my name. Well, I guess that’s my name now. But it’s not the name they gave me when I was born. [Cut to them sitting back to back in a park, she drinking from a soda cup.] I decided it wasn’t fair. I mean, why should people be stuck with a name that they didn’t even get to choose? [Cut to them sitting in an ice cream parlor.] Well, suppose my name was Emily, wouldn’t that be awful?”
“So one day, I got out the dictionary and started looking through it, and when I came to the ‘C’s’ I saw ‘chastity.’ [Cut to them strolling past store windows.] And it said, ‘Chastity: Abstinence, sexual purity, freedom from ornamentation, simplicity.’ I liked all that, except for ‘abstinence,’ because I didn’t know what that meant. [Cut to them standing in front of a public phone.] So I went back to the ‘A’s’ and it said, ‘Abstinenceâ€¦”
And yes, she continues on from there. For quite a while longer, as the locations whiz past like a fever dream.
As she blathers on, he stands and sits and walks along with her, bemusedly taking it all in without attempting to interrupt. My theory is that he finds her self-centeredness strangely hypnotic, and he’s waiting with appalled fascination to see how long she can ramble on before she finally notices there’s another person in this ‘conversation.’
In the end, after what seems like a particularly harrowing episode of Fear Factor had it been formulated by Wallace Shawn, she does indeed finally allow him to talk a bit. He announces that his name is Eddie. “I guess you could be an Eddie,” she shrugs, “If I have the time, though, I’ll think of a better name for you.” Aside from being a parking valet, he’s also a law student. Perhaps that explains his preternatural patience. He might just be used to listening to people as if he’s being paid by the hour.
Finally, though, after what I expect is meant to be many hours of listening to her scintillating observations, his energies appear to flag. Whereupon she asks, “Can I sleep with you tonight?” Because he’s a square, he appears a bit taken aback by her forthrightness. On the other hand, perhaps he’s just eyeing escape routes.
In any case, she then clarifies her request. “I didn’t mean what you’re thinking,” she explains. “I meant, ‘can I sleep where you live’?” Presumably grateful to be dodging that particular bullet, he readily accedes.
A while later, after listening to even more of her nattering, he ruefully declares “You’re not a girl, you’re a whole other thing!” Comically, that line became but one of the unintentionally appropriate taglines for the movie:
As you can see, the irate ticket buyer couldn’t say the film’s advertising didn’t provide fair warning.
They arrive at his abode, a modest little house, and he ushers her in. Seeing him looking at her expectantly, she japes, “Well, what do you want me to say? ‘It’s nice’?” As you might have anticipated, this crass imposition causes her to fly into a rage.
She starts running through the house, itemizing how everything ‘works’ as she rampages from room to room, turning on lamps and sink taps and stove burners and opening drawers and flushing the toilet and pouring salt and pepper on the floor. For his part, Eddie just stands there and observes all this, perhaps fearing that if he says anything, she will demonstrate how his kitchen knives ‘work.’
Being a gentleman (and perhaps, hoping to placate the crazy bitch he’s taken into his house), he takes the couch and lets her have the bedroom. Then, lucky bastard, he falls asleep. This means that unlike us he’s spared Chastity’s latest monologue. I’ll spare you a record of this one, because I think I’m starting to get carpel tunnel from typing so much.
The gist is that Eddie at some point admitted to being a Christian, so I’m sure you can pretty much imagine her supposedly trenchant observations on organized religion and the hypocrisies of churchgoers. In any case, her thoughts are pretty much summed up by the statements “Church is such a drag” and “I don’t dig the way people use God.”
Still, I was forced to consider the ways in which Chastity’s beliefs diverged from my own. For instance, whereas she ultimately decides that “I don’t want to think about it,” my own thought was, ‘Yeah, well, I don’t want to hear about it.’
Even so, I was especially amused when she said “It’s really weird to find a young guy that believes in all that jazz.” Given some reactions to the recent presidential election, many apparently remain flabbergasted (and none too happy) to be confronted with the fact that there are still large sections of the country where, even to this day, young people so believe. Considering this movie was made thirty-five years ago, I thought that sort of funny.
Chastity has been taking a bath during the above, and soon rises from the tub to provide the film’s brief but notorious butt and boob shot. I wouldn’t get too worked up, though, because the practiced observer can’t help but mark that the camera stays well south of her neck during this, and that when we next cut to an angle that allows us to see her face, Chastity’s securely wrapped in a large towel.
Later there’s another, similarly quick nudie shot, where her silhouetted face notably is swathed in shadows above her otherwise well-lit body. Even if this really is Cher sharing her assets with the audience, the blocking seems designed to establish plausible deniability.
Seeing that Eddie owns a Bible, she comes to the stunning conclusion that “He really believes that religion stuff.” Being that she’s on a voyage of personal discovery, she decides to explore this bizarre realm. Thus, after taking leave of her slumbering host’s premises, she decides to pop into a Catholic church she espies while again heading down the road.
Unfortunately, she finds the interior’s contemplative mood not to her liking. After several quiet moments, she decides to chat up a middle-aged woman engaged in penance. Sadly, this parishioner proves suspicious of the young stranger’s interlocutions, as well as somewhat unnerved to be asked such personal questions. “We’re not to talk in here,” she eventually snaps, thus earning if not eternal salvation, at least the eternal sympathy of those watching this movie.
Unsurprisingly, though, a hint of this manifest subtly proves insufficient to deter our verbose protagonist. Therefore she asks the lady what sins she has had to confess. The woman answers in a vague fashion, and since the concept of ‘sin’ is bewilderingly introspective, Chastity remains unenlightened. Still valiantly attempting to grok this whole bring-down scene, however, Chastity finally inquires, “Why’d you have to cop out?” Proving wiser than this viewer, the woman decides to simply take her leave of our intransigent heroine.
Her curiosity unfulfilled, Chastity decides to wander into the confessional box and see what the deal with that is. Looking around, she evinces shock upon being addressed by a disembodied voice, as I guess she’s never seen a movie with a confessional in it before. (I mean, I’m not a Catholic, but I think I get the gist of the thing.)
Soon this voice begins echoing loudly in her head, triggering a panic attack that results in her fleeing the church in horror. Frankly, I haven’t seen an ecclesiastical reaction this severe since the Thorns tried to take young Damien to Mass.
All atwitter, she looks into several parked cars until she finds one with the keys left in the ignition. If you’re wondering why people stopped doing things like that, a partial explanation is provided when Chastity jumps in the vehicle and drives it off.
She drives and drives, and that evening finds her in a Mexican border town. Lest we think poorly of her for committing Grand Theft Auto—although that would be awfully judgmental—she calls the police back in Arizona and tells them where the car can be found. Well, that makes everything better. Now it’s more like Grand Unauthorized Borrowing Auto. However, as she too leaves the car out on the street with the keys in the ignition, well, hopefully no one else will follow her lead. Not that you could blame her if they did. I mean, she called the police and told them where the car was, and it’s only like a fourteen or fifteen hours drive from where they are.
The town provides many flashing, glittering new sights to distract Our Heroine, as well as providing manifold opportunities for merriment. For instance, when a married pair of elderly American tourists strolls by, she whispers to the husband, “Hey, mister. Want to screw my sister?” Ha! Screw your sister! That’ll learn him.
Wisely, the two continue on their way, leaving Chastity to begin talking to herself again. Noting that Mexico is, amongst other features, the land of pot, she inventories her funds. “I got a dollar for a couple of joints,” she decides, “a dollar for some frijoles, and I still got money to burn.” With her future thus mapped out, she approaches a Mexican street vender who appears to have stepped out of an old Jack Benny sketch and purchases a couple of 25¢ tacos.
Looking about as she dines, she observes a shifty-looking gentleman who appears to be negotiating with some American college kids. Figuring that this worthy may be able to see to her pharmaceutical requirements, she makes her way over. After ascertaining that this is so, she asks after his other wares. “I’ve got pictures,” he admits. I’m not sure that in 1969 you really needed to drive all the way to Mexico to buy dirty Polaroids, but maybe so.
Stepping into an alleyway, the better to conduct their business, the street entrepreneur shows her a small selection of photographs. “These are fabulous,” she gushes, having found yet another person to put on. What a great life this woman leads. This leads to (I think) another ‘comic’ scene, wherein she explains that she can’t buy the photos because she doesn’t have a wallet to put them in.
“If you’ve got a wallet,” she clarifies, “you can put them in the little plastic window, you know? And then if you’re out at a social event, or to dinner with an old friend, then you can say, ‘Hey, have I shown you the pictures of my family lately?'” Remember, though, that the photos of which they are speaking are illegal pornographic ones. So you probably wouldn’t, in fact, put them in the little plastic window and show them to dinner companions. See, that’s from where the humor derives.
Assuming that the fellow is also a pimp—I guess it pays for the modern street entrepreneur to diversify—she offers to become a client of his. This indeed proves to be the case, although he himself actually just directs interested tourists to an, er, independent business venue where they can have certain needs attended to. “If you told them [the owners of said venue] you had a good-looking girl that wanted to go to workâ€¦” she explains. I was going to be snarky about the ‘good-looking’ part, but hey, to each their own.
The gag is that he is amazed that she wants to become a whore, while she’s all blasÃ© and stuff about it. Oh, that Chastity. What mischief will she get in next, eh? So she gets into his car and they head to said establishment. Normally I wouldn’t advise such a course, but doggedly wacky music plays during the drive over, so I guess it’s OK. After all, Chastity is all indomitable and such, so what could possibly go wrong with stealing a car, crossing the border into another country and getting into a local drug dealers’s vehicle?
Soon they’re arrived at the promised emporium. Cathouse Referral Guy takes her to the display room, where a few dozen women of various size, shapes and colors are sitting around in lingerie, awaiting the call. “Well, Chastity,” Our Heroine addresses herself, “here you are in a real Mexican cat house. What are you so nervous about? You’re the girl who wanted to see everything. Take a good look.”
I think her voice is meant to be all deadened here, so as to indicate her fatalistic acceptance of where her life has led her. This might be more powerful if she hadn’t been talking in a stolid monotone for much of the movie already.
On cue, a group of ironically clean cut American college guys show up. They look around and select some temporary paramours. Our Heroine, meanwhile, looks on in disgust, perhaps because the men have walked past her to get to the other women. “Are they any worse than me,” she muses, “or am I worse than them?” Ooo! Ooo! Do I get a vote? Of course her self-involved monologue goes on for a while after that, but let’s move on.
In the end, Chastity homes in on a Painfully Shy and Ineffectual Nerd to become her first client, presumably since he’d be the most degrading choice. Or, no, wait, it’s probably because he’ll be the easiest to victimize. Anyway. Leading him to a room, she proceeds to browbeat and trick him into paying her more money than he wanted to spend, and then goes no further than to shampoo his hair (?). Personally, I think it could have gone a lot worse for him, if you know what I mean.
This scene actually goes on longer than I’ve indicating here. From the moment Chastity grabs the Nerd until the scene ends, it represents an excruciating seven solid minutes of Chastity again just talking and talking and talking. (Her client, for whatever reason, basically doesn’t say a thing during any of this. Even so, the actor playing him gets fourth billing in the end credits.) If it seems like I’m glossing over things, well, I frankly couldn’t bring myself to watch Chastity smugly victimize yet another schnook.
Cathouse Referral Guy shows up as Chastity deserts her client and escorts her to meet with the boss, one Dianna Midnight (!!). If you imagine Shirley Partridge to be a bull dyke in a lime green polyester pantsuit, you’re pretty much there. And if you’re offended by my using the phrase ‘bull dyke,’ well, I didn’t make the movie, I’m just describing it. Then, just in case we don’t ‘get’ it, Midnight sharply tells Cathouse Referral Guy, “Don’t touch her!” Because, you know, she’s a bull dyke and thinks men are icky and all that sort of thing.
Midnight, whose stiff posture and exaggeratedly enunciated manner of speaking indicate that she learned to how be a boss by watching Blofeld in old James Bond movies (indeed, all she needs is a white cat), begins interrogating Chastity. Oddly, she doesn’t seem very concerned that the younger woman has fleeced one of her prospective clients and then kept the money. Our Heroine remains in surly character, and given Ms. Midnight’s quite evident proclivities, few will be shocked to learn that she just as quickly becomes enamored with Chastity as any of her male predecessors.
Sure enough, whereas Midnight is a hardass with her subordinates, she allows Chastity to be all, well, Chastity-like. There’s a real and potentially interesting character dynamic occurring here, but I don’t think the film will do much with it. (On the other hand, I probably watched the film four times before I started noticing all this. I’m not sure most others would have as much time to waste.) I will say that Midnight pursues her goal much more cagily than her male counterparts. Properly wary of applying any sort of pressure, which would immediately cause her target to bolt, she instead appeals to Chastity’s curiosity by offering to show her further sights.
Well, OK, Chastity isn’t driven by curiosity so much as self-hatred, but her drive to keep herself distracted from this fact is what gives Midnight a shot at her. Hmm. I guess I have to admit that the film has been successful at establishing all this, assuming one cares enough to go to the effort of putting all the pieces together. Where it fails is in giving us a reason to give a rat’s ass about such a frankly unpleasant character.
The two head downstairs for a tour of the facilities. They begin by looking in on Nerd Guy, who’s still stoically sitting on the bed with his shirt off and pants half off. Chastity breaks into laughter at this sight, which further serves to endear us to her pronounced sensitivity.
Then they open the door to a room across the hall, which is basically full of whacked out stoners splayed across the floor. “They see whatever they want to see,” Midnight explains. “As far as they’re concerned, this room is a golden mansion.” And, to many of the people who saw this film in a similar state during its original run, perhaps Chastity was a good movie.
Observing “I thought that you wanted to see everything,” Midnight shoves her guest inside. Our Heroine quickly flees in horror, however, much likeâ€¦well, many of the people who saw this film during its original run.
The next stop is a room where a group of unattractive middle-aged men are, for some reason, standing around with the lights off. Ah, there we go. “This is our exhibition room,” Midnight elucidates. On a stage we now see three women, two of whom proceeds to make out in the murky near darkness for the amusement of their leering and even manically giggling (!) audience. Chastity observes these rather mundane degradations with horror, and no doubt even De Sade himself would quail and shy away before such iniquity!
Refusing to break, however, Chastity resumes her normal expressionless face—believe me, we’re quite familiar with it by now—and looks Midnight defiantly in the eye. Strong stuff, this one, for neither a lonely guy sitting around hoping for sex, nor a bunch of stoned people, or even a group of capering sex show viewers can break her. Surely this veritable Tour of Hades can provide no further onslaughts with which to test her?
Oh, wait, I guess that was enough. Chastity soon drops her eyes and dashes out into the hall. “Pretty, huh?” the Mephistophelean Midnight muses. However, there are still more horrors to come. By which I mean to say, the film still has twenty-seven minutes left to go.
In any case, Midnight props Chastity up against a wall and enters the Hooker Waiting Room. The formerly cheerful staff members all freeze nervously at her appearance. Midnight scans the rooms, and finally selects one truly ghastly young Americano, one who looks like she’d once been defaced in a cosmetics factory explosion.
Midnight begins to play with her hair, and the woman reacts with a broad grin, apparently wishful of gaining Midnight’s approval. Instead, the proprietress then backhands her across the face, apparently as a display of her power. Chastity, however, looks on with boredom. Which, frankly, is about what the incident merits. Yawn. “I just thought I’d throw that in,” Midnight purrs to Chastity. “You didn’t have to,” she replies. And so the viewer’s reaction to just about every scene in the movie is neatly encapsulated in two lines of dialogue.
Chastity has been cowed by this display of power, however, and follows after Midnight when she leaves the room. However, having displayed her iron fist, the older woman now displays the velvet glove, and takes Chastity on a shopping spree. Amusingly, this is accompanied by yet another arrangement of the opening theme music, this one done in the style of a French bistro band, complete with accordion.
Next, I swear, Midnight has taken Chastity to a rather low-rent amusement park. As the French Bistro music continues, Our Heroine is seen laughing with joy as she rides down a super fun slide while Midnight looks on. Then Chastity giggles as she rides a merry go round. Next she pauses by a petting zoo and strokes a small goat. (!) Then the two laugh at a capering monkey.
In case we miss the point, Chastity is wearing an exaggeratedly girlish white slip dress that hangs down to her lower crotch. You see, this is what our dour, mixed-up protagonist has always sought; simple affection and attention from a parent figure. Wow. Makes you think. However, just to be sure that we notice the storm clouds on the horizon, the camera keep cutting to close-ups of Midnight, who continues to gaze upon Chastity with an obviously calculating eye.
We cut to Chastity sprawled out on some forest ground somewhere, with Midnight sitting nearby. “Are you having a daydream?” the older woman asks. Roused from her meditations, Chastity sits up. “You’re thinking, aren’t you,” she inquires. “People always think. I even think.” Well, I haven’t seen much evidence of that, but we’ll take her word for it. “Once I tried not to,” she continues (I mean, does she ever not continue?), “but I couldn’t help it. Thoughts kept popping into my head.” Yeah, it’s funny, life is like that.
She asks Midnight if she likes to think, and the latter responds that it depends what she’s thinking about. “Right now I’m thinking about you,” she says. “I like that,” Chastity responds. Yes, everyone should constantly be thinking about Chastity. What a wonderful world that would be. Perhaps “People” magazine should have an annual ’50 People Who Are Most Nearly As Fascinating As Chastity’ issue. Of course, no one else is really anywhere near as fascinating as Chastity, so I guess it really wouldn’t work. I mean, it would be like, 50 Flashlights Most Nearly As Bright As the Sun, or something on that order.
However, Chastity reveals that she isn’t returning the favor. “I usually think of stupid things,” she admits, in a not particularly astonishing revelation. “Like if flowers cry when you pick them.” Oh. Uh, they don’t. First of all, they don’t have tear ducts, and, oh, yeah, they aren’t sentient. So there’s one less stupid thing for you to dwell upon. However, here’s a replacement topic: Does tomato paste dream while sitting in the jar? Huh? Does it?
The two end up at Midnight’s personal abode, and as a soft orchestral version of the main theme plays (with a soaring, Star Trek theme-type voice caterwauling in at one point), Midnight looks to recoup her investment. Chastity, presumably figuring she owes the woman something, goes along. Indeed, Our Heroine muses—what, you expected her to stop talking?—about why she’s so OK with her current host’s intentions, given her general intense aversion to sensual activities.
These narrated thoughts are heard over a montage of sea water and fields of wild grass and the tops of trees and other suchlike images. Soon, intercut with these, a very mild and extremely elliptical lesbian scene ensues. While I haven’t investigated the matter, I think I can safely assume that there are websites dedicated to rating the hotness of such scenes from mainstream films. Let’s just say that I don’t think this one would be making many top ten lists.
And aside from the general boringness of the presentation, it certainly doesn’t help when Chastity is heard ‘thinking’ about Midnight’s ministrations by commenting, “This time it doesn’t bother [me]. She touches me like my mother did.” Uhâ€¦. Ewwwwwwwwww!!
I have to say, although I long ago went past the point where I found the film amusing, I had to start laughing again at how she just can’t stop mentally blabbing during all this. “Here I am,” she thinks. “Rubbing noses with a dyke. I wonder why dykes are dykes. Maybe they really want to be moms or something like that. That’s stupid. They just like girls. I wonder if dogs design advanced aerospace exploration technologies in their heads, only they don’t build them because they lack opposable thumbs.” OK, I might have made that last part up.
We cut to the two back in Midnight’s office. Chastity picks up an ashtray with a small brass statuette attached to it and cradles the miniature figure in her arms. (!!!) “Who are you mad at,” Midnight asks in her uniquely robotic fashion. “Me, or yourself?” Chastity just glares, making this perhaps her most personable moment, since glaring doesn’t entail vocalizing.
Midnight yet attempts to foster a sense of a happy domestic life for her lover, calling her to sit down for dinner and placing a napkin in her lap. However, Chastity’s natural petulance resurfaces with a vengeance. Rather than eating, Our Heroine just stares sullenly at the older woman. She then breaks out in tears, yells “You stink!”, knocks the dishes to the floor and runs from the room. Wow, now it really is like they’re mother and daughter.
And so, sigh, we rejoin Chastity on the road, accompanied by yet another reiteration of the main theme, this time a jazzier arrangement led with a flute. Cripes, I know this was a low-budget movie, but couldn’t they have written two pieces of music for it? In any case, Chastity hitchhikes her way back north over what I guess is a couple of days.
She eventually arrives outside Eddie’s house, and despite the fact that it appears to be the middle of the night, spends a few minutes pounding on his front door and yelling “Open up!” and suchlike. Soon a groggy Eddie, wrapped in a sheet, opens the door. Well, at least she brought food.
To the consternation and rank disbelief of just about anyone still watching at this point, Eddie excitedly invites her in. Perhaps he’s a member of one of Christian sects that believes in self-flagellation and mortification, and he’s going for the biggest crown Heaven’s ever seen. “I just ran out to get groceries,” she japes, which is funny because, you know, she’s been gone for several days. Ha. Ha.
Eddie just stares at her with awe, purportedly not believing his luck that this goddess has returned to his life. “You’ve got $25 worth of groceries there,” he exclaims to break the ice. “No,” she replies. “$40.” I know younger reader will have a tough time believing this, but his remark is an allusion to the fact that such sums would that time buy a whole lot of groceries. In fact, the two bags she carries seem a little skimpy for such a sum.
However, being old enough to remember those days myself, I’m dubious that she would have found a grocery store open at such a late hour. Even if Eddie went to bed at something like 9:00—and I’ve roomed with a law student, and believe me, that’s pretty unlikely—stores back in the late ’60s would have almost certainly been closed by then.
He wonders where she procured such a vast sum, and actually forty bucks was nothing to sneeze at back then. Unsurprisingly, though, Our Heroine fails to tell him about the pathetic nerdy john she fleeced, or about the lesbian brothel owner who may have given her an allowance. “Well,” she instead explains, “it’s what you might call government money.” You know, I really don’t even want to know.
They have a wacky romantic moment when the groceries slip and they bend over to get them and both end up on the floor. Ah, good times. Meanwhile, she informs him that she’s decided what his new name should be. (By the way, here Eddie mentions that it’s 3:00. I suppose there might have been an all night grocery store out in Arizona back then, but I know we didn’t have anything like that in suburban Chicago.)
Of course, the re-naming ceremony involves both a protracted amount of talking and much jumping through of hoops on Eddie’s part. During this I gazed at the timer on my DVD player and beseeched it to move faster. Sadly, my pleas went unanswered. After stretching things out for a couple of minutes, and after Eddie has assumed his requested position on his knees, she dims the lights and pronounces him Andre Tayir. Oops, sorry. Now there’s no real reason for you to watch the movie.
Eddie is stunned (horrified?) when he eventually figures out that Chastity intends to share his bed that night. I realize not every Christian remains celibate—well, OK, very, very few do—but I did think that for a guy who keeps a pair of Bibles on his bedroom dresser and who apparently doesn’t drink that he acceded to her suggestion with very few qualms.
I mean, he’s really known her for a total of maybe five or six hours, all told. Oh, then there’s the fact that she’s a complete psycho. But still, who can resist the fabled charms of our Chastity, eh? After all, he’s only human.
Still, he does remark on her flightiness. “What do you want, Chastity,” he asks. “I wish I had a dollar for every time somebody asks me that question,” she sulks. Me, too. Then I’d at least get back the money I spent on this DVD.
The hours and hours of my life spent reviewing it, though? Oh, no. Those are gone forever. In fact, what kind of life is this? Chastity, Raiders of the Living Dead, episodes of The Hitchhiker… I’m beginning to understand why Chastity doesn’t like to think about stuff.
Feeling pressure, Chastity pulls her stash of weed from her pocket, but staring at it, admits “I know I don’t want that anymore.” Is Our Heroine finally really ready to put her life in order?
With the light turned off, Chastity lies in bed, presumably waiting for Eddie to make his move. “Andre,” she asks, “if I got pregnant, would you marry me.” Then she pops up to brush her teeth. “How can I answer a question like that,” he responds. (Uhm, ‘yes’ or ‘no’?) “You just did,” she replies, and for the only time in the movie, I was thinking, “You got that right!”
Even so, Chastity walks back into the room and strips. (This is the scene I mentioned earlier, where her briefly seen naked torso is well lit but her face mysteriously is swathed in shadow.) This is accompanied by, yes, the opening theme music, here played solely on an acoustic guitar. “Why did you ask me that,” Eddie inquires, as if there were some big mystery about it. They talk some more—boy, is this movie unpredictable—and then she asks that he just cuddle her, and then she talks some more.
Finally, ascertaining that she indeed intends to be there come morning, he tells her that he would marry her. “I’m smiling,” she tells him, smiling. “So am I,” he responds, also smiling. Cripes, could they just end this friggin’ movie already.
No, unfortunately. Cut to morning, where Chastity is making a comic (I guess) shambles of breakfast. She burns the three tons of food she makes, and coffee is bubbling out of the percolator. Seemingly dozens of oranges have been squeezed to make juice, despite the fact that there was a whole container of the stuff in the fridge last night, which we know because she had poured him a glass of the stuff.
Having arisen, Eddie joins her at his small dining table. “I’m playing wife today,” she confesses. He then looks at a plate of bacon sitting in congealed grease, which is either burned to a cinder or nearly raw. “It’s my first day,” she laughs. Frankly, I’m not even sure it’s possible to cook bacon that badly. Anyway, he makes his escape by noting he has to leave for an early class.
Noting that he only has one class and will return soon, he kisses her on the forehead and departs. About one second later, ’emotional breakdown’ music starts playing on the soundtrack. What, after all this they’re finally in a hurry? Sure enough, as if the music weren’t obvious enough, we again get the ‘hearing voices in her head’ bit. We haven’t heard these voices before, but I assume that are supposed to be her parents’.
Chastity tries to distract herself with housework, but the voices keep getting louder and louder. The voices reveal that her father molested her, although earlier it seemed like her mother had. Anyway, she keeps hearing the voices over and over. Finally, she runs into the kitchen, writes “I love you” on the wall with a marker, and runs from the house. Outside she seems to calm down a bit, and apparently is about to resume her wandering ways.
Eventually, she leans against a phone pole and starts crying. Another crude truck driver pulls up and leeringly offers her a ride. The ‘suspense’ of how she’ll answer is drawn out for waaay too long a time. Eventually she falls to the ground and sobs openly, crying, “I love you, Mother!” Then she wanders into the road, whereupon the camera goes blurry and we start getting a variety of unfocused still shots of her which serve to symbolize her descent into madness. GET IT?!
Suddenly the final image of her is framed by that silhouette from the beginning of the movie, which raises the question of all the running she did then is supposed to have occurred. I mean, shouldn’t she be doing that now, to tie the opening and close of the film together? Maybe they just forgot.
Anyway, the silhouette starts filling in with black splotches that maybe are supposed to be blood splatters or something—hey, you tell me—and the screen goes dark and the end credits finally start, accompanied by a second reiteration of the “What About the Good Times” song.
Also included on the DVD is the film’s trailer. Again, the advertising is spot on. We hear Chastity’s voice as she introduces herself, followed by an announcer. “Meet Chastity,” he explains. “She’s a bummer. A loser. A cop-out. A drop-out.” And, if I may say so, most importantly, a flop-out.
Oddly, the scene where she pours a pitcher of water on the nerd’s head is prominently featured here. “It’s cold!” he complains, and we cut away. Uhâ€¦OK. “She’s not just a girl,” the narrator confirms. “She’s an experience.” Well, they can’t take that away from her.
By the way, this whole dreary mess explains why Hollywood so often sticks with stories that have happy endings. Yes, a climax like that featuring Chastity’s complete breakdown might be more realistic, at least in terms of how many people actually manage to surmount the sort of psychological damage Chastity displays, than if she suddenly managed to find happiness with Eddie.
However, ‘realistic’ doesn’t mean interesting. Beating the odds at least is dramatic, whereas ‘ending up exactly where you’d think’ requires rather better execution if it’s to work. And since Chastity, at least as played by Cher, is so obnoxious, her fate invokes not so much tragedy as relief. It certainly might have helped if she had been played by someone we could remotely believe would inspire the manic interest Chastity does from everyone she meets. Perhaps that’s why the French do this sort of thing so well. A young Catherine Denevue or Emmanuelle Beart might have pulled the movie off.
Born Cherilyn Sarkisian LaPierre, our star was billed here as ‘ChÃ©r,’ an affectation she apparently quickly abandoned.
Cher is–hopefully–the only person in history to name a child after one of his or her failed movies.* Yep, that’s where Chastity Bono got her name. However, I suspect Kevin Costner and/or John Travolta will join this select group someday. By the way, given the nature of Cher’s role here, the decision seems all the weirder.
This film has a fan website dedicated to it (!).
Correspondent Juli Thompson provides the following invaluable correction: “According to the Pia Zadora shrine maintained by the guys over at Stomp Tokyo, that talented actress named her daughter Kady after her starring role in Butterfly. It may not be her worst role, but it has to be close. (She won not one, but two Razzies for it.)”
Ken: Yep, that’s pretty strange. Still, I’m sure her daughter is at least glad that she wasn’t named Girmar. On another note, for an actress who made as few movies as Ms. Zadora did, and considering how gawdawful her performance in Butterfly is, it is indeed impressive that you can debate whether its her thespian nadir. For myself, I’d have to cast my vote for her jaw-dropping turn in Lonely Lady.
On the subject of Gas Station protocols, Jabootu Minister of Proofreading Carl Fink notes “About that practice of having someone else fill one’s gas tank–I work in New Jersey where it’s still universal. It’s *illegal* for a customer to fill his/her own tank in Jersey.” He also noted that, during a short-lived gig as a gas station worker himself, he also had problems getting car hoods open, and even damaged one whilst attempting to do so.
Ken: Just goes to show you. I haven’t seen an attendant fill anyone’s gas tank in probably twenty years.
On the same topic, Shadow Proofreading Minister Bill Leary provides the following data: “To add to your historical reference, in some cases there would indeed be one or two pumps behind a large enough full service gas station for use by the station’s own fleet of service vehicles, especially if the station did a lot of towing. It helped with accounting and he allowed them to quickly fuel up their vehicles without getting in the way of the paying customers.
In some other cases I’m familiar with they’d put these pumps out back for commercial customers with large vehicles. They’d have longer approaches so it was easier and quicker to get the trucks in and out, or they’d be on a less traveled road behind the station, or they’d save a few pennies per gallon because the back pumps were self serve and self accounted and they were usually not nicely landscaped or nything of that sort. And, again, so they didn’t have to take their big trucks through the same pumps as the “civilians.” Of course, this schleb had no business bringing his car into that pump if that’s what this was. There. That’s more gas station history than you EVER wanted to know, eh?”
JABOOTU: THE BAD MOVIE SITE
FOR PEOPLE WHO KNOW
A LOT ABOUT GAS STATIONS
Thanks as always for the generous efforts of Carl Find and Bill Leary, in their valiant attempts to offset my poor writing.