Retro Porn: The Autobiography of a Flea

January 5, 2014
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Retro Porn: The Autobiography of a Flea

Once the big porno chic boom and its subsequent controversy quieted down, it was business as usual for the adult industry. Perhaps it didn’t experience the same success as the genre’s better-known movies from 1972 and 1973, but this Mitchell Brothers production is another example of the genuine aspiration of that era towards mainstream legitimacy. In this case, it’s a period piece, shot on 35mm with moderately high production value.

A usually overlooked detail about this movie is that Sharon McNight directed and wrote the screenplay, making it one of the first adult flicks to be directed by a woman, a very uncommon feat in 1976, not even just in porn but also in cinema in general.

Based on an anonymous erotic novel from 1887 of the same name, The Autobiography of a Flea is set in France, in the early 19th century. It follows Belle (played by Jean Jennings,) a 14-year-old girl coming to terms with her blossoming sexuality and curiosity. Obviously, Jennings was not underage when they shot the movie, so please have that in mind for a less creepy perspective while you watch.

The story is narrated by a very articulate flea, which travels through the hair of different pubic regions, and seems intrigued by the events that surround the sexual escapades of the individuals that he calls home. It’s interesting to see that this would probably never happen in current porn, mainly because there’s not enough pubic hair to make the story viable. Fleas just don’t have a habitat in today’s adult industry.

The film also addresses the manipulative ways of several members of the clergy. Mainly Father Ambrose (played very effectively by the legendary Paul Thomas) who used his position of authority to corrupt Belle through a vast array of sexual perversions. There’s incest, drugged sexual partners, consensually questionable acts, and sex with John Holmes’ frightening 12-inch penis, which I’m frankly not sure should be legal. And yet the tone of the movie and the narration is so silly and playful, that it still passes for a sex comedy.

Perhaps this is the most interesting thing about The Autobiography of a Flea; even though it’s still porn, and it’s told in a light-hearted way, and – let’s be honest – a couple of scenes are not particularly great, it’s still a dark story that oozes contempt for the aristocratic and religious regimes that unquestionably ruled that era, and its ideals still apply to a lot of standards in today’s society. Pornography might be the obvious taboo broken with this novel and its movie adaptation, but the criticism towards the people at the top of the food chain and their abuse of power is timeless.

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