Of all the occupations that might possibly require or indeed inspire one to keep an ‘erotic’ diary I can’t in all honesty say that Lumberjack strikes me as an obvious candidate. Surely all that sweaty chopper-swinging and wood work doesn’t leave much opportunity for amusing innuendo or sexual misadventure? Then again there are considerably less sexy job titles than Lumberjack I suppose. I couldn’t imagine reading the Erotic Diary of an Executive Sales Consultant, could you? As I’m not much of an outdoor type I was depending on Jean-Marie Palardy’s 1974 ooh-la-la opus ‘Erotic Diary of a Lumberjack’ to educate me to the erotic secrets of the woodcutting fraternity. As it happens however the movie features no diary and, apart from a single short scene, no muthaflippin’ lumberjacks!
Professor Muller has just been awarded the Nobel prize for some unspecified scientific something-or-other but instead of accepting this honour the Prof steals the clothes off a scarecrow and wanders off into a forest where he encounters some lumberjacks (take a good look they won’t be around for long) who are chopping wood, drinking wine and squeezing some full-breasted maidens. Having told his son Jean-Marc before he left that ‘it’s because they neglect their instincts that men grow old before their time’ the Prof turns his back for good on his professional career and joins in the lusty lumberjack siesta.
Sometime later Jean-Marc catches up with his Pa who is now running a country retreat/sex ranch for men like himself who wish to escape from all social and economic pressure and make out like lumberjacks, lustily indulging every sexual whim with the aid of the Professor’s harem of nubile female employees. The Prof has installed hidden cameras in all his cabins so he can spy on his clients who include a half-naked cowboy who enjoys shooting rubber darts at young ladies backsides and a Frank Zappa lookalike who makes out with a chick with abundantly hairy armpits. These guys are really living the dream.
Jean-Marc disapproves of his father’s new enterprise but hangs around the place after becoming romantically involved with a girl named Isabelle who he rescues from a charging horse. As it happens Isabelle is an undercover cop sent to investigate comings and goings (but mainly comings) at the sex farm. It appears that the government is somewhat embarrassed about their Nobel Prize winner becoming a pimp and plans are afoot to shut the swinging operation down.
Writer/director/star Pallardy had been a male model before deciding, much like Professor Muller, that he was sick of city living and decamped to the country with a gang of undressed friends and acquaintances to eat, drink and make movies. His other 1970s sexploitation efforts include such titles as ‘My Body Burns’ and ‘Truck Stop’ and he also directed 1984s Robert Ginty/Fred Williamson team-up ‘White Fire’.
The tone, style, pace and plot of ‘Le Journal Erotique Du Lumberjack’ are wildly uneven, the action appearing largely improvised, and the results tend to be more frustrating than charmingly irreverent. You can pretty much divide the film into halves – what happens indoors and what happens outdoors. Consistent with the Professor’s philosophy on leaving behind the restrictive interiors of civilisation for the sun-lit freedom of the great outdoors, scenes outside are beautifully shot making great use of natural light and the lovely locations while scenes inside are cramped and shabby, poorly furnished and gloomily lit. In terms of action too, all the most interesting scenes occur outdoors while the bed-bound romps, which frequently pair wrinkly, grey-haired gentlemen of advanced years with exuberantly healthy sun-tanned young ladies, raise a smile but nothing else and quickly become a chore.
One scene in which Isabelle and a friend are pursued through the woods by four men on horseback is excitingly executed, accompanied by a throbbing John Carpenter-esque synth-bass score, but feels inappropriately situated amongst the comedic soft-core titillation. Since retiring to the sex ranch the four men have become so accustomed to taking whatever they want whenever they want it that the concept of rape no longer exists for them. This frightening idea has great satirical potential and the scene is handled seriously but deserves to be in a better movie. In both its themes and location the film recalls the work of American sexploitation legend Russ Meyer and I can’t help but imagine how Meyer might have exploited the provocative potential of the material. Apart from insisting on bigger boobs that is.
My favourite scene is one where Jean-Marc and Isabelle have a heated verbal argument in the woods but their voices are absent from the soundtrack, only the stirring musical score is left to articulate their emotional exchange. We only hear Isabelle speak once the two have finally resolved their difference of opinion. It’s a surprisingly effective, and sophisticated, manipulation of diegetic sound that proves there is some film-making intelligence at work and only exaggerates how frustratingly banal other aspects of the film are.
And the politics of the film are somewhat askew too. OK, so the Professor wants to cast off the pretence of sobriety, embrace hedonism and apparently elevate himself above the petty morality of modern society. He probably got the idea from reading Sigmund Freud’s ‘Civilisation and its Discontents’. However the Prof’s liberation is built upon the prostitution of women. In other words his ‘paradise’ is predicated upon the exploitation of others so how is it any different from the society that he hoped to escape from? He hasn’t challenged the arbitrary and exploitative hierarchies of socio-economic civilisation he’s just re-produced them in new pastures and elected himself the big boss. Who’d imagine there was so much political substance to a movie called ‘Erotic Diary of a Lumberjack’? A trip to your local Grindhouse can be a mighty thought-provoking experience folks.
Reviewed by Narcan – 19 APR 2012