A VERY STRANGE film. The best description I can find is that it's almost as if DEVO made pornography. It's got sort of a cult-following, as it's one of the few porn films that makes an effort at having a plot. And, um, what a plot; basically, after a nuclear war, there's two types of people, Sex-Positives (1% of the population; basically normal folks) and Sex-Negatives (99%; people who are made violently ill at sexual contact, even of the mild sort, of, say, kissing). And the Sex-Positives are rounded up to perform nightly sex shows at Nightmarish Cabaret Type Things for the Negatives to watch. (Which struck me as really odd – if you couldn't have sex, it'd seem that the least thing in the world you'd want is to watch OTHER people having sex.) They're hosted by an abusive MC, who tends to mock and berate the Sex Negatives for watching these sex shows, and then the actual show starts. And they're typically very, very strange – the first one is a Standard Fifties Mother type, sitting in a chair while three grown men in baby bibs/diapers/high chairs beat upon the high-chair-tray with human bones, while the milkman – a guy in a huge rat costume – comes in and has sex with her. (The sex scenes are graphic and also some of the most un-erotic things put on celluloid. Also, way, way, too long, though I suppose complaining about the overly long, un-sexy graphic sex scenes in a porn film is like, you know, complaining about the fish swimming or the birds flying.) Another is a twist on the Cocteau Beauty and the Beast where hands come through the floor and snap while a couple of women have sex over a table made of a nude woman trapped in an overturned phone booth. Or, a man in a pencil costume having sex with a woman holding a telephone, while another woman sits semi-nude at a dictograph, lazily typing and repeating "Do you want me to take a memo?" while Oil Gushers go off in the background. (This is sort of amusing, the gusher/pencil combo, because the way it's cut, it's like Phallic Symbol/Phallus/Phallic Symbol/Phallus. It's like the director, Rinse Dream, is saying "Wait, sorry, here, are we too subtle here? Because, you know, this is what we mean, OK?")
Anyway, the "plot" involves a Sex-Negative couple who show up at the titular Cafe Flesh every night, and the man is frustrated, but the woman less so, because it turns out she's actually Sex Positive! Max, the MC, finds out her secret and basically eggs her on and goads her into outing herself by having sex on stage with a guy she's been crushing on, and then it basically ends with a guy with loads of open sores strangling Max, while the Negative Guy leaves in heartbreak/disgust while she gets fucked by the guy. It ends on a still of her face in Mid-Orgasm, and that's… it. It was getting way, way too long, so I was grateful the story didn't actually have any Third Act, but it was still sort of odd the way it just ended. Still, though, it was much better and less stupid than A Boy And His Dog…
One thing amusing about the screening I saw (at a local arthouse theater), and I'm trying to figure out if this was planned/a plant or not. Anyway, a little late into the film, a man in a fedora and trenchcoat comes in, sits near the front, and about 20, 30 minutes into the film gets up and leaves again. And I can't figure out if he was, you know, there for ambience or if he was just some guy who weeps for the local porno theater that got torn down a few years ago every day for the rest of his life.
Anyway, though, there's some interesting things about Cafe Flesh as an artifact; I mean, you've got the sort of Cold-War Paranoia thing going on, and you've got to wonder if the whole Sex-Negative/Sex-Positive thing was some sort of comment on their audience (after all, if their audience could Get Laid(tm), what are they doing watching Cafe Flesh?), some sort of weird self-loathing post-modern porn film. And, well, just the whole… strange aspect of the sex scenes; I mean, they're really, really odd. Really odd. I mean, you cut out the genitalia and you've got… something. I don't even know what. But whatever it was, I figure that Jerry Casale probably appreciated it.
And, one of the strangest things about the film – there was one name I recognized from the credits. And that was Mitchell Froom, who did the music. Which was really, really surprising to me, since he's a pretty big shot producer/musician now, who has worked on a bunch of really well-known, great records. I know he's done a bunch with Soul Coughing, and I think he worked on the new David Byrne one (and I seem to remember him working with Tom Waits, too, but I could be wrong on that). So, that was just a bit strange. The music was… oddly good in a weird "HELLO THIS IS THE NINETEEN EIGHTIES!!!" sort of way. Lots of synth horns and stuff. I would really like the soundtrack LP, The Key of Cool, truth be told. (Why isn't that on CD?!)
But yeah… very, very odd, very very strange.
And, stranger still – they made sequels! Although, I'm pretty sure those didn't have the original crew, and were from the reports I've read, basically just straight-forward porn films.
The story on creating it that I've found is that the crew wanted to make a standard art film, but could only get backing from porno producers, so they had to put in all the sex scenes. Unfortunately, after that, it was too explicit for the arthouses, and too weird for the pornhouses, so they were kind of stuck. Despite Cafe Flesh was intended to be a mainstream film (at least, in the non-pornography sense), Rinse Dream ended up directing a few more porn films, and, according to IMDB, did one non-porn film, and worked on the cable TV series Silk Stockings (which ran for a few years on USA, Saturday nights at 10pm). His IMDB page, though, shows him as being silent since 1993 – forget Randolph Scott, Whatever Happened To Rinse Dream?