One of the ironies of classic porn films, especially those that are revered as some of the greatest of all time, is that they are often lacking in the porn department. If you compare films of yore to today’s offerings, you would see how much more brash and in-your-face current titles have become. But much like trying to decide once-and-for-all the best athlete of all time or the greatest band of all time, the idea that comparative analysis between films of different generations can produce incontrovertible evidence that one is better than the other is more food for thought and fodder for discussion than an exact science.
Today’s porn has a lot working for it that directors and producers didn’t have two or three decades ago: societal values are looser; porn is more acceptable; and the technology that exists today allows filmmakers to do things and capture things that just weren’t possible back then. Despite the advancements, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the level of shock value contained in adult films was any less prevalent then than it is now, if taken in correct context.
But when we say “lacking in the porn department” we don’t always refer to quality. And in the case of Roommates, from 1981, the concern for many die-hard porn fanatics is a question of frequency. Still, the film is considered a triumph of adult cinema and for good reason. It has an excellent script, solid acting and keen production values. It conquered the Adult Film Association of America awards the year it was released. And it even managed to cross over into mainstream territory thanks to its being given an “R-rating” makeover.
Directed by Chuck Vincent, Roommates concerns three women, all strangers, who share an apartment in the hopes of not only making it in New York City, but also putting behind them some of the headaches and heartaches that have followed them in their lives. Their arrangement is a chance for all of them to start anew.
Billie (Samantha Fox) is a former call girl who has aspirations of making it in the world of advertising. Joan (Veroncia Hart) is a drama school graduate who is trying to hit the big time as an actress. And Sherry (Kelly Nichols) is a prominent fashion model whose fast-paced lifestyle had taken its toll on her relationships and her sobriety. Over the course of the film, the three of them form a close bond, relying on each other to keep on the straight and narrow. However, as hard as they try, their pasts continue to haunt them.
Billie gets blackmailed by a former pimp who threatens to expose her past should she fail to keep turning tricks. She gives the occasional blowjob to various men throughout, including a very inexperienced client played by Ron Jeremy. She also services several men at a bachelor party, but feels the old pain return when she realizes the bachelor party is for her lover Jim (Jack Wrangler).
Meanwhile, Joan hits it off with a gay co-actor named Eddie (Jerry Butler) during auditions for an upcoming play. Though they are close, she has been carrying on with a married man for weeks, holing up in hotel rooms and the like for quickie fucks and blowjobs that she hopes will lead to a declaration of love. When she discovers that her lover’s wife is pregnant, she is crushed but finds solace (and an unexpected fuck buddy) in Eddie after the two are approached by an agent who says that he wants to represent them. In their celebration, they fall into each other’s arms, knowing that it ultimately can’t go anywhere.
Sherry, in contrast, has been living on the edge, drinking and doing amyl-nitrite in line with her party lifestyle. Much of the time, her vices take her into frightening territory where she gets abused and violated by strange men. During one binge, she does a 69; during another, she gets gang fucked by four ruffians who use a bottle and tire iron in the attack, and piss on her as a final humiliation. She gets rescued from that attack by a guy named Joel (Jamie Gillis), who turns out to be a deranged pervert who then stalks her. In one scene, he masturbates over Sherry’s unconscious body. In another, he coerces Sherry into taking off her panties in a classy restaurant and proceeds to rub her clit under the table with his bare foot. His mind-bending performance as the insatiable psychopath earned him Best Supporting Actor Awards from the AFAA and CAFA for his mind-bending performance.
Roommates is beautifully crafted, beautifully acted and offers a rather sobering look into the struggles of big city life for three young girls trying to make it to the big time. And while it bubbles over with street cred due to its stunning level of realism, it comes up just a bit short in the fantasy department, which unfortunately hurts its porn cred. Should that in any way sully its status as one of the all-time great classics? Watch it and decide for yourself.