“Mmm, everyone thinks they can just use me and manhandle me. I’ve had enough, Alan. I’ve had enough. It’s time for me to do the manhandling. It’s time for me to get a taste of what you have… control.” This voiceover opens Belladonna: Manhandled 3, the latest and greatest directorial triumph of one-woman cottage-industry Belladonna.
The erotic auteur‘s bleak view of male-female relationships often permeates her directorial efforts, but it’s often most evident in the Manhandled series. Like its predecessors, Manhandled 3 examines couples in sexual crisis. The crises work themselves out in unflinching portrayals of sexual anguish and deviance.
An anthology of loosely connected shorts shot in the “gonzo” style, director Belladonna trades solid production values for rawness and grit. It’s a gamble that sometimes pays off, but there are times—as in the scene featuring Brianna Love and James Deen—where the documentary-style microphone placement hinders the drama rather than enhancing it. Clearly paying homage to the bleak independent films of the 1970s, the mic exists to catch audio in the moment. There’s no looping or polishing, so Deen’s mumbled whispers to Love are largely inaudible. This disappointed me, because both Love and Deen give edgy, intense performances that I wanted to love.
Similarly, the flat lighting creates a drab sameness that doesn’t change until the final scene. It reached a point of distraction for me, but as I think about it afterward, I’ve started to wonder if, perhaps, this was Belladonna’s intent. You see, every scene but the last takes place in the same house. I couldn’t tell you if the art director was inept or simply nonexistent, and Belladonna could only use so many camera tricks to disguise the location. Perhaps unconsciously, this reenforces the overall theme of each vignette: all couples are the same. They may fight for different reasons, but in the end they’re all fighting for the same thing: control.
This control manifests itself sexually, as is the custom of the form. In keeping with her feminist spirit, each of these scenes feature women either gaining control or asserting control over their significant others. The symbolism ranges from beat-you-over-the-head obvious—the final scene has Belladonna herself having her way with on-screen beau Alan Stafford, who is tied up and blindfolded—to remarkably subtle. The fourth scene stars pixie Lexi Belle and boyfriend Mr. Pete. He confronts her over dressing “too sexy” and demands to know where she’s going. When she refuses to tell, Pete forces her to pleasure him. This might sound like Mr. Pete getting the best of Belle, but the reality of the situation is simple: Belle knows that once Pete has had his way with her, he’ll toss her aside and forget about whatever she’s doing. She knows that if she closes her eyes and waits it out, soon she’ll be on her way to visit the man (men?) she really loves.
Each of the relationships depicted reenforce the idea that women allow men to dominate them in order to gain control of their own. As director, Belladonna manages to get some fierce performances out of typically docile stars. Perhaps the most vicious and physical is the uncouth partnership of Gianna and Steve Holmes. After a one-night stand, Gianna wants to leave, but Holmes makes her into something of a sex slave. An oft-repeated line of dialogue, “Do you want to fuck or fight?” gets to the basest animal instincts of males and females alike. Holmes vacillates in what he wants, aggressively pinning her to the sheets and shouting in her face with alarming intensity, while Gianna playfully defuses the situation with apathetic laughter meant to demean Holmes.
Belladonna also maintains the characterization within the sex scenes, often providing an in-character “button” to the scene that so many gonzo films lack. They set a scene, but as soon as the sex starts, it’s just grueling, workman-like tedium. Even in Manhandled 3, several of the scenes go on a few positions longer than necessary, but the gravity and truth of their acting prevents audiences from ever getting bored.
The only flaw in the performances comes from Mr. Pete. In his scene, Mr. Pete has a few moments of obvious, going-through-the-motions boredom, but like the nonexistent art direction, these moments of “truth” unintentionally speak volumes about the character he’s portraying. Here’s a man with little interest in sex as anything but a source of power. As written, he doesn’t want to have sex with Belle; he just wants to keep her from having sex with someone else. I don’t want to get too down on Pete; perhaps this was a conscious choice. If it wasn’t, it just shows Belladonna’s sharp eye in casting.
In her scene with Alan Stafford, Belladonna says—with both her body and her words—perhaps everything she’s ever wanted to say about feminism, femininity and male-female relationships. A tapestry weaving the subliminal, liminal and superliminal, Manhandled 3‘s final scene will leave audiences both mentally and physically spent—just the way Belladonna intended.
I’d also like to mention Belladonna’s interesting use of jump cuts. She uses them only in the first scene and the last, and in each case the effect illustrates the frayed-wire tension crackling through the scenes—at any moment, the wire might snap. It’s an aesthetic choice infrequently employed in adult entertainment, and here it pays off huge dividends. This is the kind of cinematic risk-taking that has become synonymous with Belladonna.
Afterward is an extended preview for a follow-up, Girl Train—a lesbian-domination comedy in which at least one scene will star Belladonna, Kimberly Kane and Aiden Starr. Adult films are not often known for truly funny dialogue or high-quality improvisations, but the scene presented has a little of both. I’ve included one of the best, laugh-out-loud exchanges in this brief scene as an audio clip below. I’m looking forward to it.
Click here to play the clip (0:07, 158KB)