Twitching, pink-eared rabbits crowd the opening credits begetting on a monstrous scale to Cole Porter’s Let’s Misbehave. Expectations are secured; let the scratching of the eternal itch commence. Woody Allen’s adaptation followed three years of roaring success of Dr. David Reuben sex manual of the same name, and the film itself was to attract massive audiences. What’s New Pussy Cat? (1965) and Casino Royale (1967) are testament to the appetite for titillation that had sprouted in the previous decade. However, the randy antics of an over-sexed, pawing Austin Powers-styled character that had served as a gateway for sexy play 1960s wasn’t going to cut it as the expression of this impulse for liberalised sexual attitudes began to flourish.
Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex toes a more prurient side to Woody Allen’s preoccupation with the fraternising of the sexes. Gratifyingly, the Reuben cultural hysteria is tapped into while much of its more questionable content is spurned. It was credited with presenting more progressive stance on sex, yet Reuben’s treatise on homosexuality as a “perversion” demonstrates how primitive a “progressive” sex academic can be. Allen manages to cover bestiality to sadomasochism with a studied irreverence, bypassing any such moral posing. The eight free-standing vignettes fall under the chapter headings of Reuben’s book; pointedly none are ever really addressed. Indeed, the promise of the film’s title is similarly unfulfilled; it effectively presents the excuse for Allen to run riot in taboo needling.
The opening segment, “Do Aphrodisiacs Work?” tells of the plight of Woody Allen’s failing jester/ stand-up – “T.B. or not T.B. – that is the congestion” – to seduce his Queen played by Lynn Redgrave (who coincidentally featured in Kinsey of 2004, a very different treatment of a sexologist). Ingenious casting sees Redgrave gently and knowingly rib her arch theatrical background. Deftly, she darts between genre, connecting the classical dots of Allen’s Marxian Tudor romp.
Now with most grievous dispatch,
I will open her latch
To get to her snatch.
Gene Wilder’s turn as Dr. Doug Ross (a certain paediatrician of County General wouldn’t be pleased), the Jackson Heights G.P. who falls for an Armenian sheep proves to be one of the more memorable segments. Wilder’s accented earnestness is crucial to the comedy. The courtship is played out from the incipient hope of love’s young dream, caressing a Lambswool sweater, to its inevitable demise, leaving Wilder in the gutter, guzzling “Woolite”.
Allen’s previously observed predilection for genre contortion re-emerges in the segment entitled “What are Sex Perverts?”. “What’s My Perversion?”, Allen’s What’s My Line? quiz show parody features a celebrity panel who must identify contestants’ fetishes. Regis Philbin and Robert Q. Lewis are numbered among the panel of celebrities (Lewis, who elicits a particular warmth of feeling in this An Affair to Remember devotee, deserves special mention as the TV interviewer who facilitates the encoded message of affection from Cary Grant’s Nickie Ferranti to Deborah Kerr’s Terry McKay).
In the final two vignettes Allen returns as his stock-in-trade bumblingly inadvertent hero. The former dabbles with the hammer horror genre: John Carradine is the Frankenstein-esque Dr Bernardo, the manic sexologist whose contributions to the field include “the connection between excessive masturbation and entering politics” and the discovery that “the clitoral orgasm should not only be for women”. Allen plays his new student whose major accomplishment to date is the publication of “Advanced Sex Positions: How to Achieve Them Without Laughing”.
The film closes with “What Happens During Ejaculation”- Allen’s interest in sex has been exclusively male-focused and so it’s a highly appropriate choice of subject. Reminiscent of “The Numskulls” comic strip from The Beano, the action takes place in the inner-space of a man during a dinner date with the hope of getting his rocks off. Burt Reynolds is an operator in the nerve centre, directing the offensive strategy of each body part, involving a great deal of ducking and diving to complete the mission. Attention to detail is central; of the many obstacles a priest has hijacked the conscience: “We found him tampering in the cerebral cortex, turning up the guilt reflex”.
Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex *But Were Afraid to Ask displays once again Woody Allen’s soft spot for genre-play. He wields Shakespeare, Fellini and campy horror so as to create separate worlds in which the increasingly nuanced Woody Allen figure can run riot. Its format could see it considered less significant or frivolous yet as snapshots they necessitate economy and finesse. Nonetheless – for all the sheer delight in Allen’s devilry – I will admit I’m chomping at the bit for when Diane Keaton will be allowed out to play again. On to Sleeper!