Public Affairs

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Public Affairs (1983) is the only teaming of screenwriter Joyce Snyder and writer/director Henri Pachard. Each was an astute satirist and social commentator, and together they made what is probably the most intelligent adult film ever made. By the time Public Affairs was made Pachard had already written and directed a socially conscious and progressive adult film, Outlaw Ladies (1981). With Public Affairs Pachard shifts his sights from the American housewife to the senatorial campaign trail. Snyder, best known for writing the cult-classic Pledge Night (1990) brings her twistedly dark sense of humor to Public Affairs, elevating it far beyond the standard narrative driven pornographic film.

Few pornographic movies are as narrative driven as Public Affairs. The film follows Nick Stern (Paul Thomas) as he screws his way along the campaign trail with his trusted manager Tommy (Joey Silvera) by his side. Nick Stern uses his political power to seduce women and then discard them without a second thought. One of these women, Jodie (Annette Heinz), comes forward to journalist Elvira Lawrence (Annette Haven) and sets in motion a series of events that will lead to Stern’s disgrace and downfall.

Public Affairs presages the Monica Lewinsky scandal of the nineties with its frank depictions of the abuse of power. Yet the objective of the political commentary at the heart of Public Affairs is far more immediate for Pachard, Snyder and company. Stern represents the political lobbyists who, in the early eighties, were campaigning to get the pornography business out of New York City’s Times Square. Stern is a hypocrite, running on an anti-smut and pro-women’s right ticket just as the politicians who waged their war on Times Square were hypocrites for attacking a vice in which they indulged.

Public Affairs is so effective that the character of Nick Stern still resonates today. Stern is a silver tongued slime ball who is drunk with power. He quotes Hemingway to convince women to try anal, throws. sex parties for important campaign backers, speaks to the women in his orbit as if they were his servant and yet he can’t even remember their names. The sex scenes with Stern don’t grind the narrative to a halt, they embellish the narrative. It is in these hardcore sex scenes that Stern reveals his true nature as a domineering, manipulative chauvinist.

Annatte Haven’s performance is just as good as Paul Thomas’ though her scenes of intercourse tend to slow the momentum of the film. Haven shines in the scenes where Elvira Lawrence is investigating Stern, interviewing Tommy and commiserating with Jodie. Pachard is clever in how he combats losing narrative momentum during hardcore scenes by cutting to brief montages of the campaign trail and Lawrence’s investigation. Often the dialogue from one shot will carry over into the next, making explicit what would otherwise be subtext.

On a technical level Public Affairs is wonderfully shot by Larry Revene. Reven manages to evoke the gritty, urban dramas of the New Hollywood movement of the seventies which adds a dramatic urgency to Public Affairs. Likewise Barry Levitt’s soundtrack, which combines synth themes with Sousa-style fanfares, gives another dimension of legitimacy to Public Affairs. Public Affairs looks, sounds and is about much more than any average porno. In America’s Puritanical society it’s easy to forget that pornography can be art. By contrast to the volume of free amateur porn available via the internet today Public Affairs looks Oscar worthy.