The Brazilian Gringo watches no-core porn (Wild Orchid)

Fala cados, beleza?

Welcome to The Brazilian Gringo, an ongoing column about life, pop culture, politics, and history in Brazil from the perspective of a permanent resident who has lived in the country for three years and counting. If you have any suggestions for subjects you’d like to see covered in future articles, let me know in the comments!

“From the creators of 9½ Weeks, comes the most eagerly awaited film of the year. Enter a world of desperate love and stunning sensuality. Enter the world of Wild Orchid”
-Narration from the Wild Orchid trailer

Watching the trailer for the 1989 skin flick Wild Orchid, I kept waiting for a disclaimer at the end, much like one would expect seeing diarrhea medicine being advertised on American television: “amounts of eroticism negligible, consult your doctor if the film leaves you more flaccid than usual.” Alas, no such luck. There have been many a film that have been accused of having better trailers than the final product. But Wild Orchid is every bit as good as its trailer. It’s fucking terrible of course, an obra de merda featuring a rapidly fading Mickey Rourke and a woefully inexperienced Carré Otis as they circle one another, again and again and again, during Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro. It’s billed as an “adventure of the senses” but is less sexy than the realm of the senses. Directed by Zalman King, the auteur behind Red Shoe Diaries, the film aims to be 9½ Weeks by way of Emmanuelle: a white-hot (but non-hardcore) romantic fairy tale of true love with enough heat to launch millions of video rentals from Blockbuster (Descanse em paz). Instead, the result, after a few chuckles, is a depressing feeling that after 21 years of military rule, Brazil had to suffer more by having these underdressed dimwits having mopey sex all over the place.

First things first: I have a love for the erotic dramas and thrillers from the 80s and 90s. I can’t even call them “guilty pleasures,” they are just *fun* for me. On that level alone, I wanted Wild Orchid to succeed. Cheerfully silly sexploitation flicks where beautiful people bone each other under billowing curtains and cavort around in locations that would make interior designers and/or tour guides green with envy, sign me up! In the age when online hardcore is ubiquitous there’s something quaint and charming about revisiting these films. Some, like 9 ½ Weeks, succeed because while they are not “good” in the traditional sense of the world, the actors and the filmmakers throw themselves into the ludicrousness with full gusto. Wild Orchid is not one of those films; it feels like a direct-to-video release that Rourke would done in 1995, but it was 1989 and he still had some star power left.

The film is about Emily Reed (Otis, Razzie nominee for Worst New Star) who is hired by a top law firm and is sent to Rio de Janeiro, along with her supervisor (Jacqueline Bisset, whose icy cool gives the feature a smidge more energy), to ensure a business deal with the mysterious, mega rich hotel owner and playboy James Wheeler (Rourke, Razzie nominee for Worst Actor) goes through. It’s Carnaval, the streets are filled with “passion” and the two leads dance and circle each other, waiting for the right moment couple up. It’s a very long wait. The plot details are completely beside the point; the whole story plays like a filmed version of one of the lesser letters to Penthouse. As Roger Ebert said in his eloquent takedown: “Its story is absurd, and even its locale was chosen primarily for its travelogue value; this movie no more needs to take place in Brazil than in Kansas, which the heroine leaves in the opening scene.” Admittedly there are some unintentionally hilarious moments. The first being Emily saying goodbye to her mother, who looks 80 years old and lives in a tiny house in the middle of the barren Kansas plains. Another is Emily in Rio spying on two strangers fucking under a broken water pipe. Otis’ line delivery is consistently amusing in its flatness (Owen Gleiberman noted in his Entertainment Weekly review, “[she] has an uncanny ability to make spoken dialogue sound dubbed”). But it’s not nearly enough to stave off the tedium that pervades the film.

The travelogue value is undoubtedly one of the film’s selling points and it can’t even deliver on that. Filmed in Rio de Janeiro and Salvador, two cities famous for their Carnaval celebrations (and coincidentally, over 1200 kilometers apart), the featured locations look good but anonymous. The film devotes time to marvelling at the “stunning sensuality” of the “wild” samba dances and costumes but given the film’s target are gringos (which in Brazilian Portuguese just refers to anyone who isn’t Brazilian; it’s not a pejorative) there’s no real heat on display. The soundtrack features some nice tunes but nothing that merits a purchase. Save for a small appearance from the beloved Brazilian actor Milton Gonçalves, all the other Brazilians are just (predominantly black and brown) faces in the crowd. It’s impossible to ignore the racism on display but wholly unsurprising.

The film was made shortly after Brazil transitioned back to a democracy and that is something far more interesting to think about than what is served up on the screen. That transition (which will be explored in a future thread) was… rocky, to put it mildly, plagued with problems concerning skyrocketing inflation, increased violence, and numerous political scandals. Obviously, Wild Orchid is interested in none of that (those subjects are all boner killers). But knowing what was happening at the time gives the film a certain perverse funniness; the filmmakers made Brazil look like a banal tourist trap at a time when it was anything but. In the years that followed, Brazil’s international reputation for violence and poverty would only grow and with this in mind there’s a certain quaint quality in showing the nation as some sex-positive tropical paradise. Certainly the people in the background look like they are having a lot more fun than the leads. Unfortunately, the film is way too sleepy to do anything of interest with this premise.

I acknowledge that as a US national living in Brazil, I am far from the film’s target audience. As a hardcore leftist, I *should* be offended by how my adopted home has been reduced garden variety “spice” for an Emmanuelle knockoff. But it’s just not worth the effort. Some ink has been spilled about whether Rourke and Otis, who were an item at the time (and would later marry in 1992) actually boinked in front of the camera. It’s the kind of meaningless speculation fuelled by some sly hints from King to make his film racier than it really is. Emily and Wheeler make for one of the more joyless couplings of 80s erotic cinema and reading later that Otis said Rourke was abusive to her doesn’t make their scenes any more fun to watch. Everything about this production is dispirited; it can’t even register as a camp classic.

If there’s one thing that’s genuinely impressive about Wild Orchid it’s that it makes Carnaval look totally “meh.” The vibrancy, the cultural richness, the sheer sense of exuberance and fun in Carnaval…. all of it drained away until the final product looks like something from a dinner theatre production. As someone who passionately loves Carnaval, that’s no easy feat and ultimately the film’s biggest sin.