The plight of the innocent young girl turned erotic star is an alluring story that never seems to go out of style. From the true life story of Dorothy Stratten in STAR 80 (1980) to the empty glitz farce that was SHOWGIRLS (1995), people love nothing more than to see the tale of a young, beautiful, trusting girl who ultimately realizes her lifelong dream to “see her name in lights”, even at the expense of her very soul. As further proof of the timelessness of this phenomenon, this two DVD set comes with two versions of the same film; 1969’s VALLEY OF CHANTAL, and 2007’s CHANTAL, starring Misty Mundae. Both versions are a fleshy piece of Hollywood noir that each tell a sad story of lies, broken dreams and detail the story of two women from different eras who end up with their virtue lost between the creases of Hollywood’s infamous casting couch like an errantly dropped kernel of theater popcorn. Let us watch both films and marvel at the price of fame - as well as the $29.99 retail price of this product - and see for ourselves if it was all worth it in the end.
VALLEY OF CHANTAL (1969)
This is the tale of Chantal Duval, a naïve woman who hits the streets of late sixties Hollywood trying to find that big break in legitimate film. Except for the ubiquitous jazz soundtrack that accompanies nearly all erotic black and white films from the day, the entire film is silent save for her voiceover narration detailing her experiences on her quest for stardom. First she meets a predatory lesbian who promises her work, and then uses the feeling of sisterhood/friendship to bed her. After that, the woman stops returning her calls forcing Chantal to take up with an man she meets reading the trade papers in a park, who introduces himself as a foreign director. It’s just what an aspiring starlet dreams of until she visits him at work one day and discovers him sweeping the studio lot. In the end she attempts to land a legitimate gig only to find out that it involves dancing topless while a man takes pictures of her. She watches this action as two young girls dance for the camera for way too long, scoffing and reflecting over their bodily gyrations in a loathsome manner that hints at a secret obsession with the “Girls who wiggled”. Nonetheless, she vows to leave Hollywood forever rather than end up like so many women before her.
Like many erotic films from this era, the scenes of sex are long, largely symbolic, and seem to take place in slow motion. A strange, but strikingly ironic and troubling bit of trivia about this film is the fact that the actual identity of actress who played the role of Chantal, herself, is not known by anyone to this day. This is indeed especially chilling since she, too, was obviously played by an unknown actress who bared all to play the lead in the low budget story of a woman who would do anything (and anyone) to get her name carved in the indelible stone of the Hollywood walk of fame (art imitating life, anyone?). While Chantal seemed incapable of portraying any emotion whatsoever other than naiveté or smugness regarding her soon to be big Hollywood career (that always seemed just out of her grasp), the joyless French-accented voiceover of the actress made her failings not so much tragic as inevitable.
The remake stars Misty Mundae and, for the first time ever in one of her films, she gets to be something more than just a naïve young girl mauled by lesbian sci-fi monsters in a fantasy farce parody of a much better film. Well, there is a scene where she is mauled by a monstrous lesbian photographer (played by Darian Caine) in a fantasy photo shoot gone horribly, horribly awry, but one thing that I noticed is that for the first time ever in a Misty Mundae movie, there is an actual plot; a storyline where she plays a character who strives to achieve something, instead of a young sexpot who subsists solely on pointless nudity and endless scenes of simulated sex. You may think I have finally lost my mind for saying this, but this is the first time I have seen Misty Mundae actually “acting” in one of her roles instead of merely giggling, dropping a stupid pun, and then disrobing. It’s true; as Chantal, Misty actually emotes! Aside from that, this version of Chantal seems to know what it wants to accomplish and achieves a rare middle ground between “sexploitation roughie” and “Lifetime movie, straddling the line between gritty and preachy. Thankfully, it doesn’t waste too much time dwelling on the emotional aftermath of the admittedly heart breaking situations young Chantal finds herself in as she struggles to survive Hollywood cursed with the body of a dancer and cursed the trusting mind of a child. Neither misogynists or feminists need as the film is squarely aimed at sexploitation romantics (such as myself), who welcome a little sob to go with the throb. Chantal is a measured dose of hard boiled reality and soft-core fantasy that may give you a “happy ending” that Chantal herself could have only aspired for.
In another bit of irony, this was Misty Mundae’s last erotic film before she, like Chantal, sought “more stimulating” mainstream work as an actress under her given name, Erin Brown. Feel free to make your own joke here.
Mundae’s surprisingly good performance aside, 2007’s Chantal isn’t perfect. The supporting scumbag characters and their “evil, secret” motivations were often too high concept and needlessly complicated for a bunch of street hustlers. Moreover, the strange, senseless bad luck suffered by Chantal became tiresome, bordering on silly after a while, like an old Wile E Coyote cartoon where you just know they are somehow going to get “laid low” every time you see them onscreen. Still, it did have an erotic scene with Darian Caine, Julie Strain, and Mistie Mundae in it, and there was a time in my life when that alone would have been enough for me to hit the “buy” button. Perhaps for you that time is now? Oh, the innocence of youth.
Extras include a full color booklet; director commentary on both; a “The Making of Chantal” mini documentary; a commentary track featuring Misty Mundae; an interview with Nick Philips; a bonus featurette, and a few other things. An exhaustive collection of extras for a film you have probably never heard of, but surprisingly a necessary one.