Heavy Petting

  • 1989
  • Movie
  • R
  • Documentary

Celebrities' reminiscences of puberty are mixed with clips from 1950s melodramas, newsreels, and sex education films in this collage by Obie Benz, who did similar work as a production consultant on THE ATOMIC CAFE (1983). While enjoyable in small doses, HEAVY PETTING suffers from a lack of focus and repetitiveness: it's cute, but not nearly so cute as it...read more

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Celebrities' reminiscences of puberty are mixed with clips from 1950s melodramas, newsreels, and sex education films in this collage by Obie Benz, who did similar work as a production consultant on THE ATOMIC CAFE (1983). While enjoyable in small doses, HEAVY PETTING suffers from a lack

of focus and repetitiveness: it's cute, but not nearly so cute as it would like to be.

Like THE ATOMIC CAFE, HEAVY PETTING aims to be a portrait of America in the 1950s, that stereotypical decade of repression and conformity. But Benz doesn't seem to have had (or to have been able to stick to) a firm agenda for the film: the celebrities who talk about their teenage memories are so

much part of a single milieu, a white Manhattan hip/performance art/1980s crowd, that one suspects that all were friends of the filmmakers. While they provide a good number of amusing moments, some guests are included even though they have little of interest to say. Viewers lured by the presence

of Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs, who appear together, will probably be disappointed (although Ginsberg tells an amusing story about innocently remarking to a neighbor girl that her breasts had grown considerably and being beaten for his trouble: "I didn't have much to do with girls after

that").

Although HEAVY PETTING has no particular structure, it covers all the bases one thinks of regarding sexual repression. David Byrne tries to explain the concept of "bases" as a guideline for male sexual behavior, noting wryly that it added more mystery than it solved. Spalding Gray (who as a

professional talker has many of the films best moments) recalls being similarly puzzled by the arcane terminology of a sex manual, his only source of information in his youth other than the Sears Roebuck catalogue. Another consistently amusing speaker is actor Josh Mostel, who provides sardonic

reflections on his middle-class Jewish upbringing.

Many of the women speak about the intricate, unspoken subtleties that required them to react without acknowledging that they were in any way aware of the existence of sex. Judith Malina talks about the proper way to react during a slow dance, and what sort of "signals" were expected to be given in

a good-night kiss. Ignorance is a common theme: Laurie Anderson quips that "There were only one or two bad girls in the school, and we didn't know exactly what it was that they did."

The accompanying film clips (from such films as THE WILD ONE (1954), REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955), BLACKBOARD JUNGLE (1955), BUS STOP (1956), ROCK, PRETTY BABY (1956), INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN (1957), HIGH SCHOOL HELLCATS (1958), and BECAUSE THEY'RE YOUNG (1960), along with a number of

educational shorts) are entertaining but carelessly interspersed to no discernable point other than to keep the whole thing moving. (Ditto the soundtrack of '50s rock 'n' roll.) Best are the clips from "Perversion for Profit," a diatribe about the evils of pornography--"Stark nudity on slick

paper obviously calculated to stimulate the reader"--a la REEFER MADNESS (1936). Working up a froth, its narrator asserts: "This same type of rot and decay caused 16 of the 19 major civilizations to disappear from the earth....not because of the strength of the aggressors, but because of moral

decay from within." But most of the film clips focus on the usual cliches; they're familiar even if you've never seen them before. (Graphic violence, extensive nudity, sexual situations, adult situations, substance abuse, extreme profanity.)

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  • Released: 1989
  • Rating: R
  • Review: Celebrities' reminiscences of puberty are mixed with clips from 1950s melodramas, newsreels, and sex education films in this collage by Obie Benz, who did similar work as a production consultant on THE ATOMIC CAFE (1983). While enjoyable in small doses, HE… (more)

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