In recent years somewhat of a trend has emerged of parodying and paying homage to exploitation films from the ‘60s and ‘70s, the most obvious example being the Tarantino / Rodriguez franchise Grindhouse. In my opinion most of these attempts to recapture the seedy atmosphere of the best genre flicks fall flat, with some exceptions. Viva is one such exception.
Barbi is your classic stereotype of an all-American housewife in the 1970s – when her husband Rick arrives home from work she has dinner on the table and his slippers laid out. As she lovingly stokes his pipe and hands him a glass of his favourite whiskey, she attentively asks him how his day was. Things seem beyond perfect between the couple, but when Rick announces his plans to go on a lengthy business trip thus cancelling their holiday plans, the two have an argument and Rick leaves angrily declaring he doesn’t know if he will return at all.
Distraught, Barbi rings her best friend Sheila who just happens to have split with her husband as well. Free of their spouses the two friends decide to go to the big city in search of adventure. The first person they meet is Mrs James a friendly madam from the local brothel who promptly offers the girls some work. “I’ve always dreamed of becoming a prostitute!” says Sheila. In accordance with their new lifestyle the girls decide to choose new names for themselves – Sheila takes on the whorish title of Candy and Barbi settles on the classy Viva. The girls also mention to Mrs James that they want to find their dream-men, so she sets them up on dates with various men who have the individual qualities the girls seek.
Before she realizes it Barbi/Viva is knee-deep in a world previously alien to her – a world of free love, nudist camps, overly camp hairdressers, psychedelic orgies, and people who randomly break into song. Viva is part of the sexual revolution and she’s loving it! That is, until she realizes all these supposedly “sexually liberated” guys want to do is spike her drink and take advantage of her.
With Viva, director/star (and lets not forget producer/editor/costume designer/etc.!) Anna Biller has crafted a pastel and polyester world where Russ Meyer, Radley Metzger, Doris Wishman and Joe Sarno would all feel completely at home. From the films opening frames you are plunged headfirst into such garish Technicolor surroundings that you are momentarily blinded by their tasteless vulgarity… and that’s just the décor! Biller’s attention to detail is unmatched when it comes to (the) art direction & set design.
The main aspects that make this film work so well is that Ms. Biller has all the staples of ‘70s Sexploitation filmmaking down to a tee: from the actors’ exaggerated performances (each time Sheila’s husband uttered his obnoxious guffaw I felt the urge to kill a small animal) and the barrage of sexual innuendos in every cheesily delivered line of dialog to the blatant advertising of certain brands of liquor and tobacco and swingin’ ‘70s soundtrack. Indeed, even Barbi/Viva herself resembles a young Tura Satana.
Staying true to the genre there are also some sequences that make absolutely no sense, for example when Barbi fails to come home one night her husband is rushed to hospital. When Barbi finally arrives dressed for whatever reason as a nurse, she is told by the attending doctor that Rick has suffered a seizure due to her not arriving home on time and he is now nearing the final stages of pneumonia?!
With its numerous references to Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, singing nudists, and an psychedelic animated trip sequence, Viva is a brilliant gem awash in the sea of shit that is the modern “grindhouse revival”. Highly recommended.
- Slideshow featuring original nude photos
- Behind-the-scenes footage
- Original Theatrical Trailer
Available on DVD from Cult Epics.