A Movie About

Sexual Bondage
Silly Hats

These are just a few of the very many Silly Hats of Gor. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Copyright 2005 by Pat Powers

In the proud tradition of bloggers reporting their transgressions against humanity, I have to report that I've recently watched the movie "Gor." It's been shown repeatedly on Showtime Beyond, one of those semi-premium cable channels you get when you sign up for digital cable.

Being a huge fan of John Norman's Gor novels, on which "Gor" is alleged to be based, I HAVE to watch "Gor" whenever it appears, for pretty much the same reasons some people have to rubberneck whenever they pass by an auto accident at the roadside. Oh, sure, they're going to see the same thing every time -- broken glass, crumpled cars, banged-up people, maybe some blood -- but they HAVE to look, even though they know what they will see.

Here's one of the few places where the filmmakers got things right -- in the foreground, we see Talena duking it out with a warrior in a silly hat (of course). In the background, we have the body of a practically naked slavegirl watching a slave auction. She's not the center of the scene, but her practically naked slavegirl body among all the other clothed bodies adds all of the right kind of ambience to the scene.

And if you imagine me watching "Gor" with my face pressed up against the screen, wearing a look of horrified fascination, hardly bothering to glance ahead and see if my chair is going to collide with any of the other furniture, you will have a good feel for my response to the movie.

The Gor novels are about sexy slavegirls and heroic warriors who ride on giant birds. The slavegirls spend most of their time being forced to wear sexy costumes, perform sexy dances, get chained and roped and gagged in various sexy ways, and occasionally have sexy sex with their captors. Their character development generally deals with how they cope with having all this sexy behavior forced upon them, and is almost invariably a matter of their finding it increasingly sexy and fun as the novel develops.

Here's another bit they got right -- a practically naked dancing slavegirl in a paga tavern leaps atop a tabel to get some warrior smooching. That's Tarl Cabot in the background ogling her butt. It's DEFINITELY a butt worth ogling.

The heroic warriors spend a certain amount of their time learning the mysteries of steel and of gold on a barbaric planet where one's sword is the law, but always with an eye to capturing or purchasing a sexy slavegirl whom they can dress in sexy costumes, tie and chain and gag in sexy ways, and have sexy sex with.

There are also plots concerning wars and conspiracies among Gor's nation states, dealings with two alien races also extant on Gor (and Earth) and adventures in various cultures and regions.

They are, in short, a real hoot. Not to be missed.

The movie "Gor" and its successor, "Outlaw of Gor" dismissed these themes in favor of something completely different. For it's very clear from having watched the movie several times that ALL the creative energy in "Gor," the one thing that the film's creators really wanted to impress upon viewers was the point that Gor is a planet where people wear an incredible array of different, funny-looking hats (see photomontage above).

OH, there's also a subplot about the importance of unashamedly revealing one's butt, whether it's a shapely slavegirl butt or a hairy warrior butt, or even a pudgy dwarf butt. But it's a minor theme in comparison.

Yet another thing they got right -- Talena gets into a bar fight with a wench in the paga tavern. During the course of the fight, we see their butts muchly. This is good. Unfortunately, the action moves very fast and its overall very dimly lit. I had to work my photo editing program like a mule to get these images looking good.

The theme of the importance of wearing a lot of different funny-looking hats is rarely touched on in heroic fantasy, and has certainly never been dwelt on to the same extent in any movie not extensively involving drag queens. Even the sixties-era romantic comedies made by Doris Day and others, though featuring many different funny-looking hats, are hardly a match for "Gor."

It's pretty obvious what has happened here, when you think about it. Somehow the sexual bondage themes in the Gor novels got transformed into the funny hat theme of the Gor movies. How and why this occurred will undoubtedly provide rich fodder for speculation for scholars and pundits for years to come, should absolutely nothing of interest occur in the arts over the next few years -- an eventuality that is much likelier than it might seem, should we continue to put Republicans and their censorious friends in the Oval Office.

In addition to all the butts, Talena has a GREAT rack, and her costuming makes that very evident. Here she's being led through Ko-ro-ba by Tarl with her hands tied in front of her, so as not to arouse suspicion.

Perhaps the most heartbreaking thing about the Gor movies is that in several scenes there's a glimmering of intelligence at work, as if the filmmakers almost understand what they are doing. Most notably, there is a scene in "Gor" in which the female lead, Talena, has a catfight with a blonde slavegirl in the firelit hall of a paga tavern. There's a certain amount of firelight gleaming on half-naked, writhing female flesh going on in that scene that's getting close to what I imagined a paga tavern might look like when I read the books.

Unfortunately, there's so much darkness in the scene that you can't always see all the flesh. Certainly, you can't see much of the flesh in the background. Whereas John Norman was expert at using "background" imagery to add spice to his exposition.

The bulk of the movie consists almost entirely of people milling about in silly hats. Occasionally they stop milling about, in order to fight, to yell at one another (or "speak" as we call it on Earth) and to kiss. Mostly, though, they fight, or run to and from fights.

A slavegirl auction scene, done right -- finally! The slavegirls are auctioned chained and (practically) naked. Their bodies are exhibited to emphasize their beauty -- something that a fair number -- well, almost all other -- slavegirl auction scenes miss.

The enormous energy and inventiveness that was expended on funny hats must have utterly exhausted the filmmakers because there was nothing, NOTHING else in the film that shows any sign of having been touched by creative energy of any description. The sets are for the most part dull and dingy, the cinematography is extraordinarily bad, and the action scenes are extremely unconvincing. You'll see something that contradicts these statements in all of my vidcaps, but believe me, they are the exceptions to the rule here.

What's most amazing of all is how bad the costuming -- other than in the area of funny hats -- is. You might think that the creativity that started at the crown of the characters' heads might have extended down below their necks. You might be wrong about that. In fact, everybody in the film dresses in dowdy barbarian rags, or shapeless city dweller robes, except for Jack Palance who as High Priest had a pretty nifty black robe to match his silly hat, but you don't see much of him, probably because he makes the other costumes look even worse by contrast.

True, there are plenty of thong-clad slavegirls milling about in various scenes, in the background, as per the Gor novels, which quite adeptly use minor scenes involving slavegirls being sexy and doing sexy things to keep the erotic frisson going as the plot advances. But the slavegirls seen in the Gor movies are seen so briefly, and often in such dim lighting, that they're hardly noticeable unless you put your DVD player or VCR on slo-mo.

A Gorean slavegirl chained arms overhead because she has "darkosis," some sort of disease. Such is medical care on Gor. Um ... in the novels, didn't they have these serums that kept everyone healthy and also prevented aging ...?

If you are going to have such sexy creatures in the background of your movie, you should take a page from all those TV shows that have used thong babes as eye candy so successfully over the last few years. The thong babes are rarely the point of a given scene, but the camera always gives them a nice, lip-smacking ogling of a shot. Why the people who made the Gor movie had the sense to populate it with thong-clad slavegirls, but didn't have the sense to give them any camera leer scenes, is quite a puzzler. My guess is, they were stupid.

The thing is, the Gor novels make it quite clear that Gor is a place where people set great store by their appearance. The Gorean masters really like it when their slavegirls get all dolled up, in terms of makeup, hairdos, perfumes and such. Their idea of clothing for slavegirls consisted of the sorts of things strippers bring to the runway to peel off -- brief silks and such that clearly reveal the slavegirl's body. In short, Gorean masters have what I would call "good taste" in clothing.

Free women wear elaborate costumes made of fine materials which reveal little or nothing of their bodies, to distinguish themselves from the naked and half-naked slavegirls they see in the streets and in their homes, having all the sex with their husbands and such. Even when the slavegirls are not front and center in a sexy scene, there are always slavegirls slipping around behind the scenes, being naked and bound and having sex.

The Gor movie somehow managed to include near-naked slavegirls, but they skipped all the rest and then didn't focus on the naked slavegirls. Would it have KILLED them to have had a nice, long, ogling shot running up the entire length of the body of one of the slavegirls being auctioned? Or how about Talena's body? Rebecca Ferrati is a former Playboy Playmate, I have a feeling she knows how to let a camera ogle her body, and that she has (or had at the time the film was made) a body worth ogling.

In fact, all the running and fighting and yelling and milling about and the brief bits of sexy clothing and bondage in the Gor movie pales beside the sheer opulence of their hats. It is as if the filmmakers had decided there might be an Oscar out there for Most Weird Hats In A Movie and decided to make a serious run for it, sacrificing All Else -- scriptwriting, acting, sets, cinematography, direction, stunts, special effects and costuming for the sake of that Silly Hats Oscar.

For the record, there's a plot somewhere in all the milling about. Tarl Cabot is a nerdy Earth professor. He's an archaeologist who's all hepped up on legends of Gor, the counter-Earth, and has a strange artifact called a Home Stone that's supposed to enable travel between Earth and Gor. He also has a fickle blond girlfriend who dumps him for a less wispy bachelor.

On his drive home from being dumped, he's transferred to Gor by the Home Stone. Slavers are doing terrible things, there's a plot against the King of Ko-ro-ba and his beautiful daughter Talena (played by former Playboy Playmate Rebecca Ferrati, whose body is perhaps the movie's best special effect, and whose acting is no more wooden than anybody else's, INCLUDING Jack Palance).

Oh, yeah, the plot. In no time Tarl is caught up in the intrigues of Ko-ro-ba, where he fights heroically to end slavery on Gor (anybody who's ever read the Gor novels will know this is an incredibly Hollywood touch). This involves a lot of milling around in bad costumes, and fighting guys with funny hats.

Sadly, this is a much deeper and more penetrating description than the movie's plot actually deserves.

So, you think, another good fantasy/SF novel is transformed into mush by Hollywood. It's not the FIRST time this ever happened, and it's extremely unlikely to be the last. The problem is, the Gor novels really are something special. They've spawned a fucking SUBCULTURE for Ghu's sake. People have chosen to LIVE their LIVES according to the precepts of Gorean life, as set forth in the Gor novels by Norman, including the part about women being sexy slavegirls who act sexy and have sexy sex a lot. (I have to say, I understand the appeal.)

But whatever YOU think of the Gorean subculture, it's only fair to admit that they have had a powerful impact on some of their readers. They are something special. So, the Gor movies would be comparable to the creators of the first Bond movies thinking it was about an effeminate fop who keeps having rude altercations, with the major theme being people who wear exotic orchids in their lapels. Or it would be as if Gene Roddenberry had conceived Star Trek: The Original Series primarily as an opportunity to demonstrate how silly the footwear of the future would be.

(I know someone is going to send me an email claiming that this was exactly the case. Forget it, Majel!)

In short, I think that the creators of the Gor movies blew a chance for a major franchise here. All they had to do was study the success of Deathstalker and Amazon Queen and apply that knowledge to their adaptation of the Gor novels, infusing them with plenty of near nakedness, actual nakedness, implied bondage, actual bondage, actual adventure and costuming. It wouldn't have been hard to do, the people who made Deathstalker and Amazon Queen were about halfway down the road and THEY didn't have the advantage of having the rights to Norman's works, which laid out the path to success in easy, follow-the-yellow-brick-road directions.

Now I know that just about EVERY science fiction and fantasy fan feels that his or her favorite writer's works would be a film franchise if properly adapted, but the Gor novels are different. In addition to their success in the SF marketplace, they spawned a subculture. Any novel or series of novels that have enough juice to spawn a subculture has a LOT of potential box office going for it, because if it's interesting enough to make some people want to live their lives by it, it's damn interesting enough to make a lot of other people want to watch it. And finally, heroic fantasy isn't your intellectually demanding genre, an important point considering today's moviegoing audience.

That's why favorite writers of mine whom I consider to be much stronger in terms of things like plotting, characterization, research and so forth -- people like Iain Banks, Tim Powers and Vernor Vinge -- don't have the same potential as a movie franchise. The average IQ among moviegoers would have to go up 20 or 30 points for any of their works to become movie franchises. (Although I think I could make a pretty good case for Pirates of the Caribbean owing an unacknowledged debt to Powers' novel On Stranger Tides.) Whereas heroic fantasy and sexual bondage are both understandable almost without using your forebrain at all, thus making them ideally suited for the modern movie audience.

I think an enormous opportunity was blown by the folks who made the Gor movies. The Gor movies could have been the kind of franchise that bankrolls entire movie studios, the success that pays for all the failures and then some. but the creators of the Gor novels gave up all that to tell a story about ... silly hats.

Who's the good guy here? The one not wearing a silly hat, of course!