From the opening scene of Henri Pachard’s often-acclaimed Public Affairs, you can tell this isn’t your average, run-of-the-mill erotic flick. The scene is a relatively common one for political-themed comedies. It features dozens of extras on a street-corner, cheering and holding signs for Congressman Nick Stern (Paul Thomas), who is running for Senator on a pro-woman, anti-smut campaign. It’s unusual to see a pornographic film evidently spend copious money on extras on top of detailed-oriented sets. There must’ve been a remarkable budget for the production.
Thankfully, in conjunction with Pachard and Joyce Snyder’s screenplay, it’s put to good use in a topical picture criticizing the hypocritical nature of politicians, who wag their fingers at the adult industry in public while committing greater sins in private. It’s not uncommon to see pornos of the 1970s and 1980s open with a disclaimer about politicians attacking the institution as a stain on the moral fabric of society. In so many words, that’s how Stern has built his platform. He blasts misogyny and smut before an adoring crowd and then heads back on his tour bus to coerce his campaign assistant, Jodie (Annette Heinz), whose name he can hardly bother to remember, into a blowjob and later anal sex.
Stern’s campaign is heavily funded by the wealthy Fritz von Holenwohl (R. Bolla), who doubles as Stern’s pimp when his horniness overtakes him behind close doors. Also in tow is his do-boy Tommy (Joey Silvera), who does everything from drive the bus to manicure his image. Tommy’s toughest challenge comes in the form of a local news reporter named Elvira Lawrence (the great Annette Haven), who is led onto Stern’s hypocrisy when Jodie gets enough of his sexual perversions. Tommy does get Elvira into bed, but Elvira is offended at Tommy’s initial refusal to eat her out. “I’m Italian,” he claims. She doesn’t buy it. She coaches him and finds out he’s a fast learner.
Pachard and Snyder packs a lot of sex into Public Affairs, as expected, but the way they handle the moments might surprise you. Consider how one of Elvira’s news reports regarding Stern’s platform of women’s rights is juxtaposed alongside him, Fritz, and a pressured Jodie engaged in an orgy in Stern’s campaign office. Or how a later montage reveals Nick and Fritz treating a female supporter to a threesome in low-lit, devilish black-and-red hues while a colorful campaign reel is interspersed with the sex. There is plenty of the sex we expect to see in a movie like this, but it’s deftly handled and contributes to the greater theme: a typical, hack politician turned anti-porn crusader who is a sexual deviant himself. It’s all a reflection of an era where lawmakers rose to prominence attacking the adult industry at large.
Of course, an erotic classic with this level of thematic sophistication wouldn’t work without a strong crop of players. Paul Thomas rises to the occasion as a slimeball in a suit while Annette Heinz extracts real empathy from her character, who is taken advantage of from the first moment she’s introduced until she can no longer stand it. Annette Haven evokes tenderness as a conflicted journalist yet also wins her couple scenes with her sultry charm. Public Affairs has been called “the great American porn film,” the very pull-quote featured on its home media covers. Considering it works as effectively as a critique as it does as a porno, I certainly won’t argue there.
NOTE: You can buy the limited edition Blu-ray of Public Affairs on Vinegar Syndrome’s website.
Starring: Paul Thomas, Annette Haven, Joey Silvera, R. Bolla, Annette Heinz, and Kelly Nichols. Directed by: Henri Pachard.
Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality in North Central Illinois. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!