Thursday, December 30, 2010

Review - Cathouse: Girlfriends (Episode 3)

Short review: Some men mistakenly believe the Bunnies are their girlfriends. Dennis actually has a Bunny for a girlfriend.

They are not girlfriends
Even if you want to wrestle
But you can rent them

Full review: I'd like everyone to meet Mark. Mark is a musician. Mark is a regular client of Bunny Caressa Kisses, a cute woman with long blonde hair and an impressively attractive figure. Mark thinks of Caressa as his girlfriend. He e-mails her once a day and imagines himself making a fortune in the music industry, riding into Caressa's life like a white knight to rescue her from the Bunny Ranch, and heading off into the sunset with her. Mark is deluded.

In a separate interview, Caressa seems to like Mark well enough, but it is clear that to her, he is one client among many. As she puts it, she doesn't want to break it to Mark, but she has many suitors for her attention (and now that she's said that on a nationally televised cable television show, it seems likely that the cat is out of the bag). But this is a turning point for the show, where is grows from the mere mechanical discussion of sex featured in episode one, and beyond the "stare at the freak" oddities of episode two, to deal with the real emotions that underlie sex. For Mark's sake, I'm guessing that as a rule of thumb, you probably cannot credibly call one of the Bunny Ranch Bunnies your "girlfriend" unless she is willing to date you outside the supervision of the Bunny Ranch. Unless this is the case, you are not her "boyfriend", you are her "client". Probably a valued and well-liked client, but a client nonetheless.

But, as the title of the third episode of Cathouse: The Series suggests, this doesn't mean you cannot live the fantasy. Dennis Hof pops up to explain that many customers want the Girlfriend Experience, or "GFE" in Bunny vernacular. Several Bunnies go on to try to define the "GFE" - Felicia says that it is a more erotic and sensual party, Danielle states that these are the clients that want to kiss, cuddle, and otherwise become more intimate (although one wonders what "more intimate" means when the standard party includes various kinds of sex). Isabella notes that a lot of clients pick her out of the lineup because she looks like she could actually be their girlfriend, a clear indication that the "girl next door" look that she cultivated has some definite advantages.

As if to provide some immediate contrast to Isabella, the show then leaps to Air Force Amy in conversation with Madam Suzette. Amy, whose over the top presentation reminds one of how Dolly Parton might look if she threw all semblance of taste to the wind, asserts that guys like "shiny, big, and bright" to explain her sequined dress, piled high hair and enormous breast implants and collection of jewelry. But given Isabella's substantial popularity, it seems that the qualifier "some" should be added to "guys" in her statement. To be perfectly honest, though I can sort of see the appeal of the hyper-glamorized stripper look that she presents, Air Force Amy does almost nothing for me. Both her over the top appearance and her extremely aggressive personality simply leave me uninterested. (I'll also note that Amy consistently does this strange thing with her mouth, leaving it hanging open all the time, which I think she does intentionally in the mistaken belief that this makes her more attractive in some way. Note to Amy: It doesn't. Stop doing that).

Introducing Amy into the story at this point is pretty much to set up the rivalry between her and the other "big dog" (to use Dennis' words) at the Ranch, Caressa Kisses. Amy quickly asserts her dominance, pointing to the fact that she had, at that time, been the "top booker" in the history of the Bunny Ranch for two consecutive years ("top booker", although never explicitly explained, appears to mean "top money earner"), even though Amy "loves Caressa because she's in the same boat". Caressa defiantly fires back that working at the Bunny Ranch is not her life, but merely her job, and that Amy has a need to be on top, while Caressa doesn't care. But later we see Dennis presenting a gift to Caressa for being the "top booker for March" while Amy stalks back to her room. The gift turns out to be a Louis Vutton handbag, which causes Caressa to exclaim that Dennis is "the best Daddy I've ever had". This is the first time in the series that Dennis' nickname of "Daddy" is used, a nickname that seems both endearing and slightly creepy, especially when used by women that Dennis is sleeping with.

HBO then throws in some purely gratuitous, but very nice nudity, as Caressa bounces on a Bunny Ranch trampoline in her birthday suit. Cut into this sequence are interview scenes with Caressa in which she described Caressa Kisses as a "fictional but fuckable character" that she created, letting the viewer in on the fact that what is being sold at the Bunny Ranch is often fantasy, and not reality. Caressa later talks about how she is naughty, but nice, and "not raunchy". A scene with Dennis eating lunch illustrates this when he says she won't talk dirty, a charge she denies.

The show shifts gears with a new segment - "The Naked Wrestler", in which Caressa's implication that the Bunnies don't sell sex so much as they sell fantasy is given a concrete example. Though the clients says he is embarrassed to talk about his fantasy (which leads one to wonder why he is allowing it to be filmed for a television show), he wants to wrestle a woman naked. Caressa calls in reinforcements in the form of Bunny Felicia, and the three get to business. But both Bunnies are somewhat mystified that their client simply does not want to take the next step to sex, although the wrestling does degenerate into a pillow fight.

But this is a program about a business, and the show shifts to highlighting Air Force Amy's somewhat contentious relationship with her fellow Bunnies - first with a clip of her griping that when you are on top everyone wants to outdo you, and then the follow up observation that Amy always has friction with anyone who challenges her position as top money maker. Deanna, Amy, and Sunset then give a brief lesson in hooker ethics with some rhyming slogans "If you ain't got the money, you can't get the honey" and then "No romance without the finance". In the end, this is a business, the girls are working a job, and they want to get paid for their services.

But emotions get mixed up on the job, and when it is revealed for the first time that Sunset Thomas is (at the time the show was filmed) also Dennis Hof's girlfriend, it becomes apparent that for Dennis, mixing business and pleasure is de rigeur. Sunset explains that if Dennis has sex with someone else while she is away, that's okay with her, later pointing out that even if this sort of relationship is hard on her, it is also similarly hard on Dennis, as she has sex with her clients and costars for her living. This attitude seems to be necessary because when Dennis explains that he is a "serial monogamist" he seems to be using a definition of monogamy that boils down to "the exact opposite of monogamy", later explaining that "if it moves and its warm we want to have sex with it". I'd suggest that Dennis' remarks in this regard don't speak for everyone - there are definitely women I would have no interest in having sex with, some whom appear in the series. We get a window into Dennis' world after he points out that "he owns the candy store and he's eating all the candy" (although he insists that sleeping with him is not required for his employees), and then the camera runs through several members of the "candy" category confirming this, from Danielle who admits that Dennis has "had some chocolate", to Sunshine who bluntly avers "I've had sex with Dennis, and it's fun!", to Isabella, who denies ever having had sex with Dennis. At this point Dennis reveals that he only dates working girls and would "never date a square girl", probably because it would be difficult to find a non-working girl who would be willing to deal with his chosen lifestyle.

Having delved into Dennis' love life for a bit, the show shifts gears to "The Married Couple", a husband and wife who have come to the Bunny Ranch to fulfill her fantasy of being (a) with a woman for the first time, and (b) with Sunset Thomas specifically. I'll note that, like several other people who appear as clients in these early shows, this couple crops up in the background of numerous episodes. But back to the impending sex scene - the husband in this case is so incredibly nervous that he comes off as a complete dork, in his words "stuttering and stupid like he's back in 10th grade", but since he is clearly wanting this to be a great experience for his wife, he comes off as a sweet dork. Once the scene gets started, they quickly make up for the fact that the previous "couples" scene had no sex in it by having some fairly vigorous girl-on-girl sex. As usual, with my minor obsession with clothes, I'll note that both women keep their heels on through the entire scene, and the wife keeps her hose on as well. In an intercut interview, Sunset extols her oral sex skills, asserting that she knows exactly how to please a woman, and loves doing so. At the end, the wife asks if they can take Sunset home with them, leading eventually to an interview clip with Dennis where he says "they can't take Sunset home with them, because she's with me, but they can rent her". Which is how romance works at the Bunny Ranch.

The episode closes with Sunset, Dennis, and the rest of the Bunnies singing a karaoke version of Tammy Wynette's Stand by Your Man, over which Dennis states that by dating Sunset he gets "all the fun of a relationship, but none of the grief". This is yet another indication that Dennis' ideas concerning the nature of what most people would consider a conventional relationship don't match up with my experiences, and probably don't match up with the experiences of most people I know. I might even hazard they don't match up with the experiences of most people, but that would be an assumption on my part. But the episode delves directly into many of the raw emotions of the people who inhabit the Bunny Ranch, from clients in love with their working girl, to Bunnies jealous of each other's success, to the strains of having a relationship in the supercharged hypersexual atmosphere of a brothel. It is this unflinching look at how a business built on sex and fantasy is actually built on very real human emotions that makes Cathouse such compelling viewing, and this episode drills this home.

Previous episode reviewed: Anything Goes.
Subsequent episode reviewed: Getting It Up.

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