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“Chatterbox:” Remembering the film where a vagina danced and sang

What might the great 1970s feminists Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan have in common with a little-known cult movie in which a woman’s vagina suddenly develops a voice and embarks on a singing career? Chatterbox, a 1970s Sexploitation movie, plays with ideas of nonunitary selfhood, and examines issues of silence, sexual identity and social participation, while charting the protagonist’s desperate attempts to assimilate her ‘body-self’. The film’s director, Tom DeSimone, spent much of the 1970s working in the Exploitation/porn margins of the American film industry. He made several gay porn movies under the pseudonym of Lancer Brooks (How to Make a Homo Movie (1970)), and has had artistic forays into the camp horror genre, such as 1973’s Sons of Satan which features a gang of satanic homosexual vampires. In the 1990s, DeSimone moved into television work, directing the soap opera Acapulco Bay. While Breillat and Von Trier depicted menacing facets of a radical crisis of selfhood, with women’s genitals at its core, DeSimone’s 1977 film Chatterbox is, in its low-budget, kitsch approach, less intense and is not as much of an explicit take on themes which had been explored in Claude Mulot’s earlier porn movie Le Sexe qui Parle (Pussy Talk, 1975). The issues to which Chatterbox gives rise are important, focusing as they do on a particular ‘crisis’ of female identity which was articulated by second-wave feminists, and which motivated so many of the writers and artists I’m considering in this book.

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