Many male schlock fans of a certain age smile at the mention of the name Laura Gemser. This is because many of them spent a good chunk of their teenage years watching her in the Black Emanuelle (*) film series, a string of films that capitalized on the popularity of Emmanuelle to create its own running storyline of a globetrotting photojournalist whose travels are always filled with erotic escapades. Several of these film were mainstays of “Skinemax” programming and entranced countless future schlockmaniacs with their T&A-filled Eurosleaze travelogues. It also helped that director Joe D’Amato knew how to give it all a lovely visual gloss — and the occasional element of kink or shock that would leave the viewer with their jaw hanging.
However, Ms. Gemser and D’Amato’s knack for creating well-photographed sleaze wasn’t the only appealing element in these films. They also had amazing soundtracks by Italian composer Nico Fidenco. The music for a typical Black Emanuelle entry wasn’t the typical, generic porno-funk associated with this era of sexploitation filmmaking — it offered a mixture of sumptuous orchestration, lounge-inflected melodicism and exotica elements that aided the films tremendously in creating their distinctive style. Long after the illicit thrill of the images fade away, those lush sounds linger in the memory.
Black Emanuelle’s Groove cherry-picks the finest soundtrack cues from Fidenco’s scores for four of the D’Amato/Gemser collaborations. This music is exotica in the best sense of the term – composer Nico Fidenco had a knack for welding the regional quirks and unusual instruments of many cultures to irresistible pop melodies. For instance, “Samba Safari” welds a mock-Hawaiian melody that could have been plucked from a Lawrence Welk album (complete with kitsch-jazz horns) over a throbbing bed of Brazilian-sounding percussion.
And Fidenco is as skilled at arranging his material as he is at composing it. For instance, “Emanuelle In America Sweet,’ “Sweet’s Variations” and “Spellbound” are all rearrangements of the same theme but each sounds radically different – the first is a moody erotic piece that builds to a dramatic finish, the second is a funky shuffle with icy strings gliding over its top and the last is a spooky suspense builder that wrings plenty of tension from synths and Spaghetti-western guitar riffs. The combination of ambitious genre-bending and Fidenco’s musical chops adds up a sonic travelogue that takes you to far-off places while still providing enough melodic hooks to ensure you still feel at home.
The only real flaws with this collection are that it doesn’t cover all of the Black Emanuelle films and it mostly avoids the film’s vocal-oriented theme songs (the omission of the vocal version of “A Picture Of Love,” which sounds like the best Abba song that Abba never recorded, is a real loss). That said, the album offers a strong collection of material and is skillfully programmed for a smooth, lounge-y listening experience. If you’re looking an entry point into the world of exotic 1970’s Italian soundtracks, Black Emanuelle’s Groove is a great place to begin your journey.
(*) Note: the omission of the second ‘m’ in Black Emanuelle isn’t a typo. The producers presumably did this on purpose to avoid copyright infringement/plagiarism lawsuits