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Director Tinto Brass is a man of big passions. His films -- excluding Caligula (1980), which doesn't really fit into his overall body of work -- are filled with curvaceous women who are uninhibited and bold enough to freely express their healthy appetites for sex. Brass' camera lovingly (and intrusively) explores the many facets of a woman's beauty, be it physical or psychological. Brass also isn't shy about what he likes most about a woman's body, either -- her ample backside. The bigger the better.

Although Brass would probably chuckle at the idea that these three films have a strong feminist slant, Brass' female leads are strong, independent, and almost heroic in their quests to become emancipated from their roles as housewives, concubines, or mothers. Less cartoonish than his American counterpart Russ Meyer's heroines, Brass' ladies actually exude a real humanity with their sensuality.

As mentioned above, Brass' camera can be intrusive. His lens probes in and around his leads' genitalia or backside with the finesse of an amateur gynecologist -- especially in Miranda (1985). But sometimes, as in The Key (1983), Brass' imposition never once comes across as clinical or puerile. The camera may still be mischievous, but its forthrightness could also be seen as an instrument to explore the mysteries of femininity itself. If Brass (and the viewer as well) stares long enough, perhaps he'll come a little closer to understanding the currents that truly move women. Or perhaps not.

Unlike many mainstream filmmakers who have dabbled in erotica over the last few decades (e.g. Bertolucci, Cronenberg, Kaufman, and Verhoeven) or recent art-house films that contained explicit sexuality (e.g. Baise Moi, The Idiots, The Piano Teacher, Pola X), Brass' films are genuinely erotic and void of any kind of existential dread, violence, or moralistic endings wherein characters have to be punished for their allotted two-hours of cinematic carnality. Brass leans more toward Henry Miller than de Sade. Granted, working in Italy in the seventies and eighties allowed for greater creative freedom for Brass. But his films were nevertheless brutally shorn of their "nasty" bits when exported to other countries and frequently banned in Italy also. It seems that many people believe that erotica is only okay if it's not erotic at all.

Cult Epics have thankfully released three of Tinto Brass' films onto DVD uncut. Available separately or in a delicious box set, The Key (aka La Chiave), Miranda, and All Ladies Do It (aka Cosi Fan Tutte) are a great introduction to this master of the sensual.

Based upon a novel by Japanese writer, Junichiro Tanizaki, The Key is without a doubt the highlight of this set. Set in Venice during Mussolini's fascist reign, the film centers on the relationship between an older man, Nino (played by Frank Finlay), and his much younger wife, Teresa (played by the stunning Stefania Sandrelli). Nino can't help but notice that his wife is sexually attracted to their daughter's fiancée (played by Brass regular Franco Branciaroli). What shocks Nino isn't the fact that he's jealous, but that he likes being jealous. Nino's jealously quickly becomes the catalyst for an elaborate sex game between he and Teresa, but at what cost?

The Key is a rich film in many ways. From its elegantly low-budget period set-design to its whimsical Ennio Morricone score, it has obviously been put together with care and attention. But its greatness stems from its skillfully realized portrait of the sexual life keeping Nino and Teresa's marriage alive. Brass' characters are complicated, occasionally messy, and charged with enough lust to sap even the strongest of relationships, and Brass allows his characters room to explore, make mistakes, and ultimately celebrate the intricacies of their intimacy. A classic of erotic film indeed.

The Key is offered in its original English language form with intermittent Italian language sequences. The film is also letterboxed. As with all of the discs in this collection, the DVD contains a short video interview with Tinto Brass, recorded on the Island of Torcello (Venice) in the fall of 2001. Conducted by Nick Brown, who is also the editor of a soon-to-be-released book about the director, the interview is definitely the highlight of the extras and should more than please Brass' admirers. The disc also contains trailers for all three films in the collection, a photo gallery, and filmographies for Brass and Sandrelli.

Unfortunately, Miranda never musters up the same kind of cinematic sparks as its predecessor. Although Brass' clever screenplay is always amusing and entertaining, the story itself (Miranda, a tavern owner, beds four men over the course of a year in a search for the perfect husband/lover) is definitely a one-note affair and the performance by Serena Grandi as the titular character is severely hampered by atrocious English dubbing. The picture transfer is also not the greatest: numerous artifacts mar the nighttime sequences. But having said that, the film is entirely uncut and is available letterboxed for the first time in this country. Certainly not a waste of time, but a letdown after The Key nonetheless. The DVD contains another great video interview with the director, a photo gallery, and filmographies for Brass and his starlet.

All Ladies Do It (Cosi Fan Tutte), on the other hand, is a fine return to form. Married to a man that she loves and adores, poor Diane (played by the delectable Claudia Koll) wants to have some fun. Real fun, like having sex with other men. At first, her husband is turned-on when she tells him stories of other men hitting on her. But when he realizes that her "stories" aren't simply fantasies, he flips out. Frustrated by her husband's intense jealously and lack of understanding, Diane has a series of sexual affairs that do enlighten her to life outside of marriage in both positive and not-so-positive ways.

As with The Key, Brass refuses to moralize or critique Diane's crusade to have the great sexual experience. Although not all of her experiences turn out to be worthwhile, it is for Diane to figure out what's relative -- not her husband, not the church, not society. Laced with humor and whimsy, All Ladies Do It is a hedonistic delight that should more than satisfy any one who desires their erotica sans the angst.

The DVD contains another worthwhile interview with the director and the requisite other extras. The disc also includes a short outtake real.

It's unfortunate that Tinto Brass is better known in this country (if he is known at all) for directing the multi-million dollar embarrassment Caligula than for The Key. With any luck, these releases from Cult Epics will help do their part in reshaping his artistic reputation.

"The Tinto Brass Collection" is now available on DVD from Cult Epics. The DVD set includes The Key, Miranda, and All Ladies Do It. Special DVD features include interviews with director Tinto Brass, photo galleries, trailers, and filmographies. All three movies are presented in widescreen editions. Suggested retail price: $59.95. Individual titles available at $24.95 each. In addition, "The Tinto Brass Collection" is available on VHS (without the extras) for $49.95, with individual titles available for $19.95 each. For more information, check out the Cult Epics Web site.