Color, 1983, 84m.
Directed by Gérard Kikoine
Starring Jennifer Inch, Sophie Favier, Christopher Pearson
Intervision (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Private Screening (DVD) (US R0 NTSC)

Color, 1985, 93/97m.
Directed by Gérard Kikoine
Starring Marie France, Josephine Jacqueline Jones, Sophie Berger, John Sibbit, Pierre Burton, Michelle Siu, Timothy Wood, Lisa Allison
Intervision (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Private Screening (DVD) (US R0 NTSC)

Lady LibertineLady LibertineDuring the early 1980s with the rise of cable television, erotic cinema experienced a shift from grindhouses and occasional arty imports like Emmanuelle to late night premium channel showings, most notoriously with Cinemax's "Friday After Dark" line-up. Containing a roster of "tastefully" sexy films primarily from America, Britain, France, and Australia, this fertile period for the softcore fanatic was helped along by Playboy Enterprises, who co-funded a string of European productions often in collaboration with infamous producer Harry Alan Towers, who also co-wrote many of the screenplays.

Among the more prominent Playboy outings like Black Venus you'll find a few real oddities. Case in point: Lady Libertine (originally entitled Frank and I, how it was released on VHS by MGM), which is basically a fancy-dress sex version of Victor/Victoria. A young orphan boy named "Frank" (Inch), really a girl on the run dressed up in an unconvincing Little Lord Fauntleroy outfit, is picked up on a desolate road by a wealthy British man, Charles (Pearson). Failed to see the true gender of his newest acquisition but aroused nonetheless, he takes Frank home and decides to bring him up properly. During a bare-bottom caning, he discovers the deception but keeps it to himself while continuing an affair with his sexy mistress (Favier). Charles and Frank (really Frances) fool around on the side, but the explanation for the youth's oddball disguise leads them both to a seedy underworld of Lady Libertineprostitution that threatens to split them up forever. Horrendously dubbed and certainly weird, Love CirclesLady Libertine will be something of a tough sell for the average softcore crowd; the odd mix of cross-dressing, S&M, and flat performances make for odd bedfellows, though the minor but often-naked role for French TV presenter Favier gives it a certain curiosity value. Production values are decent enough, and director Kikoine (who went from hardcore to the wacko Edge of Sanity) keeps things slick and glossy even when the film teeters on the brink of sheer stupidity. Transfer quality isn't up to par with Black Venus thanks to a much rougher, grittier look and some obvious element damage, but considering its relative rarity, the disc is still watchable enough.

Then Kikoine strikes again with the more traditional Love Circles, yet another version of that old standby, La Ronde (also filmed under its original title by Max Ophuls and Roger Vadim), in which sex forms a chain between a group of people in various locales as someone sleeps with someone else who moves on another person who then jumps off to... well, you get the idea. This time the action moves around the globe from France and Italy to Hong Kong and then both American coasts, including Black Venus star Jones chasing a blond lunkhead around an apartment before bedding him and stranding him naked in a department store(!). Then there's a sauna orgy, lots of disco dancing, sex on a plane, and so on and so on, with no real plot in sight apart from the same cigarette pack that passes from one hand to the next. The look of the film is far more in line with Kikoine's '80s output thanks to its gaudy primary colors, with vivid reds often used for accents in the many night scenes. Love CirclesBasically there's lots of dodgy dubbing (for the actors who weren't speaking English), tons of sex (including a few shots that verge really, really close to hardcore), and no real characterization, which makes it either worthless cinema or the perfect party movie, depending on your mood. Love Circles

Both films premiered on DVD in 2006 (along with Black Venus) as separate editions and then later a double feature from Private Screening, a short-lived softcore branding from the same folks we now know as Intervision. That latter label finally brought the two films to Blu-ray as a double feature, both sporting new transfers that leap way, way beyond the ancient, noisy tape masters used for the DVDs. The original 1.33:1 aspect ratio has been wisely retained here, as it not only features the maximum amount of image info (bare skin and otherwise) but recreates the aesthetic of watching these back in the '80s on their intended medium. Lady Libertine fares better simply by virtue of the way it was shot, with crystal clear photography to emphasize the opulent architecture and clothing as well as bare bodies. Love Circles is loaded with lighting filters and diffusion through much of its running time, but for what it is the jump in quality is considerable. It's also worth noting that Love Circles clocks in almost five minutes longer than the 92-minute DVD version (which appears to run faster due to a PAL source) and features quite a bit of additional image info on all four sides of the screen, especially the top and bottom. The Dolby Digital English mono tracks sound about as good as the ridiculously goofy original mixes will allow (no lossless here but, well, it's hardly a major tragedy), while an equally hit-and-miss dubbed French track is included for Love Circles. A little over a minute of very negligible deleted footage from that film is included as well with partial French audio, while the more substantive interviews include a hilariously relaxed and candid 26-minute interview with Kikoine about his departure from hardcore in '82 due to tax laws and his excursions into Harry Allan Towers land complete with globe hopping and specially created costumes, and an archival 18-minute intro by Kikoine for the 2016 Fantasia International Film Festival screening of Lady Libertine covering some of the same territory but also going into more detail about Favier's annoyance with the film's promotion with her name and the rapid changes affecting erotic film exhibition in France at the time.

Updated review on February 15, 2017.