The star of Eraserhead and Twin Peaks makes an unexpected diversion into the world of fetish erotica.
Every so often, you come across a production in an actor’s filmography that beggar’s belief. Rarely has a production seemed quite as incongruous as one that appears in Jack Nance’s – when it is included, that is. Old Fashioned Spankings is quite the addition to anyone’s career, and this is not some pre-fame early embarrassment – Nance made this particular video production in 1991, the same year that he was starring in Twin Peaks.
Old Fashioned Spankings was a shot-on-video fetish production that consisted of a handful of individual scenarios. The one with Nance features him as an irate husband, outraged that his younger wife is out carousing with “heavy metal hippies” every night, forcing him to eat cornbread instead of the veal cordon bleu he was anticipating. Her lack of shame at her bad behaviour means only one thing – a spanking is in order.
Now, spanking films are something of a specialist thing, even within the fetish porn scene. If you are not really into spanking, then they’ll probably get old very quickly, because that’s all you’ll get. For those unfamiliar with the pleasures of role-play and kink, the fictional scenarios of spanking can easily be misread – sometimes rather maliciously – as ‘sexual violence’; there are those who absolutely, stubbornly refuse to accept that any woman can actually enjoy a spanking, and those people will never change their minds. But to suggest that the rather comical scenarios of films like this somehow both represent and encourage sexual abuse is beyond ludicrous, and attempts to criminalise desire.
As harmless as a spanking film is – and even by the standards of 1990s fetish porn, which had to remain resolutely softcore in order to appease odd American obscenity standards of the time, these are lightweight stuff – it’s still a bit of a shock to see the star of Eraserhead starring in one. Okay, Nance was not exactly a major star – but he was a recognisable character actor with a solid career.
A possible clue to why Nance does appear in this film is his co-star, Kelly Van Dyke. Kelly was the daughter of actor Jerry Van Dyke, a fetish porn star (under the name Nancee Kelly)… and Jack Nance’s wife. The pair had met in rehab – Nance had an ongoing battle with alcoholism, Kelly struggled with drink and drugs. While couples certainly benefit from shared interests, this was probably not the sort of connection that was going to lead to a strong relationship, and their marriage was a difficult one. Kelly’s addictions made her an unreliable performer – despite what you might have been told, drug addicts do not generally have successful careers in porn, a business where the hours are long and flakey people cost time and money. The pair seem to have had a dysfunctional relationship, and Kelly was on a downward spiral in 1991 – in November that year, she committed suicide.
So perhaps this film was something of a last-ditch attempt at saving the marriage; perhaps Nance needed to keep an eye on her or simply had to take her to the shoot and found himself dragged into the shoot. or maybe – and this is something that no one seems to consider – he was just really into spanking, figured that it might be fun and didn’t really care what anyone else thought – after all, the moralisers would’ve already been judging him for marrying a porn star.
Anyway, Nance (performing as Jack Weber, but of course immediately recognisable) seems to get into the swing of it – his presumably improvised dialogue is amusing, his understanding of sub-dom power play pretty obvious. As an experienced actor, he certainly brings a twinkle-eyed humour to the story, and there seem to be moments of genuine affection between the pair. It’s tempting to see it as a reflection of real life – after all, Kelly was the younger woman married to an older man, though the age difference isn’t as huge as you’d think – Nance was 48 but looked older, Kelly was 33. Knowing what we do, it feels like a rare moment of fun and frolics for a doomed couple – Nance died in 1996 after a fight outside a donut shop. A suitably bizarre ending for the man who came to prominence in David Lynch movies you might think – but also a pointless, ridiculous way to go for a man who probably had more interesting projects in him.
Help support The Reprobate: