Raunchy `Sparkle's Tavern' Finds Release At Last

XX "Sparkle's Tavern," with Marion Eaton, George Kuchar, Melinda McDowell, Jerry Teranova. Written and directed by Curt McDowell. Pike St. Cinema, through Saturday at 7 and 9:30 p.m. No rating; includes nudity, raunchy sex jokes.

A raunchy underground movie that is getting a long-delayed run here, "Sparkle's Tavern," was created by the same trio that made the 1975 midnight-movie classic, "Thundercrack!" - underground legend George Kuchar, Bay Area stage actress Marion Eaton and the late writer/director Curt McDowell, who died of AIDS five years ago.

Filmed in the late 1970s but not completed until 1984, it's the semi-autobiographical story of a brother (Jerry Teranova) and sister (Melinda McDowell, the director's sister) who escape a puritanical Midwestern upbringing to lead a double life in a cabaret/tavern where they both perform sexually backstage.

Their myopic mother (Eaton) thinks her daughter is going to school and her son works as a teacher. The daughter, who still lives at home, has delusions of becoming a legitimate entertainer ("If they like the way I sing, how come all my encores are in the backroom?"), while the son indicates a preference for men. Mom sees what she wants to see.

Although this coming-out story includes none of the hard-core footage that turned "Thundercrack!" into a unique mixture of porn, tongue-in-cheek Joan Crawford melodrama, old-dark-house thriller and Warholian star power, it's just as indiscriminately carnal. McDowell's polymorphous-perverse approach, which one critic defined as "Whitmanesque pansexuality," is all-accepting.

Technically, the movie has its amateurish touches - washed-out photography, scratchy soundtrack - while the script wallows in repetitious vulgarity for half an hour before it begins to click. But there are moments in the second half, including an "I hate the Midwest!" outburst and an outraged monologue about the kind of family that has no vacuum cleaner (!), that are reminiscent of John Waters' most delirious assaults on suburbia.

As in "Thundercrack!," Eaton triumphs with a performance that thrives on sweet, goofy naivete. Her orgasmic enlightenment scene, with Kuchar playing a liberating doctor who shows her how to "trip into inter-linear time," is simultaneously outrageous and endearing.

"Sparkle's Tavern" (or pieces of it) had its world premiere at a botched screening at the 1984 Seattle International Film Festival. Partly because it was in rough form eight years ago, partly because of projector breakdowns, few moviegoers made it through the aborted showing. This marks its first return to Seattle, and it's in much more presentable shape today.