Phyllis Davis: Love Vessel
Phyllis begins in disguise, with a wig on, heavily made up, looking like a moderately priced hooker, in a silky, loose jump suit – but still everything comes through, most obviously that incredible, best on T.V. body, which manages as time progresses to show not only, like that nurse in Catch-22, two nipples standing out like bing cherries under the thin fabric, but other incomparable riches, the seismic curves of the deep rolling cream of her breasts uncovered in the deep v-neck as obligingly and semi-naturally she does a series of pirouettes and bend-overs which expose as much firm but shifting softly white as standards and practices will allow – the sound’s off but the situation seems to be one that I can dimly remember – Phyllis’s man is bankrupt, and pimps Phyllis to a lecherous associate to bail himself out – what a scenario! Are we really supposed to hiss the villain boyfriend when he’s pimping Phyllis to the lech the same way Aaron Spelling is pimping her to the audience? Or feel contempt for the dirty old man when he’s ogling her the same way we are? Is there any man out there who wouldn’t rise to that bait? Especially when Phyllis’s strongest inner quality, her vulnerability, which accompanies her outer, brassy sexuality, emerges so transparently – not only in the vulnerable position of her character and the silly disguise she has to wear and the gymnastics she has to go through to make the lech’s eyes pop out, but, in a certain Marilyn Monroe-like way, vulnerable as herself, Phyllis Davis the actress, who, as a character she played admitted in another episode, is seen first and foremost as a body, cast to display herself to the public in the same way her character’s been coerced to display herself to the villain, vulnerable to the embarrassment of it all, the tawdriness of both actress and character being exploited simply for physical attraction, used like a hypnotic object to separate the viewer from his money.
And yet, along with the vulnerability she projects – Are you just using me? Do you only like me for my body? – the mirror reflection questions of the character asking other characters and the actress asking the audience that shine from her eyes, there’s her undeniable erotic power, her assurance, her poise, her grace, and she’s very aware of it, both Phyllis and the viewer glorying in her physicality, as she moves, so confident and practiced in this dance of seduction, even a slight contempt for the oh so easily manipulated male expressing itself in the ironic twist of her lips, and she’s really teasing us all, isn’t she, promising revelation, taunting us with these hints of her private parts, flashing enough to keep us drooling from commercial to commercial, while we all know that the censor will never allow her to expose the most fundamental mysteries of her body, the same way the lech will never actually get into her pants.
And yet, despite the fact that you feel as if the writer is deliberately degrading her, punishing her out of resentment over the power of her sexuality, somehow Phyllis transcends, even within this leaky love vessel, the pseudo-serious sentimentality even more painful than the pseudo-porn, the whole thing a clumsy parody of not only of life, but of art – and still her projection of eroticism, vulnerability and a complex, mysterious consciousness gleams out of the crap of it – like Sophia, the Gnostic first thought, Wisdom herself cast down to earth as a prostitute the same way Phyllis has been cast by demiurge Aaron into a very similar role. Her image lingers beyond any single part, as that modern day minor divinity the Sex Symbol, surrendering herself on screen as you feel she would in life, tender, soft, sweet, willing, but somehow essentially melancholic, fallen from innocence, not knowing, even at the final moment of ecstasy, if she is desirable for her own self, or just for the spirit of lust she engenders, yet needing to experience, to create that desire, sucking it up like her life’s blood….