The Devil in Miss Jones – Alden Shuman
Shuman’s score underpins the downbeat drama and exhibits an emotional depth most untypical of pornography soundtracks.
Published on June 27, 2012 | Filed under Audiodrome: Music in Film

Gerard Damiano’s The Devil in Miss Jones (1973) traverses the same murky divide between art house and hardcore pornography as only a few other films have done. Following on from the likes of ‘porn-chic’ titles such as Behind the Green Door and Damiano’s earlier Deep Throat, Miss Jones stunned critics and audiences alike with its structured plot, dramatic tension and underlying themes of longing, loss, regret and redemption. Upon its release Variety compared Miss Jones to the likes of Jean Paul Sartre’s No Exit, especially in terms of its plot, dark mood and existential themes. It was described by film journalist Chris Campion as “More morality play than masturbation aid” as it charts the tragic story of virginal spinster Justine Jones (Georgina Spelvin), who commits suicide only to end up in purgatory begging for another chance to live her life. When told she faces an eternity in Hell because she took her own life, she insists that if she’s given another chance she can ensure she lives a life that truly warrants such eternal damnation, and so begins not only her latent sexual awakening, but a licentious and oddly emotional odyssey of lustful depravity. Another aspect most critics and audiences reacted positively to was the lush piano driven score courtesy of Alan Shuman. Accentuating the melancholy at the heart of the story, Shuman’s emotive compositions completely negate typical conventions of kinky Seventies porn soundtracks.

Shuman’s score underpins the downbeat drama of the story and lends it an emotional depth most untypical of pornography. The film’s opening scene – perhaps one of the most unexpected and unconventional introductions of any porn film ever – depicts the protracted suicide of the female protagonist, backed by a sombre piano piece. The director originally wanted to use Simon And Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water to accompany Miss Jones slitting her wrists and sinking into a warm bath. The musicians refused outright however, as they didn’t want their song associated with such cinematic ‘filth.’ Due to the success of Deep Throat Damiano had a sizable budget for Miss Jones and was able to commission an original score, though he allegedly still cut the opening scene to Bridge Over Troubled Water. Damiano stated that he liked to cut his films to music and in the case of The Devil in Miss Jones, the score gives the narrative a real thrust; pardon the obvious pun. Shuman’s music evokes romance and melodrama, not trash. It defies expectations as it side steps all the usual clichés of ’70s porn music, slinking out of the speakers with poise and melodic depth.

Subdued, wistful and delicately orchestrated, the score is structured around several main themes, the first of which – a moody and minimalist piano motif – is recited in opening track In the Beginning, and later echoed in tracks such as Walk with the Devil and At the End. Often building layers of instrumentation around a simple melody, Shumen concocts affecting harmonies with deceptive ease. Despite bearing somewhat raunchy, lascivious titles such as Ladies in Love, Trio in the Round and The Teacher, each track unfurls as a sort of sonic equivalent of a Val Lewton film – classy, elegant and provocative; despite the somewhat lewdly suggestive titles. As mentioned, Shumen avoids porn music clichés throughout this score. Beginning with moodily low organs and vibraphone, Hellcat gradually builds to a fog-shrouded, almost gothic sounding lament that boasts a strangely sensual edge. This gothic mood is also evident in the likes of Love Lesson, a sensuous and roiling string driven track which features tolling bells, and Beauty and the Beast, a forlorn waltz that frequently segues into darker, spookier moments with subdued guitar riffs, aquatic sound effects and ominous rattles.

Elsewhere, I’m Coming Home is resplendent with a rich cinematic feel made up of strings, horns and sultry yet commanding vocals courtesy of Linda November, while Trio in the Round is almost Disney-esque in its evocation of innocence and naivety. Ladies in Love is an unexpectedly tender and moving piece that rises (ho-hum) to a rather melodramatic, verging on overwrought crescendo before settling down into twinkling lullaby fare and finishing off (oh stop it) with sweeping strings. The Teacher is the only track that even remotely comes close to sounding like something you’d expect to hear in a Seventies skin flick, complete with strutting chicah-wah-wah guitars. It accompanies the scene where Justine encounters a man who teaches her the ways of pleasure and pain.

Georgina Spelvin appeared in the music video for Massive Attack’s Paradise Circus in 2009. Scenes from The Devil in Miss Jones are intercut with her reminiscing on her career as she candidly, and very eloquently, discusses her take on pornography and sex.

My favourite track is Miss Jones Comes Home. It rings with a sense of completion and sad resignation as Justine Jones realises the time has come for her to take her place in her own private Hell, deprived of the immense pleasures she has experienced on her romp of self discovery. Tensions rise along with the overlaying sense of morose longing as hints of a Philip Glass-like organ dirge make themselves heard when the dreamy, haunting strings subside. A melodic piano motif that wouldn’t seem out of place on the soundtrack to Fire Walk With Me flutters throughout it. Enjoy.

Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!

James is the author of Dario Argento (Kamera Books) and a monograph on The Company of Wolves (part of Auteur’s Devil’s Advocates series). He currently contributes to Exquisite Terror and Diabolique, and has also written for Film Ireland, Eye for Film, Little White Lies and The Quietus.
James Gracey

  • Wonderful! I have this on vinyl. Spelvin remarks in her autobiography that Damiano spent something insane like two thirds of the film’s budget on the soundtrack. It shows. Oh, and while I find the film very dark, I also think it’s incredibly erotic. One of the true greats, and lives up to its reputation. Thanks for the devotion to the soundtrack – really nice to see it focused on.

    • James

      It really is a beautiful soundtrack – I’m sure it sounds amazing on vinyl. Yes, apparently Mr Damiano was something of a music fanatic. I for one am glad he spent so much on the score for Miss Jones – it’s one of the loveliest, most captivating soundtracks I’ve heard in a while.
      I was really taken by Spelvin’s appearance in Massive Attack’s music video; she speaks so honestly it’s really quite disarming. I had no idea she has an autobiography – must keep an eye out for it.
      Thanks so much for commenting – have a great day. 🙂

      • The book is called The Devil Made Me Do It. If you enjoy Spelvin’s candour in the MA vid, then you’re sure to enjoy her book.

        • James

          Thanks Gore Gore Girl; I did indeed enjoy Spelvin’s candour in the video. She seems like a fascinating woman. Will keep an eye out for her book. 🙂