Thursday, April 17, 2008

Facist Fashion

My friend let me borrow her magazine called Skin Two, a British bondage publication. In the Spring 2007 issue there's an article entitled "Nazi Style in Film" by German writer, journalist, and artist, Claudia Andrei.

In the article Andrei calls into question the power of the Nazi uniform within erotica. It's a quick jump from the Third Reich to the dungeons of fetishism, with starched and tight-fitting uniforms that are inhabited with the right to dominate others. She mentions Jean Genet's famous quote, "Facism is theater", more than once. It's all very ritualistic, with specific roles for the actors to carry out; the 'Unterlinge' typically less clothed, vulnerable, and submissive than the uniformed 'Ubermensch'.

Directly after WW2, pulp fiction erotica took on the brutality of the SS as the ultimate titillating feature. Titles included: Nazi Horror of the Resistance Girls, Blond Traitor With a Whip, or Soft Bodies For Hitler's Torture Master. It should raise no eyebrows to know that s/m is the sex-de-jour in all of these novels. However, as of 1960 Nazi erotica became highly political. But it was the '60's and everything had political significance, a subject I can't seem to get enough of at the moment. Andrei goes on to summarize four Nazi-related films: The Damned (1969), Cabaret (1972), The Night Porter (1974), and Salon Kitty (1976).

Inspired by the article, I watched The Night Porter. The story goes...flashing to both the past and present, the film tells the story of a teenage girl, Lucia, in a concentration camp who is chosen by a fanatical Nazi officer, Max, and together they embark on a masochistic lover affair. Jump to 15 years after the war, Max is a night porter in a Viennese hotel and Lucia and her composer husband are guests at the hotel. Lucia and Max reignite their affair in the same "my little girl" fashion. It's the ultimate in submission for Lucia in post-war and guilt-ridden Europe.

I understand why the film has critics even to this day, and I count myself among their numbers. I think that it explores various levels of power--in that Max was an officer dominating hundreds of others only to be stuck as a night porter/gigolo for the strange night fantasies of the hotel's guests. As well as Lucia's survival from the camp and later willingness to reassume her obedient role. Guilt and maybe, survivors guilt are in play here. Frankly though, I wasn't impressed with it at all. I sped through the end so I could find out how it ends but not have to sit through the entire was a rather drawn-out affair with little dialogue towards the end as the couple hide out in Max's apartment and starve. Neither Charlotte Rampling, nor Dirk Bogarde can convey the complexities of emotion or depth of character in lieu of the sparse exchange of words. Ugh.

I think that it's too easy to connect Nazi fetishism with s/m, it seems too simplistic. To be honest, I have read anything on the subject before, other than this article, and really I'm not all that interested. But hey, maybe that will all change.

The other film that sounded mildly interesting was Salon Kitty. It's based upon the true story of an SS officer who is put in charge of training 20 German ladies as prostitutes who are to service the top officers of the Reich in 1939 Berlin. All of the newly minted prostitutes work in the "Salon Kitty" brothel that is , unbeknown to the women, bugged by the training SS officer to use as blackmail later on. The director, Tinto Brass, said, "the corruption of power is the power of corruption."

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