One of the greatest movies ever made and that's a fact!
One of my absolute favorite genres is the European Sci-Fi Lesbian Vampire movie, a species of film that flourished in the 60's and 70's. Denoted by the use of lurid color, exotic locales, haute couture and snazzy scores, they depicted chic, succulent women in a world virtually devoid of men, their bodies colliding in Newtonian motion. That is, Helmut Newton, not Sir Isaac. Needless to say, these were not films produced for the lesbian community.
In this regard, they could be thought of as being kin to the Blaxploitation picture, both being written, shot and produced largely by white men, a major distinction being that, whereas Blaxploitation features actually featured black people, very few of the women appearing in Lezsploitation films were probably lesbians. A more important distinction, however, is that Blaxploitation films were conceived, to some extent, with a black audience in mind, but Lezsploitation films were made almost exclusively for the eyes of men.
As one of those men, I suppose I should say my appreciation for these pix is a guilty pleasure, but this would be to admit a half-truth. They please me, but I don't feel remotely guilty about it. For that matter, neither does Michelle Johnson. I know very little of Michelle Johnson, but I adore her for the simple fact that she possesses a large collection of cult erotic films, has absolutely fucking impeccable taste in music and has utilized both resources to compile The Best of Lezsploitation.
Spanning a period from the mid-60's to the mid-80's, Johnson showcases clips from 20 some odd films with titles like Swedish Wildcats, Reform School Girls and Bare Behind Bars to an accompanying mix of Italian lounge and jazz beats. Running commentary is provided by narration from Chained Girls, a mondo-like expose from 1965 that contained such gems as:
"Lesbians have their variations from one group to another. There are those women who are cultured and refined who sneak away to some dirty bar in order to find a trampish-looking woman to make love to. Some women break up homes, forsake children for the love of another woman. Then there are the teenage lesbian or baby butch. They roam the big city streets in large gangs assaulting everyone who falls within their path. Some of the weapons they use run the gamut of fists, lead pipes, chains. Many of these girls eventually end up as drug addicts, alcoholics, and prostitutes,AeP"
If this suggests a laugh"nducing kitsch romp, it is. However, if you are anticipating 45-minutes of nonstop retro-tackiness, beware. Although a number of the clips are inspiringly wacky, some are mesmerizing, one or two are a bit disturbing and a few exhibit a surreal beauty that will leave you with the nagging suspicion that the distance between European art cinema and Eurosleaze isn't nearly that great.
One of the best illustrations of this comes from Jess Franco, whose films compose about a third of this compilation. A scene from Venus in Furs depicts a pair of women embracing upon a divan while being adorned up with make-up and festooned with feathers, a tableau worthy of Fellini or Bu/+/-uel; while scenes from Vampyros Lesbos and Female Vampire display a creepy-sexy vibe not unlike Antonioni or Resnais. Mentioning the director of Red Desert in the same breath with the auteur of Killer Barbys vs. Dracula seems absurd, but both drew inspiration from Surrealism, with its tradition of highfalutin' erotic imagery by Balthus, Max Ernst, Paul Delvaux and Salvador Dali as well as Leonor Fini, Meret Oppenheim, Leonora Carrington and Remedios Varo, whose portraits of owlish women can be seen reflected in the face of Sandra Julien in Jean Rollin's Shiver of The Vampires. That the glacial mood of Antonioni and Resnais should echo in lesbian vampire movies should not seem odd, since both traded in images of luxury and alienation, often with a female face. The leap from Delphine Seyrig in Last Year At Marienbad to Delphine Seyrig in Daughters of Darkness is very short, especially if a convenient stepping stone is placed in-between by Claude Chabrol in Les Biches.
But hey, who cares about art? This stuff is fun! Jess Franco also directed the pulpily Surreal, The Girl From Rio, a clip from which appears like an outtake from Diabolik and a scene from Bare Behind Bars provides a moment of horseplay so spontaneously absurd that,AeP well, you'll just have to see it for yourself.
As far as the sex part of sexploitation goes, there's plenty of that with scenes of girl on girl abandon in boarding schools, prisons, nunneries and just plain-old bedrooms. Two of the best sequences come from 1968's Daughters of Lesbos, where a cruising cougar seduces a hippie hitchhiker and Emmanuelle 2 where Sylvia Kristel enjoys an Asian sudsy massage in a disco-delirious montage, so jaw-droppingly hot, I'm willing to bet one will be able to hear a pin drop at the Harvard Exit.
Returning to the issue of whether such crassly exploitive material can or should be enjoyed by a lesbian audience, I will leave you with a quote by the director from an interview in the SF Bay Guardian.
"I heard a comment from someone who couldn't understand how you can reclaim films that were made by men for men and present them as queer. To me, what is sexy and what is erotic is in the eye of the beholder. [These films] certainly functioned as fantasy for me way back when I first discovered Emmanuelle. As a kid growing up in a small town, I had no notion of what was queer or lesbian, but these films transported me to a really exciting fantasy world. Sure, it was a trashy, sleazy, over-the-top world populated by powerful, sexed-up women. But really, what's wrong with that?"
And really, what is wrong with that?!
The Best of Lezsploitation, 2007, USA, 45 min.
Saturday, October 13, 10:30pm, Harvard Exit
Includes clips from:
Chained Girls ~ Joseph Mawra
Venus In Furs ~ Jess Franco
The Girl From Rio ~ Jess Franco
Brick Doll House ~ Jon Martin
Girl Meets Girl ~ Joe Sarno
Emmanuelle 2 ~ Francis Giacobetti, Francis Leroi
Abigail Leslie Is Back In Town ~ Joe Sarno
Reform School Girls ~ Tom DeSimone
Bare Behind Bars ~ Oswaldo De Oliveira
Ilsa, The Wicked Warden ~ Jess Franco
99 Women ~ Jess Franco
Swedish Wildcats ~ Joe Sarno
Daughters of Lesbos ~ Peter Woodcock
Shiver of The Vampires ~ Jean Rollin
Vampyros Lesbos ~ Jess Franco
Female Vampire ~ Jess Franco
Bacchanales Sexuelles ~ Jean Rollin
Ilsa, Harem Keeper of The Oil Sheiks ~ Don Edmonds
Score ~ Radley Metzger
Eugenie ~ Jess Franco