Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Night Porter

I was reading a list compiled by Gloria Brame of (relatively recent) BDSM movies and was struck by The Night Porter (1974). I have not seen this film (nor many others on her list), but when she said this, I decided to take a look:
Its themes were more seriously, intensely, and disturbingly frank. Very dark but very realistic. And it explores fetishes filmmakers still shirk from.
I had no idea that the 'very dark' (and perhaps 'fetishes') referred to yet another Nazi theme... I am not trying to beat a dead horse here, and even toyed with not posting this (at least for awhile), but this is from a slightly different angle than my recent posts (1, 2)...

The story line revolves around Lucia (Charlotte Rampling), a concentration camp survivor, who runs into her former captor and lover, SS officer Max (Dirk Bogarde), who is now a night porter at the Vienna hotel she is staying at with her husband.




The film has been considered everything from tasteless to arousing, from blaming the victims to missing its potential, and, of course, as anything but feminist.

According to Liliana Cavani, the film's director, The Night Porter is feminist as it's from a woman's point of view and "It was her investigative journalism into the personal experiences of victims after the war that inspired her to make The Night Porter." (This quote from a wonderful piece exploring women in film, including S/M issues: Lena Wertmuller and Liliana Cavani: Knee-jerk Anger and Slow Understanding for The Black Sheep of Italian Feminist Film. [Italian contemporary women film-makers 1973-1976].)

This is the film's iconic scene,in which Lucia dances and sings topless in a Nazi outfit:



This was apparently the first scene filmed, according to this interview with actress Charlotte Rampling on NPR's Fresh Air.

The film is aging well. Now people are seeing more than the 'potential' but seeing that perhaps it has realized them.

Where once Robert Ebert said, "I can imagine a serious film on this theme—on the psychological implications of shared guilt and the identification of the slave with the master—but "The Night Porter" isn't such a film," now others are suggesting that the film has in fact done so.

Perhaps this is still a case of 'too soon' and as the years pass and taboo of showing Nazis as anything other than evil (and therefore incapable of having any real emotion, or sex we can imagine as pleasurable for another) the film will grow in it's credibility.

Images via The Criterion Contraption, where you can read a full review of the film too.

In Skin Two's issue 57, you can also find an article by Claudia Andrei on the use of Nazi style in fetish films, including The Night Porter.

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