Welcome to the social design: loose lessons from the stylized representation of the social in cinema and print. A blog very often about the interior design, fashion, social manners, and music created for and reflected in vintage cinema and print. Especially from the Sixties and Seventies, especially Italian, and especially from swingin' party scenes. We're awfully big on disco hippies and the OpArt accent here. Guaranteed, of course, to wander off on the occasional tangent into (maybe?) related subject matter, with plenty of tongue-in-cheek commentary for your consideration along the way. Comments are welcome, so please consider yourself invited...


Monday, February 13, 2012

IN PRAISE OF OLD FRENCH COUGARS: JEANNE COLLETIN IN "EMMANUELLE" (1974)

warning: fabulous nudity




Valentine's day is upon us once again, but honestly I've never been a great fan of the holiday's aesthetic.  I think it's kind of tacky - and anyway, at this stage in the game it's my style to stay the bachelor.  So instead of sugar and romance for you, my valentines, this year comes something closer to our own hearts here at the social design ... glamour and bisexuality!  Do relax, though - of course since it's on here it's just the stylized, cinematic representation of such.  For the real thing, you're really going to have to get off the computer.

It's odd to live in a time when one can be nostalgic for simpler, more innocent times - and yet that simplicity and innocence includes vintage European softcore erotic filmmaking.  For you younger readers, there really was a time before the internet and the porn avalanche that came with it.  In the early Eighties, late night cable television piped watered-down erotica into t.v. rooms across suburban America, and back then a little nudity went a long way.  It was light, the televised version of a peek at your dad's Playboys.  Of course there was full-tilt porn in the world, but VHS was just picking up steam, the cost of tapes was astronomical, and otherwise one had to trek to a seedy XXX theater in the inner city to see it on the big screen - none of which was within the realm of possibility for kids that hadn't even gotten their driver's licenses yet. But we were hungry to know the full potential adult life had to offer, and this way one only had to wait for one's parents to go to bed.

Not too long ago we rediscovered a beloved "childhood classic" in the screening room: director Just Jaeckin's seminal Emmanuelle of 1974.  The oddly/aptly-named Jaeckin wasn't the first softcore eroticist by far, but his influence shaped the cinematic landscape of the Seventies.  Creating erotic visual fantasies set against lush, exotic landscapes populated by beautiful people in beautiful clothes, Jaeckin's formula was repeated again and again - in his own projects and sequels as well as the resulting deluge of (often accidentally quite hilarious) knock-offs.  I can't even count how many films the  Italian-produced Black Emanuelle franchise spawned.  These erotic, escapist works of the Seventies made for a bulk of early Eighties late night cable programming - and for a lot of kids of a generation, AIDS had yet to rear its ugly head and the adult life looked awfully fabulous...



Sylvia Kristel and Jeanne Colletin in Emmanuelle. I'm sure sometimes they forget whether
they're taking it off or putting it back on.


The fabulous Jeanne Colletin (1938-2006): French cougar extraordinaire and member of the Comédie-Française.


The story of Emmanuelle revolves around the sexual awakening of a young French woman who's come from Paris to join her husband in a colony of horny ex-pats living in Thailand. The title role is played by Sylvia Kristel, and there is no denying her striking beauty.  It certainly helped her - a Dutch actress who otherwise didn't speak a lick of French -  pull off a feature role in an entirely French-languaged film.  But you know - and maybe it's world weariness, or boredom with the ingenue, or just the knowing, aged-like-fine-wine wisdom of maturity - but on our recent screening we found the character of the old bisexual cougar, Ariane, to be the real star of the show.  Deftly played by Jeanne Colletin, Ariane is aggressive, manipulative, a prowling sexual omnivore. And she's chic, too - even pulling off a turban or two through the course of the film. And let's face it, turbans and ingenues seldom mix...

So today it's a sexy, softcore double feature!  In this first scene from the film, we see the recently arrived Emmanuelle's introduction to the other leisure-class wives of the French colony.  There's some terrific vintage poolside-chic here - with the sunglasses, the hats, the Celine scarves - and I love Jaeckin's panning camera in this segment.  But it's also Emmanuelle's (and our) introduction to Ariane as she makes her first play for Emmanuelle's affection.   Note Colletin's excellent use of a shrubbery to enhance her pouncy, cougar-like appeal...


video

Emmanuelle meets the ladies poolside


She's smooth, that Ariane.  Eventually Emmanuelle and Ariane hookup, and then Emmanuelle has a relationship with Bee, who we see in solitude on the poolside chaise.  Interestingly, upon it's release in 1974 the film was almost universally lauded by lesbians for its sensitive portrayal of female love.  That said, later in the film Ariane gets to breathlessly deliver (perhaps less credible, but awfully amusing) zingers like: When you are young, you make love naturally ... as you eat and breathe. When you are still making love at Mario's age, it's poetry! Oh, those French...

And finally, the best.  My personally favorite scene: Emanuelle has broken the swinging colony's go-lightly rules and emotional fallout ensues.  In this scene the manipulative Ariane seduces Emmanuelle's husband, Jean (played by Daniel Sarky) to unleash himself in an oddly invigorating mixture of lust and contempt.  I think you'll also see that a very strong performance in a supporting role is turned in by the table lamp...


video

Caught in the cougar's den!


Pretty terrific, n'est-ce pas?  I mean, I hardly know where to begin: the bejeweled evening gown, the "colonial" interior, the lamp, that crazy magazine!  It's interesting - and a real testament to the art  - that for as utterly nasty as the scene comes off, it is really mostly built on a brief instance of frontal nudity and some funky, raunchy music.  Otherwise their obviously simulated lovemaking lasted all of thirty seconds - which frankly is the very opposite of hot.  Well, such was the beauty of the Seventies softcore film:  improbable, abstracted pantomimes of sexuality, brought to life in a lush, sensual world.  The lamp actually got me more excited, but you know I think the two seem to work in mutual dependence...
Enjoy!

-a.t.s.