Thursday, September 20, 2007

Breached Space: LA COCCINELLA

La Cocinella is a short film (30’) by Nello Pepe. At a first glance, it doesn’t seem to be a part of the grand tradition of Damsels in Distress that this blog intends to enshrine. But it works as a nice exercise in breached space, as it tells the story of a young sterile wife (very sexy actress Francesca Nunzi) who needs a sperm donor (Marco di Steffano) in order to get pregnant. Her husband has invited the donor to their home while away on business, but the artsy donor doesn’t feel capable of “performing” for a plastic cup in the couples’ bathroom, to the growing despair of the anxious and uncomfortable wife.

As the time passes and the successive attempts to raise the mast of success succumb to the awkwardness of the situation, they start to try several more risqué alternatives. She dances erotically for him, while he is sitting at the toilet, peeking through the keyhole (a first breach of the personal space, through the immortal medium of voyeurism). As she is not a very capable or enticing dancer (the scene is awkward, as we watch a very sensual actress pretending she is just a shy inexperienced housewife) they try phone sex, from the bedroom to the bathroom, with identical results.

Attributing the failure to the confined and oppressive space of the bathroom, they relocate to the living room, where the donor, an artist, tells her that he usually gets excited when he’s painting, and implies that should she allow him to draw her it could work. Well, it doesn’t, but we have mounted another step on the lather of breaching space. From the visual through the keyhole, we breached the space of the imagination through the phone and are now separated by the thinness of a sheet of paper.

When it also fails, she proposes that he just do it there, looking at her. He agrees, lets the cup fall to the floor, they both make a go for it, space is breached as he grabs her breast. What are you doing?, she cries. I’m trying to make this work!

And there ensues a very hot and steaming sex scene, that goes to show that nature’s methods are still the best ones. It is worth repeating that Francesca Nunzi is a very sexy actress. Adding to her ample personal charms, the intensity of the scene is compounded by the knowledge – stitched there, in the back of the viewer’s mind – that it is not proper adultery, and that it is not fully consensual sex. There is a dimension of necessity that, in the logic inherent to the erotic fantasy, forces the wife to have sex with a stranger. A manifestation of breached space.

Ok. So you may not by my theory. But I had – I just had – to print here these sexy grabs from the film. It can be found in the second of four discs that Filmax has published in Spain under the title Tinto Brass presenta Sus Cuentos Mas Atrevidos (Vols. 1-4, 2002)

Breached Space

Let me now propose to you an unconventional idea: that one of the central elements of eroticism is that of breached space. That it is the threat of invaded personal space that spices up so many erotic thrillers as well as much of the adventure pulps. Robert Scholes, in his comprehensive essay Science Fiction: History, Science, Vision (with Eric Rabkin, 1977) has counted as many as seventy-four attempted rapes in the Tarzan novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Obviously, it would not do to have the main heroine being effectively raped in a bunch of novels read by kids (although one can ask how many interior fires that menace have started), but it isn’t less true that it is precisely the implied menace that is so thrilling and exciting.

And one of the most effective ways to convey that menace is through the breaching of personal space. One does so in one of two instances: when one as a relation of affection with the person whose personal space is being invaded or shared (family, friends, a lover); and when exerting an act of aggression (when you have to literally step over the virtual line separating personal spaces). It can be argued that the breaching of the heroine’s personal space as a mean of sexual thrilling has much to do with the so-called phallocracy that purports the heroine as “territory” of the hero, thus making that invasion one of the personal space of the hero. But that doesn’t hold water in the cases of independent heroines such as Red Sonja, Supergirl, Wonder Woman, Modesty Blaise, Brigitte Monfort, Ginger and so on, so I won’t consider it here.

One of the most exciting examples of breached space in pulp or erotic thrillers is that of the undercover heroine that must get inside a) a strip club b) a prostitution or white slavery ring c) any other similar situation where her maidenhood is in danger (and I say maidenhood not as a literal concept). Considerer Miss Temple in The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters (2006), Athena Massey in The Unspeakable (1996) or the young and naïve Clara in the most erotic novel of all times The Devil’s Advocate (1942).

In each of these cases the heroine has to infiltrate an inimical space, knowing that she may have to pay the correspondent cost of such invasion in terms of bodily currency. In the three examples above, Miss Temple (a Victorian maiden) escapes with her virginity intact, although she feels her fire stoked and is almost raped; Athena Massey is a cop, not a virgin, and must demean herself by stripping naked on the pole (her space is breached with the eyes); while Clara, almost a child in sexual matters, is progressively immersed in a web of depravation that will subject her to vaginal, oral and anal sex (and “between my breasts too”) in order to discover whatever happened to her sister Rita.

And, in each instance, whenever the personal space is breached, we know we’ll have: a) sex (the heroine will be raped or will have to forcefully consent to sexual advances); b) violence (the heroine will fight the assailant or the “hero” or some outside force will intervene).
It’s in those moments that precede the breaching, that stretch the undefined boundary between spaces, between force and consent, that we find the most sublime eroticism.

Monday, September 17, 2007


I cannot recommend strongly enough this wonderful book by Mr. Gordon Dahlquist. If it has all the ingredients to please the fans of several literary genres from steampunk to dark fantasy, its first chapter - Temple - is a tour de force in successfully adopting the tone of a Victorian novel.

The eponymous character, Miss Temple, is a young wealthy lady of 25 ("too old to be single") who, when receiving a letter from her fiancee ending their relationship, is determined to follow him in order to learn the dreaded reason why. It is not clear if she feels more afraid of finding out that the culprit was another woman (one can always slap her) or just the fastidious aim to ascension inside the boring duties of the Ministry.

Her investigation will lead her to a sinister ride on a mostly empty train boarded only by masked men and women who assemble in a not less sinister mansion for a purpose that is not immediately clear to the reader or to Miss Temple. One thing that seems clear is that some of the women are prostitutes, there to entertain part of the guests while real business is carried somewhere else.

Well, the reader's heart must be beating by now. In true pulp sleazy style, Miss Temple is able to pass herself as one of a group of prostitutes, and is immediately led to a changing room, where she's expected to don some very sexy and revealing white silk corset. I must say it is a hell of an erotic read.

Miss Temple is a truly Victorian heroine, not much dissimilar from Catherine Morlan of Northanger Abbey fame, although a lot more smart. And Mr. Dahlquist clearly knows his gothic novels, as he smoothly parades before the reader a succession of horror cliches, from the steps approaching in the dark, through some macabre medical cabinet to a very touchable atmosphere of dread and menace. The shadows are rich with innuendo, as are some of the weird characters that cross this brief section (of around 70 unforgettable pages).

Before the section ends, we'll see Miss Temple at the receiving end of a fairly graphic rape attempt; but the high point must be the scene when she is changing clothes to a more revealing outfit in front of a mirror. As she dons the sexy corset, breathing fast, pink nipples visible above the cloth, it's not only wardrobes being changed. We assist to a profound change in the demeanor of the young (virgin) Victorian girl, and it speaks sociological volumes of an era when even the table legs had to be covered.

I'll return to this novel as I progress in its reading.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

INTO THE FIRE by Richard Laymon

What’s Richard Laymon’s secret? What is it that makes his novels unputdownable? First of all, it’s the sheer strangeness that he imbues in everyday occurrences. He can see, and make us see, the familiar through the naïve – but oh so resilient – eyes of youth. For him, every thing is new. With his characters, we’re just exploring the world for the first time, minds overflowing with heroic and erotic ideals. Even when we find out we’re living in a world of overflowing nightmares.

True, there’s much not to like in his books: the bad guys are usually fat, ugly, filthy and mean; usually they are bums or homeless people. But so are the good guys. Filthy and mean, that is. Remember, they are living the hormone fuelled years of youth. That means meanness, callousness, indifference, larger than life antics and dastardly daring dos.

It’s Laymon’s female characters that are the richest. They are at the same time Justine and Julliette, the virgin and the whore in one single beautiful body. They may be simple wish-fulfilling ideals of a middle age author living an eternal teenage. But they are the lights that attract the moth-readers to the raging fires of his books.

Richard Laymon died five years ago, too soon. His first published novel, The Cellar (1980) was a huge success. And deservedly so. The final chapter, written as an uninterrupted dialog that sheds light on what is going on, should be read in every writing class around the world. His second, The Woods Are Dark (1981) was a not less deservedly flop that almost ended his career then and there. It surely kept him away from the American radars while his reputation grew overseas. The experience was enriching. It helped him find the balance between weirdness and outright pornography. He might have written to formula, but few did it as well as he did.

Into the Fire (2006) is his latest posthumous novel. I confess I don’t really know when it was written or, if unfinished, who did the final writing. The reader who comes to it as a Laymon fan, will find here much familiar territory. Fortunately he won’t find such an abrupt change of style as in No Sanctuary (2003), clearly an unfinished draft completed by a hack, or an hopscotch of earlier writings like Amara (2005).

And, in some ways, Laymon have risen the stakes of weirdness when telling three parallel stories that will intermingle with disastrous results. He treats us to an American geography of madness and meanness, as Pamela (escaping from a mad rapist that has just killed her husband and abducted her to the desert, is saved by a strange and sinister man who drives around in a ancient school bus filled with mannequins) and Duke, Boots and Norman (three teenage hoodlums), converge into the desert ghost town of Pits, where a new breed of cannibals thrive. It is a topography populated with eccentric characters, where the victims are as guilty as the perpetrators, and where minds get twisted by fate.

And, as should be when opening a Laymon book, it oozes sex (here perhaps more openly and unashamedly than in previous novels) and eroticism intermingled with all the violence. It sometimes gets to moments of twisted surrealism, as when Pamela falls asleep having her hurt feet massaged by blonde nordic Nicki: “Her eyes snapped open. The trailer was in near darkness. Peppermint scented the air. Her feet were still being massaged, only… Only differently now. Raising her head a little. She looked down he length of her body. Nicki still knelt by the sofa. She’d removed her sweater. Holding Pamela’s feet by the ankles, she rubbed her big, soft breasts against the soles of her feet. The nipples felt like fingertips” (p.121).

It is not a novel at the same level as The Stake, Bite, Night Games or Funland, but it is pure unadulterated fun with a punch that’s Laymon’s own.

Catchphrase: “He sweated like a pig that’d learned the truth about bacon".

Welcome to this depraved lair...

.... where damsels will be in dire distress, as we explore their tribulations on films, novels and comics. This blog's name comes from the belief that it is in Sade's Justine ou Les Infortunes de la Vertu (1787) that we can find the prototype of both the pulp maidem and the sexually conscious modern heroines. An archtype of innocence, lust and sexual awakening that can be found both in the heroines of jungle adventure tales (Tarzan's Jane for instance) or more modern satires as Terry Southern and Mason Offenberg's Candy. And that just not to mention recent incarnations of Justine that may range from Alien's Ripley to Star Trek's Six o'Nine.

So stick with me as we brave our path through rapes (both attempted and consumated), revenges, innocent virgins and undercover missions. Themes that have made the mad, delirious and loveble world of sexploitation.