Tag Archives: Mila Joya

The Women of Justine: Part One

by Rich Moreland, March 2017

In this post, Mila Joya and Beatriz Rivera who play Rosalie and Omphale respectively in Pachamama Films’ Justine, talk about how they interpreted their characters.

Director Jac Avila, who plays the evil Rodin, also relates how he viewed his role as the dominant figure in the film.

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Actresses in Jac Avila films endure the sadistic urgings of their tormenters, especially in movies like Maleficarum and the subject of this article, Justine. The film features a trio of alluring women: Amy Hesketh, Mila Joya and Beatriz Rivera.

“When they do get into their characters,” Jac says, “they go into them with intensity and completely. They become those characters for the time of the shooting.”

He remarks that the most intense scenes can take a physical and mental toll on the performers.

“The whippings hurt, the crucifixions are very, very uncomfortable and even painful, there’s a lot of real suffering going on. I do not think that any of them enjoy that, they put up with it for the art,” he concedes.

 

An Erotic Parody

Jac summarizes his basic premise in creating Pachamama Films’ adaptation of Justine.

“I wanted to make an erotic parody of a parody of the times of De Sade which, ultimately, are not very different from ours.”

With any adaptation, character portrayal is always in flux and may not always fit the original story, Jac points out, so “the characters will make a statement of some kind as you develop them.”

That’s important because Jac believes his version of Justine is “not so much an S/M adventure,” but “more like a misadventure with sadistic consequences.”

“There’s no horror,” he explains, “except for the natural horror” that plagues humanity.

“Justine is an erotic film, of course, especially if you are into beautiful ladies suffering torture and martyrdom,” he says. “All those beautiful bodies with very little or nothing covering them, is erotic in and of itself.”

As for the film’s theological comments, they reflect Jac’s Catholic upbringing.

“Justine’s quotes about God and women come straight from the nuns that were my teachers in grammar school. They were Sadean in the biblical sense,” he comments.

All Three Women are Weak

Let’s take a look at how Mila Joya, who plays Rosalie, and Beatriz Rivera, who plays Omphale, interpreted their roles. How did they see their characters moving the story forward?

To set us up for their responses, Jac first explains his part in the production.

“I play Rodin, an insidious character who has a lot of control over people’s lives and behaviour, particularly his daughter and his servant Omphale.”

The evil doctor’s “deranged whims” drive the film, Jac says. He is “god-like, as when god carries those attributes of power and evil” and “the “antithesis of Justine,” who narrates the tale.

Mila offers her view of her part in the film.

“Rosalie is a very interesting character because she’s the daughter of Rodin, there lies the big conflict, because of how ‘heavy’ [domineering] her father is. How she moves the story is complicated because there are moments where she loves Justine, she wants to help her but she can’t do anything. She knows she’s going to die, so she is resigned to her fate.

Mila summarizes Rosalie this way,

“I see her as very weak, the typical example of women that are oppressed mostly because of the time they live in.”

In fact, Mila’s take on Justine, Rosalie, and Omphale is straightforward.

“All three women are weak,” she insists.

Bea interprets her character Omphale as “totally submissive because she was under Rodin’s tutelage, power, for as far [back] as she can remember. She allies with him when he commands her to torture the others. She’s also a coward because she accepts all of his commands, never challenging him.”

“The fact that she’s Rodin’s accomplice already moves the story forward. She agrees to massacre the other girls but she doesn’t question him and doesn’t ask herself why she should experience the same,” Bea comments. “Why not have a life like everybody else, a normal life?”

On the other hand, Bea also sees Omphale as “evil and submissive. Submissive to Rodin and evil because she has no problems in punishing the others, she shows no regret, no pity.”

Though Rosalie’s helplessness and Omphale’s lack of insight into her own existence raise questions, De Sade avoids exploring the characters in-depth leaving the interpretation of how to play these women up to the actresses.

The results are thought provoking in a highly recommended film.

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In our next post, we will examine how the players faced the challenges of Justine, including the torture scenes, and how the cast interacted with each other . . .

During the shoot . . .

 

While taking a break . . .

 

And in conference to make sure everyone is on the same page . . .

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Justine is available for purchase from Vermeerworks here.

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I Only See Darkness: Jac Avila’s Justine, Part Four

by Rich Moreland, December 2016

SPOILER ALERT! The final resolution of Justine is right around the corner!

The installments of this five-part review are posted as a package but designed as stand alone essays, so you may read the ones you like and forgo the others.

All photos are courtesy of Pachamama/Decadent Films.

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Pachamama Films/Decadent Cinema combines erotic horror and soft core S&M action within a framework of classical literature, a rare adventure in movie making.

Dead But Dreaming’s vampire legends, Ollala (based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s vampire tale by the same name), and Barbazul (Charles Perrault’s “Bluebeard”) represent avant-garde indie film that offers timeless story telling infused with adult themes.

And don’t forget, Amy Hesketh’s performance art lures everyone into her cauldron of sexuality and pain that marks (pun intended) the excitement of these productions.

Amy’s talent is on full display again in Justine. Undoubtedly her interpretation of the suffering feminine is hard on her body and eventually she will decide enough is enough. So if watching Amy on-screen is your pleasure, be sure to get a copy of this film.

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Having said that, Justine, sparks conversation in another way.

Following the footprint of the films mentioned above, Justine carries a political message steeped in images that are literary and mythological.

Let’s take a brief look at a few examples.

Three

First, the movie’s most dynamic image, the restrained and punished woman, surpasses other Jac Avila creations with the possible exception of Maleficarum.

Amy Hesketh, Mila Joya, and Beatriz Riveria are easy on the eyes and offer the visual delights of a good whipping that S&M aficionados appreciate.

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But that’s for just for starters. There’s more.

Take the archetypal number three, the staple of myth and legend which accounts for its dominance in the Bible. Jac Avila follows Sade’s lead in exploring it.

The novel mentions twenty-one victims (three sevens) consumed in the prison fire. Adulthood is also age twenty-one, a hint that when Justine escapes from prison, she is old enough to take responsibility for her decision-making, or more specifically her inaction, in a theme that runs through Sade’s work.

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Also, the dungeon candle stands have combinations of threes and sixes cleverly placed among the torture devices.

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The Circle

Jac Avila focuses on three sacrificial victims to create his religious motif.

Each girl is bound to the wheel reminding the viewer that while a patriarchal God may oversee the world, women are the source of a never-ending circle of virtue and vice–reproduction on one hand and sexual temptation on the other–that drives the human condition.

Thus we have the wheel’s most important message. Civilization’s male-dominated hierarchies insist that female sexuality is not to be trusted, so women must be confined and chained rather than celebrated.

By the way, trust makes its appearance at the end of the film in an ironic twist. But you’ll have to watch the movie to see it.

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Speaking of sacrifices, after Rosalie’s dungeon crucifixion her stigmata wounds are treated by Omphale and Justine in a scene reminiscent of the three women at Calvary (Golgotha) recounted in the gospels.

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Then, of course, there’s Jac’s version of the three crosses we’ll see later.

The Sacred Feminine or Defiant Feminist?

White is the color of purity and the girls wear white loincloths depicting the partially clad martyr linked to the Medieval crucifixion image. Only Justine is nude.

In this modern interpretation of Sade’s novel, she is both virtue and vice, honoring the complete woman and validating her defiance of patriarchy despite her humiliation.

In other words, Justine is totally exposed, the literary “everywoman.”

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When the abused girls retreat to their bed, the configuration of their bodies is a reminder of the Holy Trinity with the God/Daughter shift illustrated by Rosalie’s suffering.

The importance of the sacred feminine in Church lore cannot be easily dismissed.

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However, this scene is part of a series of images that begins in the dungeon with the chained and collared Justine grabbing vainly for Rodin in a fit of vengeance. She is defiant and frustrated, the angry feminine, or in modern terms, feminist.

12342441_10153165674282882_7911671529364754032_nThen we see the Trinity motif just mentioned.

At first the girls are looking away from each other, individualized in their agony, emphasizing the misery and abandonment that is part of the human condition.

But they eventually join hands in spirit as well as in truth, an affirmation that the sacred feminine will prevail.

Imagistically, they form their own wheel with their overlapping hands on Justine’s hip as the hub.

Leonardo’s Perfection

300px-da_vinci_vitruve_luc_viatourIt’s worth mentioning that Jac Avila’s woman on the wheel is a vague reference to Leonardo da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man,” perhaps suggested by the filmmaker more unconsciously than deliberately.

Simply put, each girl represents the Renaissance thinker’s harmonic blend of art and science that ultimately spawned the Age of Enlightenment and, ironically, the Marquis de Sade.

In this film the female image emerges perfect in form while tormented with pain, as Justine reminds us with her harsh condemnation of Biblical tenets.

We can conclude then that Justine is a full-fledged challenge to the Church and its intrusion into the pre-theological State of Nature that Sade celebrates. Jac Avila has given us pause to reconsider Sade’s argument.

We have a broader question, of course, that is too much to consider here. Is the perfect female form and its corresponding consciousness a creation of Nature or God? Or both?

Cutting Across Time

The confrontation between female suffering and empowerment, the heart of this story, cuts across time.

Here are some of the examples.

In I Only See Darkness: Part Two of this review, we see twenty-first century vehicle tires abandoned on the side of the road, a comment on Justine’s situation.

Then there is Rodin’s modern bottle of beer in the dungeon scene, though bottled beer was known in Sade’s day. As the film comes to its denouement, Rodin wears sunglasses not available in the eighteenth century. Combine those images with a wife-beater shirt and the macho persona of the alpha male (God?) steps into view.

12265552_522310101276893_6619100802816208411_oAlso, we have the brass bed (a Victorian invention) that post-dates Sade. But it is appropriate here because the Victorians muted female sexuality, giving rise to Freudian theory on hysteria, repression, and sexual anxiety.

The costumes are eclectic. In the dungeon scenes, for instance, Rodin sports the aforementioned wife-beater shirt, a Hollywood staple reaching back to the 1930s.

Incidentally, Amy Hesketh cobbled the wardrobe together for the film . . . not a simple task.

Now we know why Jac Avila breaks the fourth wall repeatedly. His message transcends the here and now and goes well beyond the story at hand. What better way to reinforce the narrative’s timelessness than addressing the viewer directly, cutting through the limitations configured by the camera’s lens.

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So, that’s a quick run-down of some of the symbolism incorporated into the Justine narrative.

We’re set now to venture into our last installment for the dramatic conclusion Jac Avila has crafted for this version of the Sadean saga. He deviates from Sade somewhat but retains the flavor of the novel to its bitter end.

A reminder. If you don’t want to know how everything turns out, skip the next post!

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12313702_10207283807987314_7432081521215658282_nFor the curious, Amy often crafts the torture instruments including racks, whips, and the like that appear in all Pachamama/Decadent Films.

Getting a feel for the whips is something BDSMers would understand.

By the way, in making Justine, testing the wheel was vitally important, as you might expect.

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Amy Hesketh can be reached on Facebook and followed on twitter. Jac Avila is also on twitter.

 

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I Only See Darkness: Jac Avila’s Justine, Part One

by Rich Moreland, December 2016

Now that we’ve discussed Justine, the novel, and looked at what Jac Avila has borrowed for his version of the story, we’re ready to analyze the film.

SPOILER ALERT! The ending of Justine is included in this five-part review.

All photos are courtesy of Pachamama Films/Decadent Cinema. Performer names are inserted where appropriate.

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In a nod to the Marquis de Sade, Jac Avila’s cinematic version of Justine tells the story in flashback mode and sticks closely to the novel early on.

justineposterv04oficial-510x775However, the opening scene departs from Sade and establishes that this film will forge its own path in ways that reveal Justine dabbling in the libertine philosophy she supposedly abhors.

This is not to say Justine abandons her virtue, but the bottom line in this film is about defiance and empowerment that, contradictory to Sade, requires a woman of strength who endures her fate.

Jac Avila puts the abused lass on that trajectory.

 

Public Humiliation

Justine (Amy Hesketh)  is brought into the town square for a public scourging. It’s announced she’s charged with prostitution and theft and will spend a night in the pillory before being sent off to a “hard labor” fate.

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Prostitution? Sade mentions nothing of that. What’s more, there is no public humiliation at the whipping post in his novel.

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The officer in charge (Gonzolo Konka) isn’t finished because the crimes of murder and arson are also part of the charges. Justine escaped from prison with the gang leader Dubois (Gina Alcon) during a fire which our heroine supposedly set.

Twenty-one people died and later Justine is blamed for a second murder, that of Madame de Bressac.

So the unfortunate girl is doomed.

The flogging begins, the crowd counts the strokes, and Amy Hesketh initiates this provocative film in a fashion only she can orchestrate. It’s a superb scene and another cinematic triumph for an actress/director whose performance art we’ve come to take for granted.

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Notice the crucifixion position of Justine as a criminal. That’s important because this film has a religious undercurrent that challenges the Church.

By the way, after receiving the thirty-ninth lash, Justine faints and has to be revived. Keep in mind the number thirty-nine, it is significant in understanding the film and will be mentioned later.

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The Medieval Church

That leads us to the prostitution charge. Why is it there?

It’s not part of Sade’s story, but its inclusion here makes sense if we remember that Sade is an atheist and condemns the Catholic Church as the charlatan of illusionary constructs. (See Justine, Part One: The Novel).

On the other hand, Jac Avila’s cinematic version of Justine does not abandon Christian ideology, choosing instead to confront it particularly over the Church’s attitude toward women.

Is the virtuous Justine turned into a modern version of Mary Magdalene, the supposed woman of the evening, to argue this point?

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If so, the flogging scene with the priest standing by tells us two things that set the tone for the film.

First,  doubts are cast on how we see Church doctrine when it comes to the female cause. After all, there is no real Biblical evidence that Mary Magdalene was an adulteress or profited from sex, though the patriarchal Medieval Church hinted otherwise.

Nevertheless, women were regarded as second class citizens, the Virgin Mary aside. She avoids what churchmen abhorred in the Early Middle Ages, the sensual woman. After all, she never really had sex.

Jac Avila challenges this minimalist view of the women in two other characters in the narrative, Rosalie (Mila Joya) and Omphale (Beatriz Rivera), who are present at Justine’s punishment.

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Rosalie, Omphale, and Justine share the common bond of torture and pain, a point that becomes more important when the film delves into Rodin and his amusement with the fairer sex.

In fact, the girls are nervously watching a punishment that is already familiar to them.

That leads us to the film’s second theme: the empowered woman. Jac Avila’s Justine is hardly Sade’s innocent, hapless soul imploring Heaven’s Grace to save her.

She has her own will that leads to self-created problems . . . and she pays in the end.

But more on this feminist view later.

You Can Only Die Once

After her bloody punishment, Justine is taken to the pillory and secured to await the dawn.

The spectators are informed that by daybreak Justine’s execution will be settled upon since she has “but one life to live.” So much for the years of hard labor in the original sentence.

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Juliette (Cortney Wills), a witness to the whipping, walks over and touches Justine’s cheek, asking how “you, with a very sweet face, find yourself in such a dreadful plight.”

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A tearful Justine replies that were she to tell her story, she “would accuse the Hand of Heaven and I dare not.”

The dictates of her unwavering faith are understandable, though a bit over-the-top. But there’s more. Justine’s troubles are of her own making. Even for those who conceive of God as the great clock maker (popular with the Deists in Sade’s time), the miserable wretch has to bear some responsibility for her actions.

Sade would not disagree, but Jac Avila’s alternative look at an empowered Justine flies in the face of the French aristocrat.

Remember, empowerment means making choices.

Pounds of Flesh

The executioner (Eric Calancha) puts aside his whip and sodomizes his helpless victim.

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Rodin (Jac Avila as actor) approaches Juliette and introduces himself. She responds with “Madame de Lorsange.”

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By this time, the executioner has finished with his pound of flesh, so Rodin politely excuses himself to duck behind the stocks for his own Sadean go at Justine. Juliette looks on with patience, thoroughly amused.

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In the face of all plausibility, Justine calmly begins as Rodin pumps away. Apparently anal violation at the hands of a pedophile sparks casual conversation. It’s a parody of Sade, of course, whose own narrative of Justine’s travails is so outré as to garner chuckles. But does Jac Avila also parody the Church in a way Sade ignores?

If that’s not enough grist for the mill, consider the film’s flashback narrators.  Justine, and later Juliette, break the fourth wall and talk directly to the camera, engaging the audience directly with a more pointed method than a simple literary first person.

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What’s going on here?

A lot, actually, and it sets up a very entertaining and highly recommended film.

In the next post we’ll find out the details of Dubois, Saint-Florent, and Bressac.

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One of the endearing aspects of indie film is the cooperation that is built into everyone connected with the project. When money and time are limited, the cast accepts responsibilities to assist the director of cinematography.

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Barbazul, Part Two: The Dangling Key

by Rich Moreland, September 2016

In thinking about Barbazul, I ran various interpretations through my mind. This is the one I settled upon.

All photos are courtesy of Pachamama Films and Decadent Cinema.

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The Taproot

For fans of Amy Hesketh films, the opening credits of Barbazul provide a glimpse into the erotic expectations she offers. Amy’s character is flogged and garroted in an outdoor nighttime scene. But hold on, this is not a BDSM film. Rather it is a bizarre and finely crafted journey of a man in search of his soul.

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For the religious, salvation requires pain, suffering and death: the birth-death-rebirth archetype found in all ancient civilizations. As I’ve previously written, the theme of rebirth is ever-present in a Pachamama/Decadent production, though not always in the politest of ways.

In Barbazul, Amy’s Bluebeard desires to connect with himself, to confront and conquer the shadows within his personality that torment him. It’s a form of redemption.

There is one problem, however. Corpses of the fairer sex litter the path along the way.

Here’s why.

Psychologist Carl Jung asserts that to become a whole person we must reconcile the subdued side of our personality with its dominate side. In one respect, it’s gender oriented. The duality of anima (female) and animus (male) come into play in determining behavior.

To look at it in non-gendered way, we show our public front, our persona, while we cope with our less well-developed self, our shadow. The persona is often a mask, very much like an avatar, while the shadow is real, our darkest feelings and urges similar to Freud’s infantile id.

Throughout the process, we are subjected to a myriad of human emotions, among them the drive for success, love, and empowerment and their opposites, anxiety, hatred, and fear.

However, the most painful emotion is rejection . . . and that is the taproot of the Barbazul story for anger and hurt can fester on the underside of who we are.

Amy Hesketh’s scriptwriting and direction artfully explores this dichotomy and Bluebeard’s struggle to find its resolution within himself.

Buying His Bride

In the film’s opening scene a young woman dressed in black is seductively climbing a rocky terrace. It’s a photo shoot and she is as primordial as she can get. Bluebeard (Jac Avila), a man of means in Amy Hesketh’s story as he is in Charles Perrault’s, is on hand to watch.

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He likes his women crawling and slithering, the temptress archetype exhibiting her basest instincts.

barbazul00020303-300x168The cameraman, Paul (Erix Antoine) is overly critical of his model, Soledad (Mila Joya), referring to her as a “useless cunt.”

When the shoot takes a break, the belittled girl is approached by Bluebeard.

He invites her to dinner and the romancing begins.

Perrault’s Bluebeard is physically unattractive, not so in Amy Hesketh’s interpretation of the story. And, she’s given her Barbazul an easy way with women.

With the demure Soledad we are introduced to Bluebeard’s modus operandi that includes picnics and boat rides in the park. Offered a ring, she accepts and the scene shifts quickly to a hotel room for a premarital romp.

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Bluebeard instructs her undress but modesty prevails and she doesn’t remove her undies . . . the reality of the temptress quickly fades.

“Do you remember what you were doing when we met? Do it now,” Bluebeard insists with quiet firmness.

Soledad gets on the bed and crawls toward him.

As a sign of commitment, Bluebeard’s women wear the ring on their right hand as is customary in some European and Latin American countries. In the story it’s a single ring removed from one woman and passed to the next.

Incidentally, Bluebeard marries only one of his fiancées, Annabelle, but curiously the ring is not shifted to her left hand in the usual practice.

Later Bluebeard dines with his intended and her sister. Soledad is shy and a little nervous, perhaps caused by naiveté or an innate fear that something isn’t right. (Interestingly, she remains barefoot through much of the film, existing in an infantile state like young girls in Perrault’s time.)

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Hearing of his plans, the sister, Ana (Mariella Salaverry), remarks, “You’re buying her. Do whatever you want.”

Soledad bows her head in shame. They have no parents to protect them, a set-up for disaster.

Off to the Plantation

With his betrothed beside him, Bluebeard drives the dusty road into the countryside. Isolation and desolation frame the visual theme with aerial shots of the jeep snaking through the mountains. The road is descending at first, then climbs to reach the metaphoric height of loneliness.

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At this point, the narrative shifts to the hacienda. In fact, it’s one of the movie’s central characters, its persona and shadow a reflection of Bluebeard himself.

Walter (Beto Lopez), Bluebeard’s alter ego, acts as butler and “administrator” of the estate. Walter’s appearance is a counterpoint to Bluebeard’s. He is clean-shaven, prim, proper, and dresses immaculately.

He’s also sinister and secretive.

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Incidentally, clothing is a major image in this film. For the women it’s dresses; for the men, neckware.

More formal than Bluebeard’s scarves, Walter’s ties are displayed in a colorful collection that corresponds to the rack of dresses in Bluebeard’s forbidden room. Neatness counts, of course. Walter is there to help Bluebeard keep up appearances.

One of Bluebeard’s women, Agata, insults him when she suggests they get rid of Walter (impossible, of course, because he is Bluebeard’s second self). On the other hand, Ana later suggests Walter should get a raise. Listening, the butler smiles wryly, smokes a cigarette and carries his own ashtray while he awaits the final bloodbath.

Empty Spaces

The plantation house feels empty and lonely. Upon arriving, Bluebeard opens a gate to go in. It carries a jail cell image in a shot that is heavily shadowed. At the end of a long veranda, Soledad walks from light into darkness.

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Bluebeard’s bedroom is sparse with a weary, depleted feel that is mirrored in Bluebeard’s expression when the film concludes. Notice the dresser/chest of drawers outside the bedroom door. Some of the drawer pulls are intact, others absent, and a couple replaced with short pieces of rope.

They reveal Bluebeard’s ritual. Women begin as decorations then die by strangulation leaving empty spaces.

The Chapel

Bluebeard takes Soledad on a bike ride around the estate (Annabelle refuses his offer, as we’ll see). They stop at the chapel where the camera focuses on statuary of a weeping Madonna and a Madonna and child. A male figure with a dangling key on a red cord is emphasized in a subtle tribute to Charles Perrault.

The icons are delicate but lack animation.

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He wants to know if Soledad likes the chapel.

“Will we get married here?” she asks.

Though a crucified Christ is within sight, Soledad is clueless as to what awaits her.

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Amy Hesketh now directly references Perrault’s story. Bluebeard gives Soledad the keys to the house and mentions there is a room she is not to enter. He knows she will, of course, but says nothing.

Later when they have sex in his bedroom, there is a burning candle (male desire and empowerment) on each side of the shelf above the bed. There is another phallic symbol, a print of the Eiffel Tower. There is no companion print of female sexuality.

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Soledad learns Bluebeard is leaving for the city and will return with her sister.

Alone the next morning, she goes to the dresser for her robe and finds a portfolio of photographs. Some are nudes. She lays them out on the bed before returning them to the drawer.

Picking up the keys, she’s ready to sate her curiosity.

Getting to Annabelle

barbazul00351719-300x168Having finished shaving, Walter notices Soledad headed for the forbidden room. He goes into a small bedroom and picks out the first tie to the left.

All is going according to plan.

Compared with the austere interior of the house, the office, for that is what it appears to be, is cluttered most likely because Walter avoids it.

There’s an old dusty wall telephone, a cash register that dates back at least a hundred years, and a desk with an old-fashioned adding machine. Newspapers and journals are scattered about. On another table there appear to be chemical containers.

Is the winemaking business still alive because in this room not everything is?

At this stage of her story, Amy Hesketh deviates from Perrault. There are no suspended corpses or pools of blood, just a tired looking office. The plantation teaches us that appearances can deceive.  The shadow forever lingers beneath the persona.

Oh yes, don’t forget that rack of dresses nicely displayed in a line just to the right of the office door. The first is a black mini, the last a pink polka-dot; a dark sequined one and a red outfit are in between. As we will come to realize, an extra dress hangs alongside the others. Is it reserved for Soledad?

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And, of course, prominently placed on the desk where it can’t be missed is a black bound journal. Soledad, like the young wife in Charles Perrault’s story, is consumed with the fatal flaw of curiosity. She spots it and can’t resist it’s contents.

No problem, Bluebeard wants his imprisoned prey to read about those who came before her.

That brings us to Annabelle and the next post in this series . . .

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DVDs of Barbazul can be ordered from Vermeerworks and Amazon

Amy Hesketh is on twitter and Facebook. Her website can be found here.

 

 

 

 

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Jac Avila, Part Three: The Body in Pain

by Rich Moreland, August 2016

My thanks to Jac avila for sharing his views on film making and culture. I look forward to reviewing more of his work in the future.

All photos in this and the preceding posts are courtesy of Pachamama Films and Decadent Cinema. Vermeerworks is their distributor.

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Jac and Amy on the set of Justine

Jac and Amy Hesketh on the set of the upcoming film, Justine

A Set of Values

In Jac Avila’s films there is a distinct theological undercurrent. In helping us understand how it complements his work, Jac begins with a snapshot of religion and society.

“Catholicism in South America and most of Europe, particularly Italy and Spain, is more a part of culture than religion,” he explains. For many of the faithful, it’s “a set of values,” a good mixture of  belief with “plenty of mythology” tossed in, “most of it not taken seriously.”

“However, when one grows up inside Catholicism, one is taught to love that culture,” he declares, though it “tries unsuccessfully, to repress a large part of one’s humanity, like sexuality.”

Of course, Christianity is closely linked to suffering . . . a natural human state. But, then again, so is sexuality. Is there a connection?

Blood Sacrifice

“In Catholic culture, the body in pain plays a crucial role with Christ at the center,” Jac continues. It’s really “blood sacrifice as redemption.”

This idea dates back to the Early Middle Ages as the church was making the transition from its birth in the Roman Empire to its place as Europe’s centralized institution.

But we need to remember that crucifixion, the ultimate “body in pain” statement, was around long before Christianity. That Christ and some of the Saints were crucified is more coincidental to their condemnation during Roman times when dying on the cross was the established demise for society’s outcasts and outlaws.

Roman times. Mila Joya in Dead But Dreaming.

Mila Joya’s character faces death in Dead But Dreaming’s flashback to Roman times.

From there, the diabolical combination of torture and death moved out of the Roman Empire into the next historical period.

“In medieval times this (The Body in Pain) symbol took over. Executions were cruel and public, so was penance,” Jac reminds us.

Incidentally, the public fascination with death lingered into the 19th century as Jac illustrates in Dead But Dreaming when the Irish traveler is garrotted before onlookers.

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Jac then cites the distinction between the Catholic and Protestant interpretation of sexuality.

“Catholic imagery is full of The Body in Pain, a beautiful body, always, either male or female, almost nude or totally nude, with an expression of bliss in the very moment of martyrdom.”

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Elaborating on the visual impact of a crucifixion, Jac explains, “The school I attended was full of those images. Beautiful paintings expressing exactly that. Catholicism is far less repressed sexually than Evangelical, Calvinist, Lutheran Christianity.”

He follows that thought with a quick history lesson.

“The framing of the body in medieval Europe, was intrinsic to the historical moment.  Humanity was moving from an agrarian culture to the beginnings of city culture. Social interactions were changing dramatically. The image of the body as symbol became pervasive,” he says.

Jac regards the 12th century (1100s) as a pivotal time in the emergence of the body as art.

“The Church had the most power in influencing most everything,” he notes, which lasted until the Renaissance, a time “when art flourished and thought was liberated by Thomas de Aquinas (Catholic theologian and Scholastic) when he gave some long overdue importance to humans.”

For the most part, Medieval art is purely religious with Christ “an overpowering figure taking up the entire frame,” Jac suggests.

In other words, man is not celebrated. The heavenly bliss of eternity and the proper way to get there occupied Medieval artists, who, incidentally, never signed their work.

By the Renaissance, change was on the horizon. The ideals of humanism were infused into culture, at least in the Italian City-States where money patronized the arts. The result? Art and literature achieved a secular focus.

As for art’s theological representations, Jac gives us this example. We see the Virgin Mary as “a real woman breast-feeding a child,” a cultural broadening influenced by Aquinas.

And somewhere along the way, our sexual fascination with crucifixion and suffering took hold.

Feminism

So, what about the sacred feminism popular in pre-Christian cultures?  I suggest the Church patriarchy had some issues with this idea. Jac spins it less severely.

“Catholic doctrine did not do away with the Divine Fem all together. Mary was and is an object of worship almost equal to God, she’s more accessible; she is the mother. But yes, women were repressed of course, but so were men. The great fear is the true liberation of mankind. We’re all afraid of freedom. I don’t think we’d know what to do with it.”

Mila Joya and Amy Hesketh in Maleficarum's execution scene, a reminder of the Church's fear of witches.

The Church’s fear of witches and it’s repression of women in Maleficarum’s execution scene.

I agree with the repression/freedom argument. Certainly the Church did not abide heresies and especially witches and warlocks. By the 15th century the Inquisition (the subject of Jac’s film, Maleficarum) was holding court. Credit Spain’s Ferdinand and Isabella for making sure everyone toed the religious line.

The Church court extracts a confession from Amy's character in Maleficarum.

Inquisition torture extracts a confession from Amy Hesketh’s character in Maleficarum.

Regardless, Jac steps up his defense of the Sacred Feminine.

“In Catholicism women have a high place because of the Virgin, The Mother of God herself. Catholicism is not as patriarchal as it may seem to be. What we may be expressing is that women, just like men, have the same or more capacity to suffer for humanity.

“In that sense, female martyrdom gets equal treatment… or better yet, takes the main role. The strongest character in Catholicism is Saint Eulalia. She’s crucified twice.”

Of interest is that the original St. Elulia, the reference in Jac’s film Martyr discussed in a previous post, was, according to legend, a teenage virgin tortured and crucified on a St. Andrew’s Cross.

Carmen Paintoux

Carmen Paintoux in Martyr.

So there we have it. Do the images from Jac’s films energize the sexual question?

The Guignol Again

Despite the Church’s efforts, the uneducated retained their superstitions and out of this, particularly in Central Europe, phantasmagoric visions and stories emerged of evil forces beyond human control.

“As you know, most of the horror stories, like vampires, come from the old tales of old Europe, which come from far back in time,” Jac points out.

Veronica Paintoux

Veronica Paintoux as the Lamia.

And as we move from Medieval into modern times, with stops for the Enlightenment and Romantic Periods, superstition and the supernatural forces that go bump in the night linger in the human psyche.

It’s not a leap to understand that our world is still fascinated by cruelty, especially sexual torture, and can’t look away.

Our repressed blood lust comes to life with vampire stories and today’s slasher films which tap into horror as it emerged out of the Victorian Age into modern Europe.

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But we don’t need the fantastic to energize our sexual interests. Human depravity played out realistically on a stage will do.

th“The Grand Guignol has its roots in that period of time where executions were performances for the masses. That’s why Guignol was also described as the Theatre of Cruelty,” Jac explains.

In fact, the Parisian stage and the fascination with crucifixion fuel the star power of Amy, Mila Joya, and the Paintoux sisters, Carmen and Veronica.

Brew the mixture of history, religion, and sex into a cauldron of savagery and sadism and what emerges is a new version of the erotic horror genre that is distinctly Jac’s and Amy’s, Olalla being the latest in a line of powerful films.

Framing the Body

“Not everything medieval was cruelty, of course,” Jac continues.

“There was a nurturing, serene, body sharing space with a conflicted body torn by desires, fantasies and that other body, the one in pain, dismembered, racked, whipped. The education of the masses by framing the body became all important.”

Mila Joya tortured in Maleficarum

Mila Joya’s character exemplifies “the body in pain” in Maleficarum . . .

Finally, the native Bolivian offers these comments on Amy’s Hesketh’s approach to her acting.

“As far as Amy’s performance in the films, like in Dead But Dreaming or Olalla I can say that those scenes are the way they are because of the stories. This goes to the Body in Pain discussion. The body as a central symbol in culture, but as it was seen in medieval culture, where much of the representations we have now originate.”

Maleficarum's roasting scene.

. . . As does Amy Hesketh in the film’s roasting scene, a particularly difficult and emotional shoot.

That is where Amy seduces the camera like no other actor.

To reassure the fainthearted, Jac leaves us this note about female performers in his films. Yes, they illustrate the Grand Guignol stage, as noted above, and all its perceived brutality, but there is more.

“Acting in these movies is, in a sense, empowering. The actress has complete control over her body, mind, and soul, to do anything she wants to do.”

That in itself is an empowering feminist statement.

Amy, Jac, and Mila.

Amy, Jac, and Mila . . . artists, innovators, and a new film intelligensia.

 

 

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Olalla, Part Six: In Her Eyes

by Rich Moreland, July 2016

Here is the final post on Olalla. 

I added this segment as a tribute to the talent and artistry of Amy Hesketh.

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Amy Hesketh’s eroticism is unique in her roles. Consider Maleficarum’s Mariana and Dead But Dreaming’s Irish traveler to appreciate how Amy puts her body out there in a way that elevates sensuality beyond whatever passes for the commonplace and predictable in our culture.

Rarely can an actor pull off suffering in such a way that it becomes a visual spectacle that gives us pause. Amy’s performance in Olalla’s burning scene, for example, honors her as a true Grand Guignol artist.

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Olalla is my third Amy Hesketh film.10272592_474695762659833_4244678109927385087_o Her penchant for the abused victim and her courage to explore what anguish means in a psychological, spiritual, and physical context defines her work. Were she in Paris in the years before and after the Second World War, Amy would have been welcomed at the Theater of Horror.

Yet there is something else about Amy’s performance art that is irresistible, lures the viewer into her soul, and makes the story come alive.

It’s her eyes.

AMYUKHorrorNo matter the mood or the moment, they are mesmerizing, mystifying and exotic, haunting and intoxicating, penetrating, plaintive, often filled with pain, and sometimes inexplicably shy.

In Olalla Amy may have murderer’s blood splashed about, but her eyes remain the enigma, perplexed, almost befuddled by her deeds, yet driven with lust. In the end, they scream of “the body in pain” in all its agony.

Connecting with Amy

When we first meet Olalla in the original story, Robert Louis Stevenson reaches across time in a way he could never have imagined. It’s as if his vision of Olalla speaks to him directly through Amy Hesketh’s presence.

The unnamed English officer is quickly smitten when he finally encounters the mysterious senorita. Stevenson tells us why. God had “lighted the torches of the soul” in her eyes and “looked out” from them “and conquered mine,” the soldier says.

“In Olalla all that I desired and had not dared to imagine was united.”

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In the film version of the story, Nathan tells Olalla her beauty is enticing beyond what we consider normal.

Indeed it is. But there is more. Amy Hesketh blends into Olalla so seamlessly that we sometimes forget there is a separation between actress and character. We willfully suspend our disbelief with ease, the mark of fine storytelling, because Amy is bold, sensitive, and seductive.

Stevenson is not finished, however. As if Amy is standing before him, the Victorian author declares through the officer, “In her eyes I could read depth beyond depth of passion and sadness, light of poetry and hope, blackness of despair.”

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Amy Hesketh’s on-screen presence animates Stevenson’s words. Her eyes, in all their kaleidoscopic beauty and mystery, convince even the most casual viewer that her talent and her emotion are a provocative venture into film.

Stevenson sets the bar; Amy’s Olalla rises above it.

Emotional Catharsis

As we have seen, Amy Hesketh is the woman in pain, a victim who is misunderstood and condemned to the most awful of miseries from which, like the endearing Maxa of the Grand Guignol,  she rarely survives.

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Her torments, often inflicted by the bigotry of the righteous, defines Amy’s self-imposed artistic fate. In reality, it’s a personal psychosocial journey that explores woman as prey, scapegoat, and sacrifice, powerless to avoid the anguish that persecutors turn into sadomasochist pleasure.

But the victim scenario is not quite that simple because there a silenced anger shouting from within.

In Olalla, the deck is stacked against the younger sister. Her blood feast compulsions throttles whatever happiness she might realize. The notion that if freed from its familial shackles, Olalla’s determination would prevail. But we never see it, though Amy lets us know it’s there.

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Highlighting all of her roles is a desire to explore the “body in pain” that infuses Amy’s art.

In Maleficarum, lesbian lovers Mariana and Francisca (Mila Joya) are sadistically tortured by the Church. In Dead But Dreaming it’s the whipping post for Moire’s political crimes then a vampire feast at the hands of the fiendish Nara (Veronica Paintoux).

And, of course, there is Olalla who is beaten on the cross to satisfy superstitious villagers who believe monsters are Satan’s work.

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These films present an emotional catharsis that releases Amy Hesketh to inhabit her characters in a way that few, if any, female performers can deliver in the erotic horror genre.

It’s intoxicating. We look away, but like the English soldier, can’t resist looking back.

*           *          *

By way of Mel Gordon’s Theatre of Fear and Horror, I’ll let the Grand Guignol playwright Andre de Lorde close out this analysis of Olalla.

“At all times . . . horror shows have drawn large audiences. If the Inquisition had made public its interrogations conducted on the rack, they would have had to turn people away.”

Here’s a toast to you, Amy Hesketh. You know this all too well.

We love to watch.

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Olalla, Part Four: The Flesh of Brutes

by Rich Moreland, July 2016

For some viewers, an Amy Hesketh film shivers with a sexual chill. For others, it’s pure heat. 

Either way, horror films in general are erotically perverse and Amy taps into that appeal.

 As we’ve seen, however, Amy Hesketh differs from other fear and terror filmmakers because her movies focus on realism while more traditional horror is pure fantasy. The result?  Amy’s torture scenes dominate the genre in ways others can only envy. The inquisition film, Maleficarum, is a classic example.

In Olalla, Amy adds another ingredient: the monster image as it resides in the human psyche. Let’s take a look.

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“Monster” is a recurring theme in the filmed version of Olalla. The family hurls the accusation Olalla’s way, though in the original short story, Stevenson never uses the word, preferring to rely on suggestion.

For example, the English officer hears wailing in the night he describes as “pitiable and hateful cries” that are “ravings worthy of hell.” But the source is never identified.

10924645_10153193700991840_5293608269395833368_oLater, when Olalla declares she will have no children, “My vow has been given; the race shall cease from off the earth,” Stevenson intimates dysfunctional idlers and strange creatures inhabit the family.

Do they?

To find out, let’s investigate how the monster image drives Amy Hesketh’s screenplay.

It’s My Turn

Uncle Felipe has his way with the sisters.

In the scene in which he emotionally abuses and punishes Olalla, Ofelia helps him tie her to the bed. Afterward, Felipe forces himself on his restrained niece in an act of incest and power (he is teaching her a lesson), though within the family that’s likely their version of “normal.”

To reinforce his discipline, Uncle Felipe reminds Olalla that she is “monster” and “they kill monsters” in a reference to her mother’s death.

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Later Felipe visits Ofelia who makes seductive moves in his direction. With her submissive side ready to romp, she coos, “It’s now my turn.” He closes the door behind him and we are left with an incestuous tryst that recalls the English officer’s inbreeding comment in Stevenson’s story.

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On another occasion, Olalla peeks through the door of Ofelia’s bedroom. Her sister is nude except for a corset and thigh-high stockings. Uncle Felipe is smacking her bottom in a brief scene that is reminiscent of a 1960s roughie or kinkie.*

jac and mila 2If there is any jealousy on Olalla’s part, we don’t see it and wouldn’t expect to. For her, Felipe’s riding crop is a source of discomfort, not the erotic fun Ofelia anticipates.

Unlike other Amy Hesketh productions, the scene is not explored further, though a brief glimpse of the sultry Mila Joya in her Bettie mode is a welcome moment.

Of course, there is irony at work here because Felipe proves that he’s just another fiend creeping around the family tree and raises the question of how long has this been going on.

Obsession Feeds the Monster

Olalla’s unnatural proclivity (compulsion? kink?) is revealed early in her life. In a telling scene, she and her sister are walking a narrow path that is a reminder of the hacienda hallway of present time. They’re followed at some distance by Roberto and their mother who have struck up a relationship Stevenson’s Englishman could only imagine.

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The taller Ofelia suddenly cries to her sister, “What have you done, you animal?” Little Olalla raises her head, blood on her mouth. On the ground is a dead bird with a gash in its neck.

young olallaThe girl looks confused, guilty, and helpless.

This moment defines Olalla’s past. Uncle Felipe and Ofelia will struggle to keep her self-destruction from putting everyone in peril, though it is the family that ironically endangers her. Olalla, who desperately wants to be normal, will be disciplined and under lock and key within the house.

10959611_10153193663996840_5116423304263740522_nIn fact, Stevenson foretells Olalla’s fate. In the original story she explains to the soldier why their love will never come to be. The family “seed” was passed on, she says, but it’s “wrapped” in “the flesh of brutes” who are “inflicted with the mind of flies.” This infestation will stop with her.

In Amy’s film, the original Olalla propagates the family’s decadency and pays dearly. What does this portend for her daughters? Like the Victorians, Amy is leaving it to us to figure out.

Familiar Ground

So, we fast forward to modern times and, as mentioned above, Felipe binds a nude Olalla to her bed, hands over head and feet secured to the opposite end of the bedstead. She is wayward once again, this time with her boyfriend, and needs a forceful reminder.

Felipe uses the riding crop to raise some real welts on Olalla’s torso and thighs. It’s beautifully shot scene and once again marks (pun intended) Amy Hesketh as the darling of softcore sadomasochism.

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But, there is more going on here because the film gives Amy, as both director and actor, the opportunity to present erotic punishment from two distinct psychological perspectives.

As the modern Olalla, she is not the innocent victim. Rather, she is defiant and angry, caught in her own time warp in which she cannot escape her destructive and bloody urges.

We see this when Ofelia tempts Olalla with an apple, the traditional forbidden fruit. She dangles it and pulls it away letting Olalla know that breaking the bonds of the family’s perverse garden of joy may linger as a desire, but doing it is another matter.

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In her role as the 1800s’ Olalla, Amy is on familiar psychological ground: the innocent victim. Taking refuge in a church, the desperate and frightened Olalla persuades her daughters to flee with Felipe, then awaits the village mob. She prays just as her literary counterpart does at the end of Stevenson’s tale.

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But her fate will not be to suffer silently. Rather, it plays out dragging and screaming to a heinous end.

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The villagers finally put her away with a crucifixion and burning, but not without a good flogging first. In the fashion of Biblical retribution, the mother suffers for the familial sins she has passed to her children—Ofelia’s incestuous desires and little Olalla’s blood thirst.

Is this final act a futile attempt at redemption?

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The extended scene is a reminder that as the Irish traveler in Dead But Dreaming and the tortured Mariana in Maleficarum, Amy Hesketh performs with a pathos and realism rarely found in cinema today. The Grand Guignol would be proud.

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The Final Real Monster

The cartoonist Walt Kelly’s Pogo once said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Amy Hesketh reminds her audience that the horrific vigilante murder of Olalla is the worst of human depravity: mob violence.

As the purifying fires of Christian mythology leap around Olalla, the vengeful expressions of the villagers become intermittent commentators on what they really are, a collective monster that far surpasses the degeneracy of Olalla’s family.

The flames of satisfaction intensify and the victim’s cries pierce the darkness. With the end moments away, the mob mentality suddenly recedes replaced by faces of regret and shame. Is the recognition of evil the final act of redemption?

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Oh yes, there is another monster in Olalla we cannot overlook: the demon of violent death neatly packaged by its flatterers: insanity, fear, amorality, hatred, and self-righteousness.

But it never comes without society’s approbation of the real monster that infects us, the ubiquitous “they,” the source of all evil that Uncle Felipe recognizes when he chastises Olalla.

It forever haunts our consciousness and feeds our imagination . . . along with The Grand Guignol and Pogo, of course.

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* In the decade before the birth of modern adult film, movies contained nude scenes in what we know today as softcore. Eventually, audiences wanted more but male/female penetration was off limits.

Love_Camp_7_1To spice up offerings, B-movie makers like David Freidman and Joseph Mawra resorted to rape, whippings, torture, and general mayhem to put the naked girl on the big screen.

These films became their own adult/horror sub-genre called roughies, kinkies, and ghoulies–largely realistic in settings that resided in society’s underbelly, such as the mad doctor’s house of pain, spy interrogation, female prisons, and human trafficking, commonly known as white slavery.

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The next post explores some of Olalla’s cinematography.

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