by William Dean
The film is grainy, black and white, the lighting is amateurish, as is the static camera work. The woman is stripped, tied to a tree; the naked man can do whatever he wants with her. Another film, from the same sources, depicts a woodsy threesome having rough sex amid the placid Germany countryside.
Not long after the films were printed, the story goes, copies were being traded in North Africa for food, water, and insect repellant by General Ernst "Desert Fox" Rommel's famed Afrika Korps. This was in 1941.
Despite the usual propaganda cries of high morality, Nazis apparently still loved their porn flicks. Now, they're the subject of a controversial novel by Germany's top new literary award winner, author Thor Kunkel. Final Stage, or Endstufe, depicts "the morbid leisure society of the Third Reich," in which jaded Nazi officers made amateur stag films for fun and profit.
Kunkel heavily researched the topic, after discovering copies of the two films mentioned above, Desire in the Woods and The Trapper. As usual, truth was stranger than fiction, and the author was actually able to eventually track down, one of the now 83-year-old actresses from the films. Yes, she told him, she had been a nude model, and yes, two "polite, charming men" had taken her and her sister in a Gestapo-type car to the woods where they had made the films.
Two months before Kunkel's book was to be published, however, he returned from a trip to Amsterdam to discover he'd been blitzkrieged. The publisher cited irreconcilable "aesthetic" differences and cancelled the book's release. But controversy sells books and Kunkel was soon besieged with offers from three other publishers eager to reap the benefits of a book with all the elements of a best-seller: Nazis, sex, decadence, and a fresh angle. The book is now scheduled to come out this month, from Eichborn Berlin. Yet now, the controversy has grown another horn. The German press reports that it may have all been a hoax.
Experts, they claim, have examined the films and beleive they could not have been made in the 1940s, but ten or twenty years later. Other experts in the field of Nazi-era film history say they can find no records about the films. No matter how the story eventually turns out, our attention has been, once more, directed at the appeal of combining Nazis with sex.
Nazi porn has been around in various guises a long time, of course. In the mid-1970s, The Night Porter by Liliana Cavani, Tinto Brassís Salon Kitty, and Salò by Pier Paolo Pasolini took artistic looks at sex and power among the Nazis and Fascists of World War II. These works inspired less-gifted Italian filmmakers to crank out a number of Nazi soft-porn movies, including Love Lager and The Gestapo's Last Orgy, which are currently enjoying a resurgence of sales in Italy and elsewhere. Campy scenes of in-and-out-of-uniform Nazis and busty babes are suddenly being touted by amateur filmzines, with breathless adverts like: "'Finally on video, the most crude and violent Nazi movie ever made...Painstakingly restored from the only existing print at the Center for Experimental Cinema...a must-see of the Eros-swastika genre,' hawks the cover of KZ-9 Lager di Sterminio (Women's Camp 119)."
Perhaps the best-known Nazi soft porn film today is the ahem classic Ilsa -- She-Wolf of the SS, released in 1974. The film is set in a mock-up Nazi slave labor camp, reputedly the same set used for the previously-cancelled TV sitcom Hogan's Heroes and probably using the same uniforms. This is not, obviously, an Italian exploitation film, but a truly North American product, nearly prophetic in many elements.
For example, Commandant Ilsa's first act of "barbarity" on her arriving prisoners is to shave their genitals. Oh, no! Cruelty in 1974, fetishist's delight thirty years later. Or another example, after a dinner party in honor of a visiting Nazi general, Ilsa indulges his "perversion" by peeing on him. Again, unusual in 1974, a relatively-common fetish in 2004. Dyanne Thorne, the star of Ilsa, is a busty blonde, reminiscent of those who paraded through Hogan's Stalag 17, Elke Sommer, or Fellini's Anita Ekberg. She wades through the thin plotline (if one can call it that) as if made to play the role of sadistic nympho Nazi. The male prisoners are used as her sexual playthings and those that don't measure up are summarily castrated. The female prisoners, on the other hand, are subjected to "medical experiments" to see if they can endure more torture and pain than their male counterparts.
Long before, movies discovered Nazi porn, American men's magazines of the cheaper variety and the sleazier pulp novels had been pumping out hundreds of stories about Nazi sex camps, sadistic Nazi nymphs, and the like. I remember as a newly-fledged teen discovering tales in which bare-chested, two-fisted soldiers were caught, imprisoned, and forced to service the depraved lust of various "Ilsas." The euphemisms of the early 1960s were in place, but you knew what was really going on when, say, "sweat poured down his thighs as the whip snaked closer and closer to his bared manhood" or "she forced his tongue against her Nazi armband and then lower and lower until she began moaning uncontrollably."
Sixty years after the demise of the Nazi crowd, they're resurfacing as part of our porn campy humor or the stuff of sado-masochistic and domination fantasies. Imagining power gone sexy will always titillate us, perhaps, provided the Nazis stay on the screen or between the pages of books and don't edge over into our government or day-to-day realities. If or when they do, remember to just say "No!"