Mauer dreamstory

Agata Pyzik
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The following is an early draft from Agata Pyzik’s excellent book-length debut, Poor but Sexy: Culture Clashes between East and West. I’m about halfway through writing a review of it, which I’ll probably pitch to Radical Philosophy or Art Margins. Everyone reading this should pick up a copy immediately. Pyzik’s interpretation of Possession and other films, reproduced below, is one of my favorite sections.
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(Cross-posted from Faces on Posters as well as
nuits sans nuit et quelques jours sans jour)


Picture-321 Screen Shot 2014-07-26 at 11.13.13 PM.

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I didnt want that to happen, but it did.

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“A woman who fucks an octopus” — that was the way Andrzej Żuławski pitched his 1980 film Possession to the producer, fresh after the success of his French film L’Important C’est D’aimer, about a fallen actress, played by a sad-eyed Romy Schneider, who is made to act in pornographic movies, surrounded by other failed artists, including an unusually melancholic, tender performance from Klaus Kinski. He was also right after the fiasco of his three-hour long monumental metaphysical SF On a Silver Globe (1978) — an adaptation of a futurological fin-de-siècle novel by his great-uncle, Jerzy Żuławski — pulled before completion by the hostile communist authorities and shelved until 1987, when only Żuławski had a chance to “finish” the film. Around that time, he was abandoned by his wife Malgorzata Braunek, actress in his Third Part of the Night and The Devil, due to his famously domineering and possessive personality as a partner and a director. Left in shock and depression, he started plotting a misogynist fairy tale about a monster…

The sleep of reason produces demons, and one of them materialized when Anna, living in West Berlin with her functionary nice husband and child in a neat, three-storey block estate, realized she despised her husband. She confesses that to him. The rest is what happens after that confession.

Possession was made in the golden era of the genre of exploitation, and it must be due to the communal genius that things conceived as forgettable schlock to this day shine with a magnificent mixture of the visceral and the metaphysical, with cinematography, colors, costumes and set design taken from a masterpiece. Argento and the lesser gialli creators, Jean Rollin with his erotic horror, the expansion of an intellectual SF, started and inspired Tarkovsky, all paved the way for Possession, a still unrivaled study of a marital break-up, thrown in the middle of political turmoil in divided cold war Berlin. Still, Possession had a special “career” in the UK, if by career we understand horrible reception, extremely negative reviews and eventually putting it to the “video nasties” list of banned films. “Film nobody likes,” it was deemed too arty for the flea pits and too trashy for the art house.*

Possession21 0004

Today perhaps we can’t imagine what it was like to live in a city surrounded by barbed wire and under a constant look of armed guards. When we first see Anna, played by a disturbingly pale, un-Holy Mary-like Isabelle Adjani and Mark (Sam Neill), we instantly see something is terribly wrong: their windows are under constant scrutiny, and surrounded by wire — the symbol of political oppression just as of the marital prison, of conventional life. Continue reading

Soviet-era erotic alphabet book from 1931 [Советская эротическая азбука 1931 года]

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Image: This threesome brought
to you by the letter «А» (1931)

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UPDATE: Apparently it was Giuliano Vivaldi behind the whole rumor that this collection was intended to “combat adult illiteracy,” as I put it here. He wrote: “I copied this from someone’s wall and added with a few exclamation marks that it was part of Stalin’s fight against illiteracy (joke intended). Since then my joke was cited as fact and traveled the internet.”

Consider me trolled! Still prefer to think of it having been conceived for that purpose.

Reproduced here are a bunch of scans from a fascinating erotic alphabet book printed in the Soviet Union circa 1931, made to combat adult illiteracy. By the sculptor and future People’s Artist of the USSR Sergei Merkurov [Сергей Меркуров], no less. For those of you who enjoyed my previous post on classic Soviet board-games from the 1920s, this should be right up your alley.

Ц, Ш

Ц, Ш

As my friend Jasmine Curcio points out, these images draw upon clear precedents in the phallic imagery of ancient Roman art. Throughout the ABC book one can find images of horny satyrs, indecent cupids, and flying disembodied cocks. Given Merkurov’s own fascination with ancient Greek and Roman art, this is hardly surprising. No doubt, all of these precedents were consciously invoked. Though it is admittedly somewhat interesting to see various dirty motifs cribbed from the style of Roman antiquity deployed for the purposes of a Soviet literacy campaign, which was itself such a distinctly modernizing project.

This should stand as definite challenge the false notion that the Soviet Union suppressed its citizens’ sexual desires, or was in the least conservative when it came to such matters. At least, not until Stalin achieved full control and instituted conservative policies. And, ironically, illustrated by the same man who’d later be commissioned by the Soviet government to sculpt a number of famous monuments to Stalin.

Ф, Ь

Ф, Ь

My friend Anna Khachiyan‘s reaction is worthy of inclusion here:

Thanks for sharing this — it is fantastic! All my years of tumblr trolling, and I’ve never seen anything nearly as good. And so artfully done, too. Alas, if only they had this much sex in real life.

But I must ask: What ever happened to the letter «Ж» in these drawings? This would be a difficult letter to navigate, sexually, but imagine the erotic possibilities!

Anyway, without further delay, some acknowledgments:

All of these great images are reposted from the brilliant Russian Livejournal account Isle of Crimea [Остров Крым]. I’d also like to thank Arya Moghadam for first bringing them to my attention. Credit is also due to Agata Pyzik, who first discovered them for the Anglophone world.

Needless to say, these are not safe for work. Enjoy. Continue reading