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Related: Italian exploitation - exploitation film - religion - nun
Directors: Joe D'Amato - Walerian Borowczyk - Jess Franco
Cinematic titles: The Bad Lieutenant (1992) - The Devils (1971)
20th century book titles: The Devils (1952)
18th century titles: Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun (1669) - Dom Bougre (1741) - La Religieuse (1796) - The Monk (1796)
Anticristo: The Bible of Nasty Nun Sinema & Culture (2000) - Steve Fentone
[Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]
The Devils (1971) - Ken Russell [Amazon.com]
The Monk and the Nun (1591) - Cornelis Cornelisz van Haarlem
This particular painting is an illustration of how the clergy has been satirized in the history of art and literature in a genre that today is called somewhat irrevently 'nunsploitation', but which can be traced to the 17th century epistolary novel Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun (1669) and in the visual arts to the work above.
IntroductionNunsploitation is a subgenre of exploitation films. The term was probably coined in the 1970s or 1980s, but the practice of depicting the clergy in explicit sexual situations is documented at least since Histoire de Dom Bougre, portier des Chartreux (1741) and Matthew Lewis's The Monk (1796). In the early days of what is now called pornography, it was customary for revolutionaries to depict the clergy in sexual situations in order to subvert their authority or denounce their real or imagined excesses. In fact, it was not until the second half of the 18th century, that pornography started to be writen per se and to be recognized as a genre in itself. [Sept 2005]
Inspired by The Invention of Pornography, 1500-1800: Obscenity and the Origins of Modernity (1993) - Lynn Hunt
See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homosexuality_and_Christianity [Sept 2005]
DefinitionNunsploitation is a subgenre to exploitation film, which had its peak in Europe in the 1970s. These films typically tell stories of nuns living in Christian convents during the middle ages, and the main conflict of the story is usually of a religious and/or sexual nature, such as religious oppression or sexual suppression due to living in celibacy. The inquisition is another common theme. These films, although often seen as pure exploitation films, often contain criticism against religion in general and the Catholic church in particular. Not surprisingly, many of these films were made in countries where the Catholic church is influential, such as Italy and Spain. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nunsploitation [Nov 2005]
Nunsploitation is a subgenre of exploitation films. The term was probably coined in the 1970s or 1980s, but the practice of depicting the clergy in explicit sexual situations is documented at least since Histoire de Dom Bougre, portier des Chartreux (1741) and Matthew Lewis's The Monk (1796).
Examples of Nunsploitation films
- The Devils (Ken Russell 1971)
- Die Liebesbriefe einer portugiesischen Nonne (Jesus Franco 1973)
- Flavia, la monaca musulmana (Gianfranco Mingozzi 1974)
- Le Scomunicate di San Valentino (Sergio Grieco 1974)
Chris Fujiwara articlecopied here for research purposes.
Ingrid Bergman, Deborah Kerr, Audrey Hepburn, and Julie Andrews each played nuns in some of Hollywood's most beloved classics--but those aren't the ones we're here to talk about. Nor are we going to pay tribute to such late-'60s exotica as Ida Lupino's The Trouble with Angels (even though it's my favorite nun movie) and its sequel, Where Angels Go--Trouble Follows! or even the one with Mary Tyler Moore as a nun opposite Elvis, Change of Habit.
No. We're here to survey a group of low-budget European films of the '70s and '80s that make up a minor category sometimes known among video collectors as "nunsploitation" (an unfortunate term which I'll use only once more in this article). That is, softcore sex films set in convents populated by mischievous lesbian nuns, innocent nuns who get into trouble, and evil, power-mad nuns.
Why do these films exist? What needs called them into being? You don't have to be Kate Millett, Luce Irigaray, or the Marquis de Sade to figure out that nun pornography is about as textbook a vehicle as could be devised for men to express their love/hate ambivalence toward women. The lesbian scenes that are as obligatory in nun movies as I assume they are in real-life convents crystallize this ambivalence. A passage from Rosemary Curb in the groundbreaking book Lesbian Nuns: Breaking Silence is incisive: "Both nuns and Lesbians are emotionally inaccessible to male coercion... . A male-defined culture which moralizes about 'sins of the flesh' and the pollution and evil of women's carnal desires sees both nuns and Lesbians as 'unnatural' but at opposite poles on a scale of female virtue." Nunsploitation both celebrates and punishes this unnaturalness, commends and revenges this inaccessibility.
-- Chris Fujiwara, http://www.hermenaut.com/a48.shtml, accessed May 2004
Interno di un Convento/Behind Convent Walls/Within A Cloister (1977) - Walerian Borowczyk
Interno di un Convento is based on 'Promenades Romanes', a story by renowned 19th century French author Stendhal. Distribution company Redemption take the easy way out by describing this tale of rampant female sexuality inside a convent as "nunsploitation with style", thereby denying any seriousness of intent on the part of director Walerian Borowczyk. An early kitchen scene featuring the butcher and a few of the young nuns is spiced with sufficient silly innuendos to launch a 'Carry On In The Convent' caper, but the concern for ecclesiastical detail in the convent's furnishings makes one suspect that Borowczyk's intentions are not entirely lighthearted. [...] --Chris Blackford http://www.btinternet.com/~rubberneck/borowcz.html [Jun 2004]
- Bad Lieutenant (1992) - Abel Ferrara [Amazon.com]
Proving that he may be the most fearless actor of his or any other generation, Harvey Keitel gives an amazing, no-holds-barred performance in director Abel Ferrara's uncompromising 1992 film about a New York cop on the edge of self-annihilation. The film's title is meant to be taken literally: Keitel's character has no redeeming values whatsoever, save for his desperate need for redemption. Leonard Maltin's Movie & Video Guide is correct in calling this an "over-the-top Catholic guilt movie," but it's been made with such conviction that Ferrara and Keitel transcend the sheer unpleasantness of the material to give it a kind of tragic divinity. Here's a character so vile and corrupted that he consumes or re-sells the drugs he confiscates, but when he's assigned to investigate the brutal rape of a nun who refuses to press charges, he feels that this is his opportunity to redeem his rotten soul. Deservedly rated NC-17 due to its rough content and a frontal nude scene that even Keitel's most loyal fans could do without, this film tends to divide viewers into love-it-or-hate-it categories, but few could deny its raw power and the deeply anguished humanity that Keitel brings to his role. Whatever your reaction may be, few would deny this is an unforgettable film. --Jeff Shannon, Amazon.com
- The Sinful Nuns of St. Valentine (1973) - Sergio Grieco [Amazon.com]
Though ostensibly inspired by The Devils of Loudon, the true story of a convent suspected of breeding devil-worshipping acolytes, this purely exploitative example of "nunsploitation" tosses in elements of Edgar Allan Poe, the lurid sex and sadism of Italian exploitation horror, and even a bent variation on Romeo and Juliet. During the Inquisition Era, an innocent boy accused of heresy seeks refuge in the convent where his girlfriend has been sent by her intolerant father. The Abbess, who pretends to assist the young man, is an insatiable sadist who tortures her charges (usually half-naked) and accuses the innocent girlfriend of murder after the brutal death of her cellmate. This unsavory helping of kink delivers all it promises (nudity! whippings! lesbian sex between acolytes!) with ham-fisted bluntness and then sinks into a hypocritical happy ending in which the Grand Inquisitor himself becomes the paternalistic hero! Neither campy nor stylishly fun, this is for die-hard fans only. Included are trailers for this and three other Italian exploitation films and an extended introduction by British horror hostess Eileen Daly (which was actually recorded for a different film!), a black-leather Elvira with a whip and a penchant for kink that may not be to the tastes of all audiences. -Sean Axmaker, Amazon.com
- The Devils (1971) - Ken Russell [Amazon US]
Synopsis: Cardinal Richelieu and his power-hungry entourage seek to take control of pre-rennaisance France, but need to destroy Father Grandier - the priest who runs the fortified town that prevents them from exerting total control. So they seek to destroy him by setting him up as a warlock in control of a devil-possessed nunnery, the mother superior of which is sexually obsessed by him. A mad witch-hunter is brought in to gather evidence against the priest, ready for the big trial. --Nizam Ahmed for imdb.com
Review: Hieronymous Bosch Goes To The Movies
Those in the know will recall Bosch was a painter who made a name for himself with his unconventional (and somewhat surreal) biblical allegories. His most famous (most reproduced, anyway) is "The Garden Of Earthly Delights". A typtrich, it depicts (from left to right) The Earthly Paradise, Garden of Earthly Delights, and Hell. Naturally it is Hell everyone is fascinated by.
So it is with Ken Russell's "The Devils". Russell did his own brilliant adaptation of Huxley's book (and John Whiting's play) and delivers up an allegory as complex, as entertaining, as graphic, and as timeless as anything Bosch could imagine. Bottom line: an errant Priest (Oliver Reed) falls victim to political ambitions.
Released in 1971, the common response was indignation. Remember, this was an era of taboo-breaking: Pekinpah (the violence of Wild Bunch and Straw Dogs), Roeg and Cammel (the sex, drugs and violence of Performance), and Pasolini (the blasphemies and political allegories of Canterbury Tales) were out there upsetting all kinds of people for all kinds of reasons. With all that to compete against, it's not surprising Russell made the film he did.
And be warned, "The Devils" is packed shoulder-to-shoulder with grotesque characters, graphic and savage violence and cruelty, and some bizarre and frightening religious imagery (hence the Bosch reference. In fact if you study the painting you'll see the smoking ruins of the town, and the Bird-headed Demon enthroned like Cardinal Richelieu/The King, all of which appear in the film -- see also Bruegel's "Triumph Of Death"). Russell pulls no punches, and I've very curious to know what it was the British Censors removed (and apparently destroyed) from this film.
But (unlike Pasollini's "Canterbury Tales", for example) this isn't an inept exercise in breaking the rules for the sake of notoriety. Russell has crafted a brilliant drama and realized it in a beautiful film. The "excesses" are important depiction's, NOT gratuitous sensationalism. While one cannot accuse Russell of being overly subtle, his wit and skill as writer/director cannot be challenged. Ultimately "The Devils" is nail-biting drama: Grandier maneuvers deftly through his enemies' snares as the world around him becomes increasingly more dangerous and corrupt.
And besides, the Cast (at their best), lighting and camera-work, and the costumes and sets are worth the price of admission. This film looks spectacular. Tragically there's no sign of a letter-boxed edition. Perhaps someone (Criterion would be nice) will get off their ass and give this film the presentation it deserves.
Russell described the film as a classic collision between the Individual and the State. Pope John Paul I complained (before he was Pope) about the "excesses never seen before" (ironic, considering his mysterious demise only weeks after assuming the papacy). However, the Catholic church's complaints were not about the film as blasphemy, but about it's *depiction's of blasphemy* (like Martin Scorcese, Russell was raised a Catholic and knew a thing or two about the process); they didn't argue about the events portrayed, but about the honesty with which Russell portrayed them. Was it necessary? Yes it was.
Russell isn't "Catholic bashing", he's criticizing the abuse of power and the corruption that comes with all institutions -- in this instance, organized religion. In fact, the character of Grandier -- a man capable of the highest and lowest excesses -- ultimately realizes his faith and attains the strength to survive his tortures through it.
"The Devils" is a masterpiece. One of the notorious highlights of it's era, it stands the test of time and plays as well now as it did then. --Owen Coughlan for amazon.com
- Alucarda (1978) - Juan López Moctezuma [Amazon US]
Directed in Mexico in 1975 by Alejandro Jodorowsky (El Topo) collaborator Juan Lopez Moctezuma, the Psychotronic Video Guide describes Alucarda as "The strongest, most imaginative, and visual witch movie since Ken Russell's The Devils." Alucarda tells of the strange relationship between two young girls, Justine and Alucarda, and how their relationship destroyed the lives of those around them in a torrent of blood, death and damnation. This legendary horror film contains images that will shock and disturb --From the Back Cover
- Matka Joanna od aniolów / Mother Joan of the Angels (1961) - Jerzy Kawalerowicz
The historical facts are well documented in Michel de Certeau's The Possession at Loudun (Chicago Press, 2000). This episode has inspired a series of books, plays, films and paintings: a chapter of Benjamin Christensen's Häxan (1922), Aldous Huxley's The Devils of Loudun (1952), John R. Whitting's The Devils (1962), Krzysztof Penderecki's opera The Devils of Loudun (1969) and Ken Russell's The Devils (1971). (New York: Continuum, 2001), 113. --http://www.sensesofcinema.com/contents/03/26/cteq/mother_joan.html [May 2004]
- Flavia the Heretic (1974) - Gianfranco Mingozzi [Amazon.com]
Florinda Bolkan stars as Flavia, a woman forced to live the life of a nun by her demanding father. After witnessing injustices and questioning her own faith, she flees the convent in search of a better life. Her taste of freedom beyond the confines of the convent walls is cut short and she is soon recaptured, tortured and whipped for her defiance of the church. Befriending Sister Agatha, who shares her hatred of men, Flavia plots a rebellion. A bloody, violent confrontation ensues as she leads Muslim warriors to attack, rape and murder her friends in the convent. From a confused nun questioning her faith, to a violent dominating leader, Flavia's taste of absolute power comes at a dear price. Call FLAVIA THE HERETIC what you will. A bold statement on feminism or just one of the goriest exploitation films ever made. Synapse Films is proud to present FLAVIA THE HERETIC in its complete, uncut uncensored English language version for the first time in the U.S. FLAVIA THE HERETIC is "nunsploitation" at its finest and a must-have for any fans of 1970s Euro-sleaze! --from the publisher
- Devils of Loudun () - Aldous Huxley [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]
My first experience w/this story was the movie, The Devils, w/Vanessa Redgrave and Olvier Reed (directed by Ken Russell, need I say more?) which is a bit of a warped account of the book which is vastly superior. I also found a play by Whiting based on the book and an opera by Penderecki! What prompted so much interest and imitation? An outstand and very spiritual book. I actually enjoyed the narration and the way it would "interrupt" the voice of the book. It was somewhat similar to Camus' The Plague. It was in these passages of narration that Huxley really shows the profound message this book has to offer. To find that message, you must find a copy, it's worth it! --Susan Hernandez, amazon.com
Suor Omicidi/Killer Nun (1978) - Giulio Berruti
Suor Omicidi/Killer Nun (1978) - Giulio Berruti [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]
New York Daily News
"LURID & GORY! Frenetically Illustrates The Viciousness Of Religious And Sexually Driven Bigotry"
All Movie Guide
"Explicit And Graphically Sadistic"
From the Secret Files of the Vatican! Uncut! Uncensored! Unholy!
Legendary Swedish sex bomb Anita Ekberg (LA DOLCE VITA) stars as sister Gertrude, a cruel nun who discovers depraved pleasure in a frenzy of drug addiction, sexual degradation and sadistic murder. Joe Dallesandro (ANDY WARHOL'S FRANKENSTEIN),Lou Castel (A BULLET FOR THE GENERAL), Alida Valli (SUSPIRIA) and the lusous Paola Morra (BEHIND CONVENT WALLS) co-star in this notorious 'Nunspolitation' sickie based on actual events that took place in a Central European country not many years ago!
Branded as obscene around the world and banned outright in Britain, Killer Nun has been completely remastered from original vault elements and is now presented with all of its blasphemous sex and violence fully restored for the first tme ever n America! --from the production company
Illustration by Pierre Gandon
Image sourced here.
Pierre Gandon was an French illustrator and engraver of postage stamps. He was born January 20, 1899 in L'Ha˙-les-Roses (Val-de-Marne) and disappeared July 23, 1990. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre_Gandon [Sept 2005]
See also: erotic illustration - French erotica - 1900s
Sesso in confessionale (1974) - Vittorio De Sisti
Sesso in confessionale (1974) - Vittorio De Sisti
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