She was one Man's ray of light.
This is a fantastic shot. One reason it caught our eye is that we've seen other photos with lacy shadows substituting for lingerie, but this one from 1930 may be the originator of the illusion. The person you see is Lee Miller. She was born in 1907 and became a fashion model in New York City during the late 1920s, before traveling to Paris with the intent of meeting the legendary photographer Man Ray. She succeeded and became his muse, lover, and frequent subject, as evidenced by this photo, which is his work.
Miller was widely acknowledged as one of the great beauties of her era, but modeling was not her career goal. Her plan had always been to become a photographer. Thus in addition to the other facets of her relationship with Ray, she also apprenticed for him. After absorbing what he had to share she eventually went on to shoot acclaimed World War II photos, some of them during perilous live combat, and documented the liberation of the Buchenwald and Dachau concentration camps, helping expose Nazi atrocities to the world.
In mid-1945 she was in Munich shooting images of the immediate aftermath of the war and posed for a nude shot in Adolf Hitler's bathtub. Yeah—Hitler. Her son, Antony Penrose, later said of the shot, “I think she was sticking two fingers up at Hitler. On the floor are her boots, covered with the filth of Dachau, which she has trodden all over Hitler’s bathroom floor. She is saying she is the victor.”
The photo was of course controversial, but Miller was a pure artist, always willing to make observers see the world in a new way—through her trained eye. So while the shot at top could be seen as reductive of a complex and accomplished personality, it actually reveals an important aspect of who she was—a daring, multi-faceted woman to whom convention was merely a challenge. And it's an overwhelmingly beautiful shot besides.
I took an oath to first do no harm, but you know what? Oath schmoath.
Sylva Koscina prepares to dispense some bitter pills in this still from the 1970 adventure L'Assaut des jeunes loups, aka Hornet's Nest, a World War II flick set in Italy, starring her and Rock Hudson. She plays a German physician, but sometimes you have to stop healing and start unhealing, at least when Hollywood is calling the shots. The movie came during the second stanza of Koscina's career, which was characterized by a lot of minimally successful mid-budget fare. But there's nothing minimal or mid about Koscina. She's one of the most fondly remembered European actresses of her era.
… two... and three. Wait. I screwed up again. That would've been on three and. I meant to do it on three.
Here's something backwards from what we usually share—a novel adapted from a film instead of vice versa. The Camp on Blood Island is a 1958 British-made World War II film written by J.M. White and Val Guest, and when you learn it was produced by schlockmeisters deluxe Hammer Film you could be forgiven for suspecting it was low rent b-cinema, but this is Hammer trying to be highbrow. Near the end of the Pacific War, a Japanese prison camp commandant decides that if Japan surrenders he'll execute all his prisoners. So the prisoners decide to prevent news of any prospective surrender from reaching the commandant by sabotaging communications, and they also prepare to rebel when the times comes. We may check the film out sometime, but we were mainly drawn by the paperback art. Not only did it remind us that prison camp novels are yet another subset of mid-century literature, but we saw the Josh Kirby signature on this one and realized we haven't featured him near enough. Last time we ran across him was on this excellent piece. We'll dig around for more. And we may also put together a small collection of prisoner-of-war covers later. They range from true stories to blatant sexploitation, and much of the art is worth seeing.
Stop playing hard to get! I just want to make sweet love to you!
The Woman Aroused tells the story of a man who allows a confused and mysterious woman to stay with him, then finds he can't get her out of his apartment. He basically can't even get her off his sofa. The woman calls herself Lee, but that isn't her real name. She has no family, no friends, no past. She has a strange accent that hints at origins somewhere in Europe, but conversely she has an American flag tattoo on her forearm.
It emerges that Lee is short for “liebchen,” a nickname from when she was a worker and sex slave in a Polish concentration camp. The tattoo is a cover-up for her Nazi serial number. But even after these discoveries the issue remains how to get rid of her. The narrator is no match for her physically because she's six feet tall and labor hardened, he has limited hope of outsmarting her, and due to complications he can't involve the police. Quite a pickle, and quite an inversion of the usual male-female relationship found in mid-century fiction.
Ed Lacey, aka Ed Lacy, née Leonard Zinberg is not a polished writer, at least not working under this pseudonym, but he certainly dreams up thought provoking tales. This one is just weird enough to sustain interest throughout its short length. The cover on this Avon edition, which gives vivid form to the physical turning of the tables depicted in the narrative, is by famed pin-up artist William Randall, aka Bill Randall, and the copyright is 1951.
Goliath Books examines a century of German erotica.
We recently showcased Berlin based art publishers Goliath's latest release Photographia Erotica Historia, a collection of erotica in a unique mini book format, and over the years we've talked about four other releases by the company. Today, in the while-we're-at-it category, we wanted to take a quick look at Goliath's 2016 compendium History of German Porn. Culled from the Gretchen Kraut Archives, the book is more than 200 black and white photos and drawings with explanatory text, and in size is like a thick paperback novel. Where Goliath's 2014 collection Private Pornography in the Third Reich dealt with German sexual culture from around 1920 until the end of World War II, this subsequent collection starts in the 1800s, squeezes Third Reich porn into a chapter, and continues until the 1960s. Along the way it looks at parlor photography, gay/lesbian erotica, ethnographic nudes, amateur erotica, naturism, and more.
It's a lot of material, much of it highly explicit, and it could serve as a launching point for any number of discussions. But for us, as an art history site, we're reminded once again that nothing is really new. Whatever the particular kink, photographic evidence proves that people the age of your grandparents have already done it, and we can safely assume all the practices go back for centuries. Every variation, every position, every combination, already done. Consider the sexual imagery on Greek urns, and in the Kama Sutra. There's nothing new. Roman historian Publius Cornelius Tacitus observed way back in the first century that Germans were a tough and wild folk, perfectly content to roam naked through the wilderness, but not particularly lustful. The images in History of German Porn cast doubt upon Tacitus' assessment. They suggest that the German reputation for sexual coolness doesn't quite fit.
Having spent some time in Germany, we don't think it fits either. Consider the fact that freikoerperkultur, or nudism, is more embedded in German culture than that of other western nations. There are parks in Berlin where one can lounge naked. German cities have brothels the size of malls. Sexual decadence, though mostly underground, was a hallmark of the Third Reich years. Munich, Berlin, and Hamburg were notorious for their exclusive erotic stage shows. So perhaps what History of German Porn teaches us is merely that overt sexual expression in Germany is pushed more toward private realms such as naturist retreats and sex clubs. Or maybe it teaches us that sexual reputations are misleading, and all of us respond to the same stimuli. But ultimately, there's no need to probe that deeply into the implications of History of German Porn. As pure art, as photographs of nude young bodies, as tableaux merely to regard and enjoy, the images are more than worthwhile.
History of German Porn
A rage to love? Right now I'd welcome a mild interest in cleaning up after yourself.
This is a nice piece of uncredited art fronting Frank Tilsley's A Rage Love, his second of numerous novels, this one dealing with a cruel and ambitious man named Jimmy Magnall, who's fresh out of the army in 1919 and eager to pluck the world's plump fruit for his enjoyment, and who uses women in his climb from slummy Birmingham roots to the top of the London class pyramid. He rides high for some years, but of course eventually loses all he has, including the women, and enlists right back in the army at the beginning of World War II. These are especially interesting bookends for the character because the author Tilsley was bothered by having been too young to fight in World War I and too old to enlist for combat in World War II, so engineering Jimmy Magnall into both wars may be a case of living vicariously. The book was originally published in 1953 as The Fortunate Man and was well reviewed in most quarters. We would love to know who painted the cover art, but no such luck. 1959 copyright on this Popular Library edition.
Well, it's not super dark. Just darker than the rest of me. Here—give it a feel.
The cover art for Bantam Books' paperback edition of Christine Weston's The Dark Wood is another good example of the pulpification of mid-century literature. This is a seriously phallic effort. The proximity of the woman's hands to crotchville is suggestive enough, but the penile shadow really leaves no doubt what the artist is thinking here. The original hardback art, which you also see, is more fitting for what the book really is—a psychological drama in the style of Daphne DuMaurier about a widow who meets a man that resembles her dead husband, and proceeds to try to turn that man into her lost love, with damaging results. The book debuted in 1946, and World War II and its aftereffects are central to the plot. The Bantam art, while nice, certainly gives a different impression. Just more proof of the power of provocative visuals. It's from 1949 and was painted by Ed Paulsen.
Lovers in a dangerous time.
Above are two posters for Nikutai no mon, aka Gate of Flesh, one of the most famous films to come out of Japan during the post-war period. We talked about the pinku remake of this, which appeared in 1977. The original was directed by Seijun Suzuki and stars Joe Shishido, Satoko Kasai, and Yumiko Nogawa. It closely follows the plot of Tajiro Tamura's novel, in which a group of tough prostitutes survive in bombed out post-World War II Tokyo thanks to camaraderie and a strict code of conduct, of which the most important rule is never to have sex for free. When a wounded ex-soldier takes shelter with them, some of the women find emotional distance difficult to keep, while one finds maintaining physical distance even harder. The novel is a tragedy, and since the film tracks the fiction closely, don't expect to walk away from this one with a smile on your face. It premiered in Japan today in 1964.
The thrill of the Chasse.
This promo poster from Colombia Pictures was made to promote the Belgian run of the film noir Chasse à l'homme, better known as The Glass Wall. This is an interesting one. Starring Vittorio Gassman and Gloria Grahame, the movie is set at the end of World War II and tells the story of a Hungarian refugee who arrives in New York harbor as a stowaway on a ship. Onboard immigration cops catch him, but he eludes them and jumps ship to search for a war buddy who can prove he has the right to legal residency under a special exemption for those who aided Allied soldiers. He must find this friend who can prove his bona fides, and do it within twenty four hours or be permanently barred from the U.S. A photo in the morning paper alerts the public and Chasse à l'homme becomes a double manhunt—the hero's search for his buddy, and the cops' search for the hero. The film is obviously a piece of light propaganda concerning the desirability of life in the U.S., but as a noir it also shows a darker side to American society, such as when Gloria Grahame is under threat of eviction, and when the landlady's son tries to force himself on her. Gassman was an experienced actor by this point, and Grahame, as noted on the poster, had already won an Academy Award for The Bad and the Beautiful. Both do solid work here. The movie opened in the U.S. in March of 1953 and reached Brussels, Belgium today in 1954. |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
In Detective Comics #27, DC Comics publishes its second major superhero, Batman, who becomes one of the most popular comic book characters of all time, and then a popular camp television series starring Adam West, and lastly a multi-million dollar movie franchise starring Michael Keaton, then George Clooney, and finally Christian Bale.
1953—Crick and Watson Publish DNA Results
British scientists James D Watson and Francis Crick publish an article detailing their discovery of the existence and structure of deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, in Nature magazine. Their findings answer one of the oldest and most fundamental questions of biology, that of how living things reproduce themselves.
1967—First Space Program Casualty Occurs
Soviet cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov dies in Soyuz 1 when, during re-entry into Earth's atmosphere after more than ten successful orbits, the capsule's main parachute fails to deploy properly, and the backup chute becomes entangled in the first. The capsule's descent is slowed, but it still hits the ground at about 90 mph, at which point it bursts into flames. Komarov is the first human to die during a space mission.
1986—Otto Preminger Dies
Austro–Hungarian film director Otto Preminger, who directed such eternal classics as Laura, Anatomy of a Murder
, Carmen Jones
, The Man with the Golden Arm
, and Stalag 17
, and for his efforts earned a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame, dies in New York City, aged 80, from cancer and Alzheimer's disease.
1998—James Earl Ray Dies
The convicted assassin of American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., petty criminal James Earl Ray, dies in prison of hepatitis aged 70, protesting his innocence as he had for decades. Members of the King family who supported Ray's fight to clear his name believed the U.S. Government had been involved in Dr. King's killing, but with Ray's death such questions became moot.
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