Images of her are rare but you tend to remember the ones you see.
Above is a brilliant photo, which would have fit nicely into our tribute to the classic 1970s afro, of U.S. actress and singer Radiah Frye, made by famed black photographer Kwame Brathwaite. It dates from around 1971, a guess we can make because another frame from the session was used as the basis of one of our favorite film posters of all time—the ultra rare Japanese promo for Addio Zio Tom, aka Good Bye Uncle Tom. We wrote about the film many years back, and you can see the poster at this link. Prepare your eyes for a marvelous sight. Frye acted in the films Goodbye Emmanuelle, Madame Claude, and Spermula—a movie we're going to return to later—but never established a major cinematic presence. She was probably a bit more famous as a singer and general celebrity, but whatever you want to label her, she was very beautiful.
The woman who set fire to France.
First degree Arsan is the highest level of Arsan, which is the act of starting a fire or explosion with the intent to destroy or damage something. So above you see Thailand born Emmanuelle Arsan, who did exactly that, setting fire to and destroying French censorship standards. She was known by several names, including Marayat Rollet-Andriane and Marayat Bibidh, but it was as Arsan that she found fame in France by writing the erotic novel Emmanuelle, which was immediately banned. While its publisher Eric Losfeld was jailed and fined, the book was clandestinely and anonymously sold from 1959 until its official publication in 1967.
Today the novel is thought to have been written by Arsan's husband Louis-Jacques Rollet-Andriane, and “Emmanuelle Arsan” is thought to be a pseudonym they shared, with he as writer and she as its public face. Arsan parlayed the literary recognition into modeling, acting, an uncredited directorial turn at the helm of the 1976 sexploitation flick Laure, and celebrity status as the personification of France's naughty libido. This wonderful image is from 1976, and she's 40 in it. You can see numerous more impressive shots of Arsan in the write-up we did on Laure a few years back.
Gemser flick needs to be put someplace the sun doesn't shine.
Laura Gemser made many films, in which she mainly lost her clothes in exotic locales, and in 1980's Sexy Moon the Gemser world tour hits the island of Cyprus. First things first—the alternate titles. They include, but are not limited to, I mavri Emmanouella, which was the original Greek title, Secrets érotiques d'Emmanuelle, Emanuelle: Queen Bitch, Emanuelle: Queen of Sados, and Emanuelle's Daughter. Those last three were the titles for various English speaking countries, while Sexy Moon, interestingly, was what the film played as in Italy, where it opened today in 1980. So you're actually looking at the film's Italian poster above, and a nice one it is, painted by Enzo Sciotti, the brush behind more than 3,000 movie promos.
This was Gemser' s eleventh Emanuelle outing, depending on how you number them—she starred in two movies that had “Emanuelle” in the titles but no character in the films with that name. So some might say this was her ninth Emanuelle film. Whatever. The important aspect here is that the writers were running out of interesting things for her to do. By the time Sexy Moon came along Gemser couldn't merely be ravished by hairy Eurostuds, so after besting cannibals, becoming a nun, and smashing a prostitution ring, her handlers decided to have her play an unhappy wife who has her terrible husband murdered. At that point she becomes guardian to the departed's now rich daughter, who's played by Livia Russo.
Russo could, in some slow developing genetic universe, be eighteen, but she's more likely fifteen, which means we were ambushed by her nudity, which is both sexual and, later, violent in nature. We suspect the only reason this film isn't illegal everywhere is because nobody has a firm record of Russo's age—least of all her, since she dropped off the face of the planet right after Sexy Moon wrapped. It was a more daring time artistically. We mention that often. And it's just acting. We get that. But having a possible mid-teen even act a rape scene is sadistic. We recommend skipping this one. Sexy Moon, which turned out not to be sexy at all, premiered in Italy today in 1980.
When the Belle rings it's time for everyone to get it up.
Above is a Japanese poster and a pamphlet front for the French sexploitation flick Laure, aka Forever Emmanuelle, which premiered in Japan today in 1976 after opening in Italy nine months earlier. We watched it, and first of all the movie looks great. It's crisp, bright, and colorful—three things you really want when Annie Belle is the star. We gather that the palpably high budget was due to an infusion of big studio money from Twentieth Century Fox via Cinecittà Studios, as they tried to cash in on the 1970s sexploitation phenomenon. None of this means the movie is good.
Emmanuelle flicks are chaste and atmospheric, more romance than raunch, and Laure is no exception. Belle plays a highly sexed minister's daughter running wild in the Philippines, from Manila to the jungly outer reaches. There's a plot having to do with searching for the isolated Mara tribe, but the movie is more a series of swinger lifestyle lectures and sexualized vignettes, such as when Belle drops her skirt so she can walk around in public wearing nothing but a shirt that flashes her muff, and when she gets laid in a bamboo hut that's being dragged through the woods by a dozen Filipino workers. She's wanted by everyone whose path she crosses, but it's Al Cliver who piques her interest, thanks to his unwillingness to attempt caging her or cooling her hot blood. At one point he announces, “Jealousy is an obscenity.” It takes quite a man to watch the woman he loves have explosive orgasms with every stranger who happens along.
Of special note is a co-starring turn from Thai/French personality Emmanuelle Arsan, who in 1959 anonymously published the book Emmanuelle, source of the film franchise. Or at least she was thought for years to have been responsible for the book. Her husband Louis-Jacques Rollet-Andriane is now considered the author. Arsan was also credited with directing Laure, or at least co-directing it, but that was Rollet-Andriane again, whose name isn't on the film for reasons too involved to go into here. Well, it's definitely Arsan playing the role of Myrte, adding to the film's visual allure by looking great naked at age forty-four. She can't act, but she's good at giving wise looks and secretive smiles. She's easy to buy as the source—or at least inspiration—for Emmanuelle, because she's a very sexy woman. Despite all the film's beauty, we aren't going so far as to recommend it generally, but for lovers of globetrotting softcore or fans of Annie Belle it's mandatory.
Gemser heats up the deserts of Egypt.
Cinematic sleaze was often fueled, the same as was mainstream filmmaking, by star power, so it was natural to bring two popular erotic performers like Laura Gemser and Annie Belle together. It happened today in 1976 with the Italian premiere of Velluto nero. At some point after its theatrical release it was renamed for English speaking audiences Black Emmanuelle, White Emmanuelle. Gemser was actually Indonesian, born in Surabaya, East Java, however 1976 was the blaxploitation era and everybody wanted a piece of that pie, including, obviously, Gemser's production company Rekord Films. Gemser could have played anything from half black to Persian to southern Italian to Hawaiian to Latina, so it was a canny—if cynical—bit of cultural appropriation. But back then it was seemingly no harm no foul. Audiences wanted to see her naked, and she always delivered.
In Velluto nero Gemser plays a model who vacations in Egypt with her horrible husband and meets the free-spirited Belle, who awakens her to better possibilities in life—ones that don't include her criminally abusive spouse. It's generally agreed that this is one of Gemser's most tepid Emanuelle entries. We have to concur. But Gemser and Annie Belle in the same movie are worth something, at least, and the Egyptian scenery is compelling. We also like that Belle's multi-colored sweater makes another appearance. She must have lifted it from the costume department when she filmed Laure. Velluto nero isn't the last we'll see of her or Gemser, and we'll just have to hope the next encounter is an improvement over this one.
Gemser gets freaky on the island of brotherly love.
La spiaggia del desiderio is another Laura Gemser sexploitation epic, third in what would become a long series of Emanuelle movies, and the first to truly jump the shark. A bit of backstory: Author Emmanuelle Arsan wrote the original Emmanuelle character, based on herself, in 1967, and saw it become the erotic film Emmanuelle starring Sylvia Kristel. It premiered in France in June 1974 and was a worldwide smash by that autumn. But Italian production company Aquila Cinematografica had managed to film and rush release a knock-off entitled Amore libero that hit cinemas in Rome by August of 1974. The movie starred Gemser as a character named Emanuelle—with one 'm'. This film too was something of a success, in the sense that it made money while costing far less.
After the success of the French Emmanuelle its makers decided to cash in with a sequel. Trinacra Films and Orphée Productions kicked France to the curb and made Emmanuelle II with an eye toward the large U.S. market, where their sophomore entry eventually had its world premiere in December of 1975. While shooting this sequel they apparently figured the more Em(m)aunelles the better and cast Laura Gemser as a sexy masseuse in order to pair her up—naked—with Kristel. The spirit of cooperation is admirable, but certainly what this casting decision did was give Gemser's Emanuelle just as much legitimacy as Kristel's Emmanuelle.
At the time Gemser was enjoying this cameo appearance in Emmanuelle II she had already made or was about to make a sequel to her Amore libero. We use that uncertain terminology because the French Emmanuelle films were higher budget productions and took longer to film and post-produce, which means even though Gemser's sequel hit cinemas before Emmanuelle II, it's possible it was filmed after and rammed through post to get to audiences first. In any case, Gemser's sequel, already cynically thieving the original Emmanuelle concept, was titled to take advantage of the burgeoning blaxploitation wave. Emanuelle negra it was called—Black Emanuelle.
Gemser was off and running and would eventually make more than a dozen Emanuelle films, each more preposterous than the previous. Amore libero and Emanuelle negra featured Gemser playing an Emanuelle who, like the original character written by
Emmauelle Arsan, enjoyed sexual adventures in exotic tourist destinations. But La spiaggia del desiderio is a lost world flick that features her living on an isolated island with her father and brother in primitive bliss. We suspect the entire script was written to avoid high budget location work and unnecessary characters.
In any case, it's just Gemser, her dad, and her bro on this uncharted spit of tropical sand off the coast of Venezuela, until a shipwreck victim washes up and brings with him a host of problems. Because, you see, Gemser plays a game with her brother, a very pleasurable game that she—in her innocence—doesn't realize is known as incest in the civilized world. When she begins to play the game with the newcomer that's when things go terribly wrong. Think of it as The Blue Lagoon years before that movie appeared, but with brotherly love thrown in to provide an excuse to philosophize about cultural norms.
The main plot question becomes this: does the newcomer try to get Gemser to realize what she's doing is wrong, or is it really society that's wrong to judge true love? And secondarily, should he take her away to civilization, or would the real world destroy all that is innocent and wonderful about her? This is deep shit, folks. In our view, Gemser should leave the island—a few civilized cheeseburgers might actually do her good. She's 5' 7” and goes—maybe—115 soaking wet, so she really does look like she's been living on coconuts and crabs for years. But for her fans it's about her whole package, even if that package looks underfed.
We can't recommend La spiaggia del desiderio. There's just nothing much going on here. We suspect the film was toned down because of the (completely unneeded and distasteful) incest angle, a problem her production company might not have foreseen until it was too late. Like: “Uh, huddle up people—we just learned we can't show Laura boning her brother without being slapped with an injunction.” Thus with Gemser's nude frolicking reduced to a bare minimum, there's not much to sustain interest. If we were you we'd give this particular Emanuelle a pass. La spiaggia del desiderio premiered in Italy today in 1976.
Sex Stars System uncovers erotic cinema around the world.
Here's a little treat for Monday, because Mondays are universally acknowledged to suck. Above is the cover and below are a ton of scans from the cutting edge cinema magazine Sex Stars System, which billed itself as “Le Magazine du Cinema Erotique.” It was published out of 55 Passage Jouffroy, in Paris, France, and for a while it was the top magazine with reviews and features on the new, sexually liberated mainstream cinema of the early 1970s, and the new pornography of the same era. Because porn was taken seriously as an art form back then (hard to imagine, we know) certain magazines discussed and critiqued the films and regarded the performers as equal with those in mainstream cinema. We talked about this phenomenon with Cine-Revue a few years ago. Sex Stars System was similar, but much edgier, as you'll see.
On the cover and in the centerfold you see Croatian born star Sylva Koscina (a mainstream actress), and elsewhere you get Emmanuelle Parèze (porn), Dany Carrel (mainstream), Valérie Bosigel (mainstream), Karin Schubert (both), Catherine Spaak (mainstream), Ornella Muti (mainstream), Chesty Morgan (porn, obviously), Marilyn Monroe (mainstream, though some scam artists claim she was the other too), et al. They don't make magazines like this anymore, because they don't make cinema like this anymore. Sex in U.S. movies is strictly taboo, unless, generally speaking, the actors keep their clothes on. You do see it on cable television, however, though such shows generate reams of online criticism about how terribly wrong it is (we agree, however, that more sex and nude scenes need to be filmed from the vantage point of the female gaze). In Europe, as always, things are a bit more liberated.
We aren't sure how long Sex Stars System published. It debuted in 1975. Also in 1975, or possibly 1976, a magazine called simply Stars System appeared. Stars System had a softer editorial approach and featured solidly mainstream cover celebs such as Jane Fonda and Romy Schneider. At some point it changed its name slightly to Star System and, thus rebranded, published at least as late as 1982, which seems to be longer than Sex Stars System was on the scene. The information online about these magazines is, as you can probably guess, a jumble, but we'll keep looking into it and maybe have something more concrete to report later. There's also a Star System celeb magazine around today, but it's Canadian and presumably unrelated. Many scans below, and we have a few more issues we'll post later.
Dominique Troyes shows she's in perfect trim.
Above is a very cool photo of French adult performer Marilyn Jess, who you may remember was one of the main attractions of the film Emmanuelle IV. We talked about the movie at length last month and thought Jess needed a return engagement. She appeared in Emmanuelle IV as Dominique Troyes, but used her Jess persona during her extensive x-rated career, which began in 1977 and lasted through the ’80s and beyond. She was famed for having an enormous bush, which she's trimmed by orders of magnitude for this photo. It dates from around 1982
I just love reading the literary classics. They're always so interest... zzzzzzz...
Above is one of our prouder acquisitions—a poster of Dutch actress Sylvia Kristel made to promote the film Emmanuelle. The piece has multiple fold lines, which we could remove from the digital reproduction if we wanted, but we like the lines. We're sharing this because Kristel died today four years ago and we think this shot is a nice reminder of what a lovely and ethereal star she was.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1964—Mass Student Arrests in U.S.
In California, Police arrest over 800 students at the University of California, Berkeley, following their takeover and sit-in at the administration building in protest at the UC Regents' decision to forbid protests on university property.
1968—U.S. Unemployment Hits Low
Unemployment figures are released revealing that the U.S. unemployment rate has fallen to 3.3 percent, the lowest rate for almost fifteen years. Going forward all the way to the current day, the figure never reaches this low level again.
1954—Joseph McCarthy Disciplined by Senate
In the United States, after standing idly by during years of communist witch hunts in Hollywood and beyond, the U.S. Senate votes 65 to 22 to condemn Joseph McCarthy for conduct bringing the Senate into dishonor and disrepute. The vote ruined McCarthy's career.
1955—Rosa Parks Sparks Bus Boycott
In the U.S., in Montgomery, Alabama, seamstress Rosa Parks refuses to give her bus seat to a white man and is arrested for violating the city's racial segregation laws, an incident which leads to the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The boycott resulted in a crippling financial deficit for the Montgomery public transit system, because the city's African-American population were the bulk of the system's ridership.
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