Throughout the 20th century, sexuality has moved closer to the center of public debate than ever before. This culminated in the 1960s and 1970s when the sexual liberation unleashed all the confinement previously placed on the women’s sexual pleasure. This has brought a significant shift in the way sex and nudity were portrayed on the big screen. Within this context, Tinto Brass movies of the time have made him the cultured representative of 1970s Italian erotic cinema. Even though his early work includes many critically acclaimed avant-garde films of various genres, he is today mainly known for his later work in the realm of erotica.
Considered a promising avant-garde director in the 1960s and 70s who employed highly experimental editing- and camera- style, this early period was referred as rebellious, anarchistic and experimental and he has been called the “Antonioni of the 70s”. This early period includes films such as Who Works Is Lost (Chi lavora è perduto) from 1968, Dropout from 1970, short films Tempo Libero and Tempo Lavorativo commissioned by Umberto Eco for the 13th Triennale di Milano, and La Vacanza with Vanessa Redgrave and Franco Nero that won the prize of the film critics for the best Italian film at 1971 Venice Film Festival. He was also Paramount Picture’s first choice for directing A Clockwork Orange, but he refused the offer since he was shooting his film The Howls at the time.
In 1976, he was commissioned to direct a sexploitation quickie Salon Kitty, but he has re-written the script to turn it into a dark, political satire. The success of this film brought another commission, this time from the Penthouse founder Bob Guccione to do a movie adaptation of Gore Vidal’s novel Caligula. After refusing to include footage of Penthouse centerfolds shoots, he was fired and locked out of the editing room. Guccione has botched the film and added hardcore sex scenes, which led to Brass removing his name from the credits. When the movie came out, the public was shocked and the critics described it as “sickening, utterly worthless, shameful trash”. Yet, Brass has decided to focus on erotica from then on as a way of rebelling against the hypocrisy of censors. Explaining that sex is a normal part of life that we should just deal with, he was strongly against censorship, the strong arm of religion and any power that manipulates people so they can’t think for themselves. “To me, the word “erotic” means a struggle for freedom. If you feel free, sexually, you are able to make changes in society. Social change takes place when one power is changed by another. Women are able to explore their erotic feelings easier than men. At any rate, they are more honest about these feelings. In this respect, I hope women will take charge of the world. This is our only hope”, he explained in the recent interview.
After films Salon Kitty and Caligula that allowed his eroticism to emerge, Brass directed The Key (La chiave) in 1982, a work that heralded a long season of borderline pornography and films that celebrate the beauty of the female body and the joys of voyeurism. His openly chauvinist take on sex was secular and joyous. His renewed directorial ambition was often expressed through irreverent and even sacrilegious allusions to directors like Rossellini, Visconti, Kubrick, and Fellini.
By showing the bits and pieces of the scenery and peripheral characters and objects through the use of pans and zooms, Brass aimed to imitate the viewer’s perspective of the events if he would be present giving his movies a rapid pace. Thus, his directorial style was often described as impressionistic, even though he once stated that he is also inspired by German Expressionism. It could be said that emphasizing women’s ample behinds, pubic and underarm hair is a trademark of all his films, to the point of fetishizing these physical features. “A face can be painted over with make-up, conceal its age or impurities; a mouth can spew cruel lies. A butt is definitely more honest than that”, he once stated. Understanding that engorgement starts in the mind’s eye, Brass wraps his fetishization of the female body in a candy-colored cloak of pure fabulousness, balancing the perverted and the aesthetic in a way that keeps both ends of the titillation spectrum happy. He develops moments of lust and desire out of the stories themselves. The decadence of excessive power is also a regular theme of his work, aiming to stage the dance on the figurative volcano. He has always found the female point of view more interesting, evolving and newer than the male one.
For me, cinema is a dream that becomes true. What I cannot do in reality I try to do in movies. My scenes are not connected by logic, but by analogy. In this way, they proceed like poetry and dreams. - Tinto Brass
Let’s take a look at some of the most memorable scenes from Tinto Brass movies.
Editors’ Tip: Strange New World: Sex Films of the 1970s Paperback by Jon Abbott
Following the sexual revolution in the 1960s and 1970s, the representation of the nudity, sex and female sexuality in cinema has changed and liberated completely. This resulted in the rise of sex films that borderline pornography. What are these films? Who made these films and why, and who were they made for? What did they say then, and what do they tell us now? Nothing even remotely like these films is being made today. What has replaced them, and how, and why? All of these questions are answered in the opinionated and fact-filled book by Jon Abbott that analyzes the history of this strange new world that adults of both sexes and all ages found themselves in during the 1970s and surrounding decades, from the 1950s to the present day. Covering some of the best masters of erotic cinema, it includes Long, Greg Smith, Joe Sarno, Russ Meyer, Mac Ahlberg, Jess Franco, Jean Rollin, Tinto Brass, and many others.
Featured images: Salon Kitty, via cashiersdecinema.blogspot.com; The Voyeur, via nachostime.net; The Voyeur, via celebritymoviearchive.com; The Voyeur, via celebritymoviearchive.com; Salon Kitty, via mubi.com; Monella, via dvdactive.com; All Ladies Do It, via amazon.com
The film Monella from 1998 takes place in northern Italy in the 1950s. It is a wonderful erotic comedy about a couple getting married. While Masetto wants to keep Lola a virgin until they are married, she is impatient and very much intrigued by sex and does everything to trick Masetto into breaking the moral tradition. It is directed in a light fluffy style and it perfectly captures both lush greenery of the Italian countryside and the heat between the characters along with the irresistible body of Anna Ammiratis. This mischievous and amusing film also takes a few sideswipes at the Italian society at the time. The scene when Lola is riding a bicycle giggling with delight as she races with her bum in the air is probably one of the best female rear shots in the history of cinema.
Editors’ Tip: If you haven’t watched this iconic film yet, be sure to check it out on DVD.
The film Caligula from 1979 is one of the first Brass' erotic films, even though he had different plans. He wanted it to be a satire on power instead of an erotic film, but the producer and the founder of Penthouse magazine Bob Guccione changed and re-edited the film entirely without Brass' consent. As a result, Brass removed his name from the title, as well as the film's screenwriter Gore Vidal. Presenting the decadence of the Roman Empire, the film is full of hardcore sex and violence, featuring scenes of full-frontal nudity, masturbation, orgy and various sex games. Today, it is considered a cult classic and one of the most famous Tinto Brass films. The famous orgy scene includes over 50 naked women and graphic sex scenes and fetishes in all possible combinations.
Another Italian contemporary art star, Francesco Vezzoli was profoundly inspired by this film, having made an artistic video with a more up-to-date cast.
Editors’ Tip: If you haven’t watched this controversial film yet, be sure to check it out on DVD.
Featured images via celebritymoviearchive.com
The film Salon Kitty from 1976 is another early Brass' erotic one that has oriented him towards the genre. Based on the novel of the same title by Peter Norden, the film covers the real life events of the Salon Kitty incident, where Sicherheitsdienst took over an expensive brothel in Berlin, wire-tapped it and replaced all prostitutes with professional spies. This was meant to provide controversial information on various members of the Nazi party. The film is very decadent looking and paced like a millionaire shopping for caviar. Tinto Brass directed it with a heavy hand, focusing continually during the ending sequence to create a hypnotic effect. Also, he doesn't shy away from the atrocities. The orgy scene from the brothel featuring dozens of women and Nazi officers is certainly difficult to forget.
Editors’ Tip: If you haven’t watched this cult film yet, be sure to check it out on DVD.
The fun and mischievous film Cheeky from 2000 features a lighthearted tone and obsession with the female behind. It's a typical Tinto Brass soft-porn, but a slightly polished one. The protagonist is a strong and sexually curious young woman who explores herself and her sexuality creating a boiling pot of lust in every location she crosses while her husband struggles to keep up with her. As a trademark of Brass' films, it features lots of crotch shots, voyeurism, plenty of „up-skirt“ and suggestive scenarios and posterior views of women's rears. Also, Brass brings a richness of color and imagery seldom seen in the soft-core arena. The infamous beach sex scene is beautifully shot and is both graphic and artistic at the same time.
Editors’ Tip: If you haven’t watched this mischievous film yet, be sure to check it out on DVD.
Featured images via reassurance.tumblr.com
The film Voyeur from 1994 revolves around a troubled college professor Dodo who becomes obsessed with the sex life of his stunningly beautiful wife who have recently left him. Wandering about his wife and her lover, he constantly has erotic dreams about her. Brass manages to juggle campy erotica with character study and a statement about human nature. Brass isn't known for subtlety in his sex scenes, but here he uses it smartly while constructing a complex character of Dodo. There are many memorable scenes in this movie, as any other Tinto Brass one, but one of the final scenes stands out. Featuring beautiful light and a stunning view of Katarina Vasilissa's behind, the scene is charged with sexual tension as the secrets unravel.
Editors’ Tip: If you haven’t watched this voyeuristic film yet, be sure to check it out on DVD.
Featured image via mondo-digital.com
The film All Ladies Do It from 1992 deals with female fidelity and sexuality. Happily married to her husband Paolo, Diana often fires him up with naughty made-up stories about what she would do with other men. Yet, Diana is a prisoner of her own sexual desires and likes to surrender herself to physical pleasures. The infidelity is portrayed as something completely innocent and wrapped up in a veil of fantasy and sweetness. The film is all about this woman, her sexuality, her seductiveness and her horny fantasies which arouse every man. The very opening scene of the film shows Claudia Koll in her revealing lingerie and the focus is on the engaging contours of her hindquarters. Her garter belt acts as a frame and the sunlight coming in from the window is bathing it with a warm glow.
Editors’ Tip: If you haven’t watched this infamous film yet, be sure to check it out on DVD.