Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sex becomes industrialised, cleansed of seduction

In a famous essay published in 1975, Susan Sontag asked why fascism was becoming increasingly attractive to people

Barthes analyses Sade’s libertines as having little interest in boys since they offer only one “site of intromission.” The woman is more interesting to the libertine because she offers two.[23] Salò of course, reworks this logic totally. Pasolini’s fascists pick young boys for their subjects. There are women in the château but they either have no role whatsoever or they emerge in the form of older femme fatales who narrate pornographic tales which stimulate the masters. Baudrillard’s reading of the near total elimination of the woman from Salò seems to me convincing. He argues that in Salò everything is “masculine and dead.” Here sex becomes industrialised, cleansed of seduction. This project of masculinisation is achieved by cleansing the screen of any significant women characters. The ranconteuses are an exception. Old and distinctly un-beautiful, these women narrate- accompanied by piano- pornographic stories to sexually stimulate the masters. As Ravetto argues however, they are not symbolic of womanhood in any feminist sense. Rather, they are depicted by Pasolini as accomplices to the system of masculine domination.[24] Pasolini is working against certain readings of fascism where the identity of woman and man are stabilised through enactment of oedipal fantasies. A case in point is Martin Von Essenbeck in Visconti’s The Damned, where Sophie (his mother) indicates she is aware of her son’s sexual desire, and in the process allows him to “break the oedipal taboo” and satisfy this oedipal desire; following which Martin is ‘reborn’ as a feminised yet misogynist Nazi.[25]

On the other hand Cavani’s film is a complicated feminist response that seems to be in dialogue with representations like Visconti’s. It is also interesting at the same time, to think of Night Porter alongside Salò the ways in which is foregrounds questions of sexuality. Ravetto argues that Cavani’s destabilisation of identity is a challenge not only to male filmmakers but also to feminist critiques of cinematic apparatus like Laura Mulvey who seek always to stabilise both identity and the gaze.[26] Cavani uses the language of cinema to expose the problematic in cinematic representations of Nazism. In Night Porter, all the scenes involving Max, Lucia and/or Bert are depicted in flashback, generally with a greatly heightened sense of drama. Ravetto argues that the figure of Bert dancing brings to mind neoclassical aesthetics of the male body. The Nazi officers listen to classical music, thus underscoring their learned nature. Through editing techniques like flashbacks and the musical score Cavani tries to expose the way in which representations of the holocaust are themselves constructed in cinema. Cavani, Ravetto argues, uses aesthetics to manipulate and in the process reveals film language as just that: a language that is used to construct and produce representations. 

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