OK, so I had that bath and shave I was talking about yesterday and then settled down to watch a DVD I'd been given as a present. Baba Yaga
, directed in 1973 by Corrada Farina, is another of those Italian sexploitation films I'm so fond of, or is it that simple? On the surface the film, based on a comic strip by Guido Crepax, is a simple story of a fashion photographer Valentina being reluctantly seduced by the witch Baba Yaga, who wants to ensare her in her S&M lesbian sex games. Our heroine finds herself plagued by vivid bondage dreams, (involving both WWI and WWII German uniforms for extra kinkiness), a china doll in bondage gear which periodically changes into a flesh and blood dominatrix who, when she isn't stabbing people with needles, is stripping Valentina and giving her a bloody good whipping.
Worst of all, she finds that Baba Yaga has cursed her favourite camera, with the result that whoever she photographs becomes seriously ill, or dies. The climax sees Valentina finally going to the Witch's old house and succumbing to her games, only to be rescued by her film-maker boyfriend, who smashes the dominatrix doll, at which Baba Yaga leaps into an apparently bottomless hole in the floor. The police then turn up, (called by a neighbour), and it transpires that the building is abandoned and that no one has lived there for years. Oh, and the bottomless hole just leads to the cellar.
So far, so conventional, (by Italian exploitation standards). It's all beautifully photographed and full of beautiful Italian ladies taking their clothes off. It also moves pretty slowly and you'd be left asking yourself 'is that it?', if it wasn't for an interesting sub-text. As well as being an obviously wealthy fashion photographer, Valentin is also some kind of left-wing activist. Indeed, she'd fit right in with today's 'Occupy' movement, except that she doesn't do any occupying. In fact, she doesn't seem to do much in the way of activism beyond participating in artistic 'happenings', reading Marx and decrying her boyfriend as a 'whore' because he prostitutes his film-making to shoot crass commercials. This latter point is a recurring theme of the film: a graphic artist friend finally finds a mainstream publisher for his radical comic strip, but admits that he will have to tone down its political aspects in future, whilst Valentina herself spends her time photographing semi-naked men and women in sexually suggestive poses for advertisements. The question being posed is the degree to which the economic and political system we live in forces us to compromise our principles and ideals. In the case of the characters in Baba Yaga
, they are forced to turn their art into a commodity in order to survive.
All of which echoes the main plot, of course, where Baba Yaga is trying to force Valentina to subjugate her natural eroticism to her perverse and violent bondage fantasies. At the climax it is clear that the witch's pleasure derives entirely from the power she now has over Valentina, previously established as a sexually liberated and free-spirited young woman, rather than from any sexual thrill. Now, you might be thinking that I'm really stretching it trying to burden a sexploitation movie with a sub-text about the suppression and subjugation of the artistic spirit by the capitalist state, but the theme becomes explicit in two short films by the same director which are included on the DVD. These are both examinations of the history and social impact of comic strips. (or fumetti, as they are known locally). in Italy. In the second of these, Farina looks at the way in which comics are dismissed as being simply for children, who we then discourage from reading them. This, he argues, is because the world they presents stimulates the child's imagination, and the suppression of this is key to the process of capitalist society in transforming children into adult workers. Only once the imagination is relinquished, he contends, can workers be forced to accept a life of exploitation and drudgery as an inevitable norm. (Which is more or less what I was trying to say in the previous post).
Of course, the fact that it has a radical sub-text doesn't mean that Baba Yaga
isn't problematical in some of its other aspects. Whilst it isn't quite as misogynistic as many other contemporary giallo
movies, it does have serious problems with regard to racial stereotypes. Simply having a black character who isn't a cannabalistic headhunter and part-time bizarre murderer isn't, in itself, sufficient to establish a film's non-racist credentials. Not when it is implied that by being black means being able to sense witchcraft - a black male model refuses to go near Valentina's bondage doll, recognising it as evil - a result, no doubt of his voodoo heritage. I'd also like to believe that Valentina's comments to him that. for the photo shoot, she wants him to reconnect with his savage ancestory - 'when you used to eat white missionaries' - are intended to be ironic, but I'm not so sure. Anyway, there you have it, another Italian sexploitation flick discussed - I've still got Satan's Baby Doll
to watch. No doubt that has a Marxist-Leninist critique of the sex trade as its sub-text...
Labels: Musings From the Mind of Doc Sleaze