***UPDATE – a slightly more polished and beautifully type-set version is part of the SYSTEMICS book.

(made available to read online for free once-in-a-while or generally with a donation based password.)

[a contemplative review. appeared in FLUX magazine 65: ‘sex, lifestyle, death’]



THIS IS A serious movie. Very serious. Quite sad, in a way, that it has somehow ended up in the ‘porn’ pigeonhole, or even in the so hysterically called ‘exploitation’ niche (as if the rest of the movie industry were in fact based on altruism :). This complete misconception certainly stems from the nerve it hits, which with its dark, shocking cocktail of power and sex reverberates deeply in our collective psyche, so that people could easily feel intimidated, even ashamed of themselves, for possibly opening up to it – perhaps even liking it – and they therefore have to resort to scapegoating it instead. Another reason could be its blatant political impact, its shrill post-68 outcry of anger against a continuously repressive environment, which might have been simply ‘too much’ for many political corners and therefore reason enough to belittle and suppress it.

In any case, for those who haven’t seen the film, briefly the plot: In a 1936 Berlin, the Nazis have the splendid idea to set up a high-class brothel, in order to spy on its clients and gather all sorts of embarrassing information about them. The idea involves not to use professional hookers and then train them in ‘intelligence’ but instead to opt for girls, as suggested by ‘himself’, the Fuhrer, who display an unshakeable faith in national socialist ideology – and then train them in both, servicing sex and sucking off vital political clues. So far, all of this actually happened. Brass then wrote a story of true love in-between where one of the girls, Margherita, falls for a German pilot and he really falls for her, too. But he’s subsequently being annihilated by the Nazis after telling his lover about his decision to surrender to truth instead of killing another bunch of people for a mere political lie. This is all centred around the strangely elevated power freak Wallenberg who’s in charge of setting up the whole thing. Within his underlying, secret belief not in ideology at all but purely in power, he also feels that he can find love through blackmail and sexual enslavement. In the end, as it is usually the case with power, the sword has always got two sides and it is only a matter of time until it eventually turns against him.

With Salon Kitty Tinto Brass unfolds an eerie tale of messed-up and messing-up people, stuck in their manmade human tragedies, as they play along ‘games’ related to power, in a world of blind belief, hatred and fear. The naked human, whether physical or psychological, is the canvas upon which the wickedness and perversion of the political agenda unfolds. The seamless interweaving of cabaret songs, seedy boudoirs, Nazi stuff, true love and ‘fucked-up’, explicit sex scenes is absolutely priceless. As a director, Brass’ psychological insights and attention to emotional details are staggering and not many in the industry can claim to see equally far – or deep for that matter (except perhaps someone like Todd Solondz with HappinessPalindromes and Storytelling or Julia Davis with her powerful British comedy series Human Remains and Nighty Night).


THE MOST FRIGHTENING aspect of Salon Kitty is its depiction of how sex can be ‘institutionalised’ so bloody easily, in order to meet any whatsoever surreal political ends. If it hasn’t already been before, in a movie like this it becomes perfectly clear again that romantic / sexual love is the ultimate system-subversive trait of us humans and therefore has to be carefully kept in check. Sex / love can be ‘allowed’ or ‘sanctioned’ only within a particular framework for fucking which political (slash religious) systems hand down to its people. Of course, somewhere down the line, love in itself is such a deep-rooted force that it always has to be at least insinuated as an incentive to carry on with our lives. Like winning the lottery, it is the dream-come-true for those of us who’re really ‘lucky’ in life, whilst in reality it hasn’t got much to do with luck at all, but mainly emotional health, confidence and maturity. But even health and maturity, in a screwed-up, viciously grinding-away system, does not guarantee fulfilment of such an actually modest human need. You could easily end up on a meat hook instead (like Margherita’s lover) because your jealous comrades scapegoat you for their own political and therefore personal failure. Or quite literally as a ‘hooker’, a neurotic repetitor, if you erratically attempt to escape the world of your brainwashed parents. Since whether you do what they tell you or just the complete opposite doesn’t make much difference in terms of the psycho-mechanical laws of destiny.

The scene where the women are being lined up in the huge Nazi gym, saluting naked with Heil Hitlers, before the SS guys are marched in to test their feasibility for providing uninhibited sexual favours, while the ‘authorities’ play some demented propaganda tunes on the grand Steinway, is easily one of the most startling I’ve ever seen. It is being closely followed by another one (censored for most of the movie’s history) where some of the girls undergo further testing in sterile, kafkaesque prison cells, having to please all sorts of ‘real freaks’ in order to show their blind determination to the political cause. Sometimes, having been born into a ‘liberate’ climate, the impact of blatant political force is quite easy to forget. And yet, even today, in a way we still are trapped in a world of sexual / emotional abuse – and that is exactly the deep nerve this movie is hitting. Only that today, instead of concentration campssocialism / communism / dictatorship and brainwashing / propaganda, the abuse is being masqueraded as broken homes,capitalism / consumerism or one of the many other contemporary ways of abuse / prostitution for economic, corporate, personal, political, intellectual – or even religious ‘causes’.

But the most underlying message of Salon Kitty is how power, in the end, will always be corrupting people, why power is so attractive to already corrupted people in the first place – and above all, why it is so incredibly sad, for power-freaks having to resort to killing, breaking and raping in order to create the illusion that they are being loved by someone (or even by many, haha) – although they deep down bloody well know that this is not at all the case. Obviously, there is an element of power involved in any form of sexual attraction – taken, being taken et cetera – but the separation between sex and love, in other words the assertion of power to achieve intimacy with another person, is psychologically an irresolvable dilemma. Perversion, or better ‘deterioration from core humanity’ (for when it comes to sex itself, according to Brass, there is no such thing as perversion) is without a doubt the ugliest manifestation of our tragic human condition. Its mechanics compel that anything healthy and pure must be defiled and destroyed in order to keep the dream / madness alive, feed it with ever more blood and despair.

Perhaps therefore the movie for its time did go too far, and this is the reason, why after his hassle with trying to make Caligula work, Brass left any political messages completely aside in his later work, almost overnight, in order to put his attention entirely on sex itself with the production of real, honest Erotica in which he purposefully avoids “using sex as a metaphor for something else”. For such a talented person as Brass this must have been quite a radical step to take. But in another way also probably quite a reasonable one. Sexuality has just been repressed for too long throughout our history and keeping this repression alive is what provides some of the strongest hooks for any system built mainly on power. What is therefore needed, more than anything else before ‘real’ political awareness can happen, is plain simply sexual / emotional healing. And this is exactly what Tinto Brass’ later work offers. The permission to explore sexual / emotional self-expression for those of us who’re kind of stuck in boring or otherwise institutionalised love lives. Once we are free to open up fully to the right person, at the right time, without getting hurt or abused or otherwise ‘fucked’, we can still dig out another movie milestone from the dusty archive, Michelangelo Antonioni’s incredible Zabriskie Point (which is, interestingly enough for such a cinematographic masterpiece, very difficult to get hold of at the time of writing) and proceed with matters of personal political responsibility from there.

London, April 2008
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