The Sunday Intertitle: A Filthy Messe

MESSE NOIRE is a vintage porno I discovered shortly after making NATAN — it seems to be one of the few surviving stag films that Professor Joseph Slade did NOT atttribute to Bernard Natan. My source says 1928, but the IMDb doesn’t even admit the film exists, so who knows? From the hairstyles, the date seems possible, but often these movies seem older than they are — porn films stayed silent for decades after their respectable counterparts started gabbing.

Maybe Prof Slade hadn’t seen this five minute black mass orgy, or maybe it struck him as an unlikely fit for the Jewish Natan, but then that didn’t stop him attributing other films with Catholic-baiting themes to the mogul, whose porn conviction dated from almost two decades before this — personally, I think it’s extremely unlikely he had any further dabblings in illicit film-making, and we don’t know anything about the extent of his supposed involvement in porn since so few smut films survive from that era. Also, the actors Slade identified as being Natan in LE MOINE, LE CANARD etc, are a disparate group of obviously different individuals, not one person, and only one of them has a passing resemblance to Natan. But you can see that in later films, aging and going to seed as he continues to cavort unphotogenically, until even that pseudo-resemblance is gone.

I want to be fair: Slade was unable to refer back to the films he wrote about, which were shut away in the Kinsey Institute, so he had to go on his notes and years-old memories. But then he shouldn’t have claimed a positive identification.

MESSE NOIRE has surprising production values — a set of sorts, rather than just sheets draped over walls, though it looks depressingly like somebody’s basement — and a large cast of nudes of various shapes. There’s some solemn moving about with candles, a kind of ceremony, and then some whipping gets started. Jump cuts cause whip marks to appear on the ecstatically writhing victim, which reassures us that they aren’t real. Strange editing causes them to appear and disappear from shot to shot.


The editing throughout is extremely peculiar, with some match cuts and some action replays of the same movements from different angles. Few of these films seem to have been made by respectable professionals who knew what they were doing, which is more evidence that Natan, an experienced professional who knew every aspect of filmmaking from the ground up, wasn’t involved in any of them.

The whipping, curiously enough, is the most appealing bit of the sex action — we then plunge into full-on hardcore orgiastic shenanigans, which appear very grimey and unappealing indeed via the film’s fuzzy, splicey image quality. It just turns into a drab documentary about some sex that some people had in a basement.

But then things are redeemed a touch by the sudden appearance of a THE END card, which looks like it took somebody hours.

A bit depressing how they couldn’t be bothered giving anyone faces, mind you. Almost a metaphor for the whole porn business.

The lies and misapprehensions in the case of Bernard Natan die hard, so I shall repeat for anyone reading hastily: he didn’t make this film.

He didn’t make any porn film extant today. We don’t really know anything about the porn he was accused of making except that it was pre-1910. He spent the following twenty-nine years making legit films but lies were printed in the French press which postdated his porn conviction to after WWI. Those stories have been repeated by people who are not themselves rabid antisemites (Prof Slade, Black Francis, myself, in my first Wikipedia-inspired post on the subject) but who are too fond of a good story, whether it be proven or not.

NATAN the movie can be bought here (UK) or here (FR).

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