Archive for Hollywood Babylon

Not Natan

Posted in FILM, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 5, 2016 by dcairns

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The real Bernard Natan. Memorise this face.

One of the many surprising reactions to NATAN, the documentary Paul Duane and I made a couple of years ago, is some confusion as to whether Bernard Natan does, in fact, appear in certain vintage porn films. It had been our intention to conclusively prove that none of the people identified by Professor Joseph Slade as being Natan, the major French film producer, are actually him.

The Natan story is complicated — in many ways, it’s like the Dreyfus Affair of cinema, although as film historian Lenny Borger pithily put it, “But Dreyfus was innocent.” Natan is touched by guilt — he WAS convicted of making pornographic films around 1909, and he confessed to fraud in 1938. But there are no surviving French porn films from 1909, and there is absolutely nothing to suggest that Natan ever again had anything to do with that branch of the business. And so we cannot know exactly what his original offence was: in NATAN, two different experts speculate on the kind of films Natan may have made, and reach opposite conclusions. It seems fair to give him the benefit of the doubt.

In the film we actually compare the face of Natan with that of various porno actors claimed, by Professor Joseph Slade of Ohio University, to be him. In the case of the infamous LE CANARD, a horrible goose-molesting romp from the thirties, there is no resemblance whatsoever between Bernard Natan and the husky bird-buggerer onscreen ~

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The two men are obviously just that — TWO men. It seems incredible that Prof. Slade could have mistaken them.

The circumstances of Slade’s  ID’ing Natan in these films should be borne in mind. By his own account, he found a box of films at the Kinsey Institute which had been labelled “Nathan.” Since rumours abounded about Natan’s past, and these rumours attained the status of myth when he was arrested for fraud in 1938, it’s easy to see why some opportunistic would-be scholar happening upon the films before Slade may have chosen to so label them. Slade did not accept the label as proof, but placed it in a mental area under the heading “evidence” and gradually added to it a tiny heap of other circumstantial tidbits and items of hearsay.

Also, Slade did not really know anything about Natan when he first saw these films decades ago. He wasn’t carrying a picture of him, so comparisons were not easy. But let’s have a look at some of the other men he identified as Bernard Natan.

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This is the guy who causes our viewers some trouble. He’s one of the stars of a little movie called SISTER VASELINE. There’s a certain resemblance, audiences say. But present at our Edinburgh International Film Festival screening, fortunately enough, was Dr. Brooke Magnanti, the former sex worker whose experiences under the name Belle de Jour were developed as a TV series by Paul. Dr. Magnanti is now an expert in forensic pathology, and had no difficulty dismissing the passing resemblance between the film producer and the naughty monk. Most of us determine identity by studying a small central area, the eyes, nose and mouth. In this case, the prominent nose tends to attract all the attention. But the chin and ears are quite different, and while one’s ears do grow during one’s life, nobody acquires earlobes, and only Ernst Stavros Blofeld is on record as removing his. Natan does have tiny, recessive earlobes. The nameless monk-impersonator has great globs of cartilage swaying at the ends of protuberant, mouselike ears.

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Here’s an image from LE MENAGE MODERNE DU MADAME BUTTERFLY. It’s funny how resemblance works. You may have thought the guyplaying “the randy monk” in the previous looked a lot like Natan. But you will look at the guy on the left here and probably say “That’s the same guy who played the monk!” And I think you’d be right. It’s like when you’re waiting to meet someone you know slightly, and everyone who passes looks a little like the person. But when the real person shows up, you just KNOW.

Extraordinarily, it’s the guy on the RIGHT in the faux-riental makeup who has been historically claimed to be Natan. I wanted to feature him in NATAN as part of our evidence of how silly these accusations are — it was one of my few disagreements with Paul. More comparisons, I think, would clinch it.

According to Wikipedia, the very first person to identify this bisexual performer as Natan was Thomas Waugh, who now “rejects his earlier conclusion […] based on on-screen evidence of the actor’s age and foreskin status.” Good for you, Mr. Waugh. Now how about also rejecting it on the basis that it’s blatantly NOT HIM. Scratch what I said earlier about how we identify people based on eyes, nose and mouth. Waugh evidently uses different criteria.

Sidenote — Wikipedia now identifies the actor playing Pinkerton, on the left, as one J.H. Forsell, a mainstream actor with one other IMDb credit — playing Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig in the 1919 epic THE GREAT VICTORY, WILSON OR THE KAISER? THE FALL OF THE HOHENZOLLERNS. This is not an easy film to see, or pronounce, and thus not an easy claim to disprove. But it is an American film, and so the idea of a minor player zipping across the Atlantic in order to fellate a bloke in a kimono for low pay strikes me as improbable. I’m also struck by the fact that the leading man of this lengthily-titled war flick is Creighton Hale.

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This man is not Creighton Hale. He is about to do something awful through that fence.

Creighton Hale was an Irish actor who went from playing straight roles in early dramas like THE EXPLOITS OF ELAINE (1914) to stardom as a light comedy lead in THE CAT AND THE CANARY (1927) and SEVEN FOOTPRINTS TO SATAN (1929). He sank into the obscurity of bit parts, finishing his career as “irritated stagecoach passenger” in 1959’s WESTBOUND, but then achieved a kind of fame when Kenneth Anger, in his book Hollywood Babylon, accused him of having sex with a goat. On camera. During the height of his fame as a movie star. My friend Diarmid Mogg dispels that myth here. So I was startled when Professor Slade repeated the long-discredited allegation to me in an email: “Creighton Hale seems to have made it as a joke, and the humor certainly does outweigh the sex, which is not very explicit.  He would have had little fear of discovery, given the clandestine nature of the trade.”

My God, I thought. Professor Slade has made a career of accusing forgotten film personalities of bestiality. Perhaps that was unfair of me. It wouldn’t be right, would it, if these two colossal lapses of judgement came to overshadow the professor’s other accomplishments.

Not right, no, but certainly ironic.

Some of the complexity in this situation arises because, though there are many pictures of Bernard Natan, it’s easy to say, “Well, maybe this guy engaging in a fancy-dress threesome in some scratchy old stag film is him when he was younger.” Here, loyal Shadowplayers, is Bernard Natan when he was younger ~

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If you’re of my species, you’re probably thinking “That’s the same guy as the one in the picture at the top of this blog post, only younger!” Natan always looks like Natan. He didn’t go from looking like himself to slightly looking like another guy with a similar nose, and then back to looking like himself again.

Here’s a final comparison.

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It’s our old friend J.H. Forsell again. Or rather, not him, but a nameless, prolific porn actor who has been given that name, perhaps by someone bearing a grudge against Field Marshall Haig. If you watch the entirety of the hardcore romp SURPRIS PAR LE GARDE-CHAMPETRE, which I don’t recommend (I had to watch A LOT of vintage porn while preparing NATAN and it was not as enjoyable as some might expect. Sort of gave me a new respect for Professor Slade who apparently forged a career “studying” this stuff) you will observe that the Bogus Forsell is putting on weight, and his hair is receding. But Natan didn’t put on weight — he went to prison. Film of him at his last trial, before he was deported to Auschwitz, shows him with his hairline unchanged. If it ever intended to recede, it wasn’t given the chance. If we assume that the careers of Natan and “Forsell” were in parallel and they were the same age (of which there is no evidence), by the time “Forsell” was cavorting for cash in this one-reeler, Bernard Natan was buried in an unmarked mass grave.

 

 

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Anger…and Other Deadly Sins

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Mythology, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 26, 2008 by dcairns

Shadowplay guest blogger and part-time benshi film describer David Wingrove, who writes as David Melville, reports on Kenneth Anger’s appearance — or should one say MANIFESTATION? — at Dundee Contemporary Arts. Read it up!

On a grey and rainy August afternoon (in Scotland, that is not a contradiction) two friends and I took a train to Dundee to meet Kenneth Anger. He is a…well, I could say ‘living legend’ but that hardly seems to do him justice.

David Wingrove on his way back from Dundee, photographed by Fiona, who had just managed to get her camera to work.
For 60 years or so, Anger has been the uncrowned king of gay/experimental/avant-garde/underground cinema. (Just watch Fireworks (1947) or Scorpio Rising (1963) and slot in whatever adjectives fit best.) He is the notorious author of Hollywood Babylon and Hollywood Babylon II, still the most scabrous books of movie gossip. His long-promised Hollywood Babylon III lies buried under a heap of threatened lawsuits. An alleged Satanist and avowed disciple of Aleister Crowley, he was unwillingly linked (through his ex-boyfriend Bobby Beausoleil) to the grisly Charles Manson killings.

At four years of age, Anger played the Changeling Prince in Max Reinhardt’s 1935 film of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, still Hollywood’s most purely intoxicating blend of Art and Kitsch. He is one of several distinguished survivors from that film – others include Mickey Rooney and Olivia de Havilland – and Warner Brothers’ failure to recruit one (if not all three) of them to do a commentary on last year’s DVD must count as a Crime Against Celluloid Memory. More than 70 years on, Rooney and Anger remain pals. Olivia may still be fuming at that snapshot of her in black lace lingerie (!) that Anger slipped into Hollywood Babylon II.

 

Either Dundee Contemporary Arts, or David Cairns Associates.

No wonder we felt a tad nervous, trudging through a downpour towards Dundee Contemporary Arts. (If the Great Beast didn’t come and get us, the wrath of Miss Melanie very well might.) So it’s a pleasure to say that, in person, Kenneth Anger is a joy. Gentle, soft-spoken, immaculately tanned, he looks a good two decades younger than his 78 years. In the bar after the show, he shared his enduring love of Shakespeare, commedia dell’arte and Marcel Carné’s Les Enfants du Paradis. “Not long ago, I went to Paris for a showing. My God, have you seen the state of the print? It was so horrible I hid my eyes and ran out of the theatre.”

 

Kenneth Anger, in Dundee.

Judging from that night in Dundee, Anger’s own work has been strikingly well preserved. Lucifer Rising (1981) gave us Marianne Faithfull as Lilith, Mother of All the Demons – looking eerily beautiful with her face painted blue. Invocation of My Demon Brother (1968) had a soundtrack by Lilith’s old flame, Mick Jagger. Cheekily, Anger cuts in a few near-subliminal shots of the Rolling Stones and their court, in between the all-male orgies and the Black Mass. Rabbit’s Moon (1950), with its lovelorn Pierrot lost in a moonlit wood, is an achingly gorgeous evocation of both Shakespeare and Carné. It has the wistful and fragile beauty of a Verlaine poem.

 

Mouse Heaven (1992) is Anger’s celebration of the original Mickey Mouse drawn by Ub Iwerks – a subversive, anarchic little imp – before Walt Disney turned him into an icon of all-American cuteness. One of the most purely joyous pieces of cinema I have seen, Mouse Heaven sparked a ferocious copyright row with Disney. The wounds, for Anger, are still raw. He confided his long-cherished ambition to blow up Disneyland. “If it really is ‘the happiest place on earth’ as the ads say, why do so many children come out looking disappointed? Just look at their faces! Kids know when they’ve been cheated.”

 

Anger’s more recent films, shot on digital video, bear witness to his enduring love of the male form. My Surfing Lucifer (2007) shows a gold-haired beach boy riding the sort of waves that, in Southern California parlance, are called ‘tubular’. Foreplay (2007) spies on a soccer-team as they stretch and limber up before a game. The sight is numbingly normal to the players themselves, yet richly homoerotic to Anger and his camera. Once the official programme was through, Anger invited the whole audience up to the gallery for a ‘private’ showing of I’ll Be Watching You (2007) – a piece of hardcore gay erotica. Two cute French boys make love atop a parked car, while a third cute boy watches on CCTV and…er, enjoys it too. This may be the sexiest film ever made by a man old enough to be your granddad.

 

But the highlight of the late work was the not-yet-officially-premiered Ich Will (2008). A chilling yet weirdly erotic montage of documentary footage of the Hitler Youth. (The title translates from German as “I want!”) Starting with idyllic Sound of Music-style gambolling amid the lakes and mountains of Bavaria, it builds up to a full-scale Nazi rally that evokes the nightmare world of Leni Riefenstahl and Triumph of the Will. Its menace is underlined, brilliantly, by the ominous tones of Anton Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony.

 

Invocation of my Demon Brother?

It’s not often one can go from Disney to Riefenstahl – from the Magic Kingdom to the Third Reich – with barely a hiccup in between. That is perhaps Anger’s unique gift. It was only on the dark, wet train ride back to Edinburgh that I got to pondering how similar these three artists really are. Walt Disney, Leni Riefenstahl, Kenneth Anger. All three create images that bypass our conscious mind and enter, direct and perhaps unbidden, into the depths of the id. We are aware, with other filmmakers, of a voice and a vision beyond our own. Disney, Riefenstahl, Anger…they speak from within.

 

The official premiere of Ich Will is set for the Imperial War Museum in London on 29 October. (All Souls Night, as Anger points out gleefully.) One shudders to think what the invited audience of elderly war veterans will make of it. Still, as Anger freely admits: “I’ve always enjoyed being a bit controversial.” That may or may not go down as the greatest understatement of the 21st century. But it will do very nicely for the first decade.

 

David Melville

 

Thanks to the Amazing Dr. Anger, to Yvonne Baginsky and Fiona Watson – who shared the experience – and to the fabulous staff at Dundee Contemporary Arts.

Special thanks to David for being there and writing it down.