Feb 12, 2013

Salon Kitty


Fitting somewhere inexplicably between big budget low-camp, superlatively salacious satire of Euro-sleaze arthouse flicks like Luchino Visconti’s The Damned (1969) aka La caduta degli dei, Liliana Cavani’s The Night Porter aka Il Portiere di notte (1974), and Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975) aka Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma, a controversial cinematic uncovering of curious events regarding the history of the Third Reich, and blockbuster pornography, Salon Kitty (1976) aka Madame Kitty directed by Italian maestro auteur of epic X-rated films, Tinto Brass (Caligula, The Voyeur), managed to homogenize sex, style, and the secret and sordid sins of the Schutzstaffel in a morbid yet merry manner that has never been seen before, nor since. Bringing cinematic extravagance to National Socialist excess, Salon Kitty is indubitably one of the most subversive and sardonic films ever made as a rare work that would have infuriated Nazi minister of propaganda Joseph Goebbels just as much as it would the Shoah business saint Steven Spielberg in its frantically farcical, Fellini-esque playfulness and decided disregard for sensitivity for certain terribly taboo topics of twentieth century history, thereupon making folly not only of fascism but also its victims. Directed by a self-proclaimed anarchist who once stated, “I am always on the side of the losers,” and a rebel of the cinematically risqué sort whose country belonged to the Axis powers during the Second World War, Salon Kitty is a succulently stylized piece of subversive sinema that is just as much of a satire of humanity as a whole as it is of Adolf and his infamous gang. Admittedly, a film I did not much care for upon my initial viewing a decade or so ago, Salon Kitty has grown on me over the years in a manner similar to unhealthy junk food in that the more and more I indulge in it, the less I care about its deleterious effects on my health. Of course, featuring blatant homages to master works of cinema, including an appearance by Aldo Valletti, who played the scatological president in Pasolini’s Salò, as a penis-dart throwing brothel perv, Salon Kitty is certainly a so-called Nazisploitation with preternatural class and sass, unlike kosher concentration camp SSkin flicks like Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS (1975) produced by a funny filmic flesh-peddler named David F. Friedman (who was credited in the film under the pseudonym ‘Herman Traeger’ for obvious reasons). At its worst, Salon Kitty is the sort of film that might have influenced Italian Jew Theodor Adorno to rethink his deluded dictum, “To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric,” because there are few things more poetic and cultivated than a scene featuring a leather-clad Helmut Berger during a magic moment of magnificent megalomania as a lunatic libertine of Uncle Adolf's 12-year-old millennial Third Reich. 

 Based on Peter Norden’s novel of the same name, which was based on a real-life high-class Berlin brothel run by the SD (the intelligence agency of the SS and the Nazi Party) for espionage purposes that was bugged with hidden microphones to listen on the secrets of prominent members of the military and foreign diplomats while they patronized prostitutes, Salon Kitty only presents fantastic fragments of truth that are totally overwhelmed by Brass’ brazen brand of fetishism of fascism. Indeed, while Joseph Goebbels was apparently keen on seeing lecherous lesbians in action and SS commander Sepp Dietrich proved he was just as good at commanding streetwalkers as he was at SS men due to his involvement in twenty girl orgies, Salon Kitty – with its images of blonde beastesses bedding deformed midgets, bloody butcher shop orgies, heated homoerotic SS sauna scenarios, eccentric eroticizing of dead hookers and Negroes, and inclusion of hysterical homo Helmut Berger as a fetishistic whorehouse Führer – is far too tongue-in-cunt to be taken too literally. Like in the stranger than fiction real-life story regarding Hitler's harem of harlots, a certain business woman named Madame Kitty (played by Ingmar Bergman diva Ingrid Thulin of Wild Strawberries and Cries and Whispers fame) employs a number of prostitutes to pleasure a number of important men, but, unlike the real “Kitty Schmidt” who actively worked with the Nazis, she does not realize that the Gestapo is listening in on her high-profile clienteles incriminating secrets. Ordered to work for the greater good of National Socialism or face financial disgrace, Madame Kitty, to her decided disliking, has her business model and inventory revamped by a certain Mr. Wallenberg of the prestigious SS. Bored with the new Nordic girls and their stoicism and lack of sass forced onto her by the Third Reich, Ms. Kitty gives them delightful makeovers, especially in between their legs. Of course, Helmut Wallenberg (played by a flagrantly fag-scistic Helmut Berger) – named after real-life SD chief Walter Schellenberg who ran espionage at the brothel – is the one really running the show and he has no shame in trying out the voluptuous 100% Aryan meat merchandise, even if he considers them nothing more than wayward whores not even fit to shine his Gestapo boots. After making the mistake of enlisting a sassy seductress named Margherita (Teresa Ann Savoy), who falls in love with a treacherous German Luftwaffe officer named Hans Reiter (Albanian actor Bekim Fehmiu) who wants to defect to the enemy side due to his distaste for certain war crimes, Wallenberg’s wild and wanton world of sadomasochistic SD decadence is set on a course of destruction. Facing a dastardly debacle of war torn romance not all that different from that of protagonist Willie of Fassbinder’s Third Reich epic Lili Marleen (1981), Margherita must show her loyalty to the Third Reich as an informer while attempting to spare the life of her lover. When she finds out that her beloved renegade of the Reich Reiter has been executed for grand treason, Margherita begins her own war of murder and mayhem and enlists her cunning boss Madame Kitty to help, who is only too happy to oblige after learning her beloved brothel is bugged by brutal and sinister SS thugs. In a world where one cannot “piss in peace,” only the lurid, lascivious, lunatic, libertine and, ultimately, lethal undercover lover activities of laced mutton Margherita and her malicious madame can provide a more cryptic cloak-and-dagger campaign against the highly secretive SS, at least in Tinto Brass’ ridiculous realm of Iron Cross coochs and super stiff swastikas.

Of course, things come tumbling down for Helmut Wallenberg when a secret recording of a candid conversation between him and Margherita is delivered to members of the Gestapo with the incriminating statement, “My wife’s grandfather was a Jew, not to mention the confession that in regard to many members of the Nazi leadership, including Himmler, he knows, "every single weakness of each of them…The type of cocaine they use…Their impotence, their perversions…the larcenies, the betrayals, their rivals…A variety of cowards!"  Of course, Wallenberg – a man who recklessly and unwaveringly wallows in wantonness – dies in a compromised position fit for a SS twink, thus making for a climatic conclusion to Salon Kitty; a certainly sinful cinematic take on less known anecdotes from history. Of course, the most incriminating and insightful segment of the racy recording of Wallenberg’s words, even more so than the revelation of his racially impure, 2nd degree Mischling (1/4 Jewish) wife, is his statement regarding the creation and social infrastructure of the Third Reich: “I don’t give a shit about National Socialism…just as none of our leaders gives a damn. It’s a means to an end…All of them have just one goal: power!...There are no ideals, no belief system!...You are the one who has illusions, Margherita…You, and millions of Germans like you who believed in us…It was a way to put all of you at our feet…You…a middle-class girl…at the mercy of a pimp…To get you and all that you represent, I’ve reduced you to my level…Just like all the others…Reduced to a world of gangsters…We turned everyone of you into a criminal…murderers, thieves, corrupted accomplices…and slaves.” (A paraphrasing between both English-Italian versions of the film). Despite being a work of epically erotic and nonsensically naked National Socialism, one could argue that Salon Kitty features more hard truths regarding not only National Socialism and its leadership, but also any and every political system more or less, than Hollywood World War II epics like Steven Spielberg’s Schindler's List (1993) and Saving Private Ryan (1998) ever could. Although no one wants to admit, if the United States of America were to turn into a neo-fascist empire with a race-based ideology, both pimp politicians, cuckold celebrities, and the prostituted populous would fawn for the new Führer in no time just as the ethno-masochistic white liberals and non-white minority groups swoon over Chairman Obama today.

Spawning an unofficial remake/rip-off almost immediately entitled SS Girls (1977) aka Casa privata per le SS directed by guido exploitation auteur Bruno Mattei (SS Extermination Love Camp, Zombi 3), as well as countless other forgettable and totally worthless and innately impotent Nazisploitation knock-offs, Salon Kitty is certainly the filmic Führer of seedy SS skin flicks featuring crude concentration camp campiness and radically risqué renderings of the Aryan race. An exceedingly aesthetically enthralling yet equally exploitative combination of salacious and satirical ingredients from the monumental authoritarian Nazi imagery of Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will (1934), the double-screen celluloid pop-art of Morrissey/Warhol's Chelsea Girls (1966), the cultivated cinematic camp of Visconti’s The Damned (1969), the psychotic cynicism of Castle Keep (1969) directed by Sydney Pollack, the debauched disregard for historical reality of Werner Schroeter's Der Bomberpilot (1970), the aberrant and aesthetically antagonistic Aryan Aktionism of Otto Mühl and Kurt Kren's SS and Star of David (1970) and The Lascivious Wotan (1971) aka Der geile Wotan and the fiercely foul fetishism of fascism of Pasolini’s S&M swansong Salò (1975), except with the superlatively singular and strikingly stylized sleazy of excess of Tinto Brass, Salon Kitty is certainly an epic enigma of film history created during a zany zeitgeist when an ostensibly healthy medium between celluloid art and trash still seemed possible and would even be taken to a greater extreme with the filmmaker’s subsequent and ultimately abandoned work Caligula (1979). More campy and comical than Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator (1940), more debauched than Visconti’s The Damned, more provocative, penetrating, and scatological than Spielberg’s Schindler’s List (1993), and more aesthetically stunning and historically sound than Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds (2009), Salon Kitty is a film that deserves to be seen at least once by every self-respecting cinephile as a reminder that cinematic sleaze can be both ravishing and refined, even when depicting one of the most taboo subjects of human history as more of a hot yet humorous whore show featuring nubile Nordic nudes as opposed to a hysterical and horrendous horror show comprised of sad, starving, swarthy, and stripped Semites.

-Ty E

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