Nov 1, 2015

Visions of Ecstasy

With the Halloween season in full swing (or at least it was when I first started writing this review), it is naturally time for countless grown women who dream of purchasing silicone tits to celebrate by dressing in slutty nun costumes, which is something I do not quite understand, at least as far as the uniquely unsexy religious sister garb is concerned. Indeed, maybe it is because I did not have the blessing of being raised in the Catholic faith but I have never had an innate understanding of the fetishistic obsession with nuns and the eroticization of Catholic iconography in general, especially since virtually all of the nuns that I have encountered in real-life looked quite homely and seemed like latent lesbians, asexual, or childish. Of course, judging by the cinematic works of various auteur filmmakers ranging from Luis Buñuel to Jesús Franco to Walerian Borowczyk to George Kuchar to Werner Schroeter, there is no denying that Catholicism seems to sexually warp certain people that are brought up in the faith (after all, when an adult, especially an authority figure, tells a child not do something, it just makes the kid want to do it even more).  From personal experience, I can say without hesitation that one of the most sexually voracious girls that I have ever dated was a chick from such a strict traditional Catholic background that her parents forbid her from watching PG-rated movies.  Somewhat curiously, despite being brought up as an atheist by his seemingly extremely liberal-minded parents, British auteur, underground media mogul, and quasi-pornographer Nigel Wingrove (Sacred Flesh, Satanic Sluts series) developed a lifelong fetish for naughty nude nuns that is quite apparent from the films he directs as well as the Euro-sleaze classics that he distributes via his film distribution company Redemption Films (which was founded in 1993 and later relaunched in 2012 in association with Kino Lorber of all companies). In fact, when Wingrove had the opportunity to see 17th-century Italian Baroque sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s masterwork Ecstasy of Saint Teresa—a statue depicting Roman Catholic saint Teresa of Ávila that is generally considered to be one of the true sculptural masterpieces of High Roman Baroque—while staying in Rome, he was so inspired by the work that he decided to direct a film influenced by it. Unfortunately, the film in question, Visions of Ecstasy (1989), would not only ultimately result in Wingrove going from being a home-owning art director to homelessness, but would also make him an infamous public figure that was hated by both British politicians and everyday people alike due to the media controversy it caused. While a mere short film with a 17-minute running time that was shot over a three day period in April 1989 with ‘glamour models’ who had just got done touring as cage-dancers for the Beastie Boys, Wingrove’s film is quite notable for being the only film in all of British cinema to be banned in the UK for blasphemy, with the cinematic work remaining outlawed for over two decades until 2008 when the outmoded blasphemy law was finally abolished (and unfortunately replaced with a more heinous law called the Racial and Religious Hate Act, which criminalized the mocking of untermensch religions like Islam and Judaism, among every other absurdly archaic non-European religions, thus reflecting the sort of authoritarian cultural cuckolding that is quite vogue in jolly old post-empire Great Britain).

A sort of non-linear experimental neo-Nunsploitation flick that attempts to be both cultivated and poetic in its meticulously stylized sensual sacrilege, Visions of Ecstasy is ultimately not much more sexually graphic than Danish auteur Benjamin Christensen’s silent era masterpiece Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (1922), which will probably be a shock to those viewers that know of its long and complicated history as a government certified piece of celluloid blasphemy. In fact, aesthetically speaking, the film owes more aesthetically to the films of German Expressionism and German dandy Werner Schroeter's blasphemous high-camp Oskar Panizza adaptation Liebeskonzil (1982) aka Council of Love than the Nunsploitation trash that auteur Wingrove so deeply cherishes, thereupon making for a somewhat unclassifiable cinematic work that will probably disappoint both exploitation fans and pretentious art fags alike. As a perversely phantasmagoric nonlinear work with nil dialogue and a somewhat fetishistic emphasis on mise-en-scène, Wingrove’s short particularly reminded me of the films of Canadian artsploitation auteur Karim Hussain, especially his proudly heretical directorial debut Subconscious Cruelty (2000). In terms of films belonging to the Nunsploitation subgenre, Visions of Ecstasy probably owes the most to Polish master of erotica Walerian Borowczyk’s Behind Convent Walls (1978) aka Interno di un convento as a solacing piece of rather refined sleaze that emphasizes understated sensuality over heavy-handed horn-dog style crudeness (in fact, as a work that features nuns shoving wooden dildos up their naughty bits, Borowczyk’s flick is ultimately much more graphic than Wingrove's short, which only goes so far as showing bushy beavers).  Of course, it should also be mentioned that director Wingrove himself credits School of the Holy Beast (1974) aka Convent of the Sacred Beast directed by Norifumi Suzuki and The Other Hell (1980) aka L'altro inferno aka Guardian of Hell directed by Bruno Mattei as the Nunsploitation flicks that influenced Visions of Ecstasy. Featuring an original synthesizer-driven celestial musical score by Steven Severin (who also composed the score for Wingrove's short Faustine (1990) starring the director's then-girlfriend Eileen Daly) of the classic English Gothic/post-punk band Siouxsie and the Banshees, Wingrove’s film feels like the cinematic equivalent of making out with a voluptuous Gothic chick for the first time but only being able to get so far as sticking your finger inside of her, as it is a literally and figuratively masturbatory flick that is all foreplay and ultimately does not seal the deal in terms of cumming to full heretical climax.  Indeed, sexually speaking, the film will probably only arouse young boys and perennial virgins who still have weekly wet dreams because they have yet to find a girl that will let them fuck them.

According to Wingrove, his intent with Visions of Ecstasy in regard to central subject Teresa of Ávila was to, “visually interpret a section of the writings of St Teresa and through those images convey some of the sensual eroticism that I felt emanated from her words.” Judging by his film, one has to wonder how Wingrove came to the conclusion that Ms. Saint Teresa of Jesus was a bisexual sadomasochist of sorts simply be reading her religious texts, but then again she was the granddaughter of a heretical Marrano Hebrew who was persecuted during the Spanish Inquisition for allegedly readopting the Judaic faith of his ancestors, so she certainly had ungodly genes (incidentally, sadistic Grand Inquisitor Tomás de Torquemada, who was infamous for persecuting crypto-Jews, was also of crypto-Jewish stock himself). Indeed, during the film, the Spanish mystic and Roman Catholic Saint meekly mounts Jesus and grinds her gash against the postmortem son of god's cock while he is nailed to the cross and is even sexually serviced by a Sapphic slave (which is apparently her own psyche) while in bondage. Aside from the introduction, the film is really only comprised of two softcore petite vignettes where the only penetration depicted is in the form of Saint Teresa driving a nail into her own hand like she is attempting to perpetuate some sort of sordid stigmata hoax (of course, she is really just embracing her Christ-like masochism). A celluloid chiaroscuro of the amorously oneiric sort that is just too damn tame and sensitively constructed to be considered truly obscene by today's standards, the film somewhat curiously opens with a credit sequence featuring a graceful butterfly flying in slow-motion. After the soothing opening credits scene, the viewer follows the camera as it hovers over a wild quasi-Expressionistic landscape covered with plants, leafs, and dirt until it catches up with the butterfly, which is sitting near a trail of blood. The trail of vital fluids ultimately leads to drops of blood dripping onto a rock. It seems that Teresa of Ávila (Beastie Boy dancer Louise Downie) gets wet at the thought of Jesus sacrificing himself on the cross, as she is portrayed hammering a nail into her hand in a fashion that seems like a cock penetrating some sort of wet fleshy female orifice, hence the blood-splattered rock. Undoubtedly, Teresa is a girl that likes it dirty as reflected by the fact that she knocks over a chalice full of blood and then proceeds to lick the red stuff off of the ground like a pathological lily-licker who gets extra hungry for poontang when her girlfriend is on her period. Considering Teresa seems to be in a sort of perpetual orgasmic state of immaculate ecstasy as reflected in her violently spastic movements as she becomes more and more despoiled with biological substances, it almost seems that she is fantasying that her own blood is the crucified's cum (after all, according to some of the Manson girls, Jesus died with a hard-on), hence why she rubs the vital fluids all over her body, especially her tender tits. Of course, Teresa is only warming up for her big date with the son of god, as well as her own sexually sick psyche.

While the first segment of Visions of Ecstasy is certainly surreal, the second and final segment of the film is wholly psychosexual in a purely visual way. Indeed, one could argue that the second segment is merely what was going on in Teresa’s mind while she was masochistically masturbating with a holy nail during the first part of the film. A fairly simple montage sequence featuring two alternating tableaux, the segment switches back and forth between Teresa copulating with Christ on the cross and another slightly more abstract scenario where the female protagonist is sexually serviced by a female slave while her hands are bound in bondage. Credited as the ‘psyche of St. Teresa’ (Elisha Scott), the blue-eyed and dark-blonde-haired Sapphic servant slowly crawls on all fours to Teresa, who is dangling from her hands from a rope like she is engaged in a sort of mock crucifixion. As the protagonist’s psyche begins making her way up her body, the montage features parallel shots of Teresa licking the gory wounds and fondling the pale skin of Jesus Christ’s seemingly cold corpse as it is nailed to the cross. Indeed, if there is something that Teresa unequivocally has a fetish for, it is Christ’s Five Holy Wounds, especially the giant lance wound in his side, which almost resembles a mutilated pussy in the film. As for Teresa’s carpet-munching Psyche, she seems to be infatuated with the protagonist's breasts and especially her nipples, which she delicately tongues like a pussycat licking milk out of a bowl. At the very end of the film, Teresa holds Jesus’ nailed hands and ‘Psyche’ eventually collapses from all the excitement.

Somewhat humorously considering it is easily his most well known and discussed cinematic work, director Nigel Wingrove does not think much of his infamous short, or as he wrote in his fairly insightful 36-page essay Finding Ecstasy on the Road to Redemption (2012), “I have not actually watched VISIONS OF ECSTASY for maybe fifteen years. In fact, barring a few moments, images, or sounds I don’t particularly like it anymore, and were I to have my time over again I would make it very differently. But in a sense that was what VISIONS was all about; it wasn’t a masterpiece, or even a feature, it was just an 18 minute short film, self funded, to be self-released, a stepping-stone up the greasy ladder to success, or oblivion.” In fact, Wingrove is so shockingly unsentimental and frank about the more glaring flaws of his film that he rightly noted in the same essay that, “the result of this stampede into film making was that I was essentially creating a series of still images rather than a series of moving images that worked as a whole for the twenty minutes duration of the film. The other problem was, had it been edited in a way that would have made the images work as I had envisaged it would have meant that VISIONS OF ECSTASY should have been about five minutes long or less. I really had not understood or even grasped at that time how fast screen time uses up imagery or how critically important it was to carefully plan and work out scenes. Of course, this wouldn’t have mattered if VISIONS OF ECSTASY hadn’t been about to be subjected to such intense scrutiny.” Indeed, the film may be shamelessly artsy fartsy in its direction, but it oftentimes drags like the average cheap porn flick yet without the benefit of full-on hardcore pornographic action. After watching most of the director's oeuvre, I have to say that my favorite Wingrove flick is his very first cinematic effort Axel (1988), which features a fairly similar aesthetic to Visions of Ecstasy, albeit without the heavy-handed and largely outmoded sacrilegious imagery. Notably, like his pseudo-metaphysical Teresa of Ávila anti-biopic, the short but sinfully sweet 6-minute film was influenced by another artist’s art. Indeed, it should not surprise anyone that has seen the paintings that Axel is a filmic interpretation of Teutonic Dadaist Max Ernst’s classic paintings THE ROBING OF THE BRIDE (1940) and THE ANTIPOPE (1942). Unfortunately, Wingrove has mostly stuck to directing neo-Nunsploitation flicks ever since the (non)release of Visions of Ecstasy, including the intolerably kitschy 72-minute feature Sacred Flesh (2000), which feels like the patently pathetic result of a virginal Game of Thrones fan attempting to direct a softcore barebones remake of Ken Russell’s The Devils (1971) on a $500 budget using a bunch of used up coked-addled strippers.  While Sacred Flesh might feature quasi-pornographic imagery that includes a close-up shot of nun diddling her freshly shaved pussy, the fetish-driven feature is completely devoid of the sort of celestially sensual essence that makes Visions of Ecstasy worth seeing.

After watching Visions of Ecstasy a couple times, it is still hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that the film was officially banned for blasphemy in the UK for over two decades, especially considering that British auteur Derek Jarman’s experimental feature The Garden (1990) is not only just about as sexually graphic and certainly more perverse (it features fully naked men and leather-fags in bondage, among other things), but it is also more intricately blasphemous as a work that dares to overtly homosexualize various classical biblical themes and stories, including Mary Magdalene being portrayed as a vulgar drag queen and two gay lovers suffering from Christ-like persecution at the hands of the Christian church (incidentally, Jarman was one of a handful of celebrities that also included writers Salman Rushdie and Fay Weldon who vocally supported Wingrove after his film was banned). Of course, various Ken Russell flicks, including The Devils (which Jarman notably contributed his singular production design skills to) and The Lair of the White Worm (1988) are also more blasphemous than Wingrove’s flick, but I digress. Despite the film’s somewhat dubiously sleazy interpretation of the writings of Teresa of Ávila, I got the sense while watching it that Wingrove has a sort of closeted appreciation for Christianity, especially in terms of Christian art and rituals, as if the film was an unconscious attempt by an atheist filmmaker to create something spiritual (interestingly, in the documentary Hail Mary! A Brief Peek at Nunsploitation (2009), Wingrove states that his psychotherapist told him that his religious fetish was the result of “want[ing] to be noticed” due to this atheist parents divorcing). If one thing is for sure, it is that Wingrove has enough good sense to realize that the current leftwing multiculturalist law that protects the religions of alien races of people is ultimately more repressive and dangerous than the ancient blasphemy law that resulted in Visions of Ecstasy being banned, or as the filmmaker once wrote himself in regard to a celebrity lunch he attended where a bunch of media bigwigs and mainstream artists, including meta-queen Ian McKellen, made “crass remarks” about God and Jesus that it was, “All jolly good fun I suppose but I could see nothing to celebrate, the jokes were all safe, after all attacking Christianity is fairly easy and its followers rarely hijack planes and fly them into buildings or hack journalists’ heads off or mutilate women’s genitalia. Likewise being such an enlightened bunch they wouldn’t dream of criticizing the religions of other races so presumably they are all happy with the Government’s new catch-all multi-faith laws which are anything but a dead letter […] the Racial and Religious Hate Act became law in 2006 with little real opposition. The new law ensures in all probability that religion will never again be the subject of humorous attack or controversial interpretation or anything other than what its most devout followers dictate and for that we must thank the lawyers who devised it.”  Indeed, as his words indicate, Wingrove might be a blasphemous smut-peddler who has made a name for himself by creating and distributing films that the Devil might diddle his dinky to, but he understands the appallingly absurd double standards that exist among the mainstream media when it comes to criticizing religions, with hypocritical and seemingly culturally retarded neo-liberal politicians and celebrities endorsing Islamization of the UK while at the same time promoting things that are diametrically opposed to Islam like fag rights, feminism, pluralism, and pornography, among other culturally corrosive ingredients that are typical of a dying civilization.

Indeed, there is probably nothing more impotent, patently pathetic, and pseudo-subversive than an artist, comedian, or celebrity attempting to mock Christianity, yet these same sort of mainstream leftists will be the first to cry racism if a person dares to say anything but positive things about some backward religion that is practiced by shit-skinned colonizers from the third world who do not suffer from the sort of spiritual retardation and ethno-masochism that plagues many Europeans and thus naturally exploit Occidental man's suicidal decadence, hence the EU-backed alien invasion scam known as the so-called ‘migrant crisis.’ After all, there are few things more barbaric than cutting a little girl’s clit off like certain Muslims do or an elderly man sucking the cock of a baby boy that has just been circumcised like in Judaism, yet Hollywood and the mainstream media never tires of bringing up certain evil things that Christians supposedly did many centuries ago. While I still not understand the whole appeal behind Nunsploitation cinema and the eroticization of nuns in general, I do have to admit that there is certainly no way in hell that anyone could ever successfully make anything relating to Judaism or Islam even remotely sexually appealing.  The fact that there are numerous traditionally Catholic nations like Italy and French where the women are exotically beautiful and busty is probably what is most responsible for the relative success and popularity of Nunsploitation, with Guidoland not being the most prolific producer of these films for no reason.  Of course, Europeans created beauteous and sometimes erotic Christian art in spite of Christianity and not because of it, so one should not expect that the races of people that subscribe to the other two sand religions would ever bring any sort of pulchritude to their respective faiths (after all, judging simply by the traditional clothing and haircuts, not to mention bizarre rituals, of Hasidic Jews, it seems that Judaism actively promotes ugliness).

As a man that would go on to distribute works ranging from Clive Barker’s early low-budget black-and-white experimental shorts Salome (1973) and The Forbidden (1978) to classic surrealist flicks like Alain Robbe-Grillet flicks like Trans-Europ-Express (1966) and Glissements progressifs du plaisir (1974) aka Successive Slidings of Pleasure to classic retro Euro-sleaze like Jesús Franco’s Paroxismus (1969) aka Venus in Furs and La comtesse noire (1975) aka Female Vampire and Jean Rollins’ La rose de fer (1973) aka The Iron Rose and Fascination (1979), among various other masterpieces and anti-masterpieces of both the arthouse and exploitation realms via his label Redemption Films (somewhat fittingly, the mainstream media outlet The Guardian coined the phrase, “Redemption – House of the Writhing Nun” in anti-tribute to the company after they released the old video nasty Killer Nun (1978) aka Suor Omicida directed by Giulio Berruti), Nigel Wingrove has, for better or worse, probably done more than any modern day Englishman in terms of promoting fetishistic horror and the sensually Fantastique. In fact, Wingrove named Redemption Films in tribute to his campaign for both personal and professional redemption after Visions of Ecstasy more or less completely destroyed his entire life. Aside from his essay essay Finding Ecstasy on the Road to Redemption, Wingrove also co-wrote a book entitled The Art of the Nasty (2009) published by FAB Press about his personal struggles against censorship. While certainly not a late-1980s equivalent to Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s Black Narcissus (1947), Visions of Ecstasy is a nice little allegorical tribute to one of the more eccentric and seemingly spiritually schizophrenic exploitation subgenres, even if it comes nowhere near to living up to its singularly infamous reputation. With Nunsploitation now receiving mainstream respectability as demonstrated by Hollywood films like Robert Rodriguez’s anti-white garbage Machete (2010) where fire-crotched celebrity slag Lindsay Lohan wields a weapon while sporting a nun's habit, the subgenre has been beaten-to-death and virtually totally extinguished of its vitality and potential, thus Wingrove’s film is ultimately a remainder that there was actually a time when it took a certain amount of testicular fortitude to create such a salaciously sacrilegious work. Indeed, you know you have done something right when Derek Jarman—a man that was made a ‘gay saint’ by the ultra blasphemous sod activist group Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence (SPI)—advocates for your Nunsploitation flick.

-Ty E

1 comment:

Tony Brubaker said...

I of course totally respect Nigel Wingroves heterosexuality but i have nothing but contempt for his nationality, the pretentious Limey turd.