In hard-core porn there is an essential difference between male and female stars: the visibility of the orgasm. This entails visual proof of orgasm for the male star, whereas the female star, even if engaging in actual sex acts, still has, in a sense, to perform her orgasm, to enact the unseen. In soft porn this distinction no longer holds. The sex is not real but performed, and so are the orgasms. La Marge is relatively unusual for a soft-porn film in that it teams a major female porn star with a male star of some calibre (although by no means equal), whose star image is explicitly sexual. So how are the star images of Kristel and Dallesandro represented in tandem and what does this tell us about gender and the performance of the orgasm?
La Marge was made in 1976 by Walerian Borowczyk, two years after his vast commercial success with the soft-core fantasy Cantes immoraux. The characterisation is simple and traditional, following a pattern familiar from melodrama and myth: loving husband (Dallesandro) is tempted away from wife, family and countryside by the corruption of the big city, personified in the figure of the vamp or seductress. Kristel plays the latter role, a prostitute called Diana, her name highlighting the suggestions of predatory female sexuality that run throughout the film.53 As Diana, Kristel is the embodiment of both sexualised Paris and commodified sexuality, namely prostitution. There is an irony here since the Dutch actress had already become a kind of Parisian sexual landmark, thanks to her role in Emmanuelle.u The importance of the city and the body together is expressed in the film's title, which has been variously translated as The Margin and The Streetwalker, and which relates to both the pavement where the prostitutes ply their trade and the eroticised margin of the female body (between lower and upper garments). The midriff area is, in effect, fetishised throughout the film, with waist-high camera angles used frequently for both stars, particularly in the scenes where they undress before sex. Kristel's body is repeatedly framed to show her pubis and stomach, most notably when she rolls a hard-boiled egg from her navel to her pubis. This sequence is sound-tracked by the song ' Une femmé by Charles Drumont, and in effect the camera presents a kind of catalogue of Kristel's body (neck, breasts, navel, pudenda), concluding with an extreme close-up of her mouth as she slips the egg in, then out. This shot gives a clear indication that in soft porn not all of the star's body is available to the camera: hence the displacement upwards, in which the mouth becomes a sexual symbol to suggest the vagina (eminently representable in hard core).
The question of the star body as a commodity is raised in the scenes when Dallesandro, as the client, literally buys Kristel's body, paying her first for removing her skirt and then giving her a second payment to remove her top. In their second transaction, by paying
53» Diana was the goddess of the hunt. Carlos Fuentes associates her with the sexual appetite of the star Jean Seberg in his novel Diana, The Goddess Who Hunts Alone. See Chapter 8.
500 francs up front, he (and the spectator) is presented with Kristel in full frontal nudity for the first time in the film. The theme of buying the sexualised body is emphasised throughout the film by the iterative shots of money changing hands, and during the first sexual 'number' between Kristel and Dallesandro, the client's money is deliberately visible in Diana's hand. Kristel's role here is removed from the 'pornutopia' of the EmmanueUe series, in that it concentrates on the exchange of money for sex, and only features the expression of female pleasure in one of the three sex scenes between the film's stars. There are relatively few facial close-ups on Kristel in La Marge, and her performance is largely devoid of the sounds of pleasure that fill the soundtracks of the Emmanuelk series. Linda Williams notes that 'the allure of the sounds of pleasure resides at least partly in the fact that they come from inside the body and [...] speak, almost preverbally, of primitive pleasures.'55 Such sounds are often anchored, at least in soft porn, by repeated shots of the mouth, as evident in Kristel's performances throughout the EmmanueUe films, for example the magic lantern scene in EmmanueUe 2. However, in La Marge the spontaneity of the orgasmic groan is jeopardised by the unspontaneous nature of sex as a business transaction. Only once, in the shared orgasm of her second number with Dallesandro, do we hear sounds of pleasure coming from Kristel, and even here they are partially obscured by the pop soundtrack.
If the mouth, and hence the gasping voice,56 function as indices of female pleasure in pornography and erotica, this is, as we have seen, because of the invisibility of the female orgasm. The male orgasm, by contrast, is not only visible in hard-core porn, but often fundamental to it: known in the trade as the 'money shot', it traditionally structures the hard-core film by providing the literal climax to any sexual number.57 But in soft porn this option is no longer available, so that an actor like Dallesandro has to perform his orgasm, visually with his body and audibly with his voice. We might therefore expect Dallesandro's performance of sexual pleasure to share some characteristics with Kristel's, for example in the prominence of facial close-ups to synchronise the sight and sounds of orgasm, or in the use of fragmented images of the eroticised star body. The latter is certainly apparent, with Dallesandro's body presented as an object of desire for Diana (seen from her point of view when they first meet), and frequendy shot in close-up at crotch level or framed in an erotic pose (for example, the compositions early in the film displaying his muscular torso after he has cut his arm on some thorns). The first sexual number in particular seems to reinforce the two stars' respective images, with long takes showing a naked rear view of his body (as in Je t'aime, mot nonplus) behind which her face is glimpsed. However, the performance of the male orgasm that concludes the numbers is problematised in the film. This is pardy because of the general qualification of sexual
56* See also the female vocalising of sexual pleasure In erotic songs, especially Gainsbourg's Je t'aime, moi non plus (recorded first with Bardot and later, for the film of the same name, with Jane Birkin).
57* See L. Williams, op. cit., p.73. She describes the 'money shot' as 'the ultimate confessional moment of "truth"' and also 'the very limit of the visual representation of sexual pleasure', ibid., p.101.
pleasure in La Marge: the narrative equates sexual pleasure with guilt for Dallesandro's character (his wife and child both die while he is in Paris with Diana) and with business for Kristel's (albeit leavened with sentiment).58 Hence, even in Kristel's performance the sounds of sexual pleasure in La Marge are muted, far from the exuberance of the EmmanueUe series, where her orgasmic articulations provide the 'allure' of 'primitive pleasures' in sophisticated surroundings. But the problematising of pleasure is most specifically identified with Dallesandro's performance of the orgasm.
The articulation of the orgasm already poses a problem for a star who has no strong vocal identity, and whose European work is often dubbed. The vocalising of pleasure is not a feature of Dallesandro's star image, we know. Furthermore, the pop soundtrack used throughout La Marge tends to articulate his feelings in lieu of a monologue or other vocalised performance. Even though Dallesandro's own voice is heard in the film, dialogue is extremely sparse, and his character's existential crisis is expressed not vocally but visually (by shots of his face in mirrors, or of his family in flashback) as well as musically: the hushed romantic rush of lOcc's I'm Not in Love accompanies the first sexual number with Kristel; the freezing, intergalactic strains of Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here express his isolation after the third number when he searches for Diana in a deserted Paris.59 Of their three sexual numbers together, only the second ends in a shared orgasm, with audible sounds of pleasure from both actors (albeit muffled, and competing with the music track) and with two brief glimpses of Kristel's face to anchor the sounds of female pleasure (there are no similar facial close-ups of Dallesandro here). The first number illustrates a gulf between his pleasure and her business-like detachment, although it does include the sounds of his orgasm (again, overlaid with music). The third number concentrates exclusively on Dallesandro's character, as Diana undresses him, kisses his muscular body and performs fellatio on him. The focus is on his naked torso and head, shot in medium close-up, while her head is just visible at the bottom of the screen. The lighting picks out his face and, as the scene progresses, he begins to cry out, grimace and move his head backwards and forwards. The sound of his cries is audible above the guitar solo on the backing track, but his performance also involves the tensing of his body, so that at the moment of orgasm his eyes are shut, the tendons in his neck are straining, and a grimace is on his face. The performance, both bodily and vocally, is long, intense and increasingly anguished. His orgasm is performed and received (by a horrified Diana) as an expression of pain as much as pleasure. This is Dallesandro's most sustained performance of orgasm in the film and also the crucial point in the male protagonist's journey (it is foUowed by Diana's flight and his suicide). The narrative context suggests that sexual pleasure here is not competing with physical pain (Jane Birkin as Johnny in Je t'aime, moi nonplus), but with existential pain, and that it may even be the expression of the guilt, loneliness and despair that the protagonist feels. Dallesandro is left gasping, as if
58- Diana's feelings are signalled when she buys lingerie to please him, for which display of sentiment she is attacked by her pimp.
59- It is notable that the segment used here is purely instrumental, further emphasising the sense of loneliness and distance, as well as the voicelessness of Dallesandro's star image.
wounded, while a repulsed Rristel retreats in horror to the bathroom and then flees from the apartment, shouting 'Adieu!'. The intensity of the (unshared) orgasm and the anguish visible and audible in Dallesandro's performance has, in effect, driven her away.
As in his earlier years at Warhol's Factory, Dallesandro's star image here is both sexualised and wounded. The allure of his body as an object of desire is qualified by the narrative associations of his roles (prostitution, drugs, impotence, despair) and the tendency towards voicelessness that is at times literal (the dubbed European films) and at others figurative. In La Marge, the sexual exuberance and the face of female pleasure associated with Kristel are superceded by the melancholy sexuality of Dallesandro's image. This is particularly true of the use of facial close-ups in the film: those of Kristel are extremely rare, and are mainly limited to a couple of erotic sequences. The facial close-ups of Dallesandro, however, are more frequent yet identified not with sexual pleasure but with angst, hence the repeated shots of him looking at his face in the mirror, particularly in the scenes leading up to his suicide. Even his orgasm is performed as pain rather than simple pleasure - the latter is only found in the uneroticised flashbacks to his son, where the face of male pleasure is associated with family life and game-playing rather than with sex.60 La Marge narrativises and problematises Dallesandro's character rather than Kristel's; it places his sexual adventures in the kind of moralistic context that is lacking from the Emmanueüe series. Even though Kristel is the face of the film (pictured on the posters, on the video box and in most publicity stills), in terms of performance she is not the star of the film. Far from being the female porn star's 'appendage', 'the object of the object',61 the male porn star is, here, an object of desire in his own right and at least as regards performance and narrative (if not marketing), it is she who is his appendage.
60* We see Dallesandro's face in close-up as he blows his cheeks out and kisses his son. Kissing is notably absent from the sexual encounters between Dallesandro and Kristel (client and prostitute).
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