Sylvia Kristel The Porn Star As Mainstream

If sexual liberation in Britain is associated with the mid-sixties, in France it is positioned slighdy later, in the aftermath of the anti-establishment struggles of May 1968. In the protests, campaigns, and graffiti of the late sixties and early seventies, 'le sexe, le désir et le plaisir [étaient] au coeur de toutes les métaphores'.13 Popular forms such as BD (comics) took delight in portraying the body in all its intimate glory: in 1973, the adult comic L'Echo des savanes featured the 'genital adventures' of a walking penis exploring the female body.14 The year 1973-74 was also a watershed for the representation of sex in French cinema. Numerous sexually explicit films were released, including huge commercial successes Les Valseueses, Contes immoraux and Emmanuelle. Viewing habits changed rapidly, so that the estimated size of the audience for erotic cinema in Paris, for instance, increased from 50,000 spectators in 1972 to over 250,000 two years later.15 In 1975, Paris Match reported on 'La France porrw\ finding that porn accounted for 12 per cent of the domestic film market and predicting that 25 per cent of the film-going public would watch a porn film that year.16 The low budgets for most porn films meant that only 30,000 spectators might be required for a film to break even, and that risk margins were much smaller than for other genres or for art cinema.17 The representation of nudity and eroticism was no novelty, and had already informed the star images of Brigitte Bardot and Jeanne Moreau. However, the sexual

11- the space of a second, all the fake intimacy with the spectator that her on-screen performances are meant to establish is thrown back in her face', Ibid., p.31.

12- See Chapter 11.

13- lsex, desire and pleasure were at the heart of every metaphor', D. Fischer, L'Histoire des étudiants en France, de 1945 à nos jours, Paris, Flammarion, 2000, p.395.

14- See L'Echo des savanes, 4, pp.3-7. Many thanks to Wendy Michallat for showing me this.

16* See Paris Match, 20 September 1975, p.38.

politics of the early 1970s and the sensational success of Emmanuelle (the biggest box-office attraction of the decade) ensured that soft-core porn and even, for a brief time, hard-core, became mainstream. This was facilitated when major companies became involved in the distribution of porn films, which now played alongside mainstream films at commercial (as opposed to specialist) cinemas: Les Jouissances was distributed by Gaumont and Exhibitimhy UGC. Both films starred Claudine Beccarie and were hard-core porn, in that they showed actual sex acts rather than simulations. Where hard-core pornography is characterised by 'the principle of maximum visibility', soft porn is characterised by 'indirection' and 'masquerade'.18 This is significant with regard to Sylvia Kristel since her image, unlike that of Beccarie or the even more extreme Sylvia Bourdon,19 is not defined by visibly real sexual performances, but by elements of 'masquerade' such as non-sexual performance, costume and the fetishising of the star body and face.

Kristel had an early career as a fashion model and was named Miss TV Europe in 1973. The resulting publicity tour brought her to the attention of Just Jaeckin, a fashion photographer and former art director of Marie Claire, who was hoping to film Emmanuelle Arsan's erotic novel Emmanuelle. Kristel took the lead role, 'a part that had been turned down by every eligible French actress,' and the film's huge international success (it was to be seen by over 250 million spectators worldwide) meant that she 'came to typify the world's idea of a sexy, liberated French girl.'20 Thus her Dutch nationality did not prevent her global star image from being firmly identified as French, while in France itself she was termed a kind of Parisian landmark, 'aussi célèbre que les "Folies Bergère" ou la Tour Eiffel'.21 Alongside this artificial and erotic Frenchness, her star image was, perhaps surprisingly, characterised by innocence. Jaeckin describes her as 'this very innocent-looking girl'22 and Kristel recalls him asking her to cultivate 'le regard vague de quelqu'un qui ne sait pas très bien où il en est. [■■■] Je devais avoir le visage d'un enfant de Marié?3 The director of Emmanuelle 2 (aka Emmanuelle l'anti-vierge, 1976) called her a cross between Katharine Hepburn and Minnie Mouse,24 while Paris Match introduced her in July 1974 as 1'heroine aux yeux de myosotis et au regard ingénu de petitefille bien sage'is. Kristel was featured twice more in 1974 by the magazine, first looking in a mirror and contemplating motherhood, then

18- L. Williams, Hard Core: Power, Pleasure and the *Frenzy of the Visible', Berkeley, Los Angeles and London, University of California Press, 1999, expanded paperback edition, pp.48 and 49.

19* Star of Exhibition 2 and other extreme hard-core films, Bourdon's performances included zoophilia. See C. Tohill and P. Tombs, Immoral Tales: Sex and Horror Cinema in Europe 1956-1984, London: Titan Books, 1995, p.248.

21* "as famous as the "Folies Bergère" or the Eiffel Tower', Anon., "Une comédienne: Sylvia Kristel', Cinéma français 11 (1977), p.37.

22* Cited in B. Farrow, "Emmanuelle exposed', Hot Dog, October 2000, p.74.

23* "the vague look of someone who doesn't really know what they're up to. [...] I had to have the face of a convent school girl', J.-L. Lechat, "Sylvia Kristel', Stars & Cinéma 3: 7 (September 1975), p.15.

25* "the heroine with the forget-me-not eyes and the innocent look of a good little girl', Anon., "Peut-on aller voir Emmanuelle!', Paris Match, 20 July 1974, p.17.

later heavily pregnant in fur coat and hat.26 These features emphasise a maternal, domesticated and thus largely desexualised image, with the mirror photo placed in a feature on stars and their children. Each time, the focal point is the star's face rather than her body. In fact, the only photograph in Paris Match of 1974 that presents Kristel's body is the one showing her heavily pregnant late in the year. Even the still from the end of Emmanuelle, used in July 1974, is demure, revealing only Kristel's head and shoulders, while her breasts appear deliberately obscured. This contrasts strongly with the triumphant display of Bardot's body in a contemporaneous issue of Paris Match, which sees the forty-year-old star posing nude on the beach while we are informed that:'lephotographe vous ¡a rrumtre toute nue devant son destin de femme et de star',27 It also serves to demarcate Kristers 'innocent' eroticism from the explicit sexuality of hard-core porn stars, who she later revealed often laughed at her performance and compared her to a refrigerator.28

The balance between star face and star body is caught in the famous publicity still for Emmanuelle, showing Kristel sitting topless in a cane chair and staring at the camera.29 Her body is on display, the legs fetishised by long socks and boots, her breasts and shoulders naked, but attention is also drawn, via a string of pearls she is holding, upwards to her face. Her expression is thoughtful, her mouth slightly open as she holds the pearls towards it, her gaze intent and straight at the camera. Her hair is short and boyish, again in a marked contrast to Bardot's star image of the time.30 In other publicity photos from the period, emphasis is placed on Kristel's face, rather than her body, by the use of various framing garments such as scarves and hats, and most obviously by close-ups,31 which hold out a promise of sexual pleasure that is somehow both innocent and daring: 'Small-breasted, tall and lithe, Kristel was no buxom bombshell, her winsome, open face promising a form of sex that was natural.'32 While much of this is at odds with Bardot's star image (where the emphasis is much more on the body than the face), it has something in common with Juliette Binoche, whose stardom is encapsulated not by her body but by her 'erotic face', the emphasis

26- See Paris Match, 28 September 1974, p.7, and 2 November 1974, p.7.

27- 'the photographer shows her to you completely naked before her destiny as a woman and as a star', F. Caviglioli, 'Etre Brigitte à 40 ans', Paris Match, 28 September 1974, p.48. One might argue that age is the crucial difference here, that Bardot is asserting her physical beauty 'even' at the age of forty, while Kristel, in her twenties, has no need to. However, Kristel's star image is always more demure than Bardot's. Hence, when interviewed by Empire at age 41 about her role in Emmanuelle Forever, although we are told she looks 'jolly attractive' there is no photo of Kristel, let alone nude. See Hibbert, op. cit., p.50.

28* See Kristel interviewed in Cinéma français 11 (1977), p.38.

29- Reproduced in L. R. Williams, 'The oldest swinger in town', Sight and Sound, August 2000, p.24, and Hibbert, op. cit., 51, among others. This shot does not actually appear in the film.

30* Compare the Bardot photo in Caviglioli, op. cit., p.48.

31- See, for example, the facial close-up publicising Emmanuelle 2 reproduced in A. Cox, 'My Kind of Woman', The Guardian (Review), 15 December 2000, p.8. Kristel's hair (longer In the sequel than in the original) is completely covered by a scarf and the entire focus is on her eyes and mouth.

on which 'has led to an erasure of her body'.33 The case of Kristel is not as extreme or etherealised; she is still a porn star, whose body is fetishised throughout her films (and to a certain extent in her publicity photos). Emmanuelle includes several scenes in which another character or the camera itself focuses on Kristel's long legs, for example as she lounges on couches and beds, fixes her stockings, lies back in a carriage while a man pulls off her underwear. A feature in Paris Match from 1982 (during the period when Kristel had left the Emmanuelle series) again exhibits her legs to the camera, this time in photos of her stretched along a wall, or lying on her back pedalling her feet in the air.34 But her face remains the site of pleasure in Kristel's performances as in her publicity.

The female face is important in erotic cinema, since it is the crucial index of a pleasure that would remain otherwise inaccessible to the camera. Because 'female orgasm takes place [...] in an "invisible place" that cannot easily be seen,'35 the sight (and sound) of female pleasure is often relocated to the face, and in particular the mouth. In hard-core pornography, of course, women's genitals are represented in a repeated search for verification of sexual pleasure, which has been termed 'the frenzy of the visible'36 and 'the will to know'.37 The 'slogan of pornography - "everything shown, everything seen"' -requires the close-up as its 'basic element'38 but where the close-up is genital in hard-core, it is often facial in soft porn. In Emmanuelle and Emmanuelle 2 the frequent sexual 'numbers' tend to be introduced by a lush musical theme and a close-up on Kristel's face, often in soft focus. During sex, the camera again focuses on her face, particularly her partially open mouth and her closed eyes. As well as such facial close-ups, there are images of Kristel's body, at times in medium shot, often fragmented as the camera focuses on her breasts or legs, but rarely displayed entirely naked and never showing genitalia in close-up. This accords with the conventions of soft porn, according to which 'the medium shot of the body [...] closes down on to the sex' but is 'always blocked off by a piece of lingerie, by a thigh movement, by the angle of the framing, etc'.39 Thus, when Emmanuelle masturbates in the first film, the site of pleasure is quickly elided by her thigh and then by her gown as the camera pans up to show her face, the mouth half open, gasping, the eyes shut, in Kristel's characteristic and much repeated articulation of orgasm. Similarly in the sequel, when Emmanuelle masturbates while undergoing acupuncture the upper half of

33- G. Vincendeau, "Binoche the erotic face', Sight and Sound, June 2000, p.16. Vincendeau notes in ibid., p.15, that many of Binoche's films, including Les Enfants du siècle and La Veuve de Saint-Pierre, 'end on a close-up of her face looking straight into the camera.' This is also true of Kristel in the first two Emmanuelle films, most particularly in the second; see below.

34* See Paris Match, 31 December 1982. This is an exception; most photos concentrate on her face.

36* Ibid., p.7. Williams takes the term from Jean-Louis Comolli.

37* Y. Lardeau, 'Cold Sex (on pornography and beyond)', in D. Wilson (éd.), Cahiers du cinema, Volume Four, 1973-1978: History, Ideology, Cultural Struggle, London and New York, Routledge, p.205.

her body is naked but the lower half remains covered by the folds of her dress. Both films end with an image not of Kristel's body, but of her face, held in a freeze-frame. Emmanuelle 2 in particular focuses on her eyes, as the camera zooms in to isolate the gaze, which is addressing the audience one last time in the controlled, almost thoughtful soft porn 'come-on'.

In the late 1970s, Kristel made the premature farewell Goodbye Emmanuelle (1977), and attempted to reposition her image by taking roles in non-erotic drama and in comedies. The resulting films were not successful, however, and there was no significant renegotiation of her star image. In 1977, both Alice ou la dernière fugue and René h. Canne flopped, despite genuinely novel performances from Kristel (pensive and determined in the first, feisty and comical in the second). Distinct as these films are from the Emmanuelle series, they both include allusions to the soft-porn stardom that Kristel was unable to break out of. As Alice, Kristel is trapped inside a mysterious house, just as the actress is trapped inside erotic cinema, and is spied on by largely unseen male voyeurs. Emmanuelle's 'come-on' smile is replaced by frowns of concentration and then, in the final scene, by a dying grimace as the camera shows Alice in facial close-up, dead in a car accident. While Alice reinterprets Kristel's porn stardom ironically, so that her existence is a form of imprisonment and her smile a rictus, René la Canne presents it farcically, so that the star body becomes literally so much meat: reunited with her husband (who has been sent to Germany as 'voluntary' labour in the war) Kristel pulls a huge leg of ham from her bag, then two strings of sausages from her overcoat, before she herself undresses and gets into bed.40 Publicity interviews with Kristel in this period tended to downplay these roles, and concentrated on questions about eroticism, pornography and the Emmanuelle films.41 During the 1980s, press reports on her private life (marriage and divorce) still referred to her as 'Emmanuelle' rather than Sylvia.42 By 1984 and Emmanuelle 4, the actress had returned to the franchise that her star image had never left. In the early 1990s, she was still playing Emmanuelle, but in the later sequels 'her ageing body is traded in for younger models, leaving her to narrate rather than perform her erotic adventures, like a kind of sexual Scheherezade.'43 By means of a 'special perfume', Kristel as 'old Emmanuelle' can experience sex via another woman's body, a narrative twist that prolongs the franchise and uses the 'ageing porn star [...] without challenging the boundaries of the erotic to include older bodies.'44 Kristel will, it seems, remain forever enclosed within the body of films that is the Emmanuelle series.

40- This Is authorised by the film's wartime setting, and by reference to the classic French comedy La Traversée de Paris (1956), which concerns the transport of black-market meat across occupied Paris. René la Canne also seems to predict Kristel's later move from 'young Emmanuelle' to 'old Emmanuelle', as her prostitute character becomes a high-class madam after the war.

41» See, for example, the interviews in Cinéma français 11 (1977), pp.37-40 and Ciné-Revue 58: 13 (30 March 1978), pp.6-11.

42- See, for example, Paris Match, 31 December 1982 and 11 July 1986.

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Responses

  • xander
    Does silvia kristel really have sex in film?
    6 years ago
  • esmeralda
    What film did sylvia kristel star in?
    5 years ago
  • Thad
    Did sylvia kristel preform hard core sex?
    5 years ago
  • SOFIA
    Has Sylvia Kristel did any porn?
    5 months ago
  • kiros
    Did Sylvia Kristel actually have sex on screen?
    24 days ago
  • vanessa
    How can I be a porn star in France?
    20 days ago

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