Monday, November 9, 2015

The sexual underground in Berlin and Paris in the 1920s and 1930s

In a filmed interview with Richard Leacock in the 1970s, Louise Brooks spoke of the rather wild nightlife she witnessed in Berlin while she was there filming Pandora's Box in late 1928. Brooks' experience in Berlin - she was there twice, once while filming Pandora's Box and a few months later while filming Diary of a Lost Girl, are detailed as well in Barry Paris' outstanding biography of the actress -- so is her experience in Paris while filming Prix de beaute (1930).

Two books, one a new release, focus on the wild nightlife and sexual underground of Berlin and Paris in the 1920s and 1930s. I have both books, as well as a couple of others by the author, Mel Gordon. (Especially fascinating is his The Seven Addictions and Five Professions of Anita Berber.) Each are recommended for those interested.

Voluptuous Panic: The Erotic World of Weimar Berlin, by Mel Gordon

From the publisher: When Voluptuous Panic: The Erotic World of Weimar Berlin first appeared in the fall of 2000, it inspired wide acclaim and multiple printings.

This sourcebook of hundreds of rare visual delights from the pre-Nazi, Cabaret-period “Babylon on the Spree” has the distinction of being praised both by scholars and avatars of contemporary culture, inspiring performers, filmmakers, historians straight and gay, designers, and musicians like the Dresden Dolls and Marilyn Manson.

Voluptuous Panic’s expanded edition includes the new illustrated chapter “Sex Magic and the Occult,” documenting German pagan cults and their bizarre erotic rituals, including instructions for entering into the “Sexual Fourth Dimension.” The deluxe hardcover edition also includes sensational accounts of hypno-erotic cabaret acts, Berlin fetish prostitution (“The Boot Girl Visit”), gay life (“A Wild-Boy Initiation!”), descriptions and illustrations of Aleister Crowley’s Berlin OTO secret society, and sex crime (“The Curious Career and Untimely Death of Fritz Ulbrich”).

Horizontal Collaboration: The Erotic World of Paris, 1920-1946, by Mel Gordon

From the publisher: Mel Gordon presents a companion volume to his highly praised pictorial history Voluptuous Panic: The Erotic World of Weimar Berlin.

Mel Gordon, author of Voluptuous Panic, the celebrated history about the sex culture of Weimar Berlin, returns with a stunningly illustrated look at Paris, The City of Pleasure, prior to and during German occupation during World War II.

Horizontal Collaboration encompasses the Jazz Age, Depression, World War and Occupation, and Liberation. It concludes with the shuttering of the licensed brothels in 1946, which some Parisian intellectuals thought was the final “destruction of French civilization”.

The term “Horizontal Collaboration” refers to the sexual liaisons between French civilians and German occupiers from 1940 to 1944. These were extremely widespread and included both individual wartime relationships in addition to prostitution. As Allied armies swept across the French countryside, thousands of young women—and some men—were savagely punished by the authorities or by vigilante crowds, becoming a source of deep national shame.

Author Gordon redefines the pejorative term to mean something much broader: French men and women “horizontally collaborated” to overcome all social obstacles, divisions, and regulations. These obstacles include married and unmarried couples, straights and homosexuals, foreigners and locals, gun-toting soldiers and their vanquished subjects. The natural yearning for sexual pleasure equally corrupted all co-habitating partners.

Here is a NSFW promotional video for the recently released Horizontal Collaboration: The Erotic World of Paris, 1920-1946.


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The Seven Addictions and Five Professions of Anita Berber: Weimar Berlin's Priestess of Depravity, by Mel Gordon

From the publisher: The Seven Addictions and Five Professions of Anita Berber is the first contemporary biography of the notorious actor/dancer/poet/playwright who scandalized sex-obsessed Weimar Berlin during the 1920s.

In an era where everything was permitted, Anita Berber’s celebrations of “Depravity, Horror and Ecstasy” were condemned and censored. She often haunted Weimar Berlin’s hotel lobbies, nightclubs, and casinos, radiantly naked except for an elegant sable wrap, a pet monkey hanging from her neck, and a silver brooch packed with cocaine.

Multi-talented Anita saw no boundaries between her personal life and her taboo-shattering performances. As such, she was Europe’s first postmodern woman. After sated Berliners finally tired of Anita Berber’s libidinous antics, she became a “carrion soul that even the hyenas ignored,” dying in 1928 at the age of twenty-nine.

• Includes nearly two hundred photographs and illustrations, including some that recreate Berber’s salacious and enduring “Repertoire of the Damned.”
• Berber was a lover of Marlene Dietrich and influenced and associated with Leni Riefenstahl, Lawrence Durrell, Klaus Mann, and the founder of modern sexology, Magnus Hirschfeld.
• An early movie star, Berber acted in Fritz Lang’s Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler and the silent epic Lucifer. [ Berber also starred in Dida Ibsens Geschichte, the 1918 sequel to the the originial filmed adaption of Diary of a Lost Girl. ]


Mel Gordon is Professor of Theater Arts at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of twelve books, including The Grand Guignol, Dada Performance, The Stanislavsky Technique, and the Feral House title Erik Jan Hanussen: Hitler's Jewish Clairvoyant.

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