Usually, when I review outright pornography on this blog, it’s got some kind of vintage appeal. Somewhere in the back of my repressed Catholic skull, I must believe smut can only be assessed as Legitimate Art after a few decades have passed, whether it’s the exquisitely refined melodrama of Equation to an Unknown (1980) or the crass home movies amateurism of Bat Pussy (197?). 2004’s Ecstasy in Berlin, 1926 snuck past that personal bias in the most obvious way: by looking vintage in its 1920s setting & fabricated sepia tone, in contrast to standard mid-00s pornography’s flat, digital sheen. Ecstasy in Berlin is artsy BDSM erotica with an aesthetic that falls somewhere between Guy Maddin’s wryly retro film textures & Annie Sprinkle’s DIY video-art pornos. Its Black & White patina & ambient score announce its intention to be considered Art, but its 40min slack-jawed stare at lingeried women relentlessly spanking each other is a purely prurient indulgence. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
As you can imagine, there isn’t much plot to speak of here. A woman in Weimer era Germany shoots up in her boudoir, the camera lingering on the needle & her bare crotch for a relative eternity. Her subsequent doped-out fantasy is one of drowsy lesbian erotica – mostly consisting of spanking, bootlicking, and light bondage. Any motions towards storytelling are restricted to juxtaposition: our de-facto “protagonist” split-screened with her erotic fantasy; a corset fitting paired with an actual hourglass; lipstick smears contrasted against the razor-sharp arches of 1920s eyebrows. Meanwhile, director Maria Beatty is clearly having fun with editing room trickery, establishing an intoxicating rhythm with some intense vignette framing, triple exposures, and languid dissolves. The film looks great. Still, the spanking sequences are endless and never really escalate to anything substantial, which can test even the most dedicated kinkster’s patience at feature length no matter how many costume changes reset the scene.
I don’t know if Ecstasy in Berlin has convinced me to seek out & assess more narrative-free, post-VHS pornography as Legitimate Art, but it works well enough as a calling card for Maria Beatty as a filmmaker. There’s an exciting mix of aesthetic beauty & unashamed transgression at work here, even if it’s purely in service of erotic titillation. Like most long-working porno directors, Beatty’s got a couple horror films listed in her credits (lurking among titles like The Elegant Spanking & Strap-on Motel), which are now calling my name like softcore siren songs. I may not know how to properly approach a plotless, over-stylized porno, but plotless & over-stylized is my exact sweet spot when it comes to genre schlock.