Stalags Movie Review: Holocaust And Pornography In Israel
By Prairie Miller
When we ponder the darker aspects of human history, the topic of sexual manifestations of collective behavior is not one that comes readily comes to mind. But young Israeli filmmaker Ari Libsker has a far kinkier view of sexuality and politics, and his highly unusual documentary Stalags: Holocaust And Pornography In Israel probes a peculiar, decidedly offbeat trend in popular culture in the early years of that country. Namely, the wild underground craze of titillating sado-masochistic porn pulp, depicted in fictitious WWII concentration camps, that seized hold of the Jewish imagination back then. Empowerment fantasies of a decimated and injured race, a kind of post-traumatic Jewish mother syndrome, or a bit of both? Libsker mulls these strange notions and more, in a study of the politics of pornography that would have likely set Freud's mind into a tailspin.
The trashy but apparently irresistible Stalags as they were called - referring to the Nazi prison camps housing captured Allies - centered on a persistent theme with only particulars like the 'whips and boobs' subject to variation. Busty blondes serving as a weird combo of military guard and domanitrix, would torture and rape British and American prisoners simply for pleasure, not information. And inevitably the men would turn the tables, beating and raping their captors. Libsker, whose early film Circumcision was an inquiry into the sex life of Jews related to 'castration,' informs us that there was no such phenomena as female Nazi prison guards, apparently an inconsequential detail for the avid readership.
Libsker's interviews with a cross-section of generations in Israel are wide-ranging, but raise more questions than they establish insights. A number of men express uncommon enthusiasm for these paperbacks, some of whom have stashed them away in back rooms for years. There's somewhat embarrassing reference made to a sexually charged arena of war and oppression, and a aroused fetish that develops for one's tormentors, in this case the Germans. A scene from a popular post-WWII teen flick is shown, of a young Israeli man reading a Stalag on the sly in a bubble bath, and apparently stimulating a lot more than his imagination.
There's also quite a morbid discussion included, touching on the possible undue influence on the Stalag sensibility of the sensationalistic Israeli trial of captured Nazi, Adolf Eichmann. Also factored in by the director is the not quite welcoming arrival of holocaust survivors to that country, as they aroused sexually tinged suspicions among the Jewish population already there, of having survived the death camps because they must have been willing sex slaves and other sorts of collaborators against their own people.
It's quite possible that such drama, any drama - here in tacky fiction mode - which since its historical origins has always served the psychological purpose of creating a momentary human control through fantasy over the uncertainty and chaos of existence, helped Jews make sense of a world that sought their obliteration, by transforming real oppression into imaginary sado-masochistic sexual domination, who knows. In any case, talk about guilty pleasures.
By Prairie Miller
Heymann Brothers Films
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