Monday, June 06, 2011

The Saucy Chambermaid (1908)

Among the many films available for viewing through Europa Film Treasures, there is a unique subject from 1908 titled Das Eitle Stubenmädchen (The Saucy Chambermaid). According to the notes on the site, the film was made in Austria by the Saturn company, and directed by Johann Schwarzer.

Unlike the hardcore erotic films that began appearing in the period following World War I, there was still a certain amount of credibility attached to such projects in the early cinema. Georges Méliès, for instance, produced a number of “blue” movies. Such films were a staple of early American programs as well, though it should be noted that films from the Edison company, for instance, rarely if ever displayed the kind of out-and-out nudity present in films like The Saucy Chambermaid (I can find no example from the Edison catalog).

That said, the film still plays like something of a dirty joke. The scene is a bedroom. On the floor is a nude marble statue in a reclining position. The maid enters to clean the room with a feather duster and, spotting the statue, proceeds to undress herself bit by bit, comparing herself to the statue in the process. As the maid assumes the reclining position similar to that of the statue, she is surprised when the man of the house enters the room. She springs to her feet, dashing in to the next room and begging for mercy as the man laughs uproariously in wicked delight. He calls the maid back in to the room to retrieve her clothes, which he withholds from her until she gives him a kiss. Grabbing her clothes, she finally makes her way in to the adjoining room as the man follows, laughing all the while.

Typical for the period, the film is framed entirely in wide shot, and plays out with actors entering and exiting the frame through doors. While more explicit than similar “blue” movies coming out of the United States at the time, The Saucy Chambermaid is still restrained compared to films that would follow in the coming decade. The fact that its production company, director, and year and country of origin have been documented demonstrates the degree to which it was still seen as very much a “legitimate” production. The hardcore erotica of the post-war period is typically devoid of any kind of production information, with any information about its makers and performers lost entirely to time.

Of course, the erotic film, in 1908 still a staple of “gentlemen’s clubs” and burlesque, would gradually go underground until eventually it existed totally off the radar of any recorded history of film (it has only been relatively recently that there has been any research into those films at all). As the films became increasingly graphic, and as venues sought to appeal to a more and more sophisticated clientele, “blue” movies were forced off the program. According to the notes on the Europa Film Treasures site, Saturn Films was eventually shut down by a court order in 1911, following demands by Viennese officials and Catholic groups. Films like The Saucy Chambermaid would have no doubt begun to be seen as quaint, at least from a purely technical standpoint, as it retains the single shot and proscenium staging of the earliest film subjects, and lack the narrative and spatial qualities that were making for far more exciting films in the work of leading pioneers of the period.

The Saucy Chambermaid retains its dirty sense of humor and stands as an example of the erotic film at a time before it was abandoned by exhibitors in the quest for more respectable and sophisticated entertainment.

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