Sorry. You get no counter-culture cachet for knowing anything about the EMMANUELLE films. Go ahead if you like: spell her with two m’s; spell her with a less canonical single m; try spelling her with a positively uncanonical pair of n’s; modify her, even, with black or any other color. I don’t care. You will not win my regard. What you do win though is the privilege of skipping these introductory paragraphs, or — even better — the foresight to avoid every film whose title bears the name Emmanuelle or any of its various variations. That is prize enough.
It began with a book. Dog-eared, broken-spined, pages smudged with strange and unpleasant fingerprints. The book was passed from hand to hand in Parisian back-alleys, left for the curious or the unwitting in Provincial outhouses. It was one of those word-of-mouth, had-to-know-somebody sort of things, the kind of thing that used to exist before the internet made it possible to know everything without knowing anybody. The book was authorless; the book was enigmatic. It enjoyed nearly a decade of clandestine fame before finally receiving a proper printing and a proper author in 1967. After that, the word was out . . .
Emmanuelle does the nasty.
Emmanuelle: The Book.
Emmanuelle Arsan’s (or was it her husband’s?) novel (or was it a memoir?) Emmanuelle (sometimes subtitled The Joys of a Woman) follows the eponymous protagonist from France to Bangkok where, like an erotic Hermann Hesse, she searches for meaning and truth in an Eastern Shangri-La of temples, opium dens, and squash courts; where she learns the intimate bodily topography of men, women, and rickshaw drivers; where she doesn’t do a single goddamn thing that has anything at all to do with cannibalism. (Dirty puns aside).
But don’t worry. We’re getting there.
Emmanuelle: The Movie.
So, in 1973/74 the book was turned into a softcore porno staring Sylvia Kristel and directed by photographer-turned-filmmaker Just Jaekin (note: the diphthong is pronounced like a long o). In terms of both ticket sales and cultural capital, EMMANUELLE THE MOVIE was an international success. Even Columbia Pictures jumped aboard the skinwagon, picking up the American distribution rights and creating an add campaign for EMMANUELLE that basically tried to rechristen the porno film as a sophisticated, highbrow experience offering viewers the potential to stimulate both ends of their bodies at the same time.
Despite copious amounts of sex and masturbation, and a little bit of sexual assault and unexpected cigarette inhalation, the film had absolutely nothing to do with cannibalism.
And Then . . . .
Ok. So. There is an old and robust cinematic tradition wherein successful films are, immediately upon success, emulated, reimagined, borrowed, or just plain ripped-off, shot with different, more ambitious actors and with different, more monosyllabic dialogue, and with a considerably shoestringier budget, all as a loving and nonconsensual gesture of gratitude towards the successful film’s original copyright holders. EMMANUELLE was in no way exempt from this tradition. In fact, she just might be one of the most homaged films in all of film history.
(It took nearly twenty years but they finally sent Emmanuelle into space. . . . And then they did it again. Seven more times.)
Among these many tributes is a film from 1975 called BLACK EMANUELLE. Emanuelle with one m. The Emanuelle of this Emmanuelle was played by actress Laura Gemser, who, though perhaps “exotic” to some, is in fact black to none. As if that’s not ruse enough, “Emanuelle” is actually the character’s nome de plume. Non-black Mae Jordon is a journalist who travels on assignment to strange shores and sundry lands, publishing accounts of her exploits under a penname that I’ve already typed so many damn times that I’m not going to type it again until at least the next paragraph — maybe not even then. Unsurprisingly these adventures keep to a sort of erotic itinerary. This time around she’s in Africa. This is justification of the word “black” before . . . that . . . name.
Though the film is set in Africa — and despite the fact that Africa is a land associated with tribalism and where accounts of cannibalism are at least imaginable if not actually groundable in anything other than lily white fear — despite all this, there is no cannibalism in BLACK WHATSHERNAME.
Seriously though, we’re getting close.
EMANUELLE AND THE LAST CANNIBALS
In 1976, Joe D’Amato made a sequel to BLACK EMANUELLE called EMANUELLE IN BANGKOK (though originally titled in Italian BLACK EMANUELLE: SOMETHING SOMETHING) which stared Laura Gemser of the original BLACK EMANUELLE. There was no cannibalism in this movie. But EMANUELLE IN BANGKOK was followed the next year by three films, all of which feature Gemser as the titular lady: EMANUELLE IN AMERICA, which had nothing to do with cannibals; EMANUELLE AROUND THE WORLD, which had nothing to do with cannibals; and finally EMANUELLE AND THE LAST CANNIBALS, which, believe it or not, did have something to do with cannibals.
You get this lesson in cinematic history in lieu of an actual movie review. If you want an actual movie review you can find them in copious and embarrassing supply here.
But before you click-off — or whatever it is that Emanuelle inspires you to do — consider the following piece of unbelievable and uncanny trivia. I swear I’m not making this up.
Umberto Lenzi, director of the first of all cannibals movies MAN FROM DEEP RIVER (the source, of course, for one of the two cinematic streams — the other being Emmanelle herself — that later would find their glorious confluence in EMANUELLE AND THE LAST CANNIBALS) says of the origin of that earlier film the following: “The idea [for MAN FROM DEEP RIVER] was suggested by Emmanuelle Arson [!!! WTF!!!], the famous author of Emmanuelle. She’d married a French diplomat and become a writer. But she herself was Thai, or maybe Burmese, I don’t remember. She knew about many, many tribal legends and other anthropological facts concerning that part of the world. I was attracted to the idea and started to prepare a story based on her suggestions.”
And so, as it turns out, the sewing machine is the long lost sibling of the umbrella.