|Benny Hansen (left) and Ole Søltof (right) in I Jomfruens Tegn|
|Yes, the same company which produced Dreyer's|
Day of Wrath (1944) and Gertrud (1962)
|In 1971, American distributor Sherpix wisely assumed that the men who comprised the adult film audience did not know what a mazurka was.|
|Max (Ole Søltof) withers under the sexual attention of Line (Birt Tove) in Beside Mazurka|
Bordello follows the quintessential Scandinavian erotic movie premise of a young woman from the provinces who comes to the big city and moves from innocence to experience, in this case Ingrid (Lonny Federsen), who journeys to Copenhagen at the turn of the last century and joins the staff of an upscale brothel.
|Ingrid's job interview|
After the success of Bordello, which had combined elements of farce and burlesque, the pin-up, and the hardcore loop into a winning commercial feature film, Sander planned a follow-up for Con Amore which would humbly claim on its one-sheet poster to be “the biggest, boldest, most exciting Danish comedy” (“det største, fraekkeste, mest forrygende Danske lystspil” and which would inaugurate an ambitious hardcore series to rival Palladium’s spectacularly successful softcore Bedside Films.
The series’ inaugural feature, I Jomfruens Tegn, was about the approach of the planet Venus toward the earth threatening widespread sexual anarchy and the subsequent efforts of both a school for girls and the bordello next door to weather the (largely man-made) bacchanal which follows in the planet’s wake. Mr. Armand (Ole Søltof) a member of the school's Danish board of directors, travels to the Swiss village of Petit Bois where the school is located carrying a suitcase containing a powder which diminishes the sex drive. Meanwhile, local chemist Professor Bomwitz arrives on the same day bearing an identical suitcase containing a jar of a powerful aphrodisiac. In a classic farcical plot device, the two suitcases are exchanged, and Armand dumps the entire jar of aphrodisiac powder into the city reservoir.
|Miss Astra (Sigrid Home Rasmussen)|
|Gine, the Madame (Lone Helmer)|
The film's central male sexual performer is Bent Warburg in the role of Professor Bomwitz. Warburg was an ambitious and gifted comic actor in his own right and half of Denmark’s porno power couple along with his wife Anne-Bie, who also appears in the film as Geminette, one of the school girls. The other male sexual performers are Bent Rohweder and Keid Holm from Bordello and another few more-or-less anonymous players. The female sexual performers are only identified in the film’s credits by their first names and would, with variations, appear in each subsequent film in the series.
|Professor Bomwitz (Bent Warburg)|
|Geminette (Anne-Bi Warburg)|
|Credited names of the film's female sexual performers|
|Bullied newcomer Minet (Eva Lindberg), the most psychologically shaded of the school girls|
the school girls in I Jomfruens Tegn share a key which links the subterranean detention dungeon with an alleyway connected to the brothel, where students such as the insatiable Tauretta (Leni Andersen) escape their imprisonment for sexual improprieties to fully indulge their appetites with the patrons of the establishment next door.
|Tauretta escapes the school's detention dungeon to have sex at the brothel.|
Bedside Dentist (1971): Michael (Søren Strømberg) drags Max out on a double date,
|and to his horror, Max discovers that Michael has booked them as male talent at a live sex show. Max is forcibly stripped by the female performer at screen left.|
I Jomfruens Tegn reprises many of Søltof’s signature comic bits from Soya’s 17 and the Bedside series: He chokes on the liquor offered him by the brothel manager, replays the cluelessness of his visit to the sex shop in Bedroom Mazurka when he encounters a hand-cranked vibrator, flipping it over several times before he is able to turn the crank and tickle himself on the chin with its rubber pad, and, in a scene repurposed from virtually every Bedside film, finds himself aggressively pursued by a sexually voracious woman, in this case a nude employee of the brothel who he has watched masturbate through an open doorway (his surprised, delighted and wonderstruck facial expressions here are one the comic highlights of the film), but unlike in the earlier films, he finds himself on the verge of giving in to her entreaties.
Suddenly, Gine appears at the top of the stairs, grabs him by his tie, and pushes him into an adjacent room where she intends to initiate him into the world of sexual experience. When he tells her that behaving in this way violates the wishes of the board of directors, she angrily replies that hers is an independent business with no board of directors and ejects the aroused and confused Armand from the establishment.
Also, there are times in which a form of stylized erotic display halts the narrative outright, as had some of the burlesque-derived interludes in Bordello. The most spectacular instance of this in I Jomfruens Tegn occurs when Professor Bomwitz, in another incidence of what literary historian Albert Bermel calls the “incapacitated victims” of the farce, is frustrated by the effects of Armand’s drive-killing potion and experiences a surreal dream in which women’s bodies form a desert-like landscape and he floats in mid-air surrounded by double-exposed dancing nude women whose bodies are painted green and blue as a synthesizer-driven arrangement of Ravel’s “Bolero” plays on the soundtrack. These moments of performative female display would become more elaborate in the dance musical production numbers in later films in the Tegn series.
Miss Astra, a character without whom the farce as a mode or genre could never exist, is the next in a long line of characters which which stretch back through Inspector Sørensen in Bordello, Mr. Bosted in Bedroom Mazurka, Malvolio in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and all the way to figures in the commedia dell’arte, the Roman New Comedy plays of Plautus and Terence, and, ultimately, Aristophenes. But her school and the brothel next door are parallel oppressive structures which cannot contain the collective erotic energy of the revelers, so the group flees the bordello and heads to the reservoir. Here, the modern Danish erotic protagonist Armand is thrown, still resisting, into the water by the insatiable students and becomes lost in the blissful amniotic realm of communal pleasure and the dissolution of ego while a sprightly choral version of Burt Bacharach's "What the World Needs Now is Love" plays on the soundtrack.*
In June 1973, one month before I Jomfruens Tegn was released by Palladium in Denmark to spectacular business, the U.S. Supreme Court issued the Miller v. California decision, which defined “community standards” in obscenity law as local rather than national, and Federal obscenity prosecutors began “venue shopping” to try obscenity cases in conservative communities in the American south and Midwest. The orderly national release of an adult film was now threatened by the possibility of prosecution in local venues irrespective of the result of the film’s obscenity prosecution elsewhere.
|By late 1973, both local and Federal prosecutors were busting films such as The Devil in Miss Jones undeterred by its clearance as protected speech in other jurisdictions|
This was one of many factors that led to a major shift in adult film distribution by the middle of the decade in which control of the most profitable sectors of the industry was increasingly consolidated into a smaller number of larger firms releasing a smaller number of 35mm features with higher budgets and production values (i.e., greater possible “serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value”) in larger print runs.
One company hoping to make this transition from supplying desperate American porn theaters with program pictures to releasing upscale features in both hard and soft versions was Mature Pictures Corporation. Before moving into the hardcore market in the early 1970s, the company, as Sam Lake Enterprises, had distributed low-end softcore sexploitation product such as Francis Ford Coppola’s Tonight for Sure (1962), the Yoko Ono-starring “roughie” Satan’s Bed, and Doris Wishman’s Bad Girls Go to Hell (1965) to theaters adopting an adults-only policy during the product shortage of the American film industry’s severe 1960s recession, eventually financing such modest productions themselves just as the market became glutted in 1967-69.
Company head Lake had also been a member of the partnership which owned New York’s World Theater on 49th Street during its transition from an art house showcasing films of Italian neorealism, Ingmar Bergman, and the French New Wave to Gotham’s flagship adults-only theater. In fact, it was Deep Throat's record-breaking 1972 run at the World which inflamed the ire of East Coast obscenity prosecutors and ultimately ensured the movie's succès de scandale.
|Roberto Rossellini's Open City was the sensation of 1946 during its premiere run at the World|
|In 1972, the World was in headlines again for its record-breaking and legally prosecuted premiere run of Deep Throat|
Two years before this, Sam Lake Enterprises had entered the hardcore production and distribution market and changed the company name to Mature Pictures, with Lake and president Robert Sumner financing low-budget features such as Sex Rituals of the Occult (1970), the New York-shot Sexual Customs in Scandinavia, and The Morning After (both 1972).
|The humorous and inventive High Rise (1973, dir. Danny Steinmann)|
After failing to enter the upper tier of the industry with their ambitious in-house production High Rise in 1973, Sumner acquired the American rights to I Jomfruens Tegn, devised the catchy but unimaginative English title Danish Pastries, produced an English language dialog track directed with some flair by Richard D’Antoni, and even secured a license to include the Burt Bacharach song on the movie’s soundtrack.
The movie premiered in March of 1975 at the World, and Mature Pictures pulled out all of the stops to present it as an upscale release for a crossover audience of women and couples. “See it with someone you’d like to love,” purred the ads, since in America, the only “whole family” suitable for adult films was, after all, a heterosexual couple. The poster featured critical raves, the sine qua non of the crossover porn release, and featured Al Goldstein praising “eleven of the most beautiful women I’ve seen in a sex film,” even as both the crossover and raincoat crowds are addressed in a blurb heralding its content of “sex, sex, and more sex.” The movie was a huge hit for Mature Pictures and was constantly in re-release well into the early 1980s after the company's catalog was absorbed into sometime-partner Distribpix. The film’s hybrid status as both pornographic feature and general release motion picture, so crucial to its success for Palladium at home, served a similar function for Mature Pictures in their efforts to upscale their release schedule: After the successful release of Danish Pastries, Maturepix initiated several in-house productions that could serve as both first-run releases in the hardcore market and, with re-edits and a soundtrack remix, do double duty as softcore drive-in fare, such as Expose Me Lovely (1976) and Take Off (1978).
* In the longer version of this essay, I discuss the film's deeply ambiguous ending in light of its brief epilog in the courtyard of the girls' school.
The Zodiac films were released under their "In the Sign of . . ." titles by Smirk on region-free NTSC DVD with English subtitles in 2009 as part of their "Classic Danish Erotica" series and can be ordered online or viewed streaming through TLA Video. Distribpix/Video-X-Pix still carries the Sumner/DiAntoni English-dubbed Danish Pastries. Here are links to these resources and other important information on the Zodiac films, farce as a comic mode, and Danish erotic cinema.