Giving into a little teenage nostalgia, we profiled cult figure of night time television Emmanuelle for our Skin edition. Here, you’ll find a selection of some of our favourite Emmanuelle moments, as balmy as they are classic. The original article we published can be found at the end of the post.
Additional research by Timothy Palma
Emmanuelle, style icon:
Utterly cringe-inducing dance scene (we’ve all been there):
Oh! It’s warm is here!
Who doesn’t have a recumbent bike in their office?
And here is the piece we ran with in our March-April 2010 edition:
An icon of liberated sexuality for over half a century, Emmanuelle has been the subject of the most successful series of skin flicks ever made. Her name became a by-word for blue movies and her imitators travelled the earth and beyond, from the Italian sexploitation gorefest Emanuelle and the last Cannibals to the Emmanuelle in Space series. She has inspired fashion collections, chair designs and satire aplenty, but beyond the free love and exotic locales, who is the real Emmanuelle?
Writer Hettie Judah, Illustration Steve Jakobs
“Emmanuelle aime les caresses manuelle et buccales…Emmanuelle aime les intellectuels et les manuels…” Serge Gainsbourg, theme to Goodbye Emmanuelle
First released in a clandestine pressing in 1959, Emmanuelle carried neither the name of its author nor its publisher, it was just Emmanuelle a novel centring on a bored clique of expats wiling away their life in Thailand on a diet of sports, saphism, intrigue and passion-dampening erotic philosophy. The eponymous heroine is a nineteen-year old with a genius for sex (and a time-consuming masturbation habit) who is inducted in the ways of the new eroticism – a doctrine of free love that abhors the banal and routine.
The Parisian publisher Eric Losfeld purportedly received the manuscript in a hefty parcel with a Bangkok postmark. He split it into two separate books – Emmanuelle and L’Anti-Vierge –but despite receiving considerable attention in the alternative press, restrictive obscenity laws kept both books underground until 1968.
In its official version, Emmanuelle appears as the work of Emmanuelle Arsan, purportedly the nomme de plume of Marayat Rollet-Andriane, the Thai-born wife of a French diplomat. Marayat kept details of her identity deliberately vague, saying that everything that needed to be known about her was to be found in her writing. What biographical information there is gives her date of birth as 1940, which would have made her 17 in 1957, when the manuscript arrived from Bangkok. There has since been considerable speculation that the Emmanuelle Arsan writings were largely the work of her husband Louis Jacques Rollet-Andriane. Certainly the long conversations on moral sexuality at the heart of the book read more like the rationalising of a free-living middle-aged diplomat than his teen bride.
Never the less, Marayat associated herself fiercely with the character of Emmanuelle: a slight, full-breasted figure with waist-length black hair and precocious physical allure. As the first Emmanuelle movie went into production, Sylvia Kristel recalls ‘Emmanuelle Arsan’ as being so horrified with the director’s choice of casting that she refused to meet her; “She is the heroine of her own book,” recalled Kristel. “It’s her story. She is Eurasian, dark-haired, short, an emancipated woman before her time. I am tall, pale, docile, with strict morals, shaped by my religious education. She comments that Emmanuelle would never have brought her partner to the set. She would have devoured the crew and the natives with contagious nymphomania.”
In the end, of course, it is the lean, fair Utrecht-born Kristel who won Emmanuelle. The strong-willed beauty queen – who became the lover of Belgian intellectual Hugo Claus when he was 45 and she 22 – was condemned to spend her life identified with this single character, to which she had not even been allowed to give a voice. Her relationship with Claus pre-dated the Emmanuelle films (although he encouraged her participation in them) – and it seems significant that it was perhaps the only ‘pure’ relationship that she had with a lover. The intoxicating character of Emmanuelle dominated all the rest. “Men have loved my body,” she wrote recently. “I have been their fantasy, but I’ve seen few hearts. My fans were faceless, and I didn’t belong to myself….I wanted to be big when I was nothing but a child. I wanted to be looked at and that’s all that ever happened.”
Through a life scarred by alcoholism, cocaine addiction, exploitation and bad relationships, Kristel time and again found herself wooed by men unable to separate her from her most famous role. Even in her 50s, recovering from major surgery, she was treated like public property, a walking emblem of liberal sexuality submitted to intimate questions about orgasm on French TV shows.
It has become a cliché to describe the original 1974 Emmanuelle movie as tame by modern standards – what is much more striking, in fact, is its coupling of force to female enjoyment. While the women happily toy with one another and masturbate openly, most of the penetrative sex seems to be initiated in circumstances little short of rape. Watching the film you can see a vista of ‘when a woman says ‘no’ she means ‘maybe’’ thinking and date rape rolling out in its wake. Emmanuelle may end the movie as a sexually liberated woman, but she attains this status via enforced pain and humiliation. Matters are not helped by the fact that Kristel so rarely looks as though she’s having a good time – her faked orgasms have an edge of disgust to them, and certainly in the later films, she has an absent demeanour assisted by her hearty uptake of coke and champagne.
The free-loving ethos is shattered in the third movie by marital jealousy – the new erotic philosophy that provides the series with its raison d’etre is implicitly discarded and normal service resumed. But while the sexuality of the film is very much of its time, the book is genuinely transgressive, with a lingering fascination with childhood sexuality that leads to some unforgettable pronouncements – “The erotic woman is the one who, at snack time, calls her son and tells him to make a sperm sandwich for his little sister.”
While the books are almost an exercise in sexual philosophy strung out between physical diversions, the films communicate this new libertinism via the lush exoticism of their locations (Thailand, Hong Kong, the Seychelles) and artful mise en scène. Both the first two films were made by fashion photographers, the first by the Dutch-born Just Jaekin, the second by Francis Giacobetti, whose softcore aesthetic was honed on the Pirelli Calendars, and who was also responsible for the iconic publicity stills from the first movie. With wardrobes raided from Balenciaga and beyond, it’s not surprising that the style of the films has had a particular influence all of its own. Everything from Sylvia Kristel’s haircut, to the heavy kohl eye makeup to the rattan furnishing to the peek-a-boo eveningwear became a cultural reference. The Emmanuelle style has influenced fashion collections (notably from Veronique Branquinho) and is still visible on women of a certain age. Unlike Sylvia Kristel, of course, the generation of copycat Emmanuelles really did choose to align themselves with an image of sexual hedonism and availability – and thus perhaps most deserve the title of the real Emmanuelle.