We live in an oddly puritanical age. I don’t think anyone could have envisaged that the widespread availability of pornography via the internet would have such a strange effect. It’s ubiquitous and in just about any fetish can be satisfied at the touch of a button. After a few decades of moral panic about our children’s’ impressionable young minds being corrupted, we appear to settled on Victorian morality.
Sexual attraction doesn’t magically start at whatever artificial age of consent a country has. There’s no state approved manual for sexuality, although I can guarantee some governments are busy scribbling. In 1906 an erotic novel, Josephine Mutzenbacher or The Story of a Viennese Whore, was published in Austria. These fictional memoirs, which focus on the now 50-year-old courtesan’s sexual awakenings as a child, eventually scandalised society and the book was banned for much of the century. Director Ruth Beckermann uses it as the centrepiece of an intriguing experimental film, Mutzenbacher.
Mutzenbacher is an interesting concept. One hundred men are called in to audition, reading extracts of the book, surprised the cameras are already rolling. They tend to be either really into the material or aghast at what they’re expected to read. Some take it a little too easily in their stride. It’s a strange treatise on repression and takes a good look down the rabbit hole, while Beckermann’s no-nonsense offscreen questioning makes them squirm. Mutzenbacher studies a modern taboo that is considered beyond discussion through a fascinating conceit. It’s likely to have a polarising effect on its audience.
Mutzenbacher screens at Visions du Réel.