A Short Peep at Nudes

EFG THEME. The Erotic is the subject of twenty silent films which constitute the earliest Austrian cinema. These shorts demonstrate how the moving images in many ways are superior to photography and literature when it comes to eroticism.

Film has documented and narrated since the first images of a train arriving at the station and the gardener getting hosed in Brothers Lumière’s pioneering work. The moving images can show the world, the human and the body to us. It can stir our curiosity and inform us while titillating our senses in various ways.

Danish film had barely run out of Greenland dogs and lions before Asta Nielsen performed her sensual gaucho dance, and Denmark’s greatest early export was the erotic melodrama Den hvide slavehandel / The White Slave Trade (August Blom 1910)
While Danish film hesitated for ten years before any clothes were removed, Austrian cinema was born naked. Twenty erotic shorts are the first preserved examples of Austrian cinema. These films are a significant part of Filmarchiv Austria’s contribution to the EFG portal.

From dance of veils to adultery

Schleiertanz / [Dance of the veils] (1906), Baden verboten / [No Bathing] (1906) and Jugendspiele / [Youthful Play] (1906) are typical titles from Austrian production company Saturn. Behind these titles hides a touching innocence no matter whether the films depicts three maids being arrested for ignoring a sign saying “No Bathing” or the three graces coming to life in a sculptor’s dream.

In 1906 these shorts have no doubt been considered pornographic, but the nudity has its own innocence carrying a stronger eroticism than the ubiquitous exposure of skin in today’s media.

The natural nakedness

The Saturn shorts represents a delightful counterpart to contemporary Austrian film which in films like La Pianiste / The Pianist (Michael Haneke 2001) and Hundstage / Dog Days (Ulrich Seidl 2001) shows a forced sexuality, a lust without pleasure or emotional satisfaction.

In the Saturn collection nudity is natural and pleasurable, even if it transgresses the boundaries set by authorities and convention. These twenty shorts form an understanding of the Austrian culture at the beginning of the 20th Century, at the same time fascinated and repulsed by sex and the sexual.

Combined with Arthur Schnitzlers liberal theatrical dramas these nudies offer the necessary correction to Gustav Klimts fatally seductive women and Egon Schieles paintings of a racked sexuality thorn between lust and disgust.

The twenty playful erotic shorts from Saturn remind us of the liberating force of nudity.