Sunday, November 28, 2010

WINTER OF DISCONTENT: Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS

Silly me, there I was expecting ‘Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS’ to be a crude piece of T&A Nazisploitation. And it turned out to be so much more. More than I could possibly have anticipated.

‘Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS’ is no less than an historically accurate and profoundly important sociological document. It’s true. It says so right at the start:

Just in case the resolution’s a bit shoddy, I’ll present those words with the gravity and integrity so obviously intended by the film’s producer, Herman Traeger:

The film you are about to see is based on documented fact. The atrocities shown were conducted as “medical experiments” in special concentration camps throughout Hitler’s Third Reich. Although these crimes against humanity are historically accurate, the characters depicted are composites of notorious Nazi personalities; and the events portrayed, have been condensed into one locality for dramatic purposes. Because of its shocking subject matter, this film is restricted to adult audiences only. We dedicate this film with the hope that these heinous crimes will never occur again.*

Thus it was that I was forced to re-evaluate my perceptions/expectations. Accordingly, I overlooked the bad grammar and that superfluous comma floating around in the third sentence and settled down to watch Don Edmonds’s searing exposé of the Third Reich’s inhumane programme of incarceration and medical research with an open mind. And thus is was I learned what they never taught me in school. What I’ve never encountered in, say, Alan Bullock’s ‘Hitler: A Study in Tyranny’ or Laurence Rees’s ‘Auschwitz: the Nazis and the Final Solution’.

Not just an important sociological document, this movie. It was downright freakin’ educational.

I learned that it was possible for a woman to be commandant of a concentration camp. I learned that standard issue SS uniforms were specially tailored for female officers …

… as were prison camp uniforms:

I learned that punishment by flogging necessitated the female guards tasked with carrying out the sentence going topless. A more perceptive interconnection between violence and eroticism I have yet to encounter in the filmic arts.

I learned that medical experimentation in the camps was driven by the thesis that “a carefully trained woman can withstand pain better than any man”. This put a fascinating spin on the repetitive scenes of big-breasted woman in SS uniforms torturing big-breasted women in prison uniforms. These weren’t simply exemplars of pre-torture-porn torture porn with a quasi-Sapphic overtone. No, siree. These scenes were freakin’ feminist.

I was fascinated by the “notorious Nazi personality” that was Ilsa (Dyanne Thorne), and her predilection – obviously a “documented fact” – for pressganging the male prisoners into providing sexual services. I felt there was perhaps a correlation between Ilsa’s obsession with proving her scientific thesis and the fact that so few men were able to satisfy her rampant libido. I found a probing psychological insight in the scenes where Ilsa punishes her lovers for their shortcomings by castrating them. This was obviously a highly sensitive distillation of a complex web of interrelationships perhaps most fully underpinned, in the final analysis, by the conflict between personal satisfaction and duty to the Reich.

I was amazed that in a true story, Ilsa’s lover/nemesis Wolf (Gregory Knoph) should be a German-born American, the conflicting nature of whose cultural heritage so explicitly mirrors Ilsa’s dichotomous personality. And the revelation as to Wolf’s remarkable ability, a trait that allows him gradually to reverse the master/slave relationship between them … whew, powerful stuff! And kudos to the writer for the subtlety of Wolf’s expository dialogue, which allows the full implications to diffuse slowly into the viewer’s subconscious rather than banging the audience over the head with them:

“When I reached puberty, I discovered something about myself that set me apart from the rest of the guys. Something that made me unique, I guess. One of a kind … I discovered that I can hold back as long as I want. I still can. All night if necessary. I guess that makes me a freak of nature. A sort of human machine. A machine that can set its controls to ‘fast’, ‘slow’ or ‘never’. And you know something? That ‘never’ control just about drove her up the wall.”

The rhythm and cadences of that monologue! The sparsity and brutal effectiveness of that man/machine metaphor! This could have been an early work by Mamet.

Yes, folks, there’s no doubt about it: ‘Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS’ is a classic of the wartime genre, worthy of comparison with ‘All Quiet on Breast Fun Front’, ‘We Muff-Dive at Dawn’, ‘A Minge Too Far’ and ‘Shagging Private Ryan’.

*I have been unable to substantiate a rumour that the first draft of this testament, prior to being edited by the publicity department, read as thus: “The film you are about to see is a complete load of bollocks. The atrocities shown were filmed on the cheap in the hope of making a quick buck. Although these crimes against humanity are the product of the filmmakers’ twisted imaginations, we’d like to fob you off with the suggestion that there’s some kind of historical basis to this slice of baloney. Because of its aesthetic of wall-to-wall tits and gratuitous scenes of torture, this film is restricted to adult audiences only. We dedicate this film with the hope that it makes fuckloads of money.”


Bryce Wilson said...

Thanks to this review Neil something good has come out of Ilsa She Wolf Of The SS.

I've always had a special dislike for this movie. I was hanging out a friends after a party, and we'd both made a few trips to Bongslyvania, so I was feeling pretty mellow. So turned on "an Exploitation movie" without telling me what it was. While I went to go make a sammich.

I come out just in time to watch Ilsa ripping the toenails out of some poor woman which did not go with my peaceful easy feeling. And actually shocked me sober.

Upset a man's morals, and he'll hold it against you for awhile. Ruin a man's buzz, he'll hold it against you for life.

Neil Fulwood said...

Ouch! Short of being nicely high and somebody putting 'A Serbian Film' on, I can't think of a nastier way of having your buzz flatlined.