Le ménage moderne du Madame Butterfly
|Le Ménage moderne Du Madame Butterfly|
|Directed by||Bernard Natan|
|Produced by||Bernard Natan|
|Written by||Bernard Natan|
|Starring||Bernard Natan, J. H. Forsell, two uncredited actresses and one uncredited actor|
|Edited by||Not known|
|Distributed by||Rapid Film|
Le Ménage moderne du Madame Butterfly is a bisexual, hardcore pornographic film from France. It is notable for being the earliest known adult film to incorporate bisexual and homosexual intercourse.
Bernard Natan was a Romanian Jew who is claimed to have produced, directed and acted in at least one hardcore heterosexual pornographic film prior to 1920. In that year, at the end of World War I, Natan emigrated to France. Between 1920 and 1927, a group of at least 20 porn films appeared, sometimes attributed to Natan due to their internal coherence (a prolific number of films, considering the period and technology). Several of these films included homosexual and bisexual oral and anal intercourse, and Natan himself was thought to have engaged in homosexual and bisexual sex on film. The first scholar to provide a detailed scholarly account of this film in English, Thomas Waugh, now questions the film’s attribution to Bernard Natan, and rejects his earlier conclusion that Natan played the part of Vinh Linh (Pinkerton's "coolie boy" manservant), based on on-screen evidence of the actor’s age and foreskin status.
Le Ménage moderne du Madame Butterfly is one of the earliest of the pornographic films controversially attributed to Natan, and the first of his works to depict homosexuality and bisexuality. Although the release date is uncertain, scholars believe the film was distributed as early as 1920.
The production values on the film are notably high, even for a mainstream feature film of the day. It includes "found footage" location shots of an Asian street full of rickshaws and a sailing ship on the Pacific Ocean. The costumes and sets are almost lavish. The film has a lengthy and complex plot, and includes intertitles.
"Lt. Pinkerton" (played by mainstream French actor J. H. Forsell) is a strapping American sailor on leave in Japan. He marries the young "Madame Butterfly" (an uncredited actress) and ravishes her while Butterfly's maid, "Soosooky" (another uncredited actress) watches and masturbates. Pinkerton then abandons Butterfly. A new character, "the coolie boy" (role originally attributed to Natan), spies on Butterfly and Soosooky as they engage in lesbian sex. He masturbates while watching them.
Pinkerton returns, and engages in oral and anal homosexual intercourse with the "coolie boy." Pinkerton then engages in oral, anal and vaginal sex with Soosooky. "Mr. Sharpless" (an uncredited actor) meets with Butterfly and performs various sex acts with her. Afterward, he tells Butterfly that Pinkerton has returned, but is married to an American woman. Pinkerton, Soosooky and the "coolie boy" enter. An angry Butterfly denounces Pinkerton, but cannot resist his charms. All five individuals have sexual intercourse. The "coolie boy" engages in receptive anal intercourse with Pinkerton and Sharpless while performing cunnilingus on the women. While having vaginal and anal sex with the women, the "coolie boy" also fellates Pinkerton and Sharpless.
There are two extant sets of intertitles. The French intertitles are generally witty and humorous, poking fun at racism and American arrogance while making a number of double entendres. The English intertitles are far more crude and racist in tone.
The first known pornographic film of any kind appears to have been made in 1908. Between 1908 and the advent of public theatrical screenings in the United States in 1970, about 2,000 hardcore pornographic films were made. (Roughly 500 of these were made prior to 1960.) The best estimate is that about 10 percent of all hardcore "stag films" made prior to 1970 contain some sort of homosexual activity. This ranges from an innocuous hand on a shoulder, thigh or hip to hardcore anal and oral sex (and much more). Nevertheless, nearly all the extant works depict homosexual sex in the context of a heterosexual hegemony. Most depict homosexual sex occurring during heterosexual intercourse (essentially making the sex act bisexual in nature).
Le Ménage moderne du Madame Butterfly is unusual in that it not only depicts homosexual sex acts, but that it does so very early in the history of pornographic film. However, like most of the films which came after it, Le Ménage moderne du Madame Butterfly shows Pinkerton's male-male sex acts as deviant, firmly establishing his heterosexuality. Pinkerton and the women are constructed as essentially bisexual (e.g., male-male sexual contact occurs while the men are also having heterosexual intercourse). Vinh Linh, however, is depicted as an enthusiastic bottom/voyeur homosexual.
The film has also been thought notable for being one of the first adult films to be produced or directed by Bernard Natan. Scholars have expressed surprise that a beginning filmmaker would produce a work which contained sex acts which might anger or offend its target audience (straight men), although the French clandestine film milieu was much more tolerant of sexual diversity and sodomy than its American equivalent. That Bernard would do so is a testament, film historians have said, to his willingness to take risks and his subtle understanding of the role homoeroticism and homosexuality play in French male sexual identity.
Natan's alleged willingness to not only produce, write, and direct but also star in a hardcore bisexual film is even more startling when one recognizes that, within nine years of the release of Le Ménage moderne du Madame Butterfly, Bernard Natan would be the owner of the largest mainstream film studio in France—Pathé.
- Although correct French grammar would spell the title Le ménage moderne de Madame Butterfly, the title is spelled with the preposition du. See the spelling in: Thomas Waugh, Hard To Imagine, Columbia University Press, 1996; Joseph Slade, "Bernard Natan: France's Legendary Pornographer," Journal of Film and Video, Summer-Fall 1993; and John R. Burger, One-Handed Histories: The Eroto-Politics of Gay Male Video Pornography, 1995. Another version of the title is Le Songe de Butterfly (Polissons et galipettes [The Good Old Naughty Days], directed by Cécile Babiole and Michel Reilhac, DVD box set, France, 2002).
- Burger, John R. One-Handed Histories: The Eroto-Politics of Gay Male Video Pornography. New York: Harrington Park Press, 1995. ISBN 1-56023-852-6
- Waugh, Thomas. Hard To Imagine. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996. ISBN 0-231-09998-3
- Slade, Joseph. "Bernard Natan: France's Legendary Pornographer." Journal of Film and Video. 45:2-3 (Summer-Fall 1993).
- Waugh, Thomas (1996). Hard to Imagine: Gay Male Eroticism in Photography and Film from Their Beginnings to Stonewall (Unpublished correction provided by author ed.). New York: Columbia University Press. p. 315.
- This character does not appear in two existing versions of the film
- Williams, Linda. Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the "Frenzy of the Visible." Expanded ed. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1999. ISBN 0-520-21943-0
- Abel, Richard. French Cinema: The First Wave 1915-1929. Paperback ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987. ISBN 0-691-00813-2
- Willems, Gilles. "Les origines de Pathé-Natan." In Une Histoire Économique du Cinéma Français (1895-1995), Regards Croisés Franco-Américains. Pierre-Jean Benghozi and Christian Delage, eds. Paris: Harmattan, Collection Champs Visuels, 1997. English translation available at http://www.latrobe.edu.au/screeningthepast/classics/rr1199/gwrr8b.htm.
- Willems, Gilles. "Les Origines du Groupe Pathé-Natan et le Modele Americain." Vingtième Siècle. 46 (April–June 1995).