Monday, April 11, 2011

Milovan and Serena from Hammer Films' Vampire Circus

Milovan and Serena from Men Only Volume 36 number 5

We mentioned over on The Adventures of Triple P that we had just watched the Hammer Horror film Vampire Circus (1972)  for the first time.  Triple P recalled a pictorial from a mens' magazine on two of the minor performers in the film and after a short search we found it today.

The magazine in question was Men Only from May 1971, a few months after Paul Raymond had taken over the venerable publication and relaunched it to challenge Mayfair and Penthouse in the UK.  The magazine also contained a pictorial on former Penthouse Pet (May 1967) Julie Ege who would, herself, go on to star in a Hammer horror film, the curious Vampire/Kung Fu hybrid The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires (1974).

Very 1971

Milovan and Serena were performers at the Raymond Revuebar in Soho that year.  "The act of this beautifully proportioned couple, a savage yet poetic parody of the man-woman love game climaxes the 1971 show."

The pictorial, photographed by former Penthouse photographic director Philip O Stearns, split its attention between pictures of Serena and (the vast majority) of the couple together.

Squeeze them Serena, squeeze them!

Stearns' pictures are very Penthouse like with Serena being shown fondling her breast in several shots.  And well worth fondling they are, as Serena has particulary nice nipples!

There's even a mirror shot, another Penthouse staple.

The moody lighting is very Penthouse  as well but then Stearns did a lot to set that magazine's house style.

What was less Penthouse is this shot of Serena with her fingers inside her see-through knickers.  It would be another two months before Penthouse had one of their girls delve into her knickers like this and, even then, it wouldn't be anything like as sensuous a shot as this one.

The rest of the pictures in the pictorial are of both Serena and Milovan.  We don't learn much about them in the accompanying text, however.

There is no clue as to their nationality, other than Milovan's Balkan name.  It does say that they met when they were both working at the Folies Bergere in Paris.

Milovan had another dance partner at this point but it wasn't long before they became a couple on and off the stage.  "The fact that we love each other obviously adds to the conviction of our erotic movements on stage." says  Milovan in the text.

The rest of the piece talks about their experiences in looking at other couples acts around the world including what they found to be a rather distasteful experience of an act in Denmark where the performers actually had sex on stage.

Not that it was the sex on stage that offended them but the fact that the performers were just going through the motions.  Serena seemed keen to actually try sex on stage as part of their act.  "It has never been done in this country but the time is rapidly approaching when it will.  Quite frankly, I think it could be a beautiful thing, as well as exciting, provided it is performed with taste and by people who are in love.  Neither Milovan nor I would have any objection to making love properly on stage, as long as the presentation was left to us so we could make sure it was done with artistry..."

Sadly, swinging London never got swinging enough that this particular ambition was fulfilled as I'm sure the two of them would have ben a great attraction.  In fact, things rather went the other way at the Raymond Revue Bar as in the mid-seventies male performers danced as naked as the women but later they decided to put the men in g-strings.

The article finishes by noting that the two had just signed a contract to appear in Hammer Film's The Vampire Circus.  In fact the sequence involving Milovan and Serena's dance was filmed in early September 1971 at Pinewood Studios and the film premiered  on 20th April 1972.

Poor Milovan gets kicked off the centrefold leaving Serena to pose gloriously solo.   Serena made two more films:  the big-screen version of the hit situation comedy, The Lovers (1973) starring Kate Beckinsale's father, Richard, where she played a stripper.  Three years later she appeared as another stripper in a French film starring Jean-Paul Belmondo, Le corps de mon Ennemi (1976).  Milovan has no other credits. Maybe Serena went back to the Folies Bergere?

Milovan and Serena had already appeared in a Club International feature on the Raymond Revuebar in 1971.  The description of their act sounds very much like the sequence in Vampire Circus so perhaps one of the producers had seen it.

At the time Hammer made Vampire Circus they were struggling financially so the film was made on a tight (even by Hammer's standards) budget.  Several of the sets, for example were left over from the earlier (and superior) Twins of Evil (1971) (which is on our to watch list for the next week or so).

The plot of Vampire Circus is too involved to go into but basically opens with a vampire count being staked by the villagers whose children he has been taking for snacks.  He curses them and tells his girlfriend (with whom he has just had a pretty racy for the time love scene) to fetch his cousin who will know how to bring him back to life.  The rest of the film is set fifteen years later (obviously his cousin was somewhat elusive) when the viallge is under quarantine because of fears of the plague.  Into town comes the world's smallest circus (the small budget is apparent in all the circus scenes) and we catch our first sight of Milovan and Serena riding one of the circus wagons.

When we next see Milovan and Serena they are part of the performance the circus put on for the villagers.  Serena is painted up like a tiger (although we haven't seen that many turquoise tigers) and Milovan is a turquoise tiger tamer.

They start their routine by Serena attacking Milovan in a display of bestial aggression that cahracterises the whole performance.  The villagers quite happily sit through this routine that involves a naked Serena without blinking. 

Well she is not quite naked she does wear a very small cache sex although in one shot even that seems to have disappeared.  This whole sequence was completely cut from the US version.

The British censor had his own concerns about this scene but they were concerned with the amount that Milovan uses his whip on Serena rather than the nudity.  The UK censors have always been more concerned with violence rather than sex and nudity.  Parts of the dance were cut for the UK, therefore.

Gradually, Milovan tames Serena and their writhing about becomes more passionate and less aggressive.  It is really quite a successful erotic dance display.

The amount of nudity that Hammer could get into its films increased from 1970 due to a reclassification of film certificates in the UK which pushed the highest rating from 16 years old and over to 18 years old and over.  They certainly took advantage of it in their later vampire films.

In the final sequence of their dance Milovan uses his whip to pull Serena towards him.

Interestingly, it is Serena who instigates the one kiss in the sequence and she looks more like she wants to eat Milovan than kiss him!

Climactically, in every sense, Milovan wraps his whip around Serena's neck and chokes her as her toned thighs vibrate orgasmically.  This scene also attracted the opprobrium of the censor as well but they left it in, nonetheless.

All in all a sexy sequence in an enjoyable but somewhat uneven film.  Part of the problem with Vampire Circus, and it has much to recommend it, was that Hammer had a strict six week filming schedule and the director Robert Young (who hadn't directed a Hammer film before) hadn't quite finished shooting at the end of that period.  There was no question of any extra filming, given their financial position, so the studio just pulled the plug and they had to edit together the film from what had been shot at that point.

But we do appreciate the Milovan and Serena sequence, which added something different to an interesting film.  If you live in the US or Canada you can get the film on a recently re-mastered blu ray with lots of extras.

In March 1974 Men Only ran one of its regular pictorials featuring the performers from The Festival of Erotica show at the Raymond Revuebar in London.

Milovan and Serena were featured once more, alongside all the other acts seen during the show.

This time they were described as originating from France but whether that means they were French or just based there was not made clear.  Many of the other acts seemed to be French.

It's not clear whether Milovan had to wear this g-string during his performances or whether it was just for the magazine's photographer.  Certainly by 1976 the male perfromers were as naked as the female, as the equivalent pictorial from 1976 shows.

Serena has some serious muscle in her thighs!  Splendid!

Milovan and Serena appeared in another couple of pictures in the 1975 Festival of Erotica review in Men Only in 1975.  They really do look like a most athletic couple!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Still Life by Gil Elvgren

Still Life by Gil Elvgren

Triple P was chatting to B in Germany on Skype earlier this evening. What a wonderful invention that is, in that it enables us to see her showing off her latest lingerie purchases.  Even in stop/start, slightly green blur-o-vision it can be quite an enticing experience.

Anyway, B, recalling our recent visit to Turkey, suggested that we might put some harem-themed pictures on this blog.  Not that we are short of themes but the more we thought about it the more we thought it was a splendid idea. The allure of the harem has held a fascination for Western artists for hundreds of years and their sometimes fevered imaginations have conjured up a whole host of exotic and erotic images based on a very loose idea of the reality of these places.  Mostly their minds register a few key facts:  single dominant male, multiple women sequesterd from the eyes of other men, therefore no need to overly protect their modesty with clothes, women as sexual playthings who need to channel this sexuality when not with the dominant male etc.  Add to this exotic architecture, textiles, furniture and clothing and it is an artist's dream come true!

Enchanting (c.1953)

So to start us off we have a painting by pin-up artist supreme Gil Elvgren.  This painting was sometimes known under the title Harem although it is, really, nothing of the kind. It's actual title is Still Life (Mr Elvgren evidently had a sense of humour) and is a very atypical painting.  Although Elvgren painted nudes reasonably regularly they are not that large a part of his finished works.  The contract he had with the Brown & Bigelow calendar company allowed for a maximum of one nude a year (out of twenty four he was required to paint).  They had to meet contemporary standards of taste, of course, which meant no pubic hair. 

Reclining Oriental Nude in Studio (1947)

Elvgren did occasionally paint some very fine nudes for his own amusement, of course, and one of these, Reclining Oriental Nude in Studio, he hung in his studio but there are very few of them.

Still Life, however, with it's graphic full frontal nudity, looks like an illustration rather than one of his fine art works.  It isn't really a harem painting either but belongs to the white slave captured by Arab tribesmen in the desert sub-genre.  This is an equally powerful Middle Eastern scenario of a sheikh and his captured western woman.  In fact the sheikh doesn't look that Arabic and his harem girls are more Madison Avenue than Moroccan.  The girl holding our naturally red-headed beauty is obviously, along with the inevitable Nubian guard, proclaiming the worth of their captive.  The sheik's favourite, however, is looking at her in a "what do you want her for when you've got me?" sort of way.  The sheihk seems delighted, however, with his pale-skinned prize, and can't take his eyes off that beautifully rendered ginger bush.  The flame-haired woman, who has obviously been just unveiled with some flourish, can't bear to look as she contemplates a fate worse than death.  At least she has managed to hold on to her high-heeled shoes!

There are some wonderful touches in this painting: from the beautifully done still life itself to the sense of heat and light outside conveyed just by two perfectly chosen colours representing the sky and sand, visible through the tent flap.  But the focus is our captive beauty who, unlike the other figures, is carefully and tightly rendered, ensuring that her brightly lit body still manages to dominate a painting packed with blocks of strong colour.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Pearls for Kisses by Fred Appleyard

Pearls for Kisses

We have featured a number of sirens and mermaids on our Venus Observations blog, as the subject was very popular with Victorian artists.  In particular, the evil siren who lures men to their doom chimed well with a world where women, descendents of Eve, were seen as potentially evil manipulators of men who used sex to tempt men to disaster.  We will feature some more of these predatory sirens shortly.

Fred Appleyard takes a rather different tack in that here he shows us a mermaid with a merman rather than the more usual mermaid with a human.  Nevertheless, the implication is that the mermaid is leading the merman on, promising sexual pleasure in exchange for jewellery.  Actually, I suppose that pearls aren't technically jewellery but then neither is a gold chain.

We will refrain from commenting on the nature of such transactions between men and women throughout history, but will note that S 's interpretation of the painting (and she drew it to my attention) was that perhaps the mermaid owned the pearls and was promising the merman kisses in exchange for them.  What he would do with a string of pearls is obscure under this interpretation.  Probably go off and buy some fishy fun from another mermaid with them.

It is logical that in a universe that supports mermaids then there must be mermen but these are little mentioned in legend so this is a comparatively unusual depiction of one.  The question remains as to how they make merbabies and, indeed, what level of sexual enjoyment they can achieve together.  In some stories when mermaids come onto land they lose their tails and grow legs (and, presumably, everything else) so this would solve the problem neatly.  S's interpretation is that they wrap their tails around each other and rub their slimy scales together (mer-tribadism) until fishy sperm flows out into the sea from a slit in the merman's groin and is sucked in by a corresponding slit in the mermaid's, eventually producing fishy eggs.  The fact that these slits are never shown in paintings is down to Victorian prudery, she opines.

This is an unusual painting for Appleyard, who is best known for his landscapes, which often include families and, particularly children.  He was born in Middlesborough in 1874 and studied at the Scarborough School of Art.  he then moved to London and enrolled at the National Art Training School (now the Royal College of Art) before entering the Royal Academy Schools in 1897.  He won the Turner Gold medal and several other prizes and exhibited his own delicate brand of English Impressionism widely.

Fred Appleyard

He was a well known painter of murals and one of his paintings,  Spring Driving out Winter (1903), decorates the area over the door in the now very trendy Royal Academy restaurant.  In 1934 the Royal Academy wrote to Appleyard and asked if they could paint over his mural as it was rather dark.  No doubt this is why he didn't submit anything to the RA ever again!  The mural survived, however.

After the First World War he moved from London to the pretty village of Itchen Stoke in Hampshire, turning away from fame and fortune to paint for himself, despite it putting him in financial difficulties.  In fact, he had to sell his Turner Gold Medal in order to pay his electricity bill. He died in 1963 at the age of 88.