SCANDAL

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ORGASMS AT THE FILM FESTIVAL
The first serious scandal at the Biennale—and it did the Venice Film Festival no harm—was the furore following the screening in 1933 of the Czech director Gustav Machatý’s film Ekstase, ‘Ecstasy’. The film starred Hedy Lamarr, then known as Hedy Kiesler, a newcomer to the profession and an attractive ingénue, yet to blossom into the feisty vamp of the 1940s. She starred in Ekstase as Eva Hermann, a simmering young beauty who marries a pleasant but irretrievably desiccated older man. On their wedding night, minutely and embarrassingly observed by Machatý, the groom fails to consummate the marriage. The disappointed Eva becomes increasingly frustrated, nowhere less so than on their honeymoon at a mountain resort, where she is tormented by the sight of hundreds of loving couples either urgently petting in the alpine sunshine or gazing at one another in glueily sated fulfilment. One day, weeks into the marriage, she meditatively bathes naked in a woodland stream, deploring her passionless existence. Fortuitously, her horse bolts and her ultimate deliverance arrives in the shape of Adam, a strapping if somewhat one-dimensional young engineer who helps her recapture the animal, falling in love with her along the way. One evening, having been caught in a violent storm, the pair make their way to Adam’s cottage where they strip off and make love. At this point Machatý chose to orchestrate the first ever on-screen orgasm, which he did by filming a tight close-up of Lamarr’s face while simultaneously, off camera, pricking her buttocks with a safety pin. The resultant grimaces were sufficiently convincing to shock the authorities, so much so that the film was condemned by the Patriarch of Venice and listed by the Catholic Church as an unwholesome and immoral work of art.

THE FORNICATING FASCIST
On the beach, Bob!
The decorum that had characterised Lido life before the First World War, when Thomas Mann had stayed at the Hotel des Bains, was soon a quaint memory. This [in the Thirties] was an unbuttoned Lido, a Lido of loose beach pyjamas designed by Carl Novitsky, of exuberantly kicked-off espadrilles, long, bibulous lunches, picnics outside the Excelsior’s beach cabins and breathless fornication inside them. It was the perfect backdrop for Oswald Mosley, lotos-eating after a strenuous, eventful and unsuccessful year in politics, his proto-Fascist New Party having been conclusively trounced in the General Election of 1931. Since the British Union of Fascists, to be launched in earnest in October 1932, was still at the planning stage, September was free for Mosley’s annual visit to the Lido, where he was able to set politics aside and focus intensively on an adulterous affair with his future wife Diana, the most beautiful of the Mitford sisters, at that point still married to Bryan Guinness. Mosley, ‘Tom’ to his friends, was a good organiser. He let no opportunity for an assignation slip by, remaining resolutely undeterred by the presence on the Lido of his wife Cimmie and of Diana’s husband, Bryan. ‘I shall need your room tonight between midnight and 4am,’ he instructed Bob Boothby, one of the circle. ‘But Tom, where shall I sleep?’ complained Boothby. ‘On the beach, Bob,’ came the resolute answer. Deprived of his room, Boothby slept in Mosley’s beach cabin.

AN HEROIC SCROUNGER
Rolfe: skillful manipulation of
credit and excuses.
The author Frederick Rolfe (Baron Corvo) managed to survive in Venice by what his biographer A.J.A. Symons called, with notable understatement, a ‘skilful manipulation of credit and excuses’. The scrounging that Rolfe undertook to keep body and soul together was a drama in itself. Before his eventual ostracism from expatriate society in Venice, he was a regular fixture at Horatio Brown’s bachelor parties, where ther would be whisky and sandwiches on the sideboard. On one awful occasion he arrived there, hungry, dressed in his last clean item of clothing, a lavender-coloured suit. After what seemed like an interminable conversation with Lord Rosebery, Rolfe gained the sideboard, only to discover that all the sandwiches had been eaten, all the whisky drunk. After a series of ups and downs that found him evicted from his hotel and forced to live in an open boat, he found a safe and agreeable billet—at no less than the Palazzo Mocenigo—with a Dr Van Someren and his wife, Ivy. In addition to bed and board the Van Somerens granted him a small allowance for tobacco and postage stamps, enabling him to indulge two of his favourite pastimes, smoking furiously and writing poisonous or pornographic letters to his enemies or friends in England. For a while all went well, until the ill-starred day he allowed Ivy Van Someren to see he manuscript of his work in progress, The Desire and Pursuit of the Whole: A Venetian Romance. She turned the pages of the manuscript in horror for there, in violet ink, in Rolfe’s immaculate closely-written hand, were wholly identifi able and painfully acute lampoons of all her circle in Venice—Lady Layard, Canon Ragg, Horatio Brown. Feeling that their hospitality had been roundly abused, the Van Somerens asked Rolfe to leave,and so in March 1910 he was again homeless, wandering the Lido by night.

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