Stalags

2007, Movie, NR, 63 mins

Review

STALAGS
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At the very bottom of the exploitation film barrel is a subgenre of sleaze known among trash aficionados as "Naziploitation": crude, sadomasochistic sexual fantasies centered on the highly fetishized, wholly imaginary punishments of concentration camp prisoners by jackbooted SS commandants and prison guards who were often, but not always, buxom women in too-tight uniforms. Well who knew ILSA, SHE WOLF OF THE SS had a literary pedigree, and a Jewish one at that?

While "literary" may be stretching things a bit, this fascinating documentary by journalist and filmmaker director Ari Libsker takes a bold look at an understandably forgotten -- or perhaps more accurately, repressed -- genre of masturbatory material popular in Israel during the early 1960s known as "Stalags" after the prison camps -- the "Stammlagers" -- in which they were invariably set. Printed as cheap paperbacks covered in lurid artwork lifted directly from the American men's adventure magazines that inspired them, the Stalag plots were pretty much the same: An Allied pilot shot down over occupied territory is taken captive and thrown into a Nazi prison camp where he's sexually assaulted and cruelly tortured by a sadistic female officer. He manages to escape, but not before turning the tables on his evil but undeniably sexy tormentor. Making the hero an English or American serviceman instead of a Jewish Holocaust victim no doubt facilitated the fantasy, but there's no getting around the fact that for a lot of second-generation Israeli Jews, sexual fantasies involved being dominated and mistreated by Nazis. This troubling idea says a lot about sexual desire and, perhaps more importantly, the way the Holocaust was thought about during the early 1960s when the details of what really happened in the camps had yet to surface, particulary in the minds of Israeli youth who had only a dim idea of what their parents endured. It's hardly coincidental that the brief life span of this disreputable brand of one-handed reading coincided with the televised trial of Adolf Eichmann and the public revelations of the true horrors of the Nazi camps. Running just a little over an hour, Libsker's documentary not only explores the roots of the Stalags and the means by which they were produced and sold, but even does a little detective work into the identities of the authors themselves, anonymous penny-a-word pulp writers who hid behind names like Mike Longshot, Ralph Butcher and Mike Baden. Amazingly, several are alive and well and willing to talk, and what they and the other interviewees have to say will provide fodder for endless speculation on the subject of victimhood, identification, sexual desire, revenge and writing. Exploring the influence of the smutty writings of survivor Ka-Tzetnik (The House of Dolls) on Stalags and the pernicious myth of Jewish camp prostitutes, the film then goes on to boldly deal with the sexualization of the Holocaust in general and the distortion of Israeli memory.

Also on the bill: "Two Women and a Man," a brief, tricky put-on by Israeli artist Roee Rosen about his inspiration, a Belgian-Jewish Surrealist named Justine Frank. Rosen's a clever, hugely ambitious artist with talent enough for two -- literally. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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