I was in my early twenties when I first watched Emmanuelle, and, back then, I didn’t enjoy it. For me, this famed soft porn fantasy set in Thailand sported baffling characters and a plot that I just didn’t buy. Yet I was rapt. Emmanuelle showed a woman who loved sex in a liberated way—and seeing as I wasn’t liberated myself back then, this was the first hot movie I’d ever seen.
Fifteen years later – on October 17th, 2012 – my partner and I were driving to the supermarket, discussing soft porn. As editors of Go Deeper Press – a new publishing house dedicated to smart, story-driven erotica – we were musing over what we could learn from erotic cinema. Emmanuelle, we decided, had a story that didn’t engross us, yet it showed a real sophistication as well – an aesthetic that appreciated how facial reactions, when mixed with a rhythmic, erotic crescendos, can be more arousing, for some of us, than shots of pumping genitals, especially when the stakes are raised via a public setting or risky fling.
That said, while my partner and I were driving along having this discussion, we didn’t realize that Sylvia Krystel had died only hours before. This eerie synchronicity led us to by the DVD and view Emmanuelle for the first time in over a decade. As we watched, we were reminded of how brave this film really was, and we developed a fresher opinion.
Krystel was certainly a star of her time. And a gutsy one, at that. For us today it is hard to understand just how courageous she was. In fact, Krystel openly complained that many assumed she was just like the woman she played in Emmanuelle, when really she was very different. “People don’t assume John Wayne shoots people and rides a horse on weekends,” she once complained. The Dutch actress also played this role during a time when viewing an adult movie either involved walking into an X-rated store in plain view of everyone or risking being identified in a cinema queue. Today, however, things are easier. Fifty Shades of Grey is everywhere, and story-driven adult movies like those of Blue Artichoke Films often focus on plot and character as much as they do on transformational sex. And of course, sex-positive porn is easily available on the Internet.
But it all started with actors like Sylvia Krystel who stripped on screen and simulated orgasms that drew in viewers like bees to honey. Krystel’s guts and eroticism set the screen alight, and, as an erotica editor, I am ever-grateful for her sexy, groundbreaking work.
Photo by Steve [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons