Death of Dutch actress Sylvia Kristal last month (October 18) brought back 1974 images I’d seen of hers as a half-nude poster girl on an oversized cane chair. I remember shying away from it in my early Parisian days as I walked around Champs Elysses, the world’s most beautiful avenue that joins a 12-roads roundabout. In a cinema hall there, her film Emmanuelle ran to packed audiences for 13 continuous years. When its filmmaker Just Jaeckin’s brother happened to become my client much later, curiosity drove me to question the film’s controversial strands. Does the femme fatale label stick permanently to actresses who enact sex obsessions of film directors? Take the illuminating stories of three women:
Woman 1: Sylvia Kristal objectified men’s sexual fantasy after Emmanuelle’s instant global success. Emmanuelle was portrayed as an innocent learner of sex. Enroute to Thailand to join her diplomat husband, coup de foudre (love at first sight) with a stranger in the aircraft resulted in love-making in business class, perhaps a first such instance on film. This film may possibly be the first to indicate Thailand to Westerners as a sex adventure destination. Over 600 million spectators worldwide went gaga over Emmanuelle, a role that trapped her forever. She couldn’t escape being defined as a sex icon in all her 50 films. She was paid just $6000 for Emmanuelle, a film that grossed $650 million. Banned in whole or parts in several countries, Emmanuelle became the biggest Japanese tourist attraction after Eiffel Tower. Japanese women, as per a blog post, would stand up and applaud in surprise and vengeance when Emmanuelle was on top of a man because it seems their culture requires women to be submissive. For the first time Emmanuelle introduced soft porn into mainstream cinema.
“I was dressed, but people preferred me naked,” Sylvia wrote in her 2006 autobiography Undressing Emmanuelle. Her life depicted how an artist can drown in depression unless she takes care of her image, creativity and prosperity. She battled with tobacco and alcohol. Cocaine enslaved her, she describes it as “more of a super-vitamin, something very fashionable, not really dangerous.” She had many destructive relationships with older men, one of whom sold all her properties leaving her to die in a small Amsterdam flat with lung, liver and throat cancer at age 60. Her extravagant sexuality broke taboos and gave enormous unimaginable pleasure to people, but doomed her career as a film heroine.
Woman 2: In a 1986 TV show, Catherine Ringer declared she never liked soft