Without Hypocrisy: Maximilian Esposito

Maximilian Esposito was born in Milan in 1969 and developed a passion for drawing and painting as a child. He attended a Liceo artistico (artistic lyceum) high school, receiving his bachelor’s degree in 1988. His early works represent populated dreamscapes of fantastic and mythological characters inspired by traditional fables of Europe.

Maximilian Esposito - Le Figure di Fantasia (1996) (1)

Maximilian Esposito – Le Figure di Fantasia (1996) (1)

Maximilian Esposito - Capitolo Primo (1989) (1)

Maximilian Esposito – Capitolo Primo (1989) (1)

In 1992, he discovered the mural and had the opportunity to decorate private apartments and public places in Milan and surrounding areas. His style expressed his talent and interest in theatrical stage effects. In 1994, he traveled to New York City where he discovered a restaurant named Trompe l’Oeil (Optical Illusion) in Greenwich Village. Intrigued by the name, he managed to get a contract to completely repaint the walls and ceiling of that restaurant.

Maximilian Esposito - Capitolo Sesto (Alice in Wonderland) (1994) (1)

Maximilian Esposito – Capitolo Sesto (Alice in Wonderland) (1994) (1)

Afterwards, he returned to Italy and began to practice yoga, opening a new chapter in his life. He dedicated himself to this craft and began teaching in Milan until 2012. Making another big change, he moved to Paris, initially devoting himself to photography but then rediscovering the pleasure of drawing, illustration and painting. Between 2013 and 2015, he produced several murals and illustrations, mostly in black-and-white. Yoga and art complement each other in his life—yoga serving as an art form and painting, a form of discipline and meditation.

Maximilian Esposito - Mural, Chaville, France (2013)

Maximilian Esposito – Mural, Chaville, France (2013)

In his youth, he loved to draw young girls—the classic Lolita one might say. But however provocative and erotic these may have been, they were never vulgar. The artist finds pornographic drawings banal and completely lacking in artistic depth. His greatest passion has been his indoor murals featuring female figures exclusively. Some have the quality of woodcut illustrations.

Maximilian Esposito - Capitolo Settimo (1995) (1)

Maximilian Esposito – Capitolo Settimo (1995) (1)

Maximilian Esposito - Disegni vari (1996) (1)

Maximilian Esposito – Disegni vari (1996) (1)

Two stories that have fascinated him the most were Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz. Although both stories have a fairy tale quality, they were creations of the last couple of centuries which carry with them a more modern perception of childhood. He had the idea of ​​creating an illustrated version of The Wizard of Oz in the early 1990s but never fully developed this project. Here are some conceptual drawings that reflect his special emphasis on medieval tradition.

Maximilian Esposito - Capitolo Sesto (Alice in Wonderland) (1994) (2)

Maximilian Esposito – Capitolo Sesto (Alice in Wonderland) (1994) (2)

Maximilian Esposito - Dorothy e altri Disegni (1990) (1)

Maximilian Esposito – Dorothy e altri Disegni (1990) (1)

Maximilian Esposito - Dorothy e altri Disegni (1990) (2)

Maximilian Esposito – Dorothy e altri Disegni (1990) (2)

After moving to Paris, he resumed his work as an illustrator and painter but this time focusing on the figure of the young boy. This little boy is androgynous, much more feminine than masculine, and its eroticism is a refined and dreamy. The artist cannot explain why his artistic sensibility has lead him to the young boy. It is simply a product of his imagination, having no parallels to his personal life.

Maximilian Esposito - Le petit garccedilon egravearmi les eacutetoiles (2015)

Maximilian Esposito – Le petit garçon parmi les étoiles (2015)

Although his subjects and backgrounds are fantastic, the artist manages to express his personality through his characters. They perform the role of pre-adolescents placed in different contexts. This age range offers the greatest emotional tension as they represent the transition between childhood and adulthood. It is the stage of life where the innocent games of youth give way to the anxieties of adult responsibility.

Maximilian Esposito - Dorothy e altri Disegni (1990) (3)

Maximilian Esposito – Dorothy e altri Disegni (1990) (3)

Maximilian Esposito - Disegni vari (1996) (2)

Maximilian Esposito – Disegni vari (1996) (2)

What makes his illustrations stand out are the intriguing compositions and the surreal elements incorporated into the works.

Maximilian Esposito - Capitolo Settimo (1995) (2)

Maximilian Esposito – Capitolo Settimo (1995) (2)

Maximilian Esposito - Capitolo Primo (1989) (2)

Maximilian Esposito – Capitolo Primo (1989) (2)

Maximilian Esposito - Capitolo Quinto (1993)

Maximilian Esposito – Capitolo Quinto (1993)

Unfortunately, very few seem to appreciate this kind of artistry today. And finding people and publishers to hire him has been a frustrating endeavor. Finding a site like Pigtails in Paint has given him some hope that some may appreciate his style. Whatever the future may hold, he is determined to continue to express his artistic universe sincerely and without hypocrisy. Should he gain sufficient recognition, he will be able to continue working on projects for which he is best suited—namely those that feature older children with a delicate disposition.

Maximilian Esposito - Le Figure di Fantasia (1996) (2)

Maximilian Esposito – Le Figure di Fantasia (1996) (2)

Although the artist often chooses popular subjects, readers will undoubtedly have questions about context and interpretation. Pigtails will be delighted to publish some of the more apt examples. You can visit these sites (here and here) for more samples of the artist’s work or for contact information should there be a suitable commission available.

Given the large time and conceptual gap between Esposito’s older and newer work, the artist has decided to establish a web page focusing on his older unpublished material which may be of interest to Pigtails readers.

Spanish Cousins: Carlos Saura

In order for Pip to get screen shots for his film posts, I have had to dig up a number of films for him. In the case of Carlos Saura (b. 1932), director of Cría cuervos, there was some interesting biographical information. Not only was he an avid photographer before deciding to become a filmmaker, but he seemed to be specially compelled by his child subjects. Most probably because of his own childhood experiences, Saura speculated that it was de rigueur for Spanish boys to get their first education about girls and the erotic world via their female cousins. In fact, two films—La Prima Angélica (My Cousin Angelica, 1973) and Pajarico (Little Bird, 1997)—dealt specifically with the childhood romance between cousins. Some mention should also be made of Ana y los Lobos (Ana and the Wolves, 1972) because even though the girls in that film perform the bland role of dutiful children, there are interesting clues about family dynamics which inform many other Saura films.

Lobos is about a young woman, Ana (Geraldine Chaplin), hired by a family to serve as governess for three little girls—Natalia (Nuria Lage), Carlota (Maria José Puerta) and Victoria (Sara Gil). Three brothers and their mother live on the estate and over time, Ana learns that each of these four characters have terrible neuroses which she takes in stride with both curiosity and amusement. The men react badly to this and, in the end, punish and murder her. The girls are in the background during the entire film, but do not stand out as characters, performing their roles as well-behaved stereotypical little girls. There is one distressing incident when the girls find their dolly buried in mud and her hair cut by one of the brothers. As the drama plays out, there is always this tension in the back of one’s mind about how the girls will develop and be treated when they grow up.

Carlos Saura - Ana y los Lobos (1972)

Carlos Saura – Ana y los Lobos (1972)

Angélica seems an autobiographical account of Saura’s own late childhood. The lead character, Luis, is interring his mother’s bones in the family crypt, staying with his aunt, with whom he spent some memorable summers. During the visit, he recalls incidents from his first summer there almost forty years earlier. The flow of the story is confusing at first until one realizes that the same actor (José Luis López Vázquez) is playing Luis and the young Luisito and you have to pick up clues from the scene to keep it straight. An additional ambiguity is that his beloved cousin Angélica (Lina Canalejas) has a little girl Angélica (Maria Clara Fernandez de Loaysa, who also played her mother as a little girl in flashbacks). The elder Angélica seems always to be wearing a kind of proper uniform during reminiscences. The presence of an older adult actor playing a child makes him appear like a developmentally-delayed adult. It is disconcerting at times when he leers with fascination at Angélica as in one scene where the family thinks nothing of undressing and dressing the young girl within eyeshot of her cousin.

Carlos Saura - La Prima Angélica (1973) (1)

Carlos Saura – La Prima Angélica (1973) (1)

There is a lot of fun interplay shown in the film between Luis and both Angélicas. In one scene, he is dressed in a Roman uniform and told to stand like a statue while Angélica makes faces at him, seeing if she can get him to crack up.

Carlos Saura - La Prima Angélica (1973) (2)

Carlos Saura – La Prima Angélica (1973) (2)

The younger Angélica is curious about Luis’ old relationship with her mother, asking a lot of questions about it and seeing if she stacks up to her mother.

Carlos Saura - La Prima Angélica (1973) (3)

Carlos Saura – La Prima Angélica (1973) (3)

A strong friendship is rekindled with Angélica and her family and Luis forms a pretty strong one-on-one bond with the daughter. One day, he takes her to where her mother etched their names on a tombstone.

Carlos Saura - La Prima Angélica (1973) (4)

Carlos Saura – La Prima Angélica (1973) (4)

The young Angélica jokes about how the boys take no interest in her because she is not well-developed, supposedly unlike her mother at the same tender age of 9.

Carlos Saura - La Prima Angélica (1973) (5)

Carlos Saura – La Prima Angélica (1973) (5)

Luis then flashes to a time when the elder Angélica showed him her first bra, with him begging her to show him again.

Carlos Saura - La Prima Angélica (1973) (6)

Carlos Saura – La Prima Angélica (1973) (6)

Although Luis seems to be enjoying his visit, a lot of bad memories of the war are associated with it as well. He decides that he has had enough self-indulgence and decides it is time to leave. The younger Angélica is outside riding a bike and Luis asks if he can try it before departing. He pedals with her riding along and we get one final flashback of him having done the same thing with her mother. Apparently, it was part of a scheme to runaway together, but the youngsters’ plans are foiled when they encounter a patrol who brings them home where they are then punished for their folly—never to be together again.

Carlos Saura - La Prima Angélica (1973) (7)

Carlos Saura – La Prima Angélica (1973) (7)

Carlos Saura - La Prima Angélica (1973) (8)

Carlos Saura – La Prima Angélica (1973) (8)

Saura’s view of life seemed quite pessimistic in the 1970s with characters expressing all manner of dysfunction with only one precious memory of romance. Even in Lobos, the matriarch makes mention of the scandal of a family member falling in love with his cousin. Over the years, the director must have mellowed as he attempted a more modern version of this family romance in Pajarico. The three brothers seem to be modeled after those from Lobos, but in nobler forms. This time the girl is called Fuensanta (Dafne Fernández) and the boy, Manuel (Alejandro Martinez), is played by a 10-year-old. There are a number of similarities to Angélica with Manuel being “abandoned” by his parents for the summer and needing to stay with his extended family in Murcia. The film is divided into three chapters, each dedicated to one of the uncles. The first is Juan, who picks up Manuel. His namesake in Lobos was a womanizer with dark erotic fantasies, but this one is an artist and appreciates women in an aesthetic way. He makes his living running a tailor shop and a number of women work there. Manuel has three girl cousins but we see very little of the other two, Amalia (Rebeca Fernández) and Sofia (Andrea Granero) . Fuensanta makes a big entrance at the shop wearing a fancy dress. This worm’s-eye view is the result of her being picked up and placed immediately on the counter by her father.

Carlos Saura - Pajarico (1997) (1)

Carlos Saura – Pajarico (1997) (1)

Juan takes Manuel and Fuensanta to draw and learn the finer points of color and composition. Later, he shows them some art books and expresses some envy at the skills of past artists—the way they were able to add mystery to their work.

Carlos Saura - Pajarico (1997) (2)

Carlos Saura – Pajarico (1997) (2)

Fuensanta playfully coaxes Manuel onto the roof where they bond and share some secrets.

Carlos Saura - Pajarico (1997) (3)

Carlos Saura – Pajarico (1997) (3)

Fuensanta’s first big secret introduces us to the second uncle, Fernando. His namesake in Lobos is quite disturbed by his homosexual proclivities and devoted himself to meditation and penance in a whitewashed cave. He was the one who cut the dolly’s hair and buried her. This Fernando is seen making love with his boyfriend, Tony, in the cellar of a pastry shop where he works. The children are bemused by this spectacle.

Carlos Saura - Pajarico (1997) (4)

Carlos Saura – Pajarico (1997) (4)

Fernando is an artist too and plays the cello beautifully. Unfortunately, his lover has fallen in love with a woman and is planning marriage. In a state of despondency, Fernando has a heart attack and is sent to the hospital. The third uncle is Emilio and, like his counterpart (named José in Lobos), is the de facto head of the household even though the decrepit grandfather still lives. He is a scientist, an optometrist of sorts who practices the rare craft of iridology. The children wander into his office and explore a bit before coming upon him. He explains that the iris tells a story about each person and asks Fuensanta to sit in front of a machine so he can examine her iris.

Carlos Saura - Pajarico (1997) (5)

Carlos Saura – Pajarico (1997) (5)

He finds a mysterious pattern in one region he cannot explain. It is meant to hint at Fuensanta’s telepathic abilities. For example, the grandfather is only partially lucid and so sometimes makes strange-sounding requests. Whenever this happens, she quickly explains that he is simply asking for orange juice or wishes to have the blinds closed. Mistaking Manuel for his favorite son, Antonito, and knowing he will die soon, grandfather decides to reveal a secret he has never told anyone before.

Carlos Saura - Pajarico (1997) (6)

Carlos Saura – Pajarico (1997) (6)

Apparently, one of the secrets Fuensanta shared with Manuel was her telepathy. The rest of the family only learn of it when grandfather inexplicably disappears and only Fuensanta knows how to find him. He is discovered in a park and he says he got lost while trying to get to the sea. Emilio promises to take him there and there is a final idyllic scene with grandfather sitting in a chair staring into the sea while everyone else frolics on the beach. The instant he passes away, Fuensanta senses it immediately and turns around to look back at him.

Carlos Saura - Pajarico (1997) (7)

Carlos Saura – Pajarico (1997) (7)

Manuel might have had more time with his uncles and cousins except for the funeral compelling his parents to return and then take him home. Looking one last time at Fuensanta, Manuel realizes he will never see her again as she is now.

Carlos Saura - Pajarico (1997) (8)

Carlos Saura – Pajarico (1997) (8)

The Girl as Unrequited Lover: Ana Torrent, Pt. 3 (El Nido)

This post comprises the third and final entry in our Ana Torrent film series.  Before we begin, I would like to point out that, because the quality of film available to me was relatively poor—bleary, washed out and dim—the stills taken from it are not as good as I would’ve liked.  Nevertheless, I took over 120 stills in all and sifted through them to get what I believe were the finest examples from the bunch.  Anyway . . .

Although El Nido (The Nest) was a contender for Best Foreign Language Film at the 1981 Academy Awards, the Oscar instead went to Moscow Does Not Believe in TearsEl Nido is an odd little film directed by Jaime de Armiñán and is widely considered his best film.  It stars Victor Alterio as an aging but spry widower and the then 13-year-old Ana Torrent as the young girl he becomes infatuated with.  Torrent won Best Actress for her performance at the 1980 Montreal Film Festival, as well she should have.  Though Armiñán lacks the artful flair of Erice or Saura, this was a solidly directed film, and I find it strange that I had never heard of it before, only discovering it when I began to look deeper into the early career of Ana Torrent.  So imagine my surprise when I discovered she had starred in Spain’s answer to Lolita!

The film opens with Alejandro (Alterio), a wealthy and reclusive widower, listening to classical music in his living room and pretending to conduct the orchestra.  We see him first in silhouette; when we first see him in the flesh, he’s riding a horse through the forest.
Again, he seems to be conducting an orchestra, though this time the music is in his head.  Alejandro is something of a dreamer and a rebel, a man who walks to the beat of his own drum, and the drum he hears is distinct in his head.  It isn’t a drum, actually; it is Joseph Haydn’s oratorio The Creation, a piece based on the Book of Genesis and inspired by Milton’s Paradise Lost, a poem that is, in part, about the Fall of Man.  Foreshadowing perhaps?

Jaime de Armiñán - El Nido (1980) (1)

Jaime de Armiñán – El Nido (1980) (1)

Alejandro’s cerebral concert is interrupted by an egg striking his head.  Befuddled as to its origin, he rides away, only to find a red scarf monogrammed with a ‘G’ attached to a tree limb.  Back at home, Al amuses himself by listening to his music and playing chess against a computerized board.  He tells the game, “I see you coming.  But I will not fall into your trap.”  Definitely foreshadowing.  Meanwhile, the scarf still intrigues him.  To whom does it belong?  Amparo, Al’s housekeeper, comes in, interrupting his reverie.  Al has an antagonistic relationship with the woman, who puts up with his moodiness and eccentricities with great forbearance.  The two exchange shouts and insults more often than not.  Al really doesn’t want her there, and only tolerates her presence because she manages the household affairs, leaving him to his daydreams, the only thing that makes him happy since his wife’s demise.  Amparo berates him for letting basic household upkeep slip, using his dead wife’s memory to guilt trip him, but Al is not interested in such things.

Jaime de Armiñán - El Nido (1980) (2)

Jaime de Armiñán – El Nido (1980) (2)

Again Al wanders into the woods, this time finding a note with a feather attached that says, “The goldfinch feather will take you to the great tree. G.”  He can’t help but follow the clue.  His curiosity stoked, he climbs up the remains of the ancient dead tree he frequently visits, only to find another note pinned to the top, again with a feather.  “The jay feather will lead you down the stream. G.”  At the stream, Al finds yet another note and feather, this one stuck to a limb out in the midst of the stream.  Having to traverse the swift waters to get to it, Al is both amused and a little exasperated.  The note reads: “The feather of the hawk will take you to the tower. G.”  Who would go to such trouble to torment the old man so?

Jaime de Armiñán - El Nido (1980) (3)

Jaime de Armiñán – El Nido (1980) (3)

Back at home, Alejandro tries to figure out where the clues came from.  After a lead he’s given by Amparo turns out to be a dead end, he decides to visit his only real friend in town, the local parish priest, Eladio.  Although Al is an atheist with a dim view of religion, and he and the priest often exchange insults, it is clear that the two men are quite fond of each other.  Al brings Eladio a box of chocolates and asks for his help in identifying the handwriting from the notes.  The priest is a scholar and has some knowledge of graphology, among other things.  The priest identifies the writing as that of a young girl, and suggests she is stubborn and uneducated but has some native intelligence, sensitivity, passion and a sense of humor.  These qualities suggest someone who is a good match for Alejandro, if not as a lover then at least as a companion.

The priest also identifies the tower referred to in the final note as the bell tower of his own church.  He and Al decide to climb the tower to look for the next clue.  Here Al wonders why the girl has chosen him.  What exactly does she see in him?  The priest says it’s because he’s a fool and that she’s toying with him for her own amusement.  They find the clue, which says, “Falcon feathers will take you to the performance. G.”  Eladio warns Al that this game could lead to trouble, and informs him that the local school children are putting on a performance of Macbeth.  It seems that Al’s mystery girl may be even younger than he anticipated.

Jaime de Armiñán - El Nido (1980) (4)

Jaime de Armiñán – El Nido (1980) (4)

And here we get our first glimpse of the girl, Goyita, (Ana Torrent), who is portraying Lady Macbeth in the play, a difficult and nuanced part that requires great acting skills.  Al is immediately taken with the girl’s performance even in the rehearsal.  It is evident now that this is no ordinary young girl.  She is precocious, spirited and beautiful.  I must say: how differently Ms. Torrent looks here than she did in her earlier films!  She reminds me a bit of the young Natalie Portman.  As Lady Macbeth, some of her lines are provocative.  “Come to my woman’s breasts and take my milk for gall, you murd’ring ministers,” she says.  These are not words one would ordinarily hear coming from the lips of a middle school-aged child.  Al is a captive audience, and Goyita is, in turn, distracted by Al’s presence to the point where it begins to affect her performance.

Jaime de Armiñán - El Nido (1980) (5)

Jaime de Armiñán – El Nido (1980) (5)

Having been ejected from the rehearsal by the teacher, Al waits for Goyita outside until the rehearsal is over. Their first meeting is in the town square, in the street.  Alejandro walks Goyita home, quoting lines from Macbeth himself.  Meanwhile, Goyita’s teacher spots them walking together and is obviously concerned.  Al—and the audience—finds out here that Goyita is only 13 years old.  No wonder her teacher is worried.  We also learn that Goyita has been aware of Al for years, and it is only recently that she has decided to get his attention, although she did so coyly, through her little game with the notes and feathers.  Isn’t that exactly like something a 13-year-old girl would do?  Usually their affections are reserved for boys much closer to their own age though.

Jaime de Armiñán - El Nido (1980) (6)

Jaime de Armiñán – El Nido (1980) (6)

They soon arrive at Goyita’s home.  It turns out that her father is a policeman.  This certainly complicates things.  Before they part ways, Goyita mentions that she also knew Alejandro’s wife, yet another element that will cement their bond.  And as she is ascending the stairs to her family’s apartment, she whistles.  What do you think the tune is?  None other than Hadyn’s The Creation, of course.  Is it deliberate?  Well, Goyita has said that she knows where Al lives.  It’s possible—even likely—that she’s heard him listening to this same oratorio.  So, it seems she knows very well what she’s doing.  The last thing she does before entering her home is stomp several times on the floor, an act which indicates that, although preternaturally bright and mature, she is still a kid after all.  Kids tend be noisy when they’re happy.  What is the source of Goyita’s joy?

Immediately she is confronted by the police sergeant, who criticizes her for being too loud.  Goyita’s relationship with the stern and unpleasant sergeant is one of mutual dislike and mistrust, as we will see.

Jaime de Armiñán - El Nido (1980) (7)

Jaime de Armiñán – El Nido (1980) (7)

Back at home in his study, Al asks Amparo if anyone has come to visit.  He is eagerly awaiting a visit from his new little friend.  He dials the number of the police station, but when someone answers, Al doesn’t speak, afraid to reveal his identity and why he’s calling.  The officer on the other end hangs up on him.

We cut to Goyita’s home, where her family is eating dinner.  She is in fact the oldest of four children.  Psychologists interested in birth order would suggest this accounts for at least some of Goyita’s high intelligence and maturity.  This theory is, of course, only moderately accepted in the larger mental health community.  Nevertheless, Goyita is a good model for the theory.  During dinner, Goyita’s mother criticizes her for climbing trees, calling her a naughty tomboy.  It seems poor Goyita is constantly being attacked from all sides.  One might say she is the typical misunderstood teen, only she is anything but typical.  Goyita’s mom also uses this opportunity to criticize her husband, Goyita’s father, whom she considers a lazy and ineffectual disciplinarian.

Soon the sergeant appears, inviting himself into the house.  Goyita’s dad rises when the sarge—his boss—enters.  Since the family lives over the police station, the sarge is apt to appear at any time.  The sergeant insinuates that Goyita has been climbing to the building’s roof, and the girl curtly answers, “That’s a lie,” earning her a smack to the back of the head from her mom.  We find out that Goyita’s given name is actually Gregoria; Goyita, or sometimes Goya, is a diminutive nickname.  The sarge accuses Goyita of leaving the attic door open and of breaking out a window.  She denies it, but her mother takes the sergeant’s side.  She ends Goyita’s meal and sends her to her bedroom as punishment for these offenses.

Jaime de Armiñán - El Nido (1980) (8)

Jaime de Armiñán – El Nido (1980) (8)

Alejandro prowls around Goyita’s school, waiting for her to get out of class.  Goyita’s teacher, Marisa, spots him and addresses him.  Their conversation is warm and friendly.  I can’t help but think that, if such a thing occurred in this day and age, the teacher would likely call the authorities immediately, and she certainly wouldn’t be friendly towards the man.  In fact, she apologizes for being rude to him the other day when she chased him
away from the rehearsal.  Meanwhile, Goyita watches the conversation from a nearby window.  She seems worried.  What are her teacher and her new friend discussing?

Well, Marisa is inviting him to the performance of Macbeth!  The old man isn’t sure he’ll be able to make it, though of course there is a powerful drawing card in the form of Goyita.  He wonders if Goyita was assigned this difficult role as some kind of punishment.  This isn’t a bad assumption.  Goyita certainly has a tendency to be mischievous.  But no, she is studying acting and volunteered for the part.  She’s the real deal, Al realizes, a girl truly interested in the arts.  His fascination for her only deepens.

Jaime de Armiñán - El Nido (1980) (9)

Jaime de Armiñán – El Nido (1980) (9)

Later, Alejandro enters an artist’s studio that’s full of old paintings and objets d’art.  It should come as no surprise that Alejandro is an aesthete, an admirer of beautiful things.  The artist turns out to be a young woman he is well acquainted with by the name of Mercedes.  Indeed, the two are lovers and their relationship is something of an open secret.  Yet, their relationship is well organized, with Al showing up at certain times each month.  This time, however, he has shown up early.  Something—or someone—has stirred up his passion, causing him to break out of his usual routines.  I wonder who that someone could be?

When a young couple shows up at the studio to invite Mercedes to some film event, she casually informs them that she and Alejandro are lovers.  Al feels like she is mocking him because she doesn’t really want to be seen with the old man.  She promptly informs him that he doesn’t understand her at all.  She’s right, for, although the two are lovers, they aren’t really compatible, though not because of their age difference.  They simply have different temperaments.  Anyway, to prove her sincerity, Mercedes drags him into the street and kisses him passionately before all and sundry.  There can be no doubt now that she cares about him, but what are his feelings toward her?  Note that she’s wearing red, the same color we usually see Goyita in.  Red has long been associated with passion and sexuality; so it is here.

Jaime de Armiñán - El Nido (1980) (10)

Jaime de Armiñán – El Nido (1980) (10)

Later, Goyita shows up at Al’s home on her bicycle.  The gardener nearly sends her away, but Al happens to see her ride up and alerts her to his presence and meets her on the lawn. His joy at her presence is obvious.  This is a man in love, no doubt.  Though Al is pleased to see her, he also takes time to lecture her about leaving home without her parents’ sanction.

Today this same story would be spun another way: Al would be a selfish sexual predator, a one-note villain who doesn’t really care about Goyita and manipulates her to get into her pants, and Goyita would be a lonely innocent who doesn’t understand what she’s getting into.  It would be a cautionary tale about the dangers of underage girls meeting up with strange older men.  But this film is far too classy and nuanced for that.  Alejandro does care about the girl, and while his emotions are running high, sex is the farthest thing from his mind at this moment.

Unfortunately, Al’s scolding, though gentle, upsets Goyita and she storms off.  But Al intercepts her; he doesn’t want her to leave, of course.  She says she came by yesterday and he was gone; she asks where he was.  He was in Madrid, he tells her, a bald-faced lie.  He was actually in Salamanca (which, incidentally, suggests their town is somewhere in the vicinity of Avila), meeting his lover.  Perhaps, then, Goyita has another reason to be upset.  Does she intuitively understand that he has been with a lover?  Maybe she is jealous after all.  Yet, she decides to stay.

Jaime de Armiñán - El Nido (1980) (11)

Jaime de Armiñán – El Nido (1980) (11)

As the two walk through the woods, Goyita insists that Alejandro not visit her at the school, or talk to her teacher for that matter.  More jealousy?  It must be said, the young teacher is quite beautiful.  Or is Goyita simply worried that word of their meetings will get back to her parents?  Whatever the case, Al promises to do neither of those things in the future.  Next she wants to know why he wears a beard, telling him that it makes him look old.  This is our first real hint that Goyita’s feelings about Al are more than emotional.  She desires for him to look younger, more pleasing to her eye, which means she has been assessing his appearance as someone of the opposite sex.  And yet, when he asks her if she’d like him to get rid of it, she emphatically replies, “No.”  She is confused by her own feelings, perhaps even fighting them.  They hear a bird chirping in the vicinity.  Is it a goldfinch, Al wonders?  Goyita identifies it as a coal tit.  She is forever correcting him on his bird identifications thereafter.  The girl definitely knows her birds!  Is she equally adept at identifying the bees?  Well . . .

Goyita asks about his necklace, which he tells her is a talisman meant to remind him of the concentration camp he was put into by the Francoists during the Spanish civil war.  It’s interesting that all three of the Ana Torrent films we have examined are connected to the Spanish Civil War in some way; few outside Spain can imagine the impact of that event on the lives of those who lived through it and through the Franco regime.  Al in turn asks Goyita how she knew his wife.  As it so happens, she was, like Goyita, a bird nest enthusiast.

In one of the most poignant scenes in the film (which kicks off an extended montage sequence set to music of The Creation), Alejandro and Goyita stand near what appears to be a broken monument in the countryside, both pretending to be conductors.  This is a metaphorical manifestation of their love for each other and their perfect compatibility, as they work together to conduct their imaginary orchestra.  In their minds they are perfectly in sync; but, of course, the realm of the imagination is not reality.   Previously Al had occupied the raised spot in their relative positions, but in an act that conveys multiple layers of meaning, Al steps down and leads Goyita to the higher position.  He is not only demonstrating his true love for the girl by literally placing her on a pedestal, he is also stepping down from his post as representative of his generation and allowing the next generation to replace him.  He’s old and he knows it, soon to die.  More foreshadowing.

Jaime de Armiñán - El Nido (1980) (12)

Jaime de Armiñán – El Nido (1980) (12)

As the montage continues, they dance.  Couples dancing has a semiotic relationship to sex.  This doesn’t mean that Alejandro and Goyita have had sex (or will), only that if they did, it might look something like this—honest, attentive, joyful and elegant.  We will see the dancing again, and each time it happens, the camera moves in a little closer as their relationship becomes more intimate.  In another kind of dance, the two circle and weave around each other on their bicycles.  Their relationship is being forged and strengthened with these actions.

The montage continues with skeet shooting, Al shooting the skeet while Goyita works the skeet thrower.  He’s a crack shot.  Remember that, because it will be relevant later.  This is also another sexual metaphor.  Al then teaches Goyita to fire the shotgun.  Again, these activities do not imply actual sex; they merely indicate what a sexual relationship would be like between them, a perfect give and take.  Despite their huge age difference, they are perfectly compatible in their shared world.  Would that this was all there was.  But it isn’t.  The reality is, they must contend with the rest of the world, and there is where their
compatibility breaks down, for their huge age disparity will inevitably mean heartbreak for Goyita.

Jaime de Armiñán - El Nido (1980) (13)

Jaime de Armiñán – El Nido (1980) (13)

The montage continues to unfold, and we see our pair riding horses together, a bit more dancing, and then they play Leapfrog.  It is interesting to note that, among the activities supposedly enjoyed by Edgar Allen Poe and his own 13-year-old bride was this game.  The couple lived in New York City (specifically, Fordham) for a brief time, and there are accounts of Poe and Virginia playing Leapfrog in Central Park with friends of theirs.  Finally, Alejandro and Goyita climb a tree to examine a bird’s nest before the montage ends.

Jaime de Armiñán - El Nido (1980) (14)

Jaime de Armiñán – El Nido (1980) (14)

Later, as they prepare for bed, Goyita’s two younger sisters, as small children are wont to do, tease their elder sibling about having a boyfriend.  Goyita denies that Alejandro is her boyfriend, and the sisters call him a holy fool.  They have no idea what that means; they’ve only heard the sergeant refer to Al by this term.  It starts an argument between Goyita and her sisters.

Back at Alejandro’s place, Al proclaims to Father Eladio that he’s a normal man, and yet he’s obsessed with this young girl.  The implication here is that Al is no pedophile or sex deviant; he has never been interested in young girls before, but now he finds himself in love with one.  To be fair, Goyita is hardly an average girl.  But what a quandary to be in!  Eladio tells him that if he didn’t know Al, he would’ve reported him to the authorities, yet he knows his friend would never hurt the girl.  Eladio suggests that Al should marry his lover Mercedes to get his mind off the girl and put an end to his loneliness.  Eladio asks how old the girl is, to which Al replies “110 years,” a joke referring to Goya’s precocious nature.

When they meet again, Goyita asks Alejandro what a holy fool is, to which he describes himself to a T, right down to the clothes he wears.  Goyita has the gardener call the police station to inform them that “Goya Menendez is eating dinner with her school friend.”  Again, Al lectures her about lying, especially to her parents.  Goyita dons Al’s headphones, a gesture meant to convey that she isn’t listening to Al’s lecturing.  When he removes the headphones and repeats his point, she again threatens to leave.  She has no patience for Al treating her as an elder treats a willful child; she sees him as an equal and wants him to treat her the same way.  Again he stops her from leaving and agrees with her point that they must lie about their relationship.  Perhaps he is finally seeing it for what it is, whereas Goyita, with youth’s ability to pierce instantly through facades, had seen it that way all along.

Jaime de Armiñán - El Nido (1980) (15)

Jaime de Armiñán – El Nido (1980) (15)

Alejandro tells Goyita that he dislikes the civil guard (police).  This seems to make her happy; she dislikes them too.  She asks to see his deceased wife’s bedroom, a request that makes Al uncomfortable for a couple of reasons, but he agrees to do so nonetheless.  At this point Goyita attempts to properly seduce Alejandro.  She picks up his wife’s brush and begins brushing her own hair with it.  She tells Al that his wife was unattractive in comparison to her, describing the woman as short, stocky and small-breasted!

She then goes through his wife’s old things, finding a beautiful blue dress that she holds up to herself.  She clearly has plans to replace Al’s absent spouse.  She says that it’s rumored that Al married for money rather than love.  This accusation finally pushes Al past his breaking point, and he becomes angry, but Goyita quells his anger by pointing out that she never actually believed the rumors.  She asks why they never had children.  Al says it was because his wife was barren, an answer that satisfies Goyita, who may be thinking about having kids with Al herself.  Finally, Goyita wonders if his wife suffered as she
was dying.  Al says that he suffered more than she did.

Jaime de Armiñán - El Nido (1980) (16)

Jaime de Armiñán – El Nido (1980) (16)

Then they have dinner.  The meal is elaborate, but only because Goyita is there.  She is flattered that Al would go to such trouble for her.  Later, while the two are looking at bird nests, Al asks why Goyita chose him.  “For everything,” she tells him.  Giving up the pretense of cautiousness, Al decides to drive Goyita home.  On the way, her teacher spots her in Al’s car and is obviously worried about her student.  Before she leaves his car, Goyita asks him if he likes her.  He tells her that she’s a child, albeit a bright and sensitive one. But that’s not what Goyita wants to hear; she wants to know if he likes her as a woman, and says that if he doesn’t, she will leave and never speak to him again.  She’s giving him an ultimatum: either love me on my terms or don’t love me at all.  Al tells her that he does indeed like her as a woman, but that it isn’t normal for someone his age to be attracted to a 13-year-old girl.  She asks for and receives a kiss from him (a chaste
one on the cheek).  He says to her that if people tell her bad things about him, she shouldn’t believe them. She agrees wholeheartedly.

Jaime de Armiñán - El Nido (1980) (17)

Jaime de Armiñán – El Nido (1980) (17)

While speaking to Goyita’s teacher, who has ostensibly come to ask him about music for the play, Al asks her why she agreed to let the girl play Lady Macbeth.  “Because she is evil enough to understand the role,” the teacher insists.  The teacher then asks him why he chose Goyita.  He never really answers her, but he points out that Goyita forbade him to talk to her, so he is violating his promise by even speaking to her.

He and Goyita meet again in the woods.  They swear a blood oath, mingling their blood in an act that mimics consummation.  They each carve their own first initial into the palm of the other and rub the wounds together.  Goyita then gives Al her red scarf, and Al gives Goyita his talisman.  Goyita then asks him to burn all of the pictures of his wife as well as her clothes and other belongings.  This he refuses to do, and she leaves.

Jaime de Armiñán - El Nido (1980) (18)

Jaime de Armiñán – El Nido (1980) (18)

Later, at school, the teacher asks to see Goyita’s hand.  When she asks what the A means, Goyita says, “Nothing.”  Because it is a letter A, the teacher asks all the boys whose names begin with A to stand.  But none of them have an initial on their hands.  She then asks all the children with an initial to raise their hands.  Every child laughingly raises their hand.  The kids are making a joke of Goyita’s love, but the teacher still believes it is another child who shared the blood oath with Goyita.  She tells her students that childhood romances are normal, though she does have some concerns about the cutting because of the risk of infection.

Later, as Marisa is painting props for the play, Goyita pays her a visit.  While getting her to help with the painting, the teacher also devises a plan to get Goyita to reveal what’s going
on with her: she will ask Goyita a personal question, and for every question she asks her, Goyita will get to ask Marisa a personal question in turn.  Goyita agrees to these terms.

After a few throwaway questions, Marisa gets down to the nitty-gritty.  “What does ‘A’ mean?” inquires Marisa.  Goyita replies, “You already know,” but she admits it stands for Alejandro.  Goyita asks what will be on the next test, which, by the established rules, the teacher must answer and does, but she isn’t happy about it.  How clever our girl is!  The teacher then asks if Goyita has the ‘G’ on his hand, which of course he does.  Goyita then wants to know why her teacher went to visit her friend.  She responds that she wanted to know if he was a trustworthy person.   The teacher then asks what it is Goyita and Alejandro do together.  Goyita lists the things they do, which does not include anything sexual.  The teacher advises Goyita to end the relationship, but Goyita claims it has already ended because he refused to do everything she commanded him to do.  (Despite the stereotype, it is clearly Goyita who is in charge of the relationship and doing all the manipulating.)  Even so, this is a lie on Goyita’s part—her relationship with Al may have undergone a temporary setback, but it is hardly over.

Jaime de Armiñán - El Nido (1980) (19)

Jaime de Armiñán – El Nido (1980) (19)

The film cuts back to Alejandro’s place.  Although he had refused to destroy his wife’s belongings, in the end he does as Goyita asked, burning her clothes and the photos of her in his yard.  It seems that no matter how much he resists, he cannot refuse Goyita in the end.  This is what true love has done to him.

The next morning, Goyita discovers that the sergeant has released her pet falcon, which rightly enrages Goyita.  She then happens upon the sergeant screaming at her father, presumably about his daughter’s shenanigans.  Goyita confronts the sergeant about her bird, but he simply shouts at her and calls her an idiot, then chases her out of his office.  Goyita, visibly upset, vows to kill the sergeant.  It’s an empty threat, of course; she is no murderer.  But she despises him that much.

Jaime de Armiñán - El Nido (1980) (20)

Jaime de Armiñán – El Nido (1980) (20)

Al visits his wife’s grave, and the priest finds him there.  Eladio tells Al that the townsfolk,
including the girl’s family, all know about their little romance.  Most people think Al is a bit koo-koo but basically a decent guy.  A small minority think he’s a sex maniac, however, and that he should be taught a lesson.  Eladio says he should beware of the latter group.  Alejandro tells Eladio that for the first time in his life he is really living.

Jaime de Armiñán - El Nido (1980) (21)

Jaime de Armiñán – El Nido (1980) (21)

When Goyita returns home for supper that night, her mother informs her that she is being shipped off to her aunt’s, and sends her to bed without her supper.  Her father too has had enough, it seems.  He removes his belt, preparing to give her a lashing.  Goyita wants to know why she’s being punished.  After all, it’s not like she and Alejandro are hurting anyone or doing anything wrong.  All they do is ride horses, listen to music and so on.  As it so happens, the anger from her father is all a front to fool his wife.  He doesn’t actually whip Goyita but repeatedly strikes the bed beside her instead.  This makes her mother happy, as she thinks her daughter is finally getting her long-deserved punishment, but her dad seems to understand his daughter better than her mother does.

Jaime de Armiñán - El Nido (1980) (22)

Jaime de Armiñán – El Nido (1980) (22)

Later, Alejandro tells Goyita that he bought a bird guide.  It seems Goyita has instilled in him her love of birds.  But now she is upset, for she is being sent away on Friday to live with her aunt.  This will be the last time they will get to be together.  She tells him too that the sergeant released her bird and took away the talisman Al gave her.  She asks him to kill the sergeant for her.

Jaime de Armiñán - El Nido (1980) (23)

Jaime de Armiñán – El Nido (1980) (23)

Back at home, Alejandro’s reminiscences of his times with Goyita are interrupted by Amparo.  In the past this would’ve made him angry, but it’s clear from their exchange that he is a changed man thanks to Goyita.  He treats his servant much better now.  Moreover, he is a broken man.  The loss of the love of his life has ripped the heart out of him.

In their final meeting, Al reveals to his priest friend that he spent five years in the seminary. They share a laugh over that.  Al decides to track down Goyita to her aunt’s place.  Of course, she can only watch him through the window, but she is very happy to see him.  It will be his final view of her, and he will take it to his grave.

Jaime de Armiñán - El Nido (1980) (24)

Jaime de Armiñán – El Nido (1980) (24)

Alejandro next goes to the police station, where he challenges the sergeant to a duel.  The sergeant thinks he’s joking, but he is quite serious.  He assures the sergeant that he is a terrible shot, but of course we know better.  Later, Al waits on the cliff to ambush the sergeant, who brings Goyita’s father with him.  They both carry machine guns, hardly a fair gunfight.  But Al doesn’t care about this anyway.  He fires on the sergeant and apparently misses.  He then stands in the open, waiting, and the sarge easily mows him down.  After killing Alejandro, the officers discover that Al was using blanks.  The thing is, Al had had the advantage because he was on higher ground, and he saw the sergeant well before the sergeant saw him.  Plus, he was a great shot.  He could easily have killed the sergeant if he’d wanted to, but he’d never intended to do so; his plan had been suicide by cop all along.

Jaime de Armiñán - El Nido (1980) (25)

Jaime de Armiñán – El Nido (1980) (25)

Many of the townsfolk show up for his funeral, including the policemen, the teacher and the priest.  Goyita later visits his grave, which has been erected on the same site where the old monument once stood and where he and Goyita first danced.  She vows to never give herself to another as long as she lives.  She says that he taught her a new word beginning with A: Amor. She carves another A into her palm and places it against his grave.  The final shot is of Goyita conducting The Creation from Alejandro’s gravesite.

Jaime de Armiñán - El Nido (1980) (26)

Jaime de Armiñán – El Nido (1980) (26)


Cave Girl: Jean M. Auel’s ‘The Clan of the Cave Bear’

With my first post I’m going to discuss the book The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel, as well as the movie directed by Michael Chapman. As is usually the case, the book was far more engaging and meaningful than the movie, so I will take the plot points from the book and use various screenshots from the movie. The latter uses three actresses to represent the various stages of Ayla’s life; Emma Floria is 5-year-old Ayla, Nicole Eggert plays Ayla at about 11 or 12, and Daryl Hannah is adolescent/adult Ayla. Unfortunately, the movie didn’t accurately depict Ayla’s timeline. She is under eighteen for the whole of the book, and is 14 at its conclusion. Within that span of time she experiences incredible hardship, but what she learns in those 9 years will change everything forever. 

Michael Chapman, John Sayles and Jean M. Auel – The Clan of the Cave Bear (1986) (1)

Ayla is a Cro-Magnon girl (early Homo sapiens sapiens), distant ancestors to our forbears and us. Mog-ur—known to her affectionately by his true name, Creb—is a Neanderthal Man (H. neanderthalensis) and the most powerful magician known to his Clan. They share the same ancestor but are fated to much different paths. Creb and all his people are about to die in one of the most questionable extinctions known to modern science, while Ayla’s kind are on their way to becoming the most populous and (relatively) successful  mammals to have ever existed. Nobody seems to know just what happened there, and Jean M. Auel, while aiming to write fiction based on facts, did not specify how her Neanderthal clan were to become extinct either.

Ayla is taken in by the medicine woman of the Neanderthal clan after an earthquake kills Ayla’s family and forces the Clan out of their cave, their only home. The girl is just five years old, but nevertheless survives the attack of a cave lion (the grass lion’s huge, hungry ancestor) and passes out presumably from shock and pain. She is found by the Clan’s medicine woman, Iza on their search for a new cave home.


Michael Chapman, John Sayles and Jean M. Auel – The Clan of the Cave Bear (1986) (2)

Iza is sibling to the Clan leader, Brun, so he is given to allow Iza to keep and care for the girl. The young girl eventually trains with Iza to become a medicine woman and is quite proficient with flowers and herbs. She also gets in the habit of using the excuse that she is looking for plants for Iza so that she can wander around by herself in the wilderness, thinking and playing in solitude.


Michael Chapman, John Sayles and Jean M. Auel – The Clan of the Cave Bear (1986) (3)


Michael Chapman, John Sayles and Jean M. Auel – The Clan of the Cave Bear (1986) (4)


Michael Chapman, John Sayles and Jean M. Auel – The Clan of the Cave Bear (1986) (5)

Ayla’s presence disturbs the others, and their treatment towards her differences profoundly impacts her development. She is especially terrible with following their strict social customs, which include the docility and submission of women as virtues—instead of the low, shuffling walk of Clan women, Ayla is gifted with long, thin legs and is taller than most of the men by age 12. The discomfort she causes is very much about the way that she looks in comparison to the rest of the clan as well. Throughout the book she is repeatedly referred to as ugly by the other members, even by her sweet Mog-ur, and it is assumed she will never acquire a partner. They have no qualms about speaking these things in front of her either.

“He visualized the tall, skinny child, straight arms and legs, flat face with a large, bulging forehead, pale and washed out; even her eyes were too light. She will be an ugly woman, Mog-ur thought honestly. What man is likely to want her anyway?”  Jean M. Auel – The Clan of the Cave Bear


“… The skull of Cro-Magnon 1 does show traits that are unique to modern humans, including the tall, rounded skull with a near vertical forehead. A large brow ridge no longer tops the eye sockets and there is no prominent prognathism of the face and jaw [as compared to H. neanderthalensis].”  Smithsonian Natural Museum of History

Part of the reason why she is regarded with this repulsion is because her childhood seems to last much longer than what is regular for the Clan. Their lifespans average 30 years and the children are usually ready for their mating ceremonies at age 7 or 8. They start to wonder when she doesn’t seem to be developing the regular features of a woman, but it is precisely her childish figure which enables her to gain the skills that will eventually allow her to become independent. In this way and many others, Ayla becomes a symbol of fate for Creb, but to the others she is profoundly mysterious, profoundly wrong.


Michael Chapman, John Sayles and Jean M. Auel – The Clan of the Cave Bear (1986) (6)

Built mainly for storing large quantities of data as memories, the Neanderthal Clan have minds that can peer thousands of years into the past with a process as simple as contemplating the natural life that surrounds them. (This is, of course, speculation by the author. You can do the research for yourself but there is some level of validity to her fictional fantasies.) The Clan can see eons behind them, all the way back to the dawn of life, with the help of a divine flower employed by Mog-ur; Datura stramonium or Angel’s Trumpet—Devil’s trumpet, if you’d like to play your hand on the other side of the paradox. But they can’t think in numerical terms past 3, and Mog-ur, whose mind is significantly more attuned to the abstract, the extra-sensory, can’t pass 20.  Ayla, however, is on her way to multiplying single-digit numbers at the age of five. She so astounds Creb with her mind that he becomes enthralled with her instantly, falling in love with her confidence and intelligence the first year of her stay.


Michael Chapman, John Sayles and Jean M. Auel – The Clan of the Cave Bear (1986) (7)

Despite the rigidity of the Clan’s ways, especially in their expectation of docile behavior from the women, Creb gives Ayla some slack, often only scolding her for behavior that other men would have punished with physical violence. Physical affection is kept at a minimum between the two, but Ayla trusts in the old man’s love.

Her first year with the clan is arduous, as she is forced by her adoptive family and the pressures of the group to conform to their patriarchal expectations. However unexpectedly, she does seem to grow with a strength and confidence that is rare even for males in the Clan, and this brings about the unlucky attention of the leader’s son, Broud, who is to become her unfailing tormentor.

The boy is arrogant and narcissistic, unable to let go of Ayla’s unwomanly confidence and skill set. As Broud becomes a man and more assured in his dominance, his torments too become progressively more vicious and physically violent. But she has a secret. Ayla has learned to hunt, eventually becoming more proficient with a sling than the Clan’s own sling master. Broud’s attacks no longer bother her—in fact, she eggs him on, carrying her secret skill as a totem of confidence. Soon after her first menses at age 10, however, her secret is discovered when she kills a hyena to save a Clan child from death. She is given a comparatively mild punishment, considering it is strictly forbidden for a woman to even touch a weapon—a transgression which is punishable by death—and afterwards is startlingly anointed with the title of Woman Who Hunts by Mog-ur and the leader. From then on she is given the freedom to hunt in the open, using only her sling, but that’s good enough for her. Ayla’s confidence soars, and eventually the Clan begins to accept her, even respect her. Everyone except for Broud, that is.


Michael Chapman, John Sayles and Jean M. Auel – The Clan of the Cave Bear (1986) (8)

Because of his unceasing abuse, Ayla has learned to dissociate from Broud, obeying him but no longer with any hint of emotional investment. But her pain is what makes Broud happy and he is frustrated with her lack of distress. Again shortly after her first menses, Broud comes across Ayla gathering herbs for Iza away from the cave and rapes her. Because of Clan customs, any male is allowed to have intercourse with any female he wishes, even if she belongs to another man, even if she isn’t yet a woman—but most Clan men feel it beneath their dignity to have intercourse with a child.  All a man has to do is give a signal, and the female will “assume the position”. Because of this, the Clan doesn’t protest when Broud takes up the habit of raping her daily, sometimes multiple times a day. The women are confused as to why she is screaming out as if in pain, but the ordeal is seen as some kind of odd phase for Broud, considering Ayla is so unattractive and Broud has a beautiful woman of his own. Iza and Creb notice her crippling depression, but they don’t know what to attribute it to and so have no way of helping her.

A redeeming feature of the Clan is that they don’t stigmatize sexuality in childhood.

“In the Clan, the mating of two people was entirely a spiritual affair, begun with a declaration to the whole clan but consummated by a secret rite that included only the men. In this primitive society, sex was as natural and unrestrained as sleeping or eating. Children learned, as they learned other skills and customs, by observing adults, and they played at intercourse as they mimicked other activities from a young age. Often a boy who reached puberty, but had not yet made his first kill and existed in limbo between child and adult, penetrated a girl child even before she reached her menarche.”  Jean M. Auel, The Clan of the Cave Bear

However, they don’t necessarily know how sex works either. They believe in animal spirits called Totems; assigned to every member of the clan, they protect each person and bring luck or misfortune depending on how the clan behaves. They believe these spirits are rooted themselves in tradition as well, fearing anger from their otherworldly protectors if they stray from long-practiced rites and customs. Male totems are usually “stronger” than female totems (for example, a female totem might be a beaver where a male totem may be a wild boar), and it is believed that pregnancy is caused by the male totem “defeating” the female totem by some undefined spiritual means. A woman’s menses is similarly caused by the woman’s totem defeating a man’s totem. Ayla herself has the strongest totem in the tribe, the massive Cave Lion, assigned by Mog-ur when he contemplates the parallel scars on her legs caused by the cave lion attack when she was just five years old. Throughout her years, Ayla receives assistance and protection from the Cave Lion, noticed only by Mog-ur (as such a strong totem for a little girl confuses the rest of the Clan).


Michael Chapman, John Sayles and Jean M. Auel – The Clan of the Cave Bear (1986) (9)

Shockingly enough (or maybe not), Ayla soon discovers she is pregnant—and is ecstatic. She had been told all throughout her childhood that she would never bear children, would never mate or find a partner due to her incredibly powerful totem and her ugliness. She forms no connection at first between Broud’s sexual abuse and the pregnancy, but it isn’t long before she pieces it together—becoming the first of the tribe to ever do so. She loves her baby all the same, and I believe the child represents for her a reclamation of her femininity, stripped from her at a young age simply because she didn’t fit the Clan’s idea of what it meant to be female. Her first child, born to her at age 11, is therefore a symbol of her unfailing femininity in spite of her masculine strength. The child is born as a hybrid between the two human species and is seen by the Clan as being deformed, but to Ayla she sees only unity—the mergence of her spirit with that of the Clan in a way she could never accomplish herself. In the end, Broud gives her the one thing she thought she would never get.

An interesting aspect of the plot involves the Clan Gathering, which I will not go into too much detail about. A ritual is held at the gathering in which Ayla must act as medicine woman and distribute the Datura decoction to the females of hers and other Clans. She takes some as well, perhaps too much, but when the women begin their erotic dance, Ayla is pulled by some force to Creb’s ceremony involving the Mog-urs and acolytes of other clans. This is a ceremony not only restricted from female participation, but male participation as well. It is only for the shamans. She learns some interesting things from Creb here and I will not say anything else about it because it’s honestly an astounding scene that should be read in its original form to be appreciated.

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Michael Chapman, John Sayles and Jean M. Auel – The Clan of the Cave Bear (1986) (10)

I find the contrasts between her masculine and feminine aspects quite interesting. Rather, I find it interesting in that she’s not really masculine or feminine. The definitions attached to this duality are entirely subjective, seemingly dependent on the social context in which they are used. It is true that most societies throughout human history seem to have considered hunting an entirely masculine activity, but there are definitely exceptions as with all things. From the Clan’s perspective, she is almost wholly masculine; but then, she bears life, she experiences the cycles of her menses, and she develops a close relationship with plants—all are traits considered feminine by the Clan and many real-life human societies. If you read up on mythology you’ll have heard of Artemis, goddess of hunting, virginity, and protector of nature.

Considering Ayla is a child for most of the book (in the sense that she is under 18), it’s interesting to think of what femininity means in the context of little girls and in the context of Ayla’s role in the Clan. Children are unaware of themselves in a very genuine way, resulting in a sort of freedom that most adults can’t seem to experience. Little girls are themselves a kind of nymph or faerie—feminine, yes, but also masculine in the most surprising and mischievous of ways. They are dynamic, dual. I can say from experience that emerging as a woman from a state of girlhood is entirely frightening. All of a sudden it’s not cute to climb trees in a dress, or acceptable to sit with your legs very obviously open, or to do all sorts of things I was able to do without inhibition as a young girl, without even a thought as to how it was perceived by others. Eventually it became time to grow up, time to accept only one half of the duality while ignoring the other as if it didn’t exist. Ayla is so fascinating because she never seems to experience this horrible shift. Her unheard-of status as Woman Who Hunts combined with her other differences mean that the Clan is constantly in a state of awe or confusion about her, allowing Ayla to dissociate from Clan customs and to walk into herself as she wholly is. She grows up without the notion that she is a child turning into an adult. I’m not sure about the other books, but by the end of The Clan of the Cave Bear, Ayla is a woman and child all in one, and she is also neither—she’s Ayla.


Michael Chapman, John Sayles and Jean M. Auel – The Clan of the Cave Bear (1986) (11)

By the way, I still climb trees in dresses, ha!


Margaret O’Brien

Louis Malle, Part 3: Pretty Baby

After Lewis Carroll’s Alice and Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, Pretty Baby (1977) is perhaps the most popular metaphor symbolizing the cult of the girl child. Beyond that, this film features one of America’s most breathtaking beauties, Brooke Shields. Like most Malle films, a coherent plot is not paramount and, in this case, we are really seeing a series of vignettes expressing the human condition in a particular time and place. The story takes place in the 1917 New Orleans Storyville district. Such places, which were seen in many other big cities as well, were designated vice zones—presumably to keep them “contained”. They tended to be named after a particular alderman, whose role it was to placate a morally-outraged and fearful public. I read similar accounts of such a district in Chicago in Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for America’s Soul. In the opening scene, we see a closeup of Violet (Shields) watching as her mother Hattie (Susan Sarandon)—one of the house whores—gives birth to a baby boy. Sarandon and Malle must have had a good working relationship because he also used her in his film, Atlantic City in 1980.

Louis Malle - Pretty Baby (1)

Louis Malle – Pretty Baby (1)

Although Violet is excited about having a baby brother, the others seem unmoved by the news. She is still considered a child but old enough to help around the house. There are other children there as well and they play together. Given the low status of prostitutes and their children, no one has any qualms about black and white children playing together or with Violet having friendly conversations with the exclusively black servants.

Louis Malle - Pretty Baby (2)

Louis Malle – Pretty Baby (2)

One day, Monsieur Bellocq (Keith Carradine) arrives and requests permission from the mistress of the house, Madam Livingston, to shoot some of the girls. Violet tries to size him up as he makes his case.

Louis Malle - Pretty Baby (3)

Louis Malle – Pretty Baby (3)

Malle has done his homework and has integrated real people and real anecdotes into his story to make it believable. E.J. Bellocq was a real photographer who seemed to have an obsession with shooting women who worked in brothels. However by all accounts, he was an ugly man and in no way resembled Carradine. Although he maintains a respectful distance from the bustle of house business, he does stick out like a sore thumb. Violet tries to chat him up to find out why he never goes upstairs with any of the girls. He gets upset when she calls him a cream puff and there is an ongoing tension between the two of them as she tries to validate that she is desirable while he has trouble opening up in this convivial environment. Shields must have been coached on her Southern accent which drops out at times in some of the more emotional scenes.

Louis Malle - Pretty Baby (4)

Louis Malle – Pretty Baby (4)

Apart from the obviously frank sexual world she was raised in, there is also the looming reality that she is growing up. In one scene, she practices her banter with one of the regulars in the joint and he plays along, but when Livingston suggests that he go upstairs with her, he is outraged and insists he was just kidding around. In another scene, her mother mentions that “she’s only for French” because of her age.

Louis Malle - Pretty Baby (5)

Louis Malle – Pretty Baby (5)

Finally comes the big night. Violet gets dolled up for her big debut and she is carried out on a platform for all the dinner guests to see before they bid on her. One of the guests indiscreetly asks what her age is and Livingston refuses to answer saying, “Do you want me to go to jail?” When I first saw this scene, it struck me how often I heard it mentioned that a girl of 12 is considered old enough to get into the “business”. Two examples come readily to mind: Sin in the Second City and Akira Kurosawa’s Red Beard (1965) apparently inspired by Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Nell.

Louis Malle - Pretty Baby (6)

Louis Malle – Pretty Baby (6)

Louis Malle - Pretty Baby (7)

Louis Malle – Pretty Baby (7)

No matter how much Violet knows or practices, the first experience of intercourse is always a shock. Afterward, the ladies go upstairs to console her and Shields does a beautiful job of conveying a mixture of distress and laughter as they try to joke around about it. Despite the surface professionalism, we do see the dark side of this work.

Louis Malle - Pretty Baby (8)

Louis Malle – Pretty Baby (8)

One gets the feeling that all the younger women are pinning their hopes on meeting a man who will marry them and take them away. In order to achieve this, Hattie pretends that she and Violet are just sisters so that a prospective husband would not be turned off by the extra burden. Hattie and her new beau announce their marriage and Violet is left to fend for herself. But Hattie assures her that she will tell her husband the truth in time and come back for her later.

The title Pretty Baby itself speaks to the contradictory signals a young girl must get about being both too young and too old. In one scene, she is taking an innocent bath when Livingston shows up with a customer. In an instinctive display of modesty, she covers herself with a towel as they enter. But this is no place for that and the madam whisks away the towel so the john can see what he is paying for.

Louis Malle - Pretty Baby (9)

Louis Malle – Pretty Baby (9)

Louis Malle - Pretty Baby (10)

Louis Malle – Pretty Baby (10)

Bellocq has meanwhile become a regular fixture in the place and all the whores are quite friendly with him and have given him the nickname “Papa”. They are horsing around the house and decide to play Sardines. Violet is the first to find him and takes this moment alone to kiss him. She can finally assure the other girls that he is not a cream puff.

Louis Malle - Pretty Baby (11)

Louis Malle – Pretty Baby (11)

As mentioned before, Violet is allowed to play with all the other children, both black and white. However, there are limits. She teases the boys about being virgins and they insist they are not. She and the white boy get carried away and Violet manages to pin the little black boy down. The remarkable thing about cultural improprieties is that they are enforced equally severely by members of both races in the house.

Louis Malle - Pretty Baby (12)

Louis Malle – Pretty Baby (12)

We get small clues throughout the film that, because of her great beauty, Violet is a little spoiled. This abrupt interruption of her innocent and naive play made her angry enough to run away to stay with Bellocq. He is quite civil with her and she has to push hard to break through his barriers, but he finally gives in.

Louis Malle - Pretty Baby (13)

Louis Malle – Pretty Baby (13)

When she wakes up the next morning, he is not there but there is some food out and a note. We find out a little later that she cannot read and so did not know where he was. Here we see her share her meal with a cat.

Louis Malle - Pretty Baby (14)

Louis Malle – Pretty Baby (14)

Naturally, he makes use of this turn of events and gets her to pose for him.

Louis Malle - Pretty Baby (15)

Louis Malle – Pretty Baby (15)

Louis Malle - Pretty Baby (16)

Louis Malle – Pretty Baby (16)

It would have been easy for Malle to indulge in a little fantasy here and pretend Violet is more mature than she really is. But more realistically, she tires of all this posing and the two of them get into a fight. Another interesting detail is that she scratches up one of his glass negatives. In fact, one of the peculiar expressions of ambivalence by the real Bellocq was that most of his images were violently scratched out—perhaps a strange form of self-censorship or punishment.

Louis Malle - Pretty Baby (17)

Louis Malle – Pretty Baby (17)

She tries to return to the brothel, but there are protesters outside; it seems inevitable that this establishment is going to be shut down. Violet ups the ante by dressing up in her finest outfit and proposing marriage to Bellocq. We are given a respite from the tension of the story as the couple goes out to celebrate with the other women as they make plans for their future.

Louis Malle - Pretty Baby (18)

Louis Malle – Pretty Baby (18)

Louis Malle - Pretty Baby (19)

Louis Malle – Pretty Baby (19)

The thing that impressed me about Malle is how skillfully he draws the audience into the plight of this young girl. Sure, Bellocq is not perfect, but for the most part, Violet has done well for herself and is a self-possessed young woman. It’s hard not to want a happy Hollywood ending for this couple, despite the ethical ambiguity. The tables are suddenly turned when Hattie and her husband show up, ready to take her to a new home. All of a sudden, she is transformed from a woman back into a little girl. The final shot is of her standing with her mother and little brother as her new stepfather takes a family snapshot at the train station.

Louis Malle - Pretty Baby (20)

Louis Malle – Pretty Baby (20)

In a sense, Malle satisfied the Hollywood censors by offering us this moral ending, but he makes no bones about keeping us in the air about what is really best for Violet. Even the business about the snapshot at the end is a kind of statement about the superficiality of conventional family life. Living the life of an artist is a rich but risky adventure—represented by the fussy and perfectionistic Bellocq—and flouts society’s conventions. While the proper family life—represented by the mundane family portrait—offers security along with a dull lifestyle which may not appeal to everyone.

This lynchpin post opens the door to some other important work involving Brooke Shields. A number of noted photographers have shot her and I intend to feature three of them here: Garry Gross, Francesco Scavullo and Steve Mills. Not all of her experiences with these artists were salutory which may be why when Shields was cast for The Blue Lagoon (1980), body doubles were used for all the nude scenes.

Louis Malle, Part 2: Black Moon

The first thing that strikes most people when they first watch Black Moon (1975) is that it is hard to follow. Any film or novel that makes extensive use of “stream of consciousness” narrative will not be comprehended by most people at first. So why do such things exist? My contention is that this is dream imagery—imagery from the subconscious—that an artist is compelled to express in an effort to understand it himself. Personal motivations aside, these creations do nevertheless have value to others because dreams make extensive use of archetypal symbols which we can all appreciate with proper education.

It is a little bit of a stretch to include this film on Pigtails in Paint. The lead character, Lily (Cathryn Harrison), is on the cusp of womanhood which is on the high side of our age range. However, the presence of naked children is a recurring motif and part of our agenda is to remove the stigma of such imagery in our culture. And Louis Malle makes extensive use of Lewis Carroll’s Alice imagery, so that makes this film appropriate in a number of tangential ways.

The opening shot is of a badger rooting around until Lily speeds by in a small car. She stops to look at it with a blank expression on her face. It is not clear at this point, but this establishes the idea that as a young woman, she is intimately connected to nature and is compelled to pay attention to it. As she continues her journey, she comes upon some military troops and watches as they execute some prisoners. There is the suggestion that this is a manifestation of a war of the sexes with the aggressors playing out the male role and the more passive women (and their male allies) playing the victims. The presence of the battle in the periphery throughout the film creates a convincing substrate of anxiety. I also feel it is a reflection of Malle’s experience as a boy in Vichy France—Au Revoir Les Enfants and Lacombe, Lucien are two excellent portrayals of the German occupation. One of the soldiers approaches her car and whisks off her cap; thus exposed, she drives off in panic.

Louis Malle - Black Moon (1975) (1)

Louis Malle – Black Moon (1975) (1)

Louis Malle - Black Moon (1975) (2)

Louis Malle – Black Moon (1975) (2)

On her way, she observes more vignettes of nature communicating with her and another military scene of a prisoner being beaten. In her flight she falls, giving herself a bloody nose—symbolic of the onset of menstruation. Her first sign of civilization is a horsewoman—whom she mistakes for a man—who seems to scrutinize her before cantering off. Then she encounters a group of naked boys acting as swineherds.

Louis Malle - Black Moon (1975) (3)

Louis Malle – Black Moon (1975) (3)

Louis Malle - Black Moon (1975) (4)

Louis Malle – Black Moon (1975) (4)

She finally comes upon a house and enters. There are many signs that the place is inhabited: a lit fire, food cooking on the stove, etc.

Louis Malle - Black Moon (1975) (5)

Louis Malle – Black Moon (1975) (5)

By this time, the surreal tone is already suggestive of Lewis Carroll’s tales, but we begin to see specific examples: a glass of milk indicative of the “Drink Me! Eat Me!” scene. Lily even has to strain to reach the glass as though she were too small. Across the table is a piglet (The Duchess’ Baby) grunting seemingly in protest and the sound of the piano in the other room is actually a cat walking on the keys (The Cheshire Cat). The milk, however, is a clear symbol of motherhood.

Louis Malle - Black Moon (1975) (6)

Louis Malle – Black Moon (1975) (6)

Another important recurring character is a rather shabby unicorn. Clearly a symbol of the girl’s maidenhood, Lily’s interaction with this creature illustrates her progress in coming to terms with her adult sexuality and accepting the passing of her youth. Unicorns are post-medieval* symbols of lust, but as strictly fantastic creatures, we understand that we are witnessing the machinations of this girl’s subconscious.

Louis Malle - Black Moon (1975) (7)

Louis Malle – Black Moon (1975) (7)

Hearing noises upstairs, she explores the house further and finds an old woman (Thérèse Giehse, in a kind of Red Queen role) speaking to a rat (The Dormouse) in a strange mixture of Germanic and Latin sounding languages. Next to her is a radio symbolizing Lily’s connection to the outside, real world. In her first encounter with the woman, Lily has an altercation with her and believes she has died.

Louis Malle - Black Moon (1975) (8)

Louis Malle – Black Moon (1975) (8)

She hears singing outside and sees a young man tending the grounds. She goes outside to look for him and comes upon him suddenly.

Louis Malle - Black Moon (1975) (9)

Louis Malle – Black Moon (1975) (9)

Dissatisfied with the old woman’s communication, Lily tries to get a straight answer from this man (Joe Dallesandro). She finds that he only communicates telepathically and is also named Lily. She turns and sees the horsewoman and the naked children now joined by some girls all shepherding a hog and some sheep. The horsewoman is the man’s sister (Alexandra Stewart) and is named Lily as well. The coincidence of the names points to the fact that Brother Lily and Sister Lily are the girl’s alter egos, representing the Animus and the Shadow in Jungian psychology. The twin motif is also suggestive of Tweedledee and Tweedledum.

Louis Malle - Black Moon (1975) (10)

Louis Malle – Black Moon (1975) (10)

Throughout the film, the twins serve as models of Lily’s impending role: Sister Lily as caregiver and Brother Lily as seducer. Both represent the more impulsive aspects of their gender roles while the old woman represents the more rational. Brother and Sister Lily return to the old woman’s room and revive her; Sister then allows the old woman to suckle at her breast. After witnessing this, Lily sits provocatively in a chair (in a Balthus-like pose) while Brother comes by and sensuously caresses her bare leg. Alarmed by this development, she withdraws suddenly and is then locked in the room alone with the old woman. One at a time, each alarm clock (The White Rabbit’s Pocket Watch) goes off and in a rage of denial, Lily throws them each out the window. The clocks are a call back to reality but also symbolic of a woman’s “biological clock”. She is then humiliated by the old woman as her panties fall down inexplicably, yet another expression of sexual denial.

Louis Malle - Black Moon (1975) (11)

Louis Malle – Black Moon (1975) (11)

She escapes when she sees the unicorn again and tracks it down. The unicorn is the only character that speaks plainly to her and she wishes she could continue speaking with it indefinitely. After this, she experiences a shift in her relationship to the children: at first personally associating with them as a fellow child and then acknowledging her role as caregiver. She again observes Sister Lily modeling the caregiving role by feeding the children. She decides to accept her role and now when the old woman makes suckling sounds, Lily feeds her from her own breast. This strange scene is reminiscent of the final passage in The Grapes of Wrath with Rose of Sharon suckling the old man.

Louis Malle - Black Moon (1975) (12)

Louis Malle – Black Moon (1975) (12)

Louis Malle - Black Moon (1975) (13)

Louis Malle – Black Moon (1975) (13)

This rite of passage is commemorated in the film by a performance of Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde with Lily playing the piano accompaniment and two of the children playing the leads. The choice of subject matter is instructive; the Tristan and Isolde story came into full blossom in the troubadour era and is about a young couple who fall in love but don’t realize it. The drama is escalated when the couple drink a love potion they mistake for wine.

Louis Malle - Black Moon (1975) (14)

Louis Malle – Black Moon (1975) (14)

Louis Malle - Black Moon (1975) (15)

Louis Malle – Black Moon (1975) (15)

Lily then witnesses a violent scene as Brother Lily kills an eagle with a sword and then Brother and Sister begin fighting tooth and nail, perhaps representing the unresolved tension between the sexes in our society. Lily returns upstairs—the old woman is now gone—and assumes her role: sleeping in her bed and trying to work the radio. A snake appears, an obvious phallic symbol, and slithers into the bed. It appears that Louis Malle does not regard womanhood as a liberation, but an obligation to be meekly accepted. Lily’s expression is of passive resignation and not consistent with the notions of sexual freedom of that period.

Louis Malle - Black Moon (1975) (16)

Louis Malle – Black Moon (1975) (16)

In the final scene, Lily gets closure with the unicorn which suddenly appears. This time it says nothing and Lily dutifully bares her breasts as it makes suckling sounds. In fact, this is the freeze frame at the end of the film. The significance of this is that in satiating the unicorn, she is able to let go of her attachment to her childhood innocence and fantasy.

Louis Malle - Black Moon (1975) (17)

Louis Malle – Black Moon (1975) (17)

I would like to thank Pip for his contribution in analyzing this film. Without his help, it would have been a lot more work for me to put this all together.

The last installment of the Louis Malle films will be Pretty Baby starring Brooke Shields.

*I erred in my original assumption that this was a medieval symbol.  After some of Christian’s comments and some more follow up on my part, I realize the symbol belongs to the late 15th Century (but possibly earlier).  Please read the comments below for a clarification.  In an effort to get so much information out, there are bound to be errors like this and I will correct them as needed.  It is not my intent to deceive or misrepresent historical paradigms.  -Ron


Brothers Jake and Dinos Chapman began working collaboratively in the very early 1990s.  Their work then, as now, featured mannequins in dark and provocative scenes.  A number of their installations seem to deal with the subject of girls, despite denial by the artists.  The Chapman brothers’ art deals with some heavy ideas and during interviews they quote readily from Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein and Deleuze.  Jake has discussed being strongly influenced by Georges Bataille’s On Nietzsche, Tears of Eros, and Documents magazine.

Nietzsche had opined in Birth of Tragedy that art redeems life from the terrible truth that existence is a horror.  With the Chapman brothers’ art, this appears to be in a way reversed: something good and beautiful in reality is perverted by art into the horrible.

Jake and Dinos Chapman – Zygotic Acceleration, Biogenetic, De-Sublimated Libidinal Model (Enlarged x 1000) (1995)

Jake and Dinos Chapman – Zygotic Acceleration, Biogenetic, De-Sublimated Libidinal Model (Enlarged x 1000) (1995)

“There’s nothing we’ve done here that can rival the darkness of the imaginations of children. They aren’t the innocents that adults want them to be.” – Jake Chapman

The brothers’ alleged aim is to incite political dialogue through provocation, while at the same time acknowledging that transgressing boundaries in modern art is no longer possible.  (Jake Chapman on Georges Bataille: an Interview with Simon Baker.)

A number of critics speculated that Zygotic Acceleration (1995) or Tragic Anatomies (1996) were about the danger of the sexualization of girls: penises and vaginas attached to the faces of the girls and so on.  Despite the death of the author, the brothers nonetheless interjected in the discussion and denied that this is what their collections were about—perhaps sensing that that would truly have been a provocative topic and preferring to stay in the safe-zone of traditional patriarchal politics and sexual discourse as in Sex (2009), which is a scene of torture, or Death (2003) which is a pair of cheap sex dolls cast in bronze.  The brothers go so far as to claim that the life size models are not even girls.

“For example, a journalist said to us, ‘How can you dare do these things to small girls?’ So you think, well, hold on a minute, let’s just take that question apart – why is it a girl? So the journalist replies and says, ‘Well it’s got long hair and freckles.’ OK. When Jake was a little child he had long hair and freckles, does that mean that he was a girl then and now, miraculously, he’s turned into a man because he’s got short hair and his freckles have gone? He says, ‘No, no, you know what I mean.’ We’re like, no, we actually don’t know what you mean. You’re applying rules to something that they don’t actually apply to. This thing is inanimate, it’s made from resin and paint. It bears 90% relationship to a mannequin, and maybe less than 10% to things that you can buy in Ann Summers [a chain of sex-toy shops]. There’s no point at which you can say this is a child. It might look like a child from the back, but from the front it doesn’t. And then the idea that something with an erect penis on its nose could ever be female is also another problem… It’s an attempt to force people to take into account their bad thinking. ‘Zygotic acceleration…,’ for example, it doesn’t work if you say it’s a child or it’s children; I’ve never seen 20 children fused together with adult genitalia on their faces. […] With the full title of that work, ‘Zygotic acceleration, biogenetic, de-sublimated libidinal model (enlarged x 1000),’ the final part tells you that this is not even a child-sized creature” (Jake & Dinos Chapman Interview, David Barett).

Jake and Dinos Chapman – Tragic Anatomies (1996)

Jake and Dinos Chapman – Tragic Anatomies (1996)

The Chapman brothers insist that Zygotic Acceleration or Tragic Anatomies are really about moral panic and this is expressed via the subject of genetic engineering (Press Release, Jake and Dinos Chapman: Explaining Christians to Dinosaurs).  Meanwhile, Jake and Dinos are aware that their works have gotten away from them, and Jake acknowledges that their Deleuzian-Guattarian collaboration could not have a single author, purpose or meaning (Jake Chapman on Georges Bataille: An Interview with Simon Baker).  And indeed, many critics recognized these girls as sexual.

“In relation to the mutant mannequins, we can also speak of the possibilities of a Bataille-like transgression that is closely tied to the experiences of sexuality and the overcoming of sexual taboos” (Press release, SLEPÝ VEDE SLEPÉHO).

Jake and Dinos Chapman – Tragic Anatomies (1996)

Jake and Dinos Chapman – Tragic Anatomies (1996)

“Shocking, no doubt, the piece is also a discomfiting representation of the sexualisation of children, possibly registering either sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, or society’s fears about these crimes. Zygotic Acceleration, Biogenetic, De-Sublimated Libidinal Model (Enlarged x 1000) is first and foremost a stark way of confronting an audience with a tremendously unpleasant image, alluding to science fiction and medical research and so implicating an aesthetic genre and scientific research in the production of these problematic images; science fiction and scientific research are, respectively, aesthetic and intellectual domains where the horrible and the unsettling become possibilities. Any audience is welcome to view this piece to consider what it says about childhood and sexuality in modern society, providing the audience is willing to see past the piece’s antagonistic visual pun on “in your face” art. […] They usurp childhood innocence with these grotesque hypersexualized plastic replicas, part fashion (mannequins, the signifying sneakers), part “biogenetic” and very disturbing” (John A. Walker and Sarah Chaplin. Visual Culture: An Introduction).

By denying the child sexuality implicit in their work, the Chapman brothers can maintain an artistic respectability and have shows at the Tate gallery, while other artists who have broached the subject of child sexuality and the sexuality of girls have had this possibility taken from them.  The following critic for instance observes how the hideous art of the Chapman brothers maintains its aesthetic value, while by contrast, the beautiful sexualized girls of Graham Ovenden must be bereft of significant value.

“There are a number of contemporary artists who work with controversial imagery, images that when compared to the work of Ovenden (before his conviction), appear much more graphic and overtly perverse. What is it that makes such an extreme form of art no longer suggestive of a lack of moral value? How is it possible that the image of a nude child by Ovenden is worse than a sculpture that at a glance, appears to depict several? Could it be that the extreme nature of works by artists such as Jake and Dinos Chapman cause us to no longer associate their work with the human condition, as their work appears so non-human, so detached from our own reality. Their 1995 work Zygotic Acceleration, Biogenetic, De-Sublimated Libidinal Model (Enlarged x 1000) is often misread as the sculpture appears to depict nude, gender neutral children with facial deformations resembling genitalia. It appears particularly grotesque, a sort of macabre reoccurring joke between the two brothers‟ works. […] Zygotic Acceleration, Biogenetic, De-Sublimated Libidinal Model (Enlarged x 1000) has a higher value than say an image by Ovenden, as it is not about what you see initially, aesthetically, it is how what you see makes you feel; thus making it a better work of art in comparison. The higher the moral value, the higher the artistic integrity, the higher the merit of the artist and the better the work of art. […] In the past, there have been many instances where art has been deemed immoral and unfit for display, where it was put away, hidden from public view or completely destroyed. […] They were decisions made solely on what a group of people thought was either good or bad art. Questioning the moral value of art and the integrity of the artists who created it was in part responsible for the events that took place during World War II. The Nazis began to make their way into all levels of German society” (Tiffany Horan, Does Art Have Moral Value, and If so, Is Such Value Relevant to Its Assessment as Art?)

Another of the Chapman brothers’ projects that involved the defacing of girls was advertized to the public recently with this quote:

“Children are not human yet” (BBC, August 4, 2014).

Jake and Dinos Chapman – Minderwertigkinder (2011)

Jake and Dinos Chapman – Minderwertigkinder (2011)

One of the brothers’ installations was at one location, while the other brother showed at a different site, and it was left open as to who created which.  One visitor described the girls as follows:

“The Minderwertigkinder – inferior children (NTS) –  are dressed in black, hoods on, and their back are turned to the entrance. They face One Rabbit Contemplating the Moon (2011) a grimy painting of an extasied cartoon’ish rabbit. The middle of each children’s face is tore apart where a snout, a beak, a trunk bulges out as if in the process of a collective shapeshift. A swastika circled by the message ‘They Teach Us Nothing’ is printed on their jumper – one you can purchase at the entrance.  Up a flight of stairs, one of the Minderwertigkinder – mouse child sits on the ledge of the first floor window. It seems impossible to escape from debilitating dream” (Part #1, Hoxton Square, Jake?)

Jake and Dinos Chapman – Minderwertigkinder (2011)

Jake and Dinos Chapman – Minderwertigkinder (2011)

The animal feature is described variously as rupturing from the face of the girl or metamorphosing.  Some commentators saw a connection to fairy tales or horror films.  As with the 90s works, is there some redeeming interpretation possible alluding to the Deleuzian-Guattarian “becoming-girl”?  While the Chapmans reject any teleological interpretations of their work, their girl mannequin series might still be read not as an insult to or desecration of the girl, but as an evolutionary pathway through and even the transcendence of girls, who are never static but always in a state of becoming.

“[G]irls do not belong to an age group, sex, order, or kingdom: they slip in everywhere, between orders, acts, ages, sexes; they produce in molecular sexes on the line of flight in relation to the dualism machines they cross right through. […] The girl is like the block of becoming that remains contemporaneous to each opposable term, man, woman, child, adult. It is not the girl who becomes a woman; it is becoming-woman that produces the universal girl. […] The girl and the child do not become; it is becoming itself that is a child or a girl. The child does not become an adult any more than the girl becomes a woman; the girl is the becoming-woman of each sex, just as the child is the becoming-young of every age. […] It is Age itself that is a becoming-child, just as Sexuality, any sexuality, is a becoming-woman, in other words, a girl” (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus).

The complete works of Jake and Dinos Chapman can be found at this link.

Alien Girls, Animal Spirits & Raisons d’Être: The Art of Lily C

I’ve received my fair share of fan mail for my work here, but something about the first excited email I received from a young lady named Lily C (named changed for her protection and privacy), who I’ve been conversing back and forth with over the last few days, really captured me, in part because it perfectly encapsulated part of Pigtails in Paint‘s raison d’être.  I am going to quote her first two paragraphs in full, because I think she deserves that.  She wrote:

I came across your site while looking for answers or comfort or acceptance. I started with Nabokov so many years ago and went all the way to Caravaggio and Carroll and Ovenden, then to your site. Let me explain. When I was around four years old, I was repeatedly sexually abused by a male family friend, who was twelve or thirteen and had been abused himself (and the cycle probably continued all the way up the line to Adam). When I was nine, it was a neighbor who was around forty, and when I was twelve/thirteen it was a few strangers on a few trains. As you can imagine, these events soiled my sexuality a good deal for it took away my right to explore it of my own accord. Truly, I feel that innocence isn’t lost with virginity, but instead when sex becomes carnal, forced, and fake– an apple made entirely of sugar, rather than the ripe, red fruit it should be. The boy treated me as if he loved me, the older man explicitly told me so, and the strangers on the train touched me blindly, without love. It confused me. I’m not sure if you believe at all in the concept of the nymphet (popularized by Nabokov but surely recognized well before then) but even if you don’t, I do, and I believe I was one.


After all that happened to me, I became hyper-sexual, which isn’t uncommon for girls in this circumstance, but I corrupted my sexuality near to the point of extinction because I was endlessly searching for a way to reclaim and re-explore it without the notions that were forced upon me. Then, just a year ago, I met a boy who saw the child and the nymphet in me and he nurtured it and now I’m regaining that small portion that was lost; what I call innocent sexuality. Indeed, I feel like a child and a woman all at the same time and I’ve found a beautiful balance and it feels so good to be this way. However, I am still traumatized, and ever since those events began I have struggled with child love. One of my darkest secrets, but one that I can share because I’m no longer afraid of it (though I am ashamed), is that in my young teenage years I became obsessively fascinated with child pornography. This, of course, stems solely from the personality split that occurred within me from the abuse, and I sought after children because I wanted badly to reconnect with the part of the child within who was lost. I’m still coming to terms with this loss. I disconnected myself from the porn after I had met my love, and indeed everything that dealt with themes of child love were thrown away or pushed out of my head out of fear. I still get pangs of heart-wrenching adoration for certain little girls, and it really confuses me in the moment. This past month I have been searching around the Internet for something that would satiate this need to connect, that wouldn’t be a simple cover-up as the child porn was– and the point of all this, really, is to say that I’ve found it on your blog.

When I founded Pigtails, it was first and foremost a way for me to process my own complex feelings about young girls through the endless manifestations of them embodied in art, and to recognize the nobler ideas behind artistic expression in a way that honored girls holistically without demolishing or changing their girlish nature.  As I’ve said before, Pigtails is itself an art project, and, as good art should, it has since come to represent many things for many people.  So, it meant a great deal to me when Lily explained what Pigtails was for her and how it soothed a need she felt in herself to recapture the feelings of being both innocent and sexually alive at the same time—in other words, to be the girl she would’ve been had her burgeoning sexuality not been corrupted and directed by outside forces.  With a wisdom surpassing her nineteen years, she managed to express what it means succinctly and artfully:

Innocence to me is a wonder and a curiosity free from construct and self-inhibition. Innocence is exploring without boundaries or insecurities (apart from those boundaries that keep one safe).

Notice that nowhere in this definition does she include the concept of utter sexual ignorance, for the truth is, kids are sexual beings.  The issue isn’t that sexual abuse “sexualizes” children, but rather that it swaps their free-form, still developing sexuality out for something artificial, fixed and forced, and therefore (to the child) something much less fun and interesting.  It is not dissimilar from an adult taking a child’s free-flowing imagination and shaping it to by coercing, guilt-tripping or pressuring the child to create only what that particular adult finds beautiful.  When this happens (as it frequently does), children tend to become disillusioned with their own creativity, and consequently, to lose interest in being creative.  For kids, the end product of creative expression is not generally the driving force behind it; it is, rather, the joy of creation itself.

Lily C - Empress (2012)

Lily C – Empress (2012)

Well, all of that applies to child sexuality as well, and therein lies the key to understanding it.  Society as a rule tends to either ignore, devalue or deny the existence of child sexuality altogether.  This is why we have consistently been so wrongheaded about how to deal with children and sex, and consequently, why I believe sexual abuse is still going fairly strong today even with the severe taboos and laws in place.  Society itself has effectively fetishized children’s innocence to the point where they now fail to understand what it really means, or the harm that this impossible standard often causes to children themselves.  With our prevailing concept of the perfectly asexual child, we have erected an image of the child which most real children could never meet, and that failure can bring shame and guilt on them, the very things child abusers often use to control kids and keep them quiet, and which can cause them to be victimized again and again.  On the flip side of that same coin, the innocence fetish has become attractive in itself to some people, and by extension, so does the prospect of violating that innocence, warping or corrupting it.

But I’m not here to talk about that.  I am here to discuss Lily’s art, which she sent me samples of in her second email, and which I immediately fell in love with.  This is real outsider art, folks—like the work of Henry Darger.  It is pure expression, motivated by a true creative instinct that isn’t necessarily aimed at an end goal, much like that of a child.  Lily says of her work,

It is rare for me to take pencil to paper with an idea in mind. Usually I will be fixated on some aesthetic form (e.g. the shape of the fingers, an eye, a nose, a word) at the time of drawing and I start with these things, but rarely does the attention awarded to that specific aesthetic point manifest as the focal point of the work. It’s very spontaneous; it just comes out of my fingers, really, and therefore it comes almost directly from my subconscious. In a way all my pieces are connected to the dream world. When I’m done drawing I look at the page in surprise, usually, at the ideas that have presented themselves to me through such an arbitrary method, much like waking from a dream.

Of particular interest to Ron were the animal/human hybrid pieces.  One is a type of centaur, an equine body topped by a human head. The ornate decorations she has given the centaur, including the hood, are all quite lovely.  The long distortions of the equine form call to mind Salvador Dali’s elephants and the horse from The Temptation of Saint Anthony.  The other hybrid is a lemur’s posterior topped by a human girl’s torso and head.  A strange choice for such a hybrid, and yet it works.  The addition of the wind gives the image a nice buzz of energy.  The lemur girl is busy, maybe storing fruit away for the winter, while the wind blows.  The image suggest autumn, which is, appropriately enough, a season of transition, great activity and preparation for the future, things that most teen girls are well acquainted with.

The meanings behind them are also quite personal for Lily and tie in to the childhood theme that recurs through her work:

The animal/human hybrids are directly sourced from who I am as an individual. I have a very strong connection to the child within myself, and indeed some parts of me are fully a child (if that makes sense). As I’m sure you and many of your readers know, children have the remarkable ability to attune themselves to animal spirits; they are simply closer to the Earth, closer to the essence of existence which can be found in its most complete form in nature. I embody this spirit in my paintings because my creative abilities are intrinsically linked to my childishness.

Lily C - Wounded Mouth (2010)

Lily C – Wounded Mouth (2010)

Lily C - Past Lives (2012)

Lily C – Past Lives (2012)

My favorite, piece, meanwhile, is a blue-skinned alien girl.  There exists a striking contrast between the exoticness of the alien and the prosaic nature of her expression, which embodies a common struggle of girls everywhere to forge their own identity and is spoken very much in the urban patois of a modern teen: “Can’t live like I wanna.”  Of course, since it is Lily expressing this sentiment through her art, it means much more than that.  Some might be tempted to ascribe a Postmodern irony here, but to do so I think would be to gravely misunderstand the artist.  Indeed, Lily herself has confessed that she doesn’t fully understand what is going on in this work and finds it troubling at times.

The words come from a song called ‘I Ate Your Soul’ by Grieves. This painting is from one of the hardest points in my life. I drew it when I was fifteen and kept it for a little while without color or words. At that point she was just the girl, and she was in a much more vulnerable position with her legs spread open and a pained expression on her face. I redrew it multiple times over the next two years, but it never seemed right to me. Usually I feel a sense of relief when a sketch or a drawing is finished, but not with her. When I was eighteen and in university I listened to a lot of hip-hop and I was fixated on the aforementioned track, listening to only this song over and over. I was in my dorm room one night listening to the song and very distressed because I hadn’t drawn anything for a long, long time. I had her in front of me and I looked at her and felt extremely disgusted by her, so I traced her yet again and scribbled those lyrics which had been stuck in my head, and she seemed more complete. She ignited my creativity in that sense again so I’m grateful for her, but she still scares me.

Lily C - Untitled (2011)

Lily C – Untitled (2011)

Her girls can also take on the semblance of clowns, with odd splotches of color over eyes, chin and cheeks.  Or bearing a jester’s cap and a protruding tongue.  But in short order one realizes that these are not cheerful characters.  They’re naked, for one thing, and it isn’t the carefree nakedness we usually see with children.  It is awkward, uncertain, defensive.  One girl, her body contorted impossibly and furtively away from the viewer, looks to be masturbating, a coil of poisonous green smoke wafting from the cigarette in her other hand.  The girl in the jester’s cap feels rather more devilish than comedic here, with her protruding tongue, her sharp claws and a piece of intestine snaking out of a slit in her belly.

The darker aspects of Lily’s art can of course be interpreted as a manifestation of her sexual abuse.  Lily herself frames it this way:

I use my art to explore all components of my existence, including my sexuality. My intense focus on sexuality in art started when I was around six years old and would draw crude genitalia on figures then quickly scribble them out for modesty. I don’t know if this interest stemmed from abuse or innate curiosity. My abuse started when I was as young as two (however, I only remember specific instances from when I was five), but I don’t remember everything because that is past the point where my memory can recall such trauma. A lot of what happened to me is not accessible, it lingers in my subconscious, so naturally it would eventually come out through my art; the only access point. The abuse affected me in a most confusing way so that I didn’t know what sexuality was or how it fit into my life or myself, and I began to explore it with nude figures of my own age and older engaging in sexual acts, and this began when I was twelve. As my work progressed the figures became younger and younger, and less sexually involved, until I was drawing fetuses in the womb! Through this, I was able to explore sexuality in the context of age. I found that the young girls I drew had a profound sexual energy that could not be expressed, that was actually on the very verge of being expressed but they did not know exactly how to do it because of their age or some other block. The babies had a sexual energy, but did not express it except through simply being (as all things do– even rocks have a minuscule amount of sexual energy which they exude only by existing in the world). The fetuses were fetuses and I could not really identify them. I remember one drawing in particular, made when I was fifteen. There was a fetus in a disembodied amniotic sac, about 50 days old, and a female off to the left side of the drawing who looked to be about eleven years old by her body proportions, screaming. At the top of the page was a cluster of female heads with hollow eyes, connected by their hair. On the next page was a female with a goat head, fourteen years old, bound in barbed wire and some poetry about serpents off to the right. Strange stuff. The connection between my childhood and my art is formed in many locations within me. It is formed through the subconscious by trauma, it’s formed by the inherently strong link to my imagination forged in childhood, and it’s formed by my innate tendency to express myself creatively on paper which I have been doing since before I can remember. But there’s a lot of weird stuff going on that I haven’t quite figured out yet, so I don’t doubt that some connections haven’t yet been discovered.

Lily C - Shelby (2010)

Lily C – Shelby (2010)

Lily C - Hunter (2010)

Lily C – Hunter (2010)

Lily’s images often swirl with text, some of it inexplicable but clearly channeled from her subconscious.  In Alien Boss, the text is as much the focus of the work as the imagery is.  In fact, text and imagery are so intertwined that they are nearly inseparable.  The words slither and writhe on the page, getting jumbled up so that one might read them in a variety of ways.  Before I was provided with the title of this work, I interpreted one line in the piece to read, “Boss, the alien is coming”—Lily rather intended it to read, “The alien boss is coming.”  Either one might be appropriate in the context, to say nothing of the possible double entendre in the word “coming,” given what is occurring on the page.

Lily C - Alien Boss (2010)

Lily C – Alien Boss (2010)

In another, green-hued girls and mechanical birds prance around while a disembodied infantile mouth commands the viewer to “Fuck ME.”  Confrontational?  Perhaps.  Necessary?  Quite.

Lily C - Untitled (2010)

Lily C – Untitled (2010)

But it’s not been all doom and gloom for Lily.  I will leave you with a hopeful note from Lily herself:

Apart from the abuse my childhood was a happy one. I spent most of my time alone, climbing trees and catching insects, building worm piles and playing with cars. I was happiest among the trees and the grass and the dirt, thinking about things. I felt powerful when I fell from a tall branch and scraped my arms up badly and did not cry. Also when I ate with the wasps, and let spiders crawl across my hands, and when I got so dirty I turned the bathtub black. When I was a little girl I didn’t restrain myself from anything, I did whatever I wanted without fear and I had a very strong moral code; I didn’t hurt anything or anyone, I helped wherever I was needed. This is a point I would like to reach again, and I’m not far away. If I could embody the spirit of myself as a little girl, this would be the utmost point of my spirituality and creativity.

Lily C - Warrior (2012)

Lily C – Warrior (2012)


RanXerox: An Idea Whose Time Has . . . Gone

The late ’70s and early ’80s were a paradoxical time.  Crime rates, including violent crime, peaked in the United States, and films had become notably darker and more violent, as well as more sexually daring in some ways.  They had even started to address child and adolescent sexuality and child sexual abuse much more directly (and, it should be said, quite often controversially here in the states).  Pretty Baby (1978), You Are Not Alone (1978), The Tin Drum (1979), Beau Pere (1981) and Pixote (1981) had all come out in this period.  As you’ll note, all but one of these were foreign releases, and the exception, Pretty Baby, had a foreign director.

Meanwhile, the precedent for America’s treatment of these themes had been set by 1976’s Taxi Driver, it seems (ironically, a film about a psychotic man who is unable to process his own attraction to a 13-year-old prostitute–played by a young Jodie Foster—and consequently goes on a violent shooting spree.)  This film, perhaps more than any other, I think encapsulates the American mindset with regard to child sexuality.  In a very real sense America is Travis Bickle, and it isn’t surprising that Jodie Foster’s character from the film eventually inspired a very real Bicklesque lunatic, John Hinckley, Jr., to make an assassination attempt on President Reagan’s life.

But film wasn’t the only medium in which Europeans explored underage sexuality.  There were also a few European comics working in this territory.   Of course, they often came with about a metric crap-ton of qualifiers and subterfuge, so as to get around censors.  Although comics are really a much better medium for addressing this topic than live-action film (given the fact that no real children need be involved), in some ways it has been even more subject to taboo than film has.  This may be because comics had traditionally been thought of as a kids’ medium, which only began to shift after the Underground Comix revolution of the late ’60s.  It was also in the late ’70s—1978 to be specific—that Europe gave birth to one of the most outrageous examples of comics dealing with underage sex, Tamburini and Liberatore’s RanXerox.

Tanino Liberatore - RanXerox - Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 4 (July, 1983) (pg. 15 - splash)

Tanino Liberatore – RanXerox – Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 4 (July, 1983) (pg. 15 – splash)

I have already mentioned how these explorations often used subterfuge to get around the censors, and RanXerox is the perfect example, for, although certain female protagonists of the series—including one of the main characters, Lubna—claimed to be 18 years old, it is visibly obvious that they are in fact much younger.  Not that there aren’t extremely tiny, nearly flat-chested 18-year-olds in real life, but what are the odds that two of them would be friends?  What’s clear here is that Stefano Tamburini and Gaetano “Tanino” Liberatore were conspiring to pull a fast one over on their readership, and for the most part they succeeded.

RanXerox got it’s start in a small Italian publication called Cannibale in 1978, but it really didn’t become well-known until the American sci-fi and erotica magazine Heavy Metal picked it up in June of 1983.  Right from the get-go the series was controversial, not only because of its blatant sexual transgression and graphic violence but also because its original title, Rank Xerox, was a dead rip-off of a very real business entity.  Eventually the title was shortened to RanXerox of course, but again, this was just a sly way to get around what was actually intended by its creators.

The story is set sometime in the future and revolves around RanXerox himself, an ultra-violent, snub-nosed musclebound cyborg constructed from parts of a copier machine (hence the name) and his precocious drug addicted girlfriend, the aforementioned Lubna.  RanXerox is a Punk Age monster, a force of unchecked violence and rage, yet he is often mistreated by his young girlfriend, the only person he loves.  She is therefore the only one who can actually tame his violent tendencies, though mostly she exploits his talents to clear obstacles from her own path.  Richard Corben, another Heavy Metal alumnus, says it best:

RanXerox is a punk, futuristic Frankenstein monster, and with the under-aged Lubna, they are a bizarre Beauty and the Beast. This artist and writer team have turned a dark mirror to the depths of our Id and we see reflected the base part of ourselves that would take what it wants with no compromise, no apology – and woe to the person who would cross us. But it is all done with a black, wry, satirical sense of humor.

But why has Corben suggested that Lubna is underage?  After all, by the third page in the very first story arc in HM we are told that Lubna has recently turned 18.  One at first wonders why it was necessary to make this fact known so soon.  But the creators didn’t stop there; there are references to both Lubna’s age and the age of her friend Martine (who sleeps with Ranx after Lubna is separated from him for a time) throughout.  It’s possible the creators were overcompensating for their own insecurities about the youthful appearance of these characters, but it’s more likely some editor or publisher insisted on it.  Ironically, the constant references to the girls’ ages only serves to draw attention to the fact that physically they are nowhere near 18, and appear to be more in the neighborhood of 12 or 13, which was obviously Tamburini’s intended age for them.

But their youth isn’t simply gratuitous.  The point was to show a future based on projections of the social and criminal trends of the time, a future in which ever-younger kids fell prey to the corrupting lure of the drugs, casual sex and general misanthropy that dominated youth culture in the late ’70s.  To reinforce this point, an even younger girl—a child no older than 3 or 4—is often seen on the street corner that Lubna and her friends haunt; she wears outfits that expose her tiny undeveloped breasts and makes obnoxious comments to Lubna and others.  She’s a little Lubna in training, another sign of the growing inverse relationship between the age and worldliness of the characters in the RanXerox universe.

Tanino Liberatore - RanXerox - Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 4 (July, 1983) (page 17, panel 4)

Tanino Liberatore – RanXerox – Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 4 (July, 1983) (page 17, panel 4)

The story begins with Lubna on the prowl for another fix of “plasma” in her home city of Rome, Italy, as she begins to feel the ache of withdrawal.  They eventually wind up in the home of the wealthy, psychic (and psychotic) painter Rainier, who gets her high and then tricks her into shutting down her robotic lover and protector.  Afterwards, he and his compatriot dump Ranx’s inanimate body near the Colosseum and kidnap Lubna for purposes unknown.

Tanino Liberatore - RanXerox - Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 4 (July, 1983) (page 20, panel 4)

Tanino Liberatore – RanXerox – Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 4 (July, 1983) (page 20, panel 4)

As it turns out, Rainier has plans for both Ranx and Lubna, using the former (after tampering with Ranx’s head) to kill an entire club full of people, though the real target is an art critic Rainier despises who happens to be at the club at the time.  But there’s a notable scene just before the massacre where a small girl offers a rose for sale to Ranx, only to be met with a particularly brutal response from the still-malfunctioning robot, whose impulse control has been compromised.  It’s scenes like these that earned RanXerox its notoriety.

Tanino Liberatore - RanXerox - Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 5 (August, 1983) (page 51, panel 8)

Tanino Liberatore – RanXerox – Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 5 (August, 1983) (page 51, panel 8)

Tanino Liberatore - RanXerox - Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 5 (August, 1983) (page 52, panel 1)

Tanino Liberatore – RanXerox – Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 5 (August, 1983) (page 52, panel 1)

It’s eventually revealed that Rainier has the notion to use Lubna as part of an art piece to be titled Cadaver of a Young Drug Addict.  But of course, Ranx comes smashing into his apartment and breaks his neck, even though Lubna isn’t there.  It’s striking that the first major villain of the initial story arc is a pretentious modern artist who makes ridiculous amounts of money off his meaningless art, and Liberatore, a mere comics artist in many people’s eyes, no doubt relished seeing Rainier meet his end at the hands of his and Tamburini’s creation.

With Lubna now missing and Ranx still hunting for her, he temporarily hooks up with Lubna’s friend Martine, who appears to be about the same age as Lubna.  They have sex at Martine’s place, and the girl, a student of Bioelectronics, at last repairs his busted brain.  It’s noteworthy that in some reprints of these stories this scene was heavily censored.  Particularly bothersome to the censors was the appearance of Ranx’s penis.  Their tryst is interrupted by the sudden intrusion of Martine’s insanely jealous and abusive boyfriend outside her door, but Ranx makes short work of him with a single well-placed punch . . . through the door.

Tanino Liberatore - RanXerox - Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 6 (September, 1983) (page 22)

Tanino Liberatore – RanXerox – Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 6 (September, 1983) (page 22)

Tanino Liberatore - RanXerox - Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 6 (September, 1983) (page 23)

Tanino Liberatore – RanXerox – Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 6 (September, 1983) (page 23)

Later, as Martine is changing the battery in Ranx’s back, a group of street thugs make a particularly conspicuous comment about her age, with one of them mistaking her for a 12-year-old and another correcting him.  Later the group plans to gang rape the girl, with one of them commenting, “I bet she’s got an ass on her as tender as a filet.”  Ranx, of course, doesn’t go for that.

Tanino Liberatore - RanXerox - Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 6 (September, 1983) (page 25, panel 5)

Tanino Liberatore – RanXerox – Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 6 (September, 1983) (page 25, panel 5)

After several violent episodes and a lot of traveling around the city, Ranx eventually finds that Lubna is being held prisoner by a wealthy, leather mask-wearing man named Volare and goes after her, only to be captured by Volare, who intends to use the robot to stage a Fred Astaire routine as part of a retrospective on the famous dancing actor.  His speech to Ranx amusingly references Heavy Metal, the very magazine the story is running in.  It seems Tamburini was doing meta before meta was cool.  Meanwhile, Lubna is watching a cartoon with a bird character who proclaims, “Goddamn it!”  A quite prescient observation when one considers the popularity of shows like Family Guy, South Park and American Dad today.  (Remember, this series was published in the early ’80s.)  Here it’s just another sign of the decadence and social decline of the future.

Tanino Liberatore - RanXerox - Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 8 (November, 1983) (page 57, panels 1 & 2)

Tanino Liberatore – RanXerox – Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 8 (November, 1983) (page 57, panels 1 & 2)

By now Lubna has bought into Volare’s promises of wealth and fame and blatantly manipulates Ranx by appealing to his love for her (not to mention giving him a hand-job) as they fly to New York in Volare’s private plane!

Tanino Liberatore - RanXerox - Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 8 (November, 1983) (page 58)

Tanino Liberatore – RanXerox – Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 8 (November, 1983) (page 58)

Ranx agrees to this as long as Lubna can stay with him, but Lubna betrays her robot mate by remaining with Volare while Ranx is training, ostensibly so as not to distract him but more likely because she is attracted to Volare’s wealth and power.

Tanino Liberatore - RanXerox - Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 8 (November, 1983) (page 59, panels 5 & 6)

Tanino Liberatore – RanXerox – Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 8 (November, 1983) (page 59, panels 5 & 6)

After 24 hours, which is all Ranx’s electronic brain needs to memorize Astaire’s entire song-and-dance oeuvre, Ranx and Lubna are at last reunited, with Lubna ironically behaving very much like a child.  Observant readers will note that she is listening to Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run.

Tanino Liberatore - RanXerox - Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 8 (November, 1983) (page 60, panel 4)

Tanino Liberatore – RanXerox – Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 8 (November, 1983) (page 60, panel 4)

In the final issue of the first story arc, Lubna seems to have age-regressed not only behaviorally but even physically.  She may be attracted to Volare, though more than likely it’s just the drugs talking.  While Ranx is performing in the show, she attempts to seduce her abductor in a scene that is likely to send shudders down the spines of anti-abuse and anti-human trafficking advocates everywhere.

Tanino Liberatore - RanXerox - Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 9 (December, 1983) (page 35)

Tanino Liberatore – RanXerox – Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 9 December, 1983) (page 35)

Tanino Liberatore - RanXerox - Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 8 (December, 1983) (page 36)

Tanino Liberatore – RanXerox – Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 8 (December, 1983) (page 36)

While Ranx is performing, Lubna attempts to seduce Volare; unfortunately for her, Ranx notices.  He stops the show and smashes his way to Volare’s balcony box.  Violence ensues.  The object of his hatred is destroyed, yet Ranx is profoundly affected by this last and worst of Lubna’s many betrayals and, atypically for him, stands up to her abuse in a humorously inappropriate way that symbolically acknowledges her true age: he gives her a bare behind spanking.

Tanino Liberatore - RanXerox - Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 9 (December, 1983) (page 39)

Tanino Liberatore – RanXerox – Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 9 (December, 1983) (page 39)

For something so controversial, RanXerox has had its influence on other creators, most notably manifest in a surreal French fantasy film called La Cité des enfants perdus (The City of Lost Children), directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro, which really deserves its own article on Pigtails in Paint.  The physical resemblance of One and Miette to Ranx and Lubna cannot be overstated.

Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Marc Caro - Ron Perlman and Judith Vittet in 'The City of Lost Children' (1995)

Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Marc Caro – Ron Perlman and Judith Vittet in ‘The City of Lost Children’ (1995)

RanXerox is a role that was made for Ron Perlman, if it could ever be filmed.  Of course, it can’t.  Indeed, the environment is such today that even a comics magazine like Heavy Metal likely wouldn’t dare repeat it.  It’s a concept whose time has gone.  Or has it?  There have been sexually precocious minors in comics since RanXerox‘s time, though, to my knowledge, rarely without some built-in moral consequence, where bad things befall the child and/or the adult involved with them, or they are clearly the product of sexual abuse.  Yet, in its way, RanXerox may be the most moral story of all of these, for I imagine few people can read it without being repulsed by the characters’ behavior somewhere down the line.  These are not people we would likely ever want to meet, and that may be Tamburini’s point.  When you imagine a future filled with these blatantly immoral folks, you can see that Ranx and Lubna’s world is a true dystopia, one created not by government oppression but by gradual desensitization and moral erosion of the populace.

Tamburini might’ve believed this was where we were headed as a society.  Of course, he was wrong.  Reality never follows so straight a path.  As for Tamburini himself, only three short years after the first run of RanXerox in Heavy Metal (1986) his lifeless body was discovered in his apartment in Rome.  He had apparently died from a heroin overdose.  He was 30 years old at the time of death.

In addition to the HM runs, this series has been collected into books (three major volumes) and translated into several languages.  Here is the cover for one of them, RanXerox 2: Happy Birthday, Lubna.

Tanino Liberatore - Ranx 2: Happy Birthday, Lubna (cover)

Tanino Liberatore – Ranx 2: Happy Birthday, Lubna (cover)

And a cover for the Spanish comics magazine El Víbora (The Viper), featuring Ranx, Lubna, Martine, the toddler girl from the street corner (who Lubna sometimes babysits and whose name I do not know), and another girl I don’t recognize.

Tanino Liberatore - El Víbora, No. 47 (cover)

Tanino Liberatore – El Víbora, No. 47 (cover)

An unidentified image of Lubna working on Ranx:

Tanino Liberatore - RanXerox

Tanino Liberatore – RanXerox

And just for the hell of it, let’s throw in an illustration of these characters by Paul Pope.  You’ll note that Pope also did a tribute illustration to Moebius’s short story The Apple Pie.

Paul Pope - Ranxerox and Lubna

Paul Pope – Ranxerox and Lubna

You can read the entire first story arc and a handful of the other RanXerox issues (as well as most of the early issues of Heavy Metal) at this site.  The first story arc runs from issue v07 #04 (July 1983) through issue v07 #09 (December 1983); there’s also a great interview with Liberatore in that December ’83 issue.

Further Reading:

Wikipedia: RanXerox

URBAN ASPIRINES: RANXEROX: By Tanino Liberatore and Stefano Tamburini

Comic Vine: RanXerox (Character)

Stolen Dreams and the Japanese School (redacted version)

On May 11, 2016, an organization called FSM-Hotline, sent a request to Pigtails in Paint’s service provider to remove this page and a companion page called ‘Dream Girls’ from this site. Since our service provider is not knowledgeable on this matter and has a great deal of latitude in interpreting its Terms of Service (TOS) (“child pornography or content perceived to be child pornography”), Pigtails had no recourse but to remove the “offending” pages.  (See original press release for more details)

There are serious issues regarding jurisdiction, authority, legal definitions and an ambiguously worded TOS, but the biggest problem is the insult this represents to our efforts to educate the public and build a better world.

It should be unequivocally stated that the images originally appearing on this page are not pornography! 1) These girls were not coerced, including coercion arising from economic need, into participating in these photo shoots. 2) The images were not produced for the purpose of sexual titillation, but aesthetic and intellectual appreciation. 3) The poses do not include sexually-suggestive postures or overt sexual behavior. 4) The images do not involve any interactions with adults. 5) None of the images focus on the genitals or buttocks of the models. Therefore, by any rational definition of any court in the world, these images do not individually or most especially in the context of this site represent any form of child pornography.

I strongly urge readers to push back against this kind of misguided and misinformed intimidation. This case has been assigned a unique report number, 54892, and the FSM-Hotline can be contacted at the following email address: hotline@fsm.de

Captions for missing images are indicated by square brackets.

For months now, I have been puzzling over how to introduce the numerous Japanese photographers who prospered in a culture that developed in the aftermath of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita in 1955 and the subsequent open attitude toward nudity and sexuality that transpired in Western Europe and North America.

The solution presented itself a few weeks ago. For the past couple of years, I have been on the lookout for new material after realizing that the fascination with young nude girls was not a phenomenon limited to a handful of artists of the hippie generation. An item called Dream Girls recently appeared on the secondary market and as I did not recognize the cover image, I figured it would contain images by artists I had not heard of. Once I received it, I realized it was not a conventional publication. Although I found many models and artists I did not know, there were many I did recognize and with a little digging, I confirmed my suspicions: it was a bootleg publication of work taken from numerous photographers published in Japan in the early 1980s.

I don’t claim to have a clear solution to the issues of intellectual property. Staunch capitalists would insist that photographs and other intellectual property—inventions, music, film, etc.—be treated like any other property and respected absolutely. This is not practical simply because intellectual property is not the same kind of thing as physical property which has a natural scarcity, a key component in capitalist principles. However, I can’t say I condone what this publisher did either since, as things stand, artists must endeavor to survive in a highly monetarized culture with vulturine agents and companies exploiting their talent for personal gain. Dream Girls was published by Passion Press in New York in 1996 and is ostensibly copyrighted and has an ISBN. Instead of taking an educational tack as others have done, the images were reproduced from books almost certainly without the artists’ knowledge and marketed as simple eye-candy with lowbrow comics interspersed throughout the pages. No information about any of the photographers, illustrators or their work is given.

The remarkable thing about the “Lolicon” phenomenon in Japan is the level of freedom and creativity exhibited. Unlike Western countries with a peculiar tendency to regard human sexuality with suspicion or contempt, Japan’s isolation from this powerful puritanical culture has allowed them more freedom of expression—still apparent in the multitude of manga imagery available. This is changing, however, as the Japanese economy becomes a more integral part of economic globalization and must necessary adopt the biases of the dominant Western forces driving it. Photography books featuring young girls are becoming more expensive and hard to find so there is a new urgency to try to objectively educate the current generation about what has come before.

One of the amusing aspects of this book is how it deals with censorship. Because of its marketing tactics, it makes sense to simply avoid any frontal nudity at all. The images were carefully selected and cropped accordingly. Thus what you see here is not what you would have seen in the original publications and in the more extreme cases, I make some comment. Even the quality of the reproductions were poor with low resolution and little care in alignment; scanning these images for this post was something of a nightmare. I must commend this publisher for one thing though: at least he did not disfigure the images with unsightly marks or erasure of the genital area. Some particularly egregious examples of this—presumably in an effort to comply with certain laws—will be offered in a future post.

And thus I am afforded the opportunity to give you a solid overview of late 20th Century Japanese photographers (and a few Europeans who published in Japan) without the exhaustive research necessary for a single artist. One of the reasons I have been less productive lately is that I have taken an interest in transcribing and translating foreign books in an effort to offer you more about the background of these pieces. In the future, many of these images will be presented again with better quality, background and with a greater respect for the artist’s intent.

The greatest number of images in the book come from Yoji Ishikawa. He is probably the most prolific of those covered here and the best known the in the United States. I remember rejecting one of his books because the seller had not thought to include more images of the little girls. Later, when I saw a better selection of images, I realized how delightful they were. Even given my obvious bias, I think Ishikawa’s work with the younger girls is more imaginative while his work with teens and young women seem to fall back on a bland conventional expression of eroticism.

This image is of Sophie Despineux, admittedly the artist’s favorite model. It is too bad a better example wasn’t found for Dream Girls. I think the special appeal was not so much due to the girl’s photogeneity, but because she was imaginative and willing to engage in visual experimentation with the photographer.

[Yoji Ishikawa – Sophie (c1980)]

Chloé is one of my favorite models as I imagine that Ishikawa posed her in a way that Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) must have posed his models. Here she is feigning sleep, a favored tactic in Victorian times to help with the long exposures. The lower part of this image was cropped.

[Yoji Ishikawa – Chloé (c1980)]

Once I started making some headway with learning about Japanese artists, Shizuki Obuchi became my favorite. I could recognize the bright charm he brought out in his young models even from a rough reproduction of the cover of one of his books. The image below comes from a book that translates to The World of Lolicon. This image is severely cropped as the original features a pair of girls named Hélène and Claire. Although this girl is otherwise completely naked, this artist favors girlish accoutrements like bows, ribbons and other hair ornamentation. Obuchi is recognized for his mastery of the genre and even wrote a book, How to Shoot Little Girls. I am currently transcribing that book and hope to share some of the insights in a future post.

[Shizuki Obuchi – Hélène and Claire (c1980)]

Another top photographer of the genre is Takashi Kuromatsu. He covered a wide age range with great skill. This image comes from Le Petite Parisienne, probably his finest work.

[Takashi Kuromatsu – Daphdée (1983)]

People often assume that because of the “eye-candy” quality of this subject matter, only men engage in this kind of photography. That is far from the truth and it is my experience that women photographers consistently express a heightened erotic tension in their work. One of the best early examples is Hiromi Saimon. The next two images come from a book called Märchen Story (Märchen means fairy tale in German) and features Yuka Hayami, a model with a large following in Japan. Saimon also produced an excellent book, KinPouGe, featuring a French girl named Marianne.

[Hiromi Saimon – Yuka (c1982) (1)]

Like Sawatari, this artist played with the Alice theme incorporating a doppelganger for the model in a number of images. A point I find amusing here is that genital display is acceptable because it belongs to a doll.

[Hiromi Saimon – Yuka (c1982) (2)]

I don’t know if Jean-Louis Michel is really French or if this is the alias of a Japanese artist. I will know more when my transcriptions are complete. However, his books on young girls (I know of at least three) were only published in Japan and this is the case for a handful of other European photographers as well.

[Jean-Louis Michel – Virginie and Valentine (c1980)]

At first glance, this scene may seem to be from a naturist magazine, but it is obviously staged with the girls being cued to disrobe at the same time.

[Jean-Louis Michel – (Untitled) (c1980)]

The remaining artists seem to have become known from only one major work or some book was published without mention of the artist’s name.

This image is from Little Pretenders and shot by Takao Yamaki.

[Takao Yamaki – Yoko (c1980)]

Shot by another European, Patrick Morin, this image was published in a book called Lolita (Part I). It is far superior to its sequel which was a compilation of images from another photographer entirely containing less artful spontaneous naturist shots. I suppose it was a crude attempt by the publisher to capitalize on the success of the first book. I find it odd that this image was chosen as the angle and costume in this shot makes the model appear less youthful than she does in her other photographs.

[Patrick Morin – Vanessa (c1980)]

The next two images come from a compilation of several artists under the title Lolita Sisters featuring Japanese girls exclusively. I had not heard of either of these artists before my recent investigations. The first is by Kunihiko Shinoda who made the largest contribution to the book.

[Kunihiko Shinoda – Flower Fairy (c1980)]

This image is by Masayoshi Kondo, better known for his book Little Angels.

[Masayoshi Kondo – Spirit of Light (c1980)]

The last two images are from books that seem to be mainstream publishing efforts but the artist is not identified. There are a number of books like these in Japan and Europe that feature one artist’s coverage of just one model.  From background clues and a tip from a fan (see comments), it appears that the first girl was Danish and the photo shoot took place in Copenhagen. The book is called Comme La Nymphe.  A reader has just informed me that the photographer of the first book is also Patrick Morin (please see comment below).

[Patrick Morin – Charlotte (c1978)]

This image comes from a book called Strange Little Lady but the original Japanese indicates that she is strange in the sense that she is foreign (a Caucasian girl) as opposed to being “odd” in character. She is not given a name and the work reminds me of the style of Charles DuBois Hodges except for the use of color.

[(Artist Unknown) – from Strange Little Lady (c1980)]

One or two of the images may have come from Sumiko Kiyooka—which is in the correct time frame—but I did not include them because I could not make a positive identification. Other important artists were not included here because they came along later or published outside Japan but it would be fair to include them in any survey of Japanese artists; Ayako Parks, Nobuyoshi Araki and Satoshi Kizu come most immediately to mind. There are also many others who did extensive work with little girls, but did not include nudes and they will be featured here in due course as well.

I could naturally use some help with more details on the artists covered here, but as it is my hope that Pigtails in Paint be more a community collaboration, I have posted the remaining images I could not identify on a special page for readers to examine and share their knowledge. I invite you all to take a look [page removed].

Because there are still some unidentified images from the ‘Dream Girls’ companion page, a revised version has been saved on PDF.  Since we have been asked not to have that content uploaded to this network, I can share the PDF with those trusted associates who may be in a position to identify them privately.  If we are successful in finding a new host who will allow the images on their network, they will be added to the ‘Orphan Images’ page at that time.  Thank you for your patience, -Ron