Some who find this blog might recognize me from my past FemDom life. I was a phone Mistress for five years and I dabbled a bit in the world of professional Domination. I was also active in a FemDom group for the better part of three years. And I wrote a column for a FemDom e-zine.
Thursday, August 15, 2013
Joe Marzano's "Venus in Furs"
by: Joseph Marzano
As I mentioned in a previous review, when it comes to movies with
FemDom themes, “Venus is Furs” is a popular film title. I have no less than
four movies by this name in my FemDom film collection. Yet surprisingly, the
four movies have almost nothing in common.
In 1967 sexploitation
producer Lou Campa hired Joe Marzano to work on a bizarre little movie called
“Cool it, Baby.” After making 16mm shorts throughout the 50’s, Marzano found
work in the 1960’s as an editor for an outfit producing industrial films. One
of these pictures, “To Face Life Again”, was an unusual documentary about
disfigured accident victims readjusting to life. There he met Lew Waldeck, the
editor of a series of low-budget soft-core films. Soon enough, Waldeck
introduced Joe Marzano to the world of sexploitation.
barriers were allowing more and more on-screen nudity. From the relatively
high-profile Russ Meyer (“Faster, Pussy Cat! Kill! Kill!”) to the lesser-known
film-makers such as Joe Sarno, each produced films based on their private
fetishes and desires, normally backed by financiers who were willing to
bankroll titles that often had little or nothing to do with the finished
picture. Without script or concept, a producer would assemble a crew of inexpensive,
hungry talent and tell them, “I want a sex film called ‘Cool It, Baby’ or
‘Venus in Furs’” and it was their job to make it happen.
This was truly the
golden age of American sexploitation, when a director could make a feature film
for $10,000 and be allowed to follow his own private obsessions wherever they
happened to take him, and perhaps end up with an odd little gem. Granted most
of what was made was substandard and generally dismissed as trash but some of
the sexploitation directors worked from true creative expression. Joe Marzano
was such a man.
Through Lew Waldeck,
Marzano met Lou Campa, a director of numerous exploitation films. Waldeck was
given $12,000 to make a picture, and was told whatever he didn’t spend would be
his salary. Given that enticing stipulation, he made “Cool It, Baby” in 1967
for $7,000. Waldeck hired Marzano and Campa to help make the picture. It was
filmed with a lone stationary camera on a tripod. The film ultimately had no
real director, and screenwriter Lou Palisano delivered an unfinished script
which was fleshed out by Marzano. Joe stayed on as an actor and directed some
sequences, Waldeck directed others, and Campa directed the rest. None of them
cared about who got credit seeing they were going to split $5,000 between them
for a couple days work.
When I ordered my copy of
Marzano’s “Venus in Furs”, it was released on the ‘Something Weird’ label. The
DVD contains 3 movies, including “Cool it, Baby”.
I fast forwarded through the
film, "Cool it, Baby”, stopping here and there to get a feel for the movie, and I was surprised
at how amateur it was. “Cool it, Baby” has some S&M themes but nothing that
is in the least erotic or sexy. It has a cruel female lead but the film has
more to do with forced female slavery, drug use, bizarre rituals, laughable
whipping scenes, and a court trial filmed in someone’s office complete with
office desk and filing cabinets. It is a terrible film but surprisingly it
turned a profit. I guess there were enough men hungry for S&M themed movies
in 1967 that even the lamest of films could turn a profit with the right kind
Not only did he help
write and direct “Cool It, Baby”, Marzano brought most of the cast onboard
himself. All of which impressed Campa, who had already secured $10,000 for his
next project, a sexploitation film based on the Sacher-Masoch novel “Venus in
Furs”. So Campa hired Marzano to direct it.
Marzano’s “Venus in
Furs” was a big artistic advance over “Cool It, Baby”. Able to control the
lighting, Joe was free to experiment with the photography, and had two cameras
at his disposal. With Lew Waldeck off shooting another picture, George Cirello
stepped in as cinematographer, but Marzano did a lot of the photography
himself. He brought back several of his friends from “Cool It, Baby” and
completed the post-production work, editing and sound mix on his own.
He had a five day
shooting schedule so Joe got together with his friend Barbara Ellen (who played
a blackmail victim in “Cool It, Baby”) to write the screenplay. It was Ellen
who had the brilliant idea of incorporating the opening scene of the Sacher-Masoch
novel into a fantasy sequence in the film. Marzano’s “Venus in Furs” combines
sexploitation, creative and artistic film making, and quite a bit of
surrealism. Some have made the observation that the film bears similarities to
the movies that Marzano’s friend Paul Morrissey was making for Andy Warhol at
the time. Perhaps that was his inspiration.
Marzano’s “Venus in
Furs” opens with a close-up of a woman’s leg as she slowly and seductively
removes her stockings. She drops them on a naked man who is lying on the floor.
Then we see another stocking landing on him, then another, and another as we
hear a female voice who paraphrases the words of Venus in the Leopold von
Sacher-Masoch novel “Venus in Furs”;
“You are the one who
desires, we are the ones who are desired. This is woman’s entire advantage.”
Then we hear the voice
of another woman, “Do you have this in higher heels?”
More stockings land on
the naked man as he seems to be drifting off into subspace. We hear again from
the first woman as she continues to paraphrase Venus,
“There’s something in
you that makes me want to punish you, subdue you, DOMINATE YOU!”
Then we hear the other
woman and then a third woman, we hear all three women’s voices as they
alternate sentences. “You shall be bound, bound with stockings, helpless,
gagged, put underfoot, lashed, unloved, until you can love, then you can kiss
my breast, my mouth, but first my toes. Kiss my toes! You shall be our slave,
without illusion, but first you shall feel the pressure of my foot, without
We see three sets of
female legs touching the man, teasing him, one pressing her foot against his
face, as we hear a repeat of the women taunting him with their words.
“You are the one who
desires, we are the ones who are desired. This is woman’s entire advantage. Do
you have this in higher heels? There’s something in you that makes me want to
punish you, subdue you, DOMINATE YOU! You shall be bound, bound with stockings,
helpless, gagged, put underfoot, lashed, unloved, until you can love, then you
can kiss my breast, my mouth, but first my toes. Kiss my toes! You shall be our
slave, without illusion, but first you shall feel the pressure of my foot,
without mercy, WITHOUT MERCY!”
And with that the film’s
title “Venus in Furs” fills the screen, along with “A film by Joe Marzano,
suggested by a novel by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch.” It was wise that they used
the term “suggested” instead of “based on” because after the upcoming scene and
its accompanying dialogue, the only connection between the book and the film is
Following the opening
credits, we see a woman adorned in a fur coat sitting on a couch next to a
fireplace, with a man (the same man we saw in the opening) on his knees before
her, kissing and worshipping her feet and her legs.
Ellen’s idea, their dialogue is right out of chapter one of the Sacher-Masoch
novel (paraphrased a little to give it a more modern meaning).
It is the dialogue
between the book’s author and the Goddess Venus (played by Ellen). Marzano’s
first choice to play Venus was the young Warhol actress Mary Woronov, who
appeared in “Chelsea Girls” a year earlier. Although she’d expressed interest
in doing it, Marzano decided against hiring Mary because the Warhol crew had a
reputation for being unreliable. Therefore he cast Barbara Ellen for both the
roles of Venus and the female lead character, Marna.
Getting back to the
Venus scene, the fur clad Goddess and her submissive admirer discuss love and
the female nature. An example of the rather lengthy dialogue goes like this,
"You are a
divinity, but nonetheless a woman and, like every woman, cruel in matters of
"What you call
cruelty, is simply the element of passion and sensuality which is part of
woman's nature, and which makes her give herself whenever she loves, and love
everything that pleases her."
If you have a foot
fetish or if you’re a fan of watching a man grovel and worship a woman’s feet
and legs, you will no doubt enjoy both this scene and the overall movie, as
there are numerous foot worship, leg worship and trampling scenes in the film.
In my opinion a better
title for the movie might have been “Fetishes” as the film portrays a variety
of unusual sexual kinks. (Campa wanted to name the film “Cherished Women”).
I must say that I really
liked both of the opening scenes in this movie. Very well done for a 1960’s
sexploitation film. They are of course the fantasies of a submissive male,
David, and we meet him as he wakes up from his dreams, with the book “Venus in
Furs” lying on his chest. David has the perfect job for a submissive man with a
foot fetish, he is a shoe salesman.
David takes the subway
to work, all the while he fantasizes about worshipping and kissing the shoes of
the women he sees on the train. He arrives at the shoe store and he obviously
loves his job as he gets to serve women by kneeing before them and helping them
try on various shoes.
We now know part of the
meaning of his fantasy in the opening scene with the one woman’s voice taunting
him “Do you have this in higher heels?”.
After he gets off work,
David goes to the New York Public Library. Before he enters, five young women
run past him. (Marzano had a Fellini-esque vision of dozens of girls running
toward the camera. Campa agreed and lined up the talent, but on the day of the
shoot he arrived with just three women. After making a few phone calls, Marzano
rounded up two more for a total of five.)
Once inside the library,
David is browsing books when he happens across a beautiful and mysterious
woman, Marna (wearing a fur stole).
He gives her a drive
home to a secluded house in the country. She flirts with him but doesn’t permit
him to kiss her. She invites him inside her sprawling Gothic mansion but tells
him he will have to wait to kiss her. She offers for him to spend the night in
a spare room. By this time the movie has taken on a distinctly dream-like
quality. David wanders the hallways, hearing people behind all the closed
doors. He goes door to door, peeking inside where he observes people engaging
in a smorgasbord of fetishes and unusual sexual practices.
In one room there is a
muscular man, clothed only in his underwear, he is blindfolded and needs the
use of a cane to stand. He has a tin cup in his other hand and several women,
one by one, come into the room, drop a coin into the cup and then fondle his
body. Perhaps this was a 1967 version of a CFNM fetish.
In another room, David witnesses a woman tied to the bed and two
other women are spanking her with their shoes. In another room there is a man
removing the boots off of a woman’s feet. He then licks and kisses her feet
before lying on the floor where she tramples him. In yet another room we see a
masked woman giving a naked woman a milk bath. She pours milk all over her
body, scrubs her body and after the bath, she pours milk into a saucer and
forces the naked woman to drink it like a cat.
While this is going,
David finds a book of photographs which obviously disturb him, although we
don’t know what the book contains.
next day David meets up with Marna and he witnesses first hand her dominant
nature. She is playing ping pong with a gentleman wearing glasses and whenever
she scores a point, she makes the man kneel before her and she hits him on the
head with her paddle. She also forces the ping pong ball into his mouth. Later
in the match, she strikes him across the face with her paddle.
Next, Marna plays a game
of chess with David. During the game a blonde woman sits down at the table to
watch the chess match. Marna takes David’s Queen and drops it on the floor. She
orders David to “pick it up”. He hesitates so she forcefully reiterates, “I
said PICK IT UP!”
David bends down to
fetch the piece when Marna kicks it under the table. David crawls under the
table and Marna tramples him with her shoes, stepping on his hands with her
heels. As she is doing this Marna begins to kiss the blonde woman as they are
both obviously turned on by Marna’s dominance and David’s humiliation.
Other bizarre things
occur at the house such as the reading of children’s stories, and finally the
climactic orgy scene. The orgy scene is more fetish-driven than sex driven.
It’s more like a fever dream. There are people dancing while a woman rides an
exercise bike in the middle of the room.
There’s a man in drag dancing with a woman. We see
‘objectification’ taking place as a woman is lying on the floor being used as a
card table while another woman obsessively deals cards onto her body.
There are couples making
out and writhing on the floor, all fully clothed. This was common enough in
1960s sexploitation movies and usually looks silly, but in this case it adds to
the overall fantasy quality and surrealism of the film. It’s as if the people
are driven by something more powerful than sex.
For his part in the
orgy, David is totally focused on watching Marna. He makes his move and he
begins to undress her (although she never becomes completely naked). He begins
to kiss her but she pushes him away and orders him to kiss her toes. David
removes her shoes and he worships her feet (yet another foot worship scene).
He works his way up her body, hoping to finally kiss her on the
mouth but just before he does, the blonde woman from the chess match appears
and kisses Marna instead. Marna kisses the woman back as she pushes David away
with her hand. Once again David is humiliated and frustrated.
The next day, David is
about to leave when Marna once again flirts with him. She tells him that she’s
sorry they were interrupted at the orgy because she is attracted to him and she
was hoping he would make love to her. David again falls for her seduction so
they leave together and go horseback riding in the country. David loses sight
of Marna and comes across her making out with the blonde woman up against a
tree. David is furious and accuses her of deceiving him. Marna grabs a riding
crop and attacks David.
David fights back and
wrestles Marna on the ground. The blonde woman tries to help Marna fight David
off (although it looks like all she really wants to do is crawl around in the
mud). David gains the upper hand and subdues Marna. He begins to kiss her and
acts as if he is going to have sex her, right there in the woods, with the
other woman watching.
But then we see David
tied to the tree, tied with women’s stockings. The women are lying on the
ground looking at him, and the people from the house are standing at a distance
taking in David’s humiliation.
As he is tied to the
tree with a look of subspace on his face, we hear the women from the beginning
of the film and realize the first woman’s voice is that of Marna. She recites
the same words from the beginning of the film,
“You are the one who
desires, we are the ones who are desired. This is woman’s entire advantage.
There’s something in you that makes me want to punish you, subdue you, DOMINATE
YOU! You shall be bound, bound with stockings, helpless, gagged, put underfoot,
lashed, unloved, until you can love, then you can kiss my breast, my mouth, but
first my toes. You shall be our slave, without illusion, but first you shall
feel the pressure of my foot, without mercy, WITHOUT MERCY!”
Suddenly we see David
sitting outside the New York public library. It is apparent the entire episode
was just another one of his fantasies. He gets up and wanders around the
streets when he sees a car pull up. He looks inside the car and there is a
woman wearing a fur stole and a fur hat. She raises her head and looks at
David. The woman is Marna. Perhaps his ordeal wasn’t a fantasy after all.
I definitely enjoyed both
Jess Franco’s and Massimo Dallamano’s “Venus in Furs” better than this one.
However, to be fair, it really is apples and oranges. When you review a
low-budget Lou Campa sexploitation film you go into it with very low
expectations. This version of “Venus in Furs” was undoubtedly not at all the
sort of movie Campa had in mind when he commissioned Marzano to direct it. It
is in fact a somewhat artsy film, admittedly an artsy film about fetishes, kink
and sex, but it’s an artsy film nonetheless. This film is a strange but oddly
engrossing mix of Sacher-Masoch, Fetishism, FemDom and surrealism. As you
probably know by now, I like surrealism in movies.
There’s a peculiar
quality to the eroticism in this film, a kind of thwarted sterile quality. The
plot is sketchy, but that seems more of a strength than a weakness,
contributing to the feeling of events moving endlessly like recycled dream
images. And I thought that Barbara Ellen, who co-wrote the script, played Marna
in a delightfully dominant way. There’s very little nudity and no graphic sex,
but the movie still manages to be very kinky and definitely expands the
boundaries of societal sexual norms. That’s true whether you watched in 1967 or
2012. The film is in constant danger of taking itself too seriously, but
Marzano comes up with enough striking and disquieting images to justify its
pretensions to being a genuine art film.
It’s not a great movie
by any stretch but it’s well done given its pittance of a budget. Despite its
shortcomings, this “Venus in Furs” is a fascinating example of an artist at
odds with the sexploitation genre. Marzano wanted to make a real movie and he
was obviously connected to the source material, Sacher-Masoch’s kinks and
fetishes. Some have said that Joe Marzano was a conceptual and physical fusion
of Orson Welles and Hugo Haas. Given the opportunity and freedom, Joe Marzano
might have easily been a respected, major American filmmaker.
Campa made a few more
sexploitation films before his descent into mob-financed hardcore. Joe Marzano,
on the other hand, never directed in 35mm again. He photographed Lloyd Michael
Williams’s experimental “Line of Apogee” (1968), and worked as an assistant
director on Jack Glenn’s unreleased “House of the Seven Gables”. He even went
back to Campa and sold him a script called “The Leather Girls”, about an
all-girl biker gang that may have been sparked by Russ Meyer’s “Faster
Pussycat! Kill! Kill!” Campa never shot it, but Joe made an abbreviated version
in the late 70’s in super-8mm.
He continued in super-8
into the 80’s but even super-8 became unaffordable, and Joe Marzano went on to
make a proliferation of short films on videotape up until his untimely death in
the summer of 2000. Many of his fans considered “Venus in Furs” to be his