Tinto Brass finds his notorious 1976 film receiving a re-release on Blu-Ray which shows off the quality of the cinematic photography. But is the, er, exposure worth your time and can it still engage a modern viewer, regardless of its notorious nature and subject matter?
Salon Kitty tells the tale of Officer Wallenberg (Helmut Berger), a self obsessed and confident officer who is a rising star in the increasingly authoritarian National Socialist party in late 1930’s Germany, and also of Kitty Kellermann (Ingrid Thulin), the extremely hospitable madame of one of the most desirable brothels in Berlin. You want personal extreme sexual favours or rather enticing costume enhanced song and dance numbers? Salon Kitty is the place to visit – providing fetishistic fun and frolics is all part of the service, provided that you are from the correct racial and religious background. The exceptionally agreeable staff are female, curvaceous, delectable and, of course, Aryan. Helmet has arranged for new staff to start working at Salon Kitty’s, SS agents whose job lies far beyond that of showgirl performance. Their true purpose is to become sexual spies who are providing the SS with pillow talk gossip from the clientele, with the aim of determining their loyalty to the party.
Welcome to the world of Salon Kitty, directed, edited and partly written by Italian director Tinto Brass, who has created many films which are renowned for their sexual nature and use of explicit, if occasionally artistically humorous, content, but is probably best known for his work on the bizarre combination of art and interestingly historical sex and violence extravaganza Caligula (1979). Salon Kitty, the film that preceded Caligula, is part of a limited, much detested and controversial genre – one that has aspects that many still find wholly unacceptable.
The film explores both the acceptability and the characters’ acceptance of Nazi culture and dominance, an art film that examines human sexuality and violence in a way that is deliberately confrontational. The film’s overriding theme is that of the realisation of the extreme desires of the Nazi party – using sexual desires that involve dominance and notable fetishism to spy on their own people in order to find traitors. The scene where a number of Aryan girls ‘audition’ for the job is depicted in a truly debauched style, an orgy of sexual game play that is used to determine the most intelligent and attractive perpetrators for the scheme, and is shown in a highly revealing manner. Indeed the film was re-cut by Brass to include additional material deemed unsuitable at the time of release. The end result is both excessive in its sexuality but not deliberately designed as pornography – this is art-house perversion which is as revealing in plot revelation and character development as its graphic and extreme sexuality.
Salon Kitty is a film of its time – the 1970’s – and you expect it to contain upsetting or offensive content, either sexual, violent or both, but at the same time it has a certain level of production quality that rates it in a different category to a film that is clearly a cheaply produced exploitation flick. It joins such films as Luchino Visconti’s The Damned (La caduta degli dei (Götterdämmmerung) (1969)) or Liliana Cavani’s The Night Porter (Il portiere di notte (1974)), both controversial arty shock films with a Nazi theme.
Overall Salon Kitty an interesting watch that walks a fine line between art-house and sexual exploitation film. The print is cinematic and makes good use of the transfer even if occasionally the age of the stock is apparent. An interesting interview with Brass is also provided in the useful but minimal selection of extras.