Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Behind Convent Walls (1977), Part 1 of 3: DUKE and VICAR Roundtable!

[Here it is, the post you've been waiting for these three months--if you even remember when it was first promised back in December. :) The Duke of DVD and the Vicar of VHS got together last year at a local pub, much to the horror and consternation of the townspeople, and recorded nearly an hour and a half of audio, which has taken this long to transcribe and edit. Below is the first third of the result.

An event of this magnitude couldn't go by like any other review, and so in order to fill the gaping holes in the appreciaton of the film left by the Duke's bawdry and the Vicar's drunkenness, we've asked Horror Blogging Royalty and Nunsploitation Maven,
Empress Tenebrous Kate to give us a this scholarly, erudite, and awesome introduction to the film before we two leap fully into the game. So Kate, the floor is yours--we'll take the sofa. :) ]

Tenebrous Kate: "Walerian Borowczyk’s 1978 film Behind Convent Walls walks a tightrope between earthy farce and tragedy that might seem more at home on a Sixteenth Century stage than captured on film. Unlike other titles in the nunsploitation canon, Borowcyz’s take on the Women In God’s Prison theme is a bawdy romp that is free from the depictions of Satanism and torture that texture other similar, flicks. This is still a scathing indictment of the Catholic Church, but Borowycz’s approach is to strip out the dark fantasy elements and force the viewer to confront the potential tragedy that results from the suppression of natural human sexual impulses. This vision is in contrast to the densely symbolic and dream-like world of a director like Jean Rollin, or the compulsive camera-eye of a Jess Franco.

"Borowycz’s literality infuses every aspect of the film. The cinematography by Luciano Tovoli (veteran of Dario Argento’s Suspiria and Tenebre) combines a hand-held camera with sensual soft-focus that creates halos of light around the faces of the nuns. A restrained color palette provides a sense of visual unity—as the title suggests, the film takes place entirely in one nunnery, and the colors are almost entirely limited to white, black, red and a woody neutral. It’s a stunning film to look at that emphasizes the beauty of its main players—the experience of watching this film is like seeing a fabulously naughty image painted by Vermeer and then brought to life.

"But back to those “natural human sexual impulses” that are the focus of this tale. This movie brims with sex and all natures of couplings are explored, sometimes in graphic detail. Softcore hetero and lesbian scenes abound, from furtive girl-on-girl breast-groping in a confessional (bonus points for the fourth-wall-busting “oh no we’re too shy” response of the ladies to the voyeuristic camera’s gaze) to a passionate outdoor deflowering to a rough-and-tumble quickie over a crate of chickens. A surprisingly explicit close-up scene of a nun masturbating with a homemade wooden dildo rounds out the “something for everyone” on-screen sex report. There’s an effort to make the sex in this film look real and erotic without verging onto the territory of plastickey pornography or a fetish fulfillment checklist. Elements like the hand-painted erotica that one nun uses to trade for forbidden food or the very sexual crush that another nun has developed on Jesus himself add a innocence and even sweetness to the proceedings.

"This isn’t so much a work of the fantastique as it is one of magical realism. The story takes place in the real world, but there are inexplicable quirks throughout that one must accept rather than struggle to explain. It serves to reflect conditions and issues that exist in reality rather than to represent them directly.

"In keeping with the bawdy nature of this film, I think it’s best if I get out from behind the lectern and turn this over to two gentlemen who can guide you through some of the weird and wonderful details of what goes on Behind Convent Walls. Duke and Vicar—have at!"

Can you feel it?

[Thank you empress! And now to the first section of the audio transcription of the Duke and Vicar's BCW piss-up, wherein we settle on what to drink, exchange banter with ther serving wench, and sing the praises of the Meat Man.]

V: Okay, because our public has asked for it, it’s the Vicar of VHS and the Duke of DVD talking about a movie together for the first time. And my first question is, Duke, where have you been lately?

D: Oh, man! Where haven’t I been? [Laughs] Who haven’t I been in?

V: The Archbishop of Canterbury, perhaps? Although come to think of it, I wouldn’t count it out.

D: Yes, he’s a saucy little knave.

V: It’s good that we’re talking about ecclesiastical matters, because the movie under discussion today has a lot to say about the everyday life of people who have devoted themselves to the Lord. And that is Behind Convent Walls, directed by Walerian Borowczyk, which I believe was 1977—

[A Bar Wench, clad in dirndl and knee-socks, approacheth]

Bar Wench: You guys want something else?

D: Not right now.

[The Bar Wench leaveth]

V: Sorry, the Duke had to send our bar wench away.

D: Yes, I’m engaging in libations.

V: In fact, I wanted to commend you on the choice of pub today. Is it the Slaughtered Lamb?

D: Yes!

V: Anyway, director Walerian Borowczyk, I believe, had a lot to say about nuns and the way that they live.

D: First of all, they’re in service to Christ.

V: It’s true, they are the Brides of Christ, and as such they have to bear themselves in a way that reflects well on their otherworldly Husband, which I think they do very well in this film.

D: Apparently service to Jesus requires frequent bicycle-kick exercises.

Too Fit to Quit

V: Yes, one of the nuns—I believe it was Sister Clara—she was very much into yoga as physical fitness, and did very many yoga exercises, in front of a mirror, usually. Lots of lotus-position butt-flexing, for instance, which Walerian gave us many lingering shots of. And you know, you’ve got to keep yourself in good shape for J.C., because He’s not going to be after you if you’ve got the flab happenin’. I mean, He’s Jesus. He can have whoever He wants.

D: That’s right. He can snap His fingers and have whoever, so you’d better be looking good.

V: So as a movie in the nunsploitation genre, it’s basically the same plot over and over again: you’ve got these nuns, they’re shut away from the world—

D: They’re horny.

V: They’re horny. And then, shit happens. Occasionally the Devil will show up to help them out with their sexual urges, but in this case there is no Devil.

D: No, just randy townspeople.

V: Just randy townspeople who are always coming into the convent. And in fact something that occurred to me as I was watching this movie was that, if it had had more jokes and less religious iconography, it would have been a lot like Porky’s.

D: Color me intrigued.

V: Bear with me. You have the same character types—for instance you have the snooty Sister Victoria, and she’s like the spoiled sorority girl. Her dad’s an aristocrat, and she’s not going to take any crap from the Mother Superior because she can buy and sell her, you know. Then you’ve got the goody-two-shoes, Sister Clara, who is devoted to Christ. She’s the only one in the convent who has actually devoted herself to Christ rather than being locked up there by her family. And then you’ve got some other characters: you’ve got the Druggie, a girl who’s addicted to opium; and the nerdy, artist girl who will paint pictures of erections for the other nuns in exchange for honey and grapes and things. Which is a good kind of friend to have, I think.

So I was wondering: which of them fits most closely with the Duke’s lifestyle?

D: I would probably be the one who likes to whittle.

V: Tell us a little bit about this craftsperson.

D: Yes, this industrious nun has figured out that since Jesus is not going to come down to penetrate her physically, she is instead going to create his the form of a wooden phallus!

V: Doppelbanger, more like!

D: Well, you know, Jesus was a carpenter.

Almost there...

V: And she was able to whittle this Holy Dildo with a piece of glass.

D: Very industrious of her.

V: It showed a lot of determination. We'll discuss her more later...but to get back to my Porky’s analogy--if you’ve got the convent as a sorority house, then you’ve got all the randy villagers trying to break in for a kind of a panty raid. Or in this case, a wimple raid. Or come to that, a virginity raid. Because everybody’s trying to get in…

[The Bar Wench returneth]

BW: So what did you decide on?

D: The Avery Mephistopheles, wench!

BW: Let me check to see if we’ve still got that. [She goeth]

D: I have to drink anything endorsed by Satan.

V: Indeed. Lucifer knows from booze.

Anyway, these characters who are trying to get into the convent to get at these nuns are kind of interesting too.

D: The meat delivery guy being my favorite.

V: Yeah, the very first chapter on the DVD is entitled “MEAT DELIVERY,” which I think tells you *exactly * where we’re at.

D: This guy’s delivering meat in many different ways.

V: He’s this burly bearded character who comes in bearing this HUGE slab of meat, and then proceeds to do nothing but make inappropriate innuendoes with the nuns.

D: Yes, saying that he could thrust his member though a wall if he wanted to.

V: I think I have the actual quote here—he says “Ramrod! With a mighty thrust I could put a hole right through this house!”

D: And there was much twittering and blushing and dropping of dishes.

Our Hero

V: But the nuns were pretty saucy with that too, though, because they kept talking about how he was “working his joint” and such.

D: And they kept feeling his muscle, and stuff like that.

V: I think they even said that he was “beating his meat” at one point!

D: Yeah, yeah. The highlight for me, though, with regards to the meat delivery guy, has to be him using his fucking HAIR GREASE--or ear grease perhaps, I could never tell—being Italian, I think he uses grease off his hair to lubricate the rusty joints of a gate…

V: [Laughs] I wasn’t quite sure where you were going there. My mental imagery was somewhat different.

D: Do you remember that?

V: I do.

D: Oh my God. He pulls the hair behind his ear, gets the grease off his hair, and lubricates the door.

V: It’s important that the gate not squeak, when you’re sneaking in to bang a nun in the chapel.

D: You don’t want to distract the nuns from the next scene, which is the violin extravaganza—

[The Bar Wench returneth, bearing bad news]

BW: We’re out of Mephistopheles.

D: Gads and Be Damned! Well…how about…[indiscernible comment]

[Bar Wench twittereth, blusheth, and leaveth]

D: My order is in.

V: I’ll bet! But the thing about the nuns in this movie that differentiates them from other nunsploitation movies that I’ve seen, is that largely these are not women who have devoted themselves to the church—these are girls who have been put there by their families.

D: Right, taken shelter there, or what have you.

V: It’s kind of like a private school in a way, and the Mother Superior is the “mean old principal.” So really they’re rebelling against the strictures of their cloisterization through the whole thing.

D: All fun and no play make Jack a dull boy.

V: Or vice versa.

D: [Laughs] No fun and no play.

V: It’s all or nothing with you, isn’t it? [Laughs]

D: Exactly! That’s what I’m telling my manservant at all times.

V: So the early scene that you reference was the “Frolic in the Chapel,” where they’re doing their religious hymns, being devoted and beatific…and then all of a sudden ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE.

"We weren't doin' nothin'."

D: Sparked by a violin, no less.

V: Yeah, the violin player starts playing a secular tune rather than a spiritual tune, and all bets are off at that point.

D: Immediately two nuns run to a confessional and disrobe, and begin fondling each other!

V: Topless confessional, an idea whose time has come!

D: It was like, “Hello, Vicar!”

V: And they keep coming back to that too, because someone will come to the confessional and pull the curtain aside, and you’ll see the two nuns there with their breasts out—still with their wimples on, though.

D: Always. Always keep the wimples on.

V: And a little bit later someone else will go there and pull the curtain back, and they’re still there, still fondling, and it happens several times. And Clara takes the opportunity to do some of her yoga kicks we were mentioning earlier. These are some rather feisty nuns here—they’re not blushing Brides of Christ by any stretch.

D: Just how I like ‘em!

V: Now let’s talk about the Mother Superior, because you’ve always got to have some foil to put things against, and she’s as I say kind of mean the old principal. But also the only Mother Superior I’ve ever seen who has a FUCKING SWORD CANE.

D: Which she employs to great effect.

V: She is NOT screwing around.

"Oh, father, what am I going to do with these girls? I mean, you know, besides the obvious."

D: She’s also seemingly everywhere at once.

V: She goes through girls’ rooms looking for trappings—


V: --the trappings of sin, which at first are just mirrors, because obviously if girls are looking in mirrors that’s a bad thing, but then EVERYBODY has a mirror!

[The Bar Wench returneth, even more crestfallen than aforenow]

BW: We’re out of that too.

D: Baby Jesus Butt-plug! Something made by Avery, surely you have in stock.

BW: We’ve got the Reverend, Salvation

D: Reverend? That sounds awesome. Is that like 20 dollars or something?

BW: It’s not $20, it’s a little more expensive. It’s a bigger bottle, it’s high alcohol.

D: Is it on your bill of fare?

BW: It’s on there—they changed it up a while ago, and I still haven’t gotten…[peereth over the menu, which rests on the Duke's loins]

D: I would remember seeing the word “Reverend,” because I would have wanted it.

V: It’s a shame there’s not an Avery “Duke.”

D: Well, I guess bring me that Reverend, if it’s not too many ducats.

BW: It bugs me that I can’t find it.

V: (aside) IYKWIM…

BW: I know it’s in there, though!

V: (aside) I. Y. K. W. I. M…

D: I’ll take it though. [BW leaveth] Apparently I’m going to drink something from a Reverend.

V: Yeah, well…it won’t be the first time!

Ask for it by name

D: [Laughs] I’m reminded of that trip to Transylvania back in ’87…

V: Ooer! So the Mother Superior is basically quashing anything that is joyful in the convent.

D: She’s a quasher. It’s what they do.

V: And the sisters are rebelling against that. Which I think is a worthwhile thing—I mean it’s kind of like Ferris Beuller’s Day Off, only if Ferris were a sexually frustrated nun.

D: [Thoughtfully] I’m gonna bankroll that. That needs to be made!

V: Ferris Beuller’s Day Out of the Convent! [Laughs] So it’s about these young women who are sexually frustrated, they’re coming into the bloom of youth, and they’re being smacked down at every turn by these religious strictures, and the only way they can rebel against that is to have lots and lots of sex.

D: Which is a good way of rebelling against anything, imo.

V: Let’s talk about this character of Clara, who’s the goody-two-shoes, but nonetheless likes to do naked yoga in front of a mirror.

D: Don’t we all?

V: I believe she’s glorifying Christ in that, or at least that’s her point of view.

D: I would assume so.

V: And her bicycle exercises, which Walerian gives us SEVERAL times, at least three instances of her doing naked handstand bicycle kick exercises…

[The Bar Wench returneth, bearing booze at last]

BW: The Reverend came with two glasses, so I brought them both, I figured he [indicating The Vicar] might want to try it.

D: But of course, wench!

V: He’s good that way, he shares with me. (aside) IYKWIM…

BW: [twittereth girlishly, leaves]

D: [admiring the Avery Reverend label] That’s awesome. Would you do the honors, Vicar?

V: [Pours, Sips Reverend] APPROVED.

D: [also quaffs] Dang! Tasty as a kick in the teeth from a high-heeled boot! [Reads from Reverend label] “Created by God, feared by Satan, loved by All.”

V: That could be my epitaph!

D: It might very well be! That’s fucking awesome. Those guys at Avery GET IT.

V: BTW, Avery is now the official brewer of the Duchy and the Vicarage. Please send us free beer.

So anyway what happens with Clara is, later in the movie, the local priest who takes the nuns’ confessions, Father Luigi—

D: Who really has the best job in the history of jobs.

Confess to Daddy Luigi

V: Yeah, he gets to listen to all these young nuns talk about the sinful things they’ve done, and you can tell he REALLY loves his work.

D: He gets quite sweaty, in fact.

V: He has a nephew named Roderigo who comes in to…I don’t really know why Roderigo comes in—oh, wait, I remember now: he’s selling art prints, and he gets to the convent to try to sell the Mother Superior some stations of the cross or something, and while he’s in there he gets to stand behind a cage, behind these bars, and watch the nuns at their nunnery—kind of like a petting zoo. Then he entices Clara to come close to the bars, and he GRABS her and starts molesting her!

D: Like at a petting zoo.

V: Which is apparently EXACTLY the right thing to do with Clara, because how does she react? She falls right into his lap!

D: She loves the molestation.

V: Well, she’s been waiting for this all her life. So they contrive to meet somewhere in the woods and then we have a very explicit love scene between Roderigo and Clara. Well, I should say I’m not sure it’s really a “love” scene, because first he meets her, and she wants him a lot, but he rejects her. And then she faints, and he carries her off unconscious, and lays her down on the ground, and I guess as long as she’s unconscious he feels it’s all right to just TAKE her.

D: This is the way most parties end at my house.

V: And why I employ a designated coachman. Anyway, that was a long and very lingering scene. We get to see Clara’s face while she sees God, as it were, and then a series of extreme close-ups of Roderigo’s thrusting, flexing ASS. Which I know, Duke, you enjoyed quite a bit.

D: Oh, quite. It was very manly.

[Come back tomorrow for Part 2, wherin we get deeper into the movie proper while also getting deeper in our cups, discussing in detail the Infamous Holy Dildo Scene, investigating the question of why nuns have such an appeal, and waxing poetic about Paul Naschy. Oh, like that wasn't going to happen!]

And special thanks again to Tenebrous Kate for providing the scholarship and the pixels!

Don't go away, now...

Click here to read Part II of the Behind Convent Walls double-team!

Click here to jump the the end and read part III!


The Duke of DVD said...

*wipes tear from eye* Vicar, we've finally done it, old friend. We've finally reached the event horizon of damnation. As if there were any hope before, this blasphemous palaver will forever consign our souls to Hell's legions.

Bravo, Frau Kate, for the most excellent of introductions! Your words adequately captured the look and feel of this most wondrous of nunsploitation films.

I can't wait for part 2, wherein the Duke and the Vicar continue their drunken mine cart ride further into the aether, careening towards that endless abyss where The Ageless Ones slumber.

Anonymous said...

Wooden phallus? Whittled with a piece of glass? Please, please tell me the nuns had access to sandpaper...

-METALHEAD- said...

Thanks for the review Vicar. I've yet to view this film but I look forward to reading the other parts as well.

Anonymous said...

"Dirndl and knee-socks"... did this take place at Hooters?

The Vicar of VHS said...

@Aunt John--No, not a Hooters...The Flying Saucer Draught Emporium. I don't think their web has extended to your neck of the woods, but it's the MMMMMovies Watering Hole of choice down here.

And to be quite honest, IRL it's less "dirndl" than "plaid schoolgirl skirts." Chalk it up to creative license.

Everything else is true though. ;)

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