The Artist and the Pervert
Text: Giuseppe Di Salvatore
A renowned, white, male Austrian music composer contracts with an American, black, female performer to dispose of her time and body as a possession. All the marks of Western colonialism and macho patriarchalism seem to be summed up in a story that has been revealed in the press. But the intentions of Beatrice Behn and René Gebhardt’s documentary have rather been to accompany and extend Georg Friedrich Haas’ outing of his kinky identity, of which Mollena Williams is sort of an icon in the States, as she is mostly known as a stand-up comic and BDSM educator. That a love relationship can take the form of domination-submission, with a certain degree of consensual violence, is certainly a stumbling block for the politically correct and open-minded common opinion on racial and gender issues. Is violence, even if consented to, still a reproachable deed? Can we accept the free assumption of reactionary patterns that have made and still cause to suffer plenty of people?
The Artist and the Pervert has the intelligence of answering these delicate questions through the direct example of a couple of artists that let the camera visit their intimacy. There is never voyeurism in this filmic operation, insofar as their will to express, communicate, and explain is always perceptible and the answer is unavoidably multifaceted and complex – as is always the case when our gaze becomes less superficial and more personal – and will involve the difficult biographies of the two artists, whose past traumas find both solution and sublimation in this only apparently unbalanced relationship.
Then, Behn & Gebhardt’s film experiences a sort of shift. What seems the hesitant architecture of the film reveals itself to be the form of an evolution. The focus swings from the erotic habits of Georg and Mollena’s relationship to their activities as artists and, more in particular, to their first collaboration. In this respect, both figures assume fully independent personalities: the play between them as artists will definitely seem to be more balanced than their play as lovers. Moreover, Mollena’s straightforward clarity on political issues will profile her as a dominant debater. Now we see how the choice for a domination/submission relationship is possible as long as it is done from a fair position of reciprocity that implies nothing but respect. In a way, for the interesting questioning of violence that cracks the certainties of the open-minded and politically correct milieu, this shift results in a watering down of poignancy, but the humanist thread that animates The Artist and the Pervert will get its final crescendo in the form of a love story.