An American in Paris: Julia Collings meets erotic film maker Maria Beatty

Maria BeattyJulia Collings meets Maria Beatty, the girl from the MidWest who became a professional submissive, moved to the city of light and made a successful career as a film maker, producing a string of stylish erotic fetish movies under the banner of Bleu Productions…

Don’t be misled by Maria Beatty’s doe-eyed candour. In her director’s oeuvre, this woman has breast milk, fisting, peeing, cling film, bondage, candle wax and extreme knife play. That’s seven taboos in one sentence – not bad going for a doctor’s daughter whose first film was a documentary about the beat poets.

I first met Maria on my first trip to the States, when I was a fresh faced graduate and newly Assistant Editor of Skin Two. She has the air of a 1920s femme fatale and – as anyone who saw her in Nick Broomfield’s 1996 film Fetishes will know – she cuts a diminutive and beautiful figure, whether as a scantily dressed submissive or as she is now, running into Café Beauborg next to the Pompidou Centre, slightly late and harassed. Maria looks relieved when she sees I’ve chosen a table outside, as it means she can smoke. I gesture at my espresso. “Actually, I would love some wine,” she says softly but with firm eyes. It is this contradiction between submissive (Maria was a professional submissive in New York) and dominant director that makes her so intriguing. She chain smokes as she talks; this is Paris after all. In fact you wouldn’t guess from looking at her that Maria is a New Yorker.

“My mother was my artistic mentor and I grew up on expressionist German cinema, French surrealism and filmmakers like Jean Genet, Fellini, Bunel. These seeds were embedded in my childhood.” There’s no mistaking this European influence in Maria’s early films like The Elegant Spanking (1995) and The Black Glove (1996). They are moodily lit, black and white celluloid delights with slow-moving, sensual shots of shiny black rubber against white bedsheets, a black glove against a pale arm, shadows playing on blanched out skin and mouth-watering close-ups of polished rubber and shiny buckles.

“The Black Glove caused a stir when it emerged, not just because it was from a female fetish director (a rarity now, but even more so in the ’90s), but also because this was fetish film like you’d never seen before. The films were high in production values and moody, arty and very, very sexy. So why shoot her early films in black and white? Maria takes a final drag and delicately stubs out her cigarette before putting her elbows on the table and adopting a Bambi wide-eyed pose.

“I started early in film making and black and white was a natural route, it has a beautiful simplicity. I was heavily influenced by silent movies, which allow you to hit the core of a subject, without being overloaded by other trappings. I wanted to create an artistic distance, to take the viewer away from reality.” It’s no coincidence that in these early films, Maria is present on both sides of the camera. The Black Glove may be the centrepiece of the eponymous film, but it is Maria who is the star – looking cool and pale, like a bound and trussed silent movie star.

“I met someone one day who just stopped dead, because they had seen my films and really thought that I was a 1920s actress and these were vintage movies,” Maria giggles.

“Shooting in black and white allowed me to distance myself from reality. Although from a film making perspective black and white is more serious, it’s not too real. It was as though I was in my films, but hiding. ‘Here I am – but in black and white.’ “As soon as I took myself out of the films and concentrated on the other side of the camera – boom! The colour came in.”

The Elegant Spanking film by Maria Beatty

Maria’s later films are a riot of action, colour and vivid close-ups that leave nothing to the imagination. The Marlene Dietrich-inspired femme fatales of her earlier films have evolved into the gutsy, eponymous Skateboard Kink Freak and Post Apocalyptic Cowgirls of her 2007 and 2008 titles. These heroines sport brightly coloured spiky hair, wear tartan mini skirts and cowboy boots, and saunter not simper, with a mood that’s definitely more Tarantino than Trousseau.

Maria Beatty's Post Apocalyptic Cowgirls

And yet I can’t help thinking that these funky girls, with their neon hair and piercings and trembling lips and big boots, are what Marlene herself would look like today. In the current trend for burlesque and subtle tease, where women are back into feathers and tiaras and mummy’s dressing-up box, there is something refreshing about Maria’s brand of unapologetic dyke porn.

“I deal with things head on,” Maria agrees. “I am more and more interested in how sex relates to modern times and modern social and political issues. In Belle de Nature (2008) I deal with our relationship to nature. Not just the destruction of the planet, but how nature is the ultimate mistress. Everything is bright colours and there are delicious macro images of insects on my heroine’s body.”

Macro shots are one of Maria’s specialities. The peeing scene in Post Apocalyptic Cowgirls – set after a third world war and global warming has transformed the planet into a desert – has the kind of anatomical close-up that nature documentary makers spend years chasing. This is the same scene that has a cowgirl whipping out a boob and showering breast milk on her ‘victim’. Hey! What’s one more taboo (and bodily fluid) between close friends?

I want to talk about that peeing close-up. I feel that clitoris could be sitting in the middle of a dinner table as a centrepiece, it’s like a large abstract object which fills the screen, as much a fetish object as the black glove is in the film of the same name.  “Yeah,” Maria begins. “But it’s more than objectifying it. Yes, I’m abstracting it and turning it into a fetish object, but I invite people to worship it. To admire it as an image in itself.” When I interviewed film censor Janet Burgis for Skin Two 30, we discussed how modern porn films objectified women by editing out the whole, and reducing them to body parts. But in Maria’s film, these close-ups seem to empower and edify the female spirit.

“I guess that’s because I am worshipping this object, setting it up on its own as a thing of beauty. Plus, I always shoot emotionally from the point of view of, and with a sensitivity towards the submissive.”

This is an excerpt of an interview with Maria Beatty by Julia Collings.
The extended version was published in Skin Two Issue 61 and can be bought in our online store: KFSMedia.com
Maria Beatty’s films can be found at www.bleuproductionsonline.com
Maria’s portrait is by Rachel May

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