The DVD Journal | Quick Reviews: Ecstasy
Though some consider this film a novelty, a ye olden cinematic curio, or Hollywood freaking out over an Austrian import, or a great place to watch Hedy Lamarr cavort around completely naked, Ecstasy (made in 1932) is really much, much more. An intense, beautiful (and extremely taboo at the time) study of a young woman's sexuality, the picture actually gets things right, either via magnificent, naturalistic erotic imagery or moments of blunt explanation. Without demonizing its subject (though the film does moralize), without overly squishy emotionality, and without words (mostly), Gustav Machaty's Ecstasy explains some simultaneously simple and convoluted facts of life. Women get bored. Women daydream. They desire sex. They enjoy sex. And if they find it, they'll have sex, even if they're a little scared or the man's pushy or they're afraid they'll feel guilty afterwards. Lamarr (then Hedy Kiesler her real name was Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler) stars as Eva, a young bride who marries an older man (Emil Jerman) only to discover on her wedding night that he's uninterested in sex. With extreme D.H. Lawrence ennui (the novelist must have loved this picture if he ever saw it), Eva cannot stand this dull union. Watching other couples together, she is filled with depression over her unexplored sexual needs. So she leaves the old man and runs home to father, who in some wonderful moments both embraces his sad little girl and huffs that he'll never understand women. Then comes the famous sequence. Eva goes for a nude swim while her horse stands in wait. Intrigued by the advances of another horse in the distance (the horses really have a lot of personality in Ecstasy), the steed runs off, taking Eva's clothes with him. The naked Eva chases after, not knowing that a young, handsome worker will bump into her. The scene is shot like foreplay, as the water, sky, sweaty laborers, and fondling horses are continually referenced while Eva runs through the woods, a once happy swimmer, now a frustrated, frightened, and soon-to be thrilled woman. Taking this scene as representation of her desires, she, of course, almost nearly bangs into the most handsome man she's ever seen, aptly named Adam (the fantastic Aribert Mog, who sadly died before ever reaching 40). But even after the smiling Adam shows he can place a bee in a flower, the film wisely holds out at first. It takes Eva's later, nighttime bedroom pacing to make her way down to Adam's shed for the consummated act, shot lovingly and boldly on Lamarr's climaxing face. Explained as such it may sound coarse, but Ecstasy is so well paced and directed, and Lamarr and Mog have such perfect chemistry, that the nudity and sensuality feel natural and appropriate voyeuristic, but somehow beneficial. The film would cause a furor: It was banned and much sought after in the United States (released finally in 1940), particularly when its lead became Miss Hedy Lamarr, an MGM star in the late '30s and into the '40s and '50s. The drop-dead-gorgeous Lamarr never proved to be a magnificent actress, but the screen loved her, especially opposite the equally beautiful Charles Boyer in 1938's Algiers and as the exotic Tondelayo in 1942's White Cargo. The clever Lamarr should also be remembered for inventing (with composer George Antheil) the "Secret Communication System," a transistor for military communication that led to the invention of cellular technology (it would take a movie star to invent the cell phone). But she never made a picture of more legendary status as Ecstasy (she actually turned down Casablanca!) As a young, plumper teenager in Machaty's film, she is superb, conveying lovely, unforced expression and a depth that feels layered and individual which, considering Lamarr's tumultuous personal life, it probably was. Image Entertainment's DVD release of Ecstasy presents a clean version of this film in a full-frame transfer (1.33:1), capturing the sparkling black and white cinematography. The German audio comes in monaural Dolby Digital with English subtitles. Unfortunately, there are no supplements surprisingly, no one thought it necessary to talk about the interesting history and impact of this film. We'll have to wait for another version. Keep-case.