Le Petomane: Fin-de-Siècle Fartiste

Dir: Igor Vamos
(Video, colour/B&W, USA, 1998, 56min)

Joseph Pujol discovered at age 8 that he had a capacity to retain a huge amount of water or air in his large intestine and could control his sphincter muscles to release it at will. But naturally it took the barracks-room pranks of his military service for him to explore the entertainment possibilities of such a strange endowment and to develop its performance potential. Le Petomane, as Pujol became, performed nightly from 1895 in Paris’ infamous Moulin Rouge commanding full houses. His intelligence and sensitivity developed the fart form way beyond scatological and infantile humour as he discovered that his musical talents and odourless feats could dazzle and enthral. The meaning behind his performance’s raging success is discussed by musicians, theorists, art critics and the proud owner of his enema bowl revealing a deeper content to his performances contextualised by the epoch. Was he an anal anarchist? Did he musically influence Eric Satie, the pianist at the Black Cat cabaret next door? Should his art be viewed beside the ancient female art of quiffing or vaginal fart? Why did the famous such as Freud visit his show incognito?

With brilliantly selected archival footage from the vaudeville-cabaret tradition which provided the initial content of a lot of early cinema to illustrate his story, an appreciation of the physical feat as popular entertainment develops. Sadly only a few soundless seconds of Le Petomane exist on celluloid, filmed for the Paris exhibition of 1900 by Edison’s production company. Largely lost to history, partly I suspect because in order to experience its real thrill you ‘had to be there’, the retirement from the stage of Pujol was a reaction to WWI and its destruction of fin-de-siècle optimism. None the less, 100 years later, this story still bedazzles, drawing on human curiosity for novelty. Who would not pay to see Le Petomane, the fartiste who extinguishes the front of stage lights one by one at the end of each performance?

Wadd: The Life and Times of John C. Holmes

Dir: Cass Paley
(Video, colour/ B&W, USA, 1999, 110min)

John C. Holmes’ best friend was his manger Bill Amerson, a guy who sets you straight right from the start. John was a man with low self-esteem and a big dick. 1969, the beginning of the sexual revolution, SDTs are curable and the pill and abortion available, hard core porn just had to happen. Holmes, just out of military service and a newly married nobody, decides that the porn industry’s high pay offers the best future for him and his fourteen inches of wadd. Johnny Wadd became the King of the porn industry and in a medium where women get paid more than men he earned his fair share as a superstud who could come on cue. Tell Them Johnny Wadd is Here, the 1975 debut of the Wadd series, was shot in one day on a budget of $750 and was in the cinemas one week later.

Through the anonymity of silhouette interviews, his wife Sharon plots the rise and fall of her husband’s career and the destruction of the sweet country boy she married by too much sex, money and drugs. The text book character sketch of a sociopath emerges. Holmes becomes a stool pigeon, thief, charmer, ‘polygamist’ and ultimately victim to his lifestyle. But when drugs lay limp the proverbial goose which lays, Holmes resorts to the underworld life. Eventually caught up in an infamous and gruesomely videoed mass murder, he flees with his 16-year-old mistress across America. The illustration of this part of his life with footage from his films becomes a bizarre re-telling of the Wadd story from the other side of the looking glass as the hero becomes the villain. Holmes isn’t a complex character but his life is a dense and chaotic illustration of the American Nightmare: destruction through over consumption.

The Girl Next Door

Dir: Christine Fugate
(35mm, colour, USA, 1999, 82min)

Christine Fugate follows Stacy Valentine, Oklahoma girl next door turned porn star through the recognisable dilemmas of a young woman being sucked into the beauty scene where image is more important than content and anything can be bought. “Why do I want a man when I can have sex with hunks at work and come home to cuddle my cats?” becomes “I want to trust him but I can’t” as fellow porn star Julian and Stacy try living together. Why bother with dieting and exercise “Go to Dr Fisher, he’ll take care of it” becomes “I hope I’m not hurting myself”. The thrilling scenes of surgery left me with little doubt. It’s not an easy way to make a crust. Getting 5 nominations in the Adult Video Awards for ’98 with 10,000 porn movies made each year is no mean feat. But Stacy’s inability to find “another type of touch” wears her down. Fan autograph sessions with groupies for the camera, the emotional pressure from her mother to find someone, the insecurity of her fragile grip on trust in a relationship are all exacerbated by a profession which pimps her soul. “I’m trying to make myself unrealistic – I can’t keep up – I look in the mirror and I see a stranger.”

About The Author

Mim Whiting is a VCA doco postgraduate, and the co-ordinator of the Melbourne Documentary Group.