Art and sex go together like the body and soul; together they create something fervent, alluring, and often political in nature.
The Artist and the Pervert is one of these art pieces, and on top of being intriguing and passionate, the 2018 documentary promises to be every bit as controversial as it sounds. Particularly when it comes to power balances, race, politics, fascism, and kink. There’s also a nice splattering of music, poetry, food, romance, and a lot of nudity.
The film was devised by filmmakers Beatrice Behn and René Gebhardt, and details the personalities of artist and author Mollena Williams-Haas, and composer Georg Friedrich Haas. The feature-length documentary follows the couple through their daily lives, as they work, love, and tell the world about their unconventional, and very sensual, lives. The couple have disengaged from social norms, consensually giving themselves fully to each other in radical and powerful ways.
I recently had the chance to talk with Beatrice about the film, as well as her attitudes towards sex; creating movies; empowerment; and much more.
FEMBOT: Hi Beatrice, thank you so much for speaking to me today, how are you?
BEATRICE: I am great and tired and anxious and hopeful which is, I guess, the typical combination of finishing a big project and crowdfunding for it at the same time.
F: Your documentary looks fabulous, what prompted the idea?
B: Well, The Artist & The Pervert is one of those lucky coincidences. My partner in crime, René and I were looking for couples in non-normative relationships for a short film we were thinking of doing. And then an article in the New York Times popped up in my social media feed. And there they were, Georg and Mollena, embracing each other and talking about how he, the famous Austrian composer, has finally found what he was looking for: a submissive partner who would be his muse. I immediately knew that this is exactly what we were looking for and after visiting them and quizzing them about their life, we dumped the idea of a short film and went big because their story is so big and so wonderfully complicated that it needs to be told as a feature-length film.
F: Tell us about The Artist and the Pervert, what kind of political and social issues are brought up in the film?
B: Oh, so many, it’s unbelievable! First of all Mollena and Georg are an interracial and intercultural couple. She is an African-American artist, kink educator, civil rights and body positivity activist who grew up in the projects in New York City. He is one of the most important contemporary composers in New Music who spent his childhood on a mountain (literally) in the middle of nowhere in Austria. They are now happily married and live in a consensual power-exchange relationship. So the combination of their relationship, their sexual desires, their gender and their race alone touches so many hot topics that it makes you head spin. What I learned during the process is that their relationship immediately triggers a lot of emotions in other people and creates this almost adhoc response. How dare she call herself a slave as an African-American? How can he be a woman’s master and call himself a feminist? Is this not a re-enactment of typical patriarchal standards? Is she self-hating and destructive etc…? I understand where this is coming from, however I am a vociferous advocate of the art of seeing and learning instead of judging. So this is what we did. We took a long and deep look at this couple to see what is beyond all the buzzwords and hot topics. And we were happily surprised. This couple, their lives and therefore our film turns out to be a very thought-provoking, intelligent, passionate and sensitive project. I learnt a lot about myself and a lot about the boundaries I often and unconsciously put on myself and other women when it comes to thinking about what feminism and emancipation should look or be like. So watching this documentary also means taking a very hard look at oneself because the radicality of their self-determination will leave you pondering your own life.
F: There’s no doubt that society has a rather bitter attitude towards female sexual expression, so after spending time with Mollena, do you have any thoughts about why society feels this way?
B: Oh yes, certainly I do. A woman who radically expresses her own sexuality, is a scary thing indeed. Knowing yourself well enough to know what your sexuality should look like means knowing your body. Knowing your desires, your fetishes, your wishes. That ultimately leads to knowing yourself, owning your past and present, shaping your future. It also means being aware of your boundaries and no-gos. So expressing your sexuality as a woman is a very powerful statement that you know who you are and what you want and don’t want. Why would a patriarchal society want a woman to be in her power, to be in the know of herself and to protect her boundaries? These women are trouble! Now imagine all of the above but with a sexual expression that goes even further. One that even defies race boundaries, that dares to reclaim and appropriate words and ideas, that turns power dynamics upside down, that politicizes sexual expression itself. And now imagine all of this and add a woman who thinks way beyond her own personal expression and who openly speaks and writes about that. Now that is a bomb, a huge ripple in the matrix of a patriarchal society. That’s what I learnt from documenting Mollena.
But I realize there is a catch here. I am a white German woman talking about a Black American woman who should and can absolutely speak for herself. So, for anyone interested, visit www.mollena.com because I am, in the end, not the interpretative authority to talk about Mollena, especially when it comes to racial matters. This is why the documentary is without narration. It does not tell the story of Mollena & Georg, but it documents they’re being and doing and their effect on others without judgment and the least interpretation a documentary can bring to the table.
F: How did you find the process of making the film? Did you feel empowered by witnessing the couple’s sexual and artistic energy?
B: I personally do not feel empowered because, being a polyamorous queer woman, I have already gone through my very own process of emancipation and self-determination. For me it was rather a process of feeling embraced and of seeing other non-conformative couples doing their thing, giving each other lots of love and defying all the people that tell them they are freaks, perverts etc. However, we had some first and early test screenings and quite a few of the people who saw the film, some kinky, some not, some straight, some not, were very moved by Georg and Mollena and told me they had to stop for a moment and seriously evaluate whether or not they were living the life they actually wanted and having the relationships and sexuality they actually craved. So I think The Artist & The Pervert might be empowering, but it is first and foremost very thought-provoking.
F: Thanks for talking to us today! One last thing; for all our budding directors out there, can you offer any advice for how to navigate through the movie making world as a marginalized person?
B: Oh yeah, that is easy. Do. Not. Give. A. Fuck.
Really, there are loads of nay-sayers and even more doubters that will just be a drag and suck all your passion and energy dry and replace it with self-doubt. Just don’t listen. Even if the nay-sayer and doubter is yourself. You know what you are doing. And the stuff you don’t know you’ll learn. There are always people who will teach you and the internet is full of learning opportunities. Apart from that you will encounter lots of people who do not take you seriously. Me and my (male) partner are, for example rather introverted, quiet people. We encountered quite a few people who thought they could ignore us or push us around. But we never budged. We simply stayed stoic. And (mostly) friendly, yet always insistent. That really helps.
If you’d like to support the documentary, then check out Behn and Gebhardt’s fundraising page for more info on how you can get involved, as well as how to get loads of exclusive rewards for donating!