“In the 1970s, we had a feeling of safeness. We really thought the horrors that Ilse Koch was part of were behind us,” Dyanne Thorne said in 2011. She would know, too, as she played a character inspired by Koch in four films, beginning with 1975's Ilsa: She Wolf Of The SS. That notional safeness may never have existed, but the illusion of it was decidedly shattered a few weeks ago when a band of Nazis unmasked themselves in Charlottesville, where they heiled themselves into an act of domestic terrorism that left one protestor dead.
A new piece in MEL Magazine exploring the film’s origins and bizarre resilience in culture touches on the topic of Nazisploitation and how it resonates in the wake of an event like Charlottesville. How should we view this sort of filth—intentional as it may be—in an era when prominent those threats are surfaced seemingly constantly online and in the real world?
The answer is complicated, but, the article maintains, we can still view the film appreciatively. Despite its “myriad continuity errors, profound tastelessness and historical inaccuracy,” the character of Ilsa remains a shocking subversion on the roles women typically play on film, even to this day.
“She is not a female hero in any ordinary sense,” author Rikke Schubart writes, “yet she is a strong, active and aggressive protagonist who has become mythical in Western culture.”
New York artist Twiggs Gorie agrees, telling MEL:
“I see it as an empowerment film — a wonderful display of strong, confident women. That image is missing in 2017 — it’s missing from our cinema, it’s missing from everything. I was a teenager in the early 2000s, and I saw the advent of those illegal-looking, American Apparel, super-weak-looking girls — that’s what everybody wanted. Bondage came into the mainstream, but it was women being submissive, and I was sick of it. I want stronger female role models and stronger female imagery. And when I look at this movie, that’s what I see.”
With a laugh, she adds, “When I think about this series as a whole, it’s almost like the saga of women in the workplace. In every single movie, this chick is trying to do her job! She’s trying to be a harem-keeper. She’s trying to make it work. And in every film, she gets screwed over by some dude.”
Obviously, the last thing we need these days is more Nazisploitation, but let no one tell you that art needs to be morally good to be interesting.