Commenter Citizen Kinkster tipped me off about avant garde film director Kenneth Anger and his abortive attempt at making a film of The Story of O. From an interview in the Quietus:
I got permission from the publisher of an erotic book called Histoire d’O [The Story of O], which was later made into a rotten commercial film, which I never saw because it would spoil my vision. But even with the help of some literary people I couldn’t find the money to do it so I just move on and make another short film if the longer ones don’t work out.
Of the many longer projects you have conceived of that haven’t been realised, which of them do you most regret not happening?
Well, The Story of O, would have been beautiful because I was doing it in the style of Robert Bresson, like Les dames du Bois de Boulogne which is very understated. The subject is kinky eroticism but in my concept, I never showed anything. There are things implied but it’s a bit of a tease.
Which you have said is more powerful.
Yes, suggestion. Which is why I’m quite opposed to . . . I’m not advocating censorship, but to me, porno is a very problematic area because they defeat what they’re doing by having too much and too long and you get very bored with it, it’s like watching a sewing machine or something.
From what I’ve found so far, it’s unclear how much, if any, of this film was actually shot, or whether it was one of those things that never got out of development hell.
Another article on Anger says footage was shot, and then the story got even weirder:
He recounted his failed attempt to direct a feature-length film version of Pauline Reage’s mythic S&M novel The Story of O in Paris (“Don’t try it at home”). Describing the story as “a wanking fantasy, if you know what that means” he claimed that the production was bankrolled by money acquired by the young star’s boyfriend–ransom money from the kidnapping of the nephew of the Citroen car company’s owner. That this starlet was the daughter of the French minister of finance–and required to wear a chain attached “inside her little down there” for the shoot–ignited such a scandal that “M. Ange” was threatened with expulsion by some “magnificently cool guys” from the French government. Apparently the twenty minutes of footage that was successfully shot is lying somewhere in the archives of the Cinematheque Francaise…
Yet another interview:
When I was living in France,my publisher was Jean-Jacques Pauvert.
He brought out the original edition of Hollywood Babylon, which I
wrote in French, before it came out in English. At that time Jean-Jacques
was the publisher of a rather notorious novel, Histoire d’O, by Pauline Reage.
It was an erotic novel; I guess you could call it a sadomasochistic fairytale
because it’s absolutely a fantasy, nothing that could actually happen in real
life. I met the author, whose real name is Dominique Aury, and she gave me
permission to film the book, and I began work on a black-and-white, silent
film. My model for the project was Bresson. I shot about twenty minutes,
and then the production came to a halt: it turned out that the father of the
young lady who was playing the lead was the French minister of finance.
The girl was in her late teens, old enough to make up her own mind about what she wanted to do, but at any rate, the filming had to stop when it became
known that she was playing a part in an erotic film. It wasn’t pornographic,
but did involve some nudity and some simulated S&M; most everything
takes place of camera. The film was basically an exercise in style. I
had a work print of what I had shot, which I left at the Cinémathèque
Française. Another unfinished project.
Les dames du Bois de Boulogne is a 1945 film by Robert Bresson that was itself an adaptation of an anecdote in our old friend Diderot’s novel Jacques the Fataliste.
The story concerns a woman, Helene, who is spurned by her lover Jean. To get revenge, Helene hires a dancer and prostitute, Agnes, and passes her off as a bourgeois woman to trick Jean into marrying her.
The lesbian subtext of this scene could give a hint of what Anger’s low-key version of The Story of O would have been like.
Anger’s Scorpio Rising was definitely a contributor to the leatherman style, as you can see below:
Ah, what could have been. I suspect that coyness is not something that would have worked with the source material. What’s distinctive about The Story of O is its lack of gentility or discretion, its directness and bluntness. I think, if it had been completed, most would have criticize it as a poor adaptation, perhaps even more so than the Just Jaeckin version.
PS: Anger’s book Hollywood Babylon alleges that Rudolph Valentino liked to get beaten by dominant women.