Saturday, 2 November 2013

‘Animal Farm’ and the tragedy of Bodil Joensen

The 2006 documentary THE DARK SIDE OF PORN: THE REAL ANIMAL FARM provides an intriguing look at the background of one of the most infamous pornographic videotapes of all time, ‘Animal Farm’, as well as the tragic life of its star performer, Bodil Joensen. Due to its bestiality content I have no interest in seeing the actual film, but I’ve long been fascinated by the shroud of notoriety surrounding the film as well as the troubled story of Joensen (in the various photographs I’ve seen of her, I always noticed a sad, almost haunted, look in her eyes) and why and what exactly led her to perform in these sorts of productions.
Featuring many interviews with collaborators and friends of Joensen such as filmmakers Ole Ege and Shinkichi  Tajiri, as well as a variety of others providing their opinion on the film such as Germaine Greer and ‘Headpress’ editor David Kerekes (“There’s only so much filth you can wallow in – I think ‘Animal Farm’’s pretty much at the bottom of the pit”), not to mention many non-explicit excerpts from Joensen’s films, plenty of rare stills, and a non-judgmental voice-over, THE REAL ANIMAL FARM provides a wealth of information for anyone interested in the story behind the tape.
The documentary begins with a look at the home video revolution that took off in the early 1980’s in England. For the first time in history, consumers were able to borrow or purchase programmes of their choice and watch them as many times as they liked in the comfort of their own home. Naturally the success of the VCR led to a massive demand for pornographic titles, especially illegal hardcore material – one in four VHS tapes on the market was a porno. With the demand for ever more sensational films growing (including the lurid horror and sexploitation titles soon to be known as ‘The Video Nasties’), bootlegging and piracy became rife. Seizing the lucrative money-making opportunity, dupers took to smuggling in more extreme XXX material into the UK from more sexually permissive countries such as Denmark and Holland. In mid-1981, four zoophilia tapes, collectively known as ‘Animal Farm’, were snuck past British customs into the country (it should be noted that the ‘films’ have no official title; the tapes became universally known as ‘Animal Farm’ due to underground dealers, traders and collectors always referring to it by that name).
 'Animal Farm’s’ content itself was a compilation of clips from various films Bodil Joensen had starred in, and assorted Color Climax Corporation bestiality loops (the original source of the tape was in fact from Color Climax, a hugely successful Danish porn production/distribution outfit catering to more ‘specialised’ tastes). The narrator explains “’Animal Farm’ has no plot, but shows countless indecent acts including penetrative, anal and oral sex with every conceivable animal”. Indeed the grimy-looing snippets shown of randy, elderly ‘backwoods’ looking farmers and grubby, unwashed farm girls about to engage in copulations was more than enough for me.  The first wave of video dupers sold copies of ‘Animal Farm’ to Soho sex shop dealers for up to 70 pounds each, and subsequently the ‘under-the-counter’ tapes sold to customers like hotcakes. Police raids in Soho did uncover the ‘Animal Farm’ tapes, however they were too late to stop the film from being widely distributed.  It was a matter of time before the film became nationally, then internationally, known as an underground legend, often viewed as a gross-out curio rather than a masturbatory aid. Even during my years at high school in the 90’s, it was still being sniggered about by knowing teenage boys upon the mention of George Orwell’s novel of the same title in classes. I’ve also had it verified that at a certain Victorian country football club in the 1980’s, ‘Animal Farm’ was screened to adolescent boys (along with other highly dubious material) during their infamous ‘piss, pies and porn’ fundraiser nights. Even more disturbingly, these films were supplied to the football club by the local police (!!!) Coincidentally, in his book Hip Pocket Sleaze, John Harrison mentions a similar story he was told when purchasing an old collection of 8mm stag loops from regional Victoria. Only difference being one of the particular films shown at the particular football club he was told about was THE ANAL DWARF (!!!!)
But what of Bodil Joensen, the first ever widely recognisable person to appear in a bestialily porn video? During her heyday, the unkempt but pretty, voluptuous blonde with striking blue eyes appeared to be a vivacious, free-spirited ‘child of nature’; a vanguard of free love. Few were aware of the horrifically abusive childhood Joensen suffered and of one particular traumatic event which was to change the course of the scarred young girl’s life forever.
Born in 1944, Joensen was brought up by a devoutly Christian mother in Hundige, a small provincial village near Copenhagen. Her father, a military officer, was absent for most of her childhood, and her sexually repressed mother was extremely physically and emotionally abusive. If the young Bodil was seen simply chatting to a boy after school, she was whipped brutally. Her mother’s abuse caused her to withdraw from other children. At the age of 12, when walking home from school Joensen was violently raped by a man who forced her into a deserted train station waiting room. Bodil told her unsympathetic mother, who viciously beat her and said she was to blame for the rape. The traumatised, confused and resentful girl made a promise that would haunt her for the rest of her days. In spite to shock her mother, she made a pledge that she would have sex with boars. As Bodil grew older, her oath to her mother slowly began to manifest itself. Lonely and isolated from human affection, Bodil sought solace from the animals she loved. Her first sexual encounter with an animal was with her beloved German Shepard, her only friend and closest companion and soon after at 15, she left her mother’s farm, never to return. Both to flee the abuse she had endured and as a backlash against the traditional, religious lifestyle her mother wished for her to follow.
Alienated from her family and homeless in the Danish countryside, Joensen found work as a farmhand and eventually set up her own animal husbandry business, ‘Insemination Central’. However, malicious rumours soon were spread by the conservative farmer’s wives who were jealous of the attractive, outgoing young girl and prevented their husbands from associating with her, subsequently leading to a major loss of funds. Desperate to keep her pigs, failing business and home, Bodil saw a money-making opportunity in zoophilia pornography. Initially appearing in ‘light fetish’ porn produced by Ole Ege, she then contacted Color Climax Corporation with the proposal of appearing in bestiality loops for them. A venture that was to make the company millions. Within a few months after this transition, she had earned enough to keep her business afloat. From 1969 to 1972, Joensen appeared in over 40 feature films and 8mm loops of this nature.

A key film from this period was the documentary short BODIL JOESEN: A SUMMERDAY by Japanese-American underground filmmaker Shinkichi Tariji. Tariji, intrigued by Joensen and her way of life, shot four days of footage of at her farmhouse, intending to show the ‘real’ Bodil to the public, not just the anonymous sex performer. The documentary shows Bodil living with her animals on her farm (“two rabbits, seven dogs, a dozen pigs, some cats, a guinea pig, a mare and a beautiful black stallion named Dreamlight”), including their care, her affection for them, and her sexual life. This footage is intercut with numerous photographs of Joensen and her family and magazine articles.

A SUMMERDAY was the surprise winner of Amsterdam’s 1970 Wet Dream Film Festival (attended by a combination of the mackintosh brigade and the free-love hippie crowd) This turned Joensen into an underground superstar overnight and a symbol of the ‘permissiveness’ and open-mindness of the era. Other documentary crews from around the world captured the young farm girl’s exploits on film.
Much of the footage compiled in ‘Animal Farm’ is said to have been culled from  A SUMMERDAY as well as San Francisco roughie auteur Alex de Renzy’s ANIMAL LOVER. Jack Stevenson in Shock Xpress Book 2 notes “ appreciate the accomplishments of A SUMMERDAY, it should be seen alongside its brain-damaged twin, ANIMAL LOVER, perhaps the crudest and rudest exploitation film ever.” A clumsily shot, inept and relentlessly ugly ‘pseudo-documentary’, it is narrated by a inarticulate, rambling ‘distinguished’ looking type ala Dr. Francis B. Gross from FACES OF DEATH wearing thick glasses and a red polka dot tie. According to Stevenson, “Bodil’s stock repertoire of sex acts is almost identical to those shown in the other films, but here there are more close-ups and zoom shots, and the scenes last longer, with little camera movement.” One particular staged segment manages to hit a new low point, even for shockumentaries. A young woman claims to have been kidnapped by a group of sadistic Arab men when holidaying in Marrakesh and held as a sex slave for months, including being forced to have sex with dogs. Stevensen states “...this section of ANIMAL LOVER must rank as one of the misguided, ghastly and hideous attempts at titillation ever.”

Joensen happily allowed the documentary makers to film her as well as visiting sex tourists who arrived at her farm by the busloads. She enjoyed both the media attention as well as the financial reapings, which allowed her to achieve her dream goal; purchasing her own farm. As the 1970’s drew to a close Joensen’s life was almost settling down into a ‘regular’ domestic existence, living with her partner Knud Andersen and their daughter (born in 1972). Amongst her pornographic activities, Bodil was still running Insemination Central with the assistance of Andersen. To subsidise the upkeep of the animals, Joensen was still allowing sex tourists access to the farm in order to make their own private bestiality movies. By this time, financially lucrative pornographers were looking elsewhere for new moneymaking hardcore action kicks, and the Danish porn industry turned its back on her. Bodil was now in her mid-30’s and unable to secure any more movie contracts, and only amateur filmmakers were still interested in her. Unfortunately the dawn of a new decade would mark the beginning of a rapid decline for the “Boar Girl”.
By 1980, the only income Joensen could bring in was from  performing live sex acts with her dog in a number of small clubs in Copenhagen. In order to survive, she was having to perform a gruelling 3 shows a night for 7 days a week. To her friends Joensen presented a facade of happiness, however the reality was that her personal life was rapidly spirally out of control. Suffering from severe depression, she was smoking up to 100 cigarettes a day, overeating (leading to a weight gain of 30 kilos/65 pounds) and drinking heavily.  Her partner Knud was also an alcoholic and their addiction rendered them incapable of looking after the animals on the farm. In 1981, police and animal welfare officers raided their farm after a tip-off from locals. The officials were astounded and horrified by what they discovered - the farm was in an extreme state of decay. Pigs were drowning in a metre and a half of their own excrement. A decomposing carcass of a pig was found, half eaten by the other starving pigs. Sadly, not one of the animals survived as it was necessary for all to be euthanised. Joensen was charged with severe neglect and animal abuse and sentenced to 30 days jail. Upon her release from prison and having lost her business and beloved animals, the devastated Joensen reluctantly resorted to prostitution to support her partner and daughter, hiring a seedy room in Copenhagen’s red-light district. Desperate to fuel her alcohol addiction, she willingly exchanged sex for cheap liquor. Joensen openly loathed the sex work she was forced to undertake, as she stated in her final interview in the early 1980’s: “In my situation it’s very hard to turn down the most disgusting propositions. For me, staying alive in the hooking business is hell.” Ironically, at the same time as Bodil was struggling to survive, she was being screened in homes all over Britain, then subsequently the world, as bootlegs of ‘Animal Farm’ became widely circulated.
Towards the end of her life, Bodil was drinking a bottle and a half of schnapps a day as well as being hooked on out-of-date tranquilizers supplied by a back-street doctor. Her friends had deserted her and she had no one to turn to, save from her equally alcohol dependent partner. A broken woman, she was prematurely aged, obese, and having abandoned her ‘cheerful’ front, often appeared worn, tired and sad. A far cry from the lively “Queen of the Boars” seen in countless documentaries only a decade previously. Bodil Joensen passed away on 3 January 1985 of cirrhosis of the liver, aged just forty. Her partner Knud Andersen died in 1997 aged sixty seven and was buried with Joensen in a cemetery in Copenhagen.
THE DARK SIDE OF PORN: THE REAL ANIMAL FARM concludes by noting the explosion of extreme, specialised pornography readily available since Joensen’s heyday. “What started as a trickle of illegal hardcore tapes is now a torrent of the most extreme material imaginable, easily accessible within a few clicks. The porno industry is constantly on the lookout for any new fetish to capture and sell to a global market.”
The multi-million dollar industry of pornography will continue to grow and women like Bodil Joensen will seemily be always attracted to it and of achieving fame and fortune. After almost thirty years after her death, the woman dubbed “The Queen of Bestiality” still remains a cult figure. Some claim her to be a pioneer of sexual freedom and expression, but others see an abused, naive woman ruthlessly exploited by the industry she represented.


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