Stalags

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Heymann Brothers Films

A potentially fascinating and provocative subject has been given an unfortunately dry treatment in Ari Libsker's brief documentary about the lurid, Nazi-themed pornographic novels that were hugely popular in Israel in the early 1960s. Currently receiving its U.S. theatrical premiere at New York City's Film Forum, "Stalags" would have ironically benefited from a rather more sensationalistic treatment.

This little-known (at least on these shores) phenomenon took hold of Israel not long after the trial of Adolf Eichmann that brought renewed attention to the atrocities of the Holocaust. Named after the Nazi prison camps in which they were set, stalags were pulp paperback novels containing breathlessly graphic stories of lusty SS women (not that there actually were any) sexually abusing captured British and American soldiers. They were huge best-sellers, no doubt thanks to titles like "I Was Colonel Schultz's Private Bitch" and their lurid covers, in which the Nazi-uniform-clad sexual predators bared plenty of cleavage.

Although initially presented as translations of works by American authors, they were in fact written by Israelis, several of whom are interviewed here. Also included are discussions with literary and cultural critics attempting to explain the social ramifications of this strange literary phenomenon.

A lengthy segment is devoted to a more serious book entitled "The Dollhouse," which supposedly inspired the craze and which, as a scene of a school tour of a concentration camp demonstrates, is still being studied. It was written by K. Tzetnik, a Holocaust survivor who memorably collapsed while testifying at the Eichmann trial.

Unfortunately, "Stalags" is neither entertaining nor insightful enough to be fully satisfying. Despite its endless procession of explicatory talking heads, it barely seems to scratch the surface of its fascinating subject.

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