Friday, June 10, 2011

The Beautiful and the Damned

Anita Berber's biography was such a good read. I'd venture to say that she was the most hedonistic woman to ever walk the face of the earth. I'd elaborate further but I'm feeling tired and lazy so I'll let Wikipedia do the talking:

Anita Berber (10 June 1899 – 10 November 1928) was a German dancer, actress, writer, and prostitute who was the subject of an Otto Dix painting. She lived during the Weimar period. Born in Leipzig to musician parents who later divorced, she was raised mainly by her grandmother in Dresden. By the age of 16, she had moved to Berlin and made her debut as a cabaret dancer. By 1918 she was working in film, and she began dancing nude in 1919. Scandalously androgynous, she quickly made a name for herself. She wore heavy dancer's make-up, which on the black-and-white photos and films of the time came across as jet black lipstick painted across the heart-shaped part of her skinny lips, and charcoaled eyes. Her hair was cut fashionably into a short bob and was frequently bright red, as in 1925 when the German painter Otto Dix painted a portrait of her, titled "The Dancer Anita Berber". Her dancer friend and sometime lover Sebastian Droste, who performed in the film Algol (1920), was skinny and had black hair with gelled up curls much like sideburns. Neither of them wore much more than lowslung loincloths and Anita occasionally a corsage worn well below her small breasts.

Her performances broke boundaries with their androgyny and total nudity, but it was her public appearances that really challenged taboos. Berber's overt cocaine use and bisexuality were matters of public chatter. She could often be seen in Berlin's hotel lobbies, nightclubs and casinos; she would walk around naked except for a sable fur, carrying a pet monkey and a silver brooch full of cocaine, while flaunting her lesbian lovers—removing the barrier between performance and normal life. Aside from her cocaine addiction, she was also an alcoholic, but at the age of 29, the year she died, gave up both suddenly and completely. According to Mel Gordon in The Seven Addictions and Five Professions of Anita Berber, she was diagnosed with severe tuberculosis while performing abroad. She died after collapsing in Damascus on 10 November 1928 in a Kreuzberg hospital and was buried at St. Thomas Cemetery in Neuk├Âlln.


Dianne said...

I love when people blog things like this. I've never heard of Anita and suddenly have a desire to know more. Brilliant. Adding this book to my list!

x Dianne

Alice s. said...

Words cannot describe the influence Otto Dix had over German/European culture and politics. This woman, as his muse, inherently played a huge role as a figure that the Nazi's militantly opposed in the course of creating an alpha race.

As an avid reader of your blog, I realize your focus is less about politics and more about culture. For German sexuality, they are far from mutually exclusive.

I think you would really love the movie "The Marriage of Maria Braun". Its a provocative Fassbinder piece that portrays a woman sexually empowered by western capitalism at the close of WWII. She is the epitome of a Cat Party girl.

Nia said...

Holy shit, that chick was a badass. Interesting commentary by Alice S. Both books will be on my summer reading list too!

So Yeah So said...

Oh wow. I can feel my Friday night slipping away looking up info on her.

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Chelsea said...

Alice S.
Thanks so much for your comment. I don't know much about German history and politics apart from the things that I learned in my 8th grade history class, biographies of German starlets, and of course, the Fassbinder films! I love him, The Marriage of Maria Braun is one of my favorite films of all time! The whole BRD trilogy, everything...what a genius.