The Deuce Notebook: Sister Acts

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A dark and deep dive into the secretive, sexual and seductive world of Nunsploitation.

By The Deuce Film Series


Welcome back to The Deuce Notebook—a collaboration between MUBI's Notebook and The Deuce Film Series, our monthly event at Nitehawk Williamsburg that excavates the facts and fantasies of cinema's most infamous block in the world: 42nd Street between 7th and 8th Avenues. For each screening, my co-hosts and I pick a title that we think embodies the era of 24-hour genre-hopping, and present the venue at which it premiered...

This month, we welcome one of our favorite Deuce-regulars, Screen Slate contributor Madelyn Sutton, who’s taken the helm and commandeered us down a merciless spiral of nunsploitation… Check out her piece below for your fill of nuns gone wild!

—The Deuce Jockeys

Naughty nuns: the appeal is obvious. Cloaked in the magnetic mystery of her thick twill tunic, the solid walls of the cloister, and the impenetrability of her spirituality, the nun is a walking embodiment of the original injunction against looking. This regulated interiority has made of the nun a potent figure of fantasy from the earliest days of organized Christianity, and on into the present day. What better medium could there be for plumbing her tantalizing depths than film—an all-seeing eye whose very nature is to reveal, and to capture in the visible world the signs of the ineffable?

The family-friendly cinematic investigations of these dark and devoted corners finds its most wholesome expression in the reverence of Henry King’s The Song of Bernadette (1943) or the moral righteousness of Robert Wise’s The Sound of Music (1965), Haylee Mills’ innocent insouciance in The Trouble with Angels (1966), or even Whoopi Goldberg’s pop-music posturing in the 1992 summer blockbuster Sister Act. But the underside of the veil has produced a plethora of dirty books and lascivious pictures as well—after all, the more unspoilt the bride of Christ, the greater the temptation to explore her uncharted territories, a sort of violent male manifest destiny capable of the most deliciously sinful proportions. (It’s worth noting that a little ditty called The Nun’s Story is thought to be the first stag film with a cum shot; efforts to find much information about this particular film are complicated by another with the same title, released in the same decade, starring none other than the incorruptible Audrey Hepburn.) On the silver screen, this trend found particular popularity in the 1970s and 1980s in the rich and raunchy sub genre known most euphoniously as nunsploitation. 

The origin of the subgenre is generally mapped to the success of Ken Russell’s 1971 still-censored masterpiece, The Devils. Though Eriprando Visconti’s The Nun of Monza—based on the true story of Sister Virginia Maria, who bore two children fathered by a local aristocrat in the 17th century—premiered in 1969, for one example, The Devils’ much-publicized “X” rating and high-art bonafides (the cast, a best director win at the Venice Film Festival, the Aldous Huxley source material, et cetera), as well as its box office success (grossing nearly $11 million worldwide) most effectively ignited the exploitation flame. 

Continue reading here.