Rest in Peace, Sylvia Kristel
Sad news: earlier this week, the Dutch actress Sylvia Kristel died of cancer at the early age of sixty. While she has been a supporting actress in many mainstream films of the seventies and eighties, by far her most famous role was as the title character in Just Jaeckin's 1974 French softcore classic, Emmanuelle.
It's hard to overestimate the popularity of that film when it was released. These days the name Emmanuelle (or sometimes Emanuelle for copyright reasons) has been used in association with so many sequels and cheap knock-offs that it has become synonymous with cheap exploitative nudity. But the original was something else: until the eighties arrived it was still in the top ten highest grossing films of all time, the first French film to cross the $100 million mark and the most successful non-English language film for decades to come.
Based on a popular novel and featuring high production values, exotic locations and a best-selling soundtrack by Pierre Bachelet, Emmanuelle for a short time made softcore quite fashionable. For a while it even made "eroticism" more commercially successful among women than men (yes, that occasionally happens: check the book "Fifty Shades of Grey" for a current example).
Sylvia Kristel wasn't too fond of the Emmanuelle character or the way people regarded her afterwards, and she was never totally able to shake an "adult" actress image despite not ever having done hardcore. She returned several times to artsy (and sometimes not so artsy) softcore though, even to the role of Emmanuelle, as there was such a huge demand for her.
On top of being an actress, Kristel was also a decent jazz singer, and won a director's award in 2006 for her short animated film Topor and Me.
But like it or not, in the movie world she will always remain... the first Emmanuelle. And for many fans the only one.
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