“Scripted by Colette, Olivia offered hothouse lesbian passion in an upper class French girls’ school,” wrote Vito Russo in The Celluloid Closet, his classic account of homosexuality and cinema. “It was a perfect ‘shadow people’ film for the Fifties. It featured dark doings in school corridors and ended in the obligatory tragic circumstances. American censors assured the delicacy of treatment for which Pit of Loneliness was touted. One censor’s notation read: ‘Eliminate in Reel 5D: Scene of Miss Julie holding Olivia in close embrace and kissing her on the mouth. Reason: Immoral, would tend to corrupt morals.’” Audry’s feature is preceded by Mona’s Candle Light, an amateur short film shot at popular San Francisco bar Mona’s circa 1950, providing a unique opportunity to consider a big-screen depiction of sapphic yearning alongside a rare, rediscovered lesbian home movie from the same moment. Mona’s Candle Light 35mm print courtesy of the Outfest UCLA Legacy Collection; Olivia print courtesy of the Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée (CNC).
Mona’s Candle Light
Director unknown, USA, ca. 1950, 35mm, 28m
Olivia (aka The Pit of Loneliness)
Jacqueline Audry, France, 1951, 35mm, 88m
French with English subtitles