Brigitte Lahaie, along with Sylvia Bourdon and Claudine Beccarie, was one of the original great porn stars of French adult cinema. She was born Brigitte Van Meerhaegue, on 12 October 1955, in Tourcoing northern France, to respectable middle class parents – her father was a banker. "I was brought up in a very respectable, very strict family, but I always had a very strong libido and had to express it somehow." She was introduced to sex at the age of 14 through a bicycle-induced orgasm. Her well-developed figure and voluptuous breasts meant that her classmates often teased Brigitte at school. After graduating she became a shoe-salesgirl, but quickly became bored, and at the age of 18 decided to escape her provincial background and move to Paris in the hope of becoming a model.
Although unable to establish herself as a model and eventually found herself working behind the camera as an assistant. She entered the adult industry by chance. "I answered an advertisement in a magazine. I wanted to be a photo model… when they explained what was expected of me, I was surprised. I wasn't very experienced sexually back then, but I had a feeling that this was what I was destined for, so I signed." One of the first things Brigitte then did was change her Dutch name to a more traditional sounding French name. "At the time it seemed like a good idea not to keep my real surname, partly because it was unpronounceable, and partly out of respect for my family. To do porn in 1976 was to court trouble. Besides, at the time certain members of my family were very shocked at what I was doing." "My real name is Van Meerhaegue. It means 'more of the hedge' in Flemish. For my career in porn I dropped the 'more of' and just kept 'the hedge' ['la haie' in French]."
Brigitte, however, saw the adult industry as a means through which she could explore her own sexuality while at the same time making a rebellious political statement against the established morals of society. "At the time people working in the porn industry, both in front and behind the camera, were involved in a type of artistic rebellion against the morals inherent in French society… With a few exceptions hardly anyone in the 1970's worked on porn films just for money. It was an experience, an adventure by a small group of eccentric outsiders. From today's viewpoint we probably seemed naïve, but we had ideas and were searching for something. Perhaps I was too young at the time to fully realise what was going on. But looking back now I understand that behind a lot of the early porn films in France was a large degree of ideology and politics. The directors believed that they could contribute something to the spheres of artistic cinema and society."
Among the first adult films Brigitte starred in were 'L'Image' (1976) and 'Les Plaisirs Fous' (1976), and although she only appeared in minor roles, it was obvious she had potential. Her voluptuous figure, full breasts and beautiful features made her an instant success with the French public. She was a natural in front of the camera and by her own admission enjoyed the exhibitionist aspect of pornography. "I loved the job, it was fun, and I think it was also very important in the development of my personality. I was a young shy girl, very uncertain with a lot of complexes. The porn industry gave me self-assurance because I was doing something that required courage at the time. I began to slowly trust myself and believe in myself. It provided me with a sense of security. I've thought long and hard about my decision to make those films and I think it was a deep need for recognition, to be loved by men. I do not believe I was aware at the time of the full consequences of my decision. For me it was simply an opportunity to prove certain things to my parents. I've never had a better relationship with my parents than I did during my four years as a porn star. I don't regret my decision to make those films in any way." Furthermore, Brigitte was comfortable with her own sexuality, something that became very evident through her films. "Some of my best orgasms happen in a hot shower. Lots of women won't own up to it, but the pleasure of masturbating on your own, at your own speed leads to a really satisfying sexual experience. So if the men in my life bore me, I just head for the bathroom."
One of her earliest films was 'Vibrations Sensuelles' (1976) directed by legendary European maverick Jean Rollin. He had been responsible for some of the most bizarre and surreal European horror films of the 1960's and 1970's. "Vibrations Sensuelles was the only porno I shot with him. It was a strange experience. He didn't really want to shoot these films and he found it very uncomfortable giving us instructions. During some of the hard-core scenes he would leave the set and let the cameraman take over because he found it hard to watch. I believe that what attracted Jean was the idea of shooting porn." For Jean Rollin, just like his contemporary Jess Franco, with whom Brigitte also worked, pornography was a political statement. He later said: "I was sure that, with this type of film, one could come up with something new and of interest… The reason for the death of French 'hardcore culture,' if you want to use that term, is that the audience just doesn't care. They don't want cinema, they want people screwing and that's it… I really tried to make something out of it and nobody gave a damn… but I enjoyed shooting them. I made the acquaintance of a lot of very interesting people and I have respect for them. Today, the actors only do it for money, but back then it was something different. Some of them did it because they wanted to explore their desires, some because they wanted to enter the film business, but they all had something in common. They were proud of what they did, like a little group of outsiders, because they did something that most people didn't dare to do. It was some sort of rebellion, a statement, and it was honest." During the film Brigitte and Jean established a durable friendship that was to grow over time and eventually lead her away from the porn industry.
Over the next four years Brigitte made dozens of hardcore porn films. Some of them, such as 'Perversion D'une Jeune Mariée' (1977) directed by Burd Tranbaree, were cheaply shot, with their only redeeming feature being Brigitte's presence. She had the ability to ooze sexuality and innocence at the same time. On the other hand, some of her films, such as 'Soumission' (1978) and 'Les Soirées d'un couple voyeur' (1979) were among the best made by the European adult industry during the 1970's. When not making films, Brigitte became involved in the Paris swinging scene, appearing at various libertine clubs and private orgies. She also went through a string of famous lovers from the French political establishment, or the music and mainstream film industry. When later asked if she had ever had sex for money outside of the porn industry, she candidly replied, "Yes, sometimes, for the fun of it. In 1984 an arab emir offered me 200,000 franks if I would spend the night with him. This was an enormous amount back then. But by that point I had quit porn, so I refused."
In 1978 Jean Rollin contacted Brigitte Lahaie and asked her to appear in his B movie horror film 'Les Raisins De La Mort' (1978). "It was the first non-erotic film I made with Brigitte Lahaie. I directed her previously in a porn film, 'Vibrations Sensuelles', and I found her to be a distinctly different personality. I thought it would be interesting to take her outside the boundaries of porn and put her in a Rollin film. She was different, very different, and she has an incredible charisma. Her presence is absolutely striking. Also, I think she is very talented and a very nice person… I remember the scene in which Brigitte had to undress herself. There she was, naked, and supposed to deliver her lines, but when she opened her mouth, she literally couldn't speak because it was so cold. I was very, very hard on everybody. No coffee, no place to get warm, and Brigitte kept her temper remarkably well. There is one scene with Brigitte and the dogs, which was my homage to Mario Bava's 'Black Sunday'. She reminded me a lot of Barbara Steele; her face is also very enigmatic. One might think that directing a porn actress would be difficult, but she was very disciplined and professional. It was a pleasure to direct her."
According to Brigitte "Jean was the one who made it possible for me to leap into the 'normal' film business. It was only a very small role, but it was a chance to break through the borders of porn… The shooting was really hard, especially for me as I had already filmed over a dozen porn films that year and was exhausted. We shot the whole thing in a totally remote mountain region in France. It was dreadfully cold and I froze in my thin costume. Then there were some nude scenes, which I refused to do because of the temperature… 'Les Raisins De La Mort' was my first 'normal' film… I realised that I could not escape my past but I believed I could move on… In the beginning the others treated me very strangely. At the time I really noticed it, but I wasn't concerned. Looking back now it seems quite amusing. The producer was a special case. One evening he tried to get into bed with me. I was really surprised. At the time I was never really conscious of being such a well known porn star."
Following 'Les Raisins De La Mort', Brigitte returned to porn, appearing in almost two-dozen hard and soft-core films before meeting up with Rollin again. This time she was offered a much more central role in his vampire thriller 'Fascination' (1979). Brigitte played an aristocratic lady who enjoyed sex with her female companions as well as any men available. She would then cut the men's throats and drink their blood. Overall the film was confusing and lacked direction. Perhaps the most interesting scenes were the ones involving Brigitte rolling about naked, simulating sex with various people. Nevertheless it was another step in the direction of 'respectable' cinema. After it's release she returned to porn once more, appeared in half-a-dozen films, and then suddenly quit the adult industry in 1980. "It was simply not possible for me to continue anymore. Porn is not a job that one can maintain in the long run. It is very stressful, and in order to be good, you must give everything you have. Most porn actresses stop after four or five years."
Brigitte moved on to making soft-core films as well as various B movies. "When I stopped making porn films in 1980 I appeared in numerous erotic productions. It took some time, however, before I realised that I simply wasn't an actress. I decided to take lessons in order to build up my self-confidence… It is simply not possible to act properly in a porn film… There are too many other things that have priority… These days I know what I can and cannot do. I am very relaxed and aware of what my talents are." Although her fame as a former porn star allowed her to make the transition into B movies, "My past caused problems when I was 25. I was with a man who said, 'I really love you, but I don't want to see your films'." It was at this point she briefly changed her name to Brigitte Simonin. "Just after my career in porn ended I was living with a man that really wanted to marry me. Changing my name was a way of proving my love for him. Later, when I was living with Reemerged Chateau, I returned to the pseudonym Lahaie. There were a thousand reasons for doing this, but it was really a way of accepting my past."
She moved on to become one of the main B movie actresses in Europe; working with both Jess Franco and Jacques Saurel, and in November 1985 appeared in Playboy. Two years later she drew on her past experience to write a sex advice column in a French magazine, and eventually hosted a Saturday night talk show on French cable television called 'Hot Talk', where she again helped people with their sexual problems. Brigitte was always very frank and would often explain to viewers the best technique for oral sex or masturbation. Her advice was to the point, and had a habit of shocking the establishment, as she announced on prime radio "It's better to have an unfaithful husband than a frustrated one", or "The secret to a good blowjob is to simply love doing it". "I had a letter from a girl who'd given her husband a blow-job and she'd swallowed by mistake and she was wondering if she'd get pregnant. I told her - swallow as much as you want: it's low-calorie anyway, isn't it."
Brigitte then proceeded to publish her autobiography, entitled 'Moi, La Scandaleus', in which she candidly discussed her past as a porn star and the French adult industry as a whole. During the next decade she produced videos concerning sexology and began writing the second volume of her autobiography. Unlike many other porn stars that made the jump to 'respectable' film, Brigitte never disowned her past. "For me these films are simply part of my past. I have no problem talking about it. I made it and I do not regret it under any circumstances… These films made me what I am today, and gave me an enormous amount of publicity in France… I was the first French sex star and I don't consider such a title a burden'.
The re-release of her old films during the late 1990's by Alpha-France resulted in a great deal of renewed interest not only in Brigitte Lahaie, but the entire 1970's adult scene. As was the case with its American counterpart, it became known as the Golden Age of French porn. An entire new generation, many of whom had not even been born when Brigitte quit the business, was being exposed to her numerous on-screen talents. Adult magazines around Europe began referring to her as the ultimate French porn icon, while younger French actresses such as Laure Sainclair would use her as a role model. Brigitte is coy about the situation: "I’ve been very surprised with my popularity. Undoubtedly, I must symbolise something to many people but whatever "it" is, it escapes me." Twenty years after making her last adult film Brigitte has become part of the establishment. She is as popular as ever, and her name on the box-cover still guarantees sales. "I was invited to a bicycle race in the country, and these grandmothers were coming up to me and asking for autographs." In order to capitalise on this renewed interest she set up her own fan-site on the Internet, and eventually returned to the porn industry as a director. In 2001 she wrote, directed and produced 'Ma Sexualite de A a X', which was immediately voted video of the month by numerous French magazines.
Brigitte Lahaie now lives on a large country estate in Yvelines, 60 kilometres from Paris. Apart from her four horses, two great Danes and cat, she lives alone. "I spent the last three years living with my partner, but I like my solitude and independence." Middle aged, and with no intention of becoming a mother, she claims, "I have never been as happy or as prosperous as I am today… money keeps falling into my bank account." Nevertheless, the desire to confront the hypocrisy of society, a desire which first led her into the porn industry, still remains. "The moral bourgeoisie would have liked me to have Aids and be working in a sleazy brothel by now… I'll always be immoral to them, because I reject this country's middle class morality. I still love to shock… But I defy anyone, from the top politicians to the notables of any genre, to give me lessons in honesty." There are no taboos left for Brigitte. "I spent five years of my life doing just about every sexual act there was… I've done a lot of extremely kinky things and enjoyed them all… but if you want to know what my favourite sexual position is, it's the one recommended by the Catholic Church, the missionary. Why? Perhaps because it simply offers the most tenderness." When asked why she is still considered the most famous French porn star ever, over twenty years after appearing in her last film, she replied: "I'd like to think that it is because I was the best actress, because in this genre of films it's hard to talk about true acting talent. I believe it might also be because I was the biggest slut, I was able to act out everyone else's fantasies." "I totally loved my time while making X movies and I don’t have a single regret."
Brigitte Lahaie is one of the central figures of early French pornography. Like many others of her era she viewed celluloid sex not as an industry, but more as a political statement. Although the age of radical ideologies and porn chic has long now passed, she remains without doubt the most successful French porn actress of the 1970's, and perhaps one of the most beautiful women ever to be involved in the country's adult industry as a whole.
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