The First Lady of Italian adult entertainment and her arresting version of Sting’s bleak anti-war song.
Ilona Staller, aka Cicciolina, is probably Italy’s most famous female porn star. A Hungarian national, born in Budapest in 1951, she married an Italian when she was 25 and moved to Italy, where she quickly embarked on her erotic career, first in radio and then on film. She made a number of softcore movies in the 1970s and was the first woman to appear topless on Italian TV in 1978, before launching her successful hardcore career in 1983, appearing in a number of glossy and outrageous films for director Riccardo Schicchi and others. But she is best known for her political career, which began as far back as 1979, but caught international attention in 1987 when she was elected to the Italian Parliament as MP for the Radical Party.
Like many Italian porn stars, Cicciolina had an unlikely music career alongside her adult work. Italy was less sniffy about its porn stars than some other countries (hence her election) and even as they made ultra-explicit X-rated movies, Cicciolina, Moana Pozzi and others would also appear on light entertainment and chat shows, as well as the sexy TV shows that would proliferate on private TV channels in the early 1990s. In 1987, she released the LP Muscolo Rosso in Spain; the Italian release was cancelled due to the explicit lyrics of the title track. Opening the album – and on the B-side of the single release of Muscolo Rosso – was a very unlikely cover of Sting’s song Russians.
Russians was a track from Sting’s 1985 debut solo album, and is by any standards a rather dour piece of work. With a backing track based on the Romance theme from the Lieutenant Kijé Suite by Sergei Prokofiev, the track is a plaintive cry for understanding between the Cold War enemies, a heartfelt if plodding political message that managed to be a hit based on the popularity of the singer despite being utterly miserable. We can applaud Sting for releasing such an uncommercial track as a single, I suppose.
It certainly doesn’t seem the sort of song to be recorded by an Italian/Hungarian porn star – and then chosen as the opening song on her LP of otherwise fluffy nonsense. And it certainly doesn’t seem the sort of song that said porn star would then perform bare-breasted, clad in silver-sci-fi boots and headdress, on chat shows. But that’s what happened. Maybe the song – which is performed in a mix of English and Italian – was lost in translation.
Even more bizarre – and sadly nowhere to be found online until we get our VHS to digital conversion system set up again – is the version that she performed on a TV show that consisted entirely of naked women singing pop hits. Here, she wore the same outfit minus the panties, and was superimposed against footage of war, famine and dead children being pulled from destroyed buildings. It was quite the juxtaposition, as you can probably imagine.
Here then is Cicciolina, near naked and giving it her all in the name of world peace, as sincere an effort as her offer to sleep with Saddam Hussein in order to prevent the first Gulf war no doubt. I wonder if Sting ever saw this, and if he did, what the hell he made of it?
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