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 Post subject: Sadomasochism in Film
PostPosted: Fri Jun 23, 2006 3:14 pm 
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I should preface this by saying I realize that the topic in question is not everyone's cup of tea here, and I respect that. I just ask that people who want to add their thoughts to this do so with an open mind. I also ask that this doesn't turn into a debate on whether or not this is a sexual/mental disorder. The American Psychiatric Association debunked this in 1994. As mentioned before in my Crash '96 thread, I engage in such activity myself. Which will hopefully explain the passion (and in some cases dispassion) to which I write this.

I want to know what you all think of how sadomasochism has been portrayed in film and on television, from your vanilla (or not so vanilla, like me) point of view. BTW, there is nothing wrong with vanilla. It makes for wonderful ice cream :D


Last edited by flyonthewall2983 on Thu Feb 11, 2010 12:47 am, edited 3 times in total.

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PostPosted: Thu Jun 29, 2006 1:22 pm 
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I believe one of the greatest films to explore sadomasochism is Steven Shainberg's Secretary. Shainberg's exploration of Gyllenhaall's levels of s&m (from her cutting to complete submissive to Spader) actually pulls its audience into her world allowing us to feel some level of pain. Is it uncomfortable and painful to watch at times? Yes, and that is what makes Secretary a perfect film about s & m. Spader plays the part of the domineering boss to a tea with little hints of him being submissive to Gyllenhaal. When you think films about s & m you have to put Secretary up there at the top.


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PostPosted: Thu Jun 29, 2006 1:56 pm 
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I would agree with you if the screenplay disposed of the first five minutes in which Maggie Gyllenhaal comes home from from the mental hospital. By including this scene the screenplay makes an unspoken connection between Gyllenhaal's sexual kink and her mental condition. It treats it as an aberration rather than a "normal" sexual deviance.


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PostPosted: Thu Jun 29, 2006 2:38 pm 
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The film deals with this part of the screenplay by suggesting that her parents are the ones to send her to the mental hospital. It was not her idea to go, but her parents who wanted her to get help. I think she believed that her cutting was a normal behavior which led to her "upsizing" the kind of s&m that she enjoyed more, but the most painful event was to let Spader into her heart.


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PostPosted: Thu Jun 29, 2006 2:47 pm 
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I dunno, I think the screenplay is too vague in this regard. I think the cutting came from a genuinely depressed/misunderstood place (and I don't think her parents were entirely out of line to get help for her) and the s&m merely allowed her to express those feelings in a more "positive" manner. I don't feel she genuinely dealt with those feelings of guilt/depression but merely find a more personally palatable authority figure in Spader. I think the screenplay substituted her acceptance of s&m as some kind of healing process though they aren't particularly mutually inclusive.


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 30, 2006 1:16 am 
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Secretary is a somewhat controversial among fellow kinksters, because they either love it or hate it. Some I know love it because there are bits of their own journey in the story, including me. I especially identified with Spader's character because he had something building up inside but he spends most of the movie in a massive mode of denial that what he's doing is what feels right to him. And he played it in such a way with his expressions during certain scenes, that it's very moving to even think about now. I spent the majority of my teens in a similar mode of denial (in small part, of because the way I'd seen this way of life posed in television shows and movies, believe it or not) because I didn't think true love was possible through such means.

People hate it because "it just doesn't represent the lifestyle". The term "BDSM lifestyle" quirks me a bit, because we're all not the same. Men and women who share similar fetishes with me likely only have that in common with me. We all come from different backgrounds, different upbringings, and all live with different social status. Not to get too personal, but I discovered how disparate my way of life is to local kinksters the hard way last year.

Secretary is not a clear-cut acception of BDSM, nor do I think it's critical of it. That's what good films do. To use some examples, the people who say films like Unforgiven is an anti-violent picture, or that something like Pulp Fiction is a pro-violent picture, completely miss the mark as far as the real themes of the picture and the ambiguity. I must admit though, I feel that Secretary is a step in the right direction towards mainstream acceptance of BDSM. And I don't know yet if that in itself is a good thing.


Last edited by flyonthewall2983 on Thu Feb 11, 2010 12:47 am, edited 2 times in total.

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PostPosted: Fri Jun 30, 2006 8:57 am 
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Quote:
But I want to know what you all think of how sadomasochism has been portrayed in film and on television, from your vanilla (or not so vanilla, like me) point of view.


I am not an expert on S&M (and I have no real interest in it) but Haneke's 'La Pianiste' is a masterwork in this category.

Luis Bunuel also deals with this in 'Belle de Jour'.
'Secretary' struck me as very ersatz...


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PostPosted: Sat Jul 01, 2006 4:17 pm 
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Don't forget Maitresse and Seduction: The Cruel Woman.


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PostPosted: Sat Jul 01, 2006 5:10 pm 
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That Maitresse cover is probably tied(hehe) with The Night Porter for title of sexiest Criterion artwork.


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PostPosted: Sat Jul 01, 2006 5:38 pm 

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It's a pretty risky subject to tackle, I think, because you're walking on very thin ice between something interesting/disturbing/sensual and something of a weird comic tone.

How about Luis Bunuel's films? I just saw "Belle de Jour," which has been mentioned already (and aside from the scene with the guy in the room, we also have her various fantasies, which certainly have an S&M tone to them). "Phantom of Liberty" and others I believe also deal with the subject.

I haven't seen "The Piano Teacher" yet.

Even though it's treatment of the subject is darkly comic, I'd also nominate Roman Polanski's "Bitter Moon." It's a nasty, hilarious, disturbing film about a couple who basically lost their minds following the relapse of a compulsive sexual relationship. Peter Coyote and Emmanuelle Seigner play the couple, Hugh Grant (perfect casting) plays the aloof married man they tell their story to. It has a very cheesy Vangelis score, but it's a solid script, the actors are having a ball, and some of it is pretty disturbing (especially if one of your fears is paralyzation).


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PostPosted: Sat Jul 01, 2006 8:36 pm 
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Dylan wrote:
It's a pretty risky subject to tackle, I think, because you're walking on very thin ice between something interesting/disturbing/sensual and something of a weird comic tone.


That's pretty dead-on as far as how it ends up being portrayed. There are lots of instances where the weird comic tone comes into play, and it leaves someone like me with a bad taste in their mouth. I think the exception to that (for me) would be Pulp Fiction with the gimp, because it adds to an already fucked-up situation the Bruce Willis and Ving Rhames characters find themselves in. The times it is portrayed as disturbing, however, always have me ending up feeling defensive about it. Especially when you have the cliched wet-behind-the-ears detective hero scratching their heads at it like it is some sort of mental illness or something worse.


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PostPosted: Sun Jul 02, 2006 3:42 am 
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Dylan wrote:
Even though it's treatment of the subject is darkly comic, I'd also nominate Roman Polanski's "Bitter Moon." It's a nasty, hilarious, disturbing film about a couple who basically lost their minds following the relapse of a compulsive sexual relationship. Peter Coyote and Emmanuelle Seigner play the couple, Hugh Grant (perfect casting) plays the aloof married man they tell their story to. It has a very cheesy Vangelis score, but it's a solid script, the actors are having a ball, and some of it is pretty disturbing (especially if one of your fears is paralyzation).


I'm so glad you mentioned this one, Dylan. It is absolutely one of my favorite films of the 90's and possibly even my favorite Polanski (though this is an understandably tough call). Grant is perfect here but so is everybody else and, really, Coyote is beyond brilliant in the pivotal central role. He has a very tough job in selling us pretentiousness and self satisfaction and bitterness, of course, but never overselling any of them and his performance is a finely tuned thing of beauty (Coyote, I fear, will be one of those actors with great potential who was never allowed to have a fully realized great career and certainly was never recognized in his time--except for voicing ads for Chevy or whatever). The scenes between he and Grant in which he very carefully calibrates the delivery of his story to guide Grant's reactions are exquisitely handled. And, yes, it is all undoubtedly disturbing because it nails Grant's personality of passive rationalization and self-deception; Polanski understands what would seduce him just as Coyote does. The ending never fails to have the intended devastating impact even if it is no longer "daring"; actually, its superficial provocative quality is ultimately secondary to what it means as is always the case in successful art of this sort. Whatever the case, this title has entered the vernacular for my friends and I. Whenever anyone suspects that their relationship may end with that little additional knife twist, it's a "Bitter Moon Moment" we want to avoid.


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PostPosted: Sun Jul 02, 2006 4:55 am 

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Very well put John.

I'll add also that never before have I seen a film vomit so much degradation on passion, nor have I ever seen controlled madness (from receiving sheer cruelty) portrayed so effectively. And it's just a bizarre tale, balancing the disturbing and comic so well, and it really did shake me up after it ended...I really felt like I had been somewhere!

Yes, I love it that Grant keeps going back to hear more of the story, and Polanski really takes us into the situation...while he's certainly disturbed by what he hears, the woman intrigues him, and he wants to find out more and more, even after he suspects that they're both just playing with him. Grant is so good here, I wish that he would be in more than just formulaic romantic comedies and Hollywood fluff; I love seeing a guy like Grant in such a bizarre and radical situation...that and his 'two left feet' dance scene toward the end is priceless. I heard that "About a Boy," which I haven't seen, is a step in the right direction for him, but we're rearing off topic.

Coyote is great, and he plays the asshole hustler and bitter writer so well (God, that monologue "playing in a pool of pink flesh" and Grant's face as he says that still gets me on the floor when I think about it). I remember looking up his filmography after watching the film because I was impressed with his performance, and being disappointed that nobody has given him a great role since. He's interesting though, and I'd like to see more of him sometime.

With that said, anybody have any comments on Luis Bunuel's treatment of sexuality?


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PostPosted: Sun Sep 06, 2009 12:03 am 
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In conjunction with renting Maitresse on Netflix, I also re-watched Nick Broomfield's documentary Fetishes as well. I remember seeing it during the infancy of my perversions when it was first shown on HBO in the mid-90's. As arousing as it was in some places, I also found it quite disturbing in others. Watching it again, I realized what I had originally found disturbing I now understand very well. With that said, however, I definitely would not say it's a ringing endorsement of the behaviors shown in the film. Nick narrates the film in a very detached manner, and his reasoning for not taking a session with one of the Dominatrices is immediately and rightly shot down by the head Mistress half-way through the film.

Another film that came to my attention is the more recent Going Under. S&M plays a secondary, but necessary role to the movie, which deals more with the psychological side of the fractured nature of the two lead characters. Roger Rees and Geno Lechner are caught in this emotional cat-and-mouse which brings forth the ugly and needy sides of their personalities. Roger in particular I was impressed with since my previous memories of his performances only went as far as the episodes of Cheers he did and Robin Hood: Men In Tights.


Last edited by flyonthewall2983 on Sat Sep 26, 2009 2:53 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 06, 2009 3:23 am 
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Interestingly, someone has literally just bought my copy of Maîtresse over at Amazon Marketplace - is this a wildly unlikely coincidence?


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PostPosted: Sun Sep 06, 2009 5:44 am 
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This may be just as appropriate for the 'Fond Remembrances of Cinematic Child Abuse' thread, but when I was very young, maybe seven or eight, I was being babysat, and was by myself downstairs watching T.V. in the cubby whilst my babysitter was upstairs. Flicking the channels, I found myself watching a documentary that has stuck in my mind called Hookers Hustlers Pimps and Their Johns. The part that is very much seered into my consciousness is the chapter on a certain Mistress and the no-holds-barred filming of her with a client, who she subjects to whipping, spanking, and even cheese grating certain areas of his anatomy. If I recall, that chapter - and the film as a whole - was very respectful, and absolutely non-judgemental of the lifestyle choices made by both the Mistress, the Client and all involved.

I must admit, S&M / BDSM is not something that appeals to me and at the time it was actually fairly disturbing viewing, however, I remember the documentary pretty fondly as being very good (though it's been about 15 years since that viewing) and opened my mind up to a world where fetish and desire are not depraved or perverted, they are simply a lifestyle choice.

EDIT: I would also suggest to those interested, Aleksey Balabanov's Of Freaks and Men is a very good film that explores the world of S&M, Fetish and pornography at the turn of the century. Whilst many of the recipitents of the acts are unwilling and captive to the pornographers, there is a strong sense of acceptance and need felt by these "subs", culminating in the last act's surprising turn.

Similarly, I would suggest A Snake of June by Shinya Tsukamoto, which explores the restraint and moralistic reserve of society forced to drop their shield and open themselves up to accepting their desire as human necessity. The film was misread by many as misogynist and cruel (although it was awarded two prizes at Venice where Catherine Breillat headed the Jury), but those who saw it that way, failed to understand Tsukamoto's character Iguchi was not inflicting these acts upon Rinko for his benefit, but to release her from shackles that tie her existance to social normality, where cruelty is found in those who deny a need to live as their heart wants.


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PostPosted: Sun Sep 06, 2009 6:47 am 
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Most importantly with Snake Of June eventually Rinko leaves both her husband and stalker/admirer character behind and takes control of her own destiny again with the introduction of the breast cancer plot and whether she has decided to have a mastectomy or not. While this is far more pronounced in the earlier Tokyo Fist there is a feeling that the guys become much more interested in each other than the woman they are fighting to control the destiny of, and there is more of a social conflict going on between them. Which leads to the woman becoming more symbolic at the beginning (in Tokyo Fist I think the couple are watching Metropolis in an early scene, a very obvious example of a perfect woman being 'owned' and fought over by two men, literally given consciousness by one, and who then goes off on her own path of self realisation with little reference to what either of the chaps wanted her to do!) and opaque by the end of the film, but on her own terms as she even moves beyond the objectifying and 'owning' lens of camera and story to capture and understand her 'true' feelings. Again like Tokyo Fist eventually the two male leads notice the woman again and find that she has moved on beyond them while their attention has been elsewhere.

In Snake of June Rinko reclaims her body through exhibitionism rather than piercing and makes her own decision not influenced by the other characters - she is using the photographer in the final scene rather than the photographer using her (albeit 'for her own good') as was initially the case. In a sense it is a celebration of the inner strength of the outwardly passive - while the outwardly dominant characters force change (or in the husband's case stasis) initially, eventually they both are left on the sidelines to watch as their passive object of desire responds unpredictably to their attentions.


Last edited by colinr0380 on Sun Sep 06, 2009 2:32 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 06, 2009 10:37 am 
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Try to track down Kazuyoshi Kumakiri's Antenna - I haven't seen it, but I hear it is really good.

The best film about BDSM I've seen is probably Akihiko Shiota's Moonlight Whispers. Probably the definition of a 'balanced treatment'. Saw it about four years ago but it has stuck with me.

A really shitty, but rather silly and fun gorefest about sexual masochism is the Japanese B-horror flick Naked Blood. Not at all what you'd want if you are looking for a balanced treatment of the issues - basically it is really cheesy horror porn - but it does have a scene where a woman has sex with a cactus and another where a woman slices out and eats her vagoo after dipping her hand in tempura batter and eating that, also.

I like Secretary - I think it is well-directed and it doesn't really judge the characters. Indeed, in the final scene, where we see her fixing his tie etc., we see how normal this kind of thing truly is for them. It was a great finale that spoke volumes. Haven't seen the film in a while, though.

Sick: The Life & Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist is a great documentary about sadomasochism. It is about Bob Flanagan, a performance artist and masochist who had cystic fibrosis, and it makes some interesting points about how his relative longevity (for a CF patient) might have had to do with him embracing a life of pain rather than rebelling against it.

In The Piano Teacher, however, the sadomasochistic character is clearly incredibly damaged and maladjusted.

Other pictures... the Francis Bacon one with Daniel Craig in it, can't remember the name atm... In the Realm of the Senses, Ai no shinsekai (pretty cheesy but good fun), Shortbus and, of course, Salo all have significant scenes of sexual sadism/masochism in them.

Personally, I'm not sexually interested in this fetish - it isn't one I'm particularly offended (wrong word choice, perhaps... but idk what to use) by, unless it involves extreme pain/blood/mutilation.


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PostPosted: Sun Sep 06, 2009 12:47 pm 
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Love Is The Devil is the Francis Bacon film.

Nobody has yet mentioned Just Jaeckin's classic foray into this area yet, The Story of O (though I did find that it worked better when the old Exploitica TV series re-edited it in order to tell the story of a particularly dim yet trusting young lady: "The Story of d'Oh"!)


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PostPosted: Sun Sep 06, 2009 2:11 pm 
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Jan Švankmajer's Conspirators of Pleasure and Lunacy seem highly relevant here - particularly the former, one of whose main narrative strands concerns two nondescript neighbours who independently fantasise that they're in an S&M relationship where each fantasist sees him/herself as the dominant partner.


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PostPosted: Sun Sep 06, 2009 5:10 pm 
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Someone who's work I've been recently fascinated with is Maria Beatty. She appears as a client in the Broomfield film and has directed several lesbian SM films (some of which she starred in herself), and recently has crossed over into doing features. Her earlier work could be described easily as artsy porn but it defies the genre by making it more surreal and adding more of a noirish feeling to her work, especially The Black Glove which is something of a cult classic amongst those in the know.


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PostPosted: Sun Sep 13, 2009 12:38 am 
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I would suggest Russ Meyer's Up! for the incredibly fun and pathos free S&M at the beginning of the movie.


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PostPosted: Sun Sep 13, 2009 1:35 am 
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HIROKI Ryuichi made the transition from pinku eiga to more mainstream (for lack of a better term) filmmaking with his 2000 feature I Am an S&M Writer (Futei no kisetsu), based on the autobiography if DAN Oniroku, author of Flower and Snake among other classics of the genre. Now, I have zero familiarity with the BDSM world, so I'll refrain from uninformed commentary on the portrayal of the lifestyle. But it's a very funny and engaging film and worth at least a rental (Kino markets it under their Kimstim Collection, so it's readily available in R1.) It's also a good introduction to Hiroki, whose subsequent features Tokyo Trash Baby and Vibrator are both very excellent in my estimation (although neither are relevant to this thread.)


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PostPosted: Sun Sep 13, 2009 4:29 pm 
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A film that has really caught my attention, but have yet to see it yet as it's still making it's rounds in the festivals is the documentary Graphic Sexual Horror about the defunct hardcore bondage website insex.com. I've heard very good things about it, thus far. Like the Broomfield film it seems to cover one aspect of the BDSM experience, but fortunately from what I've read the directors have a far better insight into their subject as opposed to Nick did for his own film.


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 02, 2009 6:49 pm 
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I came back to this thread because I realized the absence of Yasuzo Masumura's Môjû (Blind Beast) -- a very worthwhile film that's a bit of an oddity (the ending is a bit over the top) -- still, it's a must see for those keen on this topic. The art design, particularly, is impressive.


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