The Piano Teacher (2001) is a drama about the relationship between a sexually repressed middle-age woman and an aggressive younger man. This is what happens when an incautious masochist encounters a real sadist.
Not all of the works I plan on exploring in The Celluloid Dungeon will have BDSM as a primary or even secondary theme. Some will have BDSM in a single scene or even a single moment.
Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects, a 1989 crime thriller starring Charles Bronson, is not a good film, by most standards. It’s mainly about an older racist cop, Lt. Crowe (Bronson), harassing and brutalizing non-white people in Los Angeles in pursuit of an exploitative pimp, Duke. That story is awkwardly spliced with another story about a Japanese salaryman, Hada, who moves with his wife and two daughters to Los Angeles. Hada’s elder daughter, Fumiko, somewhere in her early teens, is kidnapped, raped multiple times (offscreen, thankfully) and pimped out, before Crowe rescues her.
Videodrome (IMDB) is a 1983 science fiction/thriller film written and directed by David Cronenberg, and starring James Woods and Deborah Harry.
Payback (IMDB) is a 1999 neo-noir crime thriller, starring Mel Gibson.
In The Celluloid Closet, Vito Russo talked about the phase of American movies in which queer film characters existed mainly as dramatic or comedic foils to the straight characters. Whether they were swishy nellies or twisted sadists, they were a simple object lesson in proper and improper gender roles. That extends to the present day, though perhaps a little less overt: heroes are associated with heterosexuality, monogamy, vanilla sex, and other normative sexualities, while villains tend towards bisexuality, non-monogamy, and fetishes and kinks.
Once you start to explore the history and deeper ideas of sexuality, you inevitably come across the topic of the fetish, and the particularly gendered origin of the concept. For a long time, it was assumed that women simply did not have fetishes, and that they were a particularly male malady, much like masochism, tied into Freudian ideas of compensation of female castration. When women exhibited behaviour that could be seen as fetishistic, like kleptomania, it was explained away as something else.
More recent, feminist thought about sexuality has suggested that female fetishism does exist, but it hides in plain sight. One of the ideas of female fetishism is attraction to injured or wounded men.
Brown, Carolyn E. “Erotic Religious Flagellation and Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure”, English Literary Renaissance, Vol.16, Iss. 1, Dec 1986
Shakespeare’s play Measure for Measure (first performed in 1604) links religious asceticism and flagellation with deviant sexuality and political tyranny. The Duke of Vienna, the judge Angelo and the novice nun Isabella claim to be pious and chaste, while their sexuality is repressed in such a way that it emerges as indifferent voyeurism, aggressive sadism or masochism, respectively. “…by drawing parallels to historical or topical events, Shakespeare suggests that the protagonists’ very asceticism, ironically, causes this deviant desire and that they associate their austere religious practices with pleasurable feelings.”
The plot revolves around a couple, Claudio and Juliet, who have not properly observed all the rules of engagement and marriage. While the Duke travels through Vienna in disguise as a friar, he hands power over to the judge Angelo, who decides to make an example of Claudio and condemn him to death for fornication. Claudio’s friend Lucia asks Isabella, the novice nun and Claudio’s sister, for help. Angelo offers to free Claudio in exchange for sex with Isabella.
The trio of the Duke, Angelo and Isabella are all ascetics (though none are actually clergy), and are hostile to sexual desires, believing that “pain kills the libido and thus subjecting themselves and others to physical abuse.”
Baatz, Simon. For the Thrill of It: Leopold, Loeb, and the Murder that Shocked Chicago. HarperCollins, 2008 Amazon
I wish there were more case studies to examine in this field. It’s rare to find a documented sadomasochistic relationship in the pre-modern era; I shudder to think how easily the Munby-Cullwick papers could have been lost. Sometimes one must make do with what one can find. In this case, there’s the case of Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb who probably would have been remembered as eccentrics if they hadn’t kidnapped and murdered a teenage boy, basically just to prove they could.
After their capture for the murder, the two men were thoroughly examined by physicians, neurologists and psychiatrists, who couldn’t agree on a diagnosis. Eventually they were found competent to stand trial. Their examinations and testimonies revealed both had vivid fantasy lives.
…the function of the priests is to prevent the first, highest, level of cosmic eating, the eating of human mortals by gods. How? By way of performing sacrificial rituals. Gods must be appeased, their hunger for blood must be satisfied, and the trick of the priests is to offer the gods a substitute (symbolic) sacrifice: an animal or other prescribed food instead of human life. The sacrifice is needed not to secure any special favors from the gods, but to make sure that the wheel of life goes on turning. Priests perform a function which concerns the balance of the entire universe: if the gods remain hungry, the whole cycle of cosmic life is disturbed.
Slavoy Zizek, Living in the End Times
Lord Buckley was an eccentric American performer of the early and mid 20th century. He’d perform monologues, in hip dialect, that were about the lives of Ghandi (“the Hip Ghan”) or Jesus Christ (“the Nazz”), or transcriptions of famous documents like the Gettysburg Address into hip. One of his monologues was on “a hero in evil”, the Marquis de Sade.
Now, you take the case of Ella Louise Louise Louise, that little chamber maid chick. It’s in the history. Now, he knew this chick didn’t have no gold. So, he pressed a fin into her palm and said, “Baby, let’s split up to my pad and suck up a little juice and hear a little wax and go a little crazy.” She said, “Coo coo.” So, she took his wing and vrrrpppt, they split toward the pad. And got halfway there and just happened to pass the Birch and Rod Store. So, the Marq said, “‘Cuse me a minute, Sugar.” Vrrrpppt, he swung in and picked up on twelve miniature style, three colored, silk-tasseled, circus day, children’s pony, buggy whips put them under his wing, vrrrppppt, and made the pad and they BAD RAPPED THE POOR CAT EVERY STEP OF THE WAY.
The theme of violence against women is front and centre in the Mad Men episode “Mystery Date”, and what leads into that phenomenon is a tangled web of fear, anger and desire.
The episode is haunted by the Richard Speck rape-murders in 1966, an incident which its own Gothic details: sexualized violence, women in danger, etc. The lone survivor of Speck’s massacre of student nurses escaped by hiding under a bed.
At the SCDP office, Joyce, a journalist friend of Peggy, brings in a sheet of photos of the Speck crime scene not fit for publication. Joyce describes the crime in melodramatic detail, as if imagining herself as the sole survivor and de facto hero of the narrative (Cf. the Final Girl of slasher filmes). Peggy and the other creatives are gruesomely fascinated and study the pictures. It’s new copywriter Michael Ginsburg who looks at the pictures but then denounces the others as “sickoes”, and says he wishes he hadn’t looked at them.