Mar 112012

House of Self-Indulgence has a summary of another Nazi-exploitation film, The Gestapo’s Last Orgy, which by its description sounds like a take on The Night Porter. The framing story is two people walking around an abandoned concentration camp, years after the war.

Of course, I’m not saying it should be taken seriously as an accurate account of daily life at your average concentration camp during World War II. However, it’s way more honest and straightforward than the majority of the pro-war propaganda Hollywood has been warping minds with over the past seventy years. Your typical war film, especially the ones that are set during the post-war era, seem to glamourize armed combat, which I find tasteless and obscene. On the other hand, the films that make up the Naziploitation genre have a purity about them. The sole purpose of these films is to shock and offend all those who lack the common sense to stir clear of their wicked glow, and the good ones do so with no apologies.

The driving force of this film seems to be frustrated sadism.

Even though he was eyeballing her while she was being examined by the camp’s doctor and during the slideshow/rape orgy, it’s at the end of the cannibal dinner party that Conrad, and his trusty Luger P08 pistol, finally become acquainted with Lise Cohen and her dogged brand of spiritual fortitude. Frustrated by the fact Lise won’t flinch after repeated attempts to unnerve her (he does everything his drunken Nazi mind can think of to scare her), Conrad decides right then and there that his new mission in life is to make her scream for mercy.

This reminds of earlier discussions about the difference between genuine sadists and “bureaucrats of torture” in totalitarian societies. A bureaucrat just doesn’t care about the other person’s subjective experience. A sadist needs to know he or she is having an impact.

Self-inflicted violence in religion: Jack David Eller’s Cruel Creeds, Virtuous Violence

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Jan 212012

Eller, Jack David. Cruel Creeds, Virtuous Violence Prometheus Books, 2010.

I’m going back into chapter one of the book (hopefully to get a draft done by the end of the month), and that means going back into religion and violence. Eller’s book is about the relationship between religion and violence, not only that humans incorporate violence into religion, but that we also invest violence with religious meaning.

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Dec 032011

This is a joke, right?

Don’t you get the point of this? It’s to turn people on. I get the sexy little schoolgirl. I even get the helpless mental patient, right? That can be hot.

But what is this? Lobotomized vegetable?

How about something a little more commercial, for God’s sake?

Sweet Pea, Sucker Punch, 2011, w./d. Zack Snyder

Searching “‘sucker punch’ snyder misogyny” on Google returns about 225,000 hits. I don’t think any film has been judged so harshly by being misunderstood.

Sucker Punch does present a confusing and at times incoherent story, but I don’t think it is operating on fundamentally bad faith with the audience. (The previously discussed Goodbye Uncle Tom, which likewise mixes exploitation imagery with pro-social messages, is a counter-example of a film in bad faith.)

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Aug 172011

Cinema Sewer 34, Danny Hellman, Cmm3C

Well, sooner or later, somebody had to make an image like the one above.

Danny Hellman created this for cover of the 24th issue of the Cinema Sewer zine, published out of Vancouver, BC by Robin Bougie.

It’s not the only Hellman that satirizes the Iraq and Afghanistan war, viewing those conflicts through the lenses of comic books and exploitation magazines (e.g. 1). This is an obvious take on the previously discussed Israeli stalag novels and the later men’s adventure magazines, referencing the notorious Abu Ghraib pictures. The brunette woman in the background represents Lynndie England, for instance.

The Abu Ghraib pictures put Americans in a quandary. The scenario was familiar, but the ones inflicting the suffering were “us”, not “them”. How could this be? This is what Other people do. It’s telling that England, a female soldier, became the most recognizable name and face associated with this scandal, linking political deviance with female sexual deviance.

I feel somewhat disappointed that this image is too knowing, too ironic to be a genuine expression of fantasy. Maybe we need to wait a few years before the psychosocial impact of the War on Terrorism percolates up from the collective subconscious. Or perhaps the torture porn film genre previously discussed is part of that response. Maybe in North America the feared Other is not the Muslim terrorist, but the out-of-control, paranoid police state. That at any second, for no apparent reason, we can find ourselves strapped to something in a windowless room where we are utterly helpless before an unknown person. Network television is already crawling with surveillance and confinement and competition. Somewhere out there, Room 101 is ready for you.

Aug 162011

Continuing my discussion of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and the function of violence, here’s the Room 101 scene from the American 1956 film version.

Note that the story pretty closely follows the book and the other two film versions: the electric shocks, the “How many fingers?” routine, Winston seeing his degraded self in the mirror. You can see how much of a perverse initiator O’Brien is (called O’Connor in this adaptation), guiding Winston room to room, preparing him for each stage of his descent into hell.

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Jul 252011

In a previous post I touched on the difference between fantasizing about a person being in peril of violence and a person actually suffering violence.

This clip above is the 1954 BBC television adaptation of George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-four.

In the book, Winston is shown the rat cage device, strapped down and then the device is placed on his face. Only then does he crack.

In this production, they don’t even put the device on Winston’s head. O’Brien merely shows the device to Winston and describes how it operates, and this is enough to make Winston crack and say, “Do it to Julia!”

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Jun 042010

Ah&Oh Studio created a line of perfume packages based on male writers, including George Orwell, LaClos (author of Dangerous Liaisons), Edgar Allen Poe and the Marquis de Sade.

We found inspiration in the great, dark literature and distinctive, strong characters. We tried to describe the dark sides of men’s nature with line of scents named after famous writers.

Interesting that all four writers, not just Sade, could be seen as factoring into the history of BDSM. LaClos wrote about seduction and power games, and Poe about obsession and imprisonment. Even Orwell’s vision of dystopia in 1984 became fodder for masochistic fantasy.

I wonder what Sacher-Masoch or Richardson would smell like? Perhaps a complementary line of women’s fragrances: Stowe, Radcliffe, Rachilde, Reage, Rice, Carey?

May 232010

Susannah Breslin’s column has a fascinating article on This ain’t Max Hardcore: a XXX parody. It’s a turn-the-tables scenario in which a baby-doll-style woman beats up and anally foot-fucks an actor playing the famed gonzo porn maker.

Paul “Max Hardcore” Little, currently serving a prison sentence in Florida, is known for his particular style of videos, which Breslin describes thusly:

In his movies, women are urinated upon, forcibly fellated until they vomit, their orifices cranked open with speculums. They are pile-driven, skull-fucked, and fish-hooked. Mostly, they are dressed and behave as if they are underage girls — somewhere in the neighborhood of, say, six or seven. These women-as-girls are accosted on playgrounds, where they suck provocatively on lollipops and respond to Hardcore’s come-ons with baby talk. In their sex scenes — if they can be called that, as they seem more like systematic attempts to break the human spirit recorded on videotape for posterity and profit — Hardcore, who wears a cowboy hat and whose prop of choice is a hideous canary yellow sofa, violates their holes while spewing forth a stream of degrading language.

Assuredly, Hardcore’s movies are not for the faint of heart. They are targeted at a demographic one would perhaps rather not dwell upon the existence of for any length of time. They are less “movies” and more political demonstrations: of power, of violence, of one man’s seeming frustration with the opposite sex: porn’s very own final girl, who, no matter how hard he tries, will not lay down and (pardon my language) fucking die, leaving poor Max with no choice but to return to the scene of the crime and do it all over again.

Breslin cites the “final girl” from Carol J Clover’s book Men, Women and Chainsaws. Clover argues that final girl, with the androgynous name and the ambiguous gender identity, is the one girl who ultimately survives and defeats the killer, who is also riddled with flawed sexuality and gender identity. This is part of the viewer working through his adolescent male sexual anxieties. Hardcore’s oeuvre bears a certain resemblance to the slasher film, an extremely prolific genre in the early and mid 80s, full of endless variation on the same basic formula. The story reminds me a little of Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which was about the standard horror victim into the hero(ine).

So, if Hardcore’s films are working through (however unsuccessfully) male issues with women, what is This is not Max Hardcore working through? Who is going to watch This is not… and who is going to cheer the female protagonist on? If we assume the default viewer of video porn is a young heterosexual white male, then he might make the identification shift (as Clover describes it) from the “monster” to the “final girl”, rooting for the girl to defeat the “dirty old man” archetype represented by Paul Little. Maybe This is not… is the other half of the dialectic, with the first half by the usual Hardcore video.

Arguably, Hardcore’s videos can be seen as an extreme form of “virtue in distress”, a distant descendant of Richardson’s Clarissa, but misread so that the power dynamic is only one way. This video could be seen as a “strong misreading” (as Harold Bloom would put it) of the Hardcore videos that unwittingly returns to the form’s ancestor.

Here’s a question: does the violence of a Max Hardcore video have the same impact when it is a young woman doing it to an older man? Or does femdom-malesub violence not have the same impact because it is not “real”, that we do not take women seriously as agents of violence? When Red Riding Hood fights back against the Big Bad Wolf, is it heroism or a joke?

Breslin’s piece also provides a great look into the porn culture of 2010, with biographical sketches of Debi Diamond, the producer and former porn performer, Rod Fontana (former US Army officer, porn performer and would-be preacher), and Kristina, the vengeful ersatz Max Hardcore girl who described Paul Little as a “sweet, little old man.”

(Note to Ms. Breslin: When are we going to see a non-fiction book from you?)

Mar 172010

It’s already been removed, but FOX was running in interactive website game called “KeepHerAwake”, as a promotion for the new Nightmare on Elm Street movie. The idea is that the user manipulates a girl in her bedroom to keep her awake so that the supernatural killer can’t kill her in her sleep.

From Susannah Breslin’s post on True Slant:

It’s going to be a long night, so you start with something light. You click an icon and her alarm clock rings. You make her jump up and down on her bed in her underpants. You get her to read a book. But that’s no fun, right? Maybe you’re a little bored.

You put her in the shower, naked, natch, where the camera wanders across her body. You make her do jumping jacks and watch her boobs bounce in that very tight T-shirt she’s wearing. Still, there’s something missing. Isn’t there something else you can do? Something, say, more … fun?

You decide to apply more aggressive methods. You click the switchblade icon, and she picks up a knife. As you watch, she cuts herself in the side with it, gasping. Hm, not bad, you think. You try another. You click the icon that looks like a lighter, and she picks it up. You look on while she burns her arm, trembling in agony. If you’d known torture was this easy, well …

Unfortunately, now you’ve run out of tricks, and it seems your options are more limited than 18 U.S.C. § 2340. Don’t you hate it when that happens? Slowly, she falls asleep. Suffice to say, in the end, she dies. Too bad all your torturing couldn’t, er, save her.

While I’m not familiar with the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, I understand that a key aspect of the premise is that Krueger can only attack his victims when they are asleep. Therefore, the dramatic tension comes from the increasingly desperate measures the characters adopt to stay awake and therefore alive.

Presumably, while watching the film, the viewer will empathize with the characters and their struggle to stay alive. (Carol J Clover’s book Men, Women and Chainsaws has a detailed exploration of the complexity of audience/character identification in horror, in which the viewer’s identification constantly switches between killer and victim.) In the realm of interactive entertainment, this seems to be a rather different experience, and one that raised the eyebrows (to say the least) of Breslin and’s Xeni Jardin.

The late, lamented (in my opinion) Joss Whedon series Dollhouse had a similar promotional effort in which a visitor to a website could manipulate a version of Echo, the show’s protagonist, by programming her with different personalities. This was an odd choice for a series that is all about questioning the morality of manipulating people like dolls, and came under criticism. Like the KeepHerAwake game, it seemed like an exercise in sadism.

We live in an age of virtual entertainment, in which people create and control online characters and develop a high degree of empathy and identification with them. In this case, the user is presented with a menu of things the character can do in response to other events in the virtual world. In the case of KeepHerAwake, however, the user selects from a menu of things to do to the character. It’s doing with vs. doing to.

KeepHerAwake does present these choices as ways of solving a problem: if the user doesn’t do anything, the character will die. Contrary to the headline of Breslin’s piece, you aren’t trying to torture the character to death, you’re trying to keep her alive. However, I can see why people would be troubled by feeling that they or other people had missed this key point.

Perhaps, if the KeepHerAwake game had been presented so that the user was encouraged to directly empathize with the experience, we would feel differently about it. Perhaps it should have been “KeepMeAwake” instead, but that would have been a difficult game to make. How would the user have subjectively experienced the pain and fear of the experience? KeepHerAwake, unsurprisingly, uses a young attractive white woman as a “suffering body” so that the user can see the evidence of the pain. A male body probably wouldn’t have allowed the same precise calibration of empathy; men in our culture are not supposed to admit pain, and especially not visibly express it through shaking, screaming or other losses of bodily control, which are essential in visual media.

In BDSM, the top must have a degree of empathy for the bottom. He or she must care about the bottom’s subjective experience, and not regard the bottom as simply an inert body with no subjectivity. I think the mise en scene of KeepHerAwake discourages the player from developing the requisite empathy with the manipulated character.

Side note: French documentarians recently replicated the infamous Milgram experiment (“Will you torture someone if an authority figure tells you to?”), though this time in the setting of a fake game show.