- The Baffler has a review of Jordan S. Carroll’s Reading the Obscene. This falls into the class of think piece called “The professional-managerial class (PMC) ruined everything (including sex).” The book argues that “Instead of seeing sex as the zone of rationalism suspended, it became the ultimate staging ground for a systematization of life in which everything could be bureaucratized. Thus were PMC erotics born, as a technocratic desexualization of sex itself.” I’m sure this critique would extend to modern BDSM. I’ve encountered this line of thought before, and always considered it unfair. The very PMC-nerdiness of BDSM is what keeps it from being exploitative. (See also “The PMC has sex” excerpt from Catherine Liu’s Virtue Hoarders.)
- High fashion intermittently draws on BDSM/fetish for inspiration (like it does with everything else) and Trendhunter showcases 49 fashion magazine editorials that get their kink on. This shows that the aesthetic of BDSM is quite separate from the practice or ethics.
- Mardi Gras magazine has an in depth look into the making of Preaching to the Perverted (1997).
This is the second film named Venus in Furs released in 1969, also known as Devil in the Flesh or La malizide di Venere. It’s a semi-faithful adaptation of the original 1870 book, unlike some other films which have little to do with the original text. However, there are significant thematic differences.
The film skips the framing story of the book. The film opens in the present day at a retreat in the Swiss Alps, where Severin, a writer, is staying.
When young Wanda von Dunajew, a model, arrives, Severin is immediately taken with her from afar. He later spies on her through hidden peepholes (with the acknowledgement and encouragement of the resort’s female manager). She conveniently takes a shower at that moment, then admires herself in furs, then masturbates. The sequence is framed through the gaps in the wall.
This prompts Severin to flashback to his childhood, when he spies on the maid and the chauffeur having a tryst.
Voyeurism and exhibitionism is a big part of the first half of this movie. Severin doesn’t just take scopophilic pleasure in watching Wanda, there has to be another person there, usually a man, who also gazes at her. Wanda actively flirts in some cases, courting the gaze. Later, Severin spies on her having an encounter with a younger man. This prompts another flashback to the maid and chauffeur. The maid spots young Severin and, while bare-breasted, slaps him, then cuddles him.
Severin and Wanda meet face to face, and make out in plain view of a number of people.
Severin: “In love, there are only masters and slaves. Those who dominate and those who are dominated.”
Wanda shows him a book of photographs of her, including one in an Orientalist chainmail outfit and a riding crop from when she was a stripteaser.
Wanda: “That was a Tartar Queen number. It was always a big success.”
She apparently has the full costume with her, including the crop, and does it for Severin. She swishes the crop around and accidentally (?) hits him in the face. He finds it pleasurable. She is apologetic. He tells her to whip her again, on his bare back.
After they dance at a club, she says she knew he was spying on her, and enjoyed performing for him. He tells her he wants her to make him suffer.
Severin talks about how the problem of love is monotony, and the woman should seek other pleasures. She tells him she feels drawn to breaking through limits with him.
Implication of cunnilingus, though no exposure.
Severin: “I’m very happy when others desire you.”
Wanda: “You really aren’t jealous?”
Severin: “No, as long as I’m part of the game.”
Wanda: “Then there’s only pleasure for you when I provoke other men while you watch.”
At a ranch, they watch a mare being nuzzled by a colt (young male horse) separated by a low wall. Then the colt is taken away and a big stallion is brought in to mount the mare, complete with visible horse penis. The ranch’s owner, an older man, is present and makes moves on Wanda.
Severin is turned on by this spectacle. Wanda looks at Severin suspiciously.
Next scene: Severin coaxes Wanda into seducing a young fisher, Andreas. He watches, of course. He follows them into the woods. Wanda and Andreas start having sex, then Andreas runs off and is replaced by Severin, followed by a sudden rainstorm.
They get married, and he gives her a beautiful fur coat. He also gives her a suicide note that gets her off the hook if something were to happen to him. “I want no limits to your cruelty.”
She feels tempted, and he wants to unleash her.
Roadside fellatio on him from her.
Severin and Wanda check into a house in Spain, near Costa Brava.
Severin: “I’d like to be treated just like an oriental slave.”
Severin takes the role of her chauffeur, complete with uniform and hat. Part of the game is them cuddling in public, playing at violating the class hierarchy. People stop and watch.
They also hire two white maids (instead of three African maids) who have their own sadomasochistic relationship. The younger of the two maids develops a crush on Severin, and exposes herself to him, meeting only with indifference. This maid returns to the older maid, who beats her for infidelity.
Severin urges Wanda to approach an artist, but complains when she spends an hour out of his sight with the artist. After the artist paints Wanda nude and holding a riding crop, Severin literally pushes her into the artist’s arms.
Fitting with the source text, there’s a lot of voyeurism and cuckoldry. Sacher-Masoch treated the cuckold scene as the ultimate expression of his fantasies, the worst thing a woman can do to him, to make him watch as she submits to another, stronger man. The problem is that in such a triad (“bull”-woman-cuckold/observer), there’s always the possibility of removing the woman from the scene like a redundant term in an equation. What’s left is one man dominating another.
In the book, Severin was obsessed with pairing Wanda with the hypermasculine man known as “the Greek”. Here, it’s a big macho guy named Bruno, but Wanda is the one who picks him up off the road and invites him back to the house. Severin alternates between griping to Wanda about Bruno’s presence and mutely watching him as he dominates Wanda.
In the last of Severin’s fantasy sequences, Bruno has completely taken over the house. He has Severin wearing a mask like a dog’s muzzle, and “makes” him watch as he lords it over Wanda and the two maids.
After he drives away, Severin spots a group of sex workers by a gas station. One of them, Paulie, is also played by the same actress as Wanda, though in a blonde wig and with a mole on her cheek.
In a hotel room with Severin, Paulie comes off like a tough woman, but he suddenly turns on her and strangles her. The hotel staff come into the room and break it up, but Paulie tells them to leave him alone and that he was her friend. The staff leaves, confused but resigned.
She falls to her knees before him and says that his violence towards her was beautiful. She tells him she wants to be “your woman” and give him all the money she earns; in other words, have him be her pimp. She offers herself to him, and asks what he wants her to do.
The final scene is of Paulie happily whipping Severin. It suggests that what Severin really wants is a woman who will perform the role of the dominatrix, but remains below him in the privilege scale.
This version of Venus is difficult to watch. While it looks pretty, there’s an undercurrent of misogyny in its treatment of women. For a movie based on the ur text of male masochism, there are many scenes of women being slapped and beaten. They don’t even enjoy it in a masochistic way. They just cry and beg. In one of Severin’s fantasy sequences, he imagines her being dragged into a dungeon by hooded men, bound, stripped and beaten; one of the men removes his hood, revealing himself to be Severin.
This is in keeping in the source text, in which Severin, after his experience with Wanda, ruthlessly dominates women. (It also echoes Bitter Moon in which the male protagonist oscillates between sadism and masochism towards women, one requiring the other.)
Director Massimo Dallamano directed a number of Italian giallo films, and also worked as a cinematographer. His credits include classic spaghetti Westerns like A Fistful of Dollars (1964). Laura Antonelli (Wanda) had a long career as an actress, while Régis Vallée (Severin) only appeared in three other films. This appears to be the only screen credit of the screenwriter, Fabio Massimo.
- Consent is, undeniably, an important part of BDSM, but it’s actually a far more complicated issue. The New Inquiry has an in-depth discussion of sexual consent, and how it can be a difficult thing when structural inequality is so pervasive in our society. (Check out the Consent Mixtape while you’re at it.)
- Since the fate of Twitter is uncertain under the new management, I’ve been looking for a fall-back. Mastodon seemed promising, but for some reason there are no BDSM-themed servers. The fall of Switter, a sex worker-themed Mastodon server, may provide some insight.
- From the 1980s, an interview with a British woman in fetish fashion for Skin Two magazine.
- The Schlockmeisters Youtube channel reviews the other 1969 film version of Venus in Furs.
My friend and fellow scholar TammyJo Eckhart and I discuss the 1997 Preaching to the Perverted.
- Lash of the Penitentes (1936) is a post-Hays Code exploitation film. Producer Henry Revier put together actual documentary footage of religious practices in rural Mexico, sensationalized recreations of certain acts, and a mystery story based on the actual murder of a travel writer living in New Mexico. There are at least two versions, one of which showed a young woman being stripped naked and whipped. This is a classic example of anti-Catholicism being “the pornography of the Puritan”, to quote Richard Hofstadter.
- Historia flagellantium (1700) by the Abbe Boileau is one of the classic texts about flagellation, concerning the improper relations between the Franciscan priest Cornelius Adriaensen and his secret, flagellant order of young women. It was preceded by another, anonymous book, The Historie of B. CORNELIS ADRIAENSEN, which also probed into the secret flagellant order of young women.
- The Independent examines the literary and cultural legacy of the Marquis de Sade, now that his chateau has opened as a luxury hotel.
Congratulations to Milady for winning the monthly Elust Contest for September!
Hope you enjoy your £50 voucher for Victoria’s Secret.
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Choose any voucher from a reputable site that has gift vouchers I can buy and send by email.
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L.A. Law S07E10 “Spanky and the Art Gang”, aired January 14, 1993
L.A. Law was an ensemble dramedy about a Los Angeles law firm. LIke detective procedurals, legal procedurals bring the characters into a variety of situations, and one popular topic is BDSM, usually in the form of pro dominatrixes.
In this case, the law firm takes as a client Claudia Von Rault, aka Mistress Zenia (played by Lillian D’Arc). She’s charged with involuntary manslaughter of Eric Schuller, who died during a session. The lawyers are initially reluctant to take the sensational case, but the deceased had business entanglements with the firm’s partners and they want it handled in-house.
Preaching to the Perverted (IMDB) is a 1997 romantic comedy written and directed by Stuart Urban, starring Guinevere Turner and Christian Anholt.
Preaching has a lot of similarities to Exit to Eden. Both are romantic comedies that try to present BDSM to the mainstream. Both feature dominant women who are rulers of kinky realms (with female aides de camp) who have difficulty opening up to intimacy until a special man comes along.
Preaching is a superior film in many ways. There’s no extraneous MacGuffin plot grafted on. Exit tried too hard to soft-pedal kink for a mainstream audience, and barely showed anything. This film has lots of different kink activities and more queer content. It at least considers the political realm, as the police and government act against Tanya’s parties.
Tanya Cheex (Guinevere Turner) is a notorious American performance artist who does elaborate stage shows at UK fetish clubs. A tabloid newspaper gets photos of this and editorializes about who will control this American filth. (Like the British need any foreign influence to be kinky.) Conservative Member of Parliament Henry Harding decides to make her a target of a moralistic crusade, and recruits a young Christian computer tech, Peter Emery (Christian Anholt) to infiltrate the fetish underworld with a hidden camera.
- Article on the history of the Carter/Johnson Memorial Library
- The Marysue covers how health authorities are asking people to change their sexual practices in light of the new monkeypox virus.
- Poly.land writes about the history of polyamorous and non-monogamous films.