Nov 072019
 
Pets playbill from May 1969

In my discussion of Pets, I neglected to mention that it was based on an off-Broadway play. The Temple of Schlock has a post on the history of the original work and its adaptation into film.

Pets was originally three one-act plays, first produced in May 1969, all based on the idea of women being kept as pets.

It’s not surprising that few critics gave PETS a clean bill of health. Newsday‘s George Oppenheimer summed it up by writing, “Mr. Reich has given us three playlets which, to put it kindly, stagger the imagination,” while Daphne Kraft of the Newark Evening News commented, “PETS, the three one-act satchels of emotion which got hurled on the stage of the Provincetown Playhouse last night, suffers from bad dialogue. The plays sizzle like wet firecrackers and make all of life look like exercises in hysteria.” In the Manhattan Tribune, Clayton Riley wrote, “Nothing to recommend but a superb air-conditioning unit at the Provincetown. Doubtless it will outlive, by a good while, Richard Reich’s slender trio.” Worst of all were the opinions of a critic in Cue: “Richard Reich is a playwright who has discovered a fascinating new toy — sadomasochism. So enthralled is he by the S&M mystique of discipline, power, sexual mastery and submission, torture and self-flagellation, that he has written no less than three one-acters in which people cage, whip, stab, and rape each other with gay abandon, all the while pontificating in language duller than an Abnormal Psych textbook.”

The film combined the three young women characters into one character, Bonnie, combined two older women into Geraldine, and added a few other scenes.

Nov 052019
 

Hardcore (IMDB) is a 1979 crime drama film written and directed by Paul Schrader.

The plot is that Jake (George C. Scott), a mid-Western family man and devout Calvinist, searches through the sex work underground for his daughter after she disappears in Los Angeles, then turns up in a porn film.

Hardcore bears a strong resemblance to 8MM. Both are Orpheus narratives: a man descends into the underworld to find a lost loved one. It also taps into the American captivity narrative. It provides an interesting glimpse into the sex work underworld of Los Angeles in the late 1970s. Again, like 8MM, there’s no particular investigation of the people who work in the sex industry. (Somebody did do enough research to drop names like the Mitchell brothers.)

Continue reading »
Sep 272019
 

The Image (1975), also known as The Punishment of Anne, is an erotic drama directed by Radley Metzger, which he adapted from the novel L’Image (1956) by “Jean de Berg”, a pseudonym of Catherine Robbe-Grillet. 

The Image is on the threshold between porn and “real” movies, characteristic of the mid-1970s; it got an X rating in the USA.. It makes good use of Paris locations and professional directing, but the plot and characterization are a bit lacking. It. Also unlike a lot of the movies discussed in this project, this has frontal male and female nudity and even shots of fellatio and Anne urinating. There are, however, no shots of genital penetration.

The film takes place in the rarefied, aspirational movie world in which writers can afford gigantic luxurious apartments in major cities. Jean, a writer, goes to a black tie literary cocktail party and meets a former acquaintance, Claire, another writer, and a younger woman, Anne. Claire describes her as “Just a young model…. She belongs to me.” They go to a restaurant for an afterparty, where Claire fondles Anne under the table. Later, the trio go for a walk in the Paris rose gardens, where Claire makes Anne urinate before them. 

Cover of the tie-in book
Continue reading »
Jun 162019
 

Peter Samuel Cook was a serial rapist who attacked women in their homes in Cambridge, England, between October 1974 and April 1975. He was known in the press as the “Cambridge Rapist”.

There was a peculiarly theatrical quality to Cook’s crimes. Today, we are still grappling with the idea that most rapes are committed by people the victim knew. Cook fit the stereotypical view of a rapist at the time, a socially marginal figure who broke into homes and assaulted strangers. Reportedly, if he didn’t find a victim, he would write taunting messages on their bathroom mirrors.

What’s significant for this discussion is that he wore a black leather hood with the word “RAPIST” literally written across the forehead. What puzzled me was, why and how did Cook get a leather mask? An ordinary cloth or wool ski mask or balaclava would have sufficed to conceal his identity.

Black leather hood of the “Cambridge Rapist”
Continue reading »
Mar 202019
 

High Anxiety (1977) (IMDB) is a comedy film, directed by Mel Brooks, written and directed by Mel Brooks and Ron Clark.

High Anxiety is Mel Brooks’ parody of Alfred Hitchcock’s thrillers, which often had some psychosexual weirdness driving their plots. E.g. voyeurism in Rear Window, gender confusion in Psycho, fetishism in Vertigo. In this case, it’s female sadism and male masochism.

Nurse Charlotte Diesel, played by Cloris Leachman
Continue reading »
Sep 292016
 

lesbian-tide-7202

There are a couple of principles I keep in mind when studying history. The first is, “You have to work with the evidence you have.” We have no way of knowing how many people secretly had relationships like Arthur Munby and Hannah Cullwick, but left no historical evidence. Likewise, I and other scholars of this particular field have to contend with the lack of historical material about lesbian SM before the 1970s. Maybe somewhere there’s an old journal or manuscript or audiotape sitting in somebody’s basement, and someday somebody will find it and open up a new field of study.

The second principle is, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” It’s highly unlikely there were no lesbian women doing SM before 1974, but we can only make cautious, educated inferences based on what evidence we do have.

Thankfully, somebody scanned and posted old issues of Lesbian Tide, which contain what may be the earliest mentions of BDSM in lesbian media. As I mentioned before, lesbian SM emerged into visibility at the same time and in dialectic with more restrictive theorizations of lesbian-feminist sexuality, and it cannot be discussed without also discussing this conflict.

Continue reading »

May 272016
 

According to the New Yorker, the Van Dykes were a microculture of nomadic lesbian separatists who roved around the US in vans (hence the collective and individual names) in the late 1970s. They were on a quest of sorts to explore the new frontier of lesbian culture. Interestingly, when the mainstream of lesbian feminists were building an orthodoxy position that female sexuality was inherently domestic, monogamous, and without power dynamics, the Van Dykes went in the opposite direction, developing a new sexual culture of what would today be called polyamory and sadomasochism.

During yet another fight among the Van Dykes over who was sleeping with whom, Heather recalls, Judith left in a huff and caught a ride to San Francisco. There she met the sex radicals Pat Califia and Gayle Rubin, who had started a lesbian sadomasochist group that they called Samois, for the house of torture in “The Story of O.” “She hooked up with those women and when she came back she said, ‘You’re going to love this,’ “ Van Dyke remembers. Judith was not mistaken: tofu quickly gave way to leather in the vans. The Van Dykes loved the drama of sadomasochism, the way it gave them license to play power games—which, really, they had been engaged in all along. For Heather Van Dyke, who had been a kind of lesbian Joseph Smith, driving around the continent looking for the promised land with a band of wives and ex-wives and future wives in tow, the idea of being explicitly dominant—a top, in the parlance of sadomasochism—was particularly appealing.

[…]

Lesbianism in the seventies had been configured as a loving sisterhood in which sex was less important than consciousness-raising. For many gay women, sadomasochism was an antidote to this tepid formulation. It was permission to focus on what turned them on, rather than what was politically correct, a way of appropriating the lust and power hunger that feminist doctrine had deemed male. “We’d been being egalitarian,” Lamar Van Dyke told me. “And suddenly we were over it.”

The Van Dykes even gave a SM workshop at the 1979 Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, which in later years would be the site of many conflicts over the presence and visibility of BDSM.