Jun 242020
 

“Poison Pen”, aired October 17, 2013

Elementary is a detective TV series of a modern-day retelling of the classic Sherlock Holmes stories and novels by Arthur Conan Doyle. 

The case begins with a pro domme (“Mistress Felicity”, played by Keesha Sharp) on an outcall who came across a dead client already in a latex suit, and called Holmes before she called the police. 

Continue reading »
Apr 062020
 

Love & Human Remains is a 1993 drama film. It tells several interwoven stories of people in the big city, while in the background a serial killer murders women. The main character is David (Thomas Gibson), a gay former actor who coasts through life as a waiter and nightclub regular.

Love definitely has some resemblance to Cruising: paranoid people in an urban environment, a serial killer who could be anybody, masculinity in crisis. We get glimpses of the killings on news shows, but the characters, too self-absorbed, skip past them. 

Benita (Mia Kirshner) seems to vibe on that urban paranoia. She’s primarily a dominatrix, often telling classic urban legends (e.g. “the guy with the hook” or “the baby sitter and the extension cord”) during her sessions with men in her apartment. 

Benita (Mia Kirshner) in full dominatrix gear
Continue reading »
Apr 012020
 

Tomcats is a 2001 sex comedy. 

Tomcats is a catalog of white heterosexual male anxieties at the turn of the millennium: castration, marriage, children, public humiliation, romantic and sexual rejection, unruly female bodies, being outperformed by women professionally, women turning into lesbians, and women who are too sexual. For the purposes of this project, the relevant scene has the same comedic premise as in Eurotrip: that even the horniest man can be overwhelmed by the most voracious woman.

What lies beneath the meek exterior of librarian Jill (Heather Stephens)?

The premise is that a group of male friends made a bet that whoever is the last unmarried gets all the money in a large mutual fund. Our protagonist, Michael (Jerry O’Connell), tries to impress a woman at a Vegas casino, ends up owing $50,000, and has to get his womanizing single friend, Kyle (Jake Busey) married by the end of the month so he gets the money. 

Michael finds Natalie (Shannon Elizabeth), the one who got away for Kyle, who turns out to be a police detective. They set about seducing Kyle, while our protagonist starts falling for the woman. Natalie tells Michael that she’s falling for Kyle, prompting Michael to seduce the first woman he sees, which goes spectacularly awry.

Continue reading »
Mar 242020
 

Live Nude Girls is a 1995 comedy-drama film, about a group of women who gather for a bachelorette party and mostly talk about sex.

The film starts with women as tween girls having a slumber party in a tent with a poster of David Cassidy, the dawning of their sexuality. In the present, the women mostly talk about their early experiences in the 70s, like reading page 26 of The Godfather, or sneaking peeks at their fathers’ copies of Playboy. Some of these are acted out in fantasy sequences. These women have a complex tangle of desire, vanity, anxiety and shame in their past and present sexual lives. 

Continue reading »
Jul 142019
 

Not every film I study in this project has a lot to say about sadomasochism. In some cases, these may be single scenes or even brief moments.

Dancing at the Blue Iguana (2000) is a semi-improvised drama about the exotic dancers at a club and their various struggles in life.

Jo (Jennifer Tilly) has a smoke break outside the Blue Iguana
Continue reading »
Jun 102019
 

Personal Services (1987) is a comedy-drama directed by Terry Jones.

The DVD I had begins with text that says “This film is a fiction. The author’s inspiration was a book about Cynthia Payne. However the events recorded in the film and the characters who appear in it are wholly fictitious. This is not the life story of Cynthia Payne.” This is a bit disingenuous, as Payne, a notorious UK madam, is listed in the credits as “Consultant.”

The police raid the establishment of Christine Painter (Julie Walters)
Continue reading »
May 072019
 

Eating Raoul is a 1982 black comedy directed by and starring and co-written by Paul Barte

Set in a squalid, pre-HIV Los Angeles, Paul and Mary Bland (Paul Bartel, Mary Woronov) are a married couple who want only to leave the city and open a country restaurant, so they can get away from the swingers that have taken over their apartment building, driving the rent up. When one of the swingers gets into their apartment by accident and attempts to rape Mary, Paul kills him with a cast iron frying pan. This gives them an idea: place sex worker ads in newspapers, lure swingers (Mary: “Horrible sex crazed maniacs that no one in the world would miss.”) to their apartment, kill them and rob them.

Continue reading »
Feb 042019
 

Lindemann, Danielle J. 2012. Dominatrix: gender, eroticism, and control in the dungeon. Chicago ; London : The University of Chicago Press, 2012.

“Professional dominatrix” is an archetype that attracts attention out of proportion to the number of people who actually fit that description. For many, they are the symbol of BDSM in general, a representation of the perversity of men, simultaneously attractive and absurd. Are they trickster courtesans manipulating men via their weaknesses, or just another type of sex worker?

Lindemann’s book is a sociological study of professional dominatrixes, based on extensive interviews with pro dommes and their clients in New York City and San Francisco (probably the two largest concentrations of pro dommes in the USA). She spoke with both house of domination employees and independents. Her driving question is, what does professional domination, a small, highly stylized subculture, tell us about the rest of the world. She references Judith Butler’s studies of drag, an exaggeration that highlights an underlying truth. [Pg.10]

This book goes beyond some of the cliches about BDSM and pro domination, particularly the cliche that “the submissive has all the power”. Her interviews with pro dommes and client describe a delicate and nuanced struggle for control between the two parties. [Pg.33] Some pros say they are in control of the scenario, while others view it as more collaborative, even if their persona is the imperious queen. Lindemann describes several “cognitive strategies” pros use to manage this ambiguity, such as “the hustle” or the concept of “getting over” used by street vendors, the belief that despite all appearances, they are the ones who come out ahead of the transaction. [Pg.35] In the case of pros who work in houses of domination, there’s a third party with its own agenda in the equation.[Pg.38]

The “professional” part of professional dominatrix is how pro dommes construct their identity as an elite subset of sex workers, who might deny that they are sex workers at all, or at least exploit a legal loophole to work within the letter of the law. While apparent inexperience might enhance the appeal of a stripper or escort, a domme is supposed to be perfect, a mistress of her field.[Pg.72] Claims of training and experience create a mystique of authenticity. Ideally, a pro domme is supposed to do this as a calling, like an art form. To say “I’m just doing this to pay for dental school.” would spoil the experience[Pg.71, 85] One pro distinguished herself from other “hoochie dommes”: “They are contributing to the deterioration of the honor of what being a domme is.” (emphasis in original) [Pg.86] This is why, for instance, dommes who practice financial domination are viewed with suspicion and disdain by “purists”, who view findom as requiring no skill or artistry.

The other side of this equation is the client, who are trained by the BDSM culture of munches, Fetlife, online ads, etc.[Pg.60] Some clients willingly buy into the mystique of the all-powerful domme, which paradoxically desexualizes the women. By viewing these women as untouchable and asexual, the clients manage their emotional intimacy.[Pg. 113]

The space of the dungeon allows the exploration of alternate gender identities, but always in tension with the roles of the rest of the world. While pro dommes may cultivate the image of la belle dame sans merci, a taboo form of aggressive femininity, in interviews they often describe what they do as a kind of therapy, conforming to the role of woman-as-nurturer-of-men.[Pg.128, 144] This justification suggests that men’s masochistic and submissive desires are pathological, and pro dommes are doing the “work” of sustaining men in their normative sexuality and gender roles. [Pg. 147, 151] This folk belief gives the dommes a benefit too, allowing the expression of an uber-bitch role while being, underneath, a good, caring woman. They can move between different feminine archetypes. Certain subtypes of female domination strongly emphasize the quasi-maternal, nurturing roles of “mother”, “auntie”, “governess”, or “nurse”. (Lindemann suggest this is why the dynamic between dommes and their few female clients is very different; these client have no social power to reverse.[Pg.161]) BDSM may play with conventional gender roles, but it can’t completely escape them. [Pg.168]

The book ends with a woefully short, two-page historical background. Lindemann’s research says that “dominatrix”, in the BDSM sense, first appears in 1967, in The Bizarre Lovemakers, by Bruce Rogers. “Dungeon”, in the BDSM sense, goes back to 1974, in a classified ad in the Los Angeles Free Press. [Pg. 200] Though the terms “dominatrix” and “dungeon” are pretty new, there’s plenty of evidence that women provided professional domination services in the 18th and 19th centuries. Lindemann could have provided even a brief reference to Ian Gibson’s The English Vice. This is a personal quibble from a historian’s perspective on a fascinating and informative book.

The paradox of the “bitchy nurturer” put me in mind of Hannah Cullwick, and how Arthur Munby was fascinated by the strength and roughness of her body while emphasizing the sweetness and gentleness of her nature. We know that there were a lot of ageplay elements of their relationship, with him sitting on her lap or being carried. Anne McClintock’s Imperial Leather talked a lot about the “two mothers” of the Victorian bourgeois home, the “wife” and the “maid”. In our own time, there are still divides between good women and bad women, and the narrative of the “bitchy nurturer” allows us to accept this apparent paradox. The dominatrix may appear to be the polar opposite of the housewife, but they both do emotional labor for men. This rationale turns up in many narratives of fictional dommes, such as Lady Heather in CSI: Las Vegas.