Jun 212022
 
Palmer and Vickie get to know each other

Mercy (2000) (IMDB) is a late entry in the erotic thriller genre that dominated in the 80s and 90s. This kind of movie was getting stale by the turn of the millennium, and many scenes seem strongly reminiscent of Body Double (previously discussed) and Se7en

It starts, as usual for this kind of film, with a dead body. This time it’s a nude woman, one of a series with signs of being tied up, bite marks all over her torso, and her eyelids cut off. Detective Catherine Palmer (Ellen Barkin) forms a relationship with Vickie (Peta Wilson), a friend (and likely more) of the victim, Dorothy. 

Palmer searches the victim’s home and finds a hidden briefcase full of BDSM toys, and pictures of the victim being dominated by a masked man. She calls up a pro dominatrix via Vice and visits her dungeon in an upscale building. 

Palmer: “And what’s your area of expertise, Terry?”

Dominatrix: “Japanese silk ropes and the finer psychological aspects of the relationship between the players. I can tie you so you can’t twitch your ass cheeks. Of course it’s time consuming. It’ll cost you a couple of grand. Mostly the businessmen like that.”

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Jun 102022
 

IMDB

My Mistress is a 2014 Australian drama film. A teenage boy, struggling after the death of his father, forms a relationship with a lonely older woman who turns out to be a pro-dominatrix. 

Despite the title and the promotional images, My Mistress is not primarily about a BDSM relationship. It belongs in the category of films about the male fantasy of being initiated in sex by an older attractive woman. E.g. Private Lessons (1981), Class (1983), My Tutor (1983), They’re Playing with Fire (1984), and even Weird Science (1985). Right away, we’re getting into some difficult areas about consent and double-standards about sex between younger men and older women. (For the record, the age of consent in most of Australia is 16.)

Charlie, a teenage boy, aimlessly bikes around his neighborhood. He sees an older woman with a French accent, Maggie, move into a house nearby. He returns home, only to find his father has committed suicide. Soon after that, he learns his mother has been having an affair. 

Distraught, Charlie forms a casual relationship with Maggie. He bikes to her house and goes inside. He goes upstairs to find her playroom where she is in full dominatrix dress and in mid-session with a man. He runs off. 

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Mar 142022
 

Love and Leashes is a 2022 Korean romantic comedy, currently streaming on Netflix, about two office workers who begin a dominant/submissive relationship, based on a webcomic.

Note: I do not speak Korean, and I’m going entirely by the dubbing and subtitles. There are likely many cultural and linguistic nuances I am missing. E.g. “Master” is frequently used, but not “Mistress”. 

Jung Jihoo transfers to the public relations department of a corporation, where he meets a woman with a nearly identical name, Jung Jiwoo. She’s highly intelligent and competent, but ignored or belittled by the department’s sexist boss. Jihoo is actually her superior in the hierarchy, but he tries to listen to her and compromise. 

Jiwoo is attracted to Jihoo, but is reluctant to act on it. Her mother and friend both urge her to act on it, but in a stereotypically “feminine” way, which is at odds with her direct personality. 

Because their names are so similar, Jiwoo accidentally picks up a personal package delivered for Jihoo, and finds a studded leather collar and leash with the nameplate “Miho”. Jihoo tries to cover for this, but she figures it out, and says nothing. 

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Mar 092022
 

I discuss the BDSM-themed Korean romantic comedy Love and Leashes with my friend and colleague TammyJo Eckhart, a historian and author.

Currently on Netflix, Love and Leashes follows a submissive man and and a dominant woman as they learn about each other and deal with a prejudiced society. You can also read the English translation of the original webcomic.

Feb 142022
 

Story of O (1975), dir. Just Jaeckin

[Note: all English quotes are from the English dub.]

The relaxation of film censorship in the 1960s and 1970s, both in the US and abroad, created an interesting period in mainstream films were much more daring in terms of sexuality and violence, while some porn films had bigger budgets and higher production values to play in mainstream theatres and reach a larger audience. Naturally, someone would try to adapt arguably the most famous novel about BDSM to the big screen, Histoire d’O by “Pauline Reage” (aka Anne Desclos), published 1954.

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Nov 112021
 

Fifty Shades of Black (2016) (IMDB) is a comedy/romance film directed by Michael Tiddes and written by Marlon Wayans and Rick Alvarez. Obviously, it’s a parody of the wildly popular Fifty Shades of Grey franchise. 

Beyond just parodying Fifty Shades, Black derives comedy from juxtaposing sadomasochism, long seen as a “white thing”, with blackness. 

Moon Charania’s essay “The Promise of Whiteness: Fifty Shades of Grey as White Racial Archive” in Intensities: The Journal of Cult Media (Issue 8, January 2016) hypothesizes that the book and film’s story can only work because the two leads are extremely white and heterosexual. It presents a kind of hetero-white utopia in which all the cultural anxieties of the 2000s and 2010s are almost entirely absent. Almost no non-white people means no racial violence and inequality, and almost no queer and no trans people means no challenge to the primacy of heterosexuality. 

The significance of Grey’s emotional torment, Ana’s romantic attachment to Grey, and the familiarity of white heterosexual domestic love render this (attempted) violent domination both palatable and melancholic. [Pg. 84]

To excite and placate the audience, Ana and Christian as lovers and antagonists could only be white. The sudden excitement found in a powerful white man beating an empowered white woman for sexual pleasure establishes an inextricable link between racial formation and sexual subjectification. [Pg. 85]

In Charania’s view, whiteness excuses everything: Christian’s domination and sadism, Ana’s infatuation and naivete. Remove Christian’s whiteness, his wealth and privilege, from the narrative, and he’s just an abuser. Remove Ana’s whiteness, and she’s just a helpless victim. It’s not a love story anymore. 

So what happens if the analogs of Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele, “Christian Black” (Marlon Wayans) and “Hannah Steale” (Kali Hawk), are black?

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Oct 152021
 

The Story of Joanna (IMDB) is a 1975 X-rated drama directed and written by Gerard Damiano and starring Terri Hall in the title role and Jamie Gillis as Jason.

Joanna comes from the “Golden Age of porn” in the 70s and early 80s when some hardcore adult films were made with higher production values for release with X-ratings in mainstream theatres, trying to reach a broader audience. This was also the heyday of mainstream softcore erotica films like Just Jaeckin’s Histoire D’O (1975) and the original Emmanuelle (1974), and edgier material like Nazisploitation classics The Night Porter (1974), Ilsa: She-Wolf of the SS (1975) and Salon Kitty (1976). (I’ve heard that Damiano wanted to film Story of O but couldn’t get the rights, and made his own knock-off.)

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Sep 182021
 
Mimi (Emmanuelle Seigner) meets Nigel (Hugh Grant) in the company of her husband Oscar (Peter Coyote)

Bitter Moon (IMDB) is a 1992 erotic/romance film, directed by the notorious Roman Polanski, based on the novel Lunes de Fiel by Pascal Bruckner

Nigel goes on an ocean cruise with his wife, Fiona, where he becomes fascinated by a beautiful, mysterious woman named Mimi. Her husband, a paraplegic would-be writer named Oscar, demands that Nigel listen to his story of his obsessive love with Mimi before Nigel has an affair with her. Like another tale of twisted love, Nabokov’s Lolita, we shouldn’t take the narrator at face value. Mimi privately tells Nigel: “You musn’t believe all he says. He’s a sick man. He imagines things.”

In Oscar’s story, he is a self-consciously literary archetype, an independently wealthy young American living in Paris to become a writer. On a bus trip, he becomes smitten with Mimi, a young French woman. 

Mimi is a cipher, with almost nothing more to her than being a beautiful French dancer, at least in Oscar’s telling. The early stages of their romance go from sweetly romantic to an adolescent’s idea of eroticism. 

Oscar: (to Nigel) “I’m only going into such detail to show you how completely enslaved I was, body and soul, by this creature whose dangerous charms have made such an impression on you.”

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