The Counterfeit Traitor is a 1962 spy thriller starring William Holden. I’m covering it solely for a couple of scenes.
Holden plays Eric Erickson, an apolitical American everyman living in neutral Sweden in the early days of WWII. Allied intelligence blackmails him into working as a spy in Nazi Germany. While slowly paced at the beginning, the tension picks up as Erickson sinks deeper into his cover and becomes entangled into the war whether he wants to or not.
Inevitably, Erickson’s cover is blown, and he has to depend on the resistance network to get him back to Sweden with vital intelligence. His backup contact is just a street address in Berlin. This turns out to be in the city’s red light district, with sex workers standing on the street or posing in windows.
Verfolgt, also released as Hounded or Punish Me, is a 2006 German drama directed by Angelina Maccarone
As I’ve pointed out before, female dominants who aren’t sex workers are almost invisible in popular culture. Verfolgt is one of the rare examples of a dominant woman who is not in part motivated by money. Elsa, a youth probation officer, has an obsessive, sadomasochistic affair with Jan, a young offender fresh out of juvenile detention.
Elsa Siefert (Maren Kroymann) is in her 50s, and looks like it. You can see her wrinkles and soft belly. She does wear a black leather coat and shoes, which hint at her interests. Early in the film, her daughter moves away, and her relationship with her husband, Raimar, has begun to sour. She resents his past infidelity. The loss of her roles as wife and mother has left her adrift.
Easy is a 2016 dramedy series about modern sex and romance. It’s loosely an anthology: most of the stories are self-contained, but certain character recur.
“Private Eyes” (season 3, episode 2, aired 10 May 2019) follows Hugh (Nicky Excitement) a technician who works for a private security company. Hugh is a kind of awkward guy, like an overgrown teenager with a fixation on martial arts. He goes on two dates, which end with polite but firm rejections by the women.
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.
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.
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.
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.
[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.
Transparent Episode S02E09 “Man on the Land”, aired Dec 11, 2015.
In this episode, mainly set at a women’s festival in the woods, Maura, a transwoman, has a difficult experience when she finds that the festival is supposed to be for “women-born-women” only, and her adult daughter Sarah hooks up with a kinky woman named Pony (played by Jiz Lee).
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?