O Fantasma is a 2000 Portuguese film directed by Joao Pedro Rodrigues. It concerns Sergio, a young man working as a night time garbage collector in Lisbon, and his sexual development.
Sergio is, to say the least, alienated. He inhabits a largely empty night-time world. While he flirts with a female co-worker, Fatima, his main sexual connections with others are wordless, anonymous sexual encounters with men. Not only does he connect to the company’s mascot dog, he’s animal-like himself. He rarely speaks, and often sniffs and licks people and things. Sergio just doesn’t have the social vocabulary to express his sexual identity. He operates more on intuition.
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.
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.”
“Unleashed” is the first Lady Heather episode without William Peterson as Gil Grissom, after the actor’s departure from the show. It also retreads some of the same ground as the notorious “Fur and Loathing in Las Vegas” episode (to be discussed).
This time, the dead body is a woman in a leotard who got mauled to death by a mountain lion in the woods. The woman shows signs of having been beaten and restrained.
Further examination reveals feline dental prosthetics and signs of being hit by a stun gun. ID’d as Iona Vail, who ran a battered women’s shelter. The co-manager of the shelter, Debra, says Iona left weeks ago.
Examining the victim’s address book reveals she was seeing “Dr. K”, which turns out to be Dr. Heather Kessler, formerly “Lady Heather”. She now has a PhD, a certificate in sex therapy, and an office that shows her taste for Victorian furnishings.
A pair of male sex workers murdered by injections of insulin lead the CSI team back to Lady Heather’s house. It appears they got the same house for interiors and exteriors as the previous episode.
Just as before, Lady Heather is completely cooperative with the authorities, and readily acknowledges the men were on her payroll. It isn’t clear what they did, however. Also, the staff and clients are completely unconcerned with police officers walking around.
Detective Brass astutely points out that these are the second and third people in Lady Heather’s employ to end up dead in suspicious circumstances.
[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.
Episode S03E02 “When the Battle is Over” Aired 22 Sep 2017
Jiz Lee returns as Pony, having regular domination sessions with Sarah.
Sara struggles with joining the board of her Jewish temple, and says some slut-shaming things about her ex-husband’s Millennial girlfriend. She’s insecure about being a wife and mother with her ex-husband in all ways except sexually.
In session with Pony, Sara is miles away. She’s on a St. Andrew’s cross, in her underwear, being spanked by Pony, rambling about flyers for her temple. Shot of her face in the cross.
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?
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 classicsThe 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.)