Maitresse (1975)

Olivier (Gerard Depardieu) has just moved to Paris, and he doesn’t have a place to stay. He asks an acquaintance in the city, Mario (Andre Rouyer), who has recently begun earning his living honestly if he may stay with him, as he doesn’t start work until September (we aren’t told what month it presently is).

His friend’s new, honest living is selling books door-to-door. Olivier helps him on his route during the day but they have no luck until he blags his way into a woman’s place who’s tub is overflowing. She’ll buy all their books if they can stop it. That done, they say to warn her downstairs neighbour and are informed she’s away on the Riviera, but the woman, Ariana (Bulle Ogier) will write a letter to let her know.

Not entirely reformed, Mario breaks into the downstairs apartment, dragging a reluctant Olivier along. They find an impressive array of fetish attire for a variety of scenes. Different areas of the flat are dressed for different types of play. When Olivier stumbles across a man in a dog cage he is startled and hurries his friend to leave but the exit is blocked by a barking Doberman. Stairs descend from the ceiling and spiked-heeled leather boots make their way down, followed by leather-clad legs, eventually revealing the woman they’d helped earlier.

She calms the dogs, the door buzzer goes and she handcuffs the men to one another and the radiator before letting in another man and leading him into an adjoining room.

Then we have the popular trope of paying a vanilla to watch/participate in a scene led by a dominatrix.

Seventeen minutes into the film and we have non-simulated boot worship, a swipe of a riding crop and piss drinking (just off screen).

The client leaves and Olivier asks Ariana to dinner. Thus begins their relationship. I don’t know what that’s called. Meet kinky?

Though the NRE (new relationship energy) is strong for both of them from day one, he is jealous of her clients and doesn’t understand what she gets out of what she does or what her clients want if it isn’t sex.

Then there is the mysterious Monsieur Gautier who may or may not be a danger to one or both of them. Ariana won’t give Olivier a straight answer about who he is—she finds personal questions very boring. Her oh-so-French reply at one point is:

I either lie or I don’t reply.

Meanwhile, Americans would punch you or tell you to mind your own damn business and the English laugh uncomfortably and run away.

There’s an implied rape-about-to-happen at one point, so that was charming. Then everything carried on as it had been. I suppose that’s realistic. Certain people think it’s their right to behave a certain way and because—to their minds—they’ve done nothing wrong—they go on as though nothing has happened.

The ending was typically European in that it just…ended, though in this case there was some form of closure so it won’t tick off American audiences as much as many films from Europe that often seem to end because they ran out of funding to film the end.

We do find out who Monsieur Gautier is, thanks to Olivier’s massive man-ego. So that was useful for the plot. Cheers, you idiot.

You know when you go on a second date & she says, I have to drop in at work and you say, 'Maaan.' And she says, 'Help me out?' And you say, 'Weeell...' (source)

You know when you go on a second date & she says, ‘I have to drop in at work’ and you say, ‘Maaan.’ And she says, ‘Help me out?’ And you say, ‘Weeell…’ (source)

The costumes were by Karl Lagerfeld, so that was interesting for a start.

For a film that has the plot of a bad porn, it was written, directed and acted extremely well. Even the dog is an excellent actor. Comedy, drama. He had a range. I’m not kidding.

Speaking of animals, though, there is a for-real horse slaughter near the end. It has nothing to do with any kink scene—Olivier seeks it out to watch after a night of heavy drinking. What the fuck, Europe. That’s not okay. If you want to avoid that bit—when they walk the horse in (it’ll be obvious what’s about to happen), close your eyes until you hear people talking in normal voices about steak. It’s over pretty quickly, but it’s fairly gruesome and I’m not sure what the point was, exactly.

Much of the kink on display was authentic—one particular man appeared in several scenes in a gimp mask and gleefully suffered a variety of torments. These were dealt out to him by our ‘Mistress’ filmed from the back, but I’m guessing it was a professional, as I somehow doubt they allowed an amateur to nail a man’s penis to a board. Among other things.

There was also a pretty great (for a mainstream film) spanking scene that involved a young woman tied on all fours over a chair. All of her charms, as the Victorians would say, were on display. Olivier spanked her with a belt and teased her labia with the end of the belt. It got a little porny sometimes.

Speaking of, there was a decent number and array of kink scenes and the story surrounding them was engaging enough so even if you’re watching it for the BDSM alone it’s worth watching the entire thing.

4/5 for the horse-thing and the rape, which didn’t need to happen.

The Night Porter (1974)

There are films that exist outside of themselves—by that I mean—it’s impossible for the viewer to completely suspend disbelief, as they are regularly brought to the present by the question, ‘How did this get made? What were the circumstances that allowed this to happen?’

Caligula falls into this category. The Night Porter isn’t nearly as overblown and utterly baffling as that and I would argue this had more going for it—it certainly had more artistic merit, if less Helen Mirren being done doggy-style.

But there comes a moment when a viewer wonders, ‘How on God’s green Earth did Dirk Bogarde and Charlotte-Fucking-Rampling wind up in an Italian-made Nazisploitation film with sadomasochistic themes?’

I mean… How?

At first I thought it must have been based on a novel—there must have been some literary foundation that had gone sideways in the interpretation, but nope.

So…money? Boredom? Blackmail? I don’t know. I have no answers.

Mystification aside… I quite enjoyed it. You couldn’t pay me to watch Caligula again (I’ve seen the uncut version twice and I’m set for life, cheers) but I’d watch this one again easily.

This happens, for one. (source)

This happens, for one. (source)

In the opening Max (Dirk Bogarde), a porter in an upscale hotel in 1957 Vienna sees to the Countess, who says she’s cold and requires assistance. Max fetches a young man and we’re treated to a casual shot of uncircumcised penis. Well, hello, European film-makers.

That same evening several fancy people come in, dressed in finery—one of whom is the young and lovely Lucia (Rampling). Both are startled by the other’s presence. Before either can speak, however, she is swept along with her well-dressed friends and upstairs to their rooms.

Max thinks back to how he knew her—they had been on opposite sides of the War. He had been a low-level Nazi officer when she was brought in to be processed. He had filmed her and found her particularly captivating. His interest in her is what saved her life, as they had a…unique relationship that involved sadomasochism, Daddy/girl undertones and a Marlene Dietrich song.

A man with the most magnificent monocle you could ever hope to see comes in—Max addresses him as Herr Professor—and it becomes clear they’re preparing for a trial. There’s discussion of what evidence of Max’s involvement in the War exists and who has it. He had posed as a doctor but none of his ‘patients’ had survived. Except one. A young woman.

Efforts are undertaken to find her. Max says he has no idea who or where she is. Though he eventually confronts her to find out if she’s returned to turn him into the police and their relationship picks up where it left off and continues to grow weirder. Because now several former Nazis want her dead. But Papa Bear Daddy Nazi isn’t having his ‘little girl’ taken away.

The story is told in flashbacks from both Max and Lucia’s points of view during the War interspersed with present-day Vienna where Max’s cohorts are looking for the woman they believe can destroy them.

It was fitting that I watched this after reading about Playing with Taboo. I went into this film with no idea what I was in for, but there was a scene with a dozen or more Nazis in their impeccable uniforms and jackboots, sitting casually around inside an empty swimming pool, watching a male ballet dancer (Amedeo Amodio). Suddenly the idea of a scene of someone having to dance for Nazis or pay the price came to me.

You can watch the ballet scene here--it's also the source for the image.

You can watch the ballet scene here–it’s also the source for the image.

The film is surprising (to an American viewer) in its casual attitude towards… well, many things—including male rape. Which at one point is happening off to the side as a way to set atmosphere for something else that is going to happen. Europe!

The dubbing is slightly off around half the time, as though the actors had to re-dub their lines. Otherwise, aesthetically, it was beautifully shot and acted. Amodio looked rather remarkably like Tom Hiddleston.

I genuinely had no idea what was going to happen…ever. And I cared about the happiness of a Nazi, so that was a first. It was perhaps the most twisted love story I’ve seen on film or even read.

There’s also a scene of Charlotte Rampling singing a Dietrich song for a bunch of Nazis whilst wearing over-the-elbow leather gloves, a Nazi peaked hat and pin-striped trousers held up by suspenders. And that’s it.

This one has sadomasochism, Daddy/girl themes, a little sploshing, and light bondage involving chains. For a film with Nazis in it there’s no violence (outside of the male rape, which the victim participated in to save his life.)

If you’re into those things it’s a must-see. 4/5

Blue Velvet

(Google gave me this image but wouldn't tell me where it came from. WTF Google)

(Google gave me this image but wouldn’t tell me where it came from. WTF Google)

After his father has a stroke, Jeffery Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) returns to his small town in North Carolina to help with the family hardware store.

He’s standing in a field after visiting his father one day and comes across a severed human ear, which he puts in a small paper bag and takes to the police station. As you do with evidence of a crime.

[As Bean said: It was the 80s, they didn’t know.]

Being a small town, Jeffery already knows the detective’s daughter from before he moved away, Sandy (Laura Dern), and they become reacquainted. Sandy thinks a woman named Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini) may know something about the ear and tells him why she thinks so. Sandy explains the woman is a singer at a local club.

Jeffery is one of the those nosey types so he just has to find out more. He concocts a scheme to get into the woman’s apartment when she’s there by posing as an exterminator and he will then leave a window open so he can come back when she’s on stage.

Things don’t go exactly to plan.

Oh, he gets in and back out again fine. He and Sandy go to see her sing at the Slow Club then leave early so he can sneak back into her apartment.

He’s in her apartment when she comes back, though, and winds up hiding in the closet. While in there he overhears a conversation and learns someone has kidnapped Dorothy’s son and husband. Then a scene plays out that I’m pretty sure people reenact in its entirety. There’s voyeurism and forced stripping at knife point and the beginning of something sexual and then someone shows up and it’s back into the closet with Jeremy, but now he’s naked as the day he was born.

Probably with an erection.

The person who comes in is Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper). Frank has a few kinks. He takes several huffs from a mask—I’d guess some loopy juice that makes you horny like amyl nitrite—then we get into the good stuff. Sadomasochism, verbally controlling her—including saying things she’d said to Jeremy—calling her Mommy then later referring to himself as Daddy and the baby. There was a rattle (he just shook it in her face—considering what he could have done with it, that was rather gentle of him.) Of course he hit her, because this is the kind of guy who probably wants to hit everyone including himself.

Frank’s a real pistol.

Eventually he leaves and Dorothy tries to get Jeremy to resume their amorous interlude from earlier, except she wants him to hit her. Jeremy’s boring and isn’t into that.

I just know there are people who reenact the entire scene with all three characters and probably have all sorts of slash fiction versions of the way the scene ends. There is far too much to work with.

For some reason, even after seeing what sort of element he’s dealing with, Jeremy is still intrigued by the case and continues his own investigation, including surreptitiously taking photographs with a homemade camera in a box. (Again, it was the 80s.)

It’s always a good idea to do things that will tick off on an insane character played by Dennis Hopper. Particularly one with sadomasochistic urges and a raging drug habit, so things get worse (and a little trippy) before they get better.

It is not a dull film.

I mean, it has a rather dodgy looking lobotomy in it. How frequently do you see those in classic cinema?

While trying to solve the case, Jeremy is torn between the mysterious, masochistic Dorothy and the sunny, simple Sandy. They are each alluring in their own way, and even Sandy has her own complications in the form of her boyfriend, Mike, who plays on the high school football team. Because of course he does.

Personally, I thought Jeremy should get the hell out of dodge ASAP. Small Southern towns are Bad News. Particularly in film. Run, Kyle, run!

Blue Velvet is a cult classic. And a regular classic, really. Several lines (Hopper’s usually) were familiar to me and I had those, ‘So that’s where that comes from!’ moments.

Kyle MacLachlan probably still has nightmares about this scene. (source)

Kyle MacLachlan probably still has nightmares about this scene. (source)

I don’t mind ambiguity in film, but surrealism isn’t my thing, so I’m not the biggest Lynch fan. However, Blue Velvet happens before Lynch embraces his full Lynchianness of later films—there are just some dream sequences that made me think, ‘Oh right. There’s our guy.’ So if you’ve been avoiding this one out of fear your brain was going to explode and leak out of your ears, fear not. This one is coherent to those of us without a degree in cinema.

Fun fact: I live in the city where they filmed this and worked for the answering service for the apartment building Dorothy Vallens lived in. They shot the interiors and exteriors at the same building. The elevators of that building were always out. We’d get called about it all the time. The old guy who owned the building never fixed anything. People wanted to live there because the building looked really cool, though.

Anyway, when Kyle MacLachlan gets inside the place he sees a sign that says the elevator’s out. Her apartment is on the seventh floor. It’s a useful plot device, for what it supposed to happen so I don’t know if it was written that way or if the elevator was actually out since it nearly always was. Also, Jeffery’s house is currently for rent. It’s 5 bedrooms and in a very decent area of town. It’s on the same street as a couple of good friends of mine, so there’s that, too.

The cast is top-rate, it’s Lynch so the directing is excellent and the script is outstanding. It’s a sort of a noir mystery type thing. There are laugh out loud moments as well as, ‘Well, what the hell is going to happen now,’ moments. And a soundtrack by Angelo Badalamenti that perfectly suits the film.

5/5

Downloading Nancy

Nancy Stockwell (Maria Bello) is in a … ‘loveless’ is too nice of a word. There is a void where love should be. She spends her time self harming and talking to her therapist (Amy Brenneman) about her truly terrible childhood. Oh, and talking to strangers on the internet about her masochistic fantasies.

Her husband, Albert (Rufus Sewell), spends his time in the basement playing some sort of golf game that’s half real and half virtual.

Then one day he finds a note on the table—she’s gone to see friends in Baltimore.

He didn’t know she knew anyone in Baltimore. But then again, Albert doesn’t know much about his wife, as they don’t talk to one another or spend time together.

So Nancy has gone to visit a friend, Louis Farley (Jason Patric), who she met on the internet. And who is going to do all the things she wants. Due to her truly terrible childhood she wants some fairly horrific things and one very specific request.

Days go by and Nancy spends time with Louis and Albert has no idea where his wife is, but he doesn’t call the police (which is believable—people behave strangely in stressful situations). Nancy and Louis play little S/M games that aren’t particularly sexy but are realistic and get to know one another.

Eventually Louis goes to see Albert to see what he knows. Nothing has gone the way it was supposed to.

I feel pretty... I feel pretty and witty and gay... (source)

I feel pretty… I feel pretty and witty and gay… (source)

The reviews for Downloading Nancy are harsh. And I don’t understand why. It wasn’t the best film I’ve ever seen, but I enjoyed it. I’d even watch it again. It was a character study about profoundly sad people. Apparently audience members walked out of it at Sundance. These people have not seen the same films I’ve seen.

Red letters on the promo poster warn: The most controversial film you’ll see this year.

These people have not seen the same films I’ve seen, either.

Seriously, though. I thought it was interesting enough. It’s not the sort of masochism that’s sexy to watch. It’s the sort of masochism that’s realistic. I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re trying to get a little something going on for date night. Maybe if you’re looking for ideas for a scene.

It’s one of those quiet sorts of films where no one communicates with the people they most need to communicate with. Like American Beauty. With genital mutilation (off-screen).

I wasn’t crazy about equating Nancy’s need for pain and hating herself and whatnot with her childhood, but here we are.

All of the performances were good—restrained when there could have been scenery chewing—but Maria Bello’s was off the charts. It’s not a happy film. It probably would have been better received in Europe. There was a truth to it.

And there’s something that you learn at the very end that’s sort of spoilery. Some people may find it to be a spoiler and some may not. It’s based on a true story. That of Sharon Lopatka, who advertised online for someone to kill her during/after sex. This was in 1996, several years before the Armin Meiwes case. It’s called consensual homicide, apparently.

I’d give it 3/5. Maybe 4/5 depending on how much a person enjoys depressing films, which I do.

Nymphomaniac Extended Director’s Cut

There are certain films on the Wikipedia page of ‘BDSM in Film‘ that I have no interest in seeing. Until last week Lars von Trier’s epic Nymphomaniac was on that list—it was too long and the trailer didn’t make it look like anything I would enjoy. (And though I’d liked Melancholia, Antichrist made me want to die.)

Then my friend Joan asked me if I’d seen it.

‘No, it’s not really on my list of Things to Subject Myself to.’
‘I really enjoyed it,’ she said. ‘I’d watch it again.’

It couldn’t have been too hellish, I figured. Netflix had the extended director’s cut, which was 5 ½ hours long. And if I’m going to do something I’m going to do it, dammit.

Joan said, ‘I’ll watch it with you. It’ll be interesting to see what they cut.’

That, ladies and gentlemen, is friendship. Not helping move house. Not helping move a body. Watching a Lars von Trier film you’ve already seen for 5 ½ hours in one go.

So I got up early (for me), as she was in a different time zone and also participated in day-walker hours. And we watched it together.

I dedicate this post to friendship and the amazing people you meet online. This is a longer post so I’m going to put the rest behind a break. I keep my reviews free of spoilers usually—there are a few in this one, but they’re behind spoiler tags.

Continue reading

Sub Journal Prompt 004: SM and Pain

004. If SM is part of your dynamic explain how pain works for you. Is it a sexual turn on, a healing release, a spiritual moment, a session of giving?

I’ve not experience the ‘good’ kind of pain so this is entirely conjecture, but I think it would depend on the circumstance. I’m not a spiritual person so it’d never be a spiritual experience for me. I think that usually I would want pain as a way to bring me out of my head. Pain is immediate and would help me forget whatever was worrying me at the time. Then the neurochemicals would kick in and the experience, whilst still painful, would become the good kind of pain. And there would be the positive after effects of a good scene, as well.

In some circumstances pain could be sexual—spanking to me is more likely to be sexual than other types of pain, whereas flogging, whipping, coin stripping, evil wands, those are all pain for release.

I’m not sure what ‘a session of giving’ means. I’m reading it as pure submission, which seems to be what’s happening during the other two scenes. Perhaps if I wasn’t feeling stressed or sexual but was feeling submissive and wanted to show that by enduring some level of pain that would count. That’s not something I had considered before and I don’t really know my capacity for endurance. But now that I think on it, I like the idea of offering that up for someone. What more demonstrates submission and trust than allowing someone to physically hurt you? I’m fairly certain I’m not a painslut, so I don’t know how frequently I’d want to engage in that sort of pain play, but it’s an interesting motivation.

This prompt came from SubmissiveGuide.com

A Desire for Total Union, Total Impact

As I was working on the book review of Bad Behavior for Tuesday I came across an interview the author, Mary Gaitskill, did after the book came out.

One critic who panned it (the only one, as it was received very well by critics) didn’t like that many of the female characters were too submissive to men. This was her response:

For one thing, I think it’s absolutely irrelevant whether I’m writing about women being submissive to men or not. Submission or the lack of it—this is not a literary question, from my point of view. It’s something that exists in life; there are people of both sexes who are submissive. I think to bring that up in a review is tedious, because it’s irrelevant from a literary standpoint—I don’t understand why he even mentions it. It’s like he’s criticizing the book for something he personally finds objectionable in human beings.

So… I loved Mary Gaitskill for a bit.

Then this exchange occurred: [The story they’re referring to is ‘Secretary’–the one the film was based on—and SW is Stephen Westfall. Bolding is mine.]

SW: Do you think all masochism springs out of a certain amount of self-hatred?

MG: I don’t know.

SW: I could see how it could be self-transfiguring.

MG: Well, I don’t know. I think it’s a very complicated question psychologically, which I’m not prepared to deal with.

SW: I’m thinking, of course, as connected with martyrdom.

MG: I don’t buy that. I think that’s weird intellectual crap which people do to make something that’s very frightening acceptable. I don’t believe in that at all. The thing that I have noticed most about sadism and masochism, which I’ve said over and over again—I don’t think most people understand this, maybe because I don’t express it very clearly—I think what a masochist wants is deep intimacy and closeness, and they don’t know how to experience it except as an act of violation. They don’t have a concept of two people just, you know, touching together. Just like a sadist—what sadism is to me, is a breaking into another person, just breaking inside another person. And I can’t quite, I don’t know what the impulse is behind it. But to me, it’s an inability to have intimacy and a desperate, angry desire to have intimacy. And it’s people who have no concept of closeness, other than as a form of violation and submission.

SW: And it’s also highly ritualized.

MG: Yes, and safe, therefore. Inside the ritual, it’s a very control-oriented thing. I’m sure that’s not all there is to it. Like I said, I don’t think I’m a spokesperson, but that’s how I see it. And that’s what I’m writing about in the story. I mean, the woman does want this, not because she hates herself or hates women or women are supposed to be like this, but because she, personally, is not able to be intimate, and yet she really craves it. She’s also afraid of it, so this is her controlling device. It’s no political statement about women at all.

SW: So where’s the erotic charge in it then?

MG: In this story?

SW: No, no, not necessarily in this story, which is astoundingly unerotic for all the sexual game-playing that goes on, but—where might you figure the erotic charge in a sadomasochistic relationship lies?

MG Oh, because it’s the desire for such total union, total impact.

I think she thinks we're stuck in that Haddaway song. (I'm sorry it's in your head now.)

I think she thinks we’re stuck in that Haddaway song. (I’m sorry it’s in your head now.) (credit)

I don’t have practical experience–I’m a big Hermione and only have theoretical knowledge in this arena, but it seems to me from what I’ve read and the way I personally feel about …certain activities… that sadists and masochists can touch one another just fine. I certainly desire all sorts of stimulation and would feel connected in different ways through different types.

I do like the phrasing of ‘breaking into a another person’ though for me I think of mental domination working that way more than anything physical. I’m not remotely sadistic though, so I would love to hear from someone in that camp.

Mostly it sounds like someone who doesn’t understand there are different forms of intimacy and that S/M is just one form. Breaking someone down and taking care of them is highly intimate (if it’s not I don’t know what is). Making lurve on a bearskin rug in front of a roaring fire with Barry White on the hi-fi isn’t the only way to be intimate with someone.

I do wonder what sort of response Gaitskill received from the kink community after this interview was published and if her opinions on the matter have evolved.