Tag Archives: Homosexuality

More Than A Woman – Barbet Schroeder’s ‘Maitresse’ (1976)

28 May

Maitresse is quite possibly one of the sexiest films I have ever seen. Not because of its explicitness, the actors or the themes it explores, but rather because of its natural tone and lack of judgment. Directed by the French Barbet Schroeder, Maitresse tells the tale of a chance encounter between ‘normal’ man and small time crook Olivier (Gerard Depardieu) and dominatrix Ariane (Bulle Ogier). Olivier is both smitten with Ariane and interested in the sadomasochistic world in which she operates and is eventually asked to move in and live with her as her lover. Schroeder’s aim was to create a vision that showed a non-judgemental exploration of this side to human sexuality and so unravels the story of the pair who struggle to come to terms with the power roles evident in their blossoming relationship.

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The key to this developement is casting. When we first meet Olivier, he is a cocky motorcycle driver in need of a quick buck and a floor to sleep on. A big guy, he looks like he can definitely hold is own against anyone, especially Ariane, who on first appearance looks like a delicate waif in serious need of some clichéd gender role help. He’s trying to con her out of money with door to door sales and her bathroom taps wont stop running. Invited into her flat to help her sort out her plumbing, she lets slip that her neighbour below is away, and so Olivier and his accompanying friend break in to the empty flat hoping to find something valuable. Concealed in the darkness like a dirty secret, what they do find is of no value to them but to a dominatrix and her clientage is utterly priceless; heels, whips, masks, latex suits, bottles, dummies, gloves and costume to name but a few things.

It is at this point that we get to finally meet the real Ariane. After discovering a man tied up in the flat, neon lights flood the darkness and a futuristic staircase descends from the ceiling. Slowly walking down comes Ariane whose composure is the complete opposite of the woman we were introduced to a scene earlier. No longer ‘helpless’ and rushed, she is cool and composed, made up in a stunning outfit (the costumes were designed by Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld) with pristine hair and makeup and, most importantly, both confident and in complete control. Unsurprised to see Olivier and his friend, she emasculates them by handcuffing them to a radiator making them dependent on her and rendering their earlier attempt at ‘rescuing’ her totally redundant. After a few moments, she persuades Olivier to work for her knowing he needs the money and after an encounter between them and a client of hers, his interest in Ariane blossoms.

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After spending the night together in a moment that seems both honest and rather sweet, their relationship begins and so do Olivier’s attempts to change the power balance between the pair. Ogier plays Ariane beautifully, both complex in character and yet quite simply portrayed on-screen. Ariane likes her job and knows what she is doing. She certainly has no will to want to give it up and has managed to effectively control everything around her; her telephone lines, what her venus fly traps eat on which days, when she stops and starts work, what she and Olivier do, what Olivier wears… When she is made up and in control, no one can stand in her way and yet she manages to afford herself moments of vulnerability and worry, especially when it comes to the welfare and wellbeing of her young son. She seems to genuinely care for Olivier, and yet he struggles to see her for who she really is. Over time he trys to change her so that he is in some way in control of her and she submissive to him. Yet no matter how much time he puts into this, he is unable to see that the power roles are very defined between the two of them and have been since day one. She will always be in control of him, and he will always need her, whether it be for love, money, a play to stay, attention, food, work or sex. Even at the end of the film where she leaves him and deliberately leaves no new address or number for her, he goes on a search of possible places she could be until he finds her. Just like a client of hers, he could not let go of her, even though it is clear that he is out of his depth when it comes to Ariane and her ‘world’ (he struggles to understand her or her clients motivation, their desire, what she gets out of her job, where role games begin and end, and where he sits amongst the other men in her life), ultimately ending up resenting it where he once held captivated interest.

As a director, Schroeder wanted his exploration into the sadomasochistic world of domination to be as real and as natural as possible and enlisted the services of a real Parisian dominatrix who helped to supply on-set advice and also some of her own equipment. He also used a few of her real-life clients in certain scenes, who were, apparently, more than willing to co-operate (some supposedly even paid for the privilege of being involved). The most notable of these is the gentleman who has nails hammered through his scrotum and into a plank of wood. This was all done on-screen and absolutely for real, although not done by Ogier herself. According to Schroeder, ‘The man who did that was actually a very real, very rich man. We were drinking champagne together and laughing half an hour after shooting the scene’. Just as it would be in life, nothing is staged. Bodies are stretched, men are chained up and ridden, nipples pierced, people are spanked and whipped so hard that during the course of the scenes you can see welt marks and the participants skin going red and quivering.

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Unsurprisingly Maitresse was originally refused a certificate by the BBFC when it was first submitted in 1976 for release. The scenes of torture and fetishism were in the words of the BBFC itself ‘miles in excess of anything we have ever passed in this field’, although they agreed that Schroeder’s picture was well made and not exploitative. During 1980 it played in a handful of club cinemas in the country (as it could not be played publicly) and was eventually re-examined, cut by five minutes (especially the aforementioned scrotum scene) and given an X certificate (which it also received in the United States). Finally re-submitted again in 2003, it was given an 18 certificate and had all its previous cuts waived for release. Whilst one can understand why the BBFC cut what they did, it’s very jarring that they kept in a genuine abattoir slaughter of a horse which is in fact quite distressing and probably more uncomfortable to watch than the S&M scenes themselves.

Where critics found it ‘perverted‘ and ‘sordid‘, Schroeder maintained that the film was ‘an extremely healthy movie… joyous and life-affirming’. It’s impossible to not agree with the director based on this statement. Maitresse is a perfect example of putting the ‘human’ back in human sexuality on-screen. The beauty of human sexuality is the large spectrum of which is encompasses, and just because something may not be considered the ‘norm’ or a mainstream desire, does not mean that it is ultimately depraved. In the same way that 2002 release Secretary positively depicted the role of S&M in relationships, Maitresse shows how complex and beautiful the relationship between two people can be when based on ultimate desire, faith and trust. Far from depraved or abnormal, the film is in fact an unconventional love story composed of several small interlocking stories of love which all explore the idea of power play which is evident in all relationships (in a similar way that 9 1/2 Weeks explores this on a much smaller level in the one relationship of its leads).  As much as many people would probably like to debate it, the themes in Maitresse are in fact very domestic and very ‘every day’.

Eventually Ariane and Olivier find some sort of understanding and equality in the films last scene, a happy ending of sorts in which the couple finally come to some sort of understanding of their relationship and the power play between them. By far one of the kinkiest films I have ever seen but also one of the most honest and intellectual, Maitresse really is a feature worth watching for the terrific character study between the two leads.

Radley Metzger Interview

22 Feb

Last week I had the pleasure of interviewing erotica director extroadinaire Radley Metzger for my friends over at Cigarette Burns to celebrate the restored and remastered releases of his films Camille 2000, Lickerish Quartet and Score on the Arrow label. Well worth buying, these Blu Ray’s are packed with extras and the restoration quality is top of the range. Many thanks to Cigarette Burns and Will Taylor for their help with setting it up!

Back To School – John D Lamond’s ‘The ABC Of Love and Sex: Australia Style’ (1978)

1 Sep

Australian director John D. Lamond, fresh from having recently shot the mondo-style documentary Australia After Dark, found himself in the difficult territory of coming up with a second feature in the late 1970s. And so, having done the sexploitation documentary, moved directly onto the next logical step, in the guise of an ‘educational’ sexploitation flick. Step forward 1978 release The ABC Of Love and Sex: Australia Style, an adult softcore, sex-ed picture exploring every aspect of human sexuality.

And ABC literally is what it says on the tin. Opening with a sweet stop motion animation of a teacher running through sex education with his students, the picture goes from A is for anatomy through to C for contraception (‘the tool of permissive society’), H for homosexuality and even R is for rape. Each letter is followed up with a cutesy vignette exploring the scenario with some lightly erotic scenes and a few good-looking actors, through animation, naughty dialogue, situation segments and porn. Oh, and some large inflatable contraceptive pills, genitals and building blocks for good measure.

It’s a testament to the efforts of Lamond in trying to make the film a slightly different type of sexploitation picture that ABC manages to still feel fresh thirty years later. It does provide some sexy, if not softcore, moments whilst delivering some genuinely interesting facts and figures about human sexuality that, whilst may now be somewhat dated, are revelatory to people who maybe haven’t cared to look at sex with that much depth before. Throw in a Swedish professor providing some psychosexual insight and the odd, borderline hardcore scene (shot in Sweden when Lamond went there to blow up Australia After Dark from 16mm to 35mm and initially cut from the original release) and you have a tongue-in-cheek sexploitation documentary that has a really sweet charm to it.

Nightcall – Curt McDowell’s ‘Thundercrack!’ (1975)

30 Jun

Where does one begin with a film like Thundercrack!? In all honesty, I’m not quite sure where, because the film feels like a dense two-hour plus epic of bizarre proportions. Once seen, definitely never forgotten. Essentially Thundercrack! is an ‘old dark house’ horror story with a tonne of gratuitous hardcore sex scenes thrown in for, what feels like some very strange, fun. Directed by Curt McDowell and written by Mark Ellinger and George Kuchar (the well-known American underground and avant-garde filmmaker), the feature is beautifully shot in black and white with frames composed to highlight the physical and mental mess of the characters minds and lives. Mess I might add is a bit of an understatment.

This is an entry I’ll keep incredibly brief because the film is one that really has to be seen to be believed. Do you like weird, quirky, sexual films with a heavy B-movie aesthetic even though the flick is question is probably lower than B on the movie scale? Great! This one is definitely for you. With a varied amount of highly strung and very over the top characters (Mrs Gert Hammond in particular), weird-multi stranded narratives and enough sex to shake your stick at, you can see why this film is a bit of a cult favourite. Not to mention one that has been unavailable in parts of the world until late because of its content (lots and lots of lovely hardcore shots including vaginal penetration, anal penetration, sex toys, erections, masturbation, oral sex, ejaculation…). Throw in a generous dash of black humour (very fake flashbacks, paper sets, someone inadvertently masturbating someone else, an incident with a gorilla…) and you’ve got an unforgettable film that is well worth picking up.

‘Island of Death’ (1975) review

7 Mar

Where exactly do you begin with a film like Island of Death (Mastorakis, 1975)? Widely banned because of its content, if one film is going to make you wonder why on earth you sat down to watch something it’s going to be this. I was intrigued. So many people had told me to give it a go, ‘I think you’d really like it’ was the phrase mostly used. And so I gave in… And I’m still wondering why I bothered, and still trying to work out why so many people thought I’d really dig it (Answers on a postcard please). It’s not that the film was bad (although arguably many people won’t like it because of its themes), I’ve seen a lot worse, but it wasn’t any good either. It was just weird. Really weird.

Island of Death concerns a young married couple, Christopher and Celia, who go on holiday to a Greek island. Whilst looking relatively normal, normal isn’t a word they clearly understand and instead they slowly start killing off people they don’t like in a bid to rid the island of perversion and make it pure again. This is a little strange because they don’t come across as being overly religious either but since when did plot details start to become important to bad movies?

In fact, that’s the issue with Island of Death. There isn’t much of a plot, more like a threadbare story created to link together shocking set pieces (a little like the Saw franchise but less gory and a lot stranger…). So you get a scene like Christopher humping a goat because Celia is too tired to have sex with him (this is why so many of you told me to watch it isn’t it…). Or Christopher crucifying and poisoning a painter the couple befriend after he’s had sex with Celia. They kill a gay couple, a drug addicted lesbian barmaid, an older female socialite (with a pretty neat and inventive beheading scene involving a bulldozer). You get the idea. Pretty much anyone on the island they can kill, they do. Christopher also happens to be a photographer and likes to photograph scenes of the crime, both during and after, to masturbate over later. Sadly, there’s so much going on during the film that these scenes just aren’t as shocking as maybe the production team had hoped they’d be. It’s a bit like that saying, too many cooks spoiling the broth. At what point does shocking become not shocking? When you watch Island of Death.

Making a list of everything controversial about the film doesn’t really prepare you for the film itself. I’ll say it again, the film isn’t bad. It has some dodgy acting (what exploitation film doesn’t?!), some really cheesy one-liners (‘God punishes perversion. And I am his angel with the flaming sword sent to kill dirty worms!’) and some unintentionally hilariously awful scenes, such as an incredibly unsexy sex scene in a phone booth (True Romance did it better) and some fellatio techniques on a gun (Beyond the Valley of the Dolls did it better). The problem is it isn’t very good either but somehow has a bizarre charm about it, probably down to the cinematically naive director Nico Mastorakis biting at some big ideas he didn’t quite know how to chew.

Island of Death is a film that you can’t turn off, something about it is compelling and makes you watch it all the way to the end. It doesn’t repel you, it doesn’t make you laugh, it’s just a very strange film. I defy anyone who watches it to not feel confused, a little dazed and (although no one will admit to it) a little turned on. By the time you get to the final fifteen minutes of the film and find out that Christopher and Celia are brother and sister, it doesn’t surprise you. In fact, one you start watching the film you realise that it could throw anything at you and you wouldn’t be surprised. Hell, the only surprise for me is the fact that I don’t know how to write about it!

Island of Death is just… weird. If you like weird then maybe watch it once in your life. If you’re completely narrow-minded, easily offended and live in a sterile bubble of a life, I wouldn’t bother. The film stays with you, for days. If not forever…

About Sex, But Not – ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge’ (1985)

11 Feb

ON THE SURFACE – Jesse moves to Elm Street and begins to question his sanity when serial killer Freddy Krueger starts haunting his dreams.

SCRAPING THE BARREL – Jesse moves to Elm Street and begins to question his sexuality when men, especially Freddy Krueger, start haunting his dreams. Now this is another one that no-one can question me on, it’s so obvious and legendary that it’s written into pop-culture history and film lore. Where A Nightmare on Elm Street is about teenage anxieties over starting sexual relationships and losing your virginity, Freddy’s Revenge is all about one boy’s struggle to come to terms with his own sexuality. Jesse’s repressed homosexuality is written all over his subconscious, just check out his dream at the start of the film where he’s in a school bus with girls  and he’s banging on the windows to get out. Oh, and the phallic imagery of his daydream where the snake wraps itself around him almost choking him… Then there’s his gym teacher who seems to have the eye for him, bumping into him in an S&M bar which results in Jesse sadistically tying him up and killing him. Or is it Freddy using Jesse to eliminate potential competition so they can be alone? Lets not forget the pivotal moment in the film, Jesse’s aborted make out session with his girlfriend Lisa which see’s him fleeing to his best friend and crush Ron in the middle of the night for an impromptu sleepover. Spare a thought for poor Freddy at the end of the film. Despite all his stalking and killing for Jesse, it turns out he’s not even Jesse’s type.

About Sex, But Not – ‘ThunderCats’ (1985-1990)

7 Sep

ON THE SURFACE – An animated television series in which a group of cat-like humanoid aliens have adventures on the planet Third Earth.

SCRAPING THE BARREL – An animated television series in which a group of cat-like humanoid aliens represent different aspects of sexuality. Created as a children’s television show which always ended on a moral lesson being learnt, ThunderCats also provides a long-running subconscious teaching of sex, sexuality and sexual relationships. Need proof? Go back and watch your DVD box sets. Lion-O and his character stand for adolescent sexuality; all he wants to do is lose his virginity (pass his Anointment and become Lord of the ThunderCats). Desperately trying to get attention by getting into all sorts of scrapes and wanting to act and become older than he is, Lion-O just wants to join the big boy club. Having woken from his suspended animation in an adult body (gone through puberty), Lion-O now has to let his younger mind catch up (understand those sexual urges). Like many men struggling with their new-found manhood, Lion-O is a little preoccupied with his penis, frequently getting erections and ejaculating (Sword of Omens, ‘Thunder, Thunder, ThunderCats, HO!’). Cheetara and Tygra represent the sexually compatible couple who can’t keep their hands off of each other and are driven by sex. Note how many times they both disappear together… Who could also forget the episode in which Cheetara has her first ‘vision’? Go back and watch how she enlightens the rest of the group to the female orgasm in that scene. WilyKit and WilyKat are the two prepubescent members of the group enjoying their friendship before their hormones kick in, because we all know that when they do its going to get a little complicated… Lastly, Panthro represents homosexuality amongst the ThunderCats. Created in the mid 1980s when paranoia about AIDS was at its highest, note how, sadly, Panthro is left on his own most of the time. Wearing his bondage gear…