Tag Archives: Sadomasochism

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.

The Hell Of It – Bitto Albertini’s ‘Black Emanuelle 2’ (1976)

3 Jan

Quite aptly for me, Black Emanuelle 2 (aka The New Black Emanuelle) opens with a statement by Freud that best describes my experiences in watching the Emanuelle/Emmanuelle films; ‘The sickness that disturbs me most is myself’. As someone who pretty much can’t stand the plethora of Emanuelle/Emmanuelle films that have been made, I sure as hell make sure I watch a lot of them. And, in this instance, I have some positive motive to. Bitto Albertini’s 1975 release Black Emanuelle, a semi-blaxsploitation spin on the original French Emmanuelle feature, is the only Emanuelle related film to date that I like. In this picture, actress Laura Gemser brings a sensual and human quality to the character that Sylvia Kristel’s version lacked in buckets. So you can imagine my excitement when I found out that director Albertini had done a sequel the following year…

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A sequel that lacks Gemser’s appearance. In Black Emanuelle 2, our titular lead is played by Israeli actress Shulamith Lasri (under the rather Western name of Sharon Lesley) with the story finding supermodel Emanuelle stuck in a Manhattan psychiatric clinic with a bad case of amnesia. Amnesia that can only be cured through Freudian disciplines that evoke a tonne of sexual flashbacks. Only Emanuelle’s version of events seem to differ greatly from the version expressed by the other person involved. Did her friend really take advantage of her? Is her father really an alcoholic molester? Quite frankly, I don’t care. A softcore porno with a lead that is clearly suffering from some form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or a Schizoid-type of mental illness doesn’t really get my rocks off. Even if the film does include a bizarre scene with a male character using his erection to bench press a twelve pound weight (Am I impressed? No. Put some bloody clothes on).

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Unsurprisingly enough, Black Emanuelle 2 is Lasri’s only film credit and this her only entry in the Black Emanuelle films. There’s no denying she is a stunner, with a wonderfully curvaceous body to die for, she just isn’t Laura Gemser who really makes the role her own. When you think of Black Emanuelle, you think of Gemser, and whilst Lasri certainly tries her best, Gemser never really had to. She just had it. As the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it…

The Night Porter (1974) review

11 Jul

A strong film with a rather unfortunate weak ending, Liliana Cavani’s 1974 release The Night Porter is certainly a film that will stay in your mind once viewing. Tackling sexual power play, politics and psychology, Cavani’s feature is a complicated piece that asks more questions than it answers but presents a very conflicted picture. What would you do if your torturer and lover turned up in your life again over a decade later from when you first saw them? Water under the bridge or a broken dam about to inflict some serious damage?

Set in 1957 in post-war Vienna, our two leads, Max (Dirk Bogarde) and Lucia (Charlotte Rampling), have been trying to rebuild their lives after being on opposing sides during World War II. Max is now a night porter at a grand hotel, working during the night to hide himself (and his shame) away from the majority of the world. During the War Max was a high ranking SS Officer, now trying to eliminate evidence which and witnesses who might possess incriminating details on him. Lucia is now married to a wealthy American conductor, but as a young girl was an imprisoned in a concentration camp. Whilst in the camp Max took a shine to her and it is implied that the reason for her survival could be down to the fact that he fell in love with her, calling Lucia ‘His little girl’.

And it is here that things start to get a little complicated. Lucia winds up staying at the hotel Max works at and as soon as they lay their eyes on each other memories start flooding back. Cleverly told from flashback, the audience gets to explore their relationship from its beginnings through to its ambiguously messy developments which eventually see Lucia seemingly willing to play some of Max’s games (the most memorable scene of which see’s Rampling singing to and seducing a bunch of officers in nothing but a few pieces of SS costume, her reward being the head of an inmate who bullied her).

It’s not long before the past catches up with the both of them and the two end up in a passionate embrace which brings about their torturous love affair all over again. With either unable to leave the past behind, Max takes Lucia and keeps her at his apartment where they continue to play the sadomasochistic games they once played years ago. A compulsive need to repeat the past? Perhaps, as neither Max nor Lucia appear to have truly been able to shake off their experiences, Lucia still vulnerable and impressionable and Max still deluded in his thought that he will once again regain the military title he used to have and see Nazi political power restored in Europe. It also poses an interesting portrait on Stockholm Syndrome, showing how psychologically complex the issue really is and yet how easy it can be for some victims to fall for their captors.

A film that will no doubt divide audiences, some of whom will find it nothing more than complete exploitation and sensationalism of two topics, Nazism and the Holocaust, and some who may even question why the film was so controversial upon its release in the first place. It remains however a very strong portrait on the psychology behind sexual power play and just how deep scars of personal experience can run. It’s ending is most certainly a letdown but leaves the door open for you to question yourself and come to your own conclusions as a viewer.

Ever Fallen In Love With Someone You Should’nt’ve – Jonathan Yudis’s ‘Pervert!’ (2005)

29 Feb

I bloody love Amazon. It recommends me all sorts of exploitation goodness and sexy stuff thanks to what I buy every month. Sometimes Amazon gets it completely wrong and sometimes Amazon hits the nail on the head so perfectly I want it in plush form so I can give it some massive cuddle. The latest gem it pointed out to me was the 2005 Russ Meyer tribute Pervert! directed by Jonathan Yudis.

The film see’s college student James (Sean Andrews) return to his family’s desert ranch to help out his father, Hezekiah (Darrell Sandeen), for the summer. James finds that Hezekiah has gotten remarried to the rather busty Cheryl (porn star Mary Carey) but it doesn’t take long for Cheryl and James to hook up, only for Hezekiah to find out and fight with his wife over it. Then Cheryl disappears… Old man Hezekiah returns home from town with another voluptuous broad attached to his arm, Alisha, who also quickly falls for James. Then one night Cheryl turns up and dies in front of James, the same night that Hezekiah finds Alisha dead. What follows is a bizarre romp including bouncing breasts, a witch doctor, sculptures made of meat and a homicidal penis.

Pervert! is a horror-comedy-sexploitation film that Film Threat is quoted as saying ‘Smells like Russ Meyer’. Except that it doesn’t just smell of Meyer, the film reeks of it and for all the best reasons. For the seasoned Meyer fan, the film is full of references that will make you squeal with delight. The film opens with a mad preacher introducing the story that reminds you of Mudhoney (1965) and the evangelical preacher of Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens (1979). Then there’s the desert ranch itself, a near copycat of the ranch in Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965), complete with its own water tank (and, yes, Yudis even includes a scene of his leading lady washing by it that is shot exactly like Meyer’s shots of Lori Williams and Tura Satana doing the same). Mary Carey even has a scene which completely takes Satana’s corn on the cob eating scene from Faster Pussycat! and raises the bar a good fifty miles in the air. Not content with keeping the Meyer references at that, Yudis includes desert shots that look like they could have been lifted from Cherry, Harry & Raquel! (1969) and Supervixens (1975) and a rattlesnake gag and cool pick up truck that wouldn’t be out-of-place in Motorpsycho (1965). Those were just the really obvious references, I couldn’t be bothered to list all of them when making notes!

It’s not just the very well done references to Meyer’s films that make the film so successful but the realised grindhouse/exploitation tone of the whole piece. The script is great, full of one liners and innuendo that are found across the sex comedy and sexploitation genre’s in general; ‘I’ve handled a lot of fruit in my time. It’s one thing I’ve never minded, it’s a little bruises and spots’ (Hezekiah when spanking Cheryl), ‘You’re a rotten constitution in the court of man!’. There is, of course, plenty of nudity with female forms that hark back to a time when stick thin wasn’t the ‘in thing’ and breasts that Meyer would obviously stamp with a seal of approval. In other words, beautiful, bouncy and big. Even the film’s opening, with the grainy and faded logo for production company Stag Films and campy Horny-14 (‘Approved for all perverts by the director of this film. Pregnant women and men with an erection at this point in the film should leave now.’) feels legitimately vintage in exploitation glory.

Let’s not forget to mention the acting which is tongue-in-cheek in all the right places. Andrews as Sean is fantastic playing the naive and possibly cursed (?) role that so many cute boys played in 60s/70s sex-horror films, all puppy dog eyes and innocence craving life experience. Carey is great as the spunky (excuse the pun) and sex-fuelled Cheryl, pulling the innocent girl next door card when necessary and who would have been a perfect Meyer candidate if we were still in the 70s. The rest of the female cast are also terrific, their slightly wooden delivery perfect for a film of this ilk with special mention going to Lucia whose role as the Uschi Digard/Kitten Natividad montage girl is nailed perfectly. Best of all is Sandeen as Hezekiah who is clearly channeling Stuart Lancaster’s role as The Old Man in Faster Pussycat! but still manages to put his own memorable spin on it.

The real star of the show, however, has to be the stop-motion murderous penis who wrecks havoc in the last half of the feature. This is definitely where Yudis’s previous experience working in comedy and animation really come to shine, the penis animated with much personality and a rough and ready style that suits the spirit and tone of the picture.All in all, a fabulous homage to the B-movies of sexploitation and horror and a wonderful tribute to the ‘King of the Nudies’ Russ Meyer, Pervert! is a must watch for any fan who enjoys what exploitation and grindhouse cinema used to bring to the big (and small) screen!

‘Rivelazioni di uno psichiatra sul mondo perverso del sesso’ (1973) review

24 Feb

I love recommendations, the chance to seek and hunt out films that you may never have found for yourself (although I’m still wondering why so many people thought I’d like Island of Death, blatantly the goat scene…). So when the lovely folk at VTSS sent me the present of an Italian film to watch, I was more than happy to give it a go. And with a title like Revelations of a Psychiatrist in the World of Sexual Perversion, I really could not wait…

So attempt number one came and then went rather abruptly. You see, Revelations… isn’t really a film with a plot but more of a chronicle of sexual perversions with a documentary feel. The overarching story is that the cases of sexual perversion are being discussed by a lecturer and his group of students. He reads off examples of each case and classmates discuss and debate, more in the tone that you are watching small filmic vignettes of Krafft-Ebing’s seminal piece of work ‘Psychopathia Sexualis’.

You can, then, imagine the type of stuff the film focuses on. Witness some bizarre scenes, like the man who likes to act and be treated like a dog, his face in a muzzle, nuzzling up to some pretty epic displays of 1970’s pubic topiary, or the woman who rubs a huge plush donkey up and down herself whilst masturbating. Yes, just like in Emanuelle in America there is a scene involving bestiality but that finishes almost as soon as it starts and if you can bear that for the sake of the rest of the film, you’re in for a treat (this is where attempt number one to watch the film stopped for me, when you’ve spent a week accidently stumbling upon things whilst doing research on a documentary on zoophiles, even this scene – which is rather tame I can bloody assure you – was enough…).

The rest of the film then explores other scenarios, perversions and fetishes. In your typical exploitation way you’ve got some glorified rape and a rather long but pretty good orgy sequence with a tonne of hardcore shots and lots of ejaculation. Add to that some slightly humorous escapades of individuals who like the thought of ironing out the female form (yes, a man, a prostitute and an iron…) and being a train. All of this, and more, interspaced between some genuine musings from the studies of Krafft-Ebing, Jung and Freud make for a rather interesting watch…

God, I love presents.

Love My Way – Jess Franco’s ‘Eugenie… The Story of her Journey into Perversion’ (1969)

11 Jan

Sex and horror have always been linked in film, going back to the literature that inspired the early Monster horror films of the 1920s and 30s. While the horror of films such as Dracula (1931) and Frankenstein (also 1931) can be read as analogies for the act of sex, homosexuality and the transmission of sexual diseases, few films have captured the emotion and feeling of horror that sex can arouse as perfectly as Jess Franco’s Eugenie… The Story of her Journey into Perversion (1969).

Influenced by the writer Marquis De Sade, the pictures limited plot surrounds members of a sadistic cult who live their life inspired by the author’s views on pleasure and pain. Cult member Marianne wants the titular Eugenie for herself and persuades the young girls Father to let her come and stay with her on her island. What follows is a weekend of sexual manipulation and mind games.

The film is compelling due to the relationship between the two female leads which drives the narrative. As Eugenie, Marie Liljedahl is perfect as the sexually innocent young girl on the cusp of womanhood. Liljedahl looks gorgeous and plays the role well, acting like a spoilt bratty teenager at the start of the film and quickly changing to a young woman of interest, keen to learn the ways of the world when she arrives at the island. The woman she idolizes, Marianne, is devilishly desirable and knows how to manipulate those around her to get what she wants. Played by Maria Rohm (who starred in Franco’s earlier effort 99 Women), whilst the film may be about Eugenie, it’s her you can’t take your eyes off, owning the entire film with her presence. The relationship between these two actresses is electric, a cross between sisterly love and admiration and lesbian sexual attraction.

It is this attraction and desire that Franco manages to convey extremely well. Whilst there really isn’t a lot of plot going on throughout the film, Franco maintains a decadent mood and feeling of a constant wanting of the body and its pleasures for the entire picture. The sex scenes feel very natural, as if the cast were really lusting after each other in reality and the audience had stumbled upon it. With Marianne there is a degree of sexual manipulation in every scene she has with Eugenie, and yet each moment they share is incredibly sensual that one forgets Marianne is using the poor girl. The bath scene the two characters share is a wonderful juxtaposition of the delicate and relaxed nature the two women have developed between each other and the actual calculating corruption of an innocent girl that is happening before our eyes, the eroticism so heavy that we forget.

Having said that, Eugenie isn’t all perfect. Where the relationship between her and Marianne starts off believable and seemingly complex, not enough happens for it to be convincing at the end that Eugenie would replace Marianne in the cult. Franco throws murder into the plot which could have driven the story to the depths of degradation and depravity, but instead the film seems to come undone in the third act. Eugenie seems a little too accepting once she has realised what has been happening to her. The end also employs a flashback device that shows that the story was actually all a dream of Marianne’s. What would have been far better would have been to end the film with Eugenie stuck on the island, having realised the estate is sealed off with barbed wire and found the graveyard where, presumably, other past members of the cult are now buried. What better way to continue the journey then to leave Eugenie alone with the bodies of those she killed whilst she deals with her horror and arousal at the corruption of her innocence.

Despite some blurry out-of-focus shots and some scenes of fetishism which don’t feel all too well staged, the film is generally a success. The supporting cast are okay, including Christopher Lee (who claimed he had no idea as to some of the content of the film despite a young woman in one scene getting down on her knees in front of his crotch…) as the cult leader and Jack Taylor as Rohm’s Step-brother lover and partner in crime. This is, by far, one of Franco’s better films and one that will stay with you after watching due to its evocative feel and photography. Few other films I have seen have so perfectly captured how pain and pleasure stem from each other and how the slope between them is a very slippery one. Or maybe it’s the portrayal of sexual manipulation that is so acute; we all know someone or have been in the situation where we are blinded by our lust or desire for someone and are theirs to bend and play with at will.

It could be that Franco was having the last laugh after all. Having worked in exploitation fare for most of his career, Eugenie presents an insightful and intelligent ending that is maybe overlooked. Having followed Eugenie on her journey with a voyeuristic stance, the audience are faced with an ending that feels slightly jarring because it transpires it was all fantasy and not reality. Maybe the reason that many don’t like this device is because they refuse to acknowledge that they too have been aroused by degradation and sadism. Maybe the beauty in Eugenie was not its soft focus aesthetics but how well Franco understands aspects of human sexuality.

‘Emanuelle in Prison’ (1983) review

14 Dec

God bless Laura Gemser’s intrepid investigative reporter Emanuelle, for it is her adventures in the Black Emanuelle spin-off films that provide the most entertainment out of the entire Emmanuelle/Emanuelle film series. Emanuelle in Prison (aka Emanuelle fuga dall’inferno, Emanuelle Escpaes From Hell) is the 1983 picture that see’s Gemser’s iconic portrayal transported to the realm of Women in Prison films.

After being sent to a Female prison and witnessing her fellow inmates being abused by the Guards, Emanuelle tries to blow the whistle on what really happened, only to be at the hands of the same wardens herself. She also has to deal with ‘Top Dog’ inmate Albina who is determined to put Emanuelle in her place. Eventually our protagonist begins to suspect that someone is trying to beat her down, someone possibly linked to the corrupt official she was trying to expose before being framed. Life in the prison is, however, interrupted when four male death row inmates break into the prison…

Cue violence, and plenty of it. No Women in Prison would be complete without a few bloody scenes and Emanuelle in Prison delivers throats being bitten out, torture, Russian roulette and razorblades being hidden inside inmate’s vaginas. Add to that a hefty dose of rape, sex being used by sex-starved prisoners as a prelude to murder, sadistic wardens, cat fights and lesbian sex, not to mention a large amount of cheesy dialogue to match, and you have your typical Women in Prison exploitation flick. Expect anything less?

Laura Gemser is, as always when playing Emanuelle, fantastic. It’s refreshing to see an Emanuelle film in which the Emanuelle character spends a lot of time off screen, not that this diminishes her impact or the character itself in any way. This was the last Emanuelle related film Gemser would do and it’s nice to see her play the role with a hardened and tougher exterior than in previous entries. Gabriele Tinti, another veteran of the Black Emanuelle film series and Gemser’s real life husband, is also memorable as the leader of the gang of male prisoners. Other notable’s are the other female inmates played by Maria Romano, Antonella Giacomini and Ursula Flores as Albina, who in one hilarious cat fight, gets her wig pulled off.

Italian director Bruno Mattei worked across many exploitation genres and his experience shows in Emanuelle in Prison. Known for working with and occasionally filling in for other Italian directors such as Lucio Fulci and Joe D’Amato (who directed many of the films in the Black Emanuelle film series), Mattei has directed one of the better Emanuelle films that were released in the 1970’s and 80s. Whilst certainly heavy on Women in Prison qualities, the film has a narrative and structure that makes the picture feel a little more than just another exploitation flick, and provides the character of Emanuelle with a perfect last outing.