My review for the 1983 Tinto Brass release The Key is up over at Screenjabber.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
ON THE SURFACE – Young boy Josh Baskin wishes he were older… And then finds out his wish comes true.
SCRAPING THE BARREL – Young boy Josh Baskin wishes he were with an older woman… And then finds out his wish comes true. 1988 film Big is about the realities of age gaps in relationships. Don’t get me wrong, age certainly is nothing but a number (in my book anyway) but sometimes it really is, well, your age. Josh (David Moscow and Tom Hanks) wants an older girl and bags one in the form of Susan (Elizabeth Perkins), who doesn’t half act like the cat that got all the cream with her new younger catch. And whilst they clearly do have fun (going dancing, visiting the fair), age related cracks in the relationship start to appear. He is fanatical about toys and loves playing with them; she is a grown up cynic who only see’s their monetary value. She has a double bed; he has bunk beds. He likes Pepsi, trampolines and plastic rings; she prefers champagne, parties and proper gold jewellery. It’s not that they don’t have fun or get along, but it is a bit creepy when you take the virginity of someone who’s a third of your age. Especially when your ex (John Heard with all the bitterness of someone being dumped for a younger, better model of themselves) knows about it. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how good he is, the amount of youthful energy he has, how beautiful he makes you feel or how much he idolises your breasts (especially with the lights on!!), when you’re fucking a minor that still lives at home, sometimes you have to draw a line in the sand and move on… Or drop him home. In your car. Because he’s too young to learn how to drive.
Duped into watching this by believing there was a lot more to it than there actually was, Swedish flick Ann and Eve is less your standard softcore romp and more a boring, somewhat bizarre narrative that includes the odd bit of bonking and a satirical comment on film journalism.
Marie Liljedahl is Eve, young and soon to be married. Before she marries her childhood sweetheart, she accompanies Ann (Gio Petre), a bitchy lesbian journalist, on a holiday to Greece where she is encouraged and persuaded to have an affair. And, after much protest, she eventually gives in, bedding a large number of men and women in disappointing off camera scenes or highly stylised out of focus shots (as in literally not seeing anything). Add to that disjointed scenes with a Greek singer which feel completely out-of-place, a confusing did she/didn’t she murder plot and a weak attempt at a scathing jab at the role of film critics in the filmmaking world and you have one extremely dull movie.
Worth giving a miss and seeking out another Liljedahl vehicle Eugenie… The Story of her Journey into Perversion instead.
By the end of the 1970s, director Norman J. Warren was more well-known in Britain as a homegrown horror director, having established his career with the features Satan’s Slave, Terror and Prey. But 1979 saw Warren return to the genre that kick started his career, the sexploitation film, with Spaced Out (aka Outer Touch), his first British sex film since 1968’s Loving Feeling.
Spaced Out, a zany sex-comedy, see’s an alien ship inhabited by three female-like humanoids crash-land on Earth (Clapham Common no less…) after suffering engine malfunctions. Sadly for them, their emergency rest stop was witnessed by a few individuals who they take as prisoners to be ‘experimented’ on; an engaged couple called Oliver (Barry Stokes) and Prudence (Lynne Ross), older peeping tom Cliff (Michael Rowlatt) and sex-obsessed, masturbation addicted teenager Willy (Tony Maiden). Hi-jinks and hilarity ensues as the aliens try to find out as much as they can about their captives whilst also learning about human sexual relations…
Spaced Out is a fun feature to watch and an interesting comedic counterpoint to Warren’s earlier sexploitation films, Loving Feeling and Her Private Hell, which are more serious and downbeat in their tone. After turning down work for fear of being pigeon holed as a director, Warren was persuaded to take on the picture which was originally a script entitled S.E.C.K, standing for Close Encounters of the Sexual Kind. Eventually re-titled, the picture was released in August 1979 as Outer Touch, a title perfectly encompassing the major theme of the film (the film became known as Spaced Out after Miramax picked the feature up at the 1979 Cannes Film Festival for US distribution, where it was re-cut and given new music and voiceovers).Whilst the aliens are completely out of touch and new to human sexual practices, the human characters themselves are also at a total loss with each other. Ross and Stokes are a frigid couple struggling to find a happy medium (‘When we’re married Ollie, you can have it as much as you want… On Saturday nights anyway’ ), Rowlatt is the experienced older man who thinks he can handle women and Maiden is the teenager who has yet to touch anything other than himself (‘I’ve gone blind! They told me it was an old wives tale!’).
The film’s enjoyability is largely thanks to a relatively good cast willing to work with the little luxuries they’ve been given (the spaceship itself, at times, was nothing more than plastic sheeting draped over scaffolding, whilst exterior shots of it travelling through space were shots culled from television series Space 1999). Stokes, Ross and Rowlatt are good in their roles but it’s the rest of the cast that outshines them. The three aliens are terrifically played by Kate Ferguson, Ava Cadell (Confessions of a Window Cleaner) and Glory Annen (Felicity, Prey). Each really make the role their own with defined personalities in a film type which, lets face it, doesn’t really ask for much. The real stand-out is Tony Maiden as Willy, whose teenage virgin is in fact ‘the most advanced body in the universe’. Full of one-liners that the other characters could sometimes do with, Maiden becomes the hero of the entire film, enlightening all three of his alien captors. Special mention also goes to Bill Mitchell as the voice of the ships Wurlitzer, an exasperated sex therapist that you can’t help but feel sorry for.
A marvellous counterpart to Warren’s earlier sexploitation films, Spaced Out is deserving of its status as a cult classic which may look slightly dated but has humour that still translates today.
With the tagline ‘Is 15 1/2 too young for a girl?’, Gerry O’Hara’s All The Right Noises was bound to cause a wee stir upon its release in 1971. A British film backed by 20th Century Fox in the days before the withdrawal of American funding in British film production, the feature tells the story of a married family man (played by Tom Bell) who has an adulterous affair with a fifteen year old girl (played by the naturally beautiful Olivia Hussey).
Play out with some sympathy towards its topic, the picture feels somewhat dated upon viewing now but it is lovely to watch a film like this, one that doesn’t sensationalise the subject matter like other exploitation fare would have. Hussey is delightful to watch as a young girl in love with someone she shouldn’t be, her nerves showing in her body movements, scared at intruding into the family home that she isn’t a part of and showing slight sadness towards a wife she knows she is disrespecting. Bell fares somewhat less well, not quite displaying the conflict that a man in his position might be feeling honestly. Compared to Hussey’s sincerity in her portrayal of a girl aware she is worth more than the role of a mistress, Bell seems slightly two-dimensional.
Sadly for the film it was shelved after production and wasn’t released until two years later, quickly becoming something of a forgotten British gem. Well worth seeking out, it is refreshing to see a film that neither completely sympathises nor condemns its characters behaviour. No-one here is completely right or wrong, merely human beings displaying the realities of human error. A wonderful addition to the BFI Flipside label.