We at PHILTHY would hope that our readers know that we’re not exactly the type to shy away from (if not downright enjoy) a bit (or maybe more) of S&M (I mean, we’re called PHILTHY, for fuck’s sake.) However, we’d like to think that we have at least slightly discerning taste. Well, apparently, many (I’m guessing mostly white and almost entirely suburban) are queuing up for Cupid’s big day by buying advance tickets for the movie version of Fifty Shades of Grey, a romantic tale of S&M whose pages soaked the cotton panties of millions of housewives nightly, as they recovered from soccer practices and PTA meetings, upon its release in 2011. The film hits theatres this Friday, February 13th, and has already broken Fandango’s record for advance ticket sales to an R-rated film in the site’s 15-years in existence, beating out Sex and the City 2 (I’m going to offer an educated guess that the majority of those who have already purchased tickets to the 50 Shades adaptation also quite enthusiastically snapped up early tickets for the Sarah Jessica Parker romcom.) And while I won’t pass judgment on the taste of others (Okay, that’s officially the biggest lie I’ve told in 2015), I do think that there are many examples of BDSM in film far more worth seeing than this cinematic appropriation of a book whose biggest distributor was (I’m guessing… educated-ly) supermarkets. My dear friend and fellow-PHILTHY staffer, LZ RN, agrees… So we’ve each come up with a list of five lovely and brilliant films that we would hope you would consider visiting, or re-visiting, in lieu of attending a megaplex screening of something that simply strives to be racier than The Good Wife… although perhaps not on Valentine’s Day… My list focuses on narratives that question the nuclear family and heteronormativity itself; the most obvious enemies of Sadists, Masochists, and fans of sexual bondage and discipline; but also the parallels between BDSM and contemporary Stockholm Syndrome, or a culture that craves to be the bitch of McDonald’s, Facebook, and iPhones… LZ RN’s list focuses on… Well, you’ll get to find out about that in the coming days…
5. Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! Pedro Almodovar (1990)
Before he eventually manifested himself as our generation’s most appealing “Latin lover” and a formidable Hollywood action hero – who could take your breath away with either a riply, yet endearing shirtless scene of female understanding or a twenty-minute, 10-million-dollar shoot-out sequence, Antonio Banderas first made a name for himself as a potent part of the ensemble cast of Almodovar’s early melodramas of the ironically camp variety. In this tale Banderas plays a former psychiatric patient who, in the tradition of a “man’s man” and flawless soap-operatic caricature, kidnaps the object of his affection… a former porn star with whom he imagines starting a nuclear family… He ties her to a bed, goes out of his way to steal the prescription drugs she’s addicted to, and allows her access to the pathetic nature of a former orphan willing to allow himself to be abused by the streets for the sake of the happiness of the adult entertainer he’s so long longed for… And they fall in love… Definitely the “cutest,” yet worth-seeing popular commentary on Stockholm Syndrome…
4. Nowhere Gregg Araki (1997)
By the mid-90s medium-light S&M had become more or less the official foreplay of sexually alternative, angst-driven youth whose lives were soundtracked by Industrial and Shoegaze masterminds like Ministry and Slowdive. And this third and final entry to Araki’s Teen Apocalypse Trilogy chronicles the Book of Revelation as it might have played out among youth subcultures of 1990s Los Angeles. It has been described as “90210 on acid,” but I really feel like it could be more accurately assessed as Clueless on Ecstasy.
3. Videodrome David Cronenberg (1983)
David Cronenberg’s most critically renowned effort is, perhaps, the most progressive film ever made about S&M. The film also utilizes Sadism and Masochism as manifestations of Stockholm Syndrome even more poignantly than The Night Porter, Liliana Cavani’s wonderfully controversial tale of love occurring between one inhabitant-of and one employee-of a concentration camp. This eloquent fable of postmodernity and quintessential effort of Body Horror, tells of a time when sins of the true flesh are no longer adequate for satisfying the most progressive individuals of our time, whom only slavery to the highest technologies of the era can satiate a desire to be “in touch” with the world. While Videodrome is regarded as a classic of the “Sci-Fi” variety, it currently reads as more of contemporary cultural criticism… I’ve often described it as, “The best film ever made about Facebook.”
2. Belle de jour Luis Bunuel (1967)
The most conventionally pretty and classically well executed cinematic narrative revolving around BDSM follows Catherine Deneuve, the world’s most beautiful Blonde With a Brain, as she plays the part of the privileged yet dissatisfied wife of a doctor, whose only sexual satisfaction had thus far come in the form of fantasies involving cuckoldry, coprophilia, and relatively hardcore discipline. Her solution? Become a daytime hooker at a high class brothel, where she can still partake in the kinds of passionate abuse that gets her off, while still allowing her to return home, unsuspected, to the kind of husband who could indulge her in the threads that Bunuel reached out to Yves St. Laurent to design.
1. Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom Pier Paolo Pasolini (1975)
… Not to be a cliché, but it’s hard to imagine a more eloquent (if fecal-play, rape, genital mutilation, and murder could ever be described as “eloquent”) assessment of Sadism than a literal adaptation of its namesake by one of the 20th century’s greatest filmmakers, novelists, poets, and philosophers. Standing on the shoulders of Dante, Nietzsche, and Proust (among many intellectually intimidating others, possibly none more so than Sade himself), Pasolini posits the abuse of the masses by elite libertines – with nothing to lose – as being analogous to those in power who dictate our taste in fast food and marriage-worthy partners. The film, regarded as the medium’s most difficult to watch of all-time, more succinctly sums up our desire to please those above us and willingness to sell-out those that are in our own secondary positions better than any contemporary commentary on consumer culture, smart phones, or the social media that allows us to feel as though we are ultimately contributing to the very spectacles of leisure that serve as our greatest oppressor, but that we are more than happy to live within.