“It makes you feel so good that you can take it,” says one of the live-feed models after a particularly humiliating session in front of the camera. Her audience, at the height of Insex.com's popularity, where 35,000 members around the world readily parted with the $60 annual fee (and swore to be at least 18 years old) to watch nude young women be slapped, gagged, hogtied, strung up, probed with dildos or electricity in all available openings, made up, dressed down, hooded or subjected to a plain old-fashioned whipping. p.d. (standing for “punishment and discipline,” a.k.a. former Carnegie Mellon University professor Brent Scott), the artist/sadist behind the largely-successful enterprise would have devoted supporters and naysayers alike believe that his primary motivation is artistic expression in all of its painful glory.
To be sure, pain is at the root of a wide array of artistic works in all disciplines, but most of them don't offer an exceedingly-blissful orgasm as payoff to the performance (and not a few of the onlookers, methinks).
How to put this kind of activity into a movie that doesn't send viewers to the exits or cinemas to court? Ask Barbara Bell and Anna Lorentzon to take on the project.
When the two friends of p.d. (“We work so well together”) realized they hadn't the bankroll for a “fictional” feature, the documentary format was chosen—hopefully whetting a future executive producer’s appetite for much, much more of the comings and beatings that are at the core of the plentiful crowd who enjoy S&M and bondage.
The result is most certainly not for the squeamish. There are many scenes culled from the live-feed archives depicting all manner of systemic pain literally handed out by Scott to his “models.” At $300 per hour, they are reticent to blurt out their “safe word” (frequently just a pre-arranged guttural grunt in case the gags being employed preclude regular speech). There is also much pride at stake: Oh the shame of walking off camera if the bruises became too ugly or the nipple-pulling unbearable with thousands of onlookers witnessing that weakness and, perhaps, losing their, er, interest …
Time after time, the supplicants are filmed agreeing to “take” all of the acts that will follow, often holding up legal identification to further prove their willingness to participate in an edgy, artistic experience—not just becoming a plaything of their master.
The point is also made that a large segment of the human race revels in violence, horror and sexual boundary-pushing (the quick montage of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, NHL fighting and a take-no-prisoners video game succinctly backs up that assertion).
Yet when a previously agreed upon boundary is crossed (no face slapping), the Asian-American performer’s tears and p.d.’s bullying give indisputable testimony to the fact that his artistic obsession is a false front for wielding the colour of money to satisfy his own cravings (power, domination, sex) ahead of all others.
Bringing both worlds of artistic magnificence and caged submission together is Moonshine. She sings “Ach, ich fühl's, es ist verschwunden” (“Ah I know it, all is gone now”)—appropriately Pamina’s aria of despair from Mozart’s The Magic Flute. It’s a compelling image as below her (they are both suspended) another woman, forlornly baring all, is trapped in a cage that appears to have no escape.
Imagine a fully-staged version of Mozart’s magical tale done up à la bondage. Would there be an empty seat? JWR