Now that all the hoopla surrounding the film adaptation of E.L. James’ BDSM book for ladies who lunch has died down (or rather tanked if you read the Rotten Tomatoes reviews) let’s get down and dirty real. Long before there were “50 Shades” teddy bears and “50 Shades” cookbooks (“50 Shades of Kale”? WTF?) there were movies that actually dealt with the subject of sadomasochism from a non-“Twilight” perspective. So as a longtime film critic and the author of “Under My Master’s Wings” – an erotic memoir about my time spent as the personal slave to a gay for pay stripper – I feel it’s my duty to offer five cinematic suggestions that go beyond bondage bears and kinky kale.
“Marnie”. This is quite simply one of the greatest B&D pics of all time. Artfully disguised as a psychosexual thriller, Hitchcock’s 1964 classic is actually kin to “The Story of O” with Hedren’s O-like Marnie at the sole mercy of Sir Connery’s sexy daddy (think Sir Stephen). Reduced to being trapped like a wild animal to be broken and trained, owned and cared for, Marnie eventually becomes the Connery character’s wife/slave. (Now that’s some hot Hitchcock!)
“Maîtresse”. How often do you get Barbet Schroeder, Gerard Depardieu and Nestor Almendros together to shoot a film about a burglar who ends up falling in love with the dominatrix whose dungeon he’s unwittingly tried to rob? ‘Nuff said. Go watch Schroeder’s thoroughly 70s flick.
“Tokyo Decadence”. Ryu Murakami’s 1991 jewel is one of my all-time favorite S&M flicks, not least because Miho Nikaido gives a refreshingly understated performance as Ai, a professional slave/call girl whose highly erotic acts of submission blew the mind of even this hardcore pervert. No need to “act sexy” if the script calls for your character to be forcibly fitted with a vibrator while being degraded at the hands of a sadistic yakuza john. (And Nikaido sizzles in collar and heels.)
“The Piano Teacher”. Charlotte Gainsbourg at the beck and call of Lars von Trier in “Nymphomaniac” is no match for Isabelle Huppert under director Michael Haneke’s strict hand. As the piano professor Erika, whose sexual repression leads to a sadomasochistic spiraling downwards, Huppert doesn’t create a character so much as stage a slow-motion, human car wreck. By this 2001 film’s shocking end, we’re liable to view the heroine’s fate as an existential mercy killing.
“Secretary”. At the other end of the spectrum lies Steven Shainberg’s 2002 indie hit in which Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character gets released from a mental institution only to land a job as secretary to James Spader’s sexy sadistic lawyer – the original! – Mr. Grey. Based on a short story by Mary Gaitskill “Secretary” manages to be both a heartwarming romantic comedy and a cinematic tribute to the healing power of S&M.