by Rich Moreland, October 2013
An earlier post on these pages introduced a newly emerging adult film category I’ve identified as “submission pornography.” The subgenre takes the growing interest in BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism, masochism) and adds a storyline emphasizing romantic consensual elements. It’s Fifty Shades of Grey without the assumption that kinky people are psychologically damaged deviants who must be shown a better path to sex and love.
New Sensations’ The Submission of Emma Marx defines the intention of submission porn and is one of the best adult films I’ve seen. I evaluated the movie in three blog entries (August 2013) the reader can find under the title A Different Kind of Normal.
Here’s the tricky part with submission porn. Emma Marx’s writer and co-director Jacky St. James explains that balance is needed between BDSM as a “torture chamber” where “pain trumps the psychological” and the “connected relationships between doms and subs” that are more reciprocal and loving. Accomplishing this equilibrium is tough because a bondage film must include an effective mixture of fantasy and reality that doesn’t come across as a Marquis de Sade short story.
On the other hand, how does a writer/director authenticate bondage scenes and avoid the fluff and silliness that was the industry standard decades ago? I asked Jacky what she did to verify that Emma’s character was accurately presented.
Before getting to specifics she wanted to make a point. Jacky insisted that new ways of looking at BDSM are giving women the “opportunity to spread our wings.” There is little doubt today that a female porn audience is leaving the patriarchal nest and books like Fifty Shades have moved women forward at light speed. That alone is minimizing pain and the medieval rack.
And it created Emma.
Jacky then emphasized two concerns she considered most important in preparing to bring her vision from the writer’s pen to a well-produced DVD.
Personally unfamiliar with the BDSM scene, Jacky went to message boards within the kink community. She discovered that kinky people think BDSM films tend to be “extreme and violent” in portraying what bondage enthusiasts love so much. There is “little consideration” for describing “the psychological aspects” of what turns people on to that type of sexual relationship, she says. At that moment Jacky decided an accurate picture of one particular view of kinkiness would become her mission in writing Emma Marx.
Once that goal was established, Jacky moved to her second issue.
“Kinky somehow implies that it’s different than the norm or not standard practice,” Jacky says. “All sex should be normal provided it’s legal and between consenting adults.” Emma Marx clearly reveals that kinky has several definitions of normal.
A Penny for Success
Casting Penny Pax, a seasoned BDSM performer, in the lead role made Emma Marx one of the best films of 2013. “I worked with Penny on getting her to go to those dark emotional places,” Jacky mentions, and the petite twenty-something responded in spades. Penny’s energy for the type of sex she relishes (she has shot on several occasions at Kink.com) takes Emma Marx up several notches.
The script was constructed to induce Penny to animate her persona as a BDSM devotee. Jacky presented Emma’s growth in three sex scenes that highlight Penny’s talents. The first entailed Emma understanding what surrender means; the second was “an exploration” into bondage and discipline; and the third was her discovery that a BDSM relationship can bring sexual freedom and emotional liberation.
Involved in the planning process was the question of how to handle the film’s anal scene because Emma is persuaded to experiment with something she doesn’t thinks she wants. A woman-friendly point of view, albeit in a BDSM atmosphere, was the sought after benchmark. Jacky vehemently opposed a rough and violent act that focused on “crazy, insane thrusting” so common in anal gonzo. She insisted that the script develop an episode that is “less intimidating and more connected,” a kind of “romantic anal.” In short, it’s anal sex as a female viewer would experience it.
Throughout the filming Penny Pax was BDSM gold. Penny “was gung-ho about some of the more painful montage scenes we shot,” Jacky said, pointing out the clothespins on her breasts as an example. Jacky gave Penny, who markets herself as “Lil’ Miss Masochist,” the freedom to decide what she was “game to do” and what she preferred to avoid. That is real life BDSM.
Jacky St. James is the perfect script writer for submission porn. She likes the taboo element of pain and pleasure, but she wants to move it away from a Fifty Shades “weak female protagonist” who is consumed with “winning over the heart of a man as opposed to a fearless journey into the depths of her own sexuality.” And of course, the storyline must avoid gratuitous pain popular in some male-oriented entertainment.
Emma Marx’s timing is perfect. The Fifty Shades momentum is “mainstreaming BDSM,” Jacky believes. Women previously confined by vanilla definitions of sex are visiting female-friendly storefronts like Good Vibrations and attending Tupperware type parties to buy sex toys which now include ball gags, floggers, and leather restraints. Pornographers are poised to market their video products to these same women, cultivating the further growth of submission porn.
Jacky St. James is a feminist who believes that her spin on feminism is “critical to the adult genre.” Putting women in the XXX driver’s seat is her goal. Composing scripts, directing, and producing can be profitably forged from a female viewpoint. Despite old sex-negative feminists who have circumscribed female sexuality as docile and soft, Jacky assures us that a woman’s desires can be as hardcore as a man’s. Women don’t want to be limited by the overly romantic eroticism of decades ago that was quickly pigeon-holed as sex as a woman sees it.
Female porn, however, is not monolithic. Though approaches to the carnal may differ among feminist filmmakers, Jacky reinforces one important point. Women directors have more of an “equal focus on both sexes” when shooting the sex. With a few exceptions, feminist directors are going to minimize the gonzo aspects of cinematography. As Jacky puts it, there’s more to porn than “simply a woman and a penis.”
“The films I direct and write are absolutely feminist,” Jacky explains. That means finding performers who exude the feminist ideal appropriate for female characters Jacky describes as “the strongest, most independent” women she can create. Jacky’s women aren’t “solely defined by their relationships with men, but by their own values and desires.”
Likewise New Sensation male actors are more that buffed bodies behind their engorged masculinity. Jacky wants them to have feelings and personality and, of course, an intellect. They must be able to handle the “mental aspects of sexuality.” Jacky explains that her idea of good filmed sex means that both sexes must understand what sensuality means. It’s “a thought” and “a look,” part of the foreplay element that often distinguishes feminist filming.
Casting for Jacky St. James can be daunting because of the standards she demands. “I look for talented, well-adjusted people with great personalities,” she says. Shooting for the formally trained actress and director means that skill trumps a well-recognized porn name. Jacky’s hires must have a “level of intuition” for the character they are portraying and must be “in tune” emotionally with themselves and others.” The job is more than just reading a few lines. Performers are best suited for a New Sensations film if they carry the “passion and desire” to give their best. Jacky has the experience to encourage and persuade performers to come through with flying colors if they are willing and driven to do so.
A native of the Washington D.C. metro area, Jacky studied theater in college graduating with honors, drama degree in hand. For her the stage play is “a living and breathing human experience,” an art form like no other. One of her favorite dramatists she mentioned in our interview is Henrik Ibsen, the Norwegian playwright known for his social commentary. A good training ground for Jacky, where else is the political and social tweaked more than in porn?
In 2004 Jacky migrated to Southern California in search of new adventures. Six years later she “stumbled across a career in porn.” Adult film consumers have benefited since.
How important is a good performance to Jacky St. James? In a business that spends most of its filming budget on talent, Jacky insists on getting it right. She’s been called a slave driver, humorously of course, for her perfectionism. “If it takes twenty to get a scene right, then I’ll shoot twenty takes. There are no short cuts,” she declares.
A New Sensation’s production may require eighteen hour days, Jacky says, and often filming can consume a handful of days. That means her actors must have an “incredible work ethic.”
Like Penny Pax.
She was a “rewarding experience” for Jacky who admits she has “always connected” with Penny because the five foot dynamo is “a naturally open person.” Reaching “those places inside of her” are keystones that holds the Emma Marx narrative together. Jacky summarizes the film best when she says of Penny, she is “able to bring those powerful moments to life.”
No doubt. Penny Pax and New Sensations have one of the best porn films of all time in this Jacky St. James narrative.