Tag Archives: Feminism

Anne Bonny: Feminist Pirate

by Rich Moreland, August 2017

This post reviews a new book by Phillip Thomas Tucker about Anne Bonny, renowned female pirate of the 18th century.

A 2017 Feral House publication (ISBN 978-1-62731-045-1), the text contains 252 pages and is amply illustrated.

Speaking of visuals, sources for the engravings presented here are 18th Century. The statue of Anne Bonny and Mary Read is the work of Erick Christianson.

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A faculty colleague once told me the best way to teach history is through biographies because they enliven student interest in a subject that is often dead to them. Phillip Thomas Tucker’s Anne Bonny: The Infamous Female Pirate certainly proves the accuracy of his statement.

Tucker begins with the understanding that polite society in the 18th century marked the fairer sex as inferior. Assertive women were collectively denigrated as “psychopaths, misfits, or prostitutes,” he tells us, especially if they put on a sailor’s mantle and went to sea. Any demonstration of masculinity on a woman’s part was seen as an anathema in a culture that donned its patriarchal robes to stifle female expression.

The story of Anne Bonny boldly confronts these stereotypes, even as they existed among seafarers. The female pirate, and there were a few, challenged the  “male-dominated concepts of honor, faithful service, devotion to comrades, and courage, especially in the face of danger” aboard ship.

On Their Own

Unfortunately, Anne’s time on the tropical Caribbean stage was brief. She flourished in the seafaring outlaw culture for two years before facing her demise which Tucker discusses in great detail. Born of a servant girl, Anne began life in Ireland and died in the Tidewater area of colonial Virginia.

By the time her journey of independence within the only true democratic society of the time (shipboard with the pirate ethos) ended, Ann was accompanied by two characters who capture the reader’s imagination: Anne’s personal love, pirate captain “Calico Jack” Rackham, and her sister pirate, the strong-willed Mary Read.

And what a woman Mary is! With writing that the draws the reader into the story, Tucker relates that Mary, like Ann, “was the product of an illicit love affair.” Despite that seeming drawback, both women made their way in a man’s domain where birthright was meaningless. For her part, Mary signed on a British man-of-war at age thirteen and later fought as a “common soldier” in the War of the Spanish Succession.

Their sisterhood melded into a modern-day feminist tale boldly illustrated when the British navy closed in on Rackham’s ship during its final pirate hours. Anne and Mary defended the vessel as the crew and its captain, drunk from too much partying, languished incapacitated in the hold.

The pair stood side-by-side in the fury of attack.

“With sharp wooden splinters flying through the air and around Anne and Mary . . . on the sloop’s deck where they struggled to maintain their balance . . . the entire mainsail of the William crashed down . . . while tangles of ropes and lines rained down near the women . . .”

Then, as the battle moved in favor of the British, the author mythologizes the female buccaneers . . .

“Anne was now on her own to defend the ship without any male assistance whatsoever, including from her own captain and lover! Only Mary remained beside her at this moment. In the end , the two young women were on their own without their captain, in the greatest crisis ever faced by the Rackham crew.”

Tucker’s readable style and effective pace solves a persistent problem that faces all historians when they pick up the pen: how to present academic research that can come across as stilted and dry in a way that stimulates page turning. In other words, the trick of blending a scholarly work with popular history is never easy, but Tucker’s writing pulls it off.

Pirate Culture

Following Anne Bonny from her European birth to her escape from a domineering father who had moved the family to South Carolina, Phillip Thomas Tucker also finds space to paint an informative picture of pirate culture in its “Golden Age.” Captains Henry Morgan, William Kidd, and Edward Teach (Blackbeard) are brought into the story with Blackbeard’s beheading integral to the reader’s understanding of an outlaw’s fate.

As one would expect, death danced around in buccaneer waters, often manipulated by the pirates themselves to bring desired results. The author introduces us to the importance of the pirate flag, the Jolly Roger. Raised only when the pirates came upon a “prize” they had overtaken sometimes not far from shore, the flag was the best way to “intimidate a captain and civilian crew into handing over the ship without a fight in order to preserve pirate lives and precious reserves of gunpowder.”

On Jack Rackham’s vessel, his version deviated from the traditional skull and crossbones. “Calico Jack” preferred “a white skull with two crossed swords underneath on a black field.”

We learn his reasoning: create panic and persuade his prey to capitulate in short order . . . hopefully without a fight.

Later when his pirate time ended abruptly, Rackham’s executed carcass was covered in tar and suspended in a gibbet cage for public display at Jamaica’s Plumb Point “well within sight of Kingston and Port Royal and its main shipping lanes . . . as a chilling warning” that piracy has dire consequences. Over the years, wind and rain prevailed and we’re told that “Calico Jack’s” bleached bones fell harmless through the metal framework into the sand . . . a grave forever lost.

William Kidd in the gibbet cage

End of the “Golden Age

The story of Anne Bonny is that of youthful indiscretions. She chases the rogue and the rascal (one who married her and one who didn’t bother) in defiance of proper society and a culture that minimizes women.

The government was destined to win in the end, of course, but Anne’s narrative is about gender role confrontation and an expansion of same in a historical period when feminist ideas were largely unheard of but ripe for condemnation should they appear. As a pirate, she dressed like a man and fought with the best, though the Irish lass never actually killed or maimed anyone.

Today we interpret Anne Bonny’s image with a romantic, swashbuckling flavor as presented in media versions of “Pirates of the Caribbean.” The truth is more jolting. She was a late comer, around when the “Golden Age of Piracy” (the late 1600s through the 1720s) lay enfeebled on its deathbed. In fact, perhaps Anne is no more than a historical afterthought because at twenty-two she disappeared as quickly as she made the scene.

Her legend is remarkable that it has survived, considering the pirate purge that roiled the waters on which she sailed and loved “Calico Jack.” As royal pursuit picked off more victims, pirates were quickly tried and executed by the hundreds to clean up the Caribbean infestation.

The details are grisly and the author is no fan of colonial governments and their duplicity. Early on the profits from pirating went to the elites, “the already rich and powerful,” who once supported the privateers against the Spanish. But the atmosphere shifted just as Anne was beginning her career. Colonial wealth came from other sources (slavery) rendering the “moral, upright” colonial governor as a “sham,” Tucker declares. In the end, these profiteers, who ducked under the cover of governmental legitimacy, turned against the pirates.

In the main, or metaphorically “on the main,” buccaneer culture was, as mentioned above, an authentic democracy which the author explores at various times in telling Anne’s story. Crews elected their captains and split the loot equally . . . and this included women like Ann and Mary. Of course, they did dress as men (thankfully clothing was light and voluminous so a woman’s figure was easily concealed) which served to make on-deck duties easier to perform.

Perhaps the only difference between seafaring men and women is what factored into Anne and Mary’s post-capture fate: both were ”quick with child'” and from there the story gets more interesting.

An Intriguing Tale

To its credit, Anne Bonny avoids the drudgery of an academic tome, but Phillip Thomas Tucker does repeat his major points to excess as if each time he tells us is our first exposure to them. However, that shortcoming can serve as a review for the reader and is not something I found terribly irritating.

From my perspective in the classroom, I know how important reinforcing information is.

On the other hand, Tucker reaches conclusions throughout the text that are conjecture. However, in light of the paucity of information concerning Anne’s psychological make-up and how she may have reacted to situations she encountered, that is a minimal criticism. She did, after all, leave no written records of her own.

On the whole, the author spins an intriguing tale and proves my colleague’s belief that “the story of the person” is the best way to teach the past. In Anne Bonny’s case, her message is about society’s contempt for women and the few alternatives available to them three centuries ago. As we’ve seen, one of those choices was the pirate culture and its leveling of social mores and individual status that is unique to history.

One final observation: Tucker comments briefly on the historical views of Anne Bonny, among them the late 20th century’s “prevailing feminist and political agendas” that turned Anne from “the ‘bad’ lesbian of the 18th century into the ‘good’ lesbian of the 1970s.” A fascinating thought, though there seems to be no evidence to validate the term in referencing her.

Nevertheless, does this give Anne Bonny a feminist label?

To a certain historical extent it does, but it’s one that we can modernize. Today, feminism is far more than a same-sex playground that unfairly pigeon-holed assertive  women four decades ago. Anne’s independence and “hold your own” attitude deserves praise as a model for all young women today. That is truly feminist and something, I believe, this “infamous female pirate” would have relished.

*          *          *

Jack Rackham . . .

and Blackbeard . . .

in piracy’s Golden Age.

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Reflections on Sirwiñakuy

by Rich Moreland, June 2017

From the movie source IMDb about Sirwiñakuy:

The story of an obsessive relationship between a young French woman and an older Bolivian man. Their unusual romance, like the country in which they live, is transforming, sometimes violent and difficult to understand.

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Finally creating some time to watch Sirwiñakuy, a 2010 release from Pachamama Films, I recognized immediately it wasn’t supercharged like Dead But Dreaming, Olalla, Barbazul, or Justine, so my viewer “sleepwalking” kicked in after the first few minutes.

I did get through the opening Cafe scene where Luis (Jac Avila) picks up Anouk (Veronica Paintoux) after director Amy Hesketh has her Hitchcock moment. Not much here, I thought, other than a smidgen of a Bolivian street scene travelogue featuring a local hangout.

About an hour and forty minutes later it was over.

When I popped up Microsoft word on my computer to take a few quick notes to prepare for this “review,” I had nothing much to say.

Why?

Easy. I have “great expectations,” as Charles Dickens would say, for the innovative work of Amy Hesketh and Jac Avila but Sirwiñakuy didn’t deliver, or so it appeared.

But the truth did not lie within the film. My lack of appreciation for  Sirwiñakuy was rooted in my failure as a viewer. I didn’t pay attention to what was in front of me and I know better than that.

My “Oh Hum”

To put it another way, watching Sirwiñakuy reminded me of my university days when on rare occasions I snoozed in class. Whenever that happened, behavior modification was promptly needed so I’d go back to “the house” (yes, I was a frat boy, quite an admission in these days of fraternity vilification) for a nap. College is a waste if you can’t stay awake. My parental units were paying the bills and there were too many excellent profs at my school not to fully absorb what they had to say.

For Sirwiñakuy, a similar correction was in order. But in this case, it had nothing to do with physical or mental fatigue . . . or meeting someone else’s expectations, for that matter.

Here’s the real reason.

You see, Sirwiñakuy is Amy’s first film. It’s been around for a while. My mistake was looking at it from the perspective of a body of work that has matured over the years, a group of films I was very familiar with. That’s like taking a hall-of-fame player and analyzing his first game as a rookie. Appearances can be deceptive; conclusions unfair. I was moving in reverse gear with the movie, judging the past on the present.

Look at it this way. I watched Anouk get spanked, but I also remember Veronica Paintoux as Nahara the vampire in Dead, a spectacularly sexy portrayal on her part, and as the elegant Annabelle in Barbazul.

Anouk’s character just didn’t rev up my reviewer engine.

My first viewing sold Sirwiñakuy short and it doesn’t deserve my “oh-hum.” Just because the narrative lacks all those lovely whipping scenes so characteristic of Pachamama/Decadent Films, along with vampire angst, serial killers, female suffering, and theological tyranny (or rigmarole depending on the movie) that begs to be intellectualized, is in no way a takedown of this film.

So what I’ve written here is a process, not a review. Like an archeologist, I wanted to turn the soil on what Amy, Jac, and Veronica do so well in this film.

Rewind

So let’s rewind Sirwiñakuy, electrify our thinking cap, and get to work peeling away the layers that makeup the narrative.

What I’ve come to anticipate from Amy and Jac does not seem obvious at a Sirwiñakuy first glance. I repeat, at first glance because everything is there hiding under the covers, or to be more accurate, behind all those books and portraits from the past that lord over the action.

To delve into the narrative I returned to what shaped my literary education in grad school; I decided to study Sirwiñakuy . . and I mean go over everything in detail!

First, I read every review I could find. Some of them are pretty good and I suggest you google Sirwiñakuy and dive into them yourself. I don’t have a lot to add to what others much smarter than I have said about dramatic intent, imagery, machismo, action shots (taxi ride, taxi ride!) and the natural, always problematic, process of leaving childhood behind (observe the way Anouk randomly stuffs her stuff into her trolley cart and did I mention talking with her mouth full? I can hear my mother now).

Next, I devised a plan to watch the film again but in a different way to uncover its magic.

Ditch the Sound

I recalled what I adore most about Hollywood’s silent film era: faces, eyes and glances, gazing, nods, and expressive movement of hands, in particular. Actors in those days (think the Barrymores) had to emote with their entire physical and emotional consciousness because dialogue was limited to title cards. On screen presence was everything.

Unless the moviegoer was a lip reader, watching carefully to get the story through interpreting the actor, not the voice, was paramount. In other words, the viewer had to lean forward and not be satisfied with distant amusement as later became the habit when “Godzilla Eats Tokyo” in those silly 1950s Atomic Age B-pictures, for example.

Thankfully, silent era animation carried over into some of the great films of the 1930s: John and Lionel Barrymore, Greta Garbo, and Wallace Beery in Grand Hotel in 1932, then John, Lionel, and Wallace again in Dinner at Eight in 1933 and don’t hesitate to fast forward to 1950 and add Gloria Swanson in Sunset Bloulevard.

So, I went into silent movie mode. I turned off the sound (which means I gave up the music not something I would suggest because it is meaningful to the narrative) and relied on closed captioning . . .

. . . And just watched, every moment, every expression, every nuanced look and motion (notice how Anouk uses her eyes to show her annoyance with Luis whose own expression returns fire with quiet bullets of gentle criticism) . . .

I paused the film to study the scenes (love the old house, the eclectic furniture, and all the books) which led to my oft-repeated and inevitable question of “why is that there?” What is the director telling us? What are the actors communicating to each other and to the viewer?

Slowly in its slinky little way, Sirwiñakuy stared back at me with a wagging finger saying “Do you get it now?”

Yes, I do.

Based on its performance alone and the directing that breathes life into it, the film is gutsy. As for the story, it is pretty straight-forward. The complexity of the tale is “inside the characters,” Amy tells us in the commentary section of the DVD.

Creeping Up

Sleepwalking now conquered, what’s next?

The researcher/scholar in me wanted to find what Amy and Jac had to say about the production, so I went to the film again and tuned in on the commentary (for me, it’s like getting an interview).

What I found was verification of my thoughts on certain scenes: the shots of the portraits on the wall between smacks on Anouk’s butt, the Pieta that looms over the couple when Luis draws his bloody “pound of flesh” with the thorns on the red roses, and all those Freudian eating scenes (Bolivians must love their bread and Luis makes sandwiches that are precise and symmetrical in their contents!) just to name a few.

Viewing number three left me with several pages of handwritten notes. Sirwiñakuy is creeping up on me now complemented by Jac Avila, who in his usual graciousness supplied me with vital information about the film. I’ll cover that shortly.

As I indicated above, Amy and Jac have already established a very high bar for all their yet-to-come work. What is remarkable about Sirwiñakuy is in its cinematic expression, and, I might add, Amy’s tightly drawn story that uses quick transitions to keep the viewer engaged and the pace rolling along. There’s no dead time anywhere.

In fact, it is impossible for me to believe this is Amy’s first film. The characters and the scenes are interwoven with the skill of a master craftsman.

Ah, Miss Veronica

A word is due about the captivatingly gorgeous Veronica Paintoux.

She and Amy hardly knew each other when she agreed to do the film. Make no mistake, Veronica is the heartbeat of Sirwiñakuy. Her willingness to do just about anything—I’m talking nude scenes here—to bring the narrative full circle deserves high praise.

Take the masturbation shower episode, for instance, that reveals Anouk’s intentions and drops a few hints about her developing relationship with Luis.

Is she trying to wash away her sexual pleasure or wantonly readying herself to live with this much older man?

Veronica’s talent keeps the viewer on edge, particularly in the scene when she leaves her old clothes in the hotel. It’s symbolic, of course, and almost borders on the hackneyed, but Veronica pulls it off. Anouk’s got a ton of courage now, but for what?

When she hits streets Anouk is naked underneath that awful 1960s topcoat fashion statement Luis bought for her. Her audacity reminds me of the bar scene from The Story of O when O settles gingerly onto the bar stool because there’s nothing between it and the bare flesh under her dress.

She’s blatantly erotic and submissive and coy at the same time.

Oh, let me note, Veronica Paintoux is as natural as her nudity. She wears minimal, if any, make-up which enhances that childlike state Amy wants to reinforce in Anouk’s character.

Toying with a Story

Here’s what Jac has to say about Veronica and Amy and Sirwiñakuy‘s evolution.

“Amy had a story she was toying with, set in France, which in one of our long walks I convinced her to adapt it to Bolivia. In the French version, the guy was French and the woman was American visiting Paris. In the Bolivian version, she made the guy Bolivian and the woman French.

“Amy wanted Veronica to play the woman, she felt that she would be great in that role, she saw her in Martyr (a 2002 production starring Carmen Paintoux) and she liked the chemistry and sexual tension we had in that film.

“It was obvious that I would play the guy, Monsieur Montez. That was the original title, by the way, Monsieur Montez. We opted for Sirwiñakuy when I explained to her the tradition here where a man ‘kidnaps’ a woman, takes her home and after trying out for some time they get married if the situation works.

“Amy liked the idea. A friend of mine is the composer of the title song and Heni, my Hungarian collaborator, now a PHD in anthropology, provided the background for the title.”

In listening to Jac, what I’ve always wondered about Amy Hesketh’s work came to mind again. How personal is the film to her? I have a feeling Amy wrote Sirwiñakuy as a narrative of her own erotic and sexual evolution.

. . . But that is only a guess.

Authentic

Finally, Sirwiñakuy caused a bit of a dustup in Bolivian theaters. Apparently they don’t like BDSM relationships there, too much machismo.

Understandable, but that’s not Sirwiñakuy’s message, so listen up.

The interactions between Luis and Anouk are accurate portrayals of what an authentic Dom/sub arrangement is (to suggest it is master/slave is laughably overblown). In other words, BDSM is an agreed upon sexual interplay within an existing relationship and that’s what the film tells its audience.

Nothing BDSM is twenty-four seven, but when everything heats up, it’s all about the power play moment at hand.

Anouk is an equal partner in their relationship at all times and proves it with her expressions, her eyes, and her moods. She even walks out to think things over.

Pay attention when she takes the whip away from Luis and remember the haircut game. It’s only symbolic because he backs off. Score one for feistiness. Who decides who is in control?

By the way, they sell whips at rural markets in Bolivia which in my view confounds the objections to the film. In the commentary section, Jac mentions whips were around in the society before the Spanish arrived and Amy interjects with a chuckle, “Where there is a whip, there is life, there is BDSM.”

What is not to love about her?

But remember, it’s all consensual.

By the way, Amy adds an adorable touch in the commentary section. She notes that Anouk violates protocol when she sits in “daddy’s” chair to read, behavior that is “not allowed.” Beautiful. Submissives love their daddies. Anouk is learning the ground rules . . . or perhaps she acted deliberately to bank on a “correction” some time later, a little fun with “daddy.”

Keep in mind Anouk is no fawning submissive, but she doesn’t go for the harsher treatment that turns on Anne Desclos’ (Pauline Réage) heroine in O. In fact, Anouk plays an ongoing “cat and mouse” game with Luis throughout the film, thus the wall-mounted drawing of a rodent that pushes back against the overstuffed cat in the apartment.

The little bugger is within full view, but just out of reach of his furry pursuer. BDSM negotiation is always on the table.

A final note for S/M fans . . . if you want to see Luis discipline Anouk with the whip, won’t happen. It’s merely suggested. But take heart, check out Amy and Jac’s later films (under the Pachamama label) for that visual delight. And, consider this. Maybe someday we’ll see their version of O come to the screen . . .

Anouk’s character, much like O’s, is a feminist statement . . . a woman in control. And why not? In my view, Amy Hesketh is a feminist filmmaker in this supposedly post-modern era. Is feminism passé? Perhaps. But after all, I was once a frat guy, so we all have a past, now don’t we?

 *          *          *

Here they are, the three that give Sirwiñakuy its reason to be.

Here’s the director at work:

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Darker Side of Desire: Part Two

by Rich Moreland, March 2017

Here is Part Two of my review/analysis of Jacky St. James’ Darker Side of Desire, a production of Mile High Media.

To get a flavor of the images mentioned in this analysis, watch the “not safe for work” trailer here.

All photos and images are courtesy of Mile High Media.

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A Balanced Message

The sex scenes in Darker Side of Desire are Jacky St. James at her artistic best and reflect the mission of Sweet Sinner video. The scenes are woman-friendly and romance-oriented with female consent the focal point of every shot.

Passionate kissing abounds with everyone receiving oral pleasures, but the gagging, choking, and deep throating of today’s run-of-the-mill porn are conspicuously minimized; not surprisingly, the same applies to porn as an anatomy lesson.

Facial expressions communicate desire while the camera focuses on both bodies equally when the sex heats up. Cinematographer Hank Hoffman often shoots a symmetrical view of the lovers to highlight carnal expression as a two-way street.

Speaking of visual clues, Jacky St. James concentrates on phallic symbols like candles and vases paired with flowers (very Freudian) to underscore the psychology of sex. Since vases offer a canal to be filled, so to speak. . . Well, I think you get the idea.

As mentioned above, communication is the heartbeat of each sex scene. Darker Side is solid feminist porn with male performers who express their feelings through conversation and touch. Take note, for example, of how Mickey Mod gently cradles Cassidy Klein’s head during their intimate moments.

To shoot a female-centered film requires men who are comfortable with their sexuality and are willing to yield their masculine focus in favor of pleasuring their partners.

Jacky St. James casts the best of them.

Sexual Maturity

With Darker Side Jacky is as true to the BDSM community as she has ever been. Take for instance, the performers in the dream sequence. They’re older, a reflection of real-life bondage aficionados. The renowned MILF, Cherie Deville, is the perfect choice to perform with Tommy Pistol, a veteran of Kink.com who is in his forties.

Mickey Mod and James Deen are also Kink veterans who have been in the industry for ten and thirteen years respectively. Michael Vegas didn’t enter adult until he was twenty-six and is in his seventh porn year. Experience also characterizes the women. Cassidy Klein and Gia Paige are well into their twenties, hardly newbs by porn standards.

Only Riley Nixon is a youngster among this crowd, but she is mature by fetish standards. And make no mistake, this girl is a charmer with an adorable, disarming smile.

In the BTS segment of the DVD, Riley tells us she’s “very submissive” and BDSM gives her an exciting sexual space to be free of worry and responsibility.

Submission is “who I am deep inside, a natural state for me,” she declares. Can you feel the love?

Experience teaches BDSMers to be comfortable with their fetish. Sex is as much mental as it is physical and any bondage lover will tell you that understanding your sexuality and being open to talk about it is what the kink is all about.

The Game

Darker Side has two themes. The first, as we’ve seen, is the appreciation of authentically presented BDSM.

The second is feminism’s relationship to kinky sex brought out in the film’s pivotal scene, the drinking game. A tequila bottle (another phallic symbol) is positioned in the middle of a divan around which four players (Bryce and the girls) sit.

It’s a bit of truth or dare fun that unexpectedly wrings a bondage confession out of Sydney. Her words touch a nerve with Robyn (Riley Nixon) who challenges her roomie’s feminism by asserting that BDSM is anti-woman.

Sydney replies she did not give up her power when she played in the dungeon. A chill rises quickly around the group.

Robyn is indignant. “You bent over and let some dude spank you and you think you‘re in control?”

Sydney leaves abruptly. How do you spell tension?

Raising the Bar

Darker Side of Desire is an artistic commentary that raises the bar of the average porn film. Make no mistake, Darker can survive on its terrific sex scenes alone, but, as we’ve mentioned, Jacky St. James has a special talent for shooting sex that fits perfectly into the narrative.

Later, when Natalie persuades Sydney to tell her story, she learns that her friend researched BDSM websites which led to her adventure with Alex, an accurate comment on how kinksters find each other in today’s cyberspace.

He was “much older,” Sydney says (reinforcing the age factor). Their fetish sex was immediate.

“It didn’t evolve, it started there,” Sydney says.

They talked about everything.

“What I wanted, what turned me on. He was completely respectful of my boundaries.”

Negotiation and trust are the most important parts of the BDSM experience.

The rewards were enormous. The sex unleashed something inside her, she explains.

Unfortunately, Sydney was a college freshman at the time and sexual self-understanding was in short supply. Though she was happy with the arrangement, she broke it off because she felt “weird” and different from other girls.

Youth led her to judge herself negatively. Fear stepped in and now years later she regrets everything, Sydney tells Natalie.

You’re Next

Emboldened, Natalie is now ready to begin her emotional/sexual journey.

To prepare the viewer, Jacky St. James breaks the fourth wall in Natalie’s final dream episode. During the fantasy sex, Cherie Deville looks directly into the camera expressing her satisfaction before Tommy Pistol turns to the lens and confronts Natalie’s reticence with, “You’re next!” It’s her inner challenge to act on her desires.

She’s watched for too long, now it’s time to play.

When the final sex scene shows up, Natalie and Bryce come full circle. By the way, Cassidy Klein’s oral performance is stylish, more art than gonzo, a kind of sensual caressing.

In the bondage sequence, the lovers are reflected in a mirror to the left of the screen. The shot is laden with shadows and represents their transition, stepping through the looking-glass if you will.

Natalie, who submits to a blindfold, lives out her fantasy in her imagination. Bryce’s voice nurtures her internal visions, much like the radio dramas long ago when listeners created the visual scene for themselves.

The dream has come to life, a reminder that BDSMers always have their favorite scenarios in their heads.

Inside the Self

Finally, Darker Side of Desire is impressive for two reasons.

First, Jacky St. James has all the right performers. Each one brings a special talent to the screen.

Second, Jacky has grown in her understanding of BDSM. With Emma Marx, she successfully normalized the fetish. Now she has moved kink to a more personal level with the women of Darker Side. Words and caresses excite them while the sex is hot and heavy without gonzo-style sex for sex’s sake.

Simply put, the fetish is nurtured inside the self. Her desires inflamed, Natalie’s here and now contrasts with Sydney’s fond remembrances of a past experience that offers hope for the future.

There is a course correction needed in this story and it appears in the closing scene. Her wrists and ankles shackled, Robyn extracts a promise from her lover to say nothing of this to anyone . . . Appearances always matter, of course, even to feminists who decry that bondage objectifies women while wrestling with their own ideas about its erotic allure.

Just as Natalie’s over voice opens the film, another with real honesty steps in before the final credits roll . . .

“Robyn eventually acknowledges that sexual fetishes are deeply personal and not to be judged until fully experienced.”

For Natalie, Sydney, and Robyn, this is not the end, of course, but a beginning, or more precisely an electrifying rebirth . . .

Will there be a Darker Side of Desire, Part Two? If so, this reviewer is on board!

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I Only See Darkness: Jac Avila’s Justine, Part Four

by Rich Moreland, December 2016

SPOILER ALERT! The final resolution of Justine is right around the corner!

The installments of this five-part review are posted as a package but designed as stand alone essays, so you may read the ones you like and forgo the others.

All photos are courtesy of Pachamama/Decadent Films.

*          *          *

Pachamama Films/Decadent Cinema combines erotic horror and soft core S&M action within a framework of classical literature, a rare adventure in movie making.

Dead But Dreaming’s vampire legends, Ollala (based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s vampire tale by the same name), and Barbazul (Charles Perrault’s “Bluebeard”) represent avant-garde indie film that offers timeless story telling infused with adult themes.

And don’t forget, Amy Hesketh’s performance art lures everyone into her cauldron of sexuality and pain that marks (pun intended) the excitement of these productions.

Amy’s talent is on full display again in Justine. Undoubtedly her interpretation of the suffering feminine is hard on her body and eventually she will decide enough is enough. So if watching Amy on-screen is your pleasure, be sure to get a copy of this film.

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Having said that, Justine, sparks conversation in another way.

Following the footprint of the films mentioned above, Justine carries a political message steeped in images that are literary and mythological.

Let’s take a brief look at a few examples.

Three

First, the movie’s most dynamic image, the restrained and punished woman, surpasses other Jac Avila creations with the possible exception of Maleficarum.

Amy Hesketh, Mila Joya, and Beatriz Riveria are easy on the eyes and offer the visual delights of a good whipping that S&M aficionados appreciate.

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But that’s for just for starters. There’s more.

Take the archetypal number three, the staple of myth and legend which accounts for its dominance in the Bible. Jac Avila follows Sade’s lead in exploring it.

The novel mentions twenty-one victims (three sevens) consumed in the prison fire. Adulthood is also age twenty-one, a hint that when Justine escapes from prison, she is old enough to take responsibility for her decision-making, or more specifically her inaction, in a theme that runs through Sade’s work.

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Also, the dungeon candle stands have combinations of threes and sixes cleverly placed among the torture devices.

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The Circle

Jac Avila focuses on three sacrificial victims to create his religious motif.

Each girl is bound to the wheel reminding the viewer that while a patriarchal God may oversee the world, women are the source of a never-ending circle of virtue and vice–reproduction on one hand and sexual temptation on the other–that drives the human condition.

Thus we have the wheel’s most important message. Civilization’s male-dominated hierarchies insist that female sexuality is not to be trusted, so women must be confined and chained rather than celebrated.

By the way, trust makes its appearance at the end of the film in an ironic twist. But you’ll have to watch the movie to see it.

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Speaking of sacrifices, after Rosalie’s dungeon crucifixion her stigmata wounds are treated by Omphale and Justine in a scene reminiscent of the three women at Calvary (Golgotha) recounted in the gospels.

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Then, of course, there’s Jac’s version of the three crosses we’ll see later.

The Sacred Feminine or Defiant Feminist?

White is the color of purity and the girls wear white loincloths depicting the partially clad martyr linked to the Medieval crucifixion image. Only Justine is nude.

In this modern interpretation of Sade’s novel, she is both virtue and vice, honoring the complete woman and validating her defiance of patriarchy despite her humiliation.

In other words, Justine is totally exposed, the literary “everywoman.”

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When the abused girls retreat to their bed, the configuration of their bodies is a reminder of the Holy Trinity with the God/Daughter shift illustrated by Rosalie’s suffering.

The importance of the sacred feminine in Church lore cannot be easily dismissed.

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However, this scene is part of a series of images that begins in the dungeon with the chained and collared Justine grabbing vainly for Rodin in a fit of vengeance. She is defiant and frustrated, the angry feminine, or in modern terms, feminist.

12342441_10153165674282882_7911671529364754032_nThen we see the Trinity motif just mentioned.

At first the girls are looking away from each other, individualized in their agony, emphasizing the misery and abandonment that is part of the human condition.

But they eventually join hands in spirit as well as in truth, an affirmation that the sacred feminine will prevail.

Imagistically, they form their own wheel with their overlapping hands on Justine’s hip as the hub.

Leonardo’s Perfection

300px-da_vinci_vitruve_luc_viatourIt’s worth mentioning that Jac Avila’s woman on the wheel is a vague reference to Leonardo da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man,” perhaps suggested by the filmmaker more unconsciously than deliberately.

Simply put, each girl represents the Renaissance thinker’s harmonic blend of art and science that ultimately spawned the Age of Enlightenment and, ironically, the Marquis de Sade.

In this film the female image emerges perfect in form while tormented with pain, as Justine reminds us with her harsh condemnation of Biblical tenets.

We can conclude then that Justine is a full-fledged challenge to the Church and its intrusion into the pre-theological State of Nature that Sade celebrates. Jac Avila has given us pause to reconsider Sade’s argument.

We have a broader question, of course, that is too much to consider here. Is the perfect female form and its corresponding consciousness a creation of Nature or God? Or both?

Cutting Across Time

The confrontation between female suffering and empowerment, the heart of this story, cuts across time.

Here are some of the examples.

In I Only See Darkness: Part Two of this review, we see twenty-first century vehicle tires abandoned on the side of the road, a comment on Justine’s situation.

Then there is Rodin’s modern bottle of beer in the dungeon scene, though bottled beer was known in Sade’s day. As the film comes to its denouement, Rodin wears sunglasses not available in the eighteenth century. Combine those images with a wife-beater shirt and the macho persona of the alpha male (God?) steps into view.

12265552_522310101276893_6619100802816208411_oAlso, we have the brass bed (a Victorian invention) that post-dates Sade. But it is appropriate here because the Victorians muted female sexuality, giving rise to Freudian theory on hysteria, repression, and sexual anxiety.

The costumes are eclectic. In the dungeon scenes, for instance, Rodin sports the aforementioned wife-beater shirt, a Hollywood staple reaching back to the 1930s.

Incidentally, Amy Hesketh cobbled the wardrobe together for the film . . . not a simple task.

Now we know why Jac Avila breaks the fourth wall repeatedly. His message transcends the here and now and goes well beyond the story at hand. What better way to reinforce the narrative’s timelessness than addressing the viewer directly, cutting through the limitations configured by the camera’s lens.

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So, that’s a quick run-down of some of the symbolism incorporated into the Justine narrative.

We’re set now to venture into our last installment for the dramatic conclusion Jac Avila has crafted for this version of the Sadean saga. He deviates from Sade somewhat but retains the flavor of the novel to its bitter end.

A reminder. If you don’t want to know how everything turns out, skip the next post!

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12313702_10207283807987314_7432081521215658282_nFor the curious, Amy often crafts the torture instruments including racks, whips, and the like that appear in all Pachamama/Decadent Films.

Getting a feel for the whips is something BDSMers would understand.

By the way, in making Justine, testing the wheel was vitally important, as you might expect.

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Amy Hesketh can be reached on Facebook and followed on twitter. Jac Avila is also on twitter.

 

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The Meaning of Consent: Casey Calvert

by Rich Moreland, February 2016

Casey Calvert is popular with porn fans, having begun her career as a fetish model.  The 2012 University of Florida graduate entered the business at twenty-two, older than most girls who seek a career in adult entertainment.

Highly respected among her peers, Casey is active in the industry support group,  APAC (Adult Performer Advocacy Committee).

We talked recently at the Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas.

CZHKeriUsAA6qjR*          *          *

Casey Calvert reflects what performers understand, “You know what you signed up for when you show up on the set.”

The native Floridian explains that an informed performer is aware of what is expected and who her co-stars are that day. However, that doesn’t mean unplanned or uncomfortable incidents don’t happen.

“If something changes, whether it’s somebody asking something additional of you or [an incident happens] by accident, you say something and the problem gets resolved.”

Feeling Violated

Casey doesn’t want to get into the James Deen/Stoya controversy which she refers to as “a big scandal” in the business. Understandable and that’s not the focus of my question. But, I do want her take on how a newcomer should handle a similar situation that might occur on set.

“It’s one of the things we’re working on as an industry, especially now that people are talking about how do we make new girls feel comfortable speaking up and how do we make sure they know it’s okay [to do so.]”

Then the four-year industry vet touches on the second point everyone seems to make.

Photo courtesy of Casey Calvert

Photo courtesy of Casey Calvert

“Nobody wants them to go home feeling violated or upset. Everybody wants them to go home feeling good.”

Casey retreats a bit when I suggest that after a questionable moment during filming, some girls may believe they have been subjected to inappropriate sexual behavior.

“Right, but that doesn’t mean they got raped either. Getting raped is if you say ‘no’ and they say ‘yes.'”

Does that happen?

“Not that I’ve ever heard of,” the superstar replies. “It has not personally happened to me. I’ve never heard a story in recent history at all where that has happened on a set with anybody.”

Having said that, she clarifies her position.

“There’s a difference between I say ‘no’ and you try to convince me to say ‘yes’ and I say ‘no’ and you take it anyway.”

Photo courtesy of Casey Calvert

Photo courtesy of Casey Calvert

Getting It Fixed

Has she been on sets where this has happened?

Casey hasn’t, but she comments, “I’ve been on shoots where I’ve had to say ‘something’s wrong’ and it gets fixed.”

She measures her words, declaring that she “can’t be mad” because “the person who has created” the problem straightened it out.

Due to the nature of a business that shoots thousands of scenes a year with a talent pool that is in constant flux, Casey realizes questionable moments do occur.

Referencing the male performers booked to shoot with her, she says, “They don’t know me. We’re acquaintances. This is not my boyfriend of ten years who should be fantastic at reading my body language and should know the things about me. This is essentially a stranger, so I can’t fault that stranger for not knowing something if I don’t tell him.”

Photo courtesy of Casey Calvert

Photo courtesy of Casey Calvert

Is being a superstar an advantage that causes everyone to back off?

“Oh, yeah. For sure. I fully admit I’ve had additional privilege going in being a Spiegler Girl, even [when I was] brand new.” Casey signed with the Spiegler agency immediately upon entering the industry.

“People treat you differently. I can definitely say that, but I also have lots of friends who are not Spiegler girls and have lots of experiences on set.”

She doesn’t elaborate about those experiences, be they positive or negative.

A Three-Fold System

To educate newcomers, APAC has developed a “Porn 101” video similar to AIM’s [Adult Industry Medical] endeavor years ago. Performers are is issued a card that certifies they have viewed the tape.

Photo courtesy of Casey Calvert

Photo courtesy of Casey Calvert

“It’s a very positive step in the right direction,” the native Floridian says, and explains that it’s especially valuable for girls who come in at eighteen or nineteen.

By presenting “this piece of paper that says, ‘I understand what I’m getting into. I get it,'” Casey points out, a performer should be in a position to deal with issues that may arise.

But she adds a caveat.

“We have to make sure they actually really do get it and it can’t be like, ‘here everybody gets a piece of paper.'”

Even that does not fully address the problem.

“If the companies don’t adopt that as a procedure where they require that piece of paper or that card, then it means nothing . . . [because] it is a three-fold system. There’s the performers, the directors, the producers and the companies, and then there’s the agents. The change has to come from all three.”

In other words, communication and cooperation across the board is a worthy goal, though not an easy task.

Casey uses the following example.

“If the performers get educated, then the companies say, ‘Okay, we need proof that you understand what you’re getting into,’ and the agents don’t facilitate any of that, it still doesn’t work. It has to be a system where all three are working together which is why APAC is having such a hard time making it happen.”

Having said that, Casey brightens.

“It’s happening, but it’s happening very, very slowly.”

Photo courtesy of Casey Calvert

Photo courtesy of Casey Calvert

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