by Rich Moreland, April, 2014
This is the second part of my review of The Sexual Liberation of Anna Lee.
“I don’t want to lose myself in someone else, I want to find myself in them.”
Anna Lee wonders if everyone wears a mask, hiding and fearing who they are. She craves sex and its emotional connections, but her body refuses to cooperate with her libido.
Receiving a vibrator to unfetter her sexual anxiety, Anna listens as Gaige explains that sexuality is often shamed by a distressed past. Don’t let the “baggage of your childhood stifle your adulthood,” he says. “You can create the kind of sexual identity that you want.”
He arranges a task for Anna that will presage her interactions with Emmett. Gaige introduces a smuttily dressed female staff member to Anna, who is asked to describe the girl. Responding to Gaige’s insistence that her “imagination is a powerful sexual tool,” Anna believes the young woman, Elize, to be “seductive and tempting.” Of course, the exercise persuades Anna to unconsciously project herself into Elize and serves as a transition to the next sex scene. In a fantasy sequence inside Anna’s mind, the staffers have a delightful frolic enhanced by Elize’s nicely tatted body.
When the pop shot lands on Elize’s tummy, Anna’s reverie passes and she turns her attention to Gaige who wants more insight into the image presented by his assistant.
“She never leaves him satisfied, she always gets what she wants,” Anna says.
In her imagination, does Anna secretly identify with Elize’s sluttiness?
Maybe. A smiling Elize verifies Anna’s intuitions. “You’re good at reading other people’s turn-ons, or maybe you’re talking about your own.”
Up to now those softly spoken, yet boldly confident, words might have borne some embarrassment. But change is happening and Anna is preparing her own sexual future.
Eyes Open and a Closed Heart
Anna checks in with her video diary. Her confidence is growing and she announces that her attitudes are shifting. She confesses Emmett scares her, though not in a bad way because she is attracted to him. Letting him know is the fault line that could doom everything, however. In reality, Anna is intimidated by her own desires because her shield, the little girl whose sexual needs were terrorized by an uptight mother, is melting away.
An unforeseen development blindsides everything. Anna and Emmett are thrown into a boiling cauldron of honesty brought on by a hot seat exercise.
This pivotal episode is not to be missed. The camera frames the chair (hot seat) from the therapist’s view. A position change occurs when the camera’s perspective moves behind the head of the person on display. In this location, the camera illustrates the hot seat’s overwhelming presence and the divide it creates between patient and therapist. It is a cinematographic master stroke that sends just the right message at just the right time.
The hot seat is a Gestalt therapeutic intervention and allows participants (usually in a group setting) to spontaneously assess the person sitting before them, no holds barred. Each participant in the exercise takes their turn in front of the others. The conversation is stripped of pretenses and exposed to a glaring frankness that can enlighten, heal, or harm. When Emmett evaluates Anna, what he says is meaningless, devoid of feeling, merely polite and shallow. Hoping to move this exercise forward, an exasperated Gaige sends Emmett to the chair to replace Anna.
What follows is the most dramatic scene in the film and Maddy O’Reilly’s finest moment as an actress. In a revealing dialogue she indicts Emmett.
“He fucks with his eyes open and his heart closed.”
If understatement can blow up a room, it happens right here because Anna’s heart is blooming like all the flowers on all the paintings in all the rooms of this film. Emmett crushes her with sarcasm and the viewer reacts with disgust. Superb. Adult film does not get better than this.
Emmett and Anna are now assigned a series of tasks together to to expose vulnerabilities and erase anxieties, the ingredients of sexual repression. Upon completion, trust will replace fear. Or, at least that’s the plan.
At first their connections are hesitant, but gradually they, like the flowers, begin to unfold with color and warmth. But the tender buds of their relationship are fragile. Anna is ready for sex, she wants to be spanked and penetrated while Emmett is suffering through a cosmic blizzard of dissonance between his inner feelings and his self-protective demeanor.
Three scenes are worth an extra look as the pair negotiates their improbable odyssey. In the first, they are told to write a message on each others’ bare backs. Anna chooses green paint, Emmett orange, a watered down red. She’s good to go, he’s still holding back though his resolve is weakening.
Another scene is cleverly shot and has too much meaning to recount here. Blindfolded, Anna and Emmett must stimulate their erotic senses and experience each other through taste. Between them is a small table; they are sitting in equally small chairs. Childlike and cooperative, Anna takes Emmett’s index finger in her mouth and sucks it with obvious double meaning. Of course, he can’t resist looking because he always has his eyes open, though he sees very little.
Her psyche is breaking through to Emmett, but time is now a factor. The gigantic clock on the shelf above them is headed for eight. Four hours left. Is it the terminal hour of midnight, or an awakening to a new day?
The last of the scenes mentioned here takes place in a room with three sides, an arena of sorts, empty of furniture. Anna and Emmett put their bodies before each other; they strip down, everything exposed. Anna’s observation? Emmett is well endowed.
Will it ever happen, she thinks, or is it wasted desire?
Notice the shelves on opposite sides of the central window. Two equally-sized bowls are paired on each shelf above the ever present prints of flowers in full bloom. Sexual openness is never more evident.
Later, Anna is surprised by a note left outside her door. It’s from Emmett and accompanies a gift he has given her. “This might come in handy when you get out of here,” it reads. She picks up a paddle, a little kinkiness that puts her fantasies one step closer to reality. But if they involve Emmett, likely they will evaporate into the misty abyss of her imagination.
In an abrupt turn of events, Emmett decides Variel and its techniques are not for him. The exercises and tasks did their job, of course, Emmett had to confront what he always knew: caring lays bare vulnerabilities that challenge trust. Anna reached into his soul and pulled out what he refused to accept about himself.
Leaving Anna a note, Emmett slips away.
Later, Anna is further stunned when Gaige explains it is also time for her to leave. Except for one last farewell experience, her therapy is over.
In preparing her for a task that will come with a bondage stage and the staff on hand, Gaige instructs Anna to knockdown that last barrier, “Allow yourself to be pleasured by another.”
Sensuality arrives with a St. Andrew’s cross to which Anna is bound. Blindfolded, she experiences hot wax, among other tastes and touches, a brief flogging, and the application of a vibrator. Appreciate Anna’s anxiety concerning trust in this scene. Strapped in position, her hands are clenched fists. Letting go is never easy.
As the staff participates in this last exercise, they surround and caress Anna bringing the Statue of Five to life, its intertwining arms and hearts symbolizing her triumph. With Whitney and Gaige her surrogate parents, the statue becomes Anna’s new family. Once again in their mixture of images, Jacky St. James and Eddie Powell produce an unforgettable moment. Originally Anna may have been the statue’s smallest person, but now she transitions into the largest, overwhelming the scene with arms stretched on the cross. Honored by those who care about her, Anna has grown up sensuous and sexy and ready to move on. This is Anna’s rebirth as it was foretold in her bedroom at Variel before she took her first step to enlightenment.
Though Maddy O’Reilly has filmed for Kink.com in San Francisco and is familiar with the heavy duty BDSM scene, her character in Anna Lee is for viewers who want to see the fetish and its intimacy in bondage sequences that are less intimidating. Anyone thinking about some BDSM in their private lives will be intrigued by Maddy and Natalia Starr’s earlier performance as Marielle.
When Anna returns home, the statue goes with her to her bedroom, watching over, comforting, and encouraging her . . . for this is not the end of the story. To experience its crashing climax in which Anna realizes her mind is equally as sexy as her body, see it for yourself.
* * * * *
The Liberation of Anna Lee follows in the footsteps of the other Jacky St. James/Eddie Powell BDSM classic, The Submission of Emma Marx. Both films are part of the emerging Submission Pornography genre. Like Emma Marx, Anna Lee positions itself in the feminist pornography camp. Anna seeks her pleasures and acts on her own desires with affirmation thrown in along the way. Women who want to experiment with a BDSM component in their personal lives and on their own terms, should see both productions. For couples who enjoy a highly charged sexual atmosphere to go with their romance, the films are a must. For information on the DVDs go here.
A final comment is appropriate. Too often in porn, sex scenes are shot in a rote manner that kills off any interest beyond male self-pleasuring. With Eddie Powell’s inventive eye and deft camera movement, the viewer is engaged in sex as art, a key dividing line separating an anatomy lesson from the ageless expression of lovers consuming each other. Add Jacky St. James’ flair for selecting the right actors to fit her scripts and her ability to bring out the best in them, and the 2014 adult film awards have an undeniable candidate for their various honors.