Tag Archives: Pauline Reage

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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A Perverse Haute Couture

by Rich Moreland, 2014

I confess this review was generated by a conversation I had with Ira Levine (aka Ernest Greene) about his novel, Master of O. Within the BDSM community, Ira is a “master” in his own right and a renowned filmmaker. For a look at his visual trilogy wrapped around the O story, I’ve reviewed each installment here: O: The Power of Submission, The Surrender of O, and The Truth About O.

I figured that if his book landed anywhere within the vicinity of his visual storytelling dynamics, it likely has classic written all over it. I was not disappointed and must add that his print narrative is a giant leap ahead of anything that can be put on film.

Using the widely accepted Amazon rating system, Master of O is five stars, top of the line. If kink is your bailiwick, buy this book. You’ll find it a tasty delicacy of eroticism, pain, and high culture.

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master-of-o-book-cover

Falling Short

“‘Me you want. Him you need. You can have both, but we all understand that need is stronger than want.’
O pushed away from Ray’s chest and glared at him. ‘Maybe I don’t want either one of you, or all your crazy bullshit.’
Ray managed a laugh of sorts. ‘I don’t buy that anymore than you do.’
. . .
Again, O realized, someone had loved her and she had hurt him. Someone had tried to be the man she needed and couldn’t be. This was O’s fate. She could give everything, but only to someone who didn’t require it. Just as her need for formality and consistency exhausted Ray, his need for affection and reassurance exhausted her . . .”

Set in the decadent glitz of a modern Hollywood splashed with bling and bondage sex, Master of O is Ernest Greene’s updated version of the sixty-year-old Story of O, Pauline Reage’s original tale about a fashion photographer and the mysterious Sir Stephen. Framed in mid-1950s Paris, Reage’s narrative is a salacious peek into the whispered kinks of those whose sexual secrets remained closeted until the 1960s gave way to free fall the ensuing decade.

story of o 2But in Greene’s mind, Reage falls short. The final page of her novel finds O the morning after a party asleep, but still deliciously available.

Awakened, O is led “to the middle of the courtyard” where is she laid “upon a table” and “possessed” by two men “one after the other.” There is no further comment other than an awkward epilogue that offers a choice of brief and inconclusive endings. It is as if Pauline Reage created a character she did not know how to discipline, so she simply walked away, perhaps glancing back one last time.

In Master of O, possession, intertwined with need and want, drives LA’s rapid-fire entertainment planet of fashion, sleaze, and the commercial struggle between a fading print pornography and the internet. The narrative moves the reader through designer everything–cars, clothes, fountain pens, and food for starters. Not to be outdone, a perverse haute couture dips into the novel’s central fetish: bondage and discipline. Erotic wearables, including tattoos, piercings, and corsets, decorate female submissives who adore their kinks administered with stings and welts, erotic precursors to a sexuality that is faux violent but infinitely satisfying.

By the way, don’t let the significance of O’s tattoo slip by. It quite literally follows her around “That tattoo was going to be a damned nuisance,”  Greene informs the reader in the novel’s final pages, refusing to exonerate anyone’s judgment for its creation or its folly.

If Reage’s story ends indecisively, Greene’s does not; he favors  a sharp closing that tumbles head over heels to the finish line. But a conclusion does not always mean closure. With just enough evidence to avoid leading the witness, Greene insists the reader decide for himself. A cautionary word: do not dive into the novel without reading the Forward and after signing off on the final page, read it again. The author offers reflections necessary to decide how narrowly conclusion brushes up against closure for this modern O. She is more than servicing another penetration before the credits roll.

The Author Photo courtesy of Rick Brenes and XBIZ.com

The Author
Photo courtesy of Rick Brenes and XBIZ.com

By the way, Master of O offers a flare Reage could only imagine: authenticity. Ernest Greene lives in the BDSM world as a player, bondage rigger, actor, director, and scriptwriter. His fictional O and her master, Steven Diamond, an LA attorney fixated on the accouterments of expensive fashion, understand the nasty ways money is accumulated and how it buys self-indulgent debauchery.  O begins as brother Ray’s collared slave, but an exchange shifts the kinky photographer to Steven’s fast cars and lavish apartment where a distorted reality glistens beyond the massive windows overlooking the city. An oddly transparent pain and pleasure continuum captures O and Jacqui, a fashion model who occasionally slips into porn and, like O, loves her masochism. Both girls are delivered to their respective masters for frolic (Jacqui becomes Ray’s possession via “contract,” a BDSM nicety) spiced with flowing cash and sleeping late.

Mostly Sooner

Greene enriches his tale with social and political commentary. Steven’s ex-wife Marie, The Pythia of his self-created universe, is the narrative’s moral compass such as it is. She speaks casually to her girls of Leni Riefenstahl, Nazi Germany’s famed filmmaker who denied her fascism post-war, prepares them for theatrical play dates in The Mansion (Greene’s version of Roissy/Samois) that get them off, and anchors Steven when he chooses to listen. Later the reader passes notables who populate the vagaries of the adult film world just as Dante’s Inferno lays bare the Florentine’s contemporaries of dubious distinction. AIDS Health Foundation’s front man and Kink.com’s founder are among Greene’s distinguished guests who wallow in self-aggrandizement.

The book is a hard-boiled noir experience in which Steven combines the cool smoothness of a wannabe James Bond with the shiftiness of Sam Spade/Philip Marlowe in survival mode. Ambrosia for BDSM aficionados, the sex is freely given and taken in ways that would delight the pervy nastiness of a medieval inquisitor.

Where does this lead, and leave, the enigmatic O? Perhaps her submissiveness plays on the margins of sexual slavery as femme fatale, or maybe she is exorcising her rich girl demons by contradictorily using servitude to reinforce her rights of choice. Or being thirty, perhaps she is just having fun her way while her body maintains its desirability.

And what of Steven who is haunted by a repeated dream that takes him to Venice where he declines to loll with his deceased relatives on a forever weekend? Upon waking, an apparition within reality–a violin’s eerie melody in the empty park beyond his window–reminds him of the novel’s central message.

“Sooner or later, mostly sooner, everyone said good-bye. Attachment to this world or anyone in it would ultimately end at this destination.”

One thing is certain, Ernest Greene takes an erotic original whose character development surrenders itself to the fetish and turns out a gem that is a lengthy, but fascinating read. Master of O is a journey in which gradations of want and need, chilly and self-serving at times, march lockstep in a single direction.

Epilogue for a Review

Some post-review comments might be helpful in getting the most out of Ernest Greene’s story.

The author is married to the irrepressible Nina Hartley, one of the most dynamic women in the adult film industry I have personally met. Nina is, I am certain, the model for the perceptive and humorous Marie. Everyone’s guidepost and the voice of reason at the novel’s every turn, Marie guards her girls and reminds Steven and Ray not to go beyond their own personal boundaries, or as we used to say in my adolescent years, don’t bite off more than you can chew.

Nina talking with me about her feminism in Vegas, 2012. Photo courtesy of 3hattergrindhouse.com

Nina talking with me in Vegas, 2012.
Photo courtesy of 3hattergrindhouse.com

For readers who may know little about the adult film business, the author touches on key issues that roil industry waters: the timeliness of the blood testing protocol, the ongoing condom debate in LA county, and everyone’s demon, product piracy. The twenty-first century has also witnessed the decline of print and DVD sales at the expense of the internet. It’s a changing of the guard industry people have learned to accommodate as Greene illustrates when Steven, Ray, and internet entrepreneur, David Phelps, are persuaded to negotiate the fate of Forbidden, Ray’s magazine. Incidentally, the enduring art of the still photo, so important to modern adult entertainment, is replenished with the ongoing references to O’s photography.

As a literary experience, Master of O operates on several levels. There is the main story, of course, built around Greene’s successes in extending the direction of Pauline Reage’s thinking. Feminism is spot on in the book and anyone who doesn’t believe that Marie and O are pro-sex, sexually empowered women needs to pay attention. They are powerful decision makers, deftly placed in the narrative to counter the tightly controlled milieu Steven occupies for himself.

Additionally, there is the SSC (safe, sane, consensual) and RACK (Risk Aware Consensual Kink) paradigm that is the BDSM community’s raison d’être for playing safe. Greene’s characters know their hard limits. O insists her boundaries are few but she does not want scars. Pushing aside the public’s misperception of a bunch of sadists who punish sick masochists, BDSMers are fetish lovers working together. By the way, don’t look past the black and red color motif  that metaphorically drives the community. I’ve always believed BDSMers adore the iconic and formally dressed Dracula and his sexy succubi of Hollywood’s pre-code days. Biting and sucking doesn’t do one in, it just keeps the game alive.

Speaking of games, the mythical glamor of the high life (no pun on product marketing intended) washes through and over the novel. Greene is an encyclopedia of international fashion, automobiles, the art of fine parties, good food and the sport of a Renaissance Man. The attorney’s favorite is fencing where “kills” refresh the soul while yielding a good workout. Vlad Dracul was good with a sword, too, I’ve heard.

Not to be left behind is psychology. Sigmund Freud’s id and superego collide with Carl Jung’s definition of masculinity and femininity as opposing forces. A natural since Sigmund and Carl parted intellectual ways by the early twentieth century. Jung’s male animus and female anima step into the fray between Freud’s animal id and the morally superior superego in the give and take between O and Steven. Neither is totally what the other thinks and the sticky prickly briar patch of love plagues them both, hanging in balance at novel’s end.

Of course, the magic of good literature is the unresolved debate over who are the most lovable, redeemable, disliked, weakest, sexiest, and smartest characters in the story. Greene poses the question with O and Steven. Where would you place them along a continuum of likability and fortitude?

Well, enough of this, but if I were teaching a course in modern literature, I’d include Master of O.

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To order the book, go to Amazon or the Master of O website.

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The Bondage Game: A BDSM Trilogy

By Rich Moreland, September, 2012

 

A couple of years ago I spent a few minutes with Kink.com’s Peter Acworth at San Francisco’s old National Guard Armory where the BDSM fetish giant runs its websites. Acworth talked about a re-make of Pauline Reage’s 1955 novel, The Story of O. His idea sounded interesting, but who would play O, I asked, and how would he tell the story? Where Acworth is today with his idea is only a guess, but Ernest Greene’s trilogy on O’s evolution reveals unique answers to my question.

The Story of O is more than an erotic tale of a woman who acknowledges her obedience and masochism. Trained at Roissy, a remote location where girls are delivered for their initiation into BDSM, O becomes a willing participant in her own sexual slavery. She agrees to her submission, serving her lover, Renee, and his whims and fancies. Now she faces change. Renee takes O to the Paris apartment of Sir Stephen, his older half-brother, and departs. At this juncture in the storyline, Sir Stephen tells O she can have only one master and clarifies that he is now that man. She is to become his submissive, wear his brand inflicted by a burning iron, and become a predator for him, the Owl she symbolically portrays in the narrative’s final chapter.

But who or what is O’s real master? Ernest Greene provides a hint in the first film of his trilogy, O: The Power of Submission. Adhering to Reage’s plot, O is taken to the House for her initiation. Naked, she is fitted with a collar and ankle and wrists restraints. At this moment, Greene lets us in on his secret. O is adorned with a shoulder-length veil as she is presented for her flogging. Later in the film when Jackie, the fashion model Ray desires, is taken to the House and prepared for her first taste of the whip, she, too, wears one.

Courtesy of Adam & Eve Productions

What is the meaning of the veil? A message runs under the convoluted love triangle Greene creates between O, Ray, and Steven. Greene’s interpretation insists O’s story is about a “wedding,” not between or among people, but to a lifestyle. Greene illustrates the self-defeating nuisances of questionable relationships and the failures of actual marriage. O moves in and out her love affairs with Steven, leaving him for good in the last installment, and Ray’s marriage to Jackie collapses in the second film. Through it all, O’s commitment to BDSM is unquestioned. Her real identity lives within the lifestyle that intrigues and guides her, the master/slave relationship she has wed, and it overrides her interactions with the people she meets. The literary Sir Stephen and Greene’s cinematic Steven are conduits that serve O. Her willingness to respond to their BDSM impulses is what drives their desire for her. She in turn, uses them for her satisfaction.

With the House, and later the bondage club of the third film, Greene shows us a BDSM community that was an underworld experiment during Reage’s time. Greene’s O exists within a modernized BDSM arrangement of convenience, a continuous menu of choices offered for the pleasure and power she savors. Reage hints that O’s submission seduces her captors; Greene pushes that revelation out of the shadows and onto the screen.

Choice is always in O’s hands. When the limo pulls up to the House in Submission, Ray, played by Tommy Gunn in the first two films, tells O (the bewitching Carmen Luvana) he is “glad” she agreed to come. Her response is pointed, almost a counter-punch, “Have I ever said anything else to you?” Carmen’s O projects a little cockiness with some indifference stirred in. Before her initiation begins, Ray asks O if she consents to “obey,” reminding her that the option to leave is open. O responds without hesitation, “I’ll stay.” But she does not repeat the word “obey,” cutting into the House’s control of her. Marie, the House’s owner, asks Ray if he ever whipped O. “Sometimes,” he replies. Turning to O, Marie wants to know if she enjoyed it. O repeats Ray’s “sometimes,” but with a nonchalant tone. She throws down the challenge, shifting the burden to Marie and Ray to pleasure her, not the other way round. Attached spreadeagled to a vertical frame, O is aroused by Maria’s application of the flogger, warming up O for the hot sex to follow. Carmen’s O shows off her talents with multiple partners, completing her initiation into the fold.

In conversation later with other house slaves, O discovers their breezy attitude is reflective of hers. Without their collective consent, there would be no House and no entertainment. Everything is voluntary. Greene sets the tone for the series in these early scenes and prepares the viewer for a revelation in the second film, The Surrender of O, where he cannot resist a little irony.

Courtesy of Adam & Eve Productions

In Surrender, Bree Olson’s O comes back to the house voluntarily and is surprised to learn that Marie runs the show and rewards are to be had.

“You mean we get paid?” O says with amazement.

Mika Tan’s Rita, a House girl, tells O that Marie lets the guys think their money dictates the action. O can’t believe they pony up cash for their privileges with the girls. The whole operation is a “profitable business for all of us,” Rita says, and reminds O that with her return she is now a House girl and “no one’s property” but her own.

Marie keeps a catalogue of the girls and their talents. Regina (played by the gorgeous Kayden Kross) reads to O what is written about her, “orgasms during punishment.” Rita implies that being a “very obedient good slave” has benefits. If her attitudes and talents are noteworthy, O has the freedom to “come and go” as she pleases and the next time she drops by she’ll find “a big fat wire transfer” in her bank account. Bree’s O is hesitant, but Regina is honest about the BDSM bordello. “It’s not like you can pretend to enjoy this sort of thing if you don’t. The masters think this is their club, we think of it as ours.” Rita chimes in amusingly, and “the attendants think it’s theirs.” The girls are playing the game for fun and profit, very much in control of their outcomes. Everyone is a winner.

With an attitude like that, is it any wonder the sex is spectacular.

*     *     *     *     *

O’s ongoing personal journey is a search for emotional satisfaction framed within a fierce desire to hold onto her independence, a task more difficult than life at the House. Though Bree’s O will backslide in the second film, Carmen’s O reveals a shade of defiance. The game is played with her permission and by her rules. In Submission’s conclusion Carmen’s O faces down Steven, ably portrayed by popular veteran actor Evan Stone. He once captured her with his self-confidence but made the fatal mistake of revealing his weakness. She reacts to his sudden declaration of his love for her:

“I never expected you to say that and back then I wanted this more than anything, but right now it’s a lot more than what I want. I did everything you required me to and the only thing I needed in return was that you were different from all the others, stronger somehow.”

She gives back her O ring, the symbol of attachment to him, and delivers her parting shot, a damning statement that shapes the message of film three, The Truth About O:

“You fell in love with what you think you see and not what’s there. I won’t be back.”

In fact, she relents and does return to him in Surrender. Marie, played with wisdom and charm by Nina Hartley, mentors O throughout the trilogy. She is O’s trainer and counselor, offering O a feminist education that flowers in the final installment, Truth, when Marie compliments Bobbi Starr’s O as “the finest slave I’ve ever trained.” Finest does not mean most compliant, rather O is now the strongest and most willful.

In Surrender, Marie sympathizes with O’s emotional uncertainty and arranges a reunion with Steven. But, there is a lesson attached. Giving Bree’s O a key, in reality the key to her happiness, Marie tells O that she can return to Steven if she wishes. Marie also gives her a fabric inscribed with “freedom is deciding whose slave you want to be.” Marie continues, “You have to decide what part of your life is yours and [what] part you would have to surrender totally.” It is the teachable moment in Ernest Greene’s “The Education of O.” The underlying meaning of the entire series is equality and O emerges with her total personhood in tact when the final curtain falls on Bobbi’s O. Once again, Greene’s message is O’s dedication to the lifestyle as a master, not any one person within it. The bondage game is her pleasure and the tool she uses to find a master of her choice who can deliver it. In the language of the real world of BDSM, O is searching for a “service top,” a dominant who arouses her by responding to her needs.

Bree’s O reunites with Steven and promises she will never leave again unless he orders her to. But her promise borders on schoolgirl silliness because the plot is never fated to play out that way. In presenting herself to Steven for sex, O wears a short veil this time, suggestive of a modified version of the “marriage” depicted in Submission. Symbolically, she is renewing her vows with BDSM; Steven is the master du jour. Bree’s O presents a confusion of hope and uncertainty that is later resolved in Truth. Surrender winds down with an extended sex scene between Bree and Evan Stone, the most sensual in the trilogy and there are good ones throughout featuring some of the best talent in the business.

In closing Surrender, Steven presents O with a contract designed for a master/slave relationship but looks a lot like a business arrangement. With this turn of events, Greene sets up the third movie. O agrees to help Steven obtain “love slaves” to serve him and gets approval over their selection. O is free to do as she pleases once she satisfies her “boss.” Again Greene gives O choices, this time spelled out in a written partnership between lovers that strongly suggests equality. Does Bree’s O understand the implications of what she holds? Bobbi’s O steps out of the shadows to answer that question.

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            Pauline Reage’s O is a complex character and the actresses Greene selects to play her are reflections of this varied composition. Carmen’s O is defiant, independent, a reluctant submissive; Bree is submissive, compliant, and easily manipulated. She shows none of the hard edge that sometimes shapes Carmen’s performance. The flavor of Bree’s sex scenes are more BDSM leaning than Carmen’s but they cannot match Bobbi Starr for realism. Bobbi is one of the most powerful adult film actresses in the business and perfectly selected for the final film. (For fans wanting another Bobbi Starr fix, she also appears as a house girl in Surrender.)

Courtesy of Adam & Eve Productions

Bobbi’s O is a different breed. She develops wisdom by the time the script progresses to Truth.  Strong-willed, mature, and ready to demonstrate an obedience that is more attuned to her wishes than to Steven’s, Bobbi’s O plays a game she knows she will win. Like Carmen’s O, she challenges Steven, now played by porn heartthrob James Deen, wanting to know what he thinking. Bobbi intellectualizes her version of O and produces the most powerful scene in the trilogy done via flashback. O is chatting with a new sub (played by Krissy Andrews) and recalls “it was a typical day at home” with Steven. The scene moves to his library.

“You are the only one who can satisfy me,” he says. With a smile, O replies that she would do anything to be owned by him. All seems mutually satisfying, but their body language suggests trouble.

Steven sits her on his desk and she touches his forehead. “What’s going on in there?” she asks, forcing a smile.

“It’s all become so easy for you, hasn’t it?” Steven says, deflecting her question. “Just when you think you have it, it turns out you don’t.” Trouble is brewing.

Steven is addressing his own anxieties and wants reassurance that O is still loyal to their relationship. He asks her to find another girl for their mutual enjoyment. “See if you know me as well as you think,” he says and they hug without a lot of feeling.

Steven takes her hand and she playfully pulls it away. This is the opening they both know is fated: an O replacement for Steven, an exit opportunity for her.

Are the “typical days” a telling message that boredom has set in, or an indication that O needs to continue her search for more stimulation and excitement? Will O now play at BDSM only when it amuses her? Ray (Michael Vegas in Truth), is available again, but she now regards him as an equal, running off with him for the pure adventure of it. Using Ray and providing Steven with another slave, Bobbi’s O manipulates the entire scenario. Marie’s “finest slave” remark unveils the consummate O. She is emotionally grown up.

Truth is set in the bondage club, not at the House, in effect moving the hard lessons of submission into O’s past. There is little need for Marie’s mentoring now; the older woman will assist O in her mission to find a playmate for Steven. When the new slave (played the sensuous Asa Akira) is secured, O returns her contract and takes off, leaving Steven to ponder what he had, lost, regained, and lost again, but through no fault of his own. Like the masked Owl at the end of Reage’s novel, Greene’s O remains an elusive mystery: those around her believe she is emotionally naked and seemingly leashed, but they are her prey, they fall victim to their desires for her. O’s soul is reserved for the mystical master of BDSM, however she chooses to greet him. Desire her, but don’t expect to control her because BDSM is the ultimate leveler of the human equation.

In the real world of adult film, Bobbi Starr and Nina Hartley are feminist soul mates. Both are iconic performers, a rare status for women in porn. Bobbi began as a BDSM submissive and later achieved director status with Evil Angel and Kink.com. Carmen and Bree are also superstars. Each woman has a different “feel” for their BDSM role, a good thing because their performances explore the different sides of Reage’s O, one of the most complex fictional characters in adult literature.

There are hints of a feminist attitude in the literary O that intrigue Greene. Reage’s character gets to “set the rules” and control the action especially when she is pursuing other women. O achieves a “complete sense of freedom” in the hunt and Reage tells the reader O is an “accomplice of both men and women” though the game is “not all that easy.” But as we have seen, the bondage game has an overlord and O is beholden to his erotic demands.

Ernest Greene never defines the perfect O because she exists only in the imagination. He does peek at the different ingredients that make her up and when he gets to Truth, Bobbi becomes the completed O. In the book and the series, O’s destination is not a place, it is a process: an ongoing refinement of BDSM pursued for its personal satisfaction. The characters she meets along the way are mere stopovers in her quest.

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Ernest Greene presents a female-friendly POV in much of his work. In most of the sex scenes, he is cautious to pleasure women with lots of oral sex and the ever present Hitachi Magic Wand. Orgasms are aplenty. Greene is no stranger to safer sex, by the way; condoms and latex gloves appear regularly. Like all good directors, he gives his performers choice.

In each film, the sex assumes a different flavor. Submission sets the trend of equality in oral sex for women. In Truth, it is filmed beautifully. Female porn viewers are not fond of DPs and anal but Greene knows they are fan favorites for men, so he sprinkles them in to add spice to the story. Surrender has its gonzo moments with group sex featuring Kayden Kross and Ava Rose that is acrobatic at times. Truth has definite feminist overtones. Bobbi is a feminist gonzo girl and her threesome with James Deen and Asa Askira is terrific. Submission is Carmen’s baby. Now retired, her performance in the film is superlative. Bree Olson in Surrender matches Carmen’s beauty and enthusiasm. There are others who deserve comment, newcomer Jessie Andrews comes to mind in Truth. It’s often said that porn can’t survive without the girls, but Greene’s series is a reminder that super male vets like Tommy Gunn, and Evan Stone in the first two films, and James Deen and Michael Vegas in the third, are also important to sustain the action.

On a final note, true BDSM submissives are not that frequent in adult film. One who deserves mention is a favorite of mine, the sensuous Justine Joli. Her scene with Carmen in the first movie and her performance art with the always innovative Claire Adams in the third is a must see. If there is a single female performer whose BDSM submission can steal a scene, it is Justine.

 

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There is so much more in Greene’s trilogy than there is space here. For anyone unfamiliar with the series, watching is recommended. Three decades ago skirting the feds was on every pornographer’s list so combining sex and bondage was a restriction the industry imposed on itself. It took some time for the industry to get more adventurous. But that’s the past and for BDSM lovers your time is now. Check out Greene’s trilogy and do the pictures in the order they were filmed, otherwise, the meaning and message gets confused.

I’m certain Ernest Greene is setting us up for another O film and I, for one, am ready to see it. Should Peter Acworth decide to make his film, I suggest he take a peek at Greene’s work before he ventures too far into his project. By the way, if Greene is open to suggestions for another film, consider pairing Nina and Bobbi as mentors for a new “Academy of O” where willing submissives are trained in BDSM as a sexual delight and a performance art. What possibilities would exist in that hideaway?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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