Tag Archives: Story of O

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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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 Finest Slave I’ve Ever Trained

By Rich Moreland, June 2012

Note: Though I am not a film critic, I’ve tried my hand at it with this review. I confess that I enjoyed writing it because I found the picture’s storyline and the cleverness of the director to be refreshing. This is the final film in a trilogy of movies based on The Story of O.

Bobbi Starr as O
Courtesy of Adam&Eve Pictures

There is always a risk attached to intellectualizing porn. Industry people insist that adult film is merely a fantasy of acrobatic sex. However, occasionally a film comes along that reaches beyond the simple parameters of eroticizing our imagination and insists that we pay attention to its statement.

The BDSM literary genre is heating up these days with Fifty Shades of Grey capturing the “mommy porn” consumer. The master of gonzo BDSM, San Francisco’s Kink.com,offers visual delights in cyberspace for anyone fascinated by ways dominance and submission can be fashioned for hardcore lovers who like it rough. Between these polar positions, there is a middle ground where a blend of story, bondage, and sex resides.

Ernest Greene’s The Truth About O has come along at just the right time to fascinate the BDSM curious and fans of explicit sex who like their women to be contradictory to traditional porn. Greene’s girls like to do the dirty deed, but the sex is on their terms using bondage as their erotic trigger. His picture blends the right flavors to make BDSM sophisticated, at least in the adult film world.

Greene minimizes long-standing Porn Valley gonzo and Kink’s addictive heavy hitting. In doing so, he offers a more realistic BDSM product to a growing base in adult film: a female-friendly and couples audience. No surprise, Greene is married to Nina Hartley, a pro-sex feminist porn legend and the assistant director for the film. The dynamic Bobbi Starr plays O. She, like Hartley, is a self-proclaimed feminist. For those who don’t know, feminism in adult film is sex-positive and empowered far from the man-hating, hairy-legged, bra-burning sex-negative shenanigans of the 1970’s. And please note, though Hartley and Starr are industry icons of different generations, they are also two of the smartest and assertive women in the adult business.

How is a feminist-oriented film defined and how has Greene tapped into the women’s/couples’ market with his latest O movie?

First, female pleasure is the anchor; real orgasms are the linchpin. Greene extends male-female connections, giving time for the climatic waves to sweep over the female talent.

Female receptive oral is a filming highlight in this movie. Greene’s cinematography frames these shots to make the sex authentic. He divides the screen, situating the giver in the foreground while focusing on the actresses’ ecstasy in the background. Women want filmed sex that avoids the gonzo anatomy lesson, preferring the actress’s facial expression to receive equal billing with the sex being performed. The finest example occurs when Ray (Michael Vegas) pleasures slave Jillian, a role taken on by the irresistibly sweet Jessie Andrews whose natural breasts and tall physique capture the willowy girl image many porn watchers adore. Jillian’s build-up to pure rapture is a conflation of bliss and frenzy. Greene repeats the pattern in a scene between Danny Wylde and Asa Akira and in an interracial gem that features Nat Turner, whose gentleness belies his large stature, and the voluptuous Krissy Lynn.

Facials are rarely found in woman-friendly film. It’s not something women enjoy and there is no reason for it to be there. Of course, the pop shot is the moneymaker of porn; it’s the external placement of the internal reality. But the “getting off” can be deposited anywhere and Greene prefers other parts of the female body.

A criticism of porn is kissing. If it appears at all, it is passed off as a quick excuse for foreplay and lame exercise in affection, especially from males. Not the performers Greene books. James Deen, Danny Wylde, and Michael Vegas are sexy and sensuous, evidence that this picture hands equal status to men. In adult film, the characters (and the performers who play them) often lack their own personhood, what psychologists identify as their larger reality. A Greene movie insists that pleasure is a two-way street and is there for a reason, women have authentic sexual experiences and men are more than “dicks” in the corner. As a result, character development is a must and Greene’s actors emerge as people, not just bodies.

And of course, there is the Hitachi Magic Wand. Its handheld motor is indispensable in woman-friendly scenes, especially in bondage movies where it is often the delicious wrap-up for the female star. The “little hummer” always guarantees female pleasure and Greene employs it judiciously.

The trickiest part for a female audience is anal, now a standard in its own right though overuse can make it a yawner in many movies. Greene limits his anal scenes because backdoor sex remains a debate among women. It is not personally pleasing for some, they don’t want to do it in their own lives and often see it as degrading. Yet, on-screen anal action has spawned a growing interest among others to experiment in their sex lives.

Feminist adult film directors tend to shy away from anal except with toys in some girl/girl scenes. Greene has compromised, striking a balance for those who want to see a girl’s rump penetrated and others who find it tiresomely repetitive.

That being said, an enthusiastic anal shoot is a welcome variance and Greene’s lead, Bobbi Starr, is a true analist who loves its eroticism. Greene obligingly gives her the go ahead. Two scenes in the film, one with Starr and Wylde and another with Akira and Deen, sparkle for posterior aficionados.

To Serve or Obey?

The film’s opening scene is in a bondage club, and Greene turns BDSM play into superb performance art featuring the incredibly sensuous Justine Joli and Claire Adams, Greene’s rigger for the production of O. Adams is a premier fem dom and Joli is the consummate sub whose winsome and sassy look is a reminder of San Francisco artist and adult film feminist Madison Young. A glorious example of Adams’ shibari rigging ability is on display with the opened legged suspension of Joli. It rivals the best of Young’s Femina Potens  “Art of Restraint” workshops which, incidentally, often feature both performers. Joli clearly relishes her submissiveness, giving “do me” looks to Adams who navigates the scene with the precision of a mechanic.

Performance Art with Justine Joli and Claire Adams.
Courtesy of Adam&Eve Pictures

Incidentally, Greene pays a subtle tribute to his northern neighbor, Kink.com. Marie (Nina Hartley), the owner of the bondage club, speaks briefly with Thomas (Danny Wylde), who has his “not really enslaved” submissive, Yvette (Asa Akira) on a leash. Thomas mentions that he found Yvette “at a party at the Armory” where a “fantastic scene with one of the upstairs girls” played out. Kink’s Upper Floor website and its house slaves are a recognized part of the BDSM porn genre. The Armory’s top floor facility often hosts live parties and offers its online viewers access to the events. In fact, most of Greene’s cast appears regularly at Kink’s edifice.

Thomas with his reluctant slave, Yvette
Courtesy of Adam&Eve Pictures

Listening closely to Marie’s words with Thomas, the viewer will hear a telling political message in the film. O, who is at Marie’s side, tells her at the opening of the movie, “I’ve not forgotten how to serve or obey,” an interesting statement coming from an owned slave. Marie introduces O to Thomas, referring to her as “the finest slave I ever trained.” In those few words, there is meaning that steps outside the film’s narrative. Nina Hartley is the consummate feminist in adult film, coming into porn in the days when feminism was a collective notion, a movement.  The public face of feminism excoriated adult film and Hartley fought accusations from “mainstream” feminists that porn debased women. In the story, Marie has “trained” O to serve and obey, but there is an interpretation here beyond the storyline of mistress and slave. Nina Hartley laid the feminist groundwork in filmed pornography, passing along her wisdom for later performers like Starr to find their own way. Bobbi Starr is a feminist who is individualistic in her approach, a modern update that has partly abandoned the collectivism of a unified political voice so familiar to Hartley. But Starr’s generation has clearly benefited from Hartley’s presence, becoming more outspoken because of it.

The storyline revolves around O’s master Steven, played by porn heartthrob James Deen, who wants to procure another woman for their sexual enjoyment, “a regular part time playmate,” as he puts it. O becomes Steven’s collaborator in his search while questioning her status with him, and as it turns out, her desire for him.

The pivotal sequence in the film is without sex. Steven is a lawyer whose aloofness is a challenge for O. He tells her she is the only one who can satisfy him. O responses with doubt. “Are you sure?” she says. O reminds Steven that she once told him, “I’d do anything to be owned by you,” though her words to Marie that she still remembers how to serve and obey clouds O’s declaration.

They briefly kiss with the affection and tedium characteristic of long-time lovers. O touches his forehead. “What’s going on in the there?” she asks, smiling though a little hesitant. Steven deflects her question. Interestingly, he does not chide her for asking it, though its very nature is an overstepping by a slave.

Instead, Steven reveals his weakness for her. “It’s all become so easy for you, hasn’t it?” He says dryly and sits her on his desk as if she were a child. She forces a smile and the viewer senses this D/s relationship has control issues.

As if to ground O’s wandering and troubled vibes, Steven predicts Greene’s film. “Just when you think you have it,” he says, “it turns out you don’t.” He touches the “O” ring she wears on her right hand and she pulls her hand away, a gesture that is a cross between playfulness and uncertainty.

That’s what the “truth’ of this film is all about.

Seeing Their Dreams, Not Yours

Ernest Greene learned his BDSM film trade back to the days of director Bruce Seven. Fem doms like Bionca and Alexis Payne with a host of submissive beauties, Aja, and Lia Barron coming immediately to mind, graced Seven’s work. In those times, the right wing Meese Commission sent a harassment message to the industry. Too much “spank” could spark interest from the feds and penetrative sex in bondage was verboten. BDSM filming took the safest avenue, concentrating on girl/girl shoots. Remembering those troubled years, Greene reconfigures BDSM in a way that is a bit softer than current online fare. He adds penetrative sex (there never were any legal restrictions on it in bondage filming, by the way), but with sensitive males who respond to a woman’s desires, thus turning his female talent from object to subject. Greene does not ignore gonzo fans, however. He expends footage on the oft-repeated bound girl, on her knees and blowing away. Starr, Lynn, and Andrews display their oral techniques with vigor, not to mention Akira in the climatic sex scene with Deen.

The second disc in the DVD package contains interview material. Greene discusses the evolution of O in his film series. She has gone from defining her desire to becoming a more self-confident woman. The real “truth” about O is her character development. Greene points out that the cultural context of BDSM has moved forward since the publication of Pauline Reage’s original The Story of O almost sixty years ago. The BDSM community is no longer closeted; today’s D/s and BDSM relationships have evolved and can be read in different ways, thus vacating the deviancy label once hung on bondage and discipline. That women are enjoying BDSM possibilities and variances is evident with the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy.

In his film work, Greene extends permission to O to explore a diversified eroticism. She expresses her desire for a variety of lovers so that she may individualize her sexual expression. Choosing Bobbi Starr as his lead and giving Nina Hartley space as assistant director assures that a sex-positive feminist element is an honored message in the movie. By the way, acting and dialogue in pornography can remind the viewer of Frankenstein’s monster stepping on eggs. If he doesn’t crush them with his plodding, he will clumsily try to avoid touching them at all. Hartley and Starr are exceptions. Starr, in particular, can act and delivers dialogue well; she is a pro and makes her parts in the script more natural than is normally seen in porn.


The film’s final scene highlights the return of the contract O once signed with Steven. New slave Yvette, whom O has procured for her master, brings the sealed envelope to him. He instructs her to open it. Hesitant, Yvette asks, “Are you sure?” not knowing the proper protocol with him yet. Steven rebukes her, pointing out that a slave does not question her master. Yvette quickly apologizes; apparently unaware that it’s a rule Steven does not apply universally.

Greene adds a clever twist here. O is off to the “Mysteries of the Orient” with Steven’s brother while leaving her now former master with an Asian slave. Will Yvette be a reminder for Steven of where O is now in her larger reality and the decisions she has made? Will O return? Perhaps none of these questions matter in the end, as the contract O signed was on her terms, not Steven’s. But Greene, the astute director that he is, leaves the viewer with a tantalizing thought. Is there another O film in the works?

Steven’s earlier words to O that it’s likely you never quite have what you believe you do, reflect on the totality of O, BDSM, and the state of human sexuality. That is surely the message at film’s end when Greene reminds his audience that submissives are free to walk away in today’s D/s world.

But a final thought is added.

“No one will ever know the truth about you,” Steven muses, thinking of O. “They look at you and see their dreams, not yours.” O transcends the object of desire; she is the huntress for her own erotic satisfaction, using a beguiling submissiveness as one of the arrows in her quiver. That she has choices is the greater message of feminism and BDSM in pornography today.


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