Wednesday, February 20, 2013
GRAPHIC SEXUAL HORROR
Anna Lorentzon and Barbara Bell, 2009
I am only slightly ashamed to admit that I enjoy sadomasochistic porn. If you don't or don't at least have an interest (or perhaps a secret curiosity), then Graphic Sexual Horror is NOT the documentary for you. In fact, this type of review is the very reason I put an adult content warning on my blog. It doesn't get much more "adult" than this.
Anna Lorentzon and Barbara Bell's co-written, co-produced and co-directed documentary covers the almost decade long run of Insex.com, one of the world's most notorious and explicit bondage websites. Run by ex-college professor Brent Scott from 1997 - 2005, the site was allegedly shut down due to pressure from Homeland Security's Antiterrorism Act. The site became famous for its graphic, disturbing live feeds, where female submissive models would subject themselves to a variety of sexual and physical tortures, resulting in real, un-acted and frequently unscripted sexual exchanges.
The documentary is blatantly pro-Insex, though I think it presents an honest look at the business and the individuals involved, allowing people to voice their frequently unromantic and contradictory opinions. The runtime is balanced pretty evenly between sex scenes, interviews with the models and collaborators, and interviews with Scott, also know as pd. The scenes cover the gamut of SM from extreme bondage, penetration, whipping, piercing, crucifixion, water torture, electrocution, suffocation play and so on. Probably my favorite thing about the documentary is the high level of art accompanying most of the scenes. I'm sure that sounds crazy, but Scott took an obvious amount of pleasure and interest in his position (owner and main male dom), designing incredibly elaborate scenes inspired by paintings, films and other works of art. Frequently involving complex set pieces, props and elaborate costumes, Scott was forced to build and design a lot of the equipment himself. It is wondrous to behold.
The interviews with the models leave little to the imagination. Most of the girls make it clear that though they had an interest in BDSM and enjoyed the experience, they were there for the money and the exposure. A couple of jobs with Insex usually resulted in subsequent fetish modeling opportunities. Though fetish model Lorelei Lee was given the most in depth interviewee, many of the models describe their experiences with rich detail and emotion. They discuss certain touchy issues like "private" unpaid scene play with Scott, getting fired for bailing on a scene, and frequently doing things they were not told was going to happen and did not want to do. For instance, how do you use a safe word when you a) have a ball gag in your mouth, b) are being held under water or c) are otherwise indisposed? This brings up a lot of interesting issues about the rights of female porn performers, one that is too complex to really get into here, but this is a subject certainly not explored enough by pro-porn advocates.
Overall I really enjoyed Graphic Sexual Horror It is a very human look at a difficult and complicated industry, plagued with a wide variety of problems. Probably my favorite thing about the documentary is that is an inside look at a particular industry and company made by insiders, so Lorentzon and Bell are able to explore a wide range of issues. The intimacy and exposure the filmmakers were able to get here is surprising. It is evident that Graphic Sexual Horror was made with interest, compassion, some love, and a lot of respect.
The DVD, which was released in 2010, was unfortunately pulled from Amazon right after it was on the top ten list for documentaries and for independent films. Fortunately, it has since returned. It also won a lot of festival awards and comes highly recommended from a wide audience. I just wish we could get over this ridiculous obscenity issue. I really don't understand censorship. Five year olds aren't going to accidentally stumble across Graphic Sexual Horror or Insex.com when they turn on the TV.
You can also purchase the film at their website, Graphic Sexual Horror. And if you are so inclined, a Dutch company bought out Insex's footage when they got shut down, much of which they are posting online at the Insex Archives. The Dutch sure know how to share the love.