Dirty Movies 5.03

Nick Broomfield’s Fetishes : Mistresses and Domination at Pandora’s Box focuses on Pandora’s Box, an SM parlor on the top floor of an office building in Manhattan.

More or less admitting from the beginning that he knows nothing about the subject, Broomfield’s documentary might cause some ire in the SM community. Originally broadcast on HBO, the film shows Dominas and clients in intimate situations, and a nervous crowd might laugh at segments meant merely to chronicle, thus bestowing an unwanted theme of mockery.

Broomfield seems to be aware of this possibility. The person given the last word is the lovely Mistress Delilah, a high-cheekboned goddess of dominance. Throughout the film she is alternately the voice of hesitation and the Domina who seems to take the most pleasure in her work. Sitting in her upper east side apartment, she expresses concerns about how the film will be perceived and says that those who have role-played (14% of men and 11% of women, according to a Janus Report that Broomfield quotes) will look on the film sympathetically, while those who haven’t, won’t understand it at all.

Fetishes won’t change any minds. It will sexually excite practitioners and probably send the unsympathetic into gales of laughter. But I doubt that it will harm the SM community. It gives a basic rundown on the nature of professional domination: questionnaires, safe words, and so forth – and gives the Dominas and their clients time to express themselves. The Dominas are shown in many moods; as women who are sometimes teasing, sometimes lonely, sometimes crabby.

Pandora’s Box is run by former housewife-turned-famous-East-coast-dominatrix, Mistress Raven. The boss gives Nick a partial tour of the premises, which include a medieval French dungeon and a glaringly bright room for hospital scenes. After this introductory material, the movie focuses on various themes.

Among them are “Slaves,” which explores the psychology and fantasies of the clients. “Mistresses” profiles the women who work there. There’s Mistress Natasha, reputedly the toughest Dominatrix in the house; Delilah, who specializes in sensuous domination; and Catherine, the most sadistic. They represent three of the 15 women who work in Pandora’s at any time, four per shift. “Masochism” profiles Mary, a young blonde woman who has turned her natural masochism into a profit-making machine. Finally, “Socio-Political Fetishes,” perhaps the most controversial segment, includes a Jewish client negotiating a concentration camp scene, a black male client in a plantation scene with the black Mistress, and Michael, a man whose fixation on total degradation (licking a toilet seat, etc.) is the only thing, he says, that keeps him from becoming a mass murderer. This fits into the therapy thesis that Broomfield adopts.

Broomfield seems to use the fetish as a paradigm for SM in general, even though, strictly speaking, fetishism is only one part of the scene. However, he is correct in the sense that the object for the client is the achievement of what Giles Deleuze calls a frozen moment, a specific feeling created by a specific scenario that has as its grail one specific moment or thing, which may require “refining the same scenario for years.”

“It’s all theater,” as Mistress Raven says. Or, as Mistress Delilah puts it, “It’s like going to the movies, only you interact with the movie.”

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