Hardcore Kink Rules
Its predecessor, "O — the Power of Submission," demonstrated once again the impressive mainstream numbers bondage sex writ large can draw. I predict raves for Bree's heartfelt performance in the title role, but I don't want to jinx the picture, so I'll keep the rest of my raving to myself for now.
What's interesting here, besides the obvious, is how completely full-circle we've come.
My first porn gig was tying up a young and luscious Marilyn Chambers for a deluxe, shot-on-film series called "Private Fantasies," back in 1984. Since legalization, it had not been uncommon to see BDSM themes treated with some authenticity in Golden Age classics like "Story of Joanna," "Society Affairs" and "Defiance." Marilyn cheerfully didn't care if the rigging was comfortable: "Just make me look good," she said. Crawling all over Marilyn on a giant bed, lashing her down as if for a typhoon, a world of limitless possibilities seemed to open before me.
A short time later, that world evaporated with the release of Ed Meese's report, which painted the depiction of BDSM as the blackest of porn's many alleged sins.
Simultaneously indignant over the plight of bondage performers and dismissive of their thespian talents, Meese turns film critic to observe that, "Obviously we are not dealing with people that can act, so they can't act the pain. Therefore the pain is very real."
From this off-hand boorishness an urban legend was born to the effect that showing sex and bondage simultaneously was "against the law." In fact, no such specification has ever been written into the federal criminal code provisions "defining" adult obscenity.
However, a few instances of very bad case law emerged from Meese-inspired prosecutions in various venues. For nearly two decades, BDSM essentially disappeared from major adult features. Only in the late '90s did it begin to slide its wet nose under the tent in the form of "fetish," a sort of masquerade approach to bondage sex play that implied what went on by the performer's dress and manner before the usual vanilla sex broke out. And only in the past few years, with one or two pioneering exceptions such as Andrew Blake's groundbreaking "House of Dreams" (1990), have we begun to see a return to large-scale productions with a strong kink-sex element integral to their concepts.
In the meantime, BDSM enthusiasts had to content themselves mainly with the specialty subgenre of "bondage videos," which were exactly that, videos in which performers were bound in varying states of undress, ineptly annoyed with various harmless-looking instruments for no apparent reason, and allowed to squirm and squiggle for the camera to the point of generalized exhaustion. Ironically, this type of picture had evolved as a legal dodge 30 years earlier, allowing operators like Irving Klaw to sell eight- and 16-millimeter loops through the mail that featured bound babes thrashing about fully dressed without risking too much interference from the postal inspectors, as there was no sex involved.
Once consigned to that ghetto, in which physical restraint on some thin pretext of a plot involving stolen jewels or jealous wives or whatever was the only attraction, titles of this type became increasingly uncompetitive against the rapidly expanding breadth of hardcore products.
But outside forces were beginning to chip away at the boundaries between the depiction of conventional sex acts and those of less conventional acts of kinky sex.
Not the least of these was the emergence of kink culture, with its clubs and gatherings and organizations. Inevitably, some BDSM amateurs began to meet up with some sexually adventurous porn pros and sex began creeping into bondage vids just as pervy fashion affectations were making their way into regular adult entertainment products.
And then came the Internet, which magnified the effect spectacularly. BDSM players, who tended to be tech-savvy geeks among their other demographic peculiarities, were early adopters of web technology, back when there were still such things as computer BBSs. Kinksters began posting correspondence that included, among other things, updates on the latest visual fare. Sales of "House of Dreams" and Blake's subsequent releases undoubtedly benefited from his status as a cult figure among these upscale consumers, who had lots of disposable income for fancy floggers and the few video products that didn't offend their intelligence.
When the web became a delivery vehicle for images, it wasn't long before BDSM players from outside the Porn Valley system would create their own sites using themselves and their friends as talent. Blissfully unaware of the local taboos against showing tied-up people getting fucked, they did it gleefully — and the sky failed to fall.
Nevertheless, as BDSM became trendy, and the trendy young folks who got into porn brought their tattoos, piercings and handcuffs with them, it became more common to see big-name porn stars taking a turn in bondage videos, and bondage videos sexing themselves up more and more.
By the time Hustler's Taboo came along in 1998 to officially destroy the bondage-with-penetration restrictions for adult publications, there was no shortage of first-rate hardcore talent to fill its pages or educated buyers to snap them up.
To keep up, the kink video business largely discarded the kidnapped-damsel-in-distress format in favor of "dungeon melodramas," which featured predictably ill-tempered mistresses punishing equally predictably misbehaving slaves with varying degrees of sophistication. Scolding "mominatrixes" and simpering submissives were still staples of a cliché genre struggling to modernize, but open sex play between them was increasingly bold.
As someone who had gotten into porn in part so he could live his BDSM life in the open, years of working on "Captured in Lower Slobovia – Part 23" had been pretty grim labor for a long time. I was grateful for both the work Blake gave me assisting on his high-style odes to the delights of decadence and the relative freedom Bizarre Video gave my wife Nina and me in creating the "Nina Hartley's Private Sessions" series. I had done a few jazzy titles under the Twist imprint that had gotten me a certain notice, and now I had a well-known lead player just coming into her own as the new kind of domina: smooth and seductive, with her own approach to securing the obedience of her subservient darlings.
The secret of the line's success was as simple as its formula: tie down pretty, naked girls with their legs spread and get them off by various means, biological and mechanical. It was all perfectly defensible as softcore, but it sold like hardcore, racking up six-digit sales figures through 20 episodes.
That kind of market is too large to marginalize, and when Jenna Jameson made 2005's award-winning "Jenna Loves Pain," which I directed, which shattered out-the-door winnings for the most lavish features, the wall came tumbling down between BDSM and hardcore, never to rise again.
An entire spectrum of important shows, from Paul Thomas's "The Masseuse" to John Stagliano's "Fashionistas," treated kink sex as just another spicy dish on the menu of erotic pleasures, with dazzling results at the video store and no significant objection from the powers that be as long as the sex was clearly consensual and mutually pleasurable. There were enough sexually adventurous viewers in the audience who related to the BDSM experience to keep the cash registers ringing.
This brings us back to "The Surrender of O," a feature that couldn't have been made at all 10 years ago, and certainly wouldn't have attracted the full resources of a company like Adam & Eve, which takes its social responsibilities seriously enough to submit all new titles to a therapists' board of review before shipping them out.
A production of such scope and scale executed with a candid and knowing approach to BDSM among experienced practitioners reflects a sea change in consciousness of both producers and consumers. That the people and resources necessary to create this movie came together so smoothly suggests a level of sophistication unique to our time and place.
Of late, a certain taste for dungeon grunge and harsh realism has made its way back into vogue via JM Productions' "Hellfire Sex," Belladonna's "Fetish Fanatic" series and Kylie Ireland's deliciously dirty "Twisted as Fuck," where the Internet influence is felt as strongly as it is by the edgier cohort of the leather crowd itself. Interestingly, if done well, either type of picture can have appeal outside narrow genre confines, as the blowout success of "The Fashionistas" and its descendants demonstrate.
Not only have we come full-circle on what were once called "specialty videos," (which are now super-specialized, from sultry smokers to pregnant poppers), we've ended up in a more liberated zone than where we started. Now, while we still have the opportunity to make niche products, we can also enjoy the production values and crossover potential of big names, big budgets and big promotion needed to reach a wider demographic.
Though our key our market will never outgrow its core principles or cease to understand that mere roughness disguised as domination is just another kind of rip-off, the defensive crouch of political correctness that made bright-and-shiny the only stylistic rendering of the material that sold wide for a number of years may be giving way to a more nuanced approach to the BDSM crowd's darker instincts.
From what I read, see and hear, this desire for a bit more grit isn't gender specific. It's one of the many interesting aspects of the BDSM mix that it includes such a high percentage of women and couples, though this is not exactly surprising. Women and couples sufficiently adventurous as to include kinky pleasures on their personal menus are not unlikely to be porn-friendly as well, even if the porn in question falls outside the boundaries of what is usually considered couples' material.
The market for kink-sex adult entertainment grows larger and more diverse every day, and there are many ways to effectively service that market for those who understand it and know how to deliver the wide variety of goods it desires. That is a permanent change in the nature of our consumer base, and those who get on board with it soonest and with the best titles stand to profit accordingly.