A Look Back at BDSM in Film

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Gracie talks about films, media & pop culture portrayal of the BDSM culture with Gloria Brame, one of the world's foremost experts on SM/fetish sexuality.

In my mind, there are 3 movies/tv shows in my lifetime that seem to mark points in the kink/BDSM world: Rocky Horror Picture Show is the cult status entre, the movie The Secretary is the honest look, when BDSM moves out of the closet so to speak, and Desperate Housewives is when the mainstream ackwowledge's BDSM if not accepts it.

What are your thoughts about these depictions, and what media would you suggest as defining moments in BDSM/kink?

I can't speak to defining moments necessarily to leather/BDSM culture as a whole. We're too diverse a world. I think each of us could list films (or books) which had a personal meaning for us. Sometimes it isn't even a whole work but a visual image, a text passage, or some other scrap of a movie, show or book that captivates our imaginations and may haunt our SM fantasies forever after.

Speaking personally, the film "The Night Porter"--released a year before Rocky--had an enormous impact on me and remains one of my favorites. Its themes were more seriously, intensely, and disturbingly frank. Very dark but very realistic. And it explores fetishes filmmakers still shirk from. Dirk Bogarde (star of "The Night Porter") also made a lesser-known film in 1963 called "The Servant" in which the characters not only took LSD (wildly advanced for its time) but the entire sequence of events is predicated on the evolution of a bizarre sadomasochistic relationship between the servant and his master, and their gradual switching of power roles. Obviously that film stuck with me too.

A year after Rocky, we had "Maitresse," directed by Barbet Schroeder (who was himself involved in our world), a very explicit look at the life of a French prodom. It certainly opened my eyes. It was the first time I saw a nipple piercing (graphically shown in this movie). It was also the only depicition I'd ever seen of a woman who was both a hardcore SM player and a regular person (the movie was mainly about her relationship with her vanilla boyfriend).

Politically speaking, "Cruising"--a film which generated huge negative press and protest marches from gay people who resented the depiction of leather as emblematic of gay sex--came out in 1980. Indeed, from the mid 70s through the early 90s, mainstream media routinely dipped into the SM well, whether for comic relief (Mel Brooks' "High Anxiety" or Jane Curtain playing a dominatrix on the original "Saturday Night Live") or existential confusion (see Polanski's "What?" (1972) or "Bitter Moon" (1992).

A movie which was considered a milestone at the time (1994) was "Exit to Eden." Not because of the quality of the movie (to be blunt, it really sucked), but because, first, an SM group in LA had been consulted for the SM-y details from the Anne Rice novel; and because it was a big mainstream movie which depicted SM in a soft light, aiming both to laugh at it and to portray some of its romantic qualities. Again, though the film was awful, many SMers at the time were happy that SM was not being vilified or represented as an adjunct to violence or crime.

I do think all three of the cultural events you list have broken new ground. But the world of BDSM is infinite and many many other films, books, and tv shows have broken ground in similar ways.

Did I mention I'm a film buff? I could go on and on about the many movies with SM (or undercurrents of SM) so I better stop now.

You can find out more about Dr. Gloria G. Brame at her website, GloriaBrame.com, and at her fabulous blog, Inside the mind of Gloria Brame.

Oh! And don't forget her other interview here, as well as the review of her book, Different Loving!



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