Outsider Asylum: Graphic Sexual Horror

Big Smash! presents the Outsider Asylum Documentary Series:
Graphic Sexual Horror
Saturday February, 27 at 7:00pm
Aqua Books – 274 Garry St.
Admission by donation

Preceded by a written message from co-director Barbara Bell and followed by an 8-minute video commentary she has prepared for the screening.

Before launching his infamous extreme bondage and SM website insex.com in 1997, Brent Scott was a University professor with a history of challenging, controversial performance art, often involving the bondage, caging or cocooning of his subjects (or himself). But he left behind a life of academia to pursue BDSM full time, sharing his obsession online with the eventual 35,000 members that signed up to insex.com to see videos and live streaming of models being put through extremely torturous BDSM scenarios. Directors Barbara Bell (also a novelist) and Anna Lorentzon are former insex.com contributors behind the scenes, and their first feature is an exploration of the sometimes titillating, often frightening world they inhabited for that time.

Bell and Lorentzon let the subjects (site founder Brent Scott [aka ‘pd’], camera operators, models and model handlers) speak for themselves and remain ambiguous as to their personal take on the goings on behind the scenes at insex.com. Although many of the women appear to be well-rounded individuals who turned to insex.com’s secret pleasures and hefty paychecks as a means of getting through school, others are not able to articulate their experiences with as much detachment. But bear in mind, these are no ordinary glamour shots of phony BDSM scenarios – these women have signed up not only to look like they’re in pain, but to actually be in pain, to actually be frightened and in fear for their lives. They are put into dangerous contraptions that have likely not been properly tested, and made helpless: their limbs tied, their mouths gagged, their airway passages restricted with rubber or water. And yet all women claim to be there voluntarily.

The issue of personal safety is a major one in the film – after all, one cannot be in another’s shoes in terms of what they actually get out of the experience. But as the models decide on their ‘hard limits’ (meaning a limit the ‘master’ must always respect) and their ‘safe words’, we watch as their safe words are ignored, and the pressure of losing a job keeps them submitting to out-of-control scenarios they do not enjoy. The problem is, when Brent Scott left the realm of academia to hole up in his BDSM bubble, he stopped being critical – he stopped questioning the power dynamic (which is the most integral, interesting aspect of BDSM) and acted like a king in a castle, allowing his fantasies to run free at the expense of his models’ safety.
Although the content and certain footage will be upsetting to some viewers, Graphic Sexual Horror is an eye-opening, discussion-provoking documentary that explores concepts and systems of manipulation and the problems inherent in extreme BDSM culture, as well as addressing both personal rights and first amendment rights.

-Kier-La Janisse


From Uptown Magazine February 25, 2010:

Kink, inc.
Disturbing new doc explores the business of bondage

It was a phenomenon that leaves even a published novelist at a loss for words.

“It’s just so hard to describe,” says Barbara Bell (pictured right), author of the acclaimed novel Stacking in Rivertown, of the now-defunct BDSM website Insex.com. At its height, Insex was one of the world’s largest, and perhaps most extreme, porn sites before pressure from the U.S. government essentially forced its shutdown.

Before then, however, Bell had been a contributor to the site – as had Anna Lorentzon (pictured left), who’d been a producer for Insex for several years. Although Bell had become interested in writing a screenplay based on their remarkable experiences, she and Lorentzon instead fashioned the material into a documentary.

The result is Graphic Sexual Horror, which is being presented by Winnipeg-based Big Smash! Productions as part of its Outsider Asylum Documentary Series, which features films concerning stigmatized – even disturbing – subject matter.

But is this subject matter too hot to handle?

“This is something that a lot of other programmers won’t touch,” confides Kier-La Janisse, the programmer behind Big Smash!, who first discovered the film at the 2009 Fantasia Festival in Montreal. “But one thing’s for sure – it prompts conversation.”

Despite her own struggle to find appropriate adjectives, Bell says that their experiences with Insex.com “were all Anna and I could talk about.” Bell decided she wanted to open the door and throw light on a topic many people would prefer remained in the shadows.

“I admit, I found it hard to deal with hearing women screaming and crying,” Bell says. “Nonetheless, I don’t want to tell other people what to do sexually. And I’m not going to judge them.”

Nonetheless, Bell has realized she has to keep audiences’ thresholds of tolerance in mind, lest she and Lorentzon succeed only in alienating viewers.

“We thought we weren’t putting too much graphic imagery into the film when we made it,” Bell admits. “But then again, I think we had gotten rather used to those kinds of sights from working at Insex.”

Did she consider the models that performed at Insex to be exploited? “In order to exploit someone, the person would have to be in a position of not finding other work,” Bell says. “The reality is, these women can stop what’s happening to them at any time.

“That’s the real question that’s raised: what is a person willing to do for how much money? That’s a pretty universal human dilemma.”

It’s the profit motive that fundamentally changes the nature of BDSM activities, Bell says: “Bondage and S&M are very different on a personal as opposed to money-making level.”

It was also dollar signs, she continues, that drove Insex.com founder Brent Scott, a former professor, to create ever greater and more outlandish spectacles for the camera.

Despite this critical aspect of the film, Bell hopes that it will nonetheless open people’s eyes to this particular dimension of human sexuality.

“Even if people hate it, at least they’ll understand more about BDSM after watching this film,” Bell says.


From Uptown Magazine February 25, 2010:

How much is too much?
Graphic Sexual Horror is revealing doc on BDSM – but it’s not for the faint of heart

At one point in the disquieting documentary Graphic Sexual Horror, a former model for defunct BDSM website Insex makes an illuminating revelation.

Modeling for Insex, she says, became like a test of endurance – but one she took on willingly. Insex pushed the envelope, and she wanted to see just how far she herself was capable of going.

Two thoughts. Number one: this is a moment of psychological insight into BDSM that this otherwise thoughtful documentary could have used more of. But I’ll come back to that.

Number two: I kept asking myself a similar question throughout the film. How much longer, I wondered, can I hold out?

Be warned: Graphic Sexual Horror will be simply too much for some. Its portrait of BDSM as business is fascinating, but if leather, stress positions, and pleasure-as-pain do not, as they say, float your boat, the film will demand a dedicated resoluteness to sit through.

In fact, co-directors Barbara Bell and Anna Lorentzon have perhaps asked too much. This is a worthy subject, and obviously it’s necessary to show something of it – but, of course, the problem with fetishes is what’s good for you isn’t necessarily good for me.

Hence for non-enthusiasts (and perhaps even somewhat less enthusiastic enthusiasts), it’s a lot to take. More suggestion, and trust that the audience will fill in some blanks, might have been a better strategy.

Instead it feels like we’re clubbed over and over again with unrelentingly graphic footage. And even worse, it’s in the service of making the same points over and over. The bloated middle third of this film actually starts to become boring.

Nonetheless, Graphic Sexual Horror asks some important questions. Perhaps the most pertinent issue is, to what extent are BDSM activities immutably altered by the presence of the camera and the spectre of profit?

What we learn is that many models for Insex, when enough money was dangled before their eyes, put up with a lot more than they might otherwise have been willing.

The most harrowing scene in the film shows a young woman on camera who is slapped in the face, starts to cry, and protests that that hadn’t been discussed beforehand. Yet she sucks it up when the director suggests she quit.

There was a lot of money at stake for these models, we learn. The inevitable question that arises is the same as regards anyone in porn or the sex trade: are the workers empowered, or exploited?

What the film doesn’t ask is what attracts some people to BDSM in the first place. The perspective of an expert psychologist on the topic would have been welcome and enabled a more thorough probing of the topic.

Also unfortunate is the rushed final third, which concerns Insex’s essentially government-enforced shutdown. It raises serious questions about censorship and the possible misuse of US security legislation.

For all its flaws, Graphic Sexual Horror is both informative and provocative – and for a documentary, those are strong measures of success.

– Kenton Smith


~ by cineflyer on February 15, 2010.

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