Desirable Damsels in Distress
I wasn't sure what to expect from my first visit to a damsel-in-distress video shoot. Aside from the light and video camera, the only clue as to what I was about to witness was the zesty mint-flavored fake blood in the bathroom of Evangeline von Winter and her partner and director Leviathan. The duo makes short films featuring women who pass out, whether through chloroform, hypnosis, gassing, or injection. The categories range from ghost stories to detective tales and include titles like Gassed Love, The Luckless Reporter, and Bound for Business. Remember the scandalous bondage and foot fetish films staring Sarah Kozer of The Apprentice? These D-in-D videos are similar but tamer. At this shoot, the monster Gabba captures Evangeline and uses a paper towel with chloroform to knock her out. The camera focuses on the damsel sprawled across the couch in a deep sleep. When she finally wakes up, there's a close-up of her being forced back into slumber with the help of a syringe.
Evangline is a quiet, petite brunette, while Leviathan is a hulking guy with a warm smile and an easy laughthe on- and offscreen chemistry between the two stems from their 12 years as a couple. The two have been making films for the last five years in their otherwise nondescript apartment filled with Harry Potter books and a home gym, with only a light, a video camera, and their imaginations to fuel them. But their fans don't mind the bare-bones production and are more focused on the sexy way Evangline rolls her eyes with her head tilted at the proper angle, and whether Leviathan's over-the-shoulder carry worked. These are the issues that ignite the damsel-in-distress community, fuel sites like sleepyrealm.com, and are hotly debated on message boards.
The couple charge $150 to $5,000, depending on the scope of the project, to make custom videos, and only produce one or two movies a year. Some customers are extremely precise with their fantasies, dictating exactly where Evangline should sit in her chair, what color her nail polish should be, and what brand of panty hose she should wear.
photo: Courtesy of Evangeline von Winter.
While damsel-in-distress videos are related to bondage flicks, the couple specifically target sleepy-fetish fans who want fully clothed scenes with no explicitly sexual content. The duo's site (evangelinevonwinter.com
) makes a necessary distinction: "Please note that this is not An adult website!!!" While this is true, the flicks are clearly intended to arouse someone, if not your average porn buyer. Can these films be considered porn if there's no nudity? Perhaps not, but they're still intended as jerk-off material and have some questionable overtones.
The two don't have any qualms about what they do, and emphasize the completely legal, nonsexual nature of their work. Leviathan tells me he's turned down the rare requests for rape, strangulation, beating, and drowning videos. The lack of nudity and sexual content in their "PG-18" material has been rewarded with permits from the city of New York to shoot outdoor scenes. Before I saw their particular brand of video in person, I was apprehensive and slightly put off. Certainly there are plenty of disturbing, misogynistic sites out there catering to the idea that once a girl passes out, she's yours to do with as you please. "There's the benign area we work in, but it can veer off into dark areas," admits Leviathan. Yet he claims that for most of his customers, it's not a strictly sexual fetish. "They're so excited to see this done in a way that's not porn," he reveals, claiming that if they were to show more skin in their videos, they'd lose business. "More than anything, they like to see a woman asleep," says Leviathan, offering up a far more innocent reason for this interest and drawing a picture of brave, perhaps nerdy men who dream of rescuing a damsel from peril.
One thing is clear: Sleepy fetishists take their fandom very seriously. A message board poster took over 1,900 words to review Evangeline's work, concluding that while he liked it, "[A] problem was the heavily sexual scenes, portraying the suggestion of actual penetration, although it is shot in such a way so as not to show private parts during the act." Perhaps the interest in nonsexual, but clearly immobile, girls appeals to viewers who want to insert themselves into the fantasy in a heroic, macho way and don't want to tarnish their innocent damsels with the label of "XXX."
What I liked best about the shoot was that the couple didn't take themselves too seriously. After all, how can a man wearing a monster mask and babbling nonsense while injecting fake blood with a needle-less syringe not see the humor in his actions? At one point, Leviathan instructed Evangeline to "hit me, punch me, really struggle," and when his feisty mate gave it her all, she got him good. "Ow!" he exclaimedthen burst out laughing. They even offer bloopers on their site so you can catch these offhand moments.
Is it disturbing that some people get off on watching women get chloroformed, pass out, and sleep? Of course, and in some ways there's a fine line between D-in-D and sites that glorify the immobilization of girls who get drunk and pass out. But I recognize that just as any single image or film can have multiple meanings, not everyone who watches these videos does so with the desire to harm. Maybe it's about the peaceful look of a woman when she's in repose or the desire to wake a Sleeping Beauty with a kiss. Perhaps it's about seeing the damsel vanquish her captor in the end (many videos climax with the girls breaking free). I can't deny that I got a little turned-on watching Leviathan fling Evangeline over his shoulder, but watching her pretend to sleep did nothing for me. I also like that they use normal-looking girls, rather than the clichéd big-breasted blondes. Leviathan boasts about Evangeline's popular appeal, "People like to see her go nuts. She's not easy pretty. She can throw punches that will look devastating." Which gives me an idea for a custom video: I'd pay $20 to watch the couple wrestle, but only if Evangeline wins.
Please visit rachelkramerbussel.com.
Get the Theater Newsletter
Get a rundown of upcoming theater events and ticket deals in New York.