The Princess and the Submissive
"I grew up in a Silence of the Lambs culture, a culture where rape and killing women are very common themes for movies and TV shows. Society isn't afraid of sex and violence; they are afraid of women owning their own bodies and controlling their own sexuality—which is what happens in BDSM." So says Princess Donna, head twat-torturer/Web mistress of WiredPussy.com and a popular fixture in the Kink.com network of BDSM websites. She offers her observation in a new short film called Tale of Two Bondage Models, directed by Brian Lilla (LillaFilms.com) and currently screening at the Tribeca Film Festival (held from April 23 to May 4, tribecafilmfestival.org). The short features Donna, most often a domme in her scenes, and Lorelei Lee, who more frequently takes the bottom or submissive role; the women are close friends and have worked together for several years.
Although Kink.com isn't explicitly named in the film, the most successful BDSM porn company on the Web acts as a silent backdrop to the narrative. Donna is a full-time employee; Lilla is the former editor of its behind-the-scenes site, BehindKink.com; and Lorelei is a frequent performer on several of its sites. On one level, like his work for BehindKink, Lilla's film serves as a peek behind the curtain of the multimillion-dollar juggernaut of Kink.com. "Because there's so much taboo and stigma surrounding the culture of bondage and BDSM pornography, I dove headfirst when I was given the opportunity to document it," he says. "Immediately, I was blown away by how caring, professional, and creative the people both in front of and behind the cameras were. On one hand, I was navigating this completely foreign place with the world's leading dominatrices, bondage riggers, and models pushing the boundaries of sexual exploration. On the other hand, I was questioned by family and friends about why I would support such a destructive industry and unsafe sexual behavior. It was hard to explain to my mom how I spent the day documenting an abduction scenario."
But Lilla does more than explain or demystify: His film is incredibly personal, exploring the lives of two women whose sexual identities and desires are intertwined with what they do for a living. Although Kink.com is clearly a commercial enterprise, Donna and Lorelei's revelations illustrate that they are getting a lot more from their experiences than just a paycheck—the website seems to have given them an opportunity for self-exploration beyond anything the average Google employee experiences.
Of the two, Lorelei reveals herself the most in the film. She describes her entry into the world of BDSM as a performer ("I knew nothing"), her unexpected desire to explore bondage and pain after her first scene, and the therapeutic value that BDSM has had for her. Her self-assured responses are juxtaposed with images of her enduring difficult suspension bondage and intense beatings. The look on her face as she processes the sensations, from discomfort to torture, is nothing short of luminous. (Perhaps the fact that Lilla shot her on a broadcast-quality high-definition camera using 35mm lenses also helps—the cinematography throughout is gorgeous.)
Donna also has some incredibly smart, articulate things to say (she was, after all, a women's-studies major at NYU), and she's thought a lot about what she does. Yet she still left me wanting to know more about what she gets out of her role as a dominant and sadist, besides helping people explore their limits. She remains more mysterious than Lorelei to the end—it might be a conscious choice on her part, a reflection of Lilla's editing, or some combination of both. But it acts as an interesting parallel to the power dynamics and personae that the two women embody: the slightly distant dominatrix alongside the submissive who bares it all.
Both women make it clear that they're in control of what happens to them and can use their safe-words at any time. I get the concept: During a scene, when you want it to stop, you use your safe-word. But their mention of this basic tenet of BDSM raises a thorny issue about when kink and sex work collide: When you're being paid to do a scene, is it harder to set personal limits because the expectation is that certain things will happen? Lorelei told me it's not: "Actually, it's the opposite—I'm much more likely to push my limits when I'm personally and emotionally invested in a scene, because I have a relationship with the person who's topping me. The intensity of doing BDSM within the context of a romantic relationship is much more likely to make me feel emotionally vulnerable in such a way that I might come to a place of totally letting go of control. At work, the intensity isn't the same."
But what about Donna, whom she describes as one of her best friends, but with whom she doesn't play off-camera? "Sometimes, of course, there is overlap. I do often work with people who I also have a personal relationship with. Then, I think the dynamic of our relationship becomes part of scenes that we do for work, in which case I'm likely to push myself to endure more. There have also been times when I've looked to test my limits and push myself for my own reasons, and I happened to be in a situation where the best place for me to do that was in a scene that I was getting paid for—but the money was not the motivating factor."
Lilla was blown away when the film got into the Tribeca Film Festival: "It's been rejected by a lot of festivals who feel the content is too graphic." In mainstream terms, some of the BDSM images in Tale of Two Bondage Models are pretty hardcore (caning on the bottom of the feet, anyone?)—but if you can see beyond the smacks, you'll find a smart, thoughtful window into two kinky women's worlds. "When my mother attempted to watch it, she told me to turn it off after the first two minutes," says Lilla. "The conversation afterward lasted three hours. Success for me is when the film instigates dialogue. I want people to walk away with their head full of questions."
For more of Tristan Taormino's work, please visit Puckerup.com.
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