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Fetish Flicks
by Angelina Malhotra-Singh
Magazine Issue: U.S. Vol. 3.6

There was a dark, unhappy time when fetishes had to be confined to the prison of one's mind -- or, at best, one's bedroom. But thanks to motion pictures, paraphilias of all shapes and flavors now roam freely around our family rooms, bounded only by the size of our TV screens. Hallelujah!

There remain, of course, a few unfortunates who find any sort of deviance intolerable: for them, the mention of the word "fetish" spawns images of rubber-clad perverts suffocating on oranges. They also think society was better off when the path of fantasy led directly to state-funded shock treatment. Those folks I refer directly to the experts at the Sinclair Intimacy Institute, who point out that the line between fetishism and sexual preference is both thin and perforated.

The rest of you I invite to read the rest of this column, and to indulge in your proclivities, both liquid and celluloid.

Wild Wild West

Black Mask

The One You Serve, The One To Serve

I'm as much a dissident as the next gal, but there's something about starch, epaulets and buttoned-up collars that makes me tingly. According to a friend of mine who makes her living selling illusions, a uniform usually indicates a position of authority. Thus, the thought of having sex with someone in uniform is inherently naughty. It not only gives the wearer a feeling of power, it allows the other party to feel she or he is subverting the dominant paradigm -- after all, the authority figure eventually ends up with his or her brass buttons askew. Popular fetish uniforms include those of the police, traffic wardens, nuns, priests, nurses and all branches of the armed forces. A final old favorite is the French maid uniform, which, I suspect, has had more outings than all the others put together.

Films with characters in uniform are often awash in sexy scenes: an entire genre of nurseploitation films (Private Duty Nurses, Tender Loving Care, Emmanuelle in the Country) made a handsome profit from this particular fixation. And several films of yesteryear -- 1947's Black Narcissus, a disturbing movie about subversive nuns, and Jean Renoir's Grand Illusion, a subversive war film recently released on laserdisc -- will have you jonesing for people with unvarying wardrobes because, well, they're just so damn subversive.

Several big-buck recent releases are also rife with costumed characters. The Phantom Menace, a tedious parade of toys and effects, manages to desexualize the magnetic Ewan McGregor (remember The Pillow Book?) by wrapping him in a dusty Jedi knight uniform. The painfully beautiful Natalie Portman fares better in queen gear, though I've never met anyone with a weak spot for royal robes. The General's Daughter features well-pressed Army officers and an army brat-cum-dominatrix to boot; the plot -- did the revered general off his offspring? -- would be a modern noirish tragedy if you could believe a minute of it. Opt instead for Wild Wild West, a sporadically amusing redo of the old TV series that gives you the opportunity to ogle the sexy and natty duo of U.S. Army agent James T. West (the long-legged Will Smith) and U.S. Marshal Artemus Gordon (the long-legged Kevin Kline). Bonus: the non-uniformed Salma Hayek -- a fetish unto herself. If you're hankering for less-familiar uniforms, pick up The Black Mask and get hot and bothered over action star Jet Li. If you can get beyond the bad dubbing and predictable plot, the sight of Li performing martial arts in his catburglaresque Black Mask antihero duds is sure to flip your sin switch.

I'm a sucker for packaging. Many a time a clever or lovely label has seen me out 20 bucks and stuck with a bottle of plonk. When I spotted Bonny Doon Vineyard's 1997 Cardinal Zin, which sports a leering, hatted, ready-to-be-defrocked minister on its wrap, I grabbed two bottles and crossed my fingers (not easy). But this zingy zin smelled fab and tasted spicy and a little rough around the edges -- just what I needed to put me in an obedient mood. Pour a large glass, settle in with Salma, and decide which hero will inspire your Halloween regalia.

Unnatural Fibers

Leather, latex and PVC have long been the fashion choice of the fetish scene; they've also long been the focus of fantasy for ground-dwellers. An Internet acquaintance of mine who's a founding member of the International Association of Rubberists holds that enjoyable, unnatural acts often begin with enjoyable, unnatural fibers -- logic that should apply as well to a leather merry widow as it does to a condom. Who am I to argue with a global authority? Personally, I've always liked latex: it's versatile and can be made into just about any item of clothing. It's also easily cleaned, which makes rubber ideal for the messier aspects of gratification.

But lately I've favored PVC, which is shiny, fairly water-resistant and makes really glam party outfits. For its fashionista status and its ability to reflect klieg lights, PVC has long been a favorite fabric of filmmakers. A decade ago, Pedro Almodovar peppered his raunchy, well-crafted Tacones Lejanos (High Heels) with drag queens and television anchors (the gorgeous Victoria Abril) in bits and pieces of plastic clothing. Back in 1995, Fresh Meat provided two hours of shiny eye candy. More recent fare includes Mod Squad, which has little going for it besides Omar Epps and Clare Danes in must-have shiny trousers, and Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, in which a PVC-catsuited Kristen Johnson wriggles along the ground, making "an interconnected series of tunnels like the Viet Cong." Less silly and more sexy is the wriggling and catsuited Catherine Zeta-Jones in Entrapment, a fairly subtle (it is a Hollywood thriller, after all) and slightly complex crime caper.

If you're hankering for a serious PVC-fest, rent The Matrix, a film best described as The Terminator meets Yellow Submarine, with some Dr. Strange comics and a few William Gibson novels thrown in. I've heard it argued that this film and Bernardo Bertolucci's Keanu Reeves-starrer Little Buddha form a unit: in the former, Reeves becomes a Buddha; in the latter, an enlightened Reeves shows humanity how to rend the veil of illusion (with the help of guns). I have trouble wrapping my mind around Reeves as the Messiah, but I had no problem at all with the Matrix's take on the couture of the future: shiny, super tight and cut to flatter every member of the Underground. Viva la revolucion!

I have a pair of inky red poly-vinyl trousers whose color reminds me of a great pinot: dark yet clear, blackberry mated with raspberry. The 1995 Schug Carneros Pinot Noir has the right color and a nice earthy smell. If you're looking for something smoother, the 1995 Rosenblum Russian River Valley Merlot is in the same plum-colored family and has a fat, happy flavor. If you're startled by one of the Matrix's many loud explosions and spill red wine on the PVC pants you're no doubt wearing, hop on the Dutchrubber and Shiny Web sites for helpful information on cleaning, donning (and doffing) your duds.


The Mod Squad

Austin Powers

Cat People

Cat People - 1982

Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down


Rope Burn

The image most people conjure up when "bondage" is mentioned is that of a hooded individual trussed up in a straitjacket, undergoing a calculated whipping. While full-blown s&m does, indeed, provide satisfaction for some people, it's often enough to be rendered (or to render someone) motionless. A jerry-rigged boudoir is unnecessary: it can be enough just to be tied to a bed or a chair. The inability to independently move one's limbs, and the dependent relationship that that creates, has been fodder for many an urban fantasy -- and an awful lot of movies. Think back to 1982's Cat People, in which the innocent, sensual panther-woman Nastassja Kinski spent a chunk of screen time with her wrists bound (with rather weak rope, natch). Ten years later, the always-riveting Stephen Rea spent time both as binder and bindee in the Oscar-winning gem The Crying Game. Fetish-focused Pedro Almodovar's contribution to this category is twofold: In 1987, he released a gay film, Law of Desire, a compelling work that served to introduce the filmmaker to American audiences. Three years later, he released a heterosexual version titled Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, an uninspired retread in which an escaped mental patient (Antonio Banderas) kidnaps his true love, a former drug-addicted prostitute (Victoria Abril, again) and keeps her prisoner until he falls in love with her. Abril is lovely as ever, but Banderas is unbearable -- stick with Almodovar's sexy and nervy homosexual version.

More recently, both Bound and The Big Hit got motors revving with tied-up leading ladies (Jennifer Tilly and China Chow, respectively). Naturally, you've already seen those films on our previous recommendation. So head for your video store and seize Manny and Lo, a charming, offbeat movie about a pregnant 16-year-old and her 11-year-old sister, orphans who kidnap a woman working in a baby store and spirit her away to the woods in order to get big sister through the big day. (It's charming, honest). And if you resisted the giant sales job unleashed on you last June, you can now comfortably rent The Mummy, a movie about the most tied-up leading man ever. This is a remake of the 1932 Boris Karloff horror picture, but it's still about a 3,000-year-old Egyptian corpse that comes to life, complete with unraveling bandages and a terrible curse. Brendan Fraser (who has the strangest taste in roles, progressing from George of the Jungle to Gods and Monsters to Mummy) plays a dashing legionnaire-cum-Banana-Republic-ad. Rachel Weisz is his Egypt-savvy love interest and the token booty. Monsters by Playstation, comic relief courtesy of Central Casting Stereotypes. It's kitschy, but you can't publicly criticize it unless you've seen it -- unless, of course, you're Dan Quayle, in which case it's your specialty.

If you're the bindee, I recommend pleading for spoonfuls of superchilled chardonnay and bits of fruit, because chard tends to get hot and sweaty under all that rope. DeLoach's Russian River Valley chardonnay is oaky and crisp; and I recently sampled a Chilean chardonnay: a 1997 Concha y Toro Trio, which was as refreshing as its low price. If you're the one with the handcuff keys, pop the cork on something authoritative and elitist (therefore French) -- perhaps a Bordeaux like the 1995 Chateau Pape-Clement, which tastes of jammy raspberry even though it smells like an ashtray. Drink three-quarters of the bottle in full view of your prisoner, munching sharp cheese as you empty the bottle and cheer against all odds for the Mummy. Very calculating, and surely more painful than a whipping. (And if you save a glass for your playmate, you can probably get away with it.)

Classic Flick Picks: Like To Watch?

While the exhibitionists are exhibiting, there are others who are watching -- otherwise there wouldn't be much point. For voyeurs, sitting in on the pleasures and peculiarities of other people is enjoyable and probably less taxing than developing a fetish that requires active participation. (Even Peeping Toms have to leave their homes.) The Internet, with its plethora of sites offering glimpses of little more than women's bedrooms, is proof positive that the nation is full of lazy sickos... So, for that matter, is the success of "When Animals Attack!"

Voyeurmentaries -- a genre of documentary film, sexually graphic by nature -- puts one more degree of separation between viewer and performer. In many cases that's just as well (you don't want to be on the set of a behind-the-scenes John Wayne Bobbitt flick). On the other hand, it's allowed a lot of filmmakers to execute graphic documentaries, place an intellectual veil over the exhibitionism and pass them off as art films. That's not to say these are bad films -- I just like to call a spade a spade.

One example is Gough Lewis's 1995 documentary The Annabel Chong Story, a look at the life of Chong, the ultimate gang-bang exhibitionist. The film (relieving 251 men in 10 hours) follows Chong's life from the campus of USC to porno central to Taiwan and a fretful reunion with her mother. Fascinating stuff, especially when Lewis gives up the sociologist charade and lets the camera be the intrusive creature it is. Another watchable voyeurmentary is Nick Broomfield's Fetishes, a bird's-eye view of the Manhattan sex parlor Pandora's Box, a haven for rich men whose fetishes fall into other categories in this column. Watch with morbid curiosity (is that my stockbroker?), and if anyone catches you, gesticulate wildly and begin to talk about the need of the powerful to be rendered powerless.

Hollywood appears equally fascinated by exhibitionists and voyeurs (remember Sliver?) Most big-screen fare is along the tedious lines of The Thirteenth Floor, in which people watch people do mundane, everyday tasks (sleep, change their clothes) while waiting to catch them in the act of some shocking, earth-shattering task. In this particular film, a group of pretty, shallow folk battle to fight their way out of the world of illusion. At the crux of it is the question: Are you from modern-day L.A., or are you a self-learning cyber-being from 1937? (To which I reply, is there a difference?) Much truer to the art of voyeurism is Besieged, a Bernardo Bertolucci stunner. Here are characters (Thandie Newton and David Thewlis) who watch for the sheer obsessive pleasure of it. The camera caresses Newton's face the way Thewlis would like to -- the way you might like to. (The next-best thing, of course, is watching.)

Flicks that heat you up require beverages that cool you down, and when the object of desire is as fiery as Newton, it requires a strong brew. This summer I've been partial to mojitos: 3/4 cup sugar, 1/2 cup lime juice, 1 cup club soda, 2 cups dark rum, a handful of spearmint and ice. Mix and mash and strain all but the lime and rum; add lime and rum and more ice and soda if desired. Dish up some grilled prawns and munch with style. You never know who's peeking.


Three Seasons

Xiu Xiu

Schlock Flick Picks: Sweet Feet

Foot fetishism has taken on a rather public profile in the past few years, with devotees as diverse as Sarah, Duchess of York, and Eddie Murphy, actor of New York. Toe sucking and general massage abound, though true fetishists forage into other forms of foot worship, such as stamping, boot polishing and heel grinding. We can turn again to the ever-educational Internet, where my correspondent, the Barefoot Blond -- "with the sweetest little red-painted toes and silver toe rings" -- claims to live the high life by sending out personalized JPEG images of herself "doing" sandals, dirty soles, boot polishing and foot adornment. And she takes requests.

I haven't come across any great non-pornographic, non-fetishist films that focus on a pair of feet. Shoes, of course -- or the lack thereof -- are quietly symbolic in many a film: powerful women in heels, earnest men in combat boots, oppressed women in jeweled sandals, impoverished people running about barefoot. Tony Bui's beautiful film The Three Seasons, and Joan Chen's brilliant Xiu Xiu: The Sent-Down Girl, both feature bare feet you can interpret as class representations, but you'll find those issues in more interesting areas of these films than the character's feet -- the plots, for example. I say pick up Eddie Murphy's Life, a not-awful prison/human-condition parable (co-starring human lightning rod Martin Lawrence), which will allow you to giggle, nod and nudge your companion knowingly.

With due apologies: pawprint cookies with a jug of Barefoot Cellars?

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