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What I was really aware of when watching Secretary was obscenity rules. Awkward angles, nasty, unnatural poses, carefully calculated clothing levels ... I found myself respecting Cronenberg more and more as the film progressed, the Director who can shoot a sex scene so un/natural you never notice you're missing two tits and a set of bits. And poor old James Spader -- while I'm aware the focus was supposed to be her, the total lack of interest in (making) him (look good) just grated. Not that I didn't enjoy it at all, it was quite fun, like a smutty joke in rather poor taste; you laugh, but you're kind of embarassed; and not just because you're watching big-screen spanking.

Oh yeah, I had problems with Secretary. Serious, deep-rooted problems. The trouble was, it reminded me of something I read.

It was one of those horrible true-life stories from Mizz or Jackie, sometime in the 80s. I'm going to try to re-tell it from memory; and the thing to note here are the differences between this story and Secretary. It was in a section called Bosses From Hell, Worst First Jobs, or something like that:

"I got my first job in a small office. Most of the time it was just me and this one man who was sort of my boss there. He was always kind of nasty to me, criticising how I looked and behaved with people, but I didn't complain, because he was kind of fat and ridiculous and always seemed to be having a hard time with the other workers and customers.

I'd been working there for a few weeks when he called me into his office. He said that I'd been here a few weeks and that everyone had been waiting for my work to improve but that it hadn't, and that I was still making really simple mistakes, things you wouldn't expect from a child. He said everyone was talking about it and laughing at me. He made me feel really stupid. Then he said he could help me. He got me to bend over the desk and smacked me with a ruler. He said it would help me remember not to make mistakes.

Afterwards I tried to go back to work but I couldn't concentrate and in the I end I went and cried in the loos for ages. I didn't get any work done that afternoon which made even more worried I wasn't doing my job well.

After that he kept criticising me, always saying it was for my own good. He kept telling me the other staff were complaining about me and that he was having to stick up for me or make excuses. And whenever I made mistakes he'd smack me with the ruler, for my own good he said. But the more unhappy I got the more mistakes I made. I began to get really worried about losing my job.

I got unhappy enough that my parents asked me what was wrong but I couldn't tell anyone what was going on, I was just too embarrassed and ashamed.

One day he told me I'd made a really bad mistake and that I needed an extra reminder. He made me bend over the desk and pull down my pants and tights. I really thought hs was going to rape me, but instead there was a sound like an animal scuffling behind me and a minute later something wet hit me. I wiped it off afterwards in the loo when I was crying.

One day I woke up and I just couldn't go into work any more. But I couldn't tell my parents why, because I was too ashamed. They gave me a hard time about it but I just couldn't go back. After that I stayed in my room a lot. Often I didn't get out of bed. When anyone asked me what was wrong I would just start crying. I didn't talk to anyone much.

One day I got a phone call from a woman, a stranger. She had been working for the same company and the man had done something to her. She wanted to prosecute him and she wanted to know if he'd done anything to me. I think she thought maybe I could tell someone and back up her story. But I couldn't even talk to her. Eventually she gave up and put the phone down.

After a couple of years I started feeling a bit happier and now I'm eating and coming out of my room much more. I feel much more hopeful now. I'd like to start thinking about getting a job again.

I never told anyone what happened. This is the first time I've tried to tell anyone what happened."

So, you see, all the time I was watching it, it was with this sordid shadow running behind. Your abuser isn't going to be James Spader, it's going to be some sweaty creep who's honed his emotional abuse skills on his own wife and kids. Being slapped around and told what to do causes emotional problems, it doesn't solve them. And doing something bad to someone else (no matter what you tell them, no matter what they tell you) is always for your own good and never for theirs.

And because Secretary supports the self-deluding self-flattery of the abuser (that they are the victim, that they are being forced to abuse them, that the abused person wants or needs to be abused) in a very naive and unselfconscious way it comes across as, of all things, badly researched. And (in slight but significant way) on the side of evil.

I also watched through The Sticky Fingers of Time. Turns out the people who were telling me it was about atomic time-travelling lesbians were not telling the entire truth. It's actually about atomic time-travelling noir-talking bisexuals caught in a time-slipped love/murder quadrangle with a dangerous future femme-fatale who keeps a brain-dead librarian in her basement and has a fully prehensile tail (even has extra chakras!). And, apart from one single pet peeve of mine (which should not interfere with anyone else's viewing pleasure) it was really quite fine. Atomic paranoia! Pah! This had dental paranoia!


( 17 worms — Feed the birds )
23rd Jun, 2003 16:42 (UTC)
SFT sounds quite fabulous - is it on general release? (Did you ever see the pre Matrix Bound?
I have been debating whether to see Secretary. I had a feling I would react much as you have described, but I usually rather like James Spader..
24th Jun, 2003 01:27 (UTC)
Play have SFoT nice and cheap on dvd.
24th Jun, 2003 02:47 (UTC)
somebody bought me the video
(of Bound, I mean) ... can't imagine why they thought I'd like it :)

James Spader's good (as usual) but rather wasted. I don't think the director likes looking at boys much. Probably why he wowed them so hard in Americaland.
23rd Jun, 2003 17:04 (UTC)
Must admit that I haven't seen Secretary yet... but the S&M community needs its unreal porn, too. Given that healthy S&M relationships don't revolve around abuser and abused except in fantasy terms, this is surely playing up to their fantasies rather than the fantasies of real abusers. Plenty of "straight" relationships in movies would be utterly dysfunctional if they happened in real life.

[i]The Sticky Fingers Of Time[/i] sounds excellent.
23rd Jun, 2003 17:17 (UTC)
Do watch it - judge for yourself
I wouldn't call the film 'unreal porn' ... more like low S&M erotica (no body modification, for example; oh and definitely not Erotica in the Art sense) that entreats the mainstream and mimics the romance comedy model - rather than being strictly a porn film, or a subculture film.

As I was debating with greengolux about this film, I probably like the film because it has fit itself in the cracks between various conventions. And that's not to say its an 'underground film' either.
23rd Jun, 2003 17:20 (UTC)
Re: Do watch it - judge for yourself
I'd got the impression that it was pretty mainstream. I think, though, that being mainstream in itself means it's going to have a wide streak of fantasy - how could you mimic a romantic comedy without that? They're all fantasies to start with.
23rd Jun, 2003 18:03 (UTC)
Re: Do watch it - judge for yourself
Well, I was judging 'fantasy' by the standards of most S&M film that is truly of that subculture...a whole other animal - beyond reason.

so I suppose 'fantasy' yes, 'Fantasy' no.

I'll stop that now, it is quite ridiculous. :-)

24th Jun, 2003 02:55 (UTC)
for you all.

While it's fun, silly, kinda cool and definitely genre-busting bonkers, it's not excellent, as such ...

It's an extreme low-budget flick shot on DV with amateur actors, laggy pacing, and awkward story-telling. There's no sex, it's missing a few scenes, all the special effects are cheats and the story doesn't end, it just stops.

And the reason why none of you heard of it is because it pretty much certainly never made general release anywhere!

... that said, it's worth £4.49 of anyone's money. I'd say.
27th Jun, 2003 03:36 (UTC)
I'd disagree about the ending - a bit cheaty-postmodern, maybe, but I thought it was a good one.

But then I'd count low-budget and no sex as probable plusses too.
29th Jun, 2003 05:20 (UTC)
no crtiticism -- I just worried that people were getting the wrong impression from my rather selective descriptions ... :D
24th Jun, 2003 02:57 (UTC)
it isn't porn for the S&M crowd
it's more S&M for the mainstream crowd.

And cute, funny, and the audience I was with had a great time.

Certain scenes (there's one towards the end, where we're way off in fantasyland) are priceless.
23rd Jun, 2003 17:12 (UTC)
In defence of 'Secretary'
OK, it's a bit of a cheap argument to make, but you're pulling in extra-contextual issues from outside the film, so while perhaps entirely correct in the wide realm of life, is not the most fair assessment of the film within its own fold.

As for both your tale and the film's - the key and vital difference is the perception of the sub/the one receiving the violence. If that sort of relationship isn't understood or made to be understood to the audience, it is most definitely abuse. Otherwise it is contextual role-play.

I still maintain it's an attempt by one subculture to get into the mainstream, following a slippery mix of rules for both, with a result that partially works, partially doesn't. It is certainly somewhat fantastical in its lack of realism in relation to life, but no more so than any romance comedy...'Secretary' is therefore a romance comedy for those with a different definition of romance, and even comedy for that matter.

Fine, this 'its all up to context' that divorces a given act from a given value may be the ultimate expression of relativism, moral or otherwise - but that is certainly the guiding principle of that subculture.

Can the film therefore pander to those people who are real abusers in real life? Certainly. But it also panders to those who are in the 'safe, sane, consensual' world. In any event, that then invites the whole wider question of the intersection between fictional and real.

In any event, yes, Cronenberg is certainly a better director, no question.
24th Jun, 2003 03:23 (UTC)
I don't buy that
... while I'm aware that my overdeveloped understanding of certain issues (and self-harm, abusive relationships and S&M are way! on the list) can cause trouble with certain films, I don't think pulling in extra-contextual issues when I'm talking a garbled memory that may well be based on the same short story as the film is is out of order.

Obviously the sub's perception *is* my point, the point of my telling the story -- in fact the film may be a revisionist attempt to tell exactly the same story so that you don't feel so bad about finding it kind of a dirty turn-on.

The sub's consent is key to that. But I think that in paying so much attention to her consent, they missed some key things that should have been done to the Spader character to make the relationship more satisfying. After all, she's saving him as much as he's saving her; he's telling her what to do, but she's telling him it's OK to tell her what to do.

Damian's comment on that is that they may have been given solid commercial advice about naked men vs. naked women, or revealing that men too may indulge in self-harm (almost as taboo as suggesting that they may suffer from anorexia).

The director might well get better, but I would be surprised if he revisited S&M. This comes across to me as an enfant terrible yelling notice me! not a serious attempt to sell S&M to the masses.

However, if you liked Secretary, I would also recommend: Pepi, Luci, Bom and Other Girls on the Heap (Almovodar, early, Spanish) and Preaching to the Perverted (small UK film, B&W, 90s) which both fiddle rather nicely with the same ideas. Oh, and Butterfly Kiss, obviously.

The Almovodar film is particularly fine.
24th Jun, 2003 11:51 (UTC)
Fair points all
and I'll certainly look into those other films if I come across them. I did come across 'Zed and Two Ohs' or somesuch title, but haven't seen it yet.
25th Jun, 2003 02:44 (UTC)
Re: Fair points all
That's one of my favourite films! But it's about decay, suicide, twins, Life on Earth and amputee fetishism rather than S&M. And having sex with zebras, of course.
24th Jun, 2003 14:23 (UTC)
Hey :)
Just discovered your comics online. I think they're wonderful! I dig the storylines and the way you draw them. Very origional. thanks!
25th Jun, 2003 02:45 (UTC)
Re: Hey :)
thank you very much! :)
( 17 worms — Feed the birds )