Years ago I interviewed a dominatrix over the phone. She was in Florida. I was on the opposite coast. In the background I could hear someone talking, but it was awfully muffled. I asked the woman what was going on.
“Oh, that’s just this business guy I’ve got in a body bag. It’s his once-a-month thing.”
Never let it be said the world of bondage, domination, sadism and masochism (BDSM, to those in the know) is boring. Of course, not everyone gets it, either. Some people see it as a perversion or even a crime. People tend to fear what they don’t understand. Enter “Behind Kink,” a documentary series that sheds light on the world of fetish pornography. In July, as most of this country was basking in the glow of fleeting freedoms, I interviewed Brian James, the director/producer behind the series. The irony of the timing of the interview wasn’t lost on me. While July is the month of freedom, pornographers (especially those involved in fetish porn) know all too well how legislators like to forget about that concept when it comes to one of the biggest money-making industries in the world.
“Behind Kink” was dreamed up by the man responsible for Kink.com, Peter Acworth. “There were so many so many people interested in doing documentaries on Peter’s internet based fetish sites,” James tells me, “[that] he decided to create BehindKink.com. Another motivation was the negative connotations and stigma surrounding BDSM and fetish culture. When two people decide to play out a scene tied up, gagged, suspended upside down and shocked with electricity, people tend to make assumptions. Creating an uncensored documentary series was an opportunity to show the world … how it’s done.”
Before continuing, one things needs to be made perfectly clear. These documentaries, which are around ten minutes or so in length, are not pornography — they are about pornography and the people involved in it. They are erotic, but they are also educational. And while “erotic” is not necessarily a term one uses when describing educational documentaries, James explains that in order to show how the world of fetish pornography really is, they can’t hold back. That often leads to erotic situations … and sometimes shocking moments.
“If a female model has an orgasm that squirts on the videographer and shocks the director [who’s] holding an electric vibrator, ‘Behind Kink’ will show it.” And they do. It may not be pleasant, and it may be surprising, but that’s life on a fetish shoot. “Our job is to document what happens on set whether it’s planned or not. It’s a rarity for everything to go according to plan,” he adds.
Orgasms leading to mild electrocutions are rare, but it’s just those types of things that makes this series so interesting. Even the most jaded, burnt out porn addict is liable to see something that causes him take a few steps back. When that happens, James is doing his job. One such jaw dropper came from a segment James directed called “Dirty Girls.”
“‘Dirty Girls,’” James explains, “was dominatrix and director Princess Donna’s attempt to create a site that would allow women to fist, piss and play in ways that push the limits of current obscenity laws. The response has been amazing. We released the episode the first week of April and people continue to write in on the forum.” Even though there was a huge response, James tells me “Dirty Girls” was never fully produced as a site. “Civil liberties are always a hot topic,” the director says, hinting at something more. I pressed him for a better explanation.
“What happened with ‘Dirty Girls’ is that ‘Behind Kink’ made the documentary about the test shoot of Dirty Girls [the website]. When we released the documentary, the members [of the site] saw a lot of sex footage that normally wouldn’t be allowed on our other sites. The members responded on our on-line forums board that they wanted to see Dirty Girls developed into a permanent site. Because ‘Behind Kink’ is an educational site, we’re allowed to show footage such as fisting, a*s to mouth and other sex acts that push the limits of obscenity laws. On a legal level, our other sites have to avoid such footage. People feel strongly about civil liberty issues and the ‘Dirty Girls’ documentary gave them a reason to vent.”
Fortunately, “Behind Kink” has not run into any legal problems as of the time of this interview. When the folks behind it feel like there may be a legal concern, they run things by their lawyers before it ever goes live. James is also quick to stress that Kink.com runs the business within the law, so they have nothing to hide.
Almost every single adult I know has seen pornography … most of them when they were kids. Not a single one of them ever claimed it ruined their lives. None of them ever became a director of documentaries on fetish pornography, either. It made me wonder about James’ first experience with adult material.
“My first experience with pornography was when I was 12,” James confesses. “My friend found his dad’s copy of ‘Taboo.’” For those who don’t know, the “Taboo” series dealt with incest. It was from an era (the ‘70s and early ‘80s) when “vanilla” porn took far more chances (just like the rest of American cinema) than it does today (again, like the rest of American cinema).
“We watched about fifteen minutes of it and got bored. I don’t think it affected my view on sex. The premise of the movie was a mom sleeping with her son. I remember thinking, ‘Why would anyone want to sleep with their mom? That’s gross.’”
Now he sees things on a regular basis that some people would describe in the same way. After all, not everyone considers pissing or genital torture to be a turn on. How does James feel about what he has to capture with his camera?
“I shoot on porn sets an average of 10 days a month,” he explains. “I’m so fixated on my work I don’t have time to get turned on. But if a scene is really good, I [do] get turned on. Directors are always asking me, “‘What do you think? Did you get hard?’ If they did their job right, I should be getting turned on. Fortunately I work with very gifted filmmakers and models.”
It’s obvious James has an appreciation for this work. One would have to in order to do it. When asked how his friends and family feel about his choice of careers, James has a rather surprising answer.
“Any time one of my friends or family questions the work of fetish and BDSM pornography, I sit them down with a couple of ‘Behind Kink’ documentaries. Usually in the end they want to watch the rest of the series. It amazes me how many people [who don’t like to watch porn] love to watch documentaries about porn. On the other hand, I’ve had people ask me to turn off the TV because they couldn’t handle what was on [the] screen. It’s to be respected and expected. I don’t take it as a negative response. If everyone could digest ‘Behind Kink,’ that would mean it’s bland. People should squirm in their seats.”
It’s funny he would mention bland. I pointed out that I thought that the more mainstream pornography becomes (and it is becoming more mainstream every day), the more watered down it will get. That’s just the nature of anything that becomes mainstream. Rap went from scaring white people to being used to sell hamburgers. Porn is becoming the same way (though the heat hasn’t been taken off it politically), with actresses used to sell sunglasses and the like. I ask James if he agrees with this assessment.
“Porn has been mainstream for years,” the director answers. “Yet, the fetish and BDSM content that ‘Behind Kink’ investigates still exists on a subculture level. It’s hard to say when it will become more acceptable. In Europe and Asia adult entertainment is accepted as an industry and society. The United States has a history of demonizing sexuality and any imagery related to
it. I don’t think our current political climate is going to give open arms to a model being penetrated by a F*****g Machine while driving across the Golden Gate Bridge. On a certain level it’s more fun being involved in taboo filmmaking. We’re constantly feeling like we got away with something.”
Despite the fact that James calls it “taboo” filmmaking, “Behind Kink” is really just a window into a certain segment of the adult industry, and a look at something some members of society do behind closed doors. And though most adults engage in sex and have looked at pornography at some point in their lives, it’s hard to find people who will come to its defense — fetish or not. James thinks he has an explanation for that.
“There’s so much taboo around the adult entertainment industry,” James says, “people tend to take the moral high ground when it comes to pornography. The sad part about it is most people have very little insight as to how the industry is run, and the information they do get is fed by conservative media outlets. That’s where we step in and say, ‘Here it is. Judge for yourself.’ I can only speak for the productions I’ve documented. The adult industry is huge and it isn’t fair to say it’s all roses or it’s all f****d up. Fortunately Kink.com sets a high standard for model care and production value.”
The adult industry really is like any other industry. There are good and bad aspects. Exploitation and fairness. Unfortunately, the adult industry gets singled out by the media and public. Adult actresses are constantly asked about childhood sexual abuse and substance abuse problems, while female white collar workers aren’t given the same scrutiny. The entire subject of pornography is something adults seem unable to deal with on any mature level. It’s a problem pornographers have dealt with for decades, as the era of “Deep Throat” and its public acceptance is long gone.
Before our interview ended, I had to ask James if there was anything he’s witnessed that he thought went too far. He’s seen women tied up and submerged into tanks of water, and has witnessed men get their heads duct taped and genitalia abused. Where was his line in the sand?
“Last March I was in Tokyo shooting a Japanese form of bondage called
Shibari.,” James answers. “The bondage was beautiful and the models were amazing. On the third day of shooting, the dom and sub played out a s/m scene that was harder than anything I’ve ever seen. Japanese Shibari model Ageha Asagi was suspended in a bathhouse doorway and was whipped by the Shibari master Osada Steve to the point where I started questioning what was going on. The next scene was played out with a candle waxing that covered her entire body. It was in Japan that I realized people play at levels that go far beyond normal BDSM play.”
And maybe that’s why some people are so afraid of things like this. They don’t have enough experience to know when things have gone too far. They see a man or woman tied up, and they immediately flashback to an episode of “Law and Order: SVU.” They don’t understand that there are some people who just enjoy this type of sex. James understands that, though. He knows that submissive and dominate people are playing on a whole other level some people will never comprehend.
“Being around submissive and dominate people reveals certain traits,” he explains. “A lot of submissives are control freaks in their normal lives. Playing out a scene as a sub allows them to relinquish that control for short period. But the reality is that the subs are giving that control over,
so they’re still in control. The psychology of submissiveness and dominance is mind blowing. In terms of doms, their personalities tend to be subdued and mellow. Once a scene begins, a completely different person comes out. There’s times when I’m on set and I can’t believe the
woman wielding the whip and barking orders is the same person who showed up in a jogging suit drinking tea.” Is there a difference between men doms and women doms? “Women dom’s tend to be scarier and more forceful,” James answers. “I’m probably going to get my a*s whipped over this one.”
“Behind Kink” is going to continue examining those issues James mentioned. It’s going to continue taking the camera into places rarely seen by the public. I imagine it’s going to continue to make certain people uncomfortable, too. I think that’s a good thing. Limits need to be pushed. Otherwise there’s no telling what one is capable of withstanding. As for James, he has no worries.
“ I just found out we’re going to Mexico for 10 days of shooting,” he explains. One can only wonder what sights he’ll see there. My guess is that they will all be caught on camera. The good, the bad, and the bound.