Run, don't walk, to the theater.
I've always wanted to use that line, and I finally have the chance. If you're reading this on Thursday, Jan. 29, I advise you to get up, get dressed--something in leather would be appropriate--and hightail it over to the Memorial Union's Fredric March Play Circle, where Nick Broomfield's Fetishes will be screened starting at 9 p.m. There's no admission charge. Nor, surprisingly, is there much of an erotic charge. But the movie's often fun, sometimes funny and--in the voyeuristic sense--always watchable. Plus, it's the only documentary I've ever seen where the filmmaker gets tied up by his subjects. Slinging his "equipment" around, Broomfield himself straddles the boundary between dominance and submission. This is the guy who followed Heidi Fleiss: Hollywood Madam all over Tinsel Town, trying to prove that she was more of a fall girl than a fallen woman. And he's the guy who made a documentary called Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer, in which the least unsympathetic person we met was Aileen Wuornos, the serial killer. For whatever reasons, Broomfield likes to walk on the wild side; and, with Fetishes, that has taken him to Pandora's Box, a fully legal House of Domination located on the top floor of an office building in Manhattan's Flatiron district. Once he crosses the threshold (of pain), we're in a land of make-believe--"the Disney World of S&M," as Mistress Raven, the proprietress, has described it. Mickey Mouse, eat your heart out. A Cher look-alike who would've sent Sonny to an even earlier grave, Mistress Raven presides over Fetishes like Cleopatra; and Broomfield is awfully close to her Marc Antony. Not being able to film her doing a session (she's retired from active duty) was his "biggest disappointment," the director tells us, but Mistress Raven makes it quite clear that she'd make an exception for him. (What would Frederick Wiseman have done, one can't help but wonder.) Even without Mistress Raven, Fetishes is busting at the seams with knockabout knockouts--Mistress Delilah, who used to study at American Ballet Theatre (talk about S&M); Mistress Natasha, a championship wrestler; and Mistress Catherine, who prefers to whip her clients into shape. Broomfield is clearly more interested in the mistresses than he is in their clients, whom he gives the back of his hand. (They probably thanked him for it.) Even so, there are some amazing scenes involving the lawyers, bankers and brokers who pay up to $1,000 for the privilege of being used and abused. One guy likes to be totally encased in a head-to-toe rubber suit, his only source of air the little hoses dangling from the suit's nostrils (which Mistress Catherine periodically blocks with her fingers, giggling to herself). Another guy--the guy the whole movie seems to be leading up to--likes to be forced to clean a dirty toilet using only his tongue. With Broomfield hovering nearby, he places his head inside the bowl while his mistress yanks the flush handle. "Freaky thoughts go through my head all the time," this poor guy says, the head in question still placed where only a plunger belongs. "So, when I do something freaky, I kind of, like, expunge them." There you have it, in a nutshell--Broomfield's explanation of why these men pay to be humiliated. It's cathartic. Ensconced in positions of power, they get off on assuming positions of powerlessness; after doling out corporate punishment all day, they need some corporal punishment. Overall, Fetishes does a much better job on the how of S&M than the why (not a single mention of Freud, for instance), but it does leave us with the firm feeling that, if there's anything worse than these men having to put themselves through this, it's...not getting to.
And yet, it takes a toll on the women who minister to their needs. Mistress Raven doesn't do sessions anymore because she's been drained dry, she says; and, as far as we can tell, none of the mistresses has a successful love life outside Pandora's Box, unless you count Mistress Natasha's sleeping arrangement with her pet iguana, Spike. Perhaps my favorite scene in Fetishes, by the way, is when Mistress Natasha takes on a client who's signed up for a wrestling session but can't seem to remember who's the dominant and who's the submissive. For a couple of minutes, the movie seems like a true walk on the wild side instead of a walk on the mild side of the wild side. And then Mistress Natasha reminds the guy who's the boss. What a woman.