USA, Sweden, 2009 | France 2008
In the world of sexual fetish there’s bondage and then there’s Brent Scott, founder of Insex.com the notorious “torture porn” live-feed website.
In Graphic Sexual Horror, by Swedish-American team Anna Lorentzon and Barbara Bell, we enter what looks like the victims’ chamber of an innovative serial killer. Naked woman are strapped to metal contraptions amidst chains, whips, gags and masks. Their wails of torture and tantalisation ascend into a higher state of being where pleasure meets pain. We see the grotesque acts through the lens of a static camera. Then a man’s voice speaks out of frame. He asks the victim if she has had enough. No, she squeals in agony. His arm enters the frame – it holds a gigantic wand that spins at one end like a freakish dentist drill. He moves it closer to his victim. She screams.
It is not too long into Graphic Sexual Horror before we realise this is a performance where the “victim” has consented in exchange for copious amounts of hard cash. Dubbed “the Michelangelo of bondage” Brent Scott is also a painter and conceptual artist who was initially in uenced by the explicit sexual exhibitionism he saw in Vietnam and Japan. He wanted to bring bondage to the USA. But as Marshall McLuhan and Jean Baudrillard taught him – media is the message. So, with the rise of the Internet, Scott founded Insex.com, a live feed of torturous pornographic acts that could incorporate his art and his fantasies. “My work is really fucking weird, it’s beyond porn,” says Scott. With just a credit card, bondage fetishists could login and not only view but also participate through chat room interaction over 3 to 6 hours of graphic S&M marathons. Like the sexual culture of Japan, Insex.com was a spectacle – it had to be witnessed to be legitimate.
Violent pornography could be an act of terrorism
With complete access to all of Scott’s live feeds, tapes and photos, Bell and Lorentzon combine interviews with Scott and his hired “models” who come from all walks of life. The models are given a “safe word” that could be uttered if they felt threatened, uncomfortable, unsafe. But to holler the safe word was to undermine the reality of exploited fear. The sexual/fantastical turn-on of Insex was that the pain was real. To stop in the middle of the act was to succumb, to lose one’s pride, to lose the cash.
Sooner rather than later, fantasy will meet reality. Scott himself admitted that the drive to make Insex work turned him into a monster. There wasn’t only the nancial dilemma, but also the false notion that porn was art. Insex.com finally met its demise after the government threatened credit card companies with the suggestion that violent pornography could be interpreted as an act of terrorism, driving creditors to back out of the Insex deal.
WHILE THE SEXUAL exhibitionism of Japan inspired Brent Scott to reappropriate the spectacle through violent Internet porn, French director Antoine d’Agata chose to transform the spectacle into a form of poetic meditation.
IN AKA ANA sex workers in Japan’s sleazy underworld perform explicit sexual acts and take drugs before a camera that shifts between blurry sensual portraits, graphic low-fi handy-cam shots, and surveillance-style peepshows. More experimental in tone than narrative documentary, Aka Ana stays in the dark shadows of the male gaze, showing us how the woman gure moves from a soulless sexual operator to an aesthetic work of art in both composition and contour.
Aka Ana is structured like a multi-sensory diary where whispered reflections of women, often directed to the ambiguous men they give themselves to, reveal intimate secrets and desires, fears and traumatic experiences, all amalgamating in a tremendously provocative depiction of femininity and sexuality. Like parts of Graphic Sexual Horror, Aka Ana forces us to rethink the division between pleasure and pain, empowerment and exploitation – and the isolation of these women from those who do not venture so far.
Antoine d’ Agata travelled through the Japanese subterranean world between September and December in 2006 and encountered the women of the night: porn actresses, prostitutes and exotic dancers. In the 60 minutes of Aka Ana he has divided his material into personal chapters, each devoted to one woman’s experience. Consistently artful in tone and assembly the film is “beyond porn” in the same way as Brent Scott saw his work with Insex. Though d’Agata is not directing the sex acts as a porn director, his camera is a witness and the images it captures are more brutal, raw and unsafe than pornographic cinema. On a conscience level, isolation and the questionable ability to give love is all that remains for these women. “I want to live standing upright,” breathes one sex worker who longs to be a woman again.