Kink: Sundance Review
Sundance Film Festival, Midnight
The James Franco-produced documentary goes behind the scenes with the world's leading producer of BDSM porn.
PARK CITY -- James Franco doesn't think there are enough penises at Sundance. After re-creating the censored bits of Cruising in Interior. Leather Bar., he acts as producer here, all but twisting director Christina Voros' arm to convince her to make a film about Kink.com, the world's leading producer of bondage and sadomasochistic porn. (What Kink wouldn't pay to have a film of Franco twisting Voros' arm...) The result is a friendly film about lots of seemingly reasonable people who do terrible things to each other on camera for money.
It's not every doc in which you can hear lines like "Sorry, we have a gang-bang going on next door" and "There's a way to step on a cock where you don't hurt it, hon." There are fewer films still in which you might then see the latter claim in action. (Plenty of erect members appear here, sometimes handled quite comically; onscreen penetrations are seen only briefly.)
Even so, much genuine pain is inflicted in Kink's vast San Francisco studios, and kink does much to explain both what this does for people (one describes "subspace," in which pain releases pleasure-enhancing dopamine; another compares it to running a marathon) and the extent to which this particular porn company strives to keep it all friendly. Torturers take pride in being able to endure what they dish out; safe words are sacred; and "aftercare," in which directors comfort those they've just subjected to simulated assault, is a major part of the game. It's a world with rules, we see, in which each "model" (they're not called actors here) dictates what can happen when the cameras roll. "I like choking," for example, "but don't call me 'bitch.'"
Voros' interviewees, from models and directors to company founder Peter Acworth (who ran his first website for a year from a grad-school dorm room), are articulate, adjusted-seeming people who can talk convincingly about misperceptions and stigmas surrounding both porn and BDSM (the catchall label for all this spanking, choking and such). A more convincing case for masochism was made in Kirby Dick's 1997 Sick. But the case of Bob Flanagan, whose embrace of pain was tied to his experience of cystic fibrosis, is too particular to provide the kind of general explanations these men and women offer.
Kink is quite convincing in presenting this one workplace as a happy, sane environment where people respect each other and aren't manipulated into doing things they don't ultimately enjoy. But it leaves plenty of room to presume that Kink.com is an outlier in the industry, and it never asks if good vibes behind the scenes have any correlation with the mindsets of the people who pay to watch these videos. No one is asked if -- however OK it might be to enjoy playing out an abuse fantasy with a loved one -- producers have any qualms about supplying a steady stream of such scenes to an audience that is probably not solely composed of groovy feminists.
Discussing such questions would make kink a much bigger project, of course. Voros may be quietly acknowledging such concerns when she ends the film with a black screen -- letting a particularly vicious torture scene play only in audio for a while, then rolling credits with no music behind them.
Production Company: Rabbit Bandini
Director: Christina Voros
Producers: James Franco, Miles Levy, Vince Jolivette
Directors of photography: Christina Voros, Dave Malloure, Kim Parker
Editor: Ian Olds
Sales: Preferred Content
No rating, 79 minutes