Produced, directed by Christine Richey. Screenplay, John Kramer. Camera (B&W/color, 16mm), Joan Hutton, John Walker, Micha Dahan, Peter Walker, Richard Stringer; editor, Jack Morbin; music, Nicholas Stirling. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Perspective Canada), Sept. 15, 1999. Running time: 80 MIN.
Narrator: Dawn Greennalgh.
As talky as it is titillating, “Tops & Bottoms,” subtitled “Sex, Power and Sadomasochism,” offers historical overview of the movement spiced up with contempo talking heads and profile of a master (“tops”)–slave (“bottoms”) relationship. A few short shots of hardware and skin aside, item is less entertainment than a teaching tool for those into or about to be into such things, suggesting exposure via more liberal edutube outlets.
Perhaps sensing a need for context, producer-director Christine Richey spends much time laying meticulously illustrated groundwork of research by Marquis de Sade, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, Richard von Kraftt-Ebing and Erich Fromm. This lecture-hall material is supplemented by more specious passages devoted to the likes of Adolph Hitler’s fetishism and covert relationship with Eva Braun, as well as a sex–capitalism–religion–pop culture arc from the 1950s to the ’90s. Far more involving and unsettling is creepily pompous Toronto “top” Robert Dante , his “bottom” wife, Mary, and their new slave, 23-year-old Mercedes Alexander. Initially enthusiastic, the young woman’s ardor cools quickly and she breaks her “contract” with the couple, leaving Robert bitter and even more creepy. Tech credits are OK.