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Tops & Bottoms

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.

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.

Tops & Bottoms

(DOCU -- CANADIAN -- B&W/COLOR)

Production: A Barking at Moon production, in association with TVOntario, Arte, Showcase Television, Women's Television Network, Knowledge Network, the Canadian Film Board Women's Equity Program. (International sales: Barking at Moon, Toronto.)

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