Anna Lorentzon and Barbara Bell’s “Graphic Sexual Horror” looks behind the scenes at a defunct website, controversial for its depictions of extreme bondage and sadomasochistic situations. Models were consenting and paid for their trouble, even if the resulting imagery looked very much like forcibly induced pain and terror. That’s made clear enough, but lack of commentary from anyone outside this subset of the commercialized fetish world means this too narrowly focused docu doesn’t really address obvious larger issues of legality, misogyny, et al. Pic is traveling the fest circuit while also playing cinematheques and other specialized venues.
Brent Scott, aka “pd,” started Insex.com in 1997, fast making waves among BDSM enthusiasts for going further than any prior entity in purveying disturbingly realistic images of women in severe restraints and/or apparent peril. Eventually its live video feeds and other attractions claimed 35,000 paying subscribers. Scott himself constructed many of the (carefully safety-tested) Rube Goldbergian setups, which deployed everything from electric shocks to hydrophobia (i.e. threatened drowning).
Pseudonymous models were variably drawn to participate by exhibitionism, private fantasy, psychological release from depression, a sense of artistic self-expression or a simple need for cash. Several found it so exhilarating they offered to pay Scott, rather than vice versa. Among many interviewed, only one ex-model falls into the “self-destructive drug addict” category moralists might anticipate. All were given a “safe word” that could stop activity at any time.
Intentionally raw rather than Bettie Page-style glamorous, these stagings certainly appear harrowing, especially when viewed in rapid montage here. “There was something serial-killer-esque (about the site) … I couldn’t tell if it was real or not,” one fan (later turned assistant) says of his first Insex gander. But as one former Insex starlet says, “The reality of how something was made doesn’t necessarily correlate with what it looks like.” Footage presumably excised from the website catches models laughing or chatting casually amid purported extreme physical distress.
Scott is no sleazy back-alley raincoat type, but rather a former aspiring painter and Carnegie Mellon professor. His interest in sadomasochism and bondage stretches at least as far back as 1980. Pic also includes old performance-art clips in which he’s sometimes the bound victim.
Only after an hour does the pic allows some cracks in this outre yet flattering portrait, as interviewees complain about Scott’s Kubrick-level attention to detail and occasional violation of protocol. A long, creepy sequence shows him bullying a tearful, bound woman whose single line-in-sand request he’s just ignored.
Post-9/11 era saw government watchdogs grow much more aggressive toward any “subversive” enterprise. Scott says Homeland Security pressured credit card companies to stop serving Insex, alleging violent pornography both teaches torture and is used by terrorists to funnel money. With payment methods now laborious, customers abandoned ship and the site folded in 2005.
Pic certainly could have used a few outside voices to measure the extent of Insex’s notoriety, debate the psychological implications of such entertainment, discuss general legal issues and more. Without that larger scope, “Graphic Sexual Horror” eventually loses interest, demystifying the subject’s surface shock value but failing to explore deeper societal meanings.
Straightforward assembly is pro. One ironic plus is the pristine lensing of the gorgeous New England countryside where, in a converted barn, Scott maintained his little workshop of quasi-“Saw” horrors.