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Movie Review: Susan For Now

By Mike Everleth ⋅ October 17, 2007

Woman in BDSM outfit

I have a pretty strongly held philosophy in which I don’t really care about what other people do as long as what they’re doing isn’t hurting other people. However, after watching the love letter to Seattle’s BDSM scene that is Susan For Now I may have to update that philosophy to include “unless the other person wants to be hurt.” By the way, if you don’t know BDSM stands for Bondage, Domination and Sado-Masochism.

The film is directed by a recent convert to the lifestyle, Robin Franzi — a middle-aged divorcee, who became so enamored with her newfound sense of sexual freedom that she made a documentary about it. However, she doesn’t appear herself too much in the film and instead guides us into this world of unusual sex “play” through the voice of others who have been involved in it for much longer than she has.

Franzi certainly gives up the goods and there are scenes of, well, bondage, domination and sado-masochism between consenting adults. And she doesn’t shy away from the more extreme aspects of the “sex positive” culture. One of the first things we are quickly introduced to is the act of “needle play” in which a male needling expert forms piercing patterns on women’s bodies. There are also other random scenes of naked chicks being lit on fire and various people being whipped and whatnot. Franzi gets into the action in the middle of the scene where she dominates two men at the same time, a white guy chained up and a black man put into a stockade. But don’t expect the Denzel Washington whipping scene from Glory here. While BDSM “parties” are about inflicting pain on others, it’s all relatively gentle. Even the girl is set on fire with some quickly exterminated igniting gel. No one is seriously injured. Well, maybe except the people getting needled.

However, the real strength of the film here is in Franzi’s interviews with the BDSM crowd. I don’t know what her filmmaking background is, if any, but she’s a terrifically skilled interviewer. Her subjects are very comfortable and open on camera and she knows how to guide them through engaging and lively discussions of their fetishes and how and why they got into them. The film is also nicely structured so that we get a little bit of fetish talk mixed in with a history of BDSM in Seattle — yeah, there’s a history behind people getting whipped and stuck with needles, who knew? — plus discussion of the legal issues that arise from engaging in such behaviors. There’s also one interview subject, whose identity is hidden, who tells a horrific story of how he was committed to an insane asylum after his fetish was discovered.

For the most part all of this works really well for a fascinating, insightful glimpse into the world of sexual fetishes. But I do have to say that towards the end of the film I started thinking how all un-sexy this talk about sex became. The folks who are into BDSM come across as being ultra-super careful about the words they use, which I could understand why, but their language gets so specific and repetitive. For example, no one engages in sex, they all engage in “sex play,” a phrase that they all seem to endlessly repeat. It all sounds so clinical that it seems to suck all the fun out of sex. I don’t know, maybe I’m just a fuddy-dud and don’t “get” it.

But it was nice to hear about this culture from a real insider and a fan, which I think lends the film a real sense of honesty and integrity. Maybe the film will win the scene some converts, just like Franzi was herself converted.

Watch the Susan for Now movie trailer:

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