Story of O: 40 Years before 50 Shades.
Story of 'O': A flawed but elegant spectacle.
The film is an adaptation of Pauline Reage's novel about a young girl called simply 'O' and her entry into the art of “loving”. The dated yet fanatic ideology for the type of man and purveyor of this film here is that women, by nature, are inferior to men and should therefore submit to their every emotion and desire. This is the only way for a woman to find ecstasy. What the actual fuck... Pauline, go out and smell the Roses. C'est La Vie, Viva La France.
At the start of this coy gem our heroine is abducted away in a Rolls Royce to a Chateau, a literal French castle playing home to Gentlemans Club. The lead-in is romantic kitsch and becomes an impressive and titillating, genuinely erotic wet dream for any viewer where our heroine, merely dubbed as 'O' is commanded to remove her panties in the car. She is on her way to Roissy, where this Mens Club is located. There she is to learn how to be obedient, a slave, compliant and the perfect slave for any man. Why is she doing this? Her owner, or Master wants it, so that through her obedience he has the right to 'give her' to any other man he chooses. Annnnnd that was where I felt very.... kinda.. Bleughhhhh (big Raspberries blowing... Booooo)
This is where I feel the fills slips in its attempt at a place in modern day love stories. ‘O’ falls in love with a practitioner of the doctrine of BDSM through being verrry sexily chained and bound at wrist and neck level, she is whipped and is forced to go through quite a lot of forced fucking before he will take her in. She is not alone either. The Men's Club at Roissy is also co-habited by several beautiful submissive women, who, like 'O' had been told before undergoing conditioning that going through with the pain and masochistic living that it is purely their choice. They can leave whenever they like, no catches. It is after all for them to be better lovers and more committed to their owners.
One item of immense note is the costume (Yes there is clothing in this film). And it's used in a very functional and arousing way. Garments that keep their sex on constant display, the back of which can be pulled from the bottom of the drape and hooked to the shoulder thus revealing the submissives buttocks, pussy and anus. The manipulation of the clothing is entirely out of their control. Now you see how my repeated viewings of the film, while utterly seductive and stimulating to my erogenous self it a somewhat... one sided view of femininity. One has to remember this was made in 1975. A subtle display of inequality is it not.
The treatment of eroticism is slow and careful. Always arousing and attractive despite being a point of contention for any feminists out there willing to challenge attitudes of the past, guess what ladies, it was over 40 years ago and nobody was actually hurt during the making of this challenging piece of cinema. O is initiated into a house of bondage where the women are playthings for the visiting male clientèle. No talking or complaining is permitted... If the rules are broken, they are "punished" in the collar with whips and chains. There is rather a lot of thrashing of the face and hair and the acting of pain is typically... well, French. Jambon very much included.
The Story of O was a step-up from the coin operated pornboxes of the underground of European Cinema as is showed much of what most viewers had ever seen on any sized screen. It was still panned and banned in certain territories. However what needs to be said is that contrary to the a certain piece of self-proclaiming erotic film from this decade, there is plenty of consent offering in the film. In fact there is consent because it’s written that there is. There still shouldn’t be. In this Universe, Love is replaced by Obedience, to Love is to Obey and Obey is to Love. Very little affection of simple intimacy is shown, particularly as 'O' across a lapse of time (the length of which nobody is to know, takes on multiple lovers and owners and has no clear idea what she wants or why. Much like a film I love to hate upon, there is no Love Story here.
It’s a terrific example of bdsm and power play but an empty genuinely perverted but pointless example of a relationship. Or I say “Relationship” I mean typically so. It does outline some basic origins of cuckolding & sharing, which are actually on the rise across the Western world. As people I loving trusting relationships they are learning to risk more within their existing dynamic as long as there are rules with their partner in situ and even where they are forcibly made to be receievers whereas they would normally be givers.
This is to be encouraged as long as care is taken yet what the Story of O is teasing was so much ahead of its time. It pushed boundaries and attitudes and now in the riproaring years post 2012 (the year 50 Shades of Grey was released) we are becoming more and more kink friendly and experimental with individuals getting younger and younger as they assume what they really really like in the bedroom I was clearly born in the wrong time. The 80s were hardly progressive, unless you knew those shoulderpads would be required for other reasons when you entered the bedroom.
The film is far from subtle but is succeeds in spades where all others have tried to display to varying degrees of success, none more so however than Story of O... yet. It is seductive and exotic and immediately conjures up the idea that is this was remade today, there would be enough immaculately informative source material to actually do the D/s dynamic justice. It's not there yet, But all the components are there for a new story of... somebody. Nobody needs to be a millionaire playboy with a deep troubled past of having to control a woman. Consent dear Christian. E.L. James, please read a fucking book before you write one next.
The set is fantastic and is a cross between a Gothic Convent an idyllic English Country Garden and the Garden of Eden. I wouldn't have been surprised to see large clamshells opening to reveal the women. It's glorious. O's bed is covered with animal furs, and everywhere crystal chandeliers glitter in soft focus enchantment.
One thing we come to learn about 'O' is that she is a very bratty, almost arrogant fashion photographer, who runs a dominant poise over women she shoots at work outside of her private retreat at Roissy. Not only is her focus a commanding one but also one of territory. Those she shoots with her lens, if she becomes attracted to them, then she must have them. This girl needs some discipline. Corinne Clery's beauty and sensuality is profound in this piece of film and it won her a role in Moonraker, the Roger Moore fronted James Bond film. Yep, 'O' became a Bond Girl. She is very appealing and looks amazing having the clothing stripped from her. She was well chosen for the part but let's not forget she is Dominant in her day-job. The contrast is there, she longs to be submissive, completely submissive.
While at Roissy O learns how to be an obedient slave, but she possesses a proud quality, bordering on arrogance, that she cannot always disguise. This quality is detected by some of the men, who develop strong feelings for her. The way Clery plays the part, as a submissive who is also aware of her power is very well done. O becomes steadily stronger as the film progresses, and after a time, her 'masters' begin to doubt their own power, as they realize that their desire for 'O' gives her the upper hand. It is at times fascinating to watch the tables turn, and to see the subtle changes in the story's heroine, as she begins to recognize her own power, and becomes more self-confidant because of it.
Those who don't pay attention, and only look at the images of women in chains, being whipped, might mistake 'Story of O' for being sexist, when in fact, this is more of a feminist film in many ways. Watch till the very end when I felt particularly saddened as it left me wanting more. There was much more that could be done yet 'O' comes full circle and is simply inaccessible to any who hope to own her. She is 'fucked' by many a man throughout the film, given to them by the Master who's brand she earns from the start of the story. What she learns throughout her journey though is how everything she could endure is offered and never pushed. She can always challenge the word of her Master Stephan, who in one scene punishes her by gagging her, a scene I am pleased to see yet am immediately critical over.
Not only is it a poor gag, it simply would not serve to gag the mouth and is also applied poorly. Now... I've gagged many a submissive, using a multitude of gag types, I have a favourite, one that not only silences any muffled complaints but should also be used in more conventional to silence kidnap victims and damsels in distress. Sir Stephan, you cannot claim to be a Master if you don't know how to gag someone properly. Most folk from the BDSM lifestyle and Bondage Entertainment Industry know that literally ALL gags you see in film are sub-par and bloody awful and serve only the image of abduction and captivity.
It has to be remembered that although the book was written by a woman, the film was directed by a man. Just Jaeckin was first and foremost a fashion photographer, who had quite an obsession for the beautiful female form. He is responsible for some of the most well-known erotic films to emerge from the 70's to early 80's, bringing famous erotic novels to the screen. Jaeckin has an eye for aesthetic beauty, and it is evident in "Story of O'. But at times it seems that he is more interested in soft focus female nudity than in the deeper meaning behind these classics. I feel one of all of these need to be picked up and redone, but by a director who knows exactly what to show to provoke the fluids and enjoyment from the viewer. Paul Verhoeven perhaps.
"Story of O' is certainly a cult classic, despite it being a flawed picture. For the most part it has dated better than "Emmanuelle", although a couple scenes are now unintentionally funny, such as a photo shoot featuring a model dressed in a Mickey Mouse top and swinging a light bulb to tacky 70's music. But that is just a 1 minute scene in a film that for the most part looks wonderful. Pierre Bachelet's lush score is gorgeous, romantic and haunting and surprisingly not at all cheesy. The only cheese on show is the 'dubbed' yelling if you watch the English version.
There is now a wonderful DVD from France, which features two different versions of the film. The first is the English dubbed version, which i basically grew up watching. The dubbing is acceptable, and this version is around 10 minutes shorter. The longer, French language version with English subtitles is also contained here. Initially I was looking forward to seeing this more 'complete' version, but in the end was disappointed, as the new scenes were mostly of 'O' pouting and being coy with Rene, the man who initially takes her to Roissy at the beginning.
I understand why these scenes were cut, as they take away greatly from 'O's mystique. Nobody wants a whiny, immature submissive now do they.... do they now?... do they ANDY?!?!?... No, no they don't Andy.
Towards the end of the film I was amazed that 'O' went to a Masquerade Ball in the guise of... an Owl. A symbol of predatory dominance. It's beautiful grace can't be underestimated as it pounces on a any small mammal for it's supper. Showing less of her human side makes her seem stronger and more... transformed. A kind of 'otherworldy', not so much like a real woman, but rather like an unattainable heroine, an avatar, a character. She is now in charge of her own punishment, obedience and devotion and turns this into not just dominance over herself, but over others, both over man and women.
One man who falls in love with her after seeing his father fuck her in a restaurant wishes to rescue 'O' from this lifestyle. He is of course mortified and heartbroken when he sees 'O' strung up and whipped by the maid of her Master Stephan, a silent Ally, a woman of colour, a shock contrast to a domestic slave and a slave out of wedlock. Yet this servant knows all the debauchery her Master has given to possibly many partners and knows a thing or two. In her Maids outfit she is also able to conduct affairs of the flesh and helps 'O' to become the powerful Mistress she was always destined to be.
Now, towards the films close, one of 'O's models to be cast in her lens, the beautiful and innocent Jacqueline, becomes a new submissive to undergo the retreat at Roissy so that she can be owned by her as a gift from Sir Stephan, purely so she can learn obedience and be given to 'O's former owner Rene. If I can be critical once again I would say that the forming attraction between 'O' and Jacqueline isn't played out enough to warrant such a devotion, even to each other. Even less so than Rene and 'O', existing relationship. That's not just the hot-blooded lover of lesbian porn in me. It's a plot-point folded into quarters for the purpose of time. In an erotic film where bare flesh tells a clearly picture than story and character development at least show much more of it. I say lack of character development. There is... enough to care and that is the character of 'O' herself. She's the only one who needs it to serve the story's happy ending.
Completely sexy as fuck, I recommend "Story of O" to everybody. Despite looking very very dated, even for the mid seventies, Story of O still holds an elegant spectacle over all that has come after it. It could even be remade and done so to greater length like the book details to really push the envelope as it surely has the space and social acceptance to do so. I hate remakes and reboots yet this is one that I would not only accept but go-to-bat for.
In all it's strangeness and otherworldly quality, it can be seen as a fairytale for adults. Like Alice In Wonderland, only the white rabbit is carrying a whip instead of a gold watch and the Mad Hatter has a white cloth gag in hand where a teacup would ordinarily be found. It might be flawed somewhat, but it certainly is considered a cult classic, as well as a milestone of erotic cinema.