Silken Sleeves   by Greta Christina

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Reviewer Greta Christina has worked in and around the sex industry for over a decade writing about it, editing books about it, and living it. She edited Paying For It, a collection of articles by all kinds of sex workers: dommes, escorts, peep show girls, T-girls. Her novella called Bending is out in Susie Bright's book Three Kinds of Asking For It (published by Simon & Schuster and can be found at amazon.com). In response to overwhelming member requests for reviews of sex toys, sexy films, and other sex whatnots, Ms. Christina brings her girl-about-sex wisdom twice monthly to Adult FriendFinder. You can check out Ms. Christina on her web site, gretachristina.com.

Silken Sleeves
Starring Midori and Mayan. Directed by Maria Beatty. 50 minutes, plus DVD extras. Bleu Productions. Available at http://www.bleuproductions.com/ and at http://www.lastgasp.com/


It seems like a natural match-up. Kink-art movie director Maria Beatty and fetish-art bondage expert Midori both have clear, vivid sexual visions. The two women are driven by both artistic and erotic passion, and each has a distinctive eye for the look of sexuality and what makes an erotic image both expressive and hot. Their new DVD, Silken Sleeves, is the first time they've worked together: directed by Beatty, it showcases Midori's elaborate and artistic Japanese rope bondage work.

So how does it work? Are these two great tastes that taste great together?

Personally, I was somewhat disappointed by Silken Sleeves. But to be fair, a lot of my disappointment was simply my lack of interest in the subject. For me, bondage is a means to an end -- the end being helplessness and forced vulnerability to sex and pain -- and bondage just by itself leaves me cold. I can certainly enjoy the sight of a person who's been bound (and I can certainly enjoy being bound myself), but I find the actual process of binding to be somewhat tedious, and more trouble than its worth. Slap 'em in some bondage cuffs and get to the good stuff, that's what I say.

But I realize that thousands upon thousands of people find the process of binding to be fascinating and profoundly hot. And thousands of those people are especially compelled by the precise, intricate style of Japanese rope bondage, with its technique of using rope not only to bind the body but to frame it and put it on display.

If that's true for you, I think you'll like this video a lot. Midori is an extremely skilled Japanese rope bondage artist, well worth watching. Her style is traditional, but with many modern touches and her own creative flair. She goes for asymmetrical balance in her bondage rather than symmetrical perfection, and she doesn't hesitate to use plastic wrap and acrylic dildos when it suits her. She and her bottom, Mayan, are quite lovely to look at as well. And the director's patient, lingering pace lets bondage aficionados drool over the action for as long as they could want. (The video is wordless as well, thank God. Most porn videos would be vastly improved by shutting the actors up. With duct tape, if necessary.)

The video is divided into four sections: Autumn, with its theme of struggle and suffering; Winter, with near-immobilized stillness and cocooning (this is where the plastic wrap comes in); Spring, with a feel of blossoming and the discovery of pleasure; and Summer, with its simple playfulness. Of the four, Winter is the most visually striking. The image of Mayan suspended in ropes, wrapped in plastic wrap, and encased in white wax gives a sense of a strange work of modern sculpture, a work of art created with a live bound person as one of the materials. And the wax on Mayan's face is reminiscent of hard-core bukkake. The other segments are less vivid, but each has its own unique style, both artistically and erotically.

The costumes are lovely as well. I get so tired of the same old black-on-black leather-and-latex fetish wear -- it's one of the things that makes mainstream fetish videos look so much alike. But the costumes in Silken Sleeves are elegant and enticing, from the red kimono to the white lace, the blue corset-dress to the shimmery golden gown, with great variation and no black leather in sight. They were obviously carefully chosen, with an eye to enhancing the overall artistry of the scene.

As far as the "bondage for bondage's sake" thing goes... to be fair, it's not like Midori just ties Mayan up and leaves her there. There is quite a bit of sexual play in this video. Many of the bondage poses are designed to put Mayan's pussy on display, and Midori uses an inventive assortment of dildos once she has that pussy where she wants it -- acrylic, a metal whip handle, ice, even a scary-looking thing shaped like a knife. If you're looking for the Holy Grail of serious bondage plus explicit sex, you'll definitely find it here.

But if it's pain you're looking for, you should definitely look elsewhere. There's very little pain play in Silken Sleeves, and what there is of it is pretty mild -- almost a tease, or a gesture even, the image of pain without the actual fact of it. Whipping and caning scenes that looked like warm-up to me turned out to be the whole enchilada -- and they're far too gentle, and end far too soon, to be much of an enchilada. (There's also an annoying problem with the sound -- you hear whip strokes landing when the whip is nowhere near Mayan's body, and silence when it actually lands on her flesh. The whip lashes were obviously added in later as sound effects, and while I tried hard to think of them as just part of the music and sound design, I found it very distracting.)

The only extensive pain-type scene is the hot wax play... and what with Mayan being encased in plastic wrap, and not really reacting to it all that much anyway, it was hard to see the way play as either torturous or ecstatic, or indeed anything other than pretty darned mild. (There are also pretty much no butt shots in the entire movie. No butts, no real pain, no convincing scenes of struggle or force -- nope, this definitely isn't the kink video for me.)


Unlike many DVDs, the extras are well worth checking out. There's a basic video guide to rope bondage that's both beautiful and useful -- it's done silently as well, but the footage is slow enough and detailed enough to give you a clear sense of what's going on and how you can do it yourself. And Midori's photo gallery is a lovely treat for bondage fans.

But the video extras also made me realize what was missing for me in this video. (Apart from pain and butt-shots, that is.) See, one of the DVD extras in Silken Sleeves is a set of trailers for Maria Beatty's other videos... and five minutes of those trailers got me more excited, both sexually and otherwise, than the entire length of the actual film. And they made me realize what was missing from Beatty's movie -- namely, Beatty herself, her own stunning, elegantly perverse, completely unique sex-video style.


For fans of Beatty's movies -- and I've been one for years -- this may come as a serious disappointment. Silken Sleeves has none of the shadowy lighting, the angular angles, the obsessively perfectionist framing of shots, the in-your-face closeups that create intensity without being grotesque. So many of Beatty's previous films (The Black Glove, for instance, or The Elegant Spanking, or her more recent Ecstasy in Berlin 1926 [See archives for review]) have the look and feel of a 1920s German art film, as if Fritz Lang had a sideline as a kinky smut director. With Silken Sleeves the filmmaking style is unusually straightforward, even Spartan, with bright lighting and a camera that just sits and watches. There are a few visual effects here and there, but even these seemed awkward, with none of Beatty's usual breathtaking artistry. And unlike many of Beatty's other films, it's shot in color, which also detracts from her typical style -- the black-and-white gives her other films an otherworldly quality that's completely lacking in Silken Sleeves. Snowy rocks and willow trees be damned -- I never forgot I was watching a porn set.

Here's what I think happened. With most of Beatty's films, it's clear that she's running the ship, and a very tight ship at that. The shots are so carefully framed, and the camera is so often right up in the faces or the bodies, that it seems as if even the haughtiest top is in service to Beatty's vivid and precise vision.

But in Silken Sleeves, there's more of a respectful distance, a tendency to step back and just watch Midori do her thing. It's almost a documentary style. It's skillfully done, to be sure, but this is very much a film about Midori's vision -- not Beatty's.

And I like Beatty's vision better.

Much, much better.

Even apart from my lack of interest in bondage, I found the action in Silken Sleeves a little cold. Midori's style is careful and intensely focused, but it's a little detached, with a passion for precision rather than for... well, passion. And Mayan is submissive to the point of passivity; her struggles in the Autumn segment are pretty but unconvincing, and unless she's getting fucked, she rarely looks either enraptured or tormented. Beatty at her best has the rare ability to capture both iconic perfection and fierce erotic intensity... but this isn't her best, and by the end of the video, I was longing for a vicious slap on the ass and an ecstatic flinch of real pain, captured with luxurious perversity in shadowy black and white.

But again, that's largely a matter of personal taste. If Midori's vision of traditional Japanese rope bondage with a cool, modern artistic edge is your thing, then the absence of Beatty's vision shouldn't be a problem. I don't think this is a bad video; it has quite a lot to recommend it, and it's certainly a damn sight better than most of what's on the porn market. It just isn't my thing. And while the very best porn keeps my attention even when the buttons it's pushing aren't my own, this one didn't pull that off.

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