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Lash Man Standing

Nice Work If You Can Get It: The employees at Pandora's Box cater to every desire--for a price.

'Fetishes' documents the
wilder side of desire

By Richard von Busack

British documentarian Nick Broomfield, whose last film was an exploration of the career of the notorious Heidi Fleiss, returns with Fetishes, a study of Pandora's Box, a Fifth Avenue S&M dungeon in Manhattan.

Broomfield, interviewing the highly suspicious professional dominatrixes, has a fine style as a reporter. He gently dissolves their (off-the-job) hostility through slow, sometimes painfully obvious questions and a soft British accent--the Brits can ask questions of an American that an American reporter would never get answered.

Broomfield cuts through the sensational subject matter to find not just the typical loneliness and stress of sex work but also the field's importance as therapy and theater. The high prices customers pay to be trussed, whipped, smothered, burned and otherwise humiliated, almost justify the work in itself (customers fork over from $250 to $4,000 for services rendered).

But dominatrixes Natasha, Raven, Delilah and Beatrice don't appear to be in it solely for the money; underneath their masked demeanors, they seem to have some backward compassion for the mostly, but not exclusively, male slaves. ("If you don't like men, you won't last five months in this business.")

Some dark prejudices I had about S&M were confirmed just because of the high gate charge at Pandora's Box. The clientele are upscale: investment bankers, stockbrokers and the like. So I had the dour suspicion that the masochists here pay for the abuse that most of the world gets for free at our workplaces.

(I've been a journalist for 15 years. I loved the scene in which a leather-masked slave who was, Broomfield assured us, the publisher of a well-known magazine, is hung up nude and lashed. It really brought out the Captain Bligh in me. I was silently egging on the mistress of the whip: Atta girl! Tan his hide!)

Some scenes--a young woman who is a professional submissive coming in for some expert dominance; and an oncamera nipple piercing--are weirdly moving. One of the dominatrixes making a girl out of a male slave seems to get a-near hysterical edge in her voice as she tells him roughly, "Being a big girl is about a lot of pain."

Fetishes was most satisfying at the end when Broomfield is captured and flogged by his subjects (one always hates that above-it-all quality in a documentary). The scenes are shocking--especially the toilet slavery of one sad case--but I have to celebrate the lack of judgment; Broomfield's sincerity helps revulsion yield to tolerance. You know, as long as nobody gets hurt--wait, what am I saying?

Fetishes (Adults only; 86 min.), a documentary by Nick Broomfield.

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