It's About Time for a New Golden Age
Lately I've been contemplating the Golden Age of SM. It's hard to say exactly when the Golden Age was, though, and different people will have different opinions on the matter.
For me, the Golden Age of SM occurred in the 1970s. This was when the American company known as House of Milan were doing their best work and Japan's Nikkatsu were putting out their classic bondage films starring the legendary Tani Naomi.
However, you might go back to the late 1940s (or perhaps even prior to WWII) if you're a fan of Itou Seiu, the renowned artist whom many regard as the father of modern day kinbaku. I don't think I would consider this time period the Golden Age, however, since there were so few people openly (or somewhat openly) engaged in SM activities.
Itou Seiu was truly a pioneer but the Golden Age was yet to come.
You could make a case for the 50s and the arrival on the scene of the magazine Kitan Club. More and more people started coming out of the closet and the freedom to express oneself in kinky ways continued its slow but steady march forward.
The definition of the Golden Age of SM may be somewhat fluid, but I know one thing: Everything went to hell by the 1990s.
The photo at the top is the cover of a VHS tape put out by the company Art Video SM. I'm estimating this came out around 1987, although I don't believe I've seen this particular title. I am fortunate to have been able to see quite a few of these Art Video SM titles from the 1980s, however.
One particular video has to rank as one of the best SM films ever made.
It came out in 1987. Twenty-two years have passed since the young woman who played the pretty victim endured one of the most brutal whipping scenes you are ever likely to see. To be honest, it put me out of my comfort zone a bit. It was gut wrenching. I know you can see these kinds of scenes in today's fare but, it's an indisputable fact that nobody does it like Art Video SM used to do it.
It's interesting to note that this was the time of the great changeover from real, 35mm film shoots to shot-on-video productions.
I can't help but think that the people involved in these early Art Video SM movies had a solid background in film production.
The video was shot very well with the camera on a tripod for the most part, not swinging around all over the place for the duration of the movie. The cuts were expertly done. The locations were good and they pulled off the simple plot with aplomb.
An interesting thing happened, though. The company changed. Or, rather, the quality of their videos changed -- for the worse.
This reminds me of exactly what happened to the old House of Milan. In the 1970s they were putting out magazine titles such as Bondage Classics, Hogtie, Suspended and, prepare yourself, Roped and Raped.
I doubt anyone would dare put out a magazine these days in the U.S. with the word "rape" in the title, but there you have it. At the same time, they were producing short 8mm silent movie titles. While I could find their magazines in some sleazy smoke shops, I never did come across any of their movies. They were easily obtainable by mail order, however.
House of Milan, or HOM, never had the sophisticated bondage technique as seen in Japanese movies and magazines and, at some point, someone looked east and said, "Whoa, our rope work looks like crap!" This undoubtedly happened with the rise of the internet and has led to the current Japanese shibari rage in the West.
Although the rope work left something to be desired, HOM in the 1970s and somewhat into the 1980s, produced some excellent magazines and movies. The models were usually above average. There were plots. Simple, yes, but effective. And most of their stuff at least hinted at fairly hard activity. In fact, it seems that some of their movies required no suspension of disbelief whatsoever.
Interestingly, I never saw any of their extreme, over-the-top flicks advertised in their magazines. I wonder if these weren't produced for a more underground clientele?
HOM flicks usually started out with an abduction of some sort and then the pretty young victim would find herself in some hellhole of a place where she would endure her torments. HOM were great at finding the darkest, grimiest locations.
HOM also eventually migrated to cheap video and they put out some decent stuff on VHS for awhile. Their best work, though, was the little 8mm flicks they later transferred to tape.
But then, into the 90s, it all went to shit. Everything started to suck. The magazines weren't worth buying. I think the company was eventually purchased by London or Lyndon or some such outfit that also had their offices in Van Nuys in the Sin Fernando Valley.
I've been curious for a long time about House of Milan, but information seems to be quite sparse. I know their office was in Southern California but I learned much later that most, or at least a lot of their stuff, was shot in either North or South Carolina, forget which at the moment.
When I heard that, it dawned on me that some of the actresses did, indeed, have the telltale accent of this region. The fellow who starred in so many of these classics (I think he went by the name of Jason Whitman), didn't have a noticeable accent, at least to me.
Far be it from me to invade anyone's privacy. I have just been wondering about the logistics of that arrangement. Previously, I had always just assumed that everything was shot in California.
Video doesn't have to be shlock, but it has certainly turned out that way. As I mentioned earlier, some of the shot-on-video productions were pretty good -- when they were shooting film style. Cheap video gear may have democratized the business, but it has sure brought us a lot of high-priced garbage.
The Golden Age is long gone. Maybe it's time to start shooting like they did back then. Oh, right, but that would take time and planning and a lot of effort.
There is an interesting quote attributed to Tani Naomi on her English Wikipedia entry:
In 1996 she...opened Yours Naomi, a video store near Hakata which specializes in erotic cinema, especially Nikkatsu's Roman Porno films. She comments that, "Many young people (in their 20s and 30s) who used to buy the mindless AV (adult video) junk have shifted to 'Roman Porn' after being introduced to it."
Maybe there's hope.