Hey folks! I received a very nice email from director David Aaron Clark a couple of weeks ago, complimenting my blog (thank you David) and offering me a copy of his new movie, Pure, for me to review. I was planning on buying it anyway, so this was an ideal freebie. I must admit, I was very concerned that I wouldn't be able to say good things about it - the original movie it's based on, In the Realm of the Senses (Dir. Nagisa Oshima, 1976), is one of the greatest sexually explicit films ever made, by many peoples' standards (including my own), and has been studied, written about, and generally considered bad ass ever since it was released. Clark has a lot to live up to, and I don't like lying, so I was crossing my fingers that this Evil Angel remake would be at least good enough for me to say a couple of neat things about. Well, I'm happy to say that I'm able to do more than that - this film took me by surprise in a lot of different ways. Read on, but be aware that my review contains spoilers, and some imagery may make gentlemen cross their legs.
As a company, Evil Angel has only meant one thing to me: gonzo. Turns out, they have made their fair share of features, many of which are highly regarded, but nevertheless, I was aware that a feature film from EA would probably be pretty high on sexual content. In many ways, In the Realm of the Senses is a perfect source text, seeing as it basically consists of sexual activity as narrative. Both the original film and Pure depict the relationship between Sada and Kichi - in the original film Sada is a concubine to Kichi's married man, and their sexual relationship becomes increasingly intense, violent, and eventually "resolves" itself through Sada strangling Kichi during sex, and then castrating him. Pure follows this narrative surprisingly faithfully, but set in modern Los Angeles, casting Sada (Asa Akira) as a former prostitute working at a fetish dungeon, while Kichi (Keni Styles) is the dungeon mistress's husband.
My primary concern about Pure was what I believed to be the impossible task of depicting Sada and Kichi's sexual relationship in a modern porn film. The majority of adult film, particularly in the last twenty years or so, relies on what Linda Williams, in her book Screening Sex, refers to as the "scratch" model - sex with the goal of climax, usually the male's, and is essentially male-centered. In the Realm of the Senses, Williams argues, uses an "itch" model, one that is female-centered in its "continuous sexual pleasure," focused less on male climax, and more on the man aspiring to meet "the woman's temporal rhythm of ecstasy" (201). Realm consists of prolonged scenes of sexual activity that are almost feverish in their drawn out pleasures - I didn't believe a modern pornographic remake would take such risks.
In a way, I was right - the opening sex scene appeared to confirm my concerns, and narratively the film takes a while establishing the intensity of the relationship between Sada and Kichi. With that said, though, there are a couple of these more conventional sex scenes that stand out as unconventional by today's standards, most memorably the scene between Akira and Jake Malone.
What I am most impressed by is the way Clark manages to incorporate the "itch" model into "scratch"-type scenes. In other words, a relatively conventional scene can be taking place, such as the one between the lovely Mr. Marcus and a lovely lady, while it is simultaneously being subverted by Sada and Kichi's activities in the background which are lingering and drawn out, at the margins, yet a part of the scene at the same time. The movie still conforms to a "pornographic agenda," yet there is a hint of a subversive sexual dynamic at work at the same time.
It's later in the movie that Clark seems to really get at Sada's increasing fascination with ownership of Kichi's body, and Kichi's submission to Sada's desires. He actually does a good job of developing an intensity to the relationship, with them spending days on end in bed together exploring their bodies and desires, even if these elements are developed a little late in the film for my tastes.
Of course, the finale of the film was something Clark, Styles, Akira, and the make-up team were going to have to pull off (no pun intended) in order to really impress me. Well, let me tell you, I've seen a handful of castration scenes in my time, but the castration in Pure is without a doubt the most convincing. I genuinely don't know how they made it so realistic - but a very effective replica of Styles' penis, as well as some really great fake blood, have to be the key.
I also liked the way the film narrative is framed by police testimonies related to the crime, as well as imagery that foreshadows the film's finale, including a vacant Akira traveling the subway with something in a box...
Needless to say, I recommend this film - Styles and Akira do an outstanding job, and Clark impressed me. Pure certainly won't be to everyone's tastes, and I'm really not sure what audience it will appeal to. But, honestly, that's why I like it.