The Story of O

Review - The Story of O

In 1975, it was the height of urban chic to crawl into the local art house cinema and pretend to be hip by gazing up at the screen to Just Jaeckin's "The Story of O" with your pseudo-intellectual date and stroke your beard knowingly (like Anthony Steel in the film). Finally making it to DVD through the auspices of Somerville House Releasing, "The Story of O" has probably aged more than the film's stars. Jaeckin, who pioneered the look of soft core, soft focus erotica with "Emmanuelle," adapted his feminine hygiene TV commercial look to this adaptation of Pauline Reage's S&M submission novel from the 1950s.

A reactionary response to early 70s feminism, "The Story of O" concerns a fashion photographer (Corinne Clery), who willing abandons her career and identity in order to satisfy the sadistic demands of her lover (Udo Kier). Much like the strict academic requirements of the late Barbara Woodhouse, she is enrolled in a sexual obedience school, where she takes such honors courses as Advanced Whippings, Intermediate Self-Abuse, and Branding Irons 101. The 70s were a simpler time when dialogue like "O was very surprised at having her hands tied, since she had every intention of obeying her lover" or "What we have to do is get tears out of her" rang gently like a D.W. Griffith intertitle. Jaeckin dulls the pain (both of the main character and the audience) by giving his film a clean and glowing gloss -- somewhat like a cross between Stanley Kubrick and Mario Bava.

Nevertheless, "The Story of O" is truly discomforting -- not in its now tame nudity but in its hateful depiction of a beautiful, proud woman unhesitatingly giving herself up to torture for the love of a man. The intervening years have turned this now reprehensible fantasy into a musty artifact of culture kitsch. Any edge softened by the Jaeckin Salve is now lost forever in this harder, nastier, and much more hateful time of fundamentalist female repression in the Middle East and female genital mutilation practices in Africa. Diffident dialogue exchanges ("Have you been beaten recently?" "Oh, two or three weeks ago. About that") in "The Story of O" must now stand up against a painful and vicious 21st century reality.

The special features include a photo gallery, cast and crew biographies, a trailer, and an audio commentary by Just Jaeckin.

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