Reel Affirmations 2004
Review by Nancy Legato
Rating: (2 out of 5)
Thursday, 10/21/2004, 9:00 PM
Feature presentation, $9 at Cecile Goldman Theater at the DCJCC
WHEN IS A scene really a scene? Katherine Brooks co-wrote and directed this industrially lascivious, belabored romp through one version of the L.A. S&M subculture. Surrender owes a lot to its S&M setting, including an aesthetic built on the idea of a very contrived scene. Everything here is about appearance, pretext, power exchanges, role plays — all underlined with photography fascinated by the juxtaposition of colors and forms that goes beyond mere set design.
There’s the coke-snorting, liquor-gulping dominatrix Salene (Katherine Hill) indoctrinating the naïve, innocent, Alabama émigré Georgia (Julie Clay) into the ways of both woman-on-woman sex as well as S&M. There’s the array of male slaves posing in various demeaning postures and getting their rocks off on being used and abused by women. And there’s the odd moment of humor over just what exactly turns some people on (in particular, one guy who likes to be forced to eat dog food.)
What’s missing, however, is a sense of timing and transition. Quite different from an individual scene (or “scene”), real people — and people pretending to be real in films — do require some reason for willingly and rapidly descending into hell. Surrender presents very little in Georgia’s character that would seem to drive a precipitous immersion into alcohol and drugs. Within the apparent span of a few days, she goes from flower-print dresses and a sweet doe-eyed look to layers of black eyeliner, outfits of leather and lace, and a constant binging on Jack Daniels, Camels, and cocaine — apparently just because Salene’s doing it.
While we do get one or two clues into Salene’s background that might hint at reasons for substance abuse and a need for sexual triumph over men, Georgia remains a largely blank slate. There’s not even any excuse offered for her presence in L.A. She just shows up one day on Salene’s doorstep, apparently dropped into the area for the express purpose of taking on Salene’s foibles and follies.
In the end, after some wretched emotional drama and a mini-mystery of sorts that will go unsolved (just one more red herring in a film swimming with ’em), this viewer was longing for a safeword to get escape from an unnecessarily prolonged scene. There’s much value in the way the tale is told, but little merit in the basic script. The promise of the attention to atmosphere and ambience, danger and delight, just isn’t fulfilled by the dearth of character development and dénouement.