Wednesday, November 03, 2010

On Torture Porn, the X-Men and Eighteenth-Century Rakes

This weekend I finally watched a Netflix delivery that had been lingering on my desk since I moved to L.A.: the French film Demonlover, which you should understand is not about demons or really lovers. It’s sort of neo noir, sort of an espionage thriller, and despite the handicap of being French and taking place primarily in France still stars three non-French actresses — Connie Nielsen, Chloe Sevigny and Gina Gershon. (Should you be surprised that Sevigny speaks excellent French?) Sonic Youth does the score, and the plot manages to incorporate both hentai and cubicle malaise into an overall entertaining, if uneven, package.

One of Demonlover’s plot points revolves around a The Hellfire Club, a website that offers torture porn (not the Eli Roth sense, but the kind where stripteases segue into snuff films). And when this name got dropped, I was surprised, because I’d never heard it before outside of X-Men comics and cartoons. In X-Men, the Hellfire Club is a sinister Rotary, where everyone has chess-themed codenames, dresses like a period piece porno (men like eighteenth-century rakes, ladies in slutty leather corsets), and sits around tables plotting evil. Wikipedia even points out The last permutation of the real-life Hellfire Club was even called the Phoenix Society, which ties in with X-Men in that they play a big role in the whole story where Jean Grey becomes The Phoenix. (A nowish point of relevancy: The most famous Hellfire Club member, the White Queen, is being played by January Jones in the upcoming X-Men movie.) A visual aid, if you need:


Anyway, I wondered why this French film would be referencing an element from a comic book that wouldn’t seem to have much to do its the plot, however postmodern it might be. I got curious and looked it up. Surprise — I’m dumb. More than one actual Hellfire Club existed, even if some permutations weren’t called by that name at the time. They were, in fact, eighteenth-century, British social clubs where people sat around tables being educated and more often plotting pranks and witty blasphemies than senseless evil.

So then I felt like that one awful English major who doesn’t know that Evelyn Waugh is a man… until the end of the Demonlover when — spoiler alert, I guess? — Nielsen’s character gets kidnapped by the bad guys and ends up one of the guests of honor at the tortue porn Hellfire Club. Her fate gets decided by whatever online customer pays the right price. That customer happens to be a teenaged American shit using his dad’s credit card. He requests that Nielsen’s snuff film debut should have her playing the X-Men character Storm, only bound and deprived of her powers. End of movie.

Grim, but circular, at least for me. My assumption was right, but I still learned something. Win-win?

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