“Don’t make it fake or forced,” says Van Darkholme as he gives directorial notes to one of his ‘models’. Together, they are ready to set someone’s deepest, darkest bondage fantasies ablaze. Operating from inside the old San Francisco Armory, he is just one of the numerous directors working on producing kink.com’s latest BDSM content. Next door, teams of men are busy assembling large pieces of wood for a new glory hole set. Meanwhile, porn veteran Madeline Maitresse is demonstrating how to properly step on a penis without hurting it (she subsequently asks the owner of the penis to act anguished as she’s doing it, creating the illusion that there is pain).

But that’s about as much faking as she and her fellow directors will allow. Because when all is said and done, what happens in front of the camera is very real, whether it be being contorted then rigorously penetrated with custom-made sex machines, or trying to escape gangbang while being tied up with ropes and trash bags (“She gets an extra thousand dollars if she gets away”). This level of authenticity is the hallmark of kink.com, a fetish empire where almost very conceivable sexual fantasy can exist. The actors and directors, all surprisingly normal, charismatic, and intelligent, pride themselves on the truthfulness of their twisted pornographic endeavors, and speak about their experiences in an almost artistic way.

 

The film depicts kink.com as a safe, sane workplace. Peter Acworth introduces us around the Armory with a humble, diplomatic, welcome-to-the-office casualness, the only reminder that this isn’t Dunder Mifflin being when they are interrupted with the sounds of a nearby gangbang. We are taken to talent manager Jessie Lee’s desk, where she is busy scouting for new models and coordinating new combinations with their current roster (“Oh he might have school on Wednesday”). Then of course, we peek into several different sets with ongoing shoots.

 

At kink.com, each performer’s limits and boundaries are discussed and agreed on beforehand. The ideology, then, becomes that the actors are in control, that they dictate the limits of their sexual exploration. This film leads us to believe that this is what kink.com, and BDSM in general, is about; being brave and courageous and sexually curious enough to go places within a rulebook of pre-determined confines involving dominance and submissiveness (Choking is fine, but not the word ‘bitch’, someone gives as an example). Yes, she is being hammered with a device throttling at the speed of a machine gun, but, as all members of kink.com would point out, this is all consensual and, of course, stoppable.

 

There is no way to escape explicit images in a documentary on Internet pornography, and if private parts being threatened by electrical toys and pounding machines makes you squeamish, perhaps you should steer clear of this documentary (or just look away when something unpleasant ends up onscreen—I had to a few times). I don’t know how much better I would’ve fared  with the exploding limbs and blood-soaked foreheads of a horror film, but I think it goes without saying that if this movie ever ends up on Netflix, this is not something to procrastinate with at the office.

 

The film is interposed with clips of very candid interviews with both models and directors. Almost everyone interviewed delivers a strong, compelling defense of their work to a general public not very respecting of professions related to pornography. They are well rehearsed undoubtedly from past experiences in their personal lives of trying to justify their career choices. Although most of them are past the need for validation, they remain experts at anticipating and handling the onslaught of interrogations flung at them because of their involvement in the BDSM industry, and, in front of this production crew, headed by Christina Voros as director and James Franco as producer, they spill a lot—their motives, their desires, their adversities—humanizing these individuals in a way that makes us forget who they are based on their professions and rather who they are as three-dimensional people. One particularly poignant moment involved a veteran actress, who was asked how she would feel if her own children went into porn. After a very long pause, she confessed that there were many lost souls in porn. “I would never want my children to be lost souls.”

 

This particular actress concedes, however, that her longevity in the industry is extremely rare, and that more often than not, a porn model is active for a couple of years before being forgotten about. Which is why despite the sensible atmosphere and the implied ‘moral supremacy’ of kink.com as portrayed by the film, the documentary also hints that what occurs inside the old San Francisco Armory is far from the norm, suggesting that kink.com is not representative of an industry still plagued with mass exploitation and abuse. Fortunately, what Voros and Franco and kink did not do is choose a side, a conclusion, and subsequently make a documentary out of it (Super Size Me, I’m looking at you). What it does do is spark dialogue and help demystify this seemingly absurd sect of Internet pornography and the individuals who partake in its creation.

 

“I don’t buy my own porn. Someone else is, though.”

 

MPI Pictures will release KINK theatrically on August 22, 2014.

-Ziye Hu