Friday, January 26, 2001

The Pleasure (and Pain) of Quills

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #148, January 26, 2001)

This column concerns Quills, a film purportedly about the last years of the Marquis de Sade’s life (now playing at the Lagoon Cinema). Even though it was released by Fox, Quills is not really your normal Hollywood movie, and this column will not be your normal movie review. You can find normal reviews of this film all over the Web—one site,, has gathered a thoroughly mixed collection of 72 of them. But I have yet to read anything about the film written in the context of the leather/SM community, so here goes. Consider this less of a movie review and more of a scene report.

First, let’s be clear: Quills is not a biography. The film (screenplay by Doug Wright, adapted from his play of the same name) begins with a voice-over invitation spoken by the Marquis (played by Geoffrey Rush) to listen to a “tarted-up” tale. And tarted-up it is; although the Marquis really spent the last years of his life in a French insane asylum called Charenton, and Abbé Coumier and the laundress Madelaine (played by Joaquin Phoenix and Kate Winslet) were real people, the story is a complete fabrication. It’s true that at one point de Sade’s quills and paper were taken away from him, but in reality the Abbé was able to ameliorate the situation.

In Quills, by contrast, Napoleon is so outraged by the scandalous things de Sade is writing that he sends a physician, Dr. Royer-Collard (played by Michael Caine) to the asylum to silence de Sade by either curing him or killing him. The doctor is a completely fabricated character (modeled, supposedly, on Kenneth Starr), and therefore so is the conflict between de Sade and the doctor around which the movie revolves. When Royer-Collard orders de Sade’s ink, paper and quill pens removed so that he will no longer be able to write, de Sade uses wine for ink and writes on his bedsheet. As the battle of wills escalates de Sade is forced to use his own blood for ink, and later he writes a story on a dungeon wall in his own excrement. A ripping good tale—but none of it really happened.

Quills strives to turn de Sade into a noble victim of repression who refuses to be silenced, a champion of free speech and artistic expression who valiantly makes his voice heard at all costs. That’s what the studio will be saying around Academy Award time, anyway. But it doesn’t quite work—de Sade’s compulsion to express himself looks more monomaniacal and compulsive than noble.

As history and biography, Quills fails. As a political and philosophical statement it’s a muddle. You’ll enjoy it much more if you approach the movie as a gigantic leather/SM fantasy presentation, probably the biggest one you’ll see this year (or ever). Whether inadvertently or by design, the makers of this film have included something for every kinky person’s taste. Oriental sex toys, dungeons, wrought-iron cages, bondage furniture (who wants to be the first to try the dunking chair?), torture chambers (therapeutic, of course), an exquisite flogging scene complete with aftercare, blood sports, branding, scat—it’s all here, beautifully lit and lushly photographed. You’ll have fantasy material for a long time.

None of the on-screen kink, of course, is safe, sane or consensual, but as a fantasy it doesn’t really have to be. Well, anyway, we in the leather/SM community know it’s a fantasy and do-not-try-this-at-home-without-proper-precautions. But what about all those non-kinky moviegoers out there? What image are they getting of “what it is that we do?” Unfortunately, not a very nice one.

The fact that the main backdrop for the film (and all its kinky activities) is an insane asylum isn’t terribly flattering. And the kink is certainly not shown as healthy or enjoyable; as portrayed in this film, kink is violent and cruel (and sexist to boot), and people wind up dead, maimed or insane as a result. This is reminiscent of two mid-century movies I recently watched, The Children’s Hour and A Walk on the Wild Side, with lesbian characters who were killed off at movies’ end; Hollywood at the time evidently believed that lesbianism was a crime punishable by death. So it seems with kink according to Quills: kink = madness = death. Lovely.

Not that the real-life Marquis was much better—he was certainly no proponent of “safe, sane, consensual” either, and he therefore makes a somewhat embarrassing patron saint and poster-boy for the community. But for Quills to take de Sade’s story and, uh, pervert it by trying to make it even more sensational, violent and repugnant than it already was . . . that’s really twisted. And, for Hollywood, par for the course.

Friday, January 12, 2001

A Winter’s Worth of Leather Activities

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #147, January 12, 2001)

Congratulations. You made it through another holiday season. Now comes the hard part—getting through the rest of winter, the part without the glittery holiday lights. If you’ve gone from having no free time during the holidays to suddenly having too much, here’s a whole winter full of leather activities to keep you occupied.

Jan. 12: Make hotel and weekend package reservations for International Mr. Leather contest in Chicago. It’s not too soon, and it may almost be too late. The event doesn’t happen until May 24-28, but the host hotel always fills up early. This year it’s The Palmer House Hilton; rooms are $139 or $179 a night. In a retro nod to the 20th century, you cannot make room reservations through the hotel’s website—you must actually pick up the telephone and use your voice to talk to another human being. If you make your hotel reservations (or any other travel arrangements, leather related or not) through Carlson-Wagonlit Travel in Chicago and mention “Star File 6418,” they will donate 10% of the proceeds to the Leather Archives and Museum. You can also call the Palmer House directly.

IML weekend package reservations can be made by phone, fax (800-FAX-TIXS), TDD or online ( Cost is $140/person, and reserved seating is based on order date, so an early weekend package order equals a better seat at the contest. Find all the details at

Jan. 12-15 (that’s this weekend): Mid-Atlantic Leather Contest, sponsored by the Centaurs MC (for the uninitiated, the “MC” means Motorcycle Club), Washington, D.C. This is the second-largest leather contest in the U.S.; if you’re not there this year, make a resolution to experience it next year.

Jan. 20: Atons Officer Installation. Somebody else besides Dubya will be taking the oath of office today: Sam Carlisle (President), Bruce Chambers (Vice-President), Keith Cheetham (Secretary), and Paul Rozendaal (Treasurer). See this issue’s Out & About Calendar for details or visit

Feb. 9-11: Portland Uniform Weekend. If you’re into uniforms, Portland, Oregon, is the place to be this weekend. Visit for details.

Feb. 16-18: Pantheon of Leather/Olympus Leather Contest, New Orleans. The leather community’s version of the Oscars, and a contest to boot (no pun intended). Details:

Feb. 16-18: International Bear Rendezvous in San Francisco. Brought to you by Bears of San Francisco,

Feb. 17-25: It’s Old Anniversary Week at The Main Club in Superior, Wisconsin. Owner Bob Jansen presents one of the few good reasons to venture north at this time of year.

March 9-11: Dreams to Reality Weekend, Omaha. Any kinky person will enjoy this weekend, but it’s especially recommended for novices. Many local kinksters will be participating as workshop presenters or vendors. For more information, visit their website (by local community member and web designer Sweets) at

April 6-8: The Black Guard present Black Frost 24, “Who Murdered Broadway”. Historically Black Frost is held in mid-February; by mid-April we can only hope the weather won’t still be frosty. The Black Guard promise a huge banquet and a show you won’t want to miss. For info and a run registration form write Run Registration, The Black Guard of Minneapolis, Minneapolis, MN.

April 27-29: boy Training Camp 3 in Dallas, Texas, presented by The Leather Network. They’re serious about it if you are. You’ll find LOTS of info at

And there’s more! Local kink group TIES presents their Munch the last Wednesday of each month at 7:30 PM at Legends, 825 E. Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis. Put on your black (or even your brown) leather and head to St. Paul for country-and-western dance nights at Lucy’s (Thursday, 8 PM-midnight) and Club Metro (Sundays, 7:30-11 PM). And check the websites of the North Country Bears ( and Naked Minnesota ( for information about their wintertime activities.

Of course, for leather atmosphere there’s The Minneapolis Eagle seven nights a week and The Tank (at The Saloon) on Wednesday and Sunday evenings. To add to that leather atmosphere and break up the monotony of the long winter, shop at Fit to a T Leather (located downstairs at Club Metro in St. Paul). And if you really get bored, Fit to a T also has all the leather-care supplies you’ll need to tackle that perfect winter project: cleaning and polishing your leathers.

There. That should give you something to do until the snow melts (and yes, it will eventually melt).