Recently, I screened Remedy as part of the Bright Lights film screening series curated by Anna Feder. Afterward I had a Q&A and conversation with notable journalist Melissa Gira Grant, author of Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work. Here is a write-up in the Boston Globe that appeared the next day!
I’m a terrible self-promoter, so it comes as no surprise to me how there are still so many sex workers, including dommes in my own home city, who have NO IDEA that Remedy exists. Such was the case with SWOPnsw, where I saw a tweet that was asking for “coming out stories.” I replied that my film was such a story, in that I came out under my real name before even launching the crowdfunding campaign for finishing funds.
The resulting review and interview were beautiful and emotional for both me and Fiona Beattie, who wrote the two articles for the hard-copy-only publication The Professional, by and for Australian sex workers. The images here were published with permission of the magazine.
Also, every sex worker should watch that Barney Miller Christmas episode. Seriously.
Sometimes you get reviews that you expect. Sometimes you get reviews you don’t, and those can be a mixed bag. These days viewer reactions can come in the form of the dreaded comments section, arbitrary star ratings assigned by folks who were expecting a skin flick, or (even worse) trollings from folks who never even watched your film and who never intend to.
So when I saw this review from someone who paid money to rent REMEDY via one of the many streaming options that just opened up this year, I was not expecting such a thoughtful, well-written, and glowing write-up!
Last week I went up to the Boston Underground Film Festival, where REMEDY was a super late addition to the party, but apparently every bit as welcome… BECAUSE REMEDY WON THE DIRECTORS’ CHOICE AWARD FOR BEST FEATURE!!! And yes, the statue looks just like that.
Sometimes as a filmmaker you read a review where the critic “gets it” so much that you even agree with the things they didn’t like so much. Film crit blog Next Projection published such a write-up. Click here to read the review that made the director cry.
“Remedy” by Cheyenne Picardo is a film about sex work that succeeds without dark secrets
These days, when looming shadows in 50 shades of gray are poised to introduce sadomasochism not just to housewife-literature but also to blockbuster cinema, at the periphery of all the hype a substantially more raw and less polished film is about to arrive in German theaters. First-time U.S. director Cheyenne Picardo is familiar with the material she describes, since she presents her own story with that of Remedy. Like her protagonist, who calls herself “Mistress Remedy”, Picardo spent 18 months—while studying at film school—as a sex worker at an S&M brothel; and in spite of all cliches that tend to stubbornly accompany cinematic treatments of prostitution, no dark secret lurking in the shadows is at the root of this. When Remedy is asked what prompted the idea she answers simply, someone told her she’d never dare do it.
A slight and trivial reason to temporarily become a prostitute; but that exactly is the point; and these days in which the PorNo! campaign is eagerly exhumed while the human rights of sex workers are trampled with enthusiastic self-righteousnessness, it’s an important point. Sex work as a service-industry profession, with some highlights and an (in no way glossed-over) shadow side as well, but not a tragedy overshadowing one’s entire biography—that’s the story Picardo tells in Remedy with the full weight of lived experience .
This does not mean that Remedy is some kind of formally illiterate piece of confessional cinema. You can tell that Picardo’s debut originates from a precarious place with its budget partially scraped together using crowd-funding—in fact, Remedy is nearly a one-woman production: Picardo directed, produced, wrote the script, edited the film and even sang the song used for the opening credits. Her lofty filmmaking ambitions constantly find their way into the film’s structure and formal aspects, however. Remedy is structured as a series of S&M sessions that reflect the full spectrum of her everyday work experience: From outlandish, funny episodes of the sort that recently brought attention to Lene BErg’s great sex-work documentary “Kopfkino”, to encounters offering true personal affection and romantic potential, to sexual power games that gradually and apparently inevitably teeter toward actual danger.
The decision not to present these sessions as incidental to a concurrent story of psychological development , but as a crucial narrative tool, has far-reaching ramifications for the tension sustained by the movie. This is not just a film that wants to talk about sex and foregrounds sex for this reason—and even less so a film using its sexual content as a decorative element. Instead Cheyenne Picardo aims to turn various sexual constellations into the actual medium used to drive the narrative. Via the succession of johns and the sessions experienced by Remedy as either the dominant or submissive party, a definite narrative development can be detected. This type of narrativizing of the sex act itself represents the highest aspirations of the sex-film genre, and for long stretches Picardo is extraordinarily successful at pulling off this tight-rope act.
Admittedly, tightening some of its mid-section might have benefited the two-hour movie. But even this is mitigated by Picardo’s direction that seeks out not just atmospheric, but also varied and diverse images, including a penchant for split-screen mosaics. And besides, the waiting, the apparent killing of time, the enduring of uncertainty and repetition, silence and stillness, are integral parts of every successful sadomasochistic performance whose rhythms shape the deeper structure of Remedy. (Jochen Werner)
(Translation by Nina Gielen)
I was interviewed recently by Neo of SMler.de, a wonderful and comprehensive German kink blog. Since the interview was translated — in the process making me aware of wonderful German compound nouns like “Lacklederballettstiefeln” — I’ve included my original answers to her questions below.
What is your movie Remedy all about?
Remedy is an autobiographical fiction based on my time working as a staff (rather than independent) switch in a commercial BDSM dungeon in New York City. It’s my first feature film as producer, director, writer, and editor.
What kind of a woman is Mistress Remedy?
Unabashedly kinky, curious, independent and intelligent. But her tragic flaw, like mine, is her pride. She is type of person who behaves rationally until someone tells her she’s not allowed or not able to do something. Someone who doesn’t recognize when to cut bait and walk away.
But if I didn’t have this “flaw,” I’d never have had the courage to finish this film. So maybe it’s not such a defect after all.
What were your intention to produce that movie? (Why the topic BDSM?)
The intention was not to make a film about BDSM – there are other movies that would do that a lot better than this one. This is a film about profession fetish work. I had read memoirs by other dommes, and what struck me about them was how different their experiences had been from mine, how they sounded like sexual superheros. I found it hard to relate. The experience of a house domme is a very different thing than that of an independent. And I had not seen any writing from anyone who had done submissive sessions. Pro-sub appeared to be the stepchild of the industry, seldom discussed, occasionally denigrated. People who had done sub sessions were reluctant to admit it.
I had yet to read a memoir from the point of view of someone who, frankly, wasn’t cut out for the job, despite extensive personal exploration, and who had elected to do it. No trafficking, no coercion, just a choice.
And I was also eager to offer an antidote to films and television shows produced by people with no consultations with actual sex workers, let alone experience in the industry. People love to speak for the sex workers. I speak for myself.
How could you create that intense, offensive and honest movie? Is there any Story
behind the Scenes?
I couldn’t help it? This is what happens when someone digs deep into their history to tell a story. What comes out may not be exactly the way it happened, word for word; I couldn’t do that in two hours. But I couldn’t help but create something that feels genuine. It’s in the details. Emphasizing the shabbiness of the space, showing clean up after a session, focusing on interactions between people and not just on the spank or the flog. Allowing the actors to improvise rather than feeding them contrived dialogue, which releases the organic power dynamics in each scene. After the writing and shooting were complete, post-production created new opportunities to color the work with bits of honesty in the sound effects or choosing to expose the graininess of the prosumer video camera. Or maybe to even use a split screen… just because it seemed like a good idea. The process was very liberating, and the final film is raw and authentic in a way a glossy, high-budget set piece can’t be.
As for “the story behind the scenes,” there is a lot I chose not to include into the film. Some sessions were too cliche or too visually graphic. I now regret not taking more risks as far as what I showed, as almost every client (except the ones who saw me as a submissive) jerked themselves off at the end of the session, almost every client was completely naked, some of them wanted slut training or extreme CBT, or goldens. But at the time, I honestly was afraid of getting American sex workers in trouble. It takes next to nothing to set off a string of raids on houses in New York City, and dommes, subs, and switches really do have the privilege of most people not having the first clue about what actually goes on in session. Seriously, most folks, thanks to the media, think that dommes always stand six feet away from their completely mute and docile clients with a single tail, expertly balancing in patent leather ballet boots. Obviously, this couldn’t be further from the truth. If I had unlimited resources, I’d create a television show which was ultimately far more graphic, just to show the range of the industry, the people, and what’s required to do the work. I’d never run out of material.
But for this first film, I wanted to just tell my story, not fabricate other workers’ stories. Doing that with a film like this is very dangerous, and it’s a trap that a lot of directors don’t mind falling into — which is why there are so many dishonest portrayals of sex work and fetish out there in the world.
What do we learn about humans and their sexuality, when we have a look behind
curtains and into BDSM Studios?
First off that the two are not the same, nor are they mutually exclusive. “BDSM studios” or commercial dungeons are not the same as BDSM play spaces. Although professionals very often do occupy both spaces, especially when those pro’s are enjoying off-the-books personal time. This is not to say, however, that all BDSM sex workers are kinky at home, and I’ve met quite a few who are not.
How is Fetish and Underground Scene in New York? What is it all about?
I wish I knew. I’m something of a hermit since I started making REMEDY. My days of parading in fantastic outfits in clubs and working in house have transformed into my working very part-time with an independent domme and keeping my kinky playtime a little more insulated and my social time more intertwined with activists and artists. I miss the pageantry sometimes, though, and because of work I still have a closet full of wonderful outfits. I’m honestly quite interested in exploring how the scene works in Germany, considering how warm of a reception REMEDY and I have gotten there!
Is there anything you can remcommend somebody, who is new in the Fetish Scene?
Try not to set boundaries according to any rules that aren’t your own. A person’s sense of what is acceptable and unacceptable is personal, and no one else’s boundaries will quite match up with yours — especially in the BDSM scene. This is the reason why promoting consent culture is so important. Boundaries can be so fluid and delicate in the moment. Today’s yes is not tomorrow’s yes, and the more we make people understand that, the less likely it is for people to get hurt. Know yourself as well as possible.
Are there any new projects your working on? What will we see in the future from you?
Right now I’m having that wonderful problem of so many ideas, so many projects, but only so much time. I’m working on a couple of music videos that really excite me, as well as a series of short films about sex work from a more comedic, absurdist angle, but with the same amount of authenticity as REMEDY. As for my next feature, it’s written in a dozen different notepads and hopefully I will have a script by late spring. I can’t say much about it other than it will be a sexy dark comedy.
Not about my movie, per se, but about The Movie and The Book that is the primary reason I have way better SEO than I deserve. (Spoken like a true submissive.)
I chugged the book last weekend, and while the movie was pretty darned dreadful, the conversation I had with the reporter was fantastic. We chatted for over two hours, so I did not envy her having to first transcribe everything I rambled about and then distill it to what you see in this article.
One thing that didn’t make it in here is my questioning why RS and so many other publications are tapping people from the commercial BDSM industry for their takes on the film rather than asking civilians, who frankly would be far better positioned to critique this film. *I* happen to be kinky at home, but being a pro-domme is not necessarily indicative of personal bedroom preferences. I understand the mainstream misconception. If you want to interview a really good baseball player, you interview a professional baseball player. But this is not analogous in the case of kink. Good top does not mean pro top. Good top might mean pro bottom. Good pro might mean that once you leave work you never want to see a flogger again as long as you live. I hope that a few pubs start tapping just ordinary kinky people, and not necessarily Scene Celebrities either. While the reactions from kinky bloggers are definitely adding to the conversation in a much needed way, it would be nice if journalists realized that the act of interviewing a few of them would do a lot to up kink’s credibility.
I do regret that they had to paint me as an “Expert Domme.” I’m hardly an expert domme. In comparison to many out there, I’m probably hardly a mediocre domme. But I am kinky, and I did make a film about a kinky person who enters a career in commercial BDSM. (That MFA in Video Art & Photography and the BA in Film Theory and Crit probably didn’t hurt either.) So while I don’t believe I deserve the moniker in the sex work sense, I think I make up for it with my other qualifications.
(In other news, I say “like” far too frequently for a woman who’s about to turn 36.)