Bondagerotica Presents The History of Bondage

A Brief But Deeply Biased General Outline of Bondage Imagery on TV and in Mainstream Films.

Almost as soon as film was rolling, women were being tied up and gagged on film. The earliest record we have for sure is 1908's "An Awful Moment" by none other than D. W. Griffith, but we would not be at all surprised if something even earlier turned up -- for example, if Georges Melies' "Tower of London -- the Last Moments of Anne Boleyn" had any chains in it, it would be the first, appearing in 1905. Given that Melies made hundreds of films prior to 1905, the odds are pretty good that bondage scenes might even predate the 20th century.

1900-1924 -- First Golden Age

Early filmmakers quickly realized the dramatic potential of damsel in distress scenes and in short order women were bound and gagged all over the place. This is the period when the damsel tied to the RR tracks became such a cliche, because it was used so much. Serials like "Perils of Pauline" "" and others showed dynamic, adventurous heroines getting in one scrape after another, often involving getting bound and gagged.

This recent Coors LIght commercial captures the spirit of the DID scenes of the early 1900s -- damsels got bound to railroad tracks so often they became a cliche, and the Coors LIght puts a 90s twist on it by having the hero admire the knotwork on the damsel's ropes -- and he's curiously unhurried about untying her, too.

Rope was the favored bondage material, though chains had their place.

Cloth over the mouth gags and cloth cleave gags were the rule.

A fascinating historical sidelight a bondage fan has pointed out that a BBC documentary on the history of sex brought forth the existence of a series of "educational" films about the dangers of white slavery that were made circa 1900-1920. The films featured naked, chained women being whipped, spanked and kissed -- that's right, they were the commercial bondage videos of their day. But they had a nice cover -- they were supposedly warnings of the dangers of too much female freedom. Go out in society and join the suffragettes and so forth, these films said, and pretty soon some evil white slaver would have you naked and chained to the wall and perform UNSPEAKABLE acts upon you, such as ... THIS ... and THIS ... and don't let's forget THIS! At a time when female freedom was causing much anxiety in the Victorian-poisoned male mind, this was the perfect cover for bondage porn, just as white slavers were the then-current cover for the desire to control female sexuality.

Fate of a suffragette. A still from an early 1900s "educational" film about the dangers of female freedom. White slavers were the snuff filmmakers of their day, that is, a nonexistent group that was nevertheless widely claimed to exist because of mainstream culture's need to justify their sexual repression.

In the mid-1920s, a limited censorship move was instituted. Moral types complained that bad guys were often offering violence toward women in the movies, and it was felt that this was a bad thing, since it happened so much in real life (except that it was husbands, fathers and lovers who did most of the violence, not random villains). They raised a big stink about it and threatened Congressional action, so the movie companies voluntarily cut back on scenes of villains offering violence to women. This was a sign of things to come.

Lucille Ball made her (unbilled) debut as a gagged slavegirl in Busby Berkeley's "Roman Scandals of 1933" which also featured the "Human Bondage" dance routine in which practically naked Busby Berkeley slavegirls are chained together and dance about on a giant wedding cake. In fact, Lucille Ball was one of the women chained to the cake.

The "protect the gentle womenfolk" censorship had a disastrous effect on the serials, as the spunky heroines of the serials faded away to be replaced by "sweethearts" whom no sane individual would think to offer violence to. In short, the spunky action heroine that feminists and most people in general enjoy seeing today was replaced by the prototype of the hapless 1950s style damsel in distress, a woman who generally sat around passively and awaited rescuing. Once again, under the guise of protecting women and advancing morality, women got shafted out of having some exciting and interesting role models in the movies. This IS a recurring theme. Censors claim to be aiming squarely at those evil male trouser snakes, but somehow women always end up taking it up the ass.

1924-1934 -- Early Nakedness

As the Jazz Age swung into action, nudity got more and more serious, though the Great Nippular No-No still hung in there, not to mention the taboo on all the naughty bits down south. This is why so many nude firsts occurred in this period. Bondage overall was down due to the decline of the rough-n-ready heroines of the serials, but it still reared its chained head here and there -- most notably in Biblical epics, where chained slaves of the Romans and so forth were accepted.

A hot young Christian babe is suspended naked on the sands of the Roman Arena in 1932's "Sign of the Cross," destined to serve as alligator food for the delectation of them nasty Romans. Note decorative garland concealing naughty bits.

Rope continued to be the lead bondage material, with chains making a stronger showing thanks to all those Bibilical epics. Cloth gags, both over the mouth and cleaves, were the gag du jour. No real advances here, though we did have our first rack scene and an isolated first -- a tape gag in a film called "Yellow Cargo" which did not lead to much of anything. "Sign of the Cross," one of the many Biblical epics of the the time which took advantage of the odor of sanctity enjoyed by Biblical stories to present all sorts of sexy, kinky Roman behavior, featured Claudette Colbert and Charles Laughton in the lead. It also featured a naked Colbert bathing in milk, a lesbian seduction scene, a woman tied to a pillar in the Arena for some gorilla lovin' with a real gorilla, Amazons fighting with pygmies and a naked Christian slavegirl in a suspended spreadeagle, to be food for gators. Don't believe me? Here's my review. With nudity and sex making such a strong showing, no one was really complaining.

Well, actually, the moral conservatives of the day, mostly religious types, led by the well-organized Catholic Legion of Decency, put great pressure on movie moguls to put greater restrictions on filmmakers, but the movie moguls held out.

1934-1959 -- The Dark Ages

The movie moguls held out until 1934, when they caved like the spineless worms they were and established the Motion Picture Code of Evil, which dictated what filmmakers could and couldn't show. You could see the new rules clearly in the "Golddiggers" series. "Golddiggers of 1933" featured a host of beauties posturing in the nude -- moviegoers could easily see those breasts a jouncing, unhindered and everything -- behind a screen. "Golddiggers of 1934" had the beauties out from the behind the screen, and dressed in J.C. Pennyish high fashion from head to toe. And we mean fully dressed, no flesh at all.

Oh, we are really getting wild now. Really really wild. Are we having crazy wild fun or what. Pass me a ritz cracker and some soda pop. This is so crazy. The folks back in Peoria would really be shocked. They are so unhip. A really wild fruit gag sported by Lucille Ball in "I Love Lucy."

This sick bit of pap led to a lot less nudity (all right, no nudity) and violence onscreen. It dictated that good should triumph over evil -- not that I'm knocking good, it's just -- who needs this kind of thing to be DICTATED? Sounds like good definitely did NOT triumph over evil in this bit of real life.

Not much was happening in the nudity and sex departments, and bondage scenes came about "under the radar" so to speak -- strictly a matter of bad guys tying up the gal back at the hideout so they can lure the good guy there and kill him.

Over-the-mouth gags, though still very much in evidence, were slowly, and we mean very slowly, losing out to cleave gags. Cloth OTMs and cleave gags were the dominant kind -- still are, really, but through the 50s with just a few exceptions (mostly jury-rigged bit gags made of sticks and rope) they were the ONLY gags. No ball gags. No head harnesses.

From 1934 to 1959, more or less, the Catholic Church was in complete control of what people could and couldn't see on television and movie screens in the U.S. This sounds like an exaggeration, but it wasn't. The guy who ran the movie censorship program, Stephen I. Breen, was a Catholic layman and a vicious anti-Semite who worked directly with the Catholic League of Decency to determine what was acceptable in films and what wasn't. Which meant we got the sanitized, symbolized, grotesquely distorted version of storytelling that characterized the age. It's not that good movies weren't made during this period -- we got some great ones. But the great movies were made in spite of censorship, not because of it.

Bondage was mostly a matter of having rope on hand, or sometimes chains. Female suspects began to get cuffs. Tie-ups remained timid. Chair ties were common, hand in front was a lot more common than hands behind. Hogties remained unheard-of, for the most part.

Noel Neill kept up the quantity of bondage in the dark abyss of the 50s with her many appearances in ropes and gags in the "Superman" TV series.

There were a few bright spots -- Noel Niell tasted a lot of cloth and felt plenty of rope in the Superman TV series, and Gloria Winters as Penny on Sky King wound up tied up and gagged almost every other week. And the "Sinbad" a-type adventure stories provided plenty of excuses to show chained damsels in the movies. The advent of color film, and then television meant: a) anything that showed up on film was going to look a lot better and b) with television, there was a vast new outlet for moving images. Which meant more damsels in distress, along with everything else.

But culturally, it was a fallow time, though like most fallow times there was energy being stored for a huge explosion of growth to come.

1960-1977 The Groovy Years

This joyrope sinking into Elke Sommer's naughty bits in "Sweet Ecstasy" in 1961 was just a harbinger of things to come.

In 1961 the movie "Sweet Ecstasy," with the first-ever joyrope in a mainstream film (granted it was made in France, but it was released in America), was an early harbinger of things to come. As U.S. culture rebelled against the conformity of the 50s, things happened. It was a happening time.

Lots and lots of nudity happened. It started in Europe but soon crossed the pond as the Hayes Office collapsed and was replaced by Jack Valenti's office. Valenti saw his role as presiding over the orderly demise of censorship rules, and he did a pretty good job overall. By the early 1970s the Ginger movies were presenting naked bound sex scenes. Nothing XXX or explicit -- that was saved for hardcore sex films like "Defiance and Barbara Broadcast, where bound women did the old in-and-out and everybody saw what was going in and out, and what it was going into and out of. In terms of what was permitted in the way of imagery, it was the high point of bondage imagery, unmatched in America before or since. That's right, 35 years later we STILL don't enjoy the freedom that filmmakers enjoyed in the early 70s.

That said, the imagery was rarely the direct, powerful imagery we are accustomed to today, with bondage fans creating films on the Internet. Most bondage imagery was made by people who weren't into bondage, and it showed. It was also technically unskilled, in many cases, though there were a few exceptions in the hardcore world. Most of all, the bondage models of the day were unshaven -- they all had pubic hair, often plenty of it. Not that there's anything wrong with that, except that in many cases there was enough pubic hair to obscure the sexual action, which I suspect is what eventually led most porn performers shave it all off, an example which has rather suprisingly been followed by women who have nothing to do with porn or the sex industry. A most welcome development from my point of view.

Bondage gear, strangely enough, didn't really make it into the mainstream from XXX. Even Story of O, perhaps the greatest bondage novel ever written, had only a few leather collars and wrist cuffs when it made it to film. No gags at all, though gags and butt plugs are specifically mentioned in the book. Fortunately, I guess, butt plugs WERE in evidence in the 1990s European Story of O series, though no gags were in evidence. Still, that was the 90s, and Europe.

Still, the 70s were a glorious time to be alive if you were a creative filmmaker of any stripe, a time of experimentation and freedom, and bondage scenes were part of it, though they weren't really adopted too much by the counterculture, which was priggish about bondage themes.

Stephanie Powers, aka "The Girl From U.N.C.L.E." escapes from an upside-down hanging hog tie over a pool of piranha in this 1967 treat.

The theme of bondage as a sexual practice rather than something bad guys did to damsels didn't show up much in U.S. theaters, until it was suddenly a huge hit with Story of O. "The Avengers" and others in the spy genre, most notably "The Girl From U.N.C.L.E." brought plenty of damsel in distress scenes to network TV. Most notably, "The Avengers" appeared at times to be consciously playing with the sexual aspects of its bondage scenes, in a very witty and sophisticated way. It was a great time to be into mainstream bondage scenes.
But as always happens when the forces of good triumph, the forces of darkness were licking their wounds and gathering strength in the dank, secret places that only moral conservatives know.

1978-1988 The Empire Strikes Back

The 1980s dawned with the growing power of an unholy alliance between forces that opposed the freedom and dignity of mankind -- moral conservatives and anti-sex feminists. Neither group liked sex, particularly written and videoed depictions of sex. The moral conservatives, led by Catholics (again!) allied with Protestant fundamentalists (again!) had a long history of supporting censorship and opposing sexual freedom. The anti-sex feminists were a new game in town -- they didn't oppose porn on the traditional moral ground that conservative Catholics and Protestant fundamentalists did -- instead they saw it as inherently degrading and dangerous to women, another tool by which the patriarchy kept women in subservient roles. It was to them just another tool used in the sexual equivalent of class warfare practiced by men on women throughout history.
The anti-sex feminists never commanded the kind of numbers their moral conservative allies did, but they were key to the censorship triumphs in the 80s, because they had the effect of paralyzing many on the left who would ordinarily have instinctively opposed the censorship efforts of the moral conservatives. This gave the anti-sex feminists power all out of proportion to their actual influence on the left.
This new coalition of evil wanted to censor everything, but they were defeated by the VCR. The VCR brought porn into the home environment where it belongs. When it had been strictly confined to tacky yellow stores in shabby neighborhoods and disreputable theaters filled with patrons in raincoats even when the sky was bright and sunny, porn was marginalized, and censorable.
But once it was just a few special videotapes that mommy and daddy rented from Mom & Pop's Video Shoppe around the corner and kept hidden away from the kids, it wasn't censorable any more. If you wanted to censor it, you had to go into the home and take people's stuff away. People don't like having their stuff taken away. Suddenly, politicians understand that if they vote for taking away Mommy and Daddy's videos, they will leave office in droves in the following election.
So all that the Republican moral conservatives and the anti-sex feminists combined could manage was a tiny little thing: you could have XXX movies, and you could have bondage films, but you couldn't have XXX bondage films.

The hideous triumph of the evil coalition of moral conservatives and anti-sex feminists is best summed up in the fact that two movies in the bondage canon -- 9 /12 Weeks and Outlaw of Gor -- were made with little (Gor) or no (Weeks) bondage. This brief scene is about all there is in either movie..

Still and all, this was enough to produce a huge crimp in the development of bondage films. Commercial bondage films restricted themselves to tying up, spanking, flogging and caning, with maybe a little domination thrown in. Mainstream films and tv shows got timid about bondage -- it pretty much disappeared from Skinemax type films while bondage in tv series and adventure movies got pretty tame -- hands in front, over the mouth, and let's not have too much wriggling and mmmphing while bound.

Those DARNED over the mouth gags! Will they ever go away?

1990-Present: Return of the Bondage Babe

Things didn't really change until the rise of the pro-sex feminists in the early to mid 90s. These were feminists who were tired of seeing their movement coopted by women whose major preoccupation was pornography, so they did the right thing and pointed out the obvious -- that censorship, while always claiming to be aimed at male trouser snakes, always ends up screwing women right up the ass.

A bound and blindfolded Claudia Cepeda, as O, experiences what women generally experience when censors get their way (right) in this scene from the 1992 production of "Story of O, the Series." This 10-part series is a faithful retelling of novel, and like the movie features a radiantly beautiful star (left). The series is a faithful retelling of the Story of O, unlike the movie.

The pro-sex feminists have thoroughly discredited the anti-sex feminists from mainstream feminism and liberalism generally, though anti-sex feminists remain powerful in some areas of academia and government where Political Correctness still reigns. But the success of those who love freedom of speech in sexual matters as in all matters has not been total. In fact, things look kinda bleak from the viewpoint of sexual imagery right now.

1998-Present: Win Some, Lose Some

Each new victory over censorship has brought us greater freedom, but we must never forget that moral conservatives are out there, hating sex and sexual imagery (though they claim neither, their actions speak for themselves) always looking for new worlds to censor.

For example, 1997 saw a precipitous drop in bondage imagery in Skinamax films when Playboy, Inc., one of the major producers of Skinamax flicks, publicly eschewed bondage imagery. Ever since then, images of women have been scarce indeed in Skinamax productions, and what there has been has been feeble indeed, nothing like the hot scene in 1995's "Over the Wire." Oh, except if you like images of MEN in bondage, Playboy films have been quite generous with that sort of imagery. Here's my article on that sad topic.

Prime-time television, though not the victim of censorship, saw a huge drop in the number of prime-time and syndicated action shows circa 2002, which meant a drastic drop in the number of bondage scenes on television, as DiDs remain the most prolific source of such scenes. Such shows as Xena: Warrior Princess, Walker: Texas Ranger, The Lost World and many others were extremely productive of DiD scenes. The rise of reality shows and police procedurals like Law and Order and CSI on network TV made the problem even worse, as these programs have not tended to produce many DiD scenes. Here's my article on THAT sad topic.

Plus, of course, we seem to keep electing Republicans lately -- has anyone else noticed this? Republicans are the party of censorship, in fact, 9/11 reportedly derailed a major censorship drive that John Ashcroft was launching. Unfortunately, we have re-elected Bush, and now have three years to face. Already, a nasty little Republican reg called Section 2257 have shut down a number of amateur websites. Who know whats next? One shudders to think.

But the news isn't ALL bad. Somehow, when one medium dries up, another moves in. Right now, indie and foreign films are producing some GREAT bondage imagery. Movies like "Spun" with its totally nude spreadeagle of actress/model Chloe Hunter, and "Secretary's" sympathetic portrait of a maledom/femsub relationship have really raised the bar. No OTHER mainstream medium is making any kind of attempt to match indie films in terms of bondage imagery, except for a couple of seemingly unlikely ones.

"Women's programming" strikes again. Do I tape the rare ballgag scene or the also very rare double bound and gagged cheerleaders scene?

By which I mean programming aimed at women. In fact, the Lifetime Channel and soap operas about the best source out there for damsel in distress scenes nowadays, with all the reality shows and the police procedural replacing the action adventure series. Just a week or two ago, I had to decide between setting my VCR to tape a double cheerleader bound and gagged scene from a daytime soap opera ("One Life to Live") being rebroadcast on Soapnet, and a rare ballgag scene from a Lifetime movie ("A Friend of te Family") in the same time slot.

There was nothing like it on the network channels, and except for the extremely rare scene like the Law and Order SVU panty gag scene in the "Firsts" section (and let's face it, Law and Order SVU is a show that's tailor-made for the LIfetime Network), there almost never is. Given that what's made many directors and writers gunshy about damsel in distress is criticism of damsel in distress imagery from women's groups, it's ironic that the major source of damsel in distress imagery is now ... women's programming. Maybe it's kinda like that thing that only black people can go around using the term "nigger" without incurring deep suspicion -- only women's programming can use damsel in distress imagery for much the same reasons.

The Future

In the future we will fly about using jet-propelled anti-gravity boots and everyone will wear propeller beanies because the propellers will make such a nice breeze when you're flying. The popular building material for cheap housing will be nanotech-built diamond, which will be cheap as dirt. All women will be beautiful, insightful and cunning, all men handsome, sneaky and witty.

And yes, those stinkin' moral conservatives will still be with us, though it's hard to conceive of a witty moral conservative. But they'll never have the kind of power they once had, because technology has moved on and left them considerably weakened. The thing we have to watch out for is a return to central distribution of entertainment. If you give up your videotapes for centrally broadcast movies on demand via cable, don't be surprised if Big Brother comes to Cable Central and says "You can't show that any more."

It's a fairly improbably scenario, however. The genie has been let out of the bottle, and not just in the matter of getting the tapes out and circulating. It's become possible to make videotapes without having a lot of money, too. Which means talented bondage filmmakers have spring up all over the place, making tapes inexpensively, then marketing them inexpensively via the Internet.

Therefore, what's going to happen is, there'll be greater and greater freedom of expression. Commercial bondage makers will make better films -- some of them will make raunchier films, some will make films with more beautiful DIDs, some will make films with interesting plots and good characterization.

Skinemax films will continue to get better and better in terms of productions values and acting quality, not because of any innate demand or drive to quality, but because the technology is going to get cheaper and cheaper. Actors and actresses are already absurdly cheap, and so is writing, so eventually Skinamax will benefit form a rising tide of quality that will float all boats, as it were, including the little man in the boat.

Mainstream films will gradually grow more comfortable with portraying bondage themes for the next several decades, with the usual recession (like the one we're in right now) caused by temporary advantages gained by moral conservatives. When the Gen X generation gains economic and social power, look for a sudden huge increase in the acceptability of bondage themes. Their rebellion against repression in this area occurred when they were teens, and never really got to express itself fully -- but it will, it will.

Celebrity bondage is going to happen, and happen big, once the Gen X crew weilds cultural influence. The stigmata will be gone and the appetite will be there, so look for actresses of the stature of Sandra Bullock, Ashley Judd and Cameron Diaz (all of whom have already shown plenty of appetite for onscreen bondage scenes) to appear in bondages that would look natural on a Close-Up Concepts heroine, or even a HOM heroine, a House of Gord heroine or a ZFX heroine.

What's more, nanotech will eventually allow everyone complete control of their appearance. At that time, look for lots and lots of women to model their appearance after their favorite stars, or even their boyfriends' favorite stars. Which means, you personally will have the chance to tie up the future equivalent of Nicole Kidman or Rose McGowan. Of course, that means that YOU'LL probably look like Tom Cruise or Marilyn Manson.

You win some, you lose some.

Ultimately, there will some day be full and free expression of human sexuality, all the forms of it that don't really harm others, and that includes bondage. The future is bright -- so bright that DIDs are going to have to wear blindfolds just to see it.

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