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Tony Cane-Honeysett, a mug of Stella Artois in hand, reclines in his high-top barstool. Eighteen years stateside haven't robbed his speech of a fine British tint that thieves the occasional "r," and his manner is playful, easy, and engaged.
"I cannot imagine needing a custard pie in the face to have an orgasm," he says plainly. "But someone out there does. Everyone has a kink."
Ropes, cuffs, nipple clamps, and all the miscellaneous tackle of America's most persistent sexual taboos (custard pies included) are the underdog protagonists of Mondo Bondo, Cane-Honeysett's immensely entertaining documentary about American bondage and its participants. Though bondage may not be the fearsome menace it was in the xenophobic days of American sexual antiquity, it is still a hush-hush underworld that is grievously misrepresented in popular culture as a subversive and often violent perversion.
"There's a subtext about rope and people," says Cane-Honeysett of the lingering misconceptions that haunt the bondage world. "It's lynching. It's Christ on the cross. All these images that play on people's subconscious. As soon as they see people in rope, they freak out."
Fortunately, Mondo Bondo is an odyssey of breezy, winking confrontation, one that uses its humor and wit to knock the wind out of the prejudicial bluster of an American sexual mainstream and bring into restorative sunlight an artful practice that is as much about aesthetic as it is about sex.
"My film is about the B and D, not the S and M," he points out, referring to the acronym BDSM, which stands for bondage, domination, sadism, and masochism. "They are extraordinarily different. The B and D that I saw is an art form. When you see the rope work involved, it's exquisite. It's absolutely beautiful. But I also saw a guy get strung up and have his back slashed up with razorblades. Covered in blood. To me, that wasn't artful. It was blatant exhibitionism. I couldn't grasp it psychologically."
Cane-Honeysett's interest in bondage was piqued after the release of The Royal Academy, his first feature-length documentary, about his mother's efforts to have her works of art shown at a prestigious London academy. That film netted him national exposure and several big-name awards. "I thought it impossible," he says of a friend's suggestion that he consider bondage as his next topic. "How do you make a documentary on that subject without making one long porno movie?"
It was a meeting with Craig Morey, a San Francisco bondage photographer, that warmed Cane-Honeysett to the idea. "He didn't fit my perception of the sort of guy that would take these pictures. He had a degree in psychology. He's married with two little kids. And he was the most normal person I've ever met."
The concept of normalcy is a latent antagonist throughout Mondo Bondo. By film's end, Cane-Honeysett comes to regard it with cheeky ridicule, and his path from hapless interloper to honorary initiate is surprisingly brief. "One woman walked into the room in leather boots," he says of an early interview. "Nothing else. Had her breasts bound tightly with rope and nipple clamps. And I interviewed her like that." Cane-Honeysett shakes his head. "A morning later, it was suddenly not strange. It suddenly felt very normal. And that's what was shocking to me."
Throughout the documentary, Cane-Honeysett's personal stake in the material rarely feels much weightier than fancy, and his curiosity is a powerful solvent to the anxieties that women in painful rope bondage would otherwise arouse in the outsider. "There's humor in it," he says of the doc, "but I'm the butt of the jokes. You can't poke fun at people for what they want to do."
All documentaries are a dare to unforeseen possibility, but Cane-Honeysett's film is particularly fraught with surprise. Early in the filming, Craig Morey, our Virgil in the bondage underworld, was diagnosed with throat cancer, and Cane-Honeysett's film suddenly stood on the edge of a razor. "I was stunned," he says. "But that story was there, staring me in the face. I had to confront it. What came about was that his cancer was a bigger bondage than anything he'd been involved in."
The development yields the film's most concise and startling insights into the essence of bondage and submission, and Cane-Honeysett finesses the disaster into a thematic anchor to which other surprises wrought during the filming are loosely affixed. Moving through its subject matter in swift, effortless strides, Mondo Bondo touches on vastly human complexities that multiply before the camera like Russian nesting dolls, a testament to the harrowing adventures known to any artist who uses reality as an inkwell.
Draining the dregs of his Stella, he summarizes those complexities with typical candor. "When you see that bondage can mean cancer and custard pies," he says, "the mind boggles." —David Hansen
Growing up in Mountain Iron, Minnesota, Tommy Haines began playing hockey on outdoor rinks and frozen ponds when he was five years old. Now he returns to the sport as a filmmaker with his new documentary, which makes its world premiere at the film festival this year.
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