I have heard many people describe 2004 as the "Year of the Documentary." Not so much for the amount of documentaries released, as this is always traditionally a high number, but for the sheer number of people that went to see them. No doubt fueled by Michael Moore's increased profile from his 2003 Oscar win for Bowling for Columbine and subsequent release, Fahrenheit 9/11, as well as numerous other theatrical and direct-to-video documentary releases, it certainly was a banner year for the genre.
While technically a documentary, Headspace plays more like an extended episode of HBO's "Real Sex" series, detailing the pain loving world of B&D/S&M lovers on the West Coast. I'll be honest when I say that the whole B&D scene has never been my thing, but I've always admired their flair for the dramatic with their penchant for Goth garb whether in leather, lace or latex. Director Mia Olin documents the lives of her friends in the S&M scene from Los Angeles to San Francisco over the span of a couple years. What she captures on camera is certainly not for the faint of heart.
Scattered throughout the films 55 minute running time are several performance pieces which are definitely more on the fetish side, including a brief appearance by former Go-Go's guitarist and Surreal Life participant, Jane Wiedlin, but as things progress they get downright disturbing. The worst of these, for me, had to be the bloodletting or "blood play" as it's called. This usually involves surgical steel needles or scalpels used to pierce or rend the flesh. One character, cleverly named Batman, actually goes so far as to have the Bat symbol carved into his back with a scalpel. Another participant, dressed as a priest, is given a crown of sterilized needles through his forehead, blood running into and filling his eyes. These images are disturbing, but the players smile throughout.
Equally disturbing, especially for male viewers, is footage taken from a working dungeon. We watch a dominatrix with several willing slaves, one of whom likes to be wrapped up in a full body cast, with only his penis exposed. It's no surprise that this naked organ receives generous amounts of punishment from his mistress. Another slave has the ring through the head of his penis attached to a series of elastic bungie cords, which are then pulled, tugged, stretched and snapped, bringing him the ecstasy of agony. When his member is unhooked from these cruel cables, he then gets his testicles handled in a far from proper manner, which I can only imagine is going to hasten the onset of sterility.
They always say that actions speak louder than words, so while there are a number of sound bites and interviews with the players and participants in the activities present, all their pseudo-intellectual mumbo jumbo about pain elevating their consciousness to a plane beyond that of the average John and Jane Doe, all I can think about is the sheer amount of torture these people are willing to put themselves and others through. I mean, I consider myself a smart, open minded guy, but even I can only watch and wonder what would make someone submit to having "Spontaneous Combustion" brand hot sauce applied to their scrotum, urethra and anus. That's definitely NOT for me.
Picture: Headspace is presented in a 1.33:1 full screen presentation. With footage compiled from different video formats, the picture quality shifts constantly throughout, from good to bad, to downright awful.
Audio: The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track sounds fine except for some mixing problems between interview segments and performances.
Extras: The Extra Features on this DVD consist of 5 deleted scenes, of which the hot sauce scenario I just described is from, as well as the trailer for Headspace and some additional Strand releases.
Conclusion: More of an expose than a true documentary (trust me, there is a difference), Headspace tries it's hardest to show how much more cerebral and refined its subjects are than say, Joe Average. It's hard not to agree with this idea, but after listening to them rehashing Nietzsche again and again, and extolling the power inherent in embracing the frailty of the flesh, that nihilistic view just reeks of philosophy 101. By their logic, everyone should run out and rent The Passion of the Christ to witness the ultimate transcendence of the physical form. Headspace offers a matter of fact presentation of the S&M culture, but doesn't do anything to truly provide empathy with its subjects, relegating it to a fringe audience at best.