The Story of O (Histoire D'O)(1975)

Directed by Just Jaeckin

Produced by Roger Fleytoux

Starring Corinne Clery, Udo Kier, Anthony Steel, Jean Gaven, Christiane Minazzoli, Martine Kelly, Jean-Pierre Andreani, Gabriel Cattano, Li Sellegren, Albane Navizet, and Henry Piegay.

The Story of O

"I am not a pornographer. I am a dreamer." Just Jaeckin

Based upon the notorious 1954 novel by Dominique Aury (written under the nom-de-plume "Pauline Reage"), and directed by former "Vogue" photographer Just Jaeckin, "Histoire D'O" is not for all tastes, but a masterpiece of soft-focus seventies erotica nonetheless. In a "politically-correct" age there is much that many will find offensive in "O"s narrative, but of its era Jaeckin had crafted an enchanting exploration of female sexuality, rife with the consequences of the masques of fantasy that role-playing affects. Jaeckin's finest asset is within his art of implication, speaking volumes with that which he does not show, over that which he does. The sado-masochistic and fetishistic elements of the story are certainly present, but never at the cost of weaving the tale of O's journey of self-discovery. But what of the plot that brings cult icon Udo Kier and future Bond girl Corrine Clery together? Glad you asked�

O (Clery) is a beautiful young woman, so beautiful it will bring tears to your eyes (God I miss the seventies!), whose boyfriend Rene (Kier) feels the time is right for their relationship to take a step in a different direction. That direction is a trip to a chateau outside of Paris by the name of Roissy, where O will be schooled in the "pleasures" of Sado-masochism and Bondage & Discipline. Deciding to accept as proof of her love for him, O is left to the devices of Roissy's "trainers", experiencing things she never thought imaginable. Upon her return from Roissy, Rene hands over "possession" of O to his step-brother, Sir Stephen (Steel), by way of canceling a familial debt. In Stephen's care, O is given free reign to explore her sexuality, ultimately foregoing her love for Rene to become a permanent fixture of Stephen's house. As Stephen finds himself betraying his own systems, by falling in love with O, the final question remains: after submitting to the desires of all around her, has O simply become a plaything of the perverse aristocracy, or was she truly the one in control all the time?

It is this final question that I posed in the above synopsis, that is the most telling facet of Jaeckin's film version of Reage's novel. Jaeckin's work is a rich fantasy and also, as most of its detractors seemed to have completely missed the fact, a strongly feminist (in tone) piece. The most poignant detail I gleaned from rewatching this film after nearly a decade is that without a woman of the willingness of O, all around her would be weak, wanton and feeble individuals. O submits herself completely to her partners, both as an act of uninhibited sexual freedom, and as a subversive ploy to gain what she desires in life. The final freeze-frame seems to cement Jaeckin's take on the story: by allowing others to control her, willingly placing herself in that psyche, her partners become so fervently obsessive in their desire for her that ultimately it is she that pulls the strings. Look past the exploitative elements inherent of its era, and you may just discover Jaeckin's understated metaphor. It is as plain as day�

I could touch on the awfully outdated seventies fashions and hairstyles, Jaeckin's gorgeous Vogue styled visuals, Pierre Bachelet's evocatively haunting score, and the way the sight of Ms. Clery in her heyday makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up�but that would just be trivialising all that I have just stated, wouldn't it? So, overlook this paragraph as a glib reference for the novices. Did I mention the brilliance of Pierre Bachelet's score? Oh, okay�

Much has been made of the fact that the version passed with an '18' in the UK is not the full 106m French language version of Jaeckin's film, but as Jaeckin himself supervised the re-editing of the film for its English dubbed release I can see little discreditation to cast upon this version. At least it is not the travesty that was bestowed upon Charles Matton's sublime "Spermula", whose international distributor defaced its dreamlike quality by re-editing & re-dubbing it into a slip-shod pornographic farce. This 97m English dubbed print is the one I grew up with and, as nothing has been altered from the film's more "controversial" scenes, is a perfectly acceptable version. (Completists can argue with me about this fact, but try living in Oz where this sort of film doesn't even rate a DVD release, and when it does it's no better than bad VHS!)

Arrow's disc has a pleasantly lush image, letterboxed to a ratio of 1.78 and 16x9 enhanced (I would say "Check out the detail�" but would undoubtedly get myself in LARGE amounts of trouble with any of the site's female readers). As the film was shot primarily to suit Jaeckin's artistic aesthetics (lots of soft-focus camerawork & filters), the argument for razor-sharp detail is effectively lost on this disc. There is some print damage present in the form of speckles, dust marks, scratches & splice-marks, but to be honest I was more than happy to overlook these (minor) blemishes, due to the film's age, and the fact that "O" really hasn't looked any better! The sound is about as good as you would expect of a French soft-core classic from 1974, monaural and mastered from analogue tape. My only real gripe here would be that Pierre Bachelet's unforgettably haunting score is occasionally marred by distortion (most notably where the female vocalist is present).

Extras-wise, Arrow turn up two deleted scenes (possibly from the original French edition), although their poignancy is lost as they are presented without sound, or an explanation of where they were originally placed in the film's narrative. The original theatrical trailer is present, somewhat over compressed (height-wise) down to a mock 'scope ratio, but it was still a pleasant enough experience to see how the film was marketed in its day. A short, though informative, interview with director Jaeckin rounds out "O"s extras rather nicely. All in all, a rather sweet disc if you are, as with myself, a fan of Jaeckin's work. Those weaned on modern pornography had best seek their kicks elsewhere as, although challenging, "O" is hardly as controversial in today's climate as it was when it was first released.

Now, if only some one could release uncensored & correct aspect ratio editions of the "Emmanuelle" series, I would be a VERY happy man. In the meantime, I have this fine disc to make do with�so, time to crack a bottle of wine, dredge up that Pierre Bachelet CD, and enjoy the feeling of nostalgia this brings back�

Review by M.C.Thomason

Released by Arrow Films
Classified 18 - Region 2
Running time - 97m
Ratio - Widescreen 1.78 (16x9 enhanced)
Audio - Dolby digital 2.0 (English)
Extras :
Deleted scenes (2); Trailer; Director interview; "Mystery of the author" text