Wonder Woman’s kinky secret

Wonder Woman has been a long time in coming to the big screen, but the wait has been more than worth the while and the Amazonian princess has already established a proud place in the pantheon of screen superheroes alongside fellow DC Comics stars Superman and Batman.

The origin of the lass with the Lasso of Truth is even more extraordinary than that of her fellow superheroes – she is the brainchild of the Harvard psychologist who invented the lie detector, Dr. William Moulton Marston – but more of this man and his kinky sexual leanings later.

The first moves to film Wonder Woman for cinema were made by Buffy the Vampire Slayer maestro Joss Whedon, and the project was officially announced by Warner Bros in 2005. Whedon was to write and direct. True to his Buffyesque approach his Wonder Woman was to be unlike previous superheroes – a naïve young woman baffled by humanity’s weakness and cruelty. The studio disagreed with this emotionally complex re-interpretation and Whedon left the project in 2007, blaming “artistic differences”.

Wonder Woman continued to languish on her secret island paradise until 2011 when the NBC network commissioned a pilot for a new TV series with GI Joe: Retaliation actress Adrianne Palicki in the title role. However, NBC failed to pick up the series.

Around the same time, though, rumours circulated of a cinema version being developed. But it wasn’t until 2016 that Warner Bros., introduced Wonder Woman in a “trailer” cameo role in  Batman Versus Superman: Dawn of Justice, with the promise of future appearances.

In its final line-up Wonder Woman (2017) was produced by, and based on a story by Zack Snyder (director of three other comic-book style films, 300, Watchmen and Man of Steel) written by Allan Heinberg (Gray’s Anatomy). The director’s chair was filled by Patty Jenkins, best-known for directing Monster, the story of murderer Aileen Wuornos, which won Charlize Theron an oscar for best actress.

In the tight-fitting costume and red leather boots is Israeli model and actress Gal Gadot, previously seen in the Fast and Furious franchise, and providing love interest is Star Trek’s Chris Pine.

Much as I love Joss Whedon and much as I long, with so many others, for Buffy to come back, I have to say that the final line-up for Wonder Woman is the dream team. They have produced not only a flawless masterpiece of the genre that is totally enthralling for a little short of two and a half hours, but have also exceeded my expectations in every artistic area.

[Some spoilers from here on]

Everything is re-imagined in an original and well-thought-out way – sexy costumes, gobsmacking sets of First World War London and the Western Front, sinister steampunk-style technology, a credible storyline that makes preposterous, cod-mythology seem believable and special effects ramped up beyond anything we’ve seen before.

But as well as brilliant acting, directing and top quality film-making there is much more. One early scene has Gadot and Pine escaping from the Amazons’ secret island in a small sailing boat. On the night voyage they talk and begin to understand each other’s world in a way that is witty, insightful into their respective characters and thoughtfully deals with the gender values that are at the core of the film. This brilliant scene was almost entirely improvised by Gadot and Pine, showing them to be intelligent and resourceful actors.

Also early on in the film is a scene that the studio suits wanted to cut and which Patty Jenkins fought hard to retain.  It is a scene where Wonder Woman reaches the western front and sees at first hand the unspeakable cruelty and carnage. Moved by the plight of the people dispossessed from their village and starving, she charges across no-man’s land (the name is significant) fighting off German machine gun fire, mortar rounds and grenades and taking back the village. It sounds preposterous and that’s how it must have looked on paper to the suits at Warners. But the finished scene is magical and made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck.

More than one critic has pointed out that Wonder Woman is a significant departure from the approach we’ve seen in recent years with superhero films which have tended to shrink the second act to almost nothing and rely instead on massive set-pieces that go almost directly from an earth shattering first act (set up) to a ball-busting third act (climax and resolution). It’s the all-important middle in any novel or film where most of the subtlety lies: where characters and relationships are developed, where reversals and complications add interest and suspense, and where the film’s theme is worked out. Wonder Woman gives the second act full value and because of its huge success at the box office we can expect to see many more films returning to this traditional film structure.

Most significant of all, of course, is that Wonder Woman is the first female superhero to take a leading role. It’s said that Warner Bros were more worried about this gamble than any other, yet in many ways such uncertainty, if it existed, is difficult to understand given the number of similar recent films in which women have taken the lead.

Luc Bresson has been exploiting female heroes with super powers for decades ever since Milla Jovovich dropped into Bruce Willis’s jet-cab in The Fifth Element in 1997. Bresson followed this up with The extraordinary adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec (2010), Colombiana (2011)  and Lucy (2014) and their sequels. Zack Snyder has previous form with female heroes since he directed Sucker Punch in 2011.  Also memorable was Steven Soderbergh’s Haywire (2011) and the astounding Chloe-Grace Moretz in Kick-Ass (2010). Perhaps most successful of all is The Hunger Games franchise from 2012 onwards.

One other aspect of Wonder Woman that pleased me is that England has finally begun to escape from its traditional Hollywood role of merely providing supercilious and sadistic villains.  London is the setting for important scenes in the film, and Britain’s key role in the First World War is implicitly acknowledged (although it is still, of course an American, Chris Pine, who actually wins the war single handed.)

One criticism that has been voiced is that the inevitability of a final showdown between our heroine and the bad guy take the edge off any suspense and leads yet again to the same-old  special effects finale. I did not find this spoiled my enjoyment in any way. There are still surprises at the end, including at least one big shock, and the special effects were both spectacular and integrated well with the story line.

I promised earlier to say a few words about the origin of Wonder Woman the DC Comics character and her kinky creator. I’m indebted for most of what follows to Jill Lepore, writing in the Smithsonian Magazine.

Comic books and their superheroes were invented in 1933 by former school principal Maxwell Gaines, who founded All-American Comics (Later to become DC). Superman first appeared in 1938 and Batman a year later in 1939. They were an instant hit and read by hundreds of thousands of kids. But when war came, comic books that celebrated violence, including sexual violence, came in for much criticism from teachers, government and the media. To shield himself from these critics, Gaines hired William Moulton Marston.

Marston held three degrees from Harvard including a PhD in Psychology. He had previously practised law and been a scientist in which role he is credited with inventing the lie detector. He had also been hired as a consulting psychologist by Universal Pictures, and had written screenplays, a novel and dozens of magazine articles.

Marston’s role was to provide a cloak of respectability for DC Comics and its superheroes which were “full of torture, kidnapping, sadism, and other cruel business.” What Gaines did not know was that Marston was already leading a double life.  In the 1920s he had married a lawyer named Elizabeth Holloway, but in 1925, when he was Professor of Psychology at Tufts College, he fell in love with one of his students, Olive Byrne.

Marston gave Holloway a choice: either Byrne could live with them, or he would leave her. Byrne moved in. Between 1928 and 1933, each woman bore two children; they lived together as a family. Holloway went to work; Byrne stayed home and raised the children.

Now, in 1940, Marston proposed to Gaines the solution to his problem. Since the comics’ “worst offense was their blood-curdling masculinity,” Marston said, “the best way to fend off critics would be to create a female superhero.”

Gaines somewhat reluctantly agreed, but told Marston that he would have to write the stories himself. In February 1941, Marston sent in his first script, which, he said, contained a feminist sub-text – Wonder Woman’s Amazonian origins in ancient Greece, where men had kept women in chains, until they broke free and escaped. “The NEW WOMEN thus freed and strengthened by supporting themselves (on Paradise Island) developed enormous physical and mental power.” His comic, he said, was meant to chronicle “a great movement now under way—the growth in the power of women.”

Wonder Woman first appeared in 1941, drawn by artist Harry G. Peter. Says Jill Lepore, ‘She wore a golden tiara, a red bustier, blue underpants and knee-high, red leather boots. She was a little slinky; she was very kinky. She’d left Paradise to fight fascism with feminism, in “America, the last citadel of democracy, and of equal rights for women!”

Having been brought in to clean up DC Comics, Marston now embarked on a five year spree of subjecting his creation to every kind of bondage, sadomasochism, torture and humiliation. In edition after edition, Diana Prince was bound, gagged, chained, handcuffed, fettered, lassoed, tied and manacled.

There was no longer any need for Marston to spell out his subtext in capital letters: he wrote detailed instructions to Harry Peter of exactly how he wished Wonder Woman to be treated in each issue. Here’s Wonder Woman falling into the hands of her enemy Mars, god of war:

“Closeup, full length figure of WW. Do some careful chaining here—Mars’s men are experts! Put a metal collar on WW with a chain running off from the panel, as though she were chained in the line of prisoners. Have her hands clasped together at her breast with double bands on her wrists, her Amazon bracelets and another set. Between these runs a short chain, about the length of a handcuff chain—this is what compels her to clasp her hands together. Then put another, heavier, larger chain between her wrist bands which hangs in a long loop to just above her knees. At her ankles show a pair of arms and hands, coming from out of the panel, clasping about her ankles. This whole panel will lose its point and spoil the story unless these chains are drawn exactly as described here.”

It wasn’t long before Marstson’s fetish for bondage and S&M attracted criticism. In 1943, Josette Frank, an expert on children’s literature, and leader of the Child Study Association sent Gaines a letter, telling him that while she’d never been a fan of Wonder Woman, she felt she now had to speak out about its “sadistic bits showing women chained, tortured, etc.”

Gaines confronted Marston over the complaint but the psychology professor brushed it aside. “The secret of woman’s allure,” he told Gaines, is that “women enjoy submission—being bound.”

Eventually, though, S&M fans started writing letters to Gaines asking if they could acquire bondage items through DC Comics and warning lights started to flash. From 1944 Marston had an 18-year-old student as his assistant who began writing Wonder Woman stories, without the bondage and sadomasochism.

It’s fair to add that a number of Marston’s contemporaries hailed his efforts to advance the cause of feminism through his creation.  Marston died in 1947 and from 1954 on, following a Congressional investigation into whether comics were corrupting American youth, all comics followed a code that demanded, “All scenes of horror, excessive bloodshed, gory or gruesome crimes, depravity, lust, sadism, masochism shall not be permitted.”

My Rating

How do I rate this film? I’ve never before been moved to buy the book of the film but I have in this case, because I’m hungry to know more about how Patty Jenkins got such great performances out of her cast, how the story line was developed with such an original slant and how some of the most mind-blowing effects were achieved.

Wonder Woman is like that rare occasion in ice skating when a competitor not merely turns in a perfect performance technically, but also adds the original artistic flair that merits a perfect 10. It is now one of my Top Twenty films and is likely to remain there. I rate it as unmissable.

Watch the trailer here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VOOIx8N9sxQ

2 thoughts on “Wonder Woman’s kinky secret

  1. Alan Sullivan

    Hello,
    I’m a leaver and I don’t ever recall seeing you appear on any BBC political programme…Have I not watched enough programmes or have you never been asked, or politely refused ?

    Regards sully …. onlyawino@ mail.com

    Very interesting and educational blog btw…

    Reply

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