Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Balcony

Directed by: Joseph Strick 

Starring: Shelley Winters,
Peter Falk,
Leonard Nimoy,
Lee Grant 

Released: 1963 

Language: English 

Length: 84 minutes

One area of the female domination lifestyle that my husband and I really enjoyed back when we first got started with all this was role-playing. I remember when we did all of Elise Sutton’s psychoanalysis of the submissive male procedures together and how much fun we had. She had this one procedure that encouraged the woman to create her own unique role-playing scenarios: Queen/servant; Teacher/pupil; Female Boss/male employee; Nurse/patient; Police Woman/suspect; Female prison guard/male prisoner, and numerous others. 

She encouraged the women doing this procedure to really get into the roles and if they had difficulty, she suggested they pretend they were actresses doing a role in a movie. I don’t know about other women but I had a blast because I’ve always been a bit of a ham. I’ve always liked Halloween. I love to dress up in costumes and play make-believe. Since I was little girl I enjoyed pretending I was someone else.  

Unfortunately over the years my husband and I have gotten away from this with the exception of our favorite role-playing scenario when I administer to him an enema. Outside of that, I can’t remember the last time we did any kind of real elaborate role-playing in the bedroom. That might have to change because writing this movie got me to thinking about how much fun I used to have role-playing.  

This issue’s movie review also got me to thinking about when I did phone calls. Some clients wanted to engage in role-playing over the phone which I rarely did but I enjoyed hearing about their fantasies. One client told me about his experiences at a place he used to frequent in Greenwich Village. I believe it was called ‘Village Fantasies’ and it was a place where women would role-play a paying client’s fantasies. These women were not necessarily professional Mistresses, although some were, but most were actresses who were not currently employed so they did this while hoping to one day land a part on Broadway.  

According to my phone client, these women were really good at role-playing the most complicated fantasies. No sex was permitted but it was not about sex, it was about psychodramas that may have had sexual overtones but the purpose was to delve into fantasies and allow a client to live them out.  

That brings me to the movie I've chosen to review for this issue, “The Balcony”. It was originally a play written by French dramatist Jean Genet. When "The Balcony" was first staged it was deemed too scandalous for Paris audiences and had to be produced at the “Arts Theatre Club” in London in 1957. Set in an unnamed city that is experiencing a revolutionary uprising in the streets, most of the action takes place in an upmarket brothel in which its Madam, Irma, coordinates elaborate role-playing scenarios for paying clients. Genet uses this setting to explore roles of power in society.

In the first few scenes patrons assume the roles of a Bishop who forgives a penitent woman, a Judge who punishes a female thief, and a General who rides his female human horse. Meanwhile, a revolution is progressing outside in the city and the occupants of the brothel anxiously await the arrival of the Chief of Police. Chantal, one of the prostitutes, has quit the brothel to become the embodiment of the spirit of the revolution. An Envoy from the Queen arrives and reveals that the pillars of society (the Chief Justice, the Bishop, the General, etc.) have all been killed in the uprising. Using the costumes and props in Irma's "house of illusions" (the traditional French name for a brothel), the patrons' roles are realized when they pose in public as the figures of authority in a counter-revolutionary effort to restore order and the status quo.  
In November 1961, Genet met the American film director Joseph Strick, with whom he agreed to a cinematic adaption of the play. Director Joseph Strick took on quite a daunting task with his film adaptation. The film version of “The Balcony” was released in 1963, directed by Strick. It starred Shelley Winters, Peter Falk, Lee Grant and Leonard Nimoy. The film garnered nominations for George J. Folsey for an Academy Award for Best Cinematography and for Ben Maddow for a Writers Guild of America award.
Obviously I never saw the play but I came across this film recently and decided to review it for Predominant. “The Balcony” is very racy at times and definitely pushes the envelope for society in 1963, but it is the film's subtle humor that keeps it from becoming serious. The wild fantasies played out inside the brothel are turned into something that can put an end to the violent revolution. While the film is mainly comedic, Genet’s societal metaphors do abound. Genet's play seems at first to be about how sex binds, but it's more a post-modern sort of play, where all is an illusion and we play roles. In Genet's world, our choices are governed by sex and there is truth to that. I’m sure ninety-nine percent of the role-playing that went on at ‘Village Fantasies’ had sexual elements.  
The first three clients that we see in the brothel are very flaky and it is easy to judge them as being “weirdoes”. Their fantasies and how they act them out seem way over the top but perhaps that is how all fantasies appear to those who don’t share them nor understand them. In preparing to write this review, I went back and researched some of Elise’s comments about role-playing. In her Q&A forum, one woman asked her about her husband’s desire to role-play that he is being executed and he wanted his wife to be the executioner. Elise wrote; 
“People have all sorts of fantasies and I do not judge them as being weird or perverted. It may simply be a case where he (the woman’s husband) saw a movie or read a story as a child where a dominant woman executed a man and this stirred his submissive nature. So he desires to act it out. It is no different than a man wanting to be dominated by Catwoman.  
I added a section to my site where people share their role-playing fantasies and how they acted them out. If you would read these, you will see that people's FemDom fantasies are quite a variety. As long as these fantasies do not become obsessions and as long as the people acting them out stay rooted and grounded in reality, I see no problems with it. Role-playing can actually be a healthy thing as it gives people a safe outlet to explore secret desires. The key here is the word "playing". It is just that. Adults playing make believe by becoming characters and acting out fantasies.”  
Elise’s response to this question would also apply to the clients of the brothel we see in “The Balcony”.  
The first client (Jeff Corey) is a gas station attendant who role-plays that he is a Bishop and he wants the prostitute/role-playing actress (Joyce Jameson – you might remember her best as the dizzy blonde Skippy in the old “Andy Griffith Show”) to confess her naughty sins to him. The client wants her to tell him really ‘nasty’ sins but when he seems disappointed by her confessions (which we never hear), the girl gets frustrated and lets it slip that she had thought long and hard for a week to come up with the most naughty sins her imagination could think of. This makes the client question her about whether the sins are real (which is what he wants) or merely make-believe. The girl quickly recovers and assures him that all the sins she has confessed are indeed real, that she did them all, which causes the client to become excited and he falls back into his role as Bishop where he proceeds to forgive her for her sins.  
The next client we see is a milkman (Kent Smith) who role-plays that he is a General. The girl assigned to him (Arnette Jens) pretends to be his horse, albeit a rebellious horse with a sassy mouth. The General wants her rebellious because his fantasy is to break her. What is rather interesting about this scene is that it is obvious that the General wants to dominate the woman yet the prostitute/actress is totally in control and she has the General in the palms of her hands, making sassy remarks that often humiliate the General. The session goes into a strange direction when the General wants to pretend he is being buried with honor as the girl drapes flags across his body.
We are distracted from the General’s session when we hear a woman’s voice in the next room yelling “Lick it! Lick it!” 
The film takes us to the next room where we see a client (Peter Brocco), an accountant, dressed as a Judge on his hands and knees before an African-American woman (Ruby Dee). She is ordering him to lick her shoes. The client stops because he is not ready yet for that part of the fantasy and he returns to the bench where he questions the woman about her crimes as she sits on the witness stand. The woman is accused of being a thief and the ‘Judge’ wants her to explain what she stole and why she stole it. When the woman explains that she took some bread because she was hungry, the Judge becomes very excited and encourages her to continue. Finally, once the woman has gone into the details about her crimes and the Judge is about to pronounce his sentence, the woman reverses the D&S dynamic by ordering the Judge to crawl before her and "Lick it!" This is the crux of his fantasy, to be a man of power who debases himself before a woman by licking her shoes.
During these three fantasies, we see the Madam Irma (Shelley Winters) and her file clerk Carmen (Lee Grant), a woman who was once one of the prostitutes but who was promoted by the Madam, watching all the fantasies over a television screen in a kind of a master-control room with lots of filing cabinets that gives us the impression that the brothel has hundreds of clients. Each fantasy is staged in rooms with eloborate sets and costumes and Irma monitors everything from the control room, intervening should a session go too long or gets out of hand. It is during the Judge’s session where he is licking the woman’s shoes that Carmen makes it known to Irma that she longs to become one of the prostitutes/actresses again, even for just a session. In fact, the Judge’s session was one that Carmen used to perform and she makes the comment that she was much better at it than the current girl. I find that hard to believe because Ruby Dee is superb although we later find out that Lee Grant can also be quite good when it comes to role-playing.


The Balcony is a place where mortal men go to live out their fantasies. It is a modern day dream castle, where men can escape from the hardships of the real world and act out lives of important people that they may never have the opportunity of becoming. It is a place where men go to fulfill not just their sexual fantasies, but also their dreams. If one wants to become the Bishop; he can go to the Balcony and demand that women tell him their sins. If one wants to become the strongest General in the English army with a trusty steed by his side, all that he needs to do is go to the Balcony and a woman will become his sidekick. If one wants to be a powerful Judge who is humbled by the sexuality of woman, the Balcony can make this fantasy come true. Rooted with deep political and sexual undertones, this black comedy allows us to watch as three men live out their fantasies as their troubled country is rocked right outside the doors by a gang of rebels.  

With the revolution happening outside, the business has been tough, but the ladies seem to be surviving. Everyone is happy, until Peter Falk enters the scene. Falk gives a performance of sustained intensity as a man who thinks he's in charge of his destiny. He plays the Police chief who is trying to bring the rebels outside to justice. He is also the man who is dating the Madam Irma (she is also the owner of the brothel). The Police chief also has a favorite fantasy, as he likes it when Irma role-plays that she is the Queen. She uses this fantasy to keep the macho police chief in line.  

He does not know how to bring the rebels to justice and keep the moral of the people and troops together when a real-life Bishop, a General, and a Supreme Court Justice have all been murdered. Then he finds his answer in the least of places when Irma comes up with the idea that her current three clients could become stand-ins for the actual leaders of the country. After much persuasion, they say "yes" and begin their voyage outside into the "real world" wearing the masks of their fantasies. The three unknowns head out onto the city to bring peace and justice to the unknowing people. They do not care that they do not have the training for this power. All they care about is being able to feel like they have the power if only for just one moment. 

At first they succeed, but soon the power becomes too much for these men as they begin to believe they could actually run the country. This angers the police chief but Irma keeps him at bay when he tries to shoot one of the three men (upon their return) as even the guns and bullets inside the brothel are fakes. The Madam proclaims, "We don't allow death in here."  

Next we are introduced to the Leonard Nimoy character, Roger. He is the leader of the rebellion and the enemy of the police chief. Earlier in the film Peter Falk asks Irma why none of her clients ever want to pretend they are the chief of police. Seeing how most men want to pretend they are men of authority like a Bishop, a General and a Judge, Falk is offended that nobody ever wants to role-play that they are him, seeing how he views himself as a powerful man. This all changes when Roger visits the brothel. He wants to role-play that he is the chief of police, his sworn enemy. 

Carmen begs the Madame to allow her to do Roger’s fantasy. She agrees and the girl concocts an elaborate fantasy where he is dressed as the chief of police and she appears as a beautiful Goddess of Nature.  

However, the fantasy is interrupted when Falk discovers that Nimoy is present at the brothel. He bursts into the room and the men begin to fight. Irma has been monitoring the room and she pulls an alarm which sends all of her girls into the room where they proceed to force the men to the floor and they strip them naked. Once naked, in a kind of a CFNM humiliation, the men no longer feel macho enough to fight each other.

The two men hide together, get thrown some bath towels and slowly leave the Balcony discussing "power" as if they were friends. Madame Irma closes the film by addressing the audience: “Their illusions at home are even less realistic than here at the Balcony.” 

“The Balcony” is an odd film and a black comedy that audiences in 2013 will not find very funny. However, it really was a daring attempt to put Genet’s play on the big screen at a time when the American public was scarcely ready for it. From what I understand, the movie “The Balcony” is, on many levels, "tamer" than the stage version. The castration of a character is eliminated as are most homosexual references and exposed skin is kept to a minimum. Nonetheless, much of the acting is terrific, especially the lesser-known actresses Ruby Dee, Lee Grant, Joyce Jameson and Arnette Jens. Winters gives a solid performance as the Madame and both Falk and Nimoy are sufficient, although we know they can be much better by their later works.  

I enjoyed this movie however I wouldn’t recommend buying it unless you can find it for a bargain. It is one of those movies that is so different and such a departure from the kinds of films you would expect to see in 1963 with actors of Winters, Falk and Nimoy’s talent, that you find yourself wondering if it is an actual film or a crazy episode of “The Twilight Zone”.  

Nevertheless, the film did remind me of how wild and fun role-playing can be. One of the benefits of the female domination lifestyle is that it allows us the chance to explore different aspects of our natures, and this exploration can include playing make-believe from time to time. If nothing else, “The Balcony” has motivated me to explore role-playing again. But you don’t have to see this film to reacquaint yourself with the joys of role-playing. Still, if you ever come across “The Balcony” it is worth 84 minutes of your time.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars


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