Anyone who is a fan of New York photographer Jonathan Leder will already be familiar with his photography. Known for his erotica that also captures the sensitive and feminine side of his subjects, Leder was previously a fashion photographer for the likes of Nylon and Sleek before founding his own short-lived erotica magazine that channelled his intimate, yet wholly personal way of shooting. Leder also shoots much of his impressive catalogue on film stating that: “The problem with things being crystal clear is that they leave nothing to the imagination.”
And now he has decided to move into a different type of film, the feature kind. His debut film, Promiscuities, had its global premiere last week and is what you could call a labour of love. Devised by Leder and his leading lady, actress Amy Hood, Promiscuities is a wholly personal project, and delves into the dark side of sex, unlocking innermost desires and at once challenging the status quo when it comes to female pleasure. Recognising that the subject of women and sex is still somehow seen as taboo, the film follows Amy’s character Diane as she explores her sexual desires while also tackling the ‘universal truths’ of human nature that somehow affect us all.
Why was the time right for you to move into film and why did you choose the subject matter that you did?
Promiscuities is an original story written by Amy Hood and myself. We began outlining the idea for Promiscuities back in January of this year, shortly after we published Fetishisms Volume 1. We began to think about a way to bring some of the psychological concepts we had been exploring to life in the context of a narrative film people could enjoy. Screenwriting and the story’s concept really began to develop in February, and we started filming in March. By the end of April, editing started, and really the film progressed simultaneously – that is writing, editing, and filming continued evolving even through August.
We spent a long time filming Promiscuities. I do prefer to take my time when possible, and in this case we really were able to dedicate six months to it. Amy did a fantastic job and really helped the story evolve over that time. I have always been interested in things that challenge me creatively, and in regards to that, film is really the final frontier. I love taking photographs, I always will, however I felt that the time had come for me to move on to something more. As a medium, only film can really express ideas and emotions, and concepts in such a multifaceted way. I also believe that of all the artistic mediums – painting, photography, design, etc – that film is really the most underused. Most of the motion work we see today is really formulaic and redundant and I don’t think that people generally try to use the film medium to its full potential.
One of the most amazing parts of filmmaking for me is the editing process. It is something I am deeply involved in and I think it perhaps the most creative part of the entire filmmaking process. Especially with the amazing software available today, one is really able to edit in a way that I imagine was difficult at best during the 1960s and 1970s. Editing is an integral part of my filmmaking process. For example, to edit this 24 minute film, we probably spent over 400 hours in the editing suite.
Promiscuities is the story of a young woman (Diane) who was violently abused by her mother during childhood, and then seeks the help of a psychotherapist later in life, only to realise that he has a twisted agenda of his own. Diane’s problems primarily manifest themselves through her sexual psychosis, however, she has other very apparent psychological issues as well, her dependency on pills, alcohol, delusions, anger, fear, extreme self consciousness, a desperate need for love and affection, and dangerous self destructive tendencies. All of which are propelled and encouraged by her sadistic doctor.
We chose this subject matter because it allowed us to explore a lot of concepts that we were interested in – psychological concepts, that affect many, if not all of us, in some way or another.
How did you work on this film with lead actress Amy, how much of a dialogue did you both have about her character?
Amy and I worked extremely closely on this project for six months. We spoke about it day and night. A lot of research went into the project. The trailer is cool, but I think a lot of the work in the film itself is really well done. And I am especially proud of the writing.
What interests you in sex and sexual desire, as an artist?
I think someone has to talk about the aspects of human nature that others won’t discuss. It may not be super commercial, or acceptable to everyone, but I think it has to be done. “I guess we always long for forbidden things” or “ I knew I was alive with the heat of her hand around my cock.” Sure, it’s sexual, but these are universal truths that speak to all of us.
In this digital age, do you think we’ve all become desensitised to sex? And is that ever dangerous?
No, I doubt it. I’m not sure that would be possible. Sex and desire are embedded into human nature. Most digital ‘sex’ – and I think you mean ‘porn’ is really cheap and vulgar. I doubt most people are very turned on by that. Perhaps they have no choice, which is sad, but really, I think most people would agree it’s gross.
Do you think fantasies and sex are still taboo in society? Do you see that ending anytime soon?
I actually think the internet has made many things more taboo for more people. Taboo in the sense that , if I do that, and someone posts it on the internet, my grandma might find out. That’s the sort of thing that actually makes people more conservative. The internet, internet bullying, Facebook, etc, has, in my opinion, only helped encourage a sensationalist culture of fear. A culture of homogeneity. A culture of people who don’t dare take risks, unless they find themselves bullied by a bunch of strangers online. The pathetic part is that people actually care that someone who never met them, that doesn’t know them, said something negative about them on Twitter. Personally, I think the internet is a great way to distribute media, but I have little use for social media, and I don’t see that ending anytime soon.
Why do you think women that are open about their sexual preferences are still criticiSed, whereas men openly talking about sex is encouraged?
This is a great, and complicated question. Certainly since the Victorian Age, a sexual woman has been considered dangerous. What is ironic here, is that before the Victorian age, going all the way back to the Greeks, woman were always considered the more sexual of the sexes.
What were your biggest inspirations for the film?
Observation and human psychosis. In terms of other films, certainly some French New Wave films were very inspiring, such as Agnes Varda’s Cleo 5 a 7, and Godard’s Weekend, Cassavetes’ Faces, as well as Polanski’s Repulsion. But many other films were influential, Casino, Pi, Psycho, Videodrome, Sex Lies and Videotape. All for slightly different reasons. Particular books that were inspirational were PhyllisChesler’s 1972 ‘Women and Madness’ and Flora Schreiber’s 1973 ‘Sybil’.
What is next for you as a filmmaker?
We are currently back in production on American Ecstasy, and plan to begin filming next Spring and we’re all very excited about the project.