Whips and chains

Friday, January 5, 2001 at 1:00am

What an appropriate time for Hollywood to issue a film about Marquis de Sade. Right on the heels of the election debacle in which the excesses of its industry played a dramatic part. De Sade probably would be smacking his lips at the release timing of Quills.

De Sade was the irrepressible 18th century writer, practitioner and champion of all things kinky. His toxic sexuality and his hatred of religious hypocrisy made him do things with a crucifix not fit to be discussed in mixed company - at least not outside California. He believed it was the right of the rich to murder in the pursuit of pleasure. And his use of pain as an implement of pleasure even had an impact on the English language with the incorporation of the word sadism.

Quills is directed by Philip Kaufman, no newcomer to censorship. Henry and June forced the industry to cough up its very first NC-17 rating, which may have had something to do with its poor box-office performance. Kaufman also directed the lovely The Unbearable Lightness of Being, an infinitely more interesting study of sexuality than Quills. Then again, the latter is more about political repression than the repression of our dark side.

It begins with a beautifully shot sequence in which the audience believes it is witnessing the beginnings of a sadomasochistic act. Wordlessly, a woman is tied up by a hooded man. He kisses her neck and brushes her hair away to make way for

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