Gordon Inkeles flinches when his all-new 2010 film, Sensual Massage Made Simple, is linked to the '70s. "A few of my Amazon.com reviewers seem to regard the '70s -- indeed even the '80s or '90s -- as the kiss of death and use it to attack my earlier massage film," he told me. "Their subtext: not only are they horrified by nudity but this is 'old' nudity."
I can understand his annoyance, but for those of us who were there, being called a '70s massage guru has to be a very high recommendation. Scented candles became very big in the '70s along with waterbeds, massage and the discovery that any cooking oil was a better lubricant than gasoline-based supermarket gluck. Massage someone thoroughly with Hershey's cocoa butter or palm oil from the Pacific coast of Mexico and s/he/it was your slave for life. Well, for about a half hour, anyway. Exceptionally good grass might extend that for a few hours. People talk about the one-night stand like it was a bad thing. It was a lot better than being measured for kitchen curtains. Despite this, when a lady named Anita Brown appeared in my door in 1977, I short-circuited forever from any desire except to be in her presence. She wasn't quite so sure about me, but I persevered and we are together to this day.
Massage soon became an indispensable part of our quest for intimacy. You know, couples are naked together day after day, but the inner narrative remains closely guarded. How much is it safe to let the other know? To feel? We are trained from infancy to survive on limited physical contact. Women are arrested for nursing their babies in public in the United States. A web page attacks breastfeeding as criminal. Nursing mothers feel sexual pleasure, the author claims. Therefore it is pedophilia.
That may seem a bit extreme, I'm sure, but I knew guys who felt this way. "It's disgusting the way the kid slobbers," one bearded longhair told me in Mendocino in 1975. Comedienne Rosie O'Donnell banned her partner Kelli Carpenter from breastfeeding their daughter Vivienne just a month after birth. "Kelli only nursed for like a month and then I was very angry," she told Barbara Walters. "I'm like, 'You've had your limit, honey, no more!'"
The mentality that sexualizes breastfeeding is the ultimate source of corporate personal conduct codes that pervade all social relations right into the bedroom. In Sensual Massage Made Simple, Inkeles finds it useful to recall the counsel of his 1972 book The Art of Sensual Massage, which was a Quality Paperback Bookclub selection for ten years: "Thanks to the handshake, we're all accustomed to being touched on the hands. If your partner seems shy about being touched, stroke the hands a bit before beginning the massage."
Although The Art of Sensual Massage introduced me to massage as an intimacy gateway opener, my first ten minutes browsing Sensual Massage Made Simple taught me more about massage than I knew in my whole life before. I used to give an adequate massage that pretty much consisted of gently kneading every square inch of the body with a good oil, beginning with the toes, but I was always left with the feeling that I could have done better. Sensual Massage Made Simple showed me exactly why that was. I don't want to say that I am embarrassed by my previous massages, but, um, this really is kind of embarrassing. It's like being an editor all my life and finding out about chapters and subtitles. Example: "Repeat most massage strokes three times.... During rotations move three times in one direction than reverse.... Repeat circulation strokes on the arms and legs ten times." Massage becomes poetry. The strokes rhyme.
Sensual Massage Made Simple is a genuinely useful video that brings Gordon Inkeles's books to life. The photography is timeless -- almost shadowless full natural light coming in through a tall bay window in a classic old Victorian wooden house in Arcata, Northern California. There is only one concession to our century -- the female model's belly button piercing. When I asked Gordon about that, he said that she offered to remove it, but he decided to let it stay. I would have accepted her offer, but I think that Gordon's generosity may have made for a better video because it is more realistic.
"Only a video can show rhythms and pressures clearly," Gordon told me. "The aesthetics in the film and in my books are meant as a teaser for the real thing. My hope is that people will take this video home and start massaging."
· Best Art Direction, Feature, Runner Up, Action on Film International, 2010
· Award of Merit, Documentary Feature, Los Angeles Cinema Festival of Hollywood, 2010
· Award of Merit, Accolade Competition, 2010