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Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Steven Shainberg|
|Produced by||Andrew Fierberg
|Screenplay by||Steven Shainberg|
|Story by||Erin Cressida Wilson|
|Based on||Bad Behavior
by Mary Gaitskill
|Music by||Angelo Badalamenti|
|Editing by||Pam Wise|
Double A Films
|Running time||111 minutes|
Secretary is a 2002 independent film directed by Steven Shainberg and starring Maggie Gyllenhaal as Lee Holloway and James Spader as E. Edward Grey. The film is based on a short story from Bad Behavior by Mary Gaitskill,  and explores the relationship between a sexually dominant man and his submissive secretary.
Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal), the socially awkward and emotionally sensitive youngest daughter of a dysfunctional family, adjusts to normal life after having been hospitalized following an incident of dangerous self-harm. She learns to type, starts to date an acquaintance from high school named Peter, and begins to work as a secretary for an eccentric attorney, E. Edward Grey (James Spader), who hires her despite her stilted social skills and unprofessional appearance.
Though at first Grey appears highly irritated by Lee's typos and other innocuous mistakes, it soon becomes apparent that he is sexually aroused by her submissive behavior. After he confronts her about her propensity for self-injury and commands that she never hurt herself again, the two embark on a BDSM relationship. Lee experiences a sexual and personal awakening, and she falls deeply in love. Edward, however, displays insecurity concerning his feelings for Lee, and he shows shame and disgust over his sexual habits. After a sexual encounter in his office, he fires Lee.
During this period of exploration with Edward, Lee has also been attempting to have a normal boyfriend in Peter (Jeremy Davies), even engaging in lukewarm sex with him. After Lee is fired from her job, Peter proposes to Lee, who reluctantly agrees to marry him. However, while trying on her wedding gown she leaves and runs to Edward's office where she declares her love for him. Edward, still uncertain about their relationship, tests Lee by commanding her to sit in his chair without moving her hands or feet until he returns. Lee eagerly complies. Hours pass, as Peter, family members, and acquaintances individually visit Lee to alternately attempt to dissuade or encourage her while Edward watches from afar, completely taken with his arousal of Lee's compliance. After three days, Edward returns to the office and takes Lee to his apartment where he bathes and nurtures her. The pair marry and happily continue their dominant-submissive relationship.
- James Spader as E. Edward Grey, Lee's employer and sexually dominant lover
- Maggie Gyllenhaal as Lee Holloway, the eponymous submissive secretary
- Jeremy Davies as Peter
- Lesley Ann Warren as Joan Holloway
- Stephen McHattie as Burt Holloway
- Jessica Tuck as Tricia O'Connor
- Oz Perkins as Jonathan
- Amy Locane as Lee's sister
- Patrick Bauchau as Dr. Twardon
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Many changes were made from Mary Gaitskill's original short story, which had to be significantly expanded and given greater depth in order to be made into a feature-length film. Lines of dialogue were changed; Lee's statement, "I'm so stupid" became a fantasy-sequence cry of "I'm your Secretary," which the director thought far more "celebratory." Additionally, the ending of the story was changed to give a more positive outcome to the relationship. Steven Shainberg stated that he wished to show that BDSM relationships can be normal and was inspired by the film My Beautiful Laundrette, which he feels normalized gay relationships for audiences in the 1980s.
A central component to the film, the office spaces of Edward and Lee, took form after two years of planning by Shainberg and production designer Amy Danger, who had collaborated with Shainberg on several projects. The desire to have the office feel homemade and express Edward's interest in the growing of plants led Danger to juxtapose a natural decor in the office with a predominantly artificial outside world. Speaking of her choices Danger compares the office with the rest of the film's locations: "All the materials I used [in the office] were natural: natural wood, bamboo, ironwork ... If I wasn't using natural materials, it was natural colors, like [in] the botanical wallpaper." In contrast, "everything [in the larger world] was fake ... I covered Lee's house in plastic sheeting, and used artificial, manufactured colors." Although the interior sets were carefully constructed, the filmmakers did face some location-related challenges. Notably, in one instance the filmmakers accidentally obtained shooting rights for the wrong park. Gyllenhaal encouraged them to hastily shoot the required park scene anyway, without permission, while crew members distracted the local police.
Speaking about Secretary's tone and atmosphere, Danger says "With this S&M material, we could go into a dark place... Steve and I wanted the total opposite: that the nature of this relationship freed [the characters] to be their natural selves." Because of this atmosphere, Danger says "Everybody kept saying, 'When are we going back to the office?'" It was funny, because the rooms weren't any smaller in the house, and it wasn't any more difficult to shoot. It was because you wanted to be in that space."
The film was initially screened at several 2002 film festivals and had its domestic theatrical release on September 20, 2002, and in various foreign markets in 2003 and 2004.
The film's region 1 DVD was released on April 1, 2003. In the UK, a version by Tartan Video was released on January 5, 2004, followed by a budget edition by Prism Leisure on February 7, 2005. A UK Blu-ray Disc release was scheduled for September 13, 2010.
Special editions of the DVD include the film's trailer and TV spots, cast and director interviews, a behind-the-scenes documentary, cast and director "Curricula Vitae" and an audio commentary by director Steven Shainberg and writer Erin Cressida Wilson.
The film was generally received positively by critics. As of May 2011, it has a rating of 74% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 141 reviews. Many critics noted the film's original take on themes of sadomasochism, with Roger Ebert saying that the film "approaches the tricky subject...with a stealthy tread, avoiding the dangers of making it either too offensive, or too funny". Ain't It Cool News commented: "Perhaps there is something bold about saying that pain can bring healing as long as it's applied by the right hand, but even that seems obvious and even normal thanks to [Gyllenhaal]."
Secretary grossed $4,059,680 domestically and $5,244,929 internationally, to a total of $9,304,609.
Secretary was nominated for a number of awards and won several, with numerous wins for Maggie Gyllenhaal's breakthrough performance.
The film's soundtrack album was released on CD on October 8, 2002, with an MP3 download version released on July 11, 2006. The soundtrack album contains Angelo Badalamenti's score as well as two songs that were notably featured over erotic montages in the film: Leonard Cohen's "I'm Your Man" and Lizzie West's "Chariots Rise".
The song "Chariots Rise" was changed slightly for the film, with the lyric "what a fool am I, to fall so in love" changed to "what grace have I, to fall so in love."
- Track listing
All tracks by Angelo Badalamenti unless otherwise stated.
- "I'm Your Man" - Leonard Cohen
- "Main Title"
- "Feelin' Free"
- "Snow Dome Dreams"
- "Bathing Blossom"
- "Seeing Scars"
- "Loving to Obey"
- "Office Obligations"
- "The Loving Tree"
- "Secretary's Secrets"
- "Chariots Rise" - Lizzie West
A sequel was planned following the success of the film. It was reported that the plot would revolve around a HR director being employed by the company, who was horrified at the disregard for health and safety policy, along with the potential for tribunal action over equality issues.
- Bad Behavior (1988), by Mary Gaitskill, ISBN 978-0-679-72327-1.
- Shainberg, Steven (2004), audio commentary to Secretary.
- Shainberg, Steven, Andrew Fierberg, Amy Hobby, Erin Cressida Wilson, James Spader, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jeremy Davies, et al. 2003. (Secretary) "Behind the Secretary". [United States]: Studio Home Entertainment.
- John Calhoun. (2002, October). Spank You Very Much. Entertainment Design, 36(10), 8-10. Retrieved April 1, 2011, from Research Library Core. (Document ID: 204894041).
- Shainberg, Steven (2004), audio commentary to Secretary.
- Secretary at Rotten Tomatoes
- Ebert, Roger (September 27, 2002). "Secretary". Chicago Sun-Times.
- "Moriarty" (September 10, 2002). MORIARTY Pretends To Be In TORONTO!! Reviews SECRETARY!!
- Wilson, Erin Cressida & Shainberg, Steven Secretary: a screenplay. New York: Soft Skull Press, 2003. ISBN 1-887128-19-0