Saturday, May 3, 2008

Website Review: Bars and Stripes

Among spanking / CP paysites, Bars and Stripes is the ultimate "women in prison" resource. But regardless of what your favourite setting might be, it is well worth checking out for its impressive cast of models, large amount of content, good technical craftsmanship and a strong sense of individuality that sets it apart from most competitors. For those knowledgeable about the kink scene, the aforementioned virtues do not come as a surprise - after all, the site is the brainchild of Michael Stamp and Leia-Ann Woods (read my interview with her if you haven't already).

The unique character of "Bars and Stripes" is readily apparent in the terminology and the layout. Members are welcomed as "governors". The video and picture archives are divided into sections like "Cell Block", "Intake Office" and "PT Room". There is also a latest news section, a "prison diary" kept by Mrs. Woods and a suggestion box for members (excuse me, governors). Overall, there is a greater feeling of interaction between the production team and the audience than on most other paysites, which is refreshing to see. The prison theme is elaborated on with many different facets and a charming love for detail and procedure.

The list of inmates reads like a who is who of English (or better, English-speaking) CP performers. In addition to Leia-Ann, there are famous names like Adele Haze, Amelia-Jane Rutherford, Amy Hunter, Niki Flynn and Pandora Blake. For me, the many familiar faces are one of the main attractions. It's just more exciting to watch a scene when you know a bit about the model from her blog, when you have some idea of her personality and favourite fantasies. "Bars and Stripes" do their best to enhance this aura of intimacy. Each inmate has her own profile page with mugshots and information about her in-character background, her crime and sentence. It all adds up to a rather nice women in prison soap opera with a sense of immersion and continuity, starring fleshed-out individuals instead of nondescript bottoms.

There are some 80 scenes in the archives at the time of this writing, each one divided into several video segments - usually around four or five, but sometimes up to eight. The average scene is 15 to 20 minutes long, so you have hours of material to watch, with new clips added regularly. "Bars and Stripes" can easily hold its own against other "high content" sites. My only gripe is that there are no full video files to download, but this is a minor complaint - nothing that a freeware joiner program can't fix. All clips are in .wmv format and the resolution varies - sometimes 352 x 288 pixels, sometimes 720 x 576. The camerawork and editing are solid and professional, with the CP action captured from different angles (separate "face reaction" clips are available for some sessions). In addition to the videos, there are picture galleries for most of the scenes.

"Bars and Stripes" sessions tend to be longer than what you find on other paysites. Some are spanking movies in their own right - like "Jailbirds", which features three girls and runs for over half an hour. The time is well used: most scenes have a fair amount of exposition and buildup to the actual punishment. With the often snappy dialogue between tops and bottoms, these opening shots add nicely to the intensity - of course, "Bars and Stripes" aren't the only ones who do this, but they do it very successfully and with good dramatic effect. You get the impression that most of the players know each other and feed on each other pretty well.

Obviously, all scenes take place in the context of the prison, but there is quite a wide variety of themes and scenarios: prisoner intakes, inspections, a cavity search, bitch slap catfights between inmates, solitary confinement, visits to the "Punishment Room" and so on. About a dozen different locations, some outdoors. Both M/F and F/F action, with many sessions featuring several tops and / or bottoms. Infractions are avenged by hand, flogger, strap, crop or cane - the whole array. Some punishments are over the knickers, some on the bare, some fully nude. Positions range from the classical OTK or bent over a table to restraining devices such as the one found in the "Punishment Room".

There are quite a few hand spankings and most implements are used in the light to moderate fashion. Severity freaks might be a bit disappointed with "Bars and Stripes", but that is not the point of the site, which has a lot of other strengths. Besides, some of the canings with Leia-Ann are quite vicious and her reactions are always wonderful to watch. And there are enough other "proper thrashings" to keep sadists entertained. The prison setting offers plenty of oppressive dread without venturing into the territory that some continental European producers visit.

Overall, an excellent site and highly recommended. It remains to be seen how "Bars and Stripes" cope with the recent loss of their main star and co-founder Leia-Ann Woods. Can they do what Pink Floyd did after Syd Barrett? I like that comparison... Anyway, it goes without saying that Leia will be sadly missed. But given its creative strength in depth and its cast of other fabulous performers, I see no reason why the site shouldn't continue to put out high quality work for a long time to come.

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