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"Hysteria" sex toys stir crowds at Toronto film fest

Sep 15, 2011, 4:41 p.m.
Cast member Maggie Gyllenhaal speaks next to Hugh Dancy (L) during the news conference for the film "Hysteria" during the 36th Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), September 15, 2011. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

By Julie Gordon

TORONTO (Reuters) - To say Toronto was abuzz with "Hysteria" would be an understatement.

The film, which is based on the true story of the first electronic vibrator's invention in the 1880s, premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival on Thursday but even before the curtain rose, the movie's stars and director had reporters laughing at a news conference.

Maggie Gyllenhaal, who portrays one of the key characters, said that among the best perks of the job was all the unsolicited "gifts" she received while shooting in London.

"By the time I finished the movie I'd been sent maybe 15 vibrators by different people in London with vibrator stores," said Gyllenhaal. "It was a pleasant surprise."

"It's been happening to me my whole career," joked the film's lead actor, Hugh Dancy, to peals of laughter from the gathered press.

Joking aside, Gyllenhaal said the film presented a serious opportunity to remove some of the taboo behind female sexuality.

"It's about vibrators and women's orgasms, and I don't think people really do talk about it very much, and I do think it does still make us flushed and uncomfortable," said Gyllenhaal.

In fact, director Tanya Wexler who is at the Toronto film festival with her first feature in 10 years, obviously wanted to get the snickering out of the way from the first day of shooting on the film's set.

"I gave everybody, cast and crew, a little bullet vibrator when we started," she told reporters, before adding a little punchline of her own. "It was expensive!"

In "Hysteria," Dancy plays Mortimer Granville, a young doctor with modern ideas who finds himself working with London's foremost expert in women's "hysteria", a catch-all diagnosis for everything from insomnia to bloating.

At the clinic, Granville treats this ailment with a special therapy that involves manual massage. Through this stimulation the woman could achieve a "hysterical paroxysm", what is now called an orgasm, and be temporarily cured.

But the massage technique proves to be taxing on Granville, who develops hand cramps from his work, inspiring him to invent an electronic means of performing the stimulation.

"The most outrageous thing in the movie ... is the premise of the film," said Dancy. "The fact that these medical men were seriously -- without any irony, without any deception -- diagnosing this nonexistent condition and doing what they were doing manually, and totally failing to see there might be anything sexual about it."

(Reporting by Julie Gordon; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)

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