Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Let's Talk About Sex Part I

Let's talk about sex. Let's talk about Mickey Rourke and the Diner popcorn gag. Let's talk about the ceiling of the dugout in Fast Times at Richmond High. Let's talk about the innuendo and censorship and what that says about America and our films. For some time now, I have been interested in examining sex on film. It is not because I happen to be a college student with one thing on my mind (though that certainly helps) but because it is a subject related to the history and culture of the nation in which a film is produced and the plain and simple fact that the development of sexual content, like that of race and class, is an aspect of film history. The issue also brings up long-lived debates like those of censorship and art cinema versus pornography. The whole scope of this subject extends beyond my purview, but even what I do feel secure writing about is too much for one post. So, I shall publish a series of entries regarding sex in films. Tonight, let us begin with the thin line between art and porn.

In the documentary series Indie Sex, one critic commented that the only difference between graphic art cinema and porn was lighting. Fortunately, another countered that, in art cinema, sex would change the character either physically or emotionally. My personal views would land somewhere in the middle. Take, for instance, 9 Songs (Michael Winterbottom, 2004) and Shortbus (John Cameron Mitchell, 2006). Both are landmark films becasue they use real sex and neither is a porno. In 9 Songs, a story of a hot and heavy couple, not every sexual encounter has significance to the plot. Some are important to the development of the characters, whereas others seem just to fill space. Indeed the nine songs that act as chapters in the film mark the development in the characters more than the sex. On the other hand, each sexual act in Shortbus, which is set in an underground sex club, tells the audience something about the characters or story world. In some cases, whom a character is having sex with and how they are doing it says more about him or her than anything else. (The development of Shortbus is also very interesting. I suggest you investigate it sometime.) Based on these films and many others, I would insist that the distinction between art and porn should be based on the intentions of the director or writer, whether they are to incite an emotional reaction or to arouse While much of art interpretation should be left to the audience, at least the genre can be decided by the filmmaker -- we may laugh at Gigli, but it's still kept on the 'Drama' shelf.

Of course there is quite a difference between artsy independent films and mainstream movies, in which sex is injected into the film to titillate the audience. There are different standards and expectations. Once you enter mainstream media, it is a question of censorship rather than judgment and sensibilities. The first female on-screen orgasm was in the '20s or '30s, so why does it seem that we went backwards?

Tune in Next Time...

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