The Joy(lessness) of Sex
Well, I just got back from a screening of Bruno Dumont’s Twentynine Palms
(Steve, I now get what you mean about this film), and it got me thinking about some ideas that have been kicking around in my head since I saw Young Adam
last weekend. Is it just me, or do the directors of NC-17 film (and for those who opt out of the bankrupt MPAA rating system, the unrated equivalents) which prominently feature graphic sex seek to punish the viewer for actually watching graphic depiction of sexuality? I’m no prude, and I’m all for honest and realistic expressions of sexuality (hell, I don’t even have a problem with most pornography), but the continuing trend in contemporary “art-porn” is just getting depressing, and this is coming from someone who likes many of these films (Crash
, Eyes Wide Shut
, The Piano Teacher
, Trouble Every Day
and Fat Girl
all come to mind).
Well, I guess that’s the point, since sex in these films is an example of exploitation; a calculated provocation against censorship; a signifier of alienation, either from oneself, others, or the outside world; and/or the site of a power struggle between men and women (most of them are all four), instead of something as common place as “just sex”. This even applies to films where the characters actually seem to enjoy the sexual acts they are participating in, such as The Dreamers
, In the Realm of the Senses
and Twentynine Palms
. In the first film and second film, the characters are so self-involved with their little sex games, they are oblivious to the historical events going on around them, whereas in the latter film there’s something off about the depiction of the sexual/romantic relationship (Phyrephox’s review
does a good job of describing the way the image and performance serve to alienate the characters), for instance, there is little difference between the “climatic” sound design of the fucking, sodomy, or killing. The more I think about , the more I think I’m seeing the aftereffects of high modernism’s distrust of both the body, and more importantly, pleasure (which was regarded as politically reactionary).
In many ways, this art-house depiction of sexuality has become a complete counter cliché to the normal Hollywood depiction of sexuality with its ridiculously perfect bodies, soft lighting, elaborate choreography, cheesy musical scoring, and adherence to the puritanism of the MPAA. Most of the arthouse examples (despite the fact that in many instances, these films actually star attractive people) seek to do exactly the opposite, which is fine to a point, just like the Hollywood equivalent.
But I’m forced to ask, where is the full range of human experience? Or to put it another way, why can’t fucking be fun? Can’t sex by sexy or erotic without looking like a fashion shoot or music video? I’ve actually struggled to come up with films that fit into what I would regard as a more complex middle ground. Off the top of my head, I was able to come up with Vendredi soir
, Late Marriage
, Sex and Lucia
, American Pie
(in a more comedic vein), and Unfaithful
(which I think is the one film that is closest to the Hollywood mode of depiction, but Copy’s response to the film
convinced me to include it here). In these films, sex can be awkward, painful, and full of negative consequences, but its also fun, funny, sexy, and pleasurable. To me, that’s real, and often more interesting.
Well, enough of my soapbox. What do you think?