Saturday, April 02, 2005

Was reading an article in the Good Weekend today, and I came across another example of something I’ve been meaning to blog about for a while. The article was about Michael Winterbottom’s new film, 9 Songs, which is another one of those Intellectually Interesting Real Sex Films, which have been appearing with increasing frequency in the last few years, eg. Intimacy, The Brown Bunny etc. Whenever I hear about these films, I have the same reaction, and it seems a natural and obvious reaction to me, one that comes immediately and that I don’t even put any thought into - completely reflexive, etc. But, as each wave of talk accompanying such films comes and goes, it’s become a curious thing to me that my reaction - or at least the focus of my reaction - which I find so obvious, hasn’t yet been represented. I mean, I assumed it would show up somewhere. Actually, I thought it definitely would. I didn’t even expect that much patience would be required on my part before it showed up, because I have a deep and abiding faith in the following ‘things’:

1) people are primarily motivated by a vital concern not to be seen as foolish or out of touch

2) people who comment on Public Culture Things are in a bit of a competition to distinguish themselves by their exceptional takes

3) the early sameness of the general response to Public Culture Things eventually forces someone’s hand to react contrarily - motivated either by their own dissenting initial reaction, or by their perception of an opportunity to swoop in and bust a move which differentiates them from the pack - and so a new and exceptional ‘take’ is expounded which also takes aim at the views expressed by predecessors and proclaims them old-hat and embarassingly flawed...etc etc.

These are life’s certainties, yes?

Well, as far as I can tell, this has not been happening in regard to Intellectually Interesting Real Sex Films. So I’m starting to feel that some of my fundamental certainties about human existence, behaviour, and cultural criticism cycles might not be as certain as I had thought. And that maybe I am weird, and that my reaction is weird, because according to all my predictions and expectations based on the logic of my fundamental beliefs, my reaction should have come into vogue by now. But it hasn’t. So, am I weird? Because I thought my reaction was completely normal, and my brother agreed with me.

Anyway, maybe I should get down to the specifics of ME vs THE WORLD and the completely different reaction ME seems to have regarding Intellectually Interesting Real Sex Films, as compared to THE WORLD.

Basically, the difference can be broken down to this:

ME: “How could HE (the Actor) do that?”
THE WORLD: “How could SHE (the Actress) do that?”

The “How could SHE do that?” reaction is just an over-arching title I have given for any reaction that focuses on the Actress’ participation in an Intellectually Interesting Real Sex Film, and these reactions have included; What is the value of her doing that? What will be the repercussions of her doing that? Will she lose professional esteem? What does it say about her that she did that? Is she just like a whore or porn actress now? Is she being exploited by taking part? How will she go on now that she has been so publicly degraded? Can we respect her now that she’s done this? Etc etc.

My reaction, the “How could HE do that?” reaction, is not really an over-arching title encompassing a variety of concerns, because, as far as I know, I’m the only person besides my brother to have this reaction, and I haven’t really fleshed it out in the various ways that the large number of people whose reactions were born out of a focus on the Actress have. So, the “How could HE do that?” reaction is pretty much just about The Erection at this point. Yep, whenever I hear about a new Intellectually Interesting Real Sex Film, my mind immediately thinks about The Erection, and the requirements and repercussions of The Erection. I think this is a very interesting area to think about. Because, seriously, HOW COULD HE DO THAT?

I don't mean that in any outraged way. What I mean is, whenever I hear about movies that contain ACTUAL fellatio or ACTUAL penetration, my logic goes, “The women are fine”. I figure women can perform sex scenes without the need of actual physical arousal, so, in my mind, they’re fine. They’re safe. They’re not exposing themselves in a highly intimate or unavoidably present way. They can get through it without there being a break into real-life physical processes, or at least, not so as you'd notice for sure. They’re protected by fiction. A fiction that can be maintained, and that protects them from a loss of dignity. However, when I consider the man, I go, “Oooh, that’s risky! He’s put himself in the way of potentially MASSIVE humiliation there. Actually, it’s quite a minefield for him, really.” I see his position as quite precarious, pride-keeping wise, because he has to provide an ACTUAL erection. In reality. Physical proof of his arousal. I see this as really opening him up to exposure/violation/humiliation/judgment regarding deeply private reality-based matters. And then on top of this, there’s the minefield of dealing respectfully with his co-star. He has to, as well as maintaining a raging erection, remain aware of his movements and how they might be interpreted. Constantly on tenterhooks about jerking or making any movements that might piss her off or transgress the boundaries she has set, making her doubt his intent and start thinking he might be a total asshole – because there would always be that element of distrust in her, wondering if he’s enjoying it on an unacceptable level – he would be aware of the distrust and so would be freaking himself out trying to constantly prove he wasn’t dodgy. He’s in this constant state of being on the verge of committing a MASSIVE PROFESSIONAL FAUX PAS, and I think it would be a tough thing to negotiate with dignity. Yeah? Am I making sense here?

I think that the risk to dignity and esteem for actors who take part in Intellectually Interesting Real Sex Films is what both ME and THE WORLD seem interested in in our respective reactions. But I still cannot understand why the involvement of the male actor doesn't seem to get much play, and why there is the assumption that if anyone is going to be negatively impacted or exploited or experience a loss of power, it will of course be the woman. Why can't they be equally affected, either positively or negatively, if they're both making the sex - with the particular contexts of the scenes providing the details that tip the balance, rather than any a priori gender determinism? Why the continuing focus on the woman's involvement, with a pejorative anger often accompanying it? I mean, I do eventually think about the woman involved too, especially when I come into contact with views that isolate her role and then argue “Wow, she’s dodgy now” or “Wow, people will think she’s dodgy now. She’s ruined. Degraded. It’s unavoidably what people will think.” And then I go, “No she’s not. You are totally lame! Shut up! Don’t you care that people will think YOU’RE TOTALLY LAME if you say that?” See, I always assumed that people would be far too concerned with their own reputations to risk offering up a reaction sooo unreconstructed. I also thought that, if such views were gaining momentum, at least someone would step in and go LAME, and throw the prominent view into critical relief. I mean, Public Culture Critics are catty like that, right?

But I’ve really been surprised by how widespread the focus on the Actress involved has been, and the cloud of questions raised over whether she remains ‘intact’ and credible, or is now sullied, and whether that is her fault, or the director’s, or the culture’s, or mostly hers, blah blah blah. The other day, even Mel commented that “if you blow Vincent Gallo on screen in The Brown Bunny, you are no longer an It Girl”.

In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, [the movie, starring Kristy Swanson as Buffy] Luke Perry said “I’m not disappointed, just angry”, in a witty flip it up on ya alteration to the old saying. Then, he spun his motorbike around and sped away in a huff of said anger. Well, like Luke, I also want to emphasise that I’m not disappointed either. Nor angry. No, in this situation, I would say, “I’m not disappointed, just really really, like, surprised!” And then I wouldn’t swing my motorbike around and speed off in a huff, I’d just keep on walking it alongside Buffy/THE WORLD with a curious searching look on my face. I guess what I'm asking is "Is this what our culture has come to?" But I think that "what our culture has come to" can be judged not by the mere existence of films that contain real sex, but by the quality of our reaction to them. And this reaction seems to lack something quite obvious at the moment - complexity. And it's a rather easily arrived at complexity, too.

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