The line between what is acceptable as art and what is seemingly pornography is becoming thinner as culture progresses. There was a time where simply showing full-frontal nudity in a film would grant an NC-17 or X-rating. History has hailed uncensored films as inherently artistic. Films like “9 ½ Weeks” and “Showgirls” seem docile by today’s standards, but more so, they are shifting away from strictly heterosexual exploitation.
Director John Waters’ film “Multiple Maniacs,” got a rise out of audiences by simply showing two men kissing. Waters’ uses this aversion to homosexual behavior as a guide in his directing career. “Pink Flamingos,” “Female Trouble” and “Desperate Living” all portray explicit homosexual sex acts. Much to his surprise, “Multiple Maniacs” was admitted into the Criterion Collection.
This paved the way for filmmakers like Larry Clark, whose films are internationally recognized. “Kids,” “Ken Park,” “Marfa Girl” and “The Smell of Us” are all films that use explicit sex scenes intrinsically in their main storyline focusing on more taboo themes, like teenage sexuality. The film is a wake-up call to American youths who had unprotected sex.
European films have been at the forefront of this sexual revolution and thanks to French and Italian cinema, progress depicting sex acts onscreen has progressed. Outside of America, we have Bruce LaBruce, Lars Von Trier, Gaspar Noe, Bernardo Bertolucci and Pier Paolo Pasolini.
LaBruce is known for films like “Hustler White” and “Gerontophilia,” which explore male prostitution as well as elderly fetishes and Trier has garnered controversy for his films “Antichrist” and “Nymph()maniac,” which unpack how people evolve sexually.
If there is one film that successfully melds sex and cinema, its “Shortbus.” John Cameron Mitchell, the man responsible for “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” directed this poignant and sexually explicit film. It takes place in post 9/11 New York at a sex club called Shortbus. Almost all demographics represented, and their stories are beautiful.
The main character is a sex therapist who Is pre-orgasmic, having never experienced orgasm. There is a polyamorous gay relationship, a dominatrix burdened by sharing the same name as Jennifer Aniston, a stalker, and oh so many orgies. But at the center of this film is a tale about acceptance of one’s own body. It deconstructs sex by removing the shame.
We live in a time of sensory overload. The same people who turn up their nose at these movies and judge me for watching them go home and watch “Game of Thrones.”
Had it not been for these advancements in our popular culture to remove sexual stigma, “Game of Thrones” would be PG-13 at best. It takes maturity to appreciate sex acts on film in an artistic manner. If the melding of sex and art is like oil and water in your mind than perhaps it’s best to keep them separate. But for the rest of us consenting adults, bring it on. I would much rather see acts of love than acts of war on screen.
Or, as John Waters puts it, “It’s okay. Touching yourself when you see art can be poetry.”
For November, Intersection contemplates gender, sexuality, and gives you a peek at the life of a disabled women living in Denver and using music to further the conversation on intersectionality in the LGBTQ community.