The erotic drama is a unique subgenre unto itself. There’s always been a stigma associated with it in terms of the inherent sleaze juxtaposed with often revealing explorations of lust, love, sex, sexuality and the specificity of emotions associated when two or more individuals connect or attempt to connect on a physical and/or emotional level. The infamous classic Nagisa Oshima film, In the Realm of the Senses made it a point to juxtapose his lead lovers’ fiery passion with their self-imposed solipsism. Luca Guadagnino’s gorgeous A Bigger Splash sets itself in a rather “on the nose” yet still effective metaphor for this specific form of myopia and hedonism: most of the action takes place by a swimming pool on a private island surrounded by the sea. Essentially a riff on The Big Chill and 9 ½ Weeks, this vibrant tale is about the lustful intertwining love square between four individuals.
The films of Argentinian director Gaspar Noé (Irréversible, I Stand Alone, Enter the Void) are obsessed with the intertwining of “authenticity” and “artifice” and thus: every scene of pain or desire is purposefully made overlong to leave the impression that they leave no stone unturned. Noé is a filmmaker who pushes audiences uncomfortably deeper into moments that are usually reduced to a suggestion or glimpse if they are not censored altogether. Some call him a “pornographer,” others consider him a “provocateur” – but whatever merits his work may or may not have, he is at the very least a challenging artist if only for the discussions his films provoke. Perhaps the most famous example from his work is the 12-minute-long rape scene in the middle of his dizzying revenge flick Irréversible; which used such scene to deal with the entire nature of consequence by contextualizing all the problems of the male-id “lizard-brain” thinking. Love is the title of Noé’s interesting-yet-difficult to see/unsee film, which opens with a man and a woman explicitly performing an unsimulated sex act to careening violin music (the film earns its X-rating immediately). Of course Love will undoubtedly be referred to as “that 2015 unsimulated sex movie,” a type of film that has been equally derided as taboo and praised as transgressive in the history of cinema. The modern “art house sex” movie has been a staple of festivals and young film fans and recent examples include the digitally inserted (i.e. computer animated) porn star genitals in Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac; Vincent Gallo receiving oral sex from Chloë Sevigny in Brown Bunny; and the body-double orgy in John Cameron Mitchell’s Shortbus. However, in the case of Love, does dabbling in taboo inherently make for worthwhile art or are we merely content to guise up pornographic indulgence with “artful” posturing? Where does art end and porn begin or are they intertwined beyond distinction? Likewise, which is more authentic: “lust” or “love”? Continue reading What Gaspar Noé Talks About When He Talks About “Love”
“Ghosts are real” is the first line in Guillermo del Toro’s pseudo-Gothic-but-not-horror romance (as in romanticization, not a love story) soap opera Crimson Peak. And then the movie begins in media-res before introducing our perky heroine Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), a young writer with a widowed father. “It’s not a ghost story,” she assures us, “more a story with ghosts in it. Ghosts are a metaphor for the past.” And that’s the mission statement for del Toro with his bodice-ripper/Hammer Horror mashup. And therein lies the biggest weaknesses and strengths of the movie: it features lots of ghosts, some horror imagery and symbols, but isn’t really a scary ghost story. It speaks a lot about romance, love and romanticizes (fetishizes) the gothic vibes of the Victorian era aesthetics and lifestyle, but it’s cold and clinical (cynical too). Worst of all it gives us the structure of a mystery, yet it doesn’t merely “play fair” it practically spells out the answers to you in the first 10 minutes (to say nothing of the opening scene). In fact none of the lofty ideas about how past cycles haunt us ever come into play in any meaningful way. This is a movie that knows what it wants to be but seems content to be the least version of itself and yet does notalways mind because it’s still full of marvels.
There comes a time when people ask, “Is this art or is this porn?” Depending on who you are talking to the answer can change and the definitions change. Art is about making you think and feel something and porn is supposed to be about pandering to you, but isn’t that just another way form of artistic engagement? Magic Mike XXL, the sequel to Steven Soderbergh’s (Traffic, Erin Brokovich, Ocean’s Eleven) underrated drama Magic Mike is probably the biggest mainstream film to argue such a case. The original film used the indulgent setup of the world of male “adult-entertainers” (strippers) for a downbeat fall-from-grace versus re-invention saga. Magic Mike XXL, on the other hand is a straight-up road comedy that’s far less concerned with the surely-true seediness that grips the adult entertainment industry, and instead focuses on the most constructive side of what “male entertainers” and the like offer. In switching genres and the mission statement, the film becomes a surprisingly layered spectacle that is at once pure unadulterated indulgence (for the crowd who loves physically gifted half-naked men showing off), and at the same time a nuanced look right into the heart of woman-loving sex positivity. All the while the movie still functions as a rather earnest and frank portrait of male friendship in a way that Entourage forgot how to do rather quickly. We live in a world where “bros before hos” is antiquated at best and “#NotAllMen” is a thing, Magic Mike XXL dares to boldly position a present or future where us guys can still be guys (frat humor, party shenanigans, obsessed w/ food, sports and picking up chicks/getting laid etc) while still treating everybody with pure and sincere kindness and respect. It’s a smart “bro comedy” designed to be a safe space for the titillation of its intended audience (primarily women).
Lives and society are largely based around the roles people play. Societies exist with an expectation that everyone plays a certain role. This provides order otherwise, it becomes a chaos. By “roles” I mean the “faces” they put on for the outside world, their loved ones and even for themselves. Sometimes it’s an image, a way of dealing with or adjusting the truth, many times it’s a lie to “fit in” with external expectations. Filmmaker David Fincher’s teams up with writer/feminist critic Gillian Flynn (who is adapting her own controversial novel) for Gone Girl, a film that is all about lies: the lies we tell each other, the lies society tells us and the lies we tell ourselves. It is a dark film with a cynical view of people. Gone Girl uses the framework of a standard-issue “whodunit” to create a bleak, darkly clever and absolutely biting satire on gender roles and dynamics, marriage and societal expectations. To go into detail about specifics in the story may in fact alter the experience and so prospective viewers may want to go into this film as “blind” as possible. Nevertheless the best review for such a film as this is to provide the context to get the uninitiated in the best possible mindset for such an experience.
As social creatures, people often have a craving for romance stories or at least romance IN stories. Romantic plots and subplots are common even in media aimed at subcultures with a stereotypical reputation for being socially and romantically inept, such as fans of science fiction or fantasy. Recently, romance and romantic subplots come under heavy criticism by fans and scholars alike; often self-identified feminists call such media and stories out for being poorly written and having disrespectful (often overly sexualized) portrayals of the female romantic interest and often rightfully so. The usual suspects for such stories and subplots are media straight up classified under the “romance” genres and subgenres. However, even stories and media where the element of romance isn’t the primary focus can have not only well-written portrayals of romance – they can be remarkably thoughtful and somewhat progressive in their own right as well.
It can be easy to overlook such elements in media, especially when they are not the subject by which the work is focused on or associated with. That does not make any serious evaluation or analysis of them any less valid. A good example of one of the MOST OVERLOOKED on-screen romances comes in Universal Studio’s 1982, Conan the Barbarian.