Films push boundary of onscreen sex
A bold sexual revolution is under way in cinema. No longer content to depict sex in the soft-hued, highly choreographed, and artificially lit style of the Hollywood movie, a clutch of directors have begun to include explicit, unsimulated sex in their films.Skip to next paragraph
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"The Brown Bunny," an unrated film opening in many art-house theaters Friday, includes a scene in which Oscar-nominated actress Chloë Sevigny performs a sexual act in such detail that perhaps even Dr. Ruth would blush if she saw it.
This month's Toronto Film Festival, meanwhile, includes the North American premières of two sexually explicit films that have already caused a stir in Europe. Catherine Breillat's "Anatomy of Hell" could pass for fare shown in a theater that deals in films rated XXX, and Michael Winterbottom, the acclaimed British director of films such as "Welcome to Sarajevo" and "Code 46," will offer up "Nine Songs," a drama that purports to show how sexual relations change over the course of a relationship. The two actors in the film have full intercourse.
Suddenly, 1995's NC-17 rated "Showgirls" seems quaintly tame by comparison.
The trend, which started in Europe five years ago, for now seems relegated to the fringes of the art-house circuit - where such "unrated" films are shown. And observers say it's likely to stay there. But they add that such films will embolden Hollywood filmmakers to up the ante on sexual content.
"I think what you'll actually keep seeing is mainstream movies pushing it a little more, inching it further and further but not quite taking you to the pornographic realm that things like 'Brown Bunny' go to," says Christopher Kelly, film critic for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Mr. Kelly cites last year's "In the Cut," directed by Jane Campion and starring Meg Ryan as an example of a fairly mainstream film that drifted into a more pornographic realm. Though the thriller was edited to obtain an R rating, an unrated "director's cut" on DVD includes two extras in flagrante delicto in the background of one scene.
Just 50 years ago, Hollywood films were fairly chaste. There was no need for actors to include a "no nudity clause" in their contracts because bedroom activity was depicted by vague innuendo.
By the 1970s, changing cultural mores resulted in a far more laissez-faire attitude. Films such as "Last Tango in Paris" and "Don't Look Now" explored sex in a mature, if carnally suggestive, way. Films that showed sex, such as Japan's "In the Realm of the Senses," as well as porn films, found a market as X-rated movies.
But in more recent decades, Hollywood has shied away from overly graphic images because more sex generally doesn't pay. For example, "Showgirls," despite the furor over its rating, was a box-office flop.
A 2003 study by the Christian Film and Television Commission analyzed the box-office returns of 1,120 films over four years and found that the more explicit films sold fewer tickets.