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« Best-Ofs | Main | Finding a Job in the Arts »

March 18, 2005

"9 Songs"

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Does it amuse or interest you that there's a small group of semi-young filmmakers who are in love with '70s movies, and who also love the idea of being a rampaging, art-plus-pop-culture-equals-Gesamtkunstwerk, '70s-style filmmaker? I'm thinking of Quentin Tarantino, David O. Russell, P.T. Anderson ... Come to think of it: are there others? Bully for them, in any case, for having an interest in the art and history of film -- there isn't enough of that around among young filmmakers these days.

(For those who haven't run across the term before: "Gesamtkunstwerk" means "total artwork," and is often associated with the beyond-ambitious opera-composer Richard Wagner, whose dream was to create immersive art that encompassed and/or engulfed all the arts. '70s filmmakers often approached filmmaking in similar terms. They did their best to affect audiences on many levels at once, and their movies were often found to be, and were often described as, "operatic.")

But -- sad confession -- these filmmakers aren't a group whose work I'm crazy about. God knows they all have their talents. But I no longer have much appetite for '70s-style filmmaking -- perhaps I burned it up in the actual 1970s, my own coming-to-artistic-awareness days. As far as new movies go, I'd rather see something ... different; when I do want a blast of '70s-moviemaking, I'll rent the DVD of a real '70s movie. I know I know I know that the existence of neo-retro-wannabe-'70s-movies represents something interesting about our own era. I just don't find it a terribly compelling something-interesting, if that makes any sense.

The neo-'70s filmmaker I like best is England's Michael Winterbottom, less for any individual movie than for the lack of stress in his work. I can't be the only moviebuff who feels dragged down instead of buoyed up by the ambitions of Tarantino, Russell, and Anderson, can I? It often seems to me that what these filmmakers hope to be and what they want to achieve carries more weight than what they actually deliver. The only Tarantino I've straightforwardly enjoyed, for instance, is "Jackie Brown," his most relaxed performance.

Winterbottom's maverick, go-his-own-way attitude seems, by contrast, far more natural. He's got technical skill and pizzaz to spare, but he seems to want to put them to use depicting (and conveying) states of genuine emotional rawness -- states he seems relatively comfortable with. I can't remember a moment in the films of his that I've seen that struck me as whipped-up or hysterical. Thank heavens too that Winterbottom avoids getting bogged down in melodrama, or in '70s-Method pacing. His films move crisply enough -- they have their own beat and their own drive -- even while the situations, characters, and actors are brewing up their various storms. "Butterfly Kiss," "I Want You" (a film Rachel Weisz fans won't want to miss), and especially "24 Hour Party People" are moody, wildass movie experiences that don't ask to be taken for anything more than what they are -- namely moody, wildass movie experiences. Hey, I've got a taste for that. An occasional taste, anyway.

One of the few upcoming films I'm looking forward to is Winterbottom's "9 Songs." (Another is the Robert Rodriguez/Frank Miller "Sin City" -- which opens very soon and is, alas, getting mixed reviews from friends who have been to advance screenings.) "9 Songs" is a small, short, art film that features more explicit sex than has ever been seen in a mainstream English movie. This could be a bad rather than a good thing, of course, given the cold-tea-and-kippers gestalt of most English movies.

Winterbottom was inspired by French author Michel Houellebecq's novel "Platform": "It's a great book," Winterbottom has said, "and full of explicit sex. And I was thinking, how come books can do this but film, which is far greater disposed to it, can't?" (Now that's a moviemaking impulse I can respect.) Things didn't work out with Houellebecq, so Winterbottom wrote his own loose script, put together a crew of four, and shot "9 Songs" semi-improvisationally on digital video.

9 songs image.jpg Stilley plays a solo

"9 Songs" opened in England last week and will be released in the States in mid-July. Its stars are an established actor named Kieran O'Brien and a young American making her film debut named Margo Stilley. It can be very interesting to think about the performers in art/sex films, no? Did they really feel what they appear to be feeling onscreen? And where should we draw the line between performer and performance?

Also, inevitably if unfortunately: how will appearing in an art-sex project affect their lives and careers? The wonderful and experienced Kerry Fox, for instance, gave a brave performance in Patrice Chereau's "Intimacy"; in it, she not only made a number of nude appearances, she spent a few seconds visibly fellating her co-star. I applaud her daring, but Fox apparently had it rough for several years after the film was released, contending with hostility and skepticism. How great it is that -- despite such difficulties and challenges -- many actors continue to feel the urge to express what the experience of sex is like. Performers: gotta love 'em.

I've been following the press about "9 Songs" since the film debuted at last year's Cannes Film Festival. It has been a pretty lively show. Part of the fun has been taking note of how the film's principals have contended with an ever-salacious press corps. Michael Winterbottom has taken a wide-eyed, curious, well, why-shouldn't-we-see-it-all? tack:

"Making love can express intimacy and love, but it can have lots of different meanings. And the trouble with films dealing with relationships is that you never ever even attempt to try to explore that area of physical intimacy in the way that it affects emotions and the way it affects people's behaviour towards each other. So you're constantly seeing stories about people who are supposed to be in love but missing out something that for most people is part of that relationship. Not all of it but part of it."

Kieran O'Brien has opted for a roguishly nonchalant combo approach, working the "What's the problem?"/ "I'm a professional who's proud of his work"/ "This is what an artist does" line:

"You take each scene, as with any other film, scene-by-scene. I suppose what you�re getting at is, was it difficult shooting those scenes. Sometimes it was, but� I�ve never worked on any film without scenes that were difficult to shoot. We would see what we could get, to be honest. Some days were better than others."

Where Winterbottom and O'Brien are showbiz pros relishing a moment of saucy notoriety, Stilley the novice has had a more turbulent time of it with the newspapers. An unknown 21-year old model with no acting experience when she made the film, Stilley initially tried to keep her identity a secret, something the vicious British press wasn't about to let happen. Reporters tracked her down to her home in South Carolina, where it was learned that Stilley comes from a fundamentalist background and that Mama was not pleased. No sirree. "I pray for Margo every day," Mama was quoted as saying.

Hey, a small bit of acting-world Tacit Knowledge? In the same way that a remarkable number of standup comics are Jewish, an amazing percentage of actresses come from either Catholic or fundamentalist-Protestant backgrounds. Why this should be so I'm not sure, but it's a widely-recognized fact in the acting world. Perhaps the flipside of "repression" is "heightened drama"? Perhaps the theatricality of the Catholic Church instills a love of showbiz in many Catholic girls? Perhaps a fundamentalist-Protestant upbringing leaves some whitebread girls histrionic and hypersexualized?

Here's a visit with Stilley. Here's another. And another:

"I wanted to make a film about something I really believe in, which is to show sex in a very positive light, as a very important piece of everyday life and a very important piece of a relationship, whether it's successful or unsuccessful. What I find in films I see is that sex is always a turning point in action, someone's cheating on someone, or someone dies. It's always the kids having sex in horror films that die. And I didn't like that. And in the sexually explicit films I've seen like Ai No Corrida, they're crazy, people don't do that, it's not normal!"

Here's an interview with both actors. It's fun to notice that Winterbottom has cut the film exactly 69 minutes long -- very wicked, Michael.

The British reviews for the film have been mixed. The Telegraph raves enthusiastically. But Sight and Sound wasn't happy -- for reasons I don't fully understand but that sound ever-so-slightly political. IMDB's amateur viewer-reviews have been almost entirely negative.

Too bad. But y'know, in following the press and thinking about the many questions that "9 Songs" has provoked, I feel that I've already gotten my ticket-money's worth out of the film. As for actually seeing "9 Songs"? That should be interesting too.

Best,

Michael

posted by Michael at March 18, 2005




Comments

I'm glad to hear someone else likes Winterbottom. Like you, I like the feel of his work as a whole more than most of the individual movies, although I particularly liked "24 Hour Party People" and "The Claim", a beautiful looking western based on Hardy's "The Mayor of Casterbridge". It has a look that goes back to that greatest (for me, anyway) of all westerns, Altman's "McCabe and Mrs. Miller". His latest, "Code 46", is something of a turkey, but I always look forward to his work.

Posted by: Mike Padgett on March 18, 2005 3:49 PM



i watched a bit of la cinaga last night and (from what i saw of it!) i thought it had a 70s sensibility that i quite enjoyed... i'll finish it over the weekend i guess :D

saw this on greencine, btw:

"I may be a tolerant, 21st-century twentysomething, but that doesn't mean I have to celebrate X-rated action and shoe-staring rock in a film with virtually no plot or script," she writes in the New Statesman. "Fortunately, modern gals can also change their minds. I found the 'muckiest film ever' to be honest, brave and oddly compelling."

it's no wonder that young directors are trying to recreate the 70s tho, trying to roll back star wars as it were and return to that golden age of yesteryear or something. i dunno. like i think the attitude might be: "i wish altman (or pick your auteur) were still directing movies, even though he still is, but just like the ones he did in the 70s that were so awesome! but since he isn't, i'm going to make those movies..." maybe i'm projecting :D

oh and i really liked the look & feel of code 46, too (i'm hoping 2046 can capture some of that :), but yeah it wasn't really that great a movie. liked it better than the claim tho... so i haven't been too impressed by michael winterbottom, but now i guess i'll try to be less dismissive and check out some of his other stuff!

Posted by: carabinieri on March 18, 2005 5:15 PM



In this World is my Winterbottom favourite, mainly because it lacks all the cutesy stuff film makers so often use, like the almost compulsory love story/love interest in everything.

24 hour party people brought me the music of my youth, mixed with the British humour I like, and I have bought the DVD as soon as it was available.

I've seen 9 Songs at the Rotterdam Film Festival, and for a movie about music and sex [maybe the two best things in life] the music was incredibly badly mixed and alas the sex more graphical than titilating. But above all, I wondered what the director meant to achieve with it.

So, hardly my favourite Winterbottom.

Posted by: ijsbrand on March 18, 2005 5:19 PM



Mike -- Another "McCabe" buff, alright. It's interesting about Winterbottom, isn't it? I mean, I wouldn't really recommend any one of his movies, except for "24 Hour Party People." But I enjoy keeping up with his work. There's something about the Winterbottom approach that I like. I'm not sure I nailed it in the posting, and would enjoy hearing your thoughts.

Carabinieri -- Excellent theories, and tks for the recommendations. I wonder how many young people, even young movie buffs, really know older movies. Any guesses? I've been astounded by the way "movie history" has been lost in recent years. I know many young people who seem to be moviecrazy but who know nothing, nothing prior to 1990, except maybe "Star Wars." That's a huge change from when I was a kid -- at that time, seeing old movies was a commonplace thing to do. You'd go on dates, you'd attend movie-society screenings. Movie history was understood to be a big library of wonders, there for the enjoyment and exploring. I wonder how the handful of youngsters who do find their way to older movies do so. Do you have any idea?

Ijsbrand -- Dang. Still eager to see it though. Thanks for the report from the front.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on March 18, 2005 5:32 PM



I loved CODE 46. Thought it was one of last year's best films (definitely the most well-photographed), and another new departure for Winterbottom. I found the braininess of the script and the virtuosity of the filmmaking dizzying.

Oh, and you can see Samantha Morton's cooter in it, too.

Posted by: Dick on March 18, 2005 6:14 PM



9 Songs was the subject of some controversy here in Australia recently when it was given an X rating. This would've meant it could only be legally sold on video/DVD in the Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory and could not be exhibited publicly at all. Fortunately sense prevailed at the OFLC Review Board and the X was downgraded to an R on appeal.

Of course, when a film comes trailing this much controversy behind it, it's almost certain to be shit. I'll see it when it does come out, but I hold no hope for it actually being any good.

As for Kerry Fox, she's made eight films since Intimacy, which means she's been maintaining her career average of about two films a year since then. I don't think the film hurt her that badly. Conversely, her co-star Mark Rylance has only made about three films since then, but he's had his hands full running the new Globe Theatre in London so I presume that explains his lack of screentime rather than investor horror at him gettin' it on with Fox in Intimacy.

Posted by: James Russell on March 19, 2005 3:58 AM



many actors continue to feel the urge to express what the experience of sex is like

Is that why there's so much boinking and fellating on the screen these days? Sex can be good in a movie theatre, but it's hardly ever what's up on the screen.

Interesting that an unknown, untrained, 21 year-old model was the star fellater, too. Many riffs to play on that, but the main one I focus on is Hitchcock's reported taste for young delectable unknowns. Good work if you can get it, I guess -- Hitchcock/Winterbottom, I mean.

If I were smart, I'd put in that French for "the more things change..."

Posted by: Scott Chaffin on March 19, 2005 9:08 AM



re: how many young people, even young movie buffs, really know older movies and how the handful of youngsters who do find their way to older movies do so

i think it's mostly that they're just not readily available, or at least not marketed very well. like criterion is great and all, but the way they package (and price!) 'classic' DVDs isn't really aimed at a younger crowd... netflix, greencine, imdb and amazon help some, i think, on the long tail, but for older movies to gain purchase in the 'mainstream' -- given an american culture that celebrates (don't want say "fetishizes" :) neophilia -- it's a tall order, as they're forever pushed to the fringe. maybe when the broadband utopia, fibre to the home, video on demand, invisible jukebox in the sky nooshere finally comes to pass, people'll have ready access, and actually want to watch the stuff?

and, i could be wrong, but my feeling is that even then the 'arty' movies of the 70s weren't all that popular. so like now they're competing for shelf space at best buy with the DVD tv collector series for star trek and gilligan's island or whatever. simple economics being fast and the furious II is going to outsell eternal sunshine of the spotless mind, so how's the conversation going to fare?

in new york there's kim's video and chicago has facets, and every city probably has at least one video store where they arrange movies by director, but i mean it's just a different (much smaller) scale than blockbuster and hollywood video. i grew up watching whatever from the video store, sort of began to catalog what i saw (refine my 'tastes'!) and then 'graduated' to film society in college, where i had my russ meyer and john waters experiences, transgressive porn nights and german/french new wave conversion, etc. while screening them to the campus (we'd be lucky to get 15 people in a night :) um, so i'm guessing that's pretty typical? or is it sadly atypical!?

now, i like star trek and gilligan's island (and fast and the furious, but not II, and star wars :) but for me i'd rather pick up the chabrol box set, because it's stuff i haven't seen before, you know, out of curiosity. call it nostalgia fatigue, but i'm hopeful that the good stuff from the past that kids haven't seen will stick around and they'll eventually wind up watching older movies. i mean, by definition, the good stuff always sticks around, right? well, hopefully it'll at least be available!

to a lesser extent it may just be that the world's moved on... like in that FT interview with woody allen that i linked to earlier, or AO scott's take. mr allen's still making movies for an imagined new york of the 70s or, perhaps more accurately, what people in the 70s liked to imagine new york to be, i.e...

"It wasnt enough to be intelligent. You had to know what to be intelligent about. Pretension, smugness and high-society smartness were prime Woody Allen targets, though for some areas of human bad faith there was sympathy and indulgence. What could be more tragicomic than the pageant of love, that ritual that requires human beings to spend priceless mental resources (storehouses of ingenuity, pantechnicons of paranoid manoeuvring) on pursuing the opposite sex. To present these themes - of the ways we use and abuse the gifts of enlightenment - was one thing. To make them funny, over and over, was another."

...and that imagination just isn't kosher anymore. like i just finished watching la cinaga, and i guess what i thought was '70s' about it was its patina of faded decadence (really, i'm just writing all this so i could sneak in 'patina of faded decadence' :) and perhaps that's only fitting for argentina in the early 00s. culture in the states (back to america's penchant for newness!), at least for now, seems geared toward the young and even infantile. decadence doesn't come off so well in that regard, rather any attempt seems bratty more than anything. whereas in the 70s it achieved a certain mature lyricism, where sophisticated adulthood, at least its representation in the cinema, was an aspiration (don't want say "reached its apotheosis" :) anyway, now people are more enamoured by the family guy :D

cheers!

Posted by: carabinieri on March 19, 2005 12:55 PM



Dick -- Tks for the tip. Another Winterbottom to catch up with!

James -- But the controversies have their own entertainment value, no? Where would the whole movie-world be if brouhahas like this one didn't come along from time to time? Great to hear Kerry Fox keeps working steadily. I don't doubt, though, that she endured a lot of personal humiliation for having done the film. Personally I'd like to see people be grateful to performers for their daring in taking far-out chances. I'd like to hear applause and see respect. I mean, really: bless 'em for taking the risk. Even if all most people can manage to do is titter over the results, still even the tittering is something.

Scott -- It's gotta be loads of fun playing with talented, beautiful, eager young actresses, no? They're so sweet, so ambitious, so malleable, yet still tingly and present. You're raising an important distinction too, which is between the kind of way that performers want to get into and portray sex -- and many performers are very driven to do this -- and the kind of way that the moviebiz (or TV biz)pushes sex at us. Performers (of the non-pole-dancing sort, anyway, by which I mean no disrespect towards the pole-dancers) tend to have misty feelings about art, sex, and religion. They can't articulate this verbally in any organized way, but sex and eroticism often has a sacred quality for performers. Sex is all bound up with their art drives and their art pleasures. They're eager to get into sex as a subject and to portray it, too. But they usually want to feel the project is worthwhile and that they aren't being exploited. They want to feel like artists and people rather than like hookers or marionettes. When it's about nothing but gettin' the hot chick to show her nips, well then you're talking something other than art, and many of the most talented performers will shrivel up or dig in their heels. But give them a real character in a juicy situation in a production that's being put together with some sense of class and arty-riskiness and, as an acting-teacher friend of mine once said, it's all you can do to get them to keep their clothes on. And the results often have a very different feeling, even when it's a flop. The hard, hammering, button-pushing bellybutton stuff that the culture's throwing at us so aggressively these days can be wearying and off-putting. The sex in art-sex films like "Romance," or "Swimming Pool," or even in something that really doesn't work like "Dancing at the Blue Iguana" (actresses portraying strippers, but not in a Cinemax way) has a very different quality. It's more rounded, indefinite, mysterious -- it has an aura. And that sense of mystery and aura is what many performers want to deliver -- it's what they find sex is all about, not the jugs and the buttcracks, but the feelings and the experiences.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on March 19, 2005 1:09 PM



Previous comments about film knowledge among the young reminded me of this recent article on a book by Sharon Waxman:

Spike Jonze, while not as cantankerous as those three, comes off as an immature, insecure skate-punk prankster with little intellectual curiosity and a blissful ignorance of pre-"Star Wars" culture. This may be why his movies, "Being John Malkovich" and "Adaptation," seem so original -- he isn't imitating classic films of the past because he's never even seen them. Waxman reports that one day on the set of the former film Jonze took Malkovich aside to tell him he was overacting a scene. "I was getting a little Blanche there, wasn't I?" the star agreed. Jonze looked puzzled. "Blanche Dubois," responded Malkovich. "Tennessee Williams? 'A Streetcar Named Desire'? Blanche Dubois?" Jonze could only shrug; he had no idea what Malkovich was talking about. "What did you get me into?" Malkovich moaned to producer Steve Golin, who could only respond, "At least it won't be derivative."

I'm younger than Jonze but even I was horrified.

Posted by: lindsey on March 20, 2005 3:11 AM



"Art films? Art films? Hah! Nudies!"

The Hollywood Reporter says that bouncy-bouncy doesn't make the cash registers ring, at least not the way it used to. Apparently audiences are uncomfortable watching humping with Aunt Maud sitting there next to them, and I guess that makes some kind of sense.

Also, the unstated motive of many art film buffs - unstated by all but Neely O'Hara, who knew the score - has been sated by internet cheesecake, so why go to the theater to see it, if that's all there is to see?

Roger Ebert has said the biggest difference between young film buffs today and those of his era is eroticism; for fans of today it simply isn't much of an attraction, while it used to be the main attraction.

Posted by: Brian on March 20, 2005 4:21 AM



Books are just words, just a story. When two characters in a book make love or whatever, it's not real.

Film (and theatre) are of real people, play-acting, but still real. Play acted and not faked sex is still sex. Play is play but yet real. Skin is skin. If the touch is not faked, but real, then it is a touch, however much play. There is no such thing as completely play-acted acts of love, or of hate, or of anything. There is a price actors pay, and we should not ask them to pay too high a price.

Nor should we ask those that love or could have loved the actors to pay that price. Pity the men who might have loved the actresses, the women who might have loved the actors, their children, their families. They have much to accept which they might have been spared.

For instance, in the words of Robert L. Kocher, the guy who meets Stilley and has hopes that she could be his beautiful young virtuous wife will have "to swallow it or he's a meany-poo."

Of course there are line drawing problems with my criticism. Would I have us go back in time 100 years to no kissing? I don't know. But I do know another line has been crossed and I am quite sure we are not going in the best direction.

Artistic or not, this ain't good. I'm not for jailing Winterbottom, but the film sounds like a disgrace and a poison.

People who watch these films know that the actors are real. As it is undoubtedly not faked, and pointedly advertised as not fake, the sex offends.

It would be like watching a film of a purposefully starved to death Ethopian, or of a beheading.

Oh, but that's different, there a life is taken, you might say. Well, yes. But still. Something real happens in these films that can't be undone.

Posted by: Chris on March 20, 2005 3:05 PM



This is one more episode in the effort to make pornography mainstream, by marketing it as art. Masses of ordinary middle-class people are embarrassed to look at pornography, except furtively. And bully for them.

The cinema industry is not growing. Video, internet, etc. are killing it. Bottoms in seats are needed. Creating porn that is marketable as a mainstream movie is one way to try to do that.

Also the porn industry is already unfathomably huge, and hugely profitable, but it could be even huger if this taboo were broken down further. So there is a convergence of interests here.

This movie, whatever the "actors" (per Hitchcock, "cattle") may say, is about marketing strategy. This process will continue because there is an economic incentive for it to continue. But that doesn't mean we have to give it any credit. You want to sell artsy porn? OK, go ahead. But that is all it is.

Bottom line: All this girl-flesh and on-screen humping is porn -- i.e. primarliy meant to sexually arouse the viewer, usually a male viewer who is particularly susceptible to arousal by means of visual images, and usually to facilitate masturbation. It is not art, which is primarily meant to inspire an esthetic response.

So, this movie and others like it, whatever their pretensions, should be considered as a product akin to beer, cigarettes and drugs -- cheap and habit-forming ways to feel good -- not a product akin to books, paintings or artistic or even commercial cinema. On that score, the existence of this movie makes sense.

If we keep our categories straight, much else falls into place.

Posted by: Lexington Green on March 21, 2005 4:27 PM



Lindsey -- That's a great passage, thanks. Jibes with the feeling of Jonze's movies too. He directs as though no one's ever had a thought before his own. I guess, given his apparently utter lack of knowledge of anything, that's probably exactly how he feels. I think there's such a thing as overburdening young artists with too much awareness of the past -- people can get balled up and weighed down. But giving them no introduction to their own culture at all for the sake of some idiot idea of "creativity" doesn't seem to be doing anyone any favors either.

Brian -- That's a brilliant interpetation, I think. Eroticism used to be one of the big attractions of art, and of the bohemian life. These days, what with porn and quasi-porn being aggressively shoved at us from every side, what does bohemia (what does art) have left to sell? I'd submit that much of the commercial stuff lacks soul and spirit -- it's just button-pushing, and I'd submit that art is -- at least when it works -- something more than button-pushing. (Porn is button-pushing; eroticism, or art-porn, is explicitness plus soul or spirit.) But soul and spirit are hard qualities to discuss, pin down, or define, let alone sell. Which puts the art-porn/erotica/bohemian world in a bit of a bind. I wonder how they'll deal with it.

Chris -- I think that's really well put, though I'd suggest as well that the reasons you cite as reasons to dislike or condemn film art-porn (or filmed erotica) can also be viewed as positives. Walking the line between fiction and documentary ... The way we're forced to wonder about the actress as well as the character ... I dunno, my interest in such a project skyrockets. I've always liked the way those elements are present in every film, and I like the way the art-porn projects bring these elements right to the surface. Morally I'm not entirely sure how I feel. Some actresses have felt their lives were wrecked -- Maria Schneider of "Last Tango" is an example. But other actresses became stars -- Sharon Stone, for example. Some cultures celebrate performers who take such risks -- America and England are typically very hard on them. Plus these performers are all adults, making free choices. But I agree that concern for the performers enters into our experience of these movies when we watch them, and anxiety too. I guess my personal out is that my single DVD rental isn't going to make a diff as to whether these projects get made; I find the spectacle transfixing; so why not? That's certainly not a coherent moral stance though.

Lexington -- I certainly respect your argument, but I differ on a number of points. I don't think the is-it-porn-or-not question is that easily answered -- there's quite a diff between a "Rocco" video and a Winterbottom or Bertolucci or Breillat film. And I think there are a couple of other points worth wrestling with. For one: certain artists have always been drawn to playing with sexually dicey subjects and approaches, and many performers have very stong drives to put this kind of material out there. Yet they aren't pornographers. For another: The Winterbottoms and Breillats aren't the people who are stuffing the airwaves with hiphop or the ads with behinds and silicone. Pop culture (and the conglomerates and the money behind them) is doing infinitely more to porn-ify and degrade the general culture than a small bunch of art-filmmakers could ever hope to do. I think, in any case, that what the art-filmmakers are hoping to do is use sex expressively, and to get it accepted as a legitimate part of film vocabulary. They're treating sex respectfully, in other words, where the pop-cult assault cheapens it and vulgarizes our responses. Which doesn't mean these filmmakers and performers are successful at it, or that their films shouldn't be XXX rated, of course.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on March 21, 2005 11:58 PM






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