A Brief History of Real Sex on Screen (Well, Without the Porn)

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John Cameron Mitchell, whose second feature, “Shortbus,” opens this week, has justified his use of graphic, unsimulated sex throughout the film by saying it was done as “an act of resistance” against the Bush regime. Other directors usually come up with something about “normalizing sexuality” or “cinematic honesty” in their attempt to work actual sex into what they hope is a mainstream film. Some dismiss it as a cheap gimmick, some say that outside of snuff films it’s one of the last big ideas the movies have, with the potential to say something new; before seeing “Shortbus” for myself, I tended to think it’s the directorial version of leaving the house in sweatpants: you’ve given up. In the last six years (hmm), the number of films featuring unsimulated sex has grown noticeably — is burgeoning on a trend, in fact — and so we thought we’d take a look back at some milestones in real live sex on screen.

1972: “Pink Flamingos”
Debauchery of all flavors is on offer in John Waters’ infamous yuck-fest, and Divine performing fellatio on her on-screen son is, incredibly, not the most outrageous example. For that I would vote for what I hope is the simulated rape of a young woman…by a chicken. Hardly mainstream, Waters gets credit nonetheless for being one of the first if not the first American director to put a sex act in what became a well-known, non-porn feature. That’s the first time I’ve even written “fellatio,” by the way. We’ll see how long that lasts.

1976: “In the Realm of the Senses”
Nagisa Oshima’s film, based on a book recounting true events, caused a huge ruckus in 1976, and was the first explicitly sexual film to lobby hard for arthouse credibility, with some success. John Cameron Mitchell pays dubious tribute to the film with a hilarious reference in his recent “Shortbus.”

1979: “Caligula”
The uncut version of this Tinto Brass film included an orgy and several acts of graphic sex. Though none of the principals were engaged in said graphic sex, it’s the first film with a pedigree (written by Gore Vidal) and actual movie stars (Peter O’Toole, Malcolm McDowell) to, as the kids say, go there. Unsurprisingly, almost everyone involved with the film later disowned it, except major backer Penthouse magazine; they felt all right.

1986: “Devil in the Flesh”
This Italian film is often cited as the first major western film to depict unsimulated sex which consists, if you must know, of a blowjob performed by lead actress Maruschka Detmers on co-star Federico Pitzalis.

1999: “Romance”
French director Catherine Breillat could put out a shingle, at this point, for films featuring (incredibly depressing) unsimulated sex, but this one brought her the widest acclaim. “Sex is forever,” the movie poster warns, and if that doesn’t terrify you, check out Breillat’s “Fat Girl” or “Anatomy of Hell.” “Sex is Comedy,” her 2004 film, is something of a misnomer, as I can’t imagine anyone has ever laughed watching a Breillat film, unless it was one of those bitter, French snorts.

2000: “Baise-Moi”
The title translates as “fuck me,” but it really means “fuck you” in Virginie Despentes’ sunny road trip flick. Two women (both of the actresses were adult film stars) set out to fuck and/or kill as many men as possible after one is raped and the other witnesses the murder of her pimp. The sex is nasty and probably too close in style to hardcore porn for any viewer with a pulse to keep their wires uncrossed, which is especially disturbing given the film’s themes and outcome. Karen Lancaume, one of the lead actresses, committed suicide in 2005.

2004: “The Brown Bunny”
Chloe Sevigny blah blah blah.
All right, fine, it was the first American film to depict an actual, respected actress going down on a skeevy greaseball. Congratulations.

2005: “Nine Songs”
Michael Winterbottom’s mopey shag-a-thon barely qualifies as a shag-a-thon because the sex was snore city. If, like me, you fast-forwarded through the bands just to see if the next round would be as boring as the last, you already know that the film, far from doing what Winterbottom intended — i.e. to “tell a story which honestly depicts the connection between sexual intimacy and being in love without claiming they’re the same thing” — is not even passable porn.

2006: “Shortbus”
John Cameron Mitchell’s love letter to New York’s special brand of loneliness features a band of “non-professional” actors (and non-porn stars) engaged in every kind of sex you can imagine, and by that I mean: bad sex, sad sex, funny sex, mean sex, and really, really good sex. Mitchell, by showing us the vulnerability of his characters and the slapstick negotiations that vulnerability can sometimes leads us to, manages to film not just bodies having sex, but people.

Honorable Mention: 1978’s “Germany in Autumn”
This one’s for all the hardcore nerds out there: famed director Rainer Werner Fassbinder gets a nod for saying enough with the metaphors already and actually masturbating on film. Ach du lieber!

Benders 107 TG2

Stale Love Life?

5 Ways to Get Ready for Tonight’s Benders and Improve Your Relationship

Catch Benders tonight at 10P ET/PT on IFC.

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Tonight on a brand-new Benders, Karen has a surprise for Paul while Andrew has to deal with a motormouth girlfriend. Before you settle in at 10P ET/PT to watch, check out five ways tonight’s episode can improve your romantic life.

1. Communicate Your Needs in the Bedroom.

Communication is important in any relationship. Sometimes you want to talk about your day, and sometimes you feel like Anthony and just want to fall asleep listening to the latest Marc Maron podcast.

2.  Work on your excuse game.

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However, if you do need to find a way to, say, drone out your talkative girlfriend, don’t follow Anthony’s lead. Come up with an excuse that doesn’t lead to you mispronouncing “tinnitus.”

3. Rescue a cat together.

A pet can be a great way to inject some warmth into your relationship. Just make sure your significant other doesn’t break out into hives at the sight of a friendly feline.

4. Keep your lady away from Jim Breuer.

The Breu-ski cannot be trusted around the fairer sex.

5. If all else fails, remember: Use the Chubby.

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To make a relationship work, remember: there is no try, only do. If Paul didn’t work hard to keep Karen, she’d probably be Mrs. Brue-ski right now.


Gigi Wrote a Book for You

Read Gigi’s Outrageous Children’s Book ‘Call Your Grandmother’

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This week on Gigi Does It, Gigi Rotblum (David Krumholtz) pens a heartwarming children’s book about the perils of not calling your dear grandma. And now you can read the full story below!

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Fred & Horatio Team Up

Former SNLers Work on Latino-Focused Comedy Hub

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SAW, Shawnee Smith, 2004. ph: Greg Gayne/©Lionsgate/courtesy Everett Collection

Saw's Death Traps

The Creepiest Death Traps From the Saw Movies

See Jigsaw's creepiest traps.

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The deathtraps featured in the Saw movies are basically what would happen if Rube Goldberg and Hellraiser had a demon hell child. Jigsaw (and his assistants) build devices of such staggering complexity that it’s a wonder what they could actually accomplish if they used their skills for good instead of for ironic punishment.

Before you catch the Saw movie marathon on IFC, check out the most creepiest traps from each movie which, of course, are very NSFW unless you work for Jigsaw.

1. The Reverse Bear Trap, Saw

The Reverse Bear Trap was the most visually distinctive contraption of the original movie and set the macabre template for the rest of the series. A large metal machine is connected to the victim’s face. If they fail the test, powerful motors will open their jaw to a truly fatal degree. It basically takes all of our dental surgery fears to a horrifying new level.

2. The Razor Box, Saw II

The Razor Box presents a serious dilemma: A poisoned victim sees a clear box containing an antidote. But if they reach in to grab it, razors cut into their arms. Just a few seconds of examination would have revealed the trap’s key on top of the box. It turns out that when you’re locked in a filthy pit of death traps by a lunatic, the most obvious solution completely goes out the window.

3. Amanda’s Test, Saw III

Amanda survives the Reverse Bear Trap from the first movie and goes on to work with Jigsaw. (And you thought your job interview was bad.) Unfortunately it turns out that most people building death traps don’t actually want their victims to survive. When Amanda shoots someone rather than releasing them from a shotgun collar, Jigsaw explains that that was Amanda’s test. Just after manipulating his other apprentice into shooting her in the neck.

4. See No Evil, Speak No Evil, Saw IV

Two men wake up wearing collars chained to a winding cylinder. One has his eyes sewn shut, the other his mouth, so they’re not really in a condition to take a calm look at the situation. The result is a perfectly brutal tragedy of miscommunication and mutilation.

5. The Fatal Five Teamwork Traps, Saw V

Five victims face a series of traps which can be non-lethally solved with the power of teamwork. (Jigsaw could’ve had a great side career as a corporate trainer.) Unfortunately for the five (then four, then three…) they compete with and kill each other until the final test, where they have to sacrifice a total of ten pints of blood to escape. With only two people left, it doesn’t go well.

6. Breathing Room, Saw VI

A health insurance executive and his company’s heavy-smoker janitor are locked into crushing vices connected to breathing masks. The more they breathe, the tighter the vices close, until only one survives. We’ll be honest; we love this because someone specifically built it so that the “breathing room” pun isn’t the most painful aspect.

7. The Love Triangle, Saw 3D: The Final Chapter

The many Saw sequels meant that Jigsaw and his cohorts had to get even more creative to keep their deathtraps fresh. The Love Triangle took things into the outside world by sticking three actual bodies in a mall display full of actual saws. How did Jigsaw install a murder machine and three actual living humans in a public display booth without being caught? And where is Batman when you need him? Jigsaw is really approaching Joker territory here.

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