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DID YOU READ

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!

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.