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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!

Bourne

Bourne to Run

10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Bourne Movies

Catch The Bourne Ultimatum this month on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

You know his name, as the Super Bowl teaser for the upcoming summer blockbuster Jason Bourne reminded us. In this era of franchise films, that seems to be more than enough to get another entry in the now 15-year-old series greenlit. And gosh darn it if we aren’t into it. Before you catch The Bourne Ultimatum on IFC, here are some surprising facts about the Bourne movies that you may not know. And unlike Jason Bourne, try not to forget them.


10. Matt Damon was a long shot to play Jason Bourne.

Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

Coming off of Good Will Hunting and The Legend of Bagger Vance, early ’00s Matt Damon didn’t exactly scream “ripped killing machine.” In fact, Brad Pitt, Russell Crowe and even Sylvester Stallone were all offered the part before it fell into the hands of the Boston boy made good. It was his enthusiasm for director Doug Liman’s more frenetic vision that ultimately helped land him the part.


9. Love interest Marie was almost played by Sarah Polley.

Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

Damon wasn’t the only casting surprise. Franka Potente, of Run Lola Run fame, wasn’t the filmmaker’s first choice for the role or Marie in The Bourne Identity. In fact, Liman wanted his Go star Sarah Polley for the part, but she turned it down in favor of making indie movies back in Canada. A quick rewrite changed the character from American Marie Purcell to European Marie Helena Kreutz, and the rest is movie history.


8. Director Doug Liman was obsessed with the Bourne books.

Universal Picutres

Universal Pictures

Liman had long been a fan of the Bourne book series. When Warner Bros.’ rights to the books lapsed in the late ’90s, Liman flew himself to author Robert Ludlum’s Montana home, mere days after earning his pilot’s license. The author was so impressed with his passion for the material, he sold the rights on the spot.


7. Liman’s father actually worked for the NSA.

Universal Picutres

Universal Pictures

Part of Liman’s fasciation with the Bourne series was that his own father played the same spy craft games portrayed in the books while working for the NSA. In fact, many of the Treadstone details were taken from his father’s own exploits, and Chris Cooper’s character, Alex Conklin, was based on Oliver Stone, whom Arthur Liman famously cross examined as chief counsel of the Iran-Contra hearings.


6. Tony Gilroy threw the novel’s story out while writing The Bourne Identity.

Universal Picutres

Universal Picutres

Despite being based on a hit book, screenwriter Tony Gilroy, coming off of The Devil’s Advocate, had no idea how to adapt it into a movie. He said the book was more concerned with people “running to airports” than character, and would need a complete rewrite. Director Doug Liman agreed, and Gilroy claims to have condensed the original novel into the first five minutes. Getting that out of the way, he then wrote his own story, based on a man who wakes up one day not remembering anything but how to kill.


5. Damon walked like a boxer to get into character.

Universal Picutres

Universal Picutres

Damon had never played a character like Bourne before, and was searching for a way to capture his physicality. Doug Liman told him to walk like a boxer to give Jason Bourne an edge. Damon took that to heart, training for six months in boxing, marital arts and firearms.


4. Damon broke an actor’s nose.

Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

Damon’s training for the films is legendary, but mistakes still happen. While filming a scene for The Bourne Ultimatum, Damon hit actor Tim Griffin so hard, he shattered his nose. Apparently, the space the scene was filmed in was smaller than originally intended, throwing Damon off just enough to exert a real beat down.


3. James Bond visited The Bourne Legacy set.

Eon Productions

Eon Productions

Actor Daniel Craig stopped by the set of The Bourne Legacy to visit his wife, actress Rachel Weisz, who was starring in the movie. While having James Bond on a Bourne set must have been exciting, The Bourne Legacy was the only Bourne movie to not actually feature Jason Bourne, meaning our bets on who would kick whose ass would have to wait for another day.


2. The Bourne Identity was nearly a bomb (in the box office sense).

Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

As reshoots began to pile up, and an all-out war between the studio and director Doug Liman spilled into the press, expectations were that The Bourne Identity was going to flop. Matt Damon told GQ that, “the word on Bourne was that it was supposed to be a turkey…It’s very rare that a movie comes out a year late, has four rounds of reshoots, and it’s good.”


1. Matt Damon wasn’t the first actor to play Bourne.

Warner Brothers Television

Warner Brothers Television

Aired on ABC in 1988, the TV movie adaptation of The Bourne Identity, while not exactly critically acclaimed, was a more faithful version of Ludlum’s book. Richard Chamberlain, of The Thorn Birds fame, played a much less ass-kicking spy, while “Charlie’s Angel” Jaclyn Smith played love interest Marie. If you like your Bourne movies heavy with poorly lit ’80s melodrama, this might just be the adaptation for you. Otherwise, you should catch The Bourne Ultimatum when it airs this month on IFC.

“Imprint,” Takashi Miike’s snuff film “Rashomon”

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By R. Emmet Sweeney

IFC News

Of all the bloody stumps and bared bosoms of the “Masters of Horror” series on Showtime, those depicted in “Imprint” were a bit too bloody and bare even for indulgent cable execs (the discarded fetuses were rumored to have been the tipping point). Banned from airing during the series’ run in the U.S. (it aired on Bravo in the UK), Takashi Miike’s snuff film “Rashomon” finally hits our shores thanks to this week’s loaded DVD release. As with all of Miike’s voluminous output (he has three other ’06 films on his resume), it’s a mixed bag — with scenes of genuine terror, outrageous camp, and stomach-turning violence.

“Imprint” was adapted from the Japanese horror novel “Bokee Kyotee” by Shimako Iwai — a straightforward tale of past misdeeds haunting the present. American vagabond Christopher (Billy Drago) travels to a remote island/brothel to find the woman he loved and lost, Kimomo (Michie Ito). In her place he finds a nameless prostitute (Youki Kudoh) with a facial deformity who informs him how Kimomo died. She changes her story multiple times, with each alteration depicted in flashback. Soon both of their histories are excavated, and it’s a nasty, vicious, and viscous business.

The time period is strangely ahistorical, with Edo period architecture clashing with electric paper lamps. It feels like a whorehouse for the modern tourist, where one can get the kicks of old-time misogyny with the comforts of the industrial revolution. It is a bit of a dream world — an unreality the actors bring into their work. Drago (“The Untouchables”) has one of the great under-utilized faces in Hollywood. Cavernous, skeletal, and strikingly blank, his stare is its own slasher flick. Utilizing this strength, Drago’s performance is akin to pantomime, marking each emotion with wide loping gestures over his guttural drawl. It’s highly theatrical, and clashes with Kudoh’s more naturalistic approach (until her head is peeled back, of course).

Amazingly, Kudoh is the only actor in the film who could speak English (other than Drago). Everyone else learned their lines phonetically from a linguist. This lends a disembodied quality to their performance, and it’s either a brilliant reflection of their loss of humanity, or just an extremely cheap way to hire actors. Probably more of the latter, but selected moments pay off: especially with the repeated scenes of the Buddhist monk speaking to Kudoh’s character as a child in flashback. He unrolls a parchment depicting the tortures of hell, and says, “Pretty scary, huh”, stuttering over the “s” in scary. It’s funny but laced with menace — and during the second flashback the undertones in the scene become even more ambiguously evil.

Miike can’t abide ambiguity long, so there’s a torture set piece to put us cerebral folk in our place. It is epic cruelty, inflicted upon Kimomo by a jealous older prostitute (curiously, played by the book’s female author Iwai). It’s pulp exploitation that would fulfill any adolescent male’s fear and loathing of femininity (in an interview on the disc, he said only lonely rural kids in Japan watched his films before he became a cult star overseas), but one can’t deny that it’s bravura filmmaking — meticulous in its structure and its violence.

The DVD is packed with extras that are actually worth watching, including an hour-long interview with Miike (hilariously titled “I Am the Film Director of Love and Freedom”), where he talks about being pigeonholed as a horror director in the West, and his refusal to refuse any project offered to him. Also included is a making of doc, a feature on the makeup, and audio commentary by American Cinematheque programmer Chris D. and writer Wyatt Doyle.

Leave the Kids at Home: The Rebirth of Arthouse Animation

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Mickey Mouse first ripped off Buster Keaton to impress the kiddies in 1926’s “Steamboat Willie,” and it wasn’t long after that that Bugs, Elmer and the merrie melodymakers were sketching out more sophisticated yuks for little ones and adults alike. Nowadays animated films in the U.S. have largely devolved into cheap babysitters, too cloying for parental consumption. It’s a step in the right direction that the Hollywood machine has absorbed high-quality ‘toon houses like Pixar and Aardman Studios, but for every acclaimed “Finding Nemo” or “Wallace and Gromit,” three more strident “Madagascar” knock-offs have barreled down the pipeline. Is there any hope for grown-ups and older kids with refined tastes to appreciate the art of animation without a squealing farm/zoo/wildlife animal in sight?

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