This September, World Movies explores 40 years of sexual evolution in cinema, with 40 thought-provoking and erotic films whose subversive content challenged social norms, from the 1960’s right through to the present day.
Starting Monday 5th, we’re bringing you two game-changing erotic films each weeknight from 8.30pm, culminating in weekend marathons, all through September.
The Sexual Evolution – Week 1
The 1960’s was an era of great social upheaval and revolution when long-held views of the establishment were rapidly torn down in favour of free love, civil disobedience and bold self-expression. In this social climate, on-screen nudity became acceptable and filmmakers began to address topics that would’ve been far too risqué in the buttoned-up 1950’s, like Catherine Deneuve in her legendary role as housewife-turned-prostitute in Belle De Jour (Monday 5 September, 10.15pm).
Sex came to the forefront in film, when great directors and actors such as Bernardo Bertolucci and Marlon Brando pushed the envelope with iconic films like Last Tango in Paris (Tuesday 6 September, 8.30pm). Although both were nominated for Academy Awards, the controversy surrounding the movie in Bertolucci’s homeland of Italy was so great that the Supreme Court ordered all copies of the movie to be destroyed and the director was sentenced to a four month suspended prison sentence.
Confronting sexual images became a weapon to provoke political debate by director and intellectual, Pier Paolo Pasolini. His movie Salo (Wednesday 7 September) is one of the most controversial movies ever made, and before now, has never before been seen on Australian television. Banned for many years, it weaves sex with the politics and power of fascism into a cinematic experience that is shockingly unforgettable.
Controversial films blazed a trail to the box office and gave rise to sexploitation classics such as The Story of O (Thursday 8 September, 8.30pm), which legitimised going to the cinema to watch an erotic film. This led directly led to “porno chic” where adult films such as Deep Throat (Friday 9 September, 8.30pm) became publicly discussed by celebrities, taken seriously by critics and seen by viewers who would never set foot into a porn theatre.
The Sexual Evolution – Week 2
If the 1960’s and 1970’s broke down the barriers of featuring sex in the media, the 1980’s and 1990’s moved it squarely into the mainstream. Advertising culture latched onto the mantra of “sex sells,” launching into prime-time television and billboards all across the world, changing what was deemed acceptable to the general public.
The now established acceptance of sex in cinema also allowed directors, like Peter Greenaway, to push the envelope of cinematic storytelling even further. Greenaway’s most controversial film, The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (Monday 12 September, 8.30pm) shocked audiences at the Cannes Film Festival with its mix of sex, violence and cannibalism. In America, threatened with an X rating, the filmmakers chose to release the film unrated. An X-rated movie was seen as a commercial kiss of death, as screening them was forbidden by the landlords of most American theatres.
1980’s cult classic Betty Blue (Wednesday 14 September, 8.30pm) launched the career of Beatrice Dalle and increased the stakes of how far an actress would go in character for a serious role. Nominated for best foreign film at the Oscars, Golden Globes & BAFTA’s, the graphic sex and nudity never hindered the films almost universal acclaim.
In 1990, the Motion Picture Association of America introduced the rating “No Children Under 17 Admitted” (“NC-17”) for the film Henry & June (Friday 16 September, 10.40pm). Although NC-17 films had more mainstream distribution opportunities than X-rated films, many theatres refused to screen them. In 1996 Showgirls (Friday 16 September, 8.30pm) became the first NC-17 rated film to be given a wide release over 600 US theatres simultaneously, with distributor United Artists dispatching several hundred extra staffers to cinemas in an effort to ensure that patrons would not be sneaking into the theatre from other films, and to make sure film-goers were over the age of 17.
The Sexual Evolution – Week 3
After the 1980’s and 1990’s had pushed sex squarely into the mainstream of everyday culture, the new millennium allowed filmmakers to experiment with new viewpoints and voices, going deeper and darker into previously uncharted areas of desire.
French female director, Catherine Breillat is know for focusing on sexuality and intimacy, as well as challenging the dominant male gaze that has shaped much of the history of cinema. In her film Anatomy of Hell (Monday 19 September 10pm), a woman pays a man – real life porn star, Rocco Siffredi – to join her for a daring, four-day exploration of boundless sexuality in an isolated estate. BBC film critic, Jamie Russell called it “one of the most groundbreaking films in recent memory.” This is sex, not as comedy, but as the deepest, darkest male nightmare.
According to The Guardian newspaper in 2005, acclaimed British director, Michale Winterbottom’s 9 Songs (Tuesday 20 September 8.30pm) was the most sexually explicit mainstream film to date, largely because it included several scenes of real sex between the two lead actors. The release sparked a debate over whether the scenes of unsimulated sex artistically contributed to the film’s meaning, or crossed the border into pornography.
No issue raises more controversy in film, than the combination of sex and violence. Baise Moi (Friday 23 September, 8.30pm), the extremely graphic revenge tale starring real life porn stars, cut a swathe of outrage across the world upon its release. As the acceptance of all things sexual grew in society, so too did the new frontiers of storytelling in filmmaking. Welcome to the 2000’s, the third week of The Sexual Evolution.
Stay tuned for more on The Sexual Evolution week 4. The Sexual Evolution airs 5 – 30 September, from 8.30pm.