Tag Archives: sex

Salo or 120 Days of Sodom

23 Oct

A scene from Pier Paolo Pasolini's "Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom." (Zebra Photofest)

“120 Days of Sodom,” the rapacious weave of sexual excess and debauchery penned by Marquis de Sade in the late 1700s, didn’t receive a commercial publishing until the 20th century, mostly in part because of its perceived depraved pornographic content.

Pier Paolo Pasolini’s cinematic rendering of de Sade’s carnal excursion gone gonzo some 200 years later has often been called the most reviled film of all time, not just because of its stark, graphic nature, but more so for its aloof dehumanized detachment. Still, much like de Sade, with such infamy credited to his name, Pasolini looms a major cultural icon bridging zeitgeists, ideologies and art forms.

Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom,” his final work, remains a hot topic of discussion, most recently rekindled after Criterion Collection’s reissue on DVD and Blu-ray in 2011, and is also part of the Harvard Film Archive‘s ongoing “Furious and Furiouser” series about maverick filmmaking outside the studio system in the ’70s. The program, inspired by the anti-Hollywood ire of Sam Peckinpah, includes such eclectic and wide ranging works as Larisa Shepitko’s “The Ascent,” Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Conversation,” Robert Bresson’s “The Devil, Probably” and even “Saturday Night Fever.”

In a historical context, it’s ironic that “Salò” was Pasolini’s film. The film (and de Sade’s underlying work) pulls heavily from Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” most notably the “Circle of S—” and “Circle of Blood” chapters that conclude the work. Leading up to those two fine portrayals of fecal feasting and slow homicidal executions (genital burning, sodomy to expiration, scalping and dismemberment) there’s a succession of bacchanal orgies where those subjugated to the whim of the ruling few, must entertain or provide services of sensual pleasuring, and should they balk or fail, the discipline is swift, cruel and even lethal.

Pasolini, a known homosexual and something of a libertine, didn’t live to see his film’s controversial ripple throughout the world (it was banned in many countries upon its initial release in 1975). He was murdered outside Rome, run over (repeatedly) by his own Alfa Romeo driven by a 17-year-old hustler who claimed Pasolini picked him up and made unwanted sexual advances (even with a confession there remains much conjecture as to the nature of events).

Given grim dithyrambs of debasement in “Salò,” the film’s being is ultimately more eerily prophetic than sadistically ironic. The great director Michelangelo Antonioni (“The Passenger” and “L’Avventura”), a contemporary countryman of Pasolini, remarked that the poet-turned-filmmaker, “was the victim of his own characters.”  Continue reading

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The Overnight

2 Jul
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The Overnight is one of those on-the-clock, dark comedies driven by melodrama and sexually charged situations. You’ve been there before with Edward Zwick’s Chicago-based About Last Night and Martin Scorsese’s late-night SoHo carouse, After Hours. The Overnight jumps in as the indie, LA-staged version.

The backbone to writer-director Patrick Brice’s late-nigher however isn’t rom-com relationship hell or a data entry wonk’s midnight sojourn into madness, but 30-something ennui and the notion that the grass may be greener, juicier, and more inviting in the boudoir of someone else’s castle. Meet Alex (Adam Scott) and Emily (Taylor Schilling), a pair of young urbanites recently transplanted to Silver Lake from Seattle. Alex still sports a grunge-style goatee and is a stay-at-home dad while Emily does something techie that fetches enough dinero to live in a nice, somewhat swank neighborhood. And nice is absolutely the perfect word, as Alex and Emily are boringly nice, socially awkward, and a bit stiff.  Continue reading

The Hunting Ground

14 Mar

‘The Hunting Ground’: Quest to defeat sex assault becomes more of an odyssey

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Documentary filmmaker Kirby Dick again navigates the grim, dark terrain of sex offense, this time delving into the pervasive culture of rape on college campuses. The result in “The Hunting Ground” may be somewhat less effective than his sharp, Oscar-nominated depiction of sexual assault and the subsequent cover-ups within the military in “The Invisible War,” but no less poignant. The timing of the film couldn’t be more apt or ironic either, as trending frat house SAE (Sigma Alpha Epsilon, or “sexual assault expected” as the film has it) makes national headlines this week for its racist rites and gets tagged here for rampant drink, drug and bag tactics. It seems that where there’s smoke there’s fire.

031315i LeviathanThe film centers on two former assault victims, Andrea Pino and Annie Clark, young women who through diligence and genuine concern for others become de facto activists and leverage Title IX to hold schools accountable. Their quest, while earnest and just, meanders at times. It’s here that Dick seems to have lost his way as well, but as the girls’ state-hopping odyssey continues onward he uses their quest to float the notion that nothing is being done at these universities because the presidents don’t want a scandal – any type of stain or negative publicity could mean the loss of funding and well-heeled applicants. “We don’t condone rape, but it never happens” seems to be the mantra from coast to coast, and god forbid if it’s a prized student athlete caught in the crosshairs.

Most moving is the testimony of Erica Kinsman, who alleged she was raped by Heisman-winning quarterback and certain NFL first-rounder Jameis Winston. The pain and anguish she endures as she’s pushed aside by authorities and administrators at Florida State is as palpable as it is frustrating. What’s telling is her composure and the deep-seeded support from her parents, who until then bled FSU red. Also picked out in the film are Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust, who refused comment.  Continue reading

Fifty Shades of Grey

15 Feb

‘Fifty Shades of Grey’: Orgy of insipidity humiliates everyone but intended victim

Through an act of fan-fiction gone amok, “Twilight,” Stephenie Meyer’s tedious YA vampire-cum-romance series about restraint and crossing over, got spun into a worldwide must-read that transposed characters and tropes into the carnal taking of a fetish-driven business tycoon (some might call them vampires too), all the while butchering any sense of literary craft to an unconscionable degree. Sadly, I can attest that “Fifty Shades of Grey” the movie is better than the pages on which E.L. James swapped out fangs in favor of butt plugs – and all in time for Valentines Day.

021415i Fifty Shades of GreyMake no mistake, the insipid, light whipping of S&M porn that sparked a wildfire among soccer moms and other unlikely segments will rake it in big at the box office. And for those saying it’s a cheap misogynistic fantasy, keep in mind it’s written by a woman and directed by a woman. Yes, there’s tons of nudity, but erotic? No. “Nine 1/2 Weeks” lived in an equally campy and tawdry place when it came out in 1986, but there the stars, Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger (actors recognized by the Academy over their careers), under the sweaty, pandering eye of Adrian Lyne, conjured up something titillating, even human, albeit inane – and there was far less nudity. Here director Sam Taylor-Johnson, who made the wonderful young John Lennon biopic “Nowhere Boy,” has leads Dakota Johnson (the offspring of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith) and Irish actor Jamie Dornan (he doesn’t act, he just poses and looks good doing it) get naked as often as possible – but there’s little fire. Much of what goes on in the boudoir or Grey’s playroom (a BDSM antechamber) feels like a soft-core model shoot for a tier-two gentleman’s mag, and someone decided to let the camera roll and capture the tedium in between the postured highs.

Continue reading

The Duke of Burgundy

31 Jan

‘The Duke of Burgundy’: Arthouse eros brings ’60s sheen to S&M, mind games

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Water sports, S&M and mind games abound in this lushly shot tale of lesbian role play, but all is not a titillating charade when it comes to the matters of the heart. “The Duke of Burgundy” takes place mostly within the cloistered confines of a Hungarian manse – a study, a kitchen, obviously “the bathroom,” the boudoir (the pair in bed shown provocatively only in reflective and refractive mirrors and metal objects) and a coffin in an anteroom – and the surrounding bucolic meadow where the lovers occasionally meander on their euro-styled bikes. Sure, there’s also the hall of academia, where Cynthia (Danish actress Sidse Babett Knudsen) dishes her lepidopterology findings with her fellows, but mostly it’s a photo op for well-shined boots set to tedious scientific droning.

013015i The Duke of BurgundyThe dynamic between Cynthia and Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna) is ever evolving. Initially Evelyn appears the part of a maid late for work on her first day. She’s obedient and demure in her duties, but under constant scrutiny and certain to make a mistake, and when she does she’s “punished” by being used as “a human toilet.” One might wince at such an act (it takes place offscreen, but the acute sound editing registers it profoundly in the viewer’s mind), but such are the games a pair in love play, and they go on to involve shining boots and being made to bake your own birthday cake without getting to eat it. Then there’s the time spent in that coffin-like chest – and through it all, Cynthia drinks plenty of water, ever ready to dispense her form of urinary discipline.   Continue reading

Inherent Vice

9 Jan

There’s drugs and free love a’plenty in Inherent Vice, but the characters steal the show 

Doc’s Orders

Joaquin Phoenix takes the audience on a trip in  'Inherent Vice'

Warner Brothers Pictures

Joaquin Phoenix takes the audience on a trip in ‘Inherent Vice’

Clearly Paul Thomas Anderson has a thing for the storied eras of America’s past. Boogie Nights welcomed in the rise of the porn industry during the flared-pant, disco-fueled 70s; the more nuanced The Master took up the arc of an L. Ron Hubbard-like charlatan in the wake WWII; while There Will be Bloodnegotiated the nasty, avaricious early roots of the American oil grab. Anderson’s latest, Inherent Vice, is no exception. In texture it’s an ode to the psychedelic 70s of free love and rampant recreational drug use.

Anderson’s always been a contemplative filmmaker with a keen sense of perverse quirk, and those qualities really come to the fore in Inherent Vice, a gumshoe noir on LSD if ever there was one. The stalwart indie director —who proved his ability to handle the opus works of literary lions by spinning Upton Sinclair’s Oil! into There Will be Blood — delves deep into Thomas Pychon’s far-roaming 2009 novel with baroque gusto. Continue reading

Child of God

4 Aug

<i>Child of God</i>

James Franco’s infatuation with the literati and his desire to be among the ranks continues with this adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy’s 1973 novel (his third) about a mentally handicapped malcontent who loses the family farm and evolves into something more feral and arguably evil. Best known for his Spiderman roles and Oscar-nominated turn in 127 Hours, Franco has just a small part in the film and steps behind the lens to helm the effort. It’s not the actor’s first time in the director’s chair; last year he tackled William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying and he’s working on a biopic of Charles Bukowski. (Purportedly, Franco wants to attempt an adaptation of Faulkner’s seemingly unadaptable The Sound and the Fury.)

Franco himself got the literary-to-screen treatment earlier this year when a collection of his short stories about growing up in the California ’burbs was crafted into the movie Palo Alto by Gia Coppola. Franco also had a role in that film, directed and starred in The Broken Tower, a biopic about the poet Harry Crane, and also played the renowned beat poet Allen Ginsberg in Jeffery Friedman and Rob Epstein’s tepid docudrama, Howl.   Continue reading