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Non-Simulated Sex in Film vs. Pornography

October

over 5 years ago

I was at my local Videorama the other and decided to pick up John Cameron Mitchell’s Short Bus. The guy working there warned me that it was pornographic. I had read mixed reviews on it because of this factor. In some people’s words it is casually referred to as a Woody Allen movie with penetration. I told the guy that I am sure it’s not a porno flick, but if the use of non-simulated sex in film bothered him, he should check out Caligula. Caligula is in a class of its own!

This little moment sparked the thought of “where is the differing line between film with real non-simulated sex scenes vs straight up pornography”

I am interested in what the auteurs community would have to say on the matter, but my personal opinion is that I do appreciate how unapologetic and unbridled these films are, films like Short bus, and In the Realm of the Senses, and other films that contain non-simulated sex where the actors actually penetrate and ejaculate-for the sake of character development, relationship dynamics or simply fulfilling the vision the director intended for the film.

But the main difference between these films and traditional porn is that in porn the story line directs the actors to sex, its forced and unbelievable. Where as films like “In the Realm of the Senses” where the story line is about a couple who is so completely obsessed with each other that their sexual connection treads into the realm of self-destruction which in a way sounds really cool, and gratifying but when you start talking about penis-amputation to prove loyalty I start to think, ok I guess moderation in everything can at times apply to sex.

The second point to the argument of non-simulated sex in film is that if its ok to paint steamy graphic sex scenes in novels, then why should we not have it in film? In contrast though let’s not take the same route as porn and put sex in the film for the sake of watching sex, but if it adds to character development and brings new insight to the story then let’s not as Hollywood it up and falsify it and take away from the story and lower the quality of the film making it difficult for the audience to identify with.

I will now step off my soapbox now, and let someone else speak.

The following are a few good films to reference in this argument:

Baise-Moi
Ken Park
Lust Caution
Caligula
In the Realm of the Senses
Pola X
A Hole in My Heart

Harry Long

over 5 years ago

>>But the main difference between these films and traditional porn is that in porn the story line directs the actors to sex, its forced and unbelievable.<<
I’d go a bit further here and note that in porno there’s only as much story or dialogue as is necessary to get to the next sex scene. The sex scenes, in fact are the poinyt of the story, just as the slaughter scenes are the point of films like FRIDAY THE 13TH (one reason I always distinguish such films as “goreno” rather than horror). Also, the sex scenes in SHORTBUS tell us things about the characters, even if sometimes we don’t understand the clues until later (why the sex therapist seems to be approaching sex so frantically, for instance). Could this have been accomplished soft-core? Probably, though I suspect the following dramtic content might have a good deal less edge, and the important thing to remember is that the directors and actors (who were not porno performers) agreed this was the route to go.
Of course the afct that I have no moral or philosophical problems with porno probably allows me to appreciate SHORTBUS more than someone who’s offended by non-simulated sex scenes.

>.The second point to the argument of non-simulated sex in film is that if its ok to paint steamy graphic sex scenes in novels, then why should we not have it in film?<<
An excellent argument.

bob crane

over 5 years ago

I have a linguistic limitation in that I cannot think of a word which denotes ‘explicit’ sex with artistic merit (pornography being explicit sex without artistic merit – not always fair description to even some of what we could consider pornography – thinking some of Mapplethorpe’s or Serrano’s photography). That being said and despite my namesake I do find myself finding those films I have seen with explicit sex nearly always unnecessary and somewhat exploitative (how very ‘catholic’ of me I know – and I’m an atheist nonetheless). Though I have to say most of the films mentioned I have not seen with the exception of Caligula (which I find rather ridiculous) and In The Realm of the Senses (which has been too many years since I’ve seen to comment fairly). I suppose a question is ‘Is it necessary to have explicit sex in a film about sexuality’ in the same regard as is it necessary to have ‘actual’ violence in a film about brutality (as violent as Pasolini’s Salo is, it is still obviously simulated and I think I’d have great distaste for the film if I believed it was ever anything more than a portrayal. Suspension of disbelief is so rewarding and liberating in situations which would otherwise be unbearable). Maybe I’m waiting for a film to prove me wrong. I’ll have to see Shortbus sometime to draw a conclusion on that film.

All that being said, what an awfully difficult position to put an actor in as well. Good subject for discussion though!

Willam

over 5 years ago

I read Salo: 120 Days of Sodom, and never imagined one could make that into a film. I viewed it for the first time a few months back and it was brutal, once the credits rolled it felt as though I had been punched in the stomach. The closing scene of the two boys dancing was beautifully done.

mmoore

over 5 years ago

I’ve not seen SHORTBUS, I did watch Winterbottom’s 9 SONGS last year: Sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll … but mostly sex, explicit, very un-simulated. And a pretty boring movie for all of that. The rock is maybe the least of it — long shots of bands on stages far away, fans waving their arms. Though the sex was often framed and lit in interesting ways, it felt clinical. The undeveloped characters seemed out of the 70s, detached sexual acrobats. (I read that the young model who played Lisa, Margo Stilley, had been unable to find work after exposing herself so completely in this film.) A couple of moments do grab the attention. I won’t go into detail on a public forum. Stephen Holden wrote that this is the sort of honest sex we expected to see in films following Deep Throat, but we never did. That is exactly what this film is: the movie after Deep Throat, made three decades later.

I always liked Tom McGuane’s description of the typical pornographic movie, and probably I paraphrase here: ‘Like watching a couple of Brillopads in a fight over a frankfurter.”

Justin Biberkopf

over 5 years ago

Bruno Dumont uses scenes of unsimulated sex in his films. Usually it’s for the opposite of stimulation, it’s to reveal how ugly people look when they’re fucking. How scary they are. I don’t happen to always agree with him, but he’s very misanthropic. Sex is the only way the young lovers relate to each other in both Life of Jesus and L’Humanite, so it has to be shown, I suppose, in order to justify the narrative fact that the young men in both films become killers, in a way that their girlfriends do not see coming. (Not meant as a bad pun.)

I guess the best argument for it is that it brings the movie star down to a more human level, which is generally needed. When you think, “That’s Marlon Brando up there with a girl putting her fingers in his ass,” it reveals something more human about the actor. But that’s partly because Last Tango in Paris was made when Brando was already very famous, very untouchable. Using young unknown actors to do unsimulated sex is a bit less of a deconstruction and a bit more verging on exploitation, unless it is very intellectualized all the way, as in Dumont or Breillat.

Steve Oerkfit​z

over 5 years ago

Justin-Actually I find seeing actors/actresses having sex takes me away from the character and focuses me on the performer. I’m
no longer watching the character I’m evaluating the performers attributes which doesn’t help the film in the long run. I think in the long run it’s distracting. Besides I don’t think you will find many actors/actresses willing to go there and I really can’t blame them.

Harry Long

over 5 years ago

>>Though I have to say most of the films mentioned I have not seen with the exception of Caligula (which I find rather ridiculous)<<
I don’t think CALIGULA is a good example for a variety of reasons. First, it was planned by producer Bob Guccione to be fairly erotic and exploitative. I think he got Gore Vidal to write the screenplay only to give it a veneer of respectability. Second, the most explicity sequences in the film were made after the fact, when the film was not found to be quite “sexy” enough for Guccione … so McDowell, O’Toole, et al did not sign to do the movie as a triple X feature. It was made into one after their participation was long done.
Admittedly I’ve only seen SHORTBUS and CALIGULA of the films mentioned here, but I would never put these two in the same category.

Rodney Welch

over 5 years ago

I don’t think you should have real sex in movies for the same reason I don’t think you should have real violence. Movies are an illusion. Real life takes you out of it.

Craig Harshaw

over 5 years ago

Marco Bellochio’s remake of Devil in the Flesh has a remarkable obviously not faked oral sex scene. It works very well within the overall intellectual/emotional structure of that film.

Justin Biberkopf

over 5 years ago

That’s true, Rodney. They call it “acting” for a reason. But maybe, like so many other things, that’s become tarnished for us today, suspect, like the way we tend to prefer reading nonfiction now to reading fiction. Stick to the facts, or factoids, etc.

Justin Biberkopf

over 5 years ago

Then there’s an anomalous, highly conceptual film like Warhol’s “Blowjob,” where the camera stays fixed on the face of a male hustler leaning against a wall while another guy (below the camera range) delivers the title action. We never see the sex, only the reaction, which doesn’t seem faked, since the guy’s a non actor. Nonetheless this film was deemed obscene and people were arrested for screening it. Warhol’s point was that the less you romanticize and “soft-focus” sex, the more powerful it becomes, so that even when it’s not fully shown it has a way of taking over the imagination. But it’s hard to imagine a director doing this within the framework of a narrative film.

Harry Long

over 5 years ago

>>Movies are an illusion.<<
But how much? There’s the rub …
There’s a great deal of sniping about CGI (like we’re going to make it go away) on this and other boards. One poster in a remake thread (possibly not on this board) opined that a remake of THE BIRDS would suck because they birdies would be CGI, not “real.” (Actually a lot of Hitchcocks were animated & puppets, but never mind.) And I have to admit most of today’s action movies do little for me because there’s no sense of the stunts being death-defying or even dangerous if they’re created in the computer.
A movie that’s entirely illusion would be, oh, TOY STORY.
So obviously a (live action) movie is some combination of reality and illusion.

croonie

over 5 years ago

It’s the “life immitates art” (or vice versa) effect that Andy “Narcissist” Warhol was so excited to film that compels the said writer/director to capture the details of intimate exchanges. I don’t find most of it necessary; however, it falls into the pornography category. Especially because homemade porn is king. Uploaded from a home computer. Make up a story about how much these two love eachother and there you have “10 Songs: A Sequel”.
The category non-simulated does not exist. It’s either softcore or hardcore. That is the question.

MCHIL

over 5 years ago

I think that this is a really interesting topic, which can also be applied to violence in film. I think what is important to note here is intention and audience. Although in many instances explicit sex scenes in certain films (In the Realm of Senses, 9 Songs, Caligula, etc.) appear to be no different from some pornographic films, it is most often the intention of the film and the audience the film is being directed towards, which separates the two. Pornography, simply put, is the commercialization of sex, which exploits women and perpetuates many, often debasing, sexual stereotypes. It is an industry, a large one, and it is motivated by the production of capital; the intention of pornographic films is to commercialize sex to stimulate sexual feelings in its viewers. In addition, there is LOTS of porn that is far more explicit and debasing that anything that would be seen in artistic film. Pornography has a specific intent and is directed towards a specific (and large) audience. Just because a film will show penetration does not necessarily make it a “pornographic” film. The difference between porn and seemingly pornographic films, lets just say In the Realm of Senses, is the focus on character development, which although it includes “real” intercourse is still focused on the changes and the lives of the characters in the film. It is the intention of the films, which often dictates the audience the film is being directed towards, which separates the two. Also, I believe the OED definition of pornography will help clear things up:

“1. a. the explicit description or exhibition of sexual subjects or activities in literature, paintings, film, etc., in a manner intended to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic feelings;”

I think with all this in consideration what becomes interesting is examining what films utilize non-simulated sex and to what intent. For me, In the Realm of Senses is clearly not intended to be pornography, or rather to stimulate erotic feelings over aesthetic, because the film narrative is focused more on the lives of the characters rather than their sexual exploits together. Caligula, on the other hand, particularly the unrated version, seems to be harder to judge, because there are many, many non-simulated sex scenes which have nothing to do with the characters involved. To a certain extent, the exposure of such massive amounts of sexual activity to Caligula at such a young age does directly affect his character, and it may have been the point of the director to illustrate this to the audience. But, there are many scenes which can not even be categorized as affecting Caligula – scenes that would not inhibit the aesthetic intention of the film if they were removed. Caligula is harder to categorize still, because many of the actors, or extras, were working with Penthouse. This fact brings into question the intention of certain scenes of the film.

This is an interesting debate because it very difficult to categorize the intention and intended audience of films, particularly when you are examining artistic film, but I think it is imperative to attempt to examine the artistic merits of the film and the films intentions if you are going to separate pornographic films and non-simulated sex in film.

Justin Biberkopf

over 5 years ago

Yes Mchil, that’s an excellent point — about intention, and also about the fact that any film with artistic substance is already in a different category from porn. Also, we should mention that even a film that is not explicit can be erotic. To be turned on by a (love) scene in a movie is part of the moviegoing experience, arguably, and it is usually not thought of as pornographic, although this may be somewhat hypocritical.

As for Warhol, I happen to think he was a genius, and his films raise many of the same issues as his pop art paintings — what is the subject? who is seeing, who is being seen? The fact that so many of his so-called controversial movies are actually somewhat boring is his way of deflating taboos in the first place, rather than sensationalizing them. It’s with Warhol that all of this demystification of sex begins in cinema.

Musycks

over 5 years ago

I’m with Steve… I’m distracted form the film when I see it, thinking about what it would take for an actor to agree, and what are the consequences personally for that ‘brave’ choice. It takes me out of the film because it’s so rare to see in a mainstream film. Whereas I find the current uber-violence even more pornographic to be honest…… and I’m no prude and not in favour of heavy censorship at all.

Harry Long

over 5 years ago

>>I find the current uber-violence even more pornographic to be honest……<<
I think the important thing to remember is whether it’s violence or explicit sex or use of the zoom lens, everything depends on the integrity of the artist/director. If you take Ken Russell’s THE DEVILS and hand it over to Andy Milligan you get GURU, THE MAD MONK, don’t you? What is the difference in the level of the violence in any FRIDAY THE 13TH sequel/copycat versus a typical Peckinpah film?
Explicit sex is yet another choice that we shouldn’t deny real artists just because hacks might misuse it.
And if it makes you uncomfortable to view it, there’s a simple solution, isn’t there?

MCHIL

over 5 years ago

Justin, I absolutely agree with you about being turned on as a moviegoing experience. I think that is a critical point to many scenes in film, but it becomes a very difficult thing to separate being turned on by a love scene and being physically sexually aroused, since they are (obviously) very closely related. In that sense, intent is key.

As for Warhol, I haven’t seen any of his films, but you seem to be extremely intelligent and you have definitely heightened my interest. I wonder, are his films very accessible, and I mean that in both the physical accessibility and the artistic accessibility for someone who is watching them?

Musycks

over 5 years ago

Harry….. it doesn’t make me uncomfortable at all…… I’m just reminded I’m watching a film when I’d rather be immersed in the experience and not jolted out of it because I suddenly am confronted with something I don’t really see in mainstream cinema. Kubrick was keen on showing actual penetration in his films but baulked at the baggage it wuld have created for him to deal with…. would Clockwork Orange have been a better film with actual sex scenes? I doubt it, it’s pretty powerful as is… and Peckinpah violence is usually consequential and real world grounded, rather than the cartoon violence of Friday The 13th……. violence with consequences is more powerful than gratuitous violence.

Justin Biberkopf

over 5 years ago

Mchil, unfortunately Warhol’s work is not often screened. Some of his films are conceived to run for hours, sometimes as many as twenty-four. So that’s one reason. His films are often just as well described as seen, some of the more conceptual ones. But some of his films, like “Chelsea Girls,” “My Hustler,” “Lonesome Cowboys,” are like actual films, somewhere between home movies of very outlandish people and modern comedies of manners (where there are no manners, lol). I’m doing a poor job of describing his work. There’s very little editing, mainly long takes in which people wander in and out of frame, plop down, start talking, and talking, and talking, have sex, argue. He did a film of someone sleeping for hours, a film of people kissing for hours, a film of people sitting on a couch, a film of people eating. Things like that.

And thanks for thinking I’m intelligent. I’d like to think so, even though I act very impulsively at times and mess up a lot. One of the reasons I like movies so much I guess — they’re reversible.

Matthew

over 5 years ago

This is tough for me to figure out, but I love thinking about this subject.
Recording people having sex doesn’t make something pornographic, maybe just graphic? Recording with the intent to arose and get off sexually is what I think best defines porn, and it is (still) an art form (but what isn’t? nothing I say). Someone intends something else, it’s something else, but that doesn’t mean that I/you will read it the way the author desires. So porn is never really porn, nothing else is really ever what it is defined to be either, things blur into other things at the edge of their territory. People masturbate, with or without porn, I started masturbating to regular movies before finding porn… This has already been said, cool,

Willam

over 5 years ago

Has anyone seen Behind the Green Door? If so, is it worth checking out… I’ve looked for it a few months ago, and could not find it anywhere

SOYBEAN

about 5 years ago

Me thinks this thread is going to a dark, dark place, eventually. I’ll just say that I agree that it is too much of a distraction to help any serious film (imo). Maybe I’ll be proven wrong, but I doubt it.

Harry Long

about 5 years ago

>>Harry….. it doesn’t make me uncomfortable at all……<<
Actually, Musycks, I’d meant that “you” generically, not specifically you.
I think all of us have films we know in advance are most likely not going to be our cup of oolong and we avoid them.

CineSna​g

about 5 years ago

I approve

Shotzi

about 5 years ago

I love that “Harry Long” and “Bob Crane” were the first two people to respond. Fitting.

Hung Lo

about 5 years ago

Hi guys, what’s going on?

jordaan mason

about 4 years ago

okay, this topic’s kind of old but i thought i would say a few things…

the comparison between “real violence” and “real sex” in films here is really unsettling. i don’t really feel like violence and sex should be considered in the same category. unless the sex is rape, and unless that rape is also unsimulated (as in the raping is unsimulated, not the fucking that occurs during the raping, per se, if the raping is being acted), in which case the sexual act becomes the violent act. otherwise, they are completely separate; violence and sexuality, though at times linked and though both transgressive, are not the same and should not be treated as such.

also, i’m not sure how familiar most of the people in this thread are with the pornography industry, but while there is definitely an absurd amount of films being made exploitatively, and for the sheer purpose of getting someone off only (this being the large portion of porn, admittedly – although really who’s the say what the difference is between watching a film to masturbate and “get off” and watching a film that is violent, scary, upsetting, depressing, or any emotion really in a strong way that gives you some form of “release” that is “cathartic”), there is a surprising amount of porn that is tackling real issues about gender, race, sexuality. there is a whole subculture of independent porn filmmakers, similiar to the underground culture of cinema versus the larger corporate of hollywood, trying to make porn that actually has important things to say, and that also simultaneously can get the viewer “off” still but in ways that are breaking the conventions of narrative within the porn structure. porn is much more multilayered than it may appear to be.

HOW the sex is shown can really affect the meaning of the act, and thus the meaning of the film overall.

bruce labruce’s NO SKIN OFF MY ASS has an unbelievably tender unsimulated sex scene, which basically creates the entire foundation between the two men in the film; whereas CALIGULA is sexually exploitative and ridiculous and orgyastic because that’s exactly what rome was like, historically, at the time of caligula’s reign.

these make sense, really; whether the film is good or not in the end is obviously entirely subjective, personal, etc., and whether or not you’re offended by blatant sexualtiy in film has a lot to do with yourself, your own sexuality and identity, and your own experience brought to the film when you view it. we could all debate the merits of a film forever, but in the end it’s personal, right?

this kind of got rant-y, which i apologize for. i think mostly i am just more often offended by violence, personally, than sex, and have always found it incredibly interesting how frequently people have the opposite reaction.

MARK HAS 50 WORDS FOR SNOW

about 4 years ago

I don’t believe Alejandro Jodorowsky’s “El Topo” has been mentioned on this list. Alejandro has stated the scene where he sexually assaults the woman was non-simulated, consensual intercourse.

Coming from Alejandro (I just realised how awkward that sounds), I’d believe it.

“Language of Love” is a Swedish film that could fit this list, but that’s hardly surprising when we’re discussing Sweden (this is the “date movie” Travis and Betsy see in “Taxi Driver”; I own a copy and it’s actually really tame). Nobody would mistake this film as an attempt at “art”: it’s a very straightforward sex manual and much of it is actually not that arousing.

I would suspect “Behind Convent Walls” by Walerian Borowczyk, the scene between the man and the nun near the end of the film, but I cannot be certain, might need to rewatch it (any excuse). The film also has a really smashing scene where one of the sisterhood penetrates herself with a phallic wooden object. The editing and cinemaphotography in this scene are both top notch, and it’s actually a pretty “artsy” film overall, with a tremendous sense of humour.