With its frank (read: extremely naked) depiction of sex between teenage characters, Larry Clark’s much-hyped 2002 film Ken
Park has yet to be released in North America. It’s not the first time a film has earned buzz for its sexual content, only to languish on the shelf, in censors’ hands, or in (extremely) limited release. Here are five of the most interesting.
Before Kids, there was Luna. If it seems audacious to suggest
that the template for the seminal American indie movie about drug-using,
sexually overcharged teenagers is an art film made by an Italian director in
1979 (starring ’70s feminist icon Jill Clayburgh, no less), you obviously haven’t seen
work in question. You probably haven’t seen it because the film has long been suppressed and censored, owing
to its central theme of mother-son incest shown in shockingly graphic (if not
exactly explicit) detail.
Upon the limited theatrical release of Bertolucci’s Luna,
officials in Ontario — for those of you rusty on your Canadian geography, it’s the
Canadian province of which Toronto is the capital — were scandalized
enough to censor the film, particularly the scene in which Clayburgh masturbates
her barely adolescent son, Joe,
through heroin withdrawal, and, oh yeah, the one in
which Joe goes down on his overly attentive mother.
Luna revolves around Caterina, an American opera diva who travels to Rome with her son (the moppet-haired Matthew Barry) after the unexpected death of her husband (improbably, The Munsters‘ Fred Gwynne) to perform a tour of Verdi operas. But one of the film’s first sequences sets an unexpected tone, as a gang of unruly teens on skateboards follow Caterina’s limousine somewhat menacingly down a winding road. At Joe’s birthday party, Caterina follows her son and a young Italian girl
as they steal away for what Caterina thinks will be his first kiss. As the camera inches around a corner, however, we see that the girl is lovingly easing a heroin needle into her son’s arm. Much drama — and incest — ensues.
(Interesting footnote: Matthew Barry is now a high-profile Hollywood casting director.)
Salo: or The 120 Days of Sodom
Pasolini’s final film, for which he was probably assassinated, might be the most horrifying movie ever made. Banned in a variety of municipalities since its 1976 release (including, yes, Ontario), this faithful adaptation of De Sade’s 120
Days of Sodom captures not only fascism’s brutality, but its deep recesses of sexual perversion.
Salo is set in a palatial estate where members of
the fascist ruling class have assembled a group of youths, intending to subject
them to sexual torture rituals. As the decrepit prostitute Signora
Maggi narrates tales of sexual excess, we are
inundated with scene after grueling scene of terror: the marriage ceremony of
a young boy in a wedding dress who is fed human shit by his aged "groom"; a contest in which the asses of the youths, arranged in a
circle, are judged so that the winner may be executed. If you thought the photographs from Abu Grahib looked familiar,
you’ve probably seen Salo.
Clueless critics like Leonard Maltin predictably give Pasolini’s
terrifying masterpiece a zero-star rating while lavishing Spielberg’s overpraised Schindler’s
List. While it’s true that Spielberg rips off Salo‘s grotesque final sequence (the scene in which fascists watch torture rites through binoculars mirrors the scene in Schindler’s
List in which Ralph Fiennes’ Nazi commandant shoots concentration camp victims through a telescopic lens for
sport), it’s Pasolini who truly captures the sexually monstrous nature of fascism.
His painterly tableaux were designed
for contemplation; Spielberg’s manipulative Hollywood techniques made atrocities seem almost like entertainment.
Yugoslavian director Dusav Makavejev’s bizarre Sweet Movie was — no surprise — banned in Ontario, the bellwether of world censorship, despite the fact that it was partly shot in Canada and stars Quebecois actress Carol Laure. Although not as interesting as Makavejev’s masterwork, 1971’s WR: Mysteries of the Organism, a meditation on the life and work of Wilhelm Reich, Sweet Movie has enough sexual excess to qualify it as one of the kinkiest movies ever made. Watching it back to back with Salo is instructive: both movies share many of the same ritualistic scenes of decadent behavior, but in Sweet Movie, extreme sex seems to be used for therapeutic purposes. Call it Salo lite.
The movie begins at a Miss World competition with a twist: the women are judged on the beauty of their vaginas. Miss Canada (Laure) wins, and is soon married to fellow Canadian actor John Vernon, who pulls out his golden dick and pisses. This is followed by a cut to Niagara Falls.
Things only gets stranger from there. After fucking Laure,
a Muslim muscleman puts her in a suitcase and checks her to Paris. Once
she arrives, Laure copulates with a singer on top of the Eiffel tower, but his
penis gets stuck in her vagina. A gaggle of nuns discovers the conjoined pair
and whisks them off to the hospital, where the dick is removed. A catatonic Laure
is subsequently breast-fed by a black woman, then seated at the table of a bacchanalia
in which men and women gorge themselves with food and wine, kiss each
other, then vomit and piss over the feast. It could be a scene right out of Salo, except everyone seems
to be having a lot more fun.
Sweet Movie is heavily symbolic, imbued with the
object relations and primal healing of Reichian therapy. (In one scene, an adult man is breast-fed, powdered
and diapered.) Laure, game for almost anything, ends up naked and writhing
in thick liquid chocolate. Another couple is completely covered
in sugar before the woman stabs the man in the genitals. At the end of the film,
that dead man and a bunch of murdered children who have been left, wrapped in
plastic, on the bank of the Seine come back to life, emerging from their cocoons.
The viewer is left to sort things out.
Paul Morrissey’s gritty, schizophrenic tribute to / indictment of the old Times Square prostitution scene has been all but lost; it’s available only over the internet, on (literally) degraded video with French subtitles. Perhaps that’s a fitting fate for this scurrilously reactionary yet compelling movie. Forty Deuce (1982) serves as a time capsule of its namesake 42nd Street, the rotten core of the Big Apple that once was a release valve for all of Manhattan’s pent-up, perverse sexual energy.
Intellectual critics always have a field day with Morrissey, partly because his upper-crust conservative values clash so spectacularly with his obviously sexual obsession with working-class hustlers, dressed up as it may be in Republican piety and disapproval. Morrissey himself sees the movie as an expose of “the great liberal lie” of sexual freedom; he always tries to condescend to his cracked-out characters, but his involuntary Warholian lust reflex usually wins out. Thank God.
The first half of Forty Deuce, shot in four days with a jittery hand-held 35mm camera, is practically a documentary. While a twelve-year-old runaway is about to expire of a drug overdose in a nearby hotel room, the hustlers responsible (an almost-too-convincing Kevin Bacon and Esai Morales) cruise the street, selling their bodies and other drugs. Eventually, they try to frame a rich, closeted john (Orson Bean) for their crime. The second half of the movie, shot in real time with two adjacent 16mm cameras, splits the screen in two while the hustlers, their pimp and the john argue over the boy’s body. While critics have fallen over themselves analyzing the effect of the split screen (Brechtian distanciation? A division of moral horror and aesthetic perception?), I prefer to appreciate it from a more Warholian perspective: it looks amazing.
|ABOUT THE AUTHOR:|
|Bruce LaBruce is a filmmaker, photographer and writer based in Toronto,
Canada. As a writer he has contributed to a wide variety of publications,
including the UK Guardian, The National Post, Black Book, Doingbird,
Dazed and Confused, Index and Vice. He was a regular columnist
for six years for Toronto’s weekly Eye magazine. His book The Reluctant
Pornographer, his premature memoirs, is available from Gutter Press.