Thanks to Netflix, it has become easier to watch controversial movies at home, but it’s also harder to find the quality. Often times a movie’s description is more misleading than helpful and may lead a person to feel duped once the credits have rolled. Following the website-generated suggestions only takes you so far—or right into the awaiting arms of something too line-crossing for a newbie – and a quick Google search turns up pages and pages of porn.
I think it’s time someone makes this search a little less difficult. Yes, there are tons of lists out there compiled by reputable sites detailing which sex-centric movies are the quintessential, the most titillating, and even the most disgusting, but what if you just want to put your toe into the sex movie pool? You can have a movie that’s all about sex but doesn’t have one hot sex scene or a drop of chemistry in it…hello Last Tango in Paris!
Foreign Sex: Shock and Awe
Over the years, foreign cinema has been able to push more boundaries than its American counter-part. That’s not to say there aren’t some great daring movies made in the States (we’ll get to those shortly), foreign filmmakers have just been able to do it longer and better. Now, I could start at the beginning of cinema history and tell you all about how a newbie to sex movies should watch Ecstasy but I’m more interested in sharing movies that whetted my appetite.
I previously mentioned my tumultuous relationship with French provocateur Catherine Breillat, but without her exploration of sex on screen the entire genre would be amiss. Fat Girl was the first of her salacious movies I ever viewed, and I still get squeamish when I think about it. Anais (Anais Reboux) is a young girl spending her summer holiday in a beach town with her parents and beautiful older sister Elena (Roxane Mesquida). She is an insecure, yet precocious and thoughtful child, constantly reflecting on her and Elena’s developing sexuality. Breillat never eases up on the sexually fueled situations and images as 12-year-old Anais watches 15-year-old Elena’s multiple uncomfortable intimate moments with her older summer fling Fernando (Libero De Rienzo). She insists on both exploiting these children and the sexual acts they engage in, but what she excels at is refraining from judgment. She genuinely wants to display the consequences of young love.
Bernardo Bertolucci also has a history of exploring the consequences of sex in his movies. Much like Breillat’s obsession with young people fucking, his 2003 comeback The Dreamers revolves around three beautiful college students in 1968 Paris. Matthew (Michael Pitt), an American student studying abroad, meets and beds siblings Isabelle (Eva Green) and Theo (Louis Garrel). Their intensely passionate threesome mirrors the commotion happening outside Isabelle and Theo’s flat as Paris is stormed by student rioters. It’s almost too literal at times, with the sex starting off innocent, turning complicated, and eventually leaving more than one casualty in its wake.
Thank You James Spader: Fetishes Go Mainstream
Sex in a car seems pretty tame when you can have sex during a car crash. David Cronenberg’s twisted fetish flick Crash introduced me to the pent up sexiness of James Spader. Watching him slowly slip into depravity as a man obsessed with sexy times with crash victims actually opened my eyes to a world beyond understood fetishes. While often considered ridiculous at its worst and disturbing at its best, Crash was on the forefront of the domestication of fetishes and proved no one can top Spader at controlled sexual combustion.
Spader returned seven years later as a fetishist in 2002’s Secretary. I have never shied away from my intense love for this movie, and I admit it is to blame for a few of my sexual exploits—life imitates art after all. To this day I have not seen a fetish movie deal with the subject as respectfully as Secretary, as Mr. Grey and Lee (Maggie Gyllenhaal) both understand and challenge their roles in the established sadomasochist relationship. I believe a good sexually exploitative film should stick with you long after the tingly feeling stops in your pants, and it’s satisfying to see such a feminist sex-positive movie still titillates 8 years later.
Kids do the Darnedest Things
It is funny how different a movie appears when you watch it at 13 and when you watch it again at 25. Despite its opening sex scene between two minors, the main character Telly’s (Leo Fitzpatrick) mission to deflower all his street’s virgins, and the unforgettable final shot of the troubled Casper (Justin Pierce) sleep-raping HIV-positive Jennie (Chloe Sevigny), Larry Clark’s first feature Kids was nowhere near as shocking to me as a teen as it should have been. I was more excited about finding a special late night gem, than I was about the way sex was used against all the characters. But as an adult I recognized the sex in Kids is meant to oppress women and exert dominance over male friends. It is never loving or fantastical. Instead it is raw, disturbing, and full of hate.
Now, not all sex movies about kids behaving badly are troubling. Paul Sapiano cheeky mock-PSA The Boys and Girl’s Guide to Getting Down portrays LA twenty-somethings as horny drug addicts, walking the viewer through a typical evening out with this group of friends. Many try and fail at reaching their ultimate sexy goal, but the ones who do succeed receive their reward against a bathroom sink, a rich man’s fancy mattress, and in the back of a classic car.
Modern American movies do not come more controversial than John Cameron Mitchell’s Shortbus. Mitchell takes a page out of smut master John Waters’ book, but goes a little farther than even his mentor could—on-screen penetration. A sex therapist who cannot climax with her husband, a monogamous gay couple contemplates adding another man to their family, and a secretive dominatrix are all greeted by explicit orgies of real-life sexual-charged couples at the exclusive Shortbus club. While movies like Brown Bunny and 9 Songs may have shown real-life sex acts, Shortbus does not abuse sex on screen. It is not out of the blue or the only point to the plot. Sex explains the characters and furthers their stories along.
Sex movies are more than just the sum of their parts and should be viewed for more than just a three-minute graphic scene. Exploring sex-centric movies should be fun, and with the right foundation the perfect fit is easy to find.