Turned On, Tuned In: The Indie “O” Face


What’s turning me on this week? Justin Nowell’s “O” face. And sweaty naked Filipinos.

There’s a lot of sex in movies these days, and, I’d argue — even more of it in independent film. Independent and/or arthouse movies have largely championed what I believe to be the paramount intent of the art form that is ‘film’ — that is, pushing boundaries, re-framing cultural issues, and using a visual story-telling format to express alternative ways and means of comprehending things close, foreign, and completely inimitable.

Truly independent film largely skirts the burden of having to be a marketable piece of cinema, and, as such, can (thankfully) challenge us in several areas — one being the collective sexual identity of humankind. And that’s where I find myself today, finding Sex-as-a-concept dripping all over artful entertainment. In the indie vehicle World’s Greatest Dad, the issue of auto-erotic masturbation (one that’s cropped up all over the place in the last several years) serves as a crucial plot device. The episode of Battlestar Galactica that I’m watching as I write this (not indie, but, for the sake of argument, let’s call it niche) is all about the child sex trade (great show — but the issue is cheaply dealt with here).

Lately I’ve been learning and thinking more about independent and niche cinema, and sex — and I’d like to introduce you to two filmmakers that are rocking my world.

First: Justin Nowell. He makes shorts, and Sundance shared them online. As a fan of free love (and open, um, source), I dig the fact that his 2008 film Sick Sex and his 2009 short Acting for the Camera were free. (Now they’re available on iTunes and Amazon VOD.) These films aren’t porn. The 12-minute Sick Sex has a concise set up: “Amanda has a fever. Ken is horny.” We’ve certainly all been there, Ken. It’s a funny little sex comedy, and worth checking out.

Nowell’s other short, Acting for the Camera, is a fourteen minute short about students in an acting class’s rendition of the orgasm scene from last night — er, I mean, from When Harry Met Sally. Nowell approaches sex from a bit of a blunted position, using it as fodder for comedy, and not equating nudity with the topic of sex. This indirect-but-direct confrontation of sex is somewhat reminiscent of classic standup comedy tropes; it is fresh, and, like Nowell’s uptake of emerging technologies to shoot and distribute his films, it is also youthful and forward-looking.

The other filmmaker, Brilliante Mendoza, beat out seasoned directors like Inglorious Basterds‘s Quentin Tarantino to take the Best Director prize at Cannes this year. Mendoza, a neo-realist filmmaker (in both technique and character execution) from the Philippines, uses highly explicit sex in his films — as in this year’s Serbis. He lets full on nudity — sometimes not pretty — and sexual episodes propel his story, provide tone, and deepen his characters. Mendoza’s films have been met with much negative criticism — Ebert called Serbis the “worst film” at Cannes. Mainstream pubs like Variety label Mendoza as exploitative, but Tarantino (and others, such as Sean Penn) are lauding his work. And maybe it is — exploitative, that is. But if there’s one thing that sparks welcome debate, it’s a real artist that forces you to experience a controversial vision. And sweaty naked Filipinos.

What I’m getting at is simple. Films-as-art help us to evaluate our collective human sexual identity, whether it’s through the use of realist gritty scenes of sex, or fully clothed jokes and cum noises. And I think it’s important to care about art, and sex, and how we define and ultimately view both. I think seeking out the new, edgy, different, funny, raw, difficult and, sometimes, even exploitative can help us to better shape our representative stories and inform our views about life — which, as we know, is the highest of all art. That, and sweaty naked Filipinos.

Want some sex advice? Turned On, Tuned In author Bethany Perryman is here for you. You can get ‘in touch’ with her via email (bethany@filmschoolrejects.com) and/or follow her stream of hotness on Twitter at twitter.com/bethatasitmay

Bethany writes about sex. Suck it, nerds. Follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/bethatasitmay

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