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D. Maass

Real Sex in Unreal Films

I’ve always been a big Jackie Chan supporter. Not because his films are ever any good — because they’re not, except in their choreography — but because the man does his own stunts. And not only does he do his own stunts, but he’s so committed to his own stunts, that even after serious injury, he’ll still reject the offer of a double.

There’s a great bit in the post-credit blooper reel in Rumble in the Bronx where Chan snaps his ankle running down a dock and launching himself onto a moving hovercraft. He’s taken to the hospital just long enough to get patched up, and then he’s back on stage redoing the sequence with a sneaker-painted stocking pulled over his leg cast.

As far as physical suffering for a role goes, it doesn’t get much more hardcore than that.

Oh wait. Correction: It does. It gets a lot hardcore-ier. In the immortal words of Salt ‘n’ Pepa, let’s talk about sex … real sex, sex with penetration, in fictional film.

Until recently, I’ve been a grumbling opponent of real sex in film. My first exposure to intercourse in a supposedly non-pornographic film came during my sophomore year in college, when I was enrolled in a Japanese literature course and obligated to screen Nagisa Oshima’s 1976 controversial classic In the Realm of the Senses. Here was a film based on a true story of a Japanese prostitute, her rich lover, and their spiral into sexual degradation — which involved close-ups of fellatio and a woman inserting an egg and then squating it out again like a chicken.

The film destroyed the career of the female lead, Eiko Matsuda, who hid for the rest of her non-career in France (where, presumably, they’re more sexually awake), while the male lead, Tatsuya Fuji, went onto a prolific career in Japanese drama.

What a crummy double-standard, right? But more damning, for me at least, is how exhausting, how draining, the whole film was. It put me off sex for more than a week, which is a long time for 19-year-old college student.

I came to the conclusion that simulated sex would’ve been just fine for Oshima’s purposes. Props to the method actors of the world, the martyrs for the art (e.g., Christian Bale emaciating himself for The Machinist, Russell Crowe plumping himself for The Insider), but c’mon! For the sake of realism in action flick, would an actor take a knife in the gut, a bullet to the thigh? Simulation works just fine … and to tell you the truth, when it comes to something so physical like genuine intercourse, I’m just reminded that they’re actors, not characters.

And so, that’s why I avoided Vincent Gallo’s The Brown Bunny and Michael Winterbottom’s 9 Songs. Of course, I watched clips of Chloe Sevigny going down on Gallo, and Margo Stiley bringing Kieran O’Brien to climax, just to see. But, to drive home the point, let’s just say I didn’t watch them at a nice site like Film.com.

But then a friend demanded I screen Shortbus, John Cameron Mitchell’s follow-up to Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

Now, that’s a hardcore film. There’s no way to deny it — there are appendages inside orifices, and emissions on skin. But somehow, for the first time, it didn’t bother me. I figure it was all in the magic of Mitchell’s humor, his light-hearted treatment of sexual identity. I’m a whole lot less sexually repressed now, and that seemed to be the point of the film. After all, the main character, a relationship therapist, is on a quest to have her first orgasm. I’ll concede it — the film couldn’t have been made without the, you know, humpin’.

So, I was wrong. Chloe me.


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