Lovelace, the disappointingly thin Linda Lovelace biopic from usually reliable directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, is out on DVD and Blu-ray this week, where it will presumably find its intended audience: people who want to see Amanda Seyfried naked. But that’s about all that’s memorable in the limp picture, yet another case of a movie ostensibly about sex that turns out to be anything but sexy. No, seriously, it’s an epidemic. Here’s a few examples:
Deep Throat made porn chic and Linda Lovelace a household name back in 1972; years later, she wrote a book called Ordeal about the experience, claiming her husband/manager forced her into porn and prostitution, and noting, “everyone that watches Deep Throat is watching me being raped.” Lovelace tries to have it both ways, reducing her story to a kind of Rashomon lite, first telling the tale as a go-go ha-ha Boogie Nights rip-off, then retelling it as a dark story of victimization. Trouble is, neither version is all that compelling, and the shoddy execution is nearly as sad as the story itself.
David Cronenberg is the master of icky, uncomfortable horror — which maybe isn’t a quality you’d want in the story of an underground sexual subculture. But the filmmaker presumably wasn’t interested in a skin flick when he signed on to adapt J.G. Ballard’s novel; he seized on the mechanical-fetish elements of the story to create a film that is riveting and unnerving, yet certainly (what with all the crashing cars and wound penetration and so on) not erotic.
Eyes Wide Shut
As with Crash, an argument could be made that Stanley Kubrick wasn’t trying to make a sexy movie at all — that his film was about sexual frustration, about Tom Cruise’s foiled attempts to get laid (and thus about male impotence in the broader context, or whatever close reading you’d care to apply). And, again, the result is a fascinating and strange picture. But on the base level we’re discussing here, it’s a remarkably lustless flick, and it’s hard to comprehend a scene with as many naked people as EWS’s orgy sequence that somehow doesn’t get your pulse pounding.
If Crash and EWS’s lack of sexiness was purposeful, director Paul Verhoeven and writer Joe Eszterhas could make no such claim about their 1995 cause célèbre. Intended to be the big-budget studio picture that finally made the NC-17 rating reputable, it was instead a goofy exploitation movie that seemed to exist solely as a showcase for the toned body and limited acting ability of former Saved by the Bell star Elizabeth Berkley. But as fetching as The Artist Formerly Known as Jessie is, the film’s eroticism is crass, slick, shiny, and mostly off-putting, its laughably overwrought pool sex scene between Berkley and Kyle MacLachlan (which Pajiba accurately describes as “a reenactment of two blind, cracked-out dolphins having sex”) the film’s undisputed lowlight.
Body of Evidence
Verhoeven and Eszterhas’ previous hit, Basic Instinct, prompted a flurry of “erotic thriller” imitators in the early 1990s, none worse than Uli Edel’s 1993 bomb. Based on the preposterous notion of a woman on trial for killing her husband with her lethal sex (hers is the titular “body,” get it?!?), Evidence matches up Willem Dafoe at his skeeziest and Madonna at her most plasticky to give us a series of increasingly uncomfortable sex scenes, dutifully trotting out S&M tropes like bondage and hot candle wax as props. In watching the ill-paired duo go through the motions of taboo sex, one can’t help but think of the old saw: They know the words, but not the music.
Considering that the most of the buzz surrounding Steve McQueen’s 2011 film centered on handsome star Michael Fassbender and its prominent display of his manparts, some of its audience may have been surprised to discover a (masterfully crafted!) thoroughly depressing and all but hopeless story of crippling sexual addiction.
Last Tango in Paris
To be clear: Last Tango is brilliant, a no-holds-barred examination of midlife crisis and sexual obsession. And there’s no question that Maria Schneider is ooh la la — as was Marlon Brando (in his day, at the very least). But Mr. Brando’s distinctive and inimitable brand of dirty talk, with its butter and fingernails and pig vomit and bestiality, is a major-league buzzkill.
There’s nothing more boring than someone else’s fetish, and this 1996 documentary from director Nick Broomfield (Kurt and Courtney, Biggie and Tupac) generates interest not by lingering on the details of the sessions at New York City fetish parlor Pandora’s Box, but by focusing on the logistics of such a business’ day-to-day operations.
Porn Star: The Legend of Ron Jeremy
Mr. Jeremy may be blessed with the ideal equipment for a porn star, but holy cow do you have to get past the rest of the package. Scott J. Gill’s 2001 documentary features plenty of clips and details from his, erm, oeuvre, but if a bit of demystification is par for the course with behind-the-scenes porno films, any residual eroticism is thoroughly drained by two hours of watching Jeremy schlep his trash bags (he doesn’t wanna spring for luggage) through airports and do bad stand-up comedy at strip clubs.
Sex: The Annabel Chong Story
Shame and Lovelace are like mirthful, American Pie-style sex romps compared to Gough Lewis’ 1999 documentary profile of Annabel Chong, star of the 1995 porn film The World’s Biggest Gang Bang, in which she had sex with 69 men in ten hours. If that sounds less like eroticism than endurance, gold star; the portrait of its subject is no less sunny, depicting a fiercely intelligent college student who bends herself into intellectual pretzels to justify her work, only to reveal depression, substance abuse, and troubled sexual history. Few films have made the business of sex seem as unseemly and exploitative.