Monday, May 12, 2008

The cinema on sex

Karen Bach as Nadine in Baise Moi
In the course of doing some research, specifically on the 2000 French film Baise Moi (a montage {"it's gotta be a montage"} from which, set to music, I am considering for Friday's traditio) I stumbled upon on an editorial from the from Winter 2001 (Vol. XXVII No. 1) issue of the film magazine Cineaste. The editorial discusses sex in film, particularly in light of a spate of French films released in 1999 and 2000, among which Baise Moi stood out for its graphic sex, not to mention violence. There is a real life tragedy that plays out in the life of one of the film's leading actresses, Karen Bach. After a four year career starring in pornographic movies, Baise Moi was her last film. She hoped that playing Nadine in this novel adapted to film by the author and co-directed by the author and another female adult film star, would launch her career as an actress. It did not and in January 2005, after several years of trying to make it as an actress and singer, she collapsed in despair, committing suicide and leaving only a note for her parents, that read "too painful".

This same issue of the magazine contains a deeply insightful article by Linda Williams entitled Cinema and the Sex Act. Anyway, here is the paragraph from the editorial that I found worth passing along:

"What passes for 'graphic' representations of sex in mainstream American films tends to be a highly stylized affair, often a suggestive montage of body parts conjoined in passionate embrace, featuring remarkably well-toned, well-tanned torsos (usually those of body doubles for the stars) athletically managing a variety of impressive couplings, which invariably result, complete with a musical crescendo, in a simultaneous climax. Such an idealized representation of sex, of course, spares moviegoers the unappealing sight of real, often flabby, human flesh and the sometimes clumsy, usually asynchronous rhythms of two desiring bodies. What is also missing is any sense of the true nature of intimacy, which results when two adults negotiate the reality of sex, which, to some extent, means abandoning the fantasy of sex as sold by mainstream cinema."

When it comes to sex, we in the U.S. are adolescents and, as far as I can tell, quite happy to remain so. By writing that I do not mean that we need more and more graphic sex in movies, but merely that what typically concerns us about sex is not much worth being concerned about. After all, de Sade was correct in his insistence, dubbed "the philosophy of the bedroom", that sex, philosophy, and politics go together. It is not a choice, it is the way things are, it is part of being human, a complex, complicated, and often ambiguous part, which makes it all the more authentically human.

"Sexuality," we read in the Catechism, "affects all aspects of the human person in the unity of his body and soul" (par. 2332). Therefore, it is necessary that "every man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his[/her] sexual identity" (par. 2333). The meaning of chastity is "the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of [each person] in his[/her] bodily and spiritual being" (par. 2337). Our sexuality is an expression of our "belonging to the bodily and biological world". It is made "personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman" (par. 2337).

UPDATE: Looking at this post a few days later, my reaction is- Mon Dieu! What a predictably preachy way for a deacon to end a post such as this! So, I am reminded of a conversation between George Weigel and Dr. Rowan Williams, that took place not long after Dr. Williams, who is simply a brilliant Christian thinker, was named Archbishop of Canterbury. As Weigel reports it, the talk turned to "the human condition", specifically "the difference between 'sacramental' and 'gnostic' understandings" about what it is to be human. "The former insists that the stuff of the world – including maleness, femaleness, and their complementarity — has truths built into it; gnostics say it’s all plastic, all malleable, all changeable. The sacramentalists believe that the extraordinary reveals itself through the ordinary: bread, wine, water, salt, marital love and fidelity; the gnostics say it’s a matter of superior wisdom, available to the enlightened (which can mean, the politically correct). Dr. Williams seemed convinced that the gnosticism of a lot of western high culture posed a great danger to historic Christianity and the truths it must proclaim". I, too , am convinced. We must tread cautiously, however, because the primary truth is not about how we should behave sexually. Rather, it is about our identity, about who we are, and what we are to be in Christ Jesus.

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