Is Deep Throat sexier than the 1934 Tarzan and His Mate?
TWO FINGERS UP: How did Last Tango in Paris ever get taken seriously?
The omission from Indie Sex, the IFC’s new four-part history of sexuality in the movies, of an episode called “Wanks” is a surprising one: surely no survey of this field can call itself complete that fails to catalogue at least a few of cinema’s most venerably encrusted jerk-off sequences. On four consecutive midnights (August 1–4) we get “Censored,” “Taboos,” “Teens,” and “Extremes,” all very thorough and interesting, but no “Wanks.” Of the assembled talking heads, only recording artist Ari Gold (not to be confused with Jeremy Piven’s character on Entourage) seems to have the right idea: as a throbbing teen (he confides) he abused himself so ardently to the sex scene from The Terminator that the videotape was almost destroyed. In this spirit, would it be giving you too much information to tell you that a tape of Volker Schlondorff’s Swann In Love became, for a humid moment in 1985, the very text of my young libido? Quite possibly, because nobody mentions this film on Indie Sex. They do however mention Porky’s, another (perhaps more typical) event in my private sexual revolution. What a crappy film it was, and yet how imperishable is that scene where the gurgling high school boys leer through a tiny hole at a group of showering girls. Voyeurism in excelsis: the peephole is roughly at knee-level, and the strong-legged laughing girls, shaking water from their hair in the pride of their nudity, seem magnified and worshipped by this stolen gaze. Memories, steaming memories.
The four hour-long episodes of Indie Sex come at their subject from a variety of angles. “Censored” describes the complex dance performed by filmmakers around the various strictures and standards of officialized morality, including the Golden Age of triple-X porn and Deep Throat. But limits, as everybody knows, are a wonderful thing: with the enforcement of the Hays Code beginning in the ’30s, and with the ever-present threat of a boycott by the Catholic Legion of Decency, directors funneled the erotic yearnings of a mass audience into a highly refined symbolism. A woman accepting a cigarette from a man was at least thinking about giving him a blowjob; a woman slapping a man was flinging wide the doors to sexual Xanadu. Alfred Hitchcock, mindful of the Hays Code stipulation that no onscreen kiss should last for more than three seconds, created those fantastically intimate and prolonged sequences where Ingrid Bergman nuzzles Cary Grant (Notorious, 1946), or Grace Kelly nuzzles James Stewart (Rear Window, 1954), and the dialogue is breaths and murmurs and chaste little pecks to the mouth: hand in hand with the censor, in other words, Hitchcock more or less invented for the movies the smothering eroticism of physical proximity. Plenty was also lost, of course, beneath the cloak of censorship: Indie Sex gives us a beautiful submarine minute from 1934’s Tarzan and His Mate, excised from the original version, in which Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller) and Jane (Maureen O’Sullivan) wheel in slow, blissful circles beneath the water of a jungle pool. Their movements are liquid sculpture: it took the lewd mind of a Hays Code enforcer to find indecency in the fact that O’ Sullivan happened to be naked.
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