In the past few days I’ve seen two mainstream films with very explicit sex scenes. By “mainstream” I don’t mean Hollywood, they are both definitely arthouse films with independent studios and distribution. But both want to be taken seriously as art and carry the NC-17 rating rather than the untrademarked ‘X’ or ‘XXX’. These films are: “The Brown Bunny” and “Nine Songs”. Other than the explicit sex, the only thing that these films have in common is that they are terribly boring.
“The Brown Bunny” at least looked as though there was some theme that Vincent Gallo was trying to express. Sure, there were seemingly endless scenes of the drive across America, but slowly, some things actually happened. Then at the very end, the tension is broken by the final scene which pretty much explains everything. Protasis, epitasis, catastasis, catastrophe, denouement.
“Nine Songs” was only 65 minutes long and it felt like 165. The story? Boy Meets Girl, Girl Moves Back To America. It won awards for Best Cinematography from some film festival, and Sundance loved it, I think. The camerawork and lighting were often very good, but there wasn’t much substance to the film. The formula seemed to be: live concert footage from some darling indie band (Franz Ferdinand and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club are the two I remember), then show the two leads having sex. Repeat.
“Nine Songs” is mildly shocking for having lots of explicit unsimulated sex, but compared to most porn, it’s tame and tasteful. If there were a plot to go along with it, or some character development, it might have been a masterpiece. It made me think of the rumor I’d heard that “Body Double” was a script that DePalma had wanted to film as a big-budget porn movie, except with brilliant cinematography and production values. But “Body Double” had a script and mysterious plot twists. “Nine Songs” just seems pointless and aimless.
“The Brown Bunny” has only one scene. “Nine Songs” shows many more sex actsâ“The Brown Bunny” has one. “The Brown Bunny” is notable for not having that much nudity, but well, there is that one infamous scene.
OK, “The Brown Bunny” bothers me. First, it’s shocking because instead of some unknown actors, this is a well-established and respected Oscar-nominated actress fellating the lead. And even having heard all the controversy, I still thought that it must be a lot of prudish people freaked out about a half-second of male nudity and some pantomimed simulated sex. I was wrong, and shocked (not offended exactly, but surprised and unsettled) to see several minutes of clearly unsimulated action.
OK, so that shocked me. Big deal, it was probably the whole point. But here’s what bothers me about it: Vincent Gallo was the director, writer, producer, executive producer, and star of the film, and the recipient of Ms Sevigny’s oral attention in the infamous scene. Basically, he paid to have the film made, so Chloe Sevigny’s pay came out of his pocket. He paid for his own blowjob. That seems to me like a line has been crossed.
Vincent Gallo may have made a mostly uninteresting film, but he clearly proved that if the price is right, you can shoot footage of an Oscar-nominated actress sucking you off and have it shown at Cannes. It makes me wonder why more rich people aren’t doing this all the time. If Gallo could get away with it, so can many who have deeper pockets and better lawyers.
In other news, I also recently watched “Unleashed” which I expected to be another stinker of a Jet Li movie. I like Jet Li a lot, but with some notable exceptions he’s been in a bunch of really lame films. OK, any time you have the good guy pick up a gun in a martial arts film you’ve lost the battle with me. I wanna see that Kung Fu fightin. “Unleashed” delivered in a pretty big way. It was beautifully filmed, well-scripted and acted, emotionally resonant and exciting. I didn’t know before renting it that it was written and produced by Luc Besson, who I think does good things with film.
My only question: has Luc Besson ever been involved in any project that didn’t involve some romantic interest between a girl younger than twenty and a man older than forty? I guess that’s just his trademark or something, but I gotta start to wonder about Monsieur Besson, y’know?