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Saturday 18 November 2017

Sex On Screen

Expecting a lot more of it in 2014, Tanya Sweeney looks at the history of sex on celluloid

Sex on film
Sex on film

Tanya Sweeney

The Secret Scriptures, Wild, Brooklyn: it's a golden age for literary film adaptations. Yet in terms of sheer hype, one of them has truly left the rest in the dust. After a blizzard of speculation about the project, actual news of the big-screen remake of Fifty Shades Of Grey was met with glorious, widespread fanfare. From casting (especially the casting) to scripting, all eyes are firmly trained on each stage of production. In terms of getting bums on cinema seats, Fifty looks set to be a foregone conclusion.

Similarly, Lars Von Trier's latest cinematic outing Nymphomaniac has been a masterclass in film marketing. Clips from the film -- which feature full-blown sex scenes -- promptly went viral on release.

As if to whet the public's appetite, the film's star Shia LaBeouf was moved to comment: "Everything that is illegal, we'll shoot in blurred images. Other than that, everything is happening... Von Trier's dangerous."

Elsewhere, few had heard of Evan Rachel Wood's latest film Charlie Countrymen, despite a modestly successful showing at Sundance. Until, that is, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) cut a scene where a man (a character played by LaBeouf, again) gives a woman oral sex.

It's widely thought that while sex sells, sexually explicit films have enjoyed mixed fortunes at the box office proper. Yet there's no doubting that they get everyone talking. Here are some of the good, the bad and the downright eye-watering...

1 9 Songs (2004)

Designed, no doubt to appeal to the hipster masses with a banging soundtrack of Super Furry Animals, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and the like, Michael Winterbottom's art-house romp was dubbed 'the most pornographic British film ever'. Featuring unsimulated sex scenes, it charted the run of a lust-fuelled couple from their first night to the last gasp of their romance. Alas, a flimsy non-plot meant a savaging from the critics and box office oblivion.

2 Kelly + Victor (2012)

Irish actress Antonia Campbell-Hughes took on one of the title roles in this lo-fi film, released earlier this year in Irish cinemas. Like a sexier Blue Valentine, the plot revolves around a couple who meet at a nightclub and enjoy a number of S&M-themed encounters as a means of escaping their own humdrum lives.

3 The Brown Bunny (2003)

By turns the scourge and the poster child of US arthouse cinema, Vincent Gallo let the 2003 Cannes Film Festival have it with both barrels with the film he likened to 'an Andy Warhol movie'. Immediately, the film caught the media's attention, not least because of real sex scenes between Gallo and his ex-girlfriend, Chloe Sevigny.

4 Intimacy (2001)

In this Hanif Kureishi-penned indie film, Mark Rylance and Kerry Fox indulge in a spot of (ostensibly) strings-free afternoon delight. At the time, it was one of the very few Brit-flicks to feature unsimulated sex ... and after a double award win at the Berlin Film Festival in 2001, the film went on to enjoy critical praise.

5 Blue Is The Warmest Colour (2013)

A Palme D'Or win at Cannes is enough to guarantee most films a healthy box office run, but Blue Is The Warmest Colour had another ace up its sleeve. Featuring a seven-minute real sex scene between Emma (Lea Seydoux) and Adele (Adele Exarchopoulos), Blue rode into town on a huge wave of hype. Happily, critics were willing to overlook its three-hour running time, and have described it as an emotionally charged and intense love story.

6 Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001)

This Mexican tale of adolescent sexual discovery has more sex scenes than your average movie, and in turn became the highest box office opener in Mexican history and an Oscar nominee (for original screenplay) to boot. Proving that graphic sex scenes needn't be a career death knell, its stars Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal went on to do great things in mainstream Hollywood. As did its director Alfonso Cuaron, who went on to helm Gravity and Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban.

7 Don't Look Now (1973)

For years it was a pertinent question in Hollywood; 'did they or didn't they?'. To this day, confusion reigns over whether that sex scene between Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie was the real deal (though both stars deny it). Sex scenes aside, Don't Look Now is still regarded as a horror classic, and in terms of style and tone, was a pioneering work that went on to influence many others.

8 Last Tango In Paris (1972)

Suffice to say that doing questionable things with dairy products mid-coitus was a cinematic first. With Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider playing the lovers at the heart of this tale, which reportedly grew from director Bernardo Bertolucci's own sexual fantasies.

9 Antichrist (2009)

Willem Defoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg star as a couple plunged into grief after the accidental death of their child, while confusion and violence ensue. Body doubles -- working porn actors Mandy Starship and Horst Stramka -- were drafted in for the most explicit sex scenes.

10 Shame (2011)

Michael Fassbender plays Brandon, a successful New York executive whose perfectly calibrated life -- designed to let him indulge his sexual addiction with impunity -- is upended by a visit from his sister (Carey Mulligan). The film was praised for its sensitive and authentic insight into sex addiction.

Irish Independent

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