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Entries in Sex in Film (3)

Thursday
Mar092017

THE BEDROOM: THE ANNA BROWNFIELD INTERVIEW

Like the trailblazing feminist pornographer Candida Royalle before her, Anna Brownfield has determinedly chosen the path less travelled to fulfil her artistic vision. The Melbourne-based filmmaker has garnered international acclaim for her works The Money Shot (2007), The Band (2009) and Making it Handmade! (2010), cinema that challenges the mainstream definition of pornography. Her latest feature, The Bedroom, captures key moments in the development of Australian sexual culture across 50 years, all set within the walls of the particularly action-packed title space. Ahead of its US premiere at the CineKink 2017 Film Festival, Anna Brownfield spoke frankly with SCREEN-SPACE about her unique status in the Australian film sector and flying the flag for ethical erotica…

Pictured, above: Anna Brownfield, left, with The Bedroom actress Aeryn Walker (c) Megan Spencer 2014

SCREEN-SPACE: In general terms, how would you rate the depiction of sexuality on Australian cinema screens?

ANNA BROWNFIELD: I think Australians have a healthy attitude towards sex and sexuality on screen.  However, what we see on Australian screens ebbs and flows depending upon our political climate. A lot has changed since the introduction of the R rating in the 1970s and the flourish of sexploitation cinema.  One of my favourite is Fantasm directed by Richard Franklin under the pseudonym Richard Bruce, especially the scene where a housewife takes revenge on a thief, on the kitchen table using household items. These films reflected the changing attitudes to sexuality of the time but were made predominately from a male perspective. Now, I think our mainstream film industry in Australia is quite conservative and likes to play it safe when it comes to funding films.  While we have a history of sexploitation cinema, I can’t see the funding bodies supporting this type of film today.

SCREEN-SPACE: Is there a filmmaking subculture that strives to bridge the gap between conventional narratives and graphic sexuality? Is it possible that such a movement could some day flourish?

ANNA BROWNFIELD: When I started making explicit films, there were quite a few art house films being distributed that had storylines and explicit sex; Basie Moi, Nine Songs, Intimacy, Romance, Sex and Lucia to name a few. But this is nothing new, have a look at lots of films made in the 70s! The directors of those films were saying we see actors really crying on screen, so why not see them have real sex.  For me, it was about making films that focused on women’s sexual desires and fantasies, objectifying the male body and bring a female gaze to the genre. That coupled with storylines, feminism, high production values and being creative with the visual language to create something sensual and erotic but also explicit. (Pictured, above; Lily Rei and Rob Paulson in 'The 1960s' from The Bedroom)

SCREEN-SPACE: Despite spanning 50 years, is there a 'constant' that your depictions of sexuality in The Bedroom capture? The aesthetics change greatly, but what stays the same?

ANNA BROWNFIELD: Honest, authentic depictions of sex and sexuality, produced in an ethical manner that give agency to performers and promote safe sex.

SCREEN-SPACE: Where do your films in general, and The Bedroom in particular, sit within the broad definition of 'pornography'? Few films employ both graphic imagery and historical context such as The Bedroom.

ANNA BROWNFIELD: When I began, I called my films feminist erotica, because when I used the word porn, people made assumptions about the types of film I made regarding aesthetics and sexual stereotypes.  I frequently use the word explicit and, depending where I am, will use the word pornography. When I made my first explicit feature, The Band, my producer was worried that it wasn’t explicit enough to be called porn but too explicit to be arthouse.  In the end, it was distributed by both sectors of the industry. The Bedroom screened at the Porny Days film festival in Zurich, Switzerland.  I couldn’t attend but one of my friends said there was a lot of discussion after the screening, about if this was in fact a porn film or not.  One of the things I endeavour to do is to push the genre.
As a society, we have come to accept a formulaic depiction of explicit content, or in a term coined so beautifully by Candida Royalle as “porn by numbers”.  Porn and its consumption is still surrounded by so much taboo, I think we often don’t question what we see on screen and I wanted to provide an ethical alternative to that. (Pictured, above: Chloe B in 'The 1970s' from The Bedroom)

SCREEN-SPACE: In terms of the production, were the actors told where the scenes had to go and what specifics you were looking for? Or did you let them dictate the action?

ANNA BROWNFIELD: The dialogue in each scene was scripted. In the 1980s sequence, (actor) Christian Vega rewrote a lot of the dialogue as it was important to him that he honour and be true to his community, which I was more than happy for him to do. Regarding the explicit scenes, the performers would discuss it together beforehand and negotiate what they would and wouldn’t do.  On set, I would sit down with them and do a basic blocking of what they wanted to do and how they would move around the space.  As it was a historical piece, I also discussed with the performers about making sure the sex depicted represented the times and who that character was and were they would be in their sexual journey. (Pictured, above: co-stars Emerald and Bandit in 'The 2010s' from The Bedroom)

SCREEN-SPACE: It's been over a two decades since your first short, Playing; over a decade since  The Money Shot closed MUFF and became the toast of the festival. How would you describe your journey, working in your chosen form of filmmaking/storytelling?


ANNA BROWNFIELD: At times it has been hard, as I have chosen to work outside of the mainstream film industry, but continue to make other films without explicit content.  My explicit films tend to do better overseas, particularly in Europe, than they do here in my home country. I often look back and think, how did I manage to make that? I work with little to no budget, so it's lots of hours unpaid and doing other jobs to make ends meet.  However, working with very small budgets, makes me inventive and resourceful and provides me with complete creative freedom. I have times where I question what and why I do what I do, but at the same time I love it and it provides me with an outlet for self-expression. That coupled with the faith that people will like what I do and enjoy it if not now, in the future.

THE BEDROOM screens at Cinekink 2017 in New York on March 17; it is available to download via Poison Apple Productions.

Sunday
Mar132016

FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS: THE MAIKE BROCHHAUS INTERVIEW.

For Maike Brochhaus, sexuality in cinema is due for some redefining. An advocate of pro-sex feminism who lectures on the role of pornography in art history, the German filmmaker has directed a contemporary sex comedy called Schnick Schnack Schnuck (the title a Teutonic variation of ‘Scissors Paper Rock’). In the frank and fearless film, a group of 20-something friends deal with life and love while frequently indulging in what 20-somethings do best; the sex is full penetration, the scenarios designed to convey character and drive plot but also question the nature of audience reaction. Brochhaus seems to have tapped into a groundswell of like-minded support for real-world/real-people sex within a conventional narrative. In 2015, she won the prestigious Best Director honour at Berlin’s PornFilmFestival; last week, Schnick Schnack Schnuck won the Audience Award at the Kinky Film Festival in New York City. From her base in the city district of Kalk in Cologne, Maike Brochhaus spoke to SCREEN-SPACE about the daunting mission she faces in changing the contemporary view of sex on film….

(Pictured, above; front row - producer Sören Störung and Brochhaus, with cast members)

SCREEN-SPACE: What did you set out to achieve with Schnick Schnack Schnuck?

Brochhaus: Sören (Störung, producer) and I always liked those classic 70s porn flicks. They are fun to watch, with great music, a little naive and silly but still kind of hot and honest. After watching a lot of them, with Sören or a couple of girlfriends or at the PornFilmFestival in Berlin, we started asking ourselves, ‘Why don't they make 'em like that anymore?’ So we decided to do something about it. Most of the 70s humour was plain sexist, which can be fun if you look at it now because it's so old, but we didn't want that in our film. So we tried to find a way to capture the spirit but with a fresh, modern feel to it.

SCREEN-SPACE: There is a compelling honesty about the sex your camera captures.
Why do you think the sensation of watching your actors have sex is very different from the reaction one experiences with ‘mainstream’ pornography?

Brochhaus (pictured, right): Back in 2013, I crowd-funded a documentary called häppchenweise, in which six real people around the age of 30 get drunk and play spin-the-bottle. I wanted to see if they would have sex in front of the camera without forcing them. I called it a "post-pornographic experiment". We ended up with one shy and very harmless sex-scene, which I really liked. It was so honest! Schnick Schnack Schnuck is the first scripted film we’ve made, and I wanted to have amateur actors in unscripted sex scenes as well. The situations leading to sex were of course scripted, but not the actual sex. We just let them do whatever they liked for how long they wanted. This comes with some risks, because you never know what's going to happen, but I'm very happy with the result.

SCREEN-SPACE: Another point of difference is the range of sexual acts that your cast presented you with. Is the willingness to experiment with the sexual experience common to the generation represented in the film?

Brochhaus: I know women and men who live deliberately adventurous and/or promiscuous lives. They talk openly about their desires, experiences and problems, which is a very healthy thing. I wanted to show a little of that in a happy and relaxed way. But there are also friends of mine feeling very insecure about themselves, their bodies and sex in general. And I feel like mainstream porn is not helping at all. In fact, it can lead to a lot of pressure. So in Schnick Schnack Schnuck, you don't get to see muscular androids working out, just some slightly hairy people having fun.

SCREEN-SPACE: What exactly is the director’s role when staging such intimate moments? What techniques do you apply when shooting sex scenes?

Brochhaus: We essentially came up with three simple rules - show individuals rather than just interacting bodies; show real female pleasure; and, don't be afraid of a flaccid penis. We shot the sex scenes with two cameras, a sound guy, the performers and I. We talked about what they would and would not like to do during the shoot and I asked them if I'm allowed to give them some simple directives, like move an arm a little or stuff like that. (Pictured, above; Brochhaus on-set, with Störung)

SCREEN-SPACE: I love the film's notion of ‘Pornotopia’! A world in which sex exists unburdened by any negative connotations or social stigma; where it just ‘is’, like in a porn film. Can such a state of being ever really exist?

Brochhaus: Unfortunately, I don't think so. That's why I want to remind the viewers that they are still watching a porn flick. In Pornotopia, sex is always an answer and able to solve all kinds of complex problems. In reality you have to deal with so many more things. It couldn't hurt if we ease up a little, though.

SCREEN-SPACE: In broader terms, why is there not a film genre that allows for the frank portrayal of real sex within a conventional narrative? Why do you think that, despite films like Shortbus and 9 Songs, actual sex in mainstream plots remains a taboo?

Brochhaus: This is a question I could talk about for hours. I think part of it comes from our Christian background, which always tabooed sex for pleasure. Its influence is getting weaker, but it's still powerful. Sex remains something a lot of people don't like to watch, especially with other people in a cinema. I always find it strange that fighting and killing seems to make people much less uncomfortable than sex and dealing with emotions. Another big thing is obviously sexism. Over centuries there were men trying to restrict female sexual development because they were afraid of it. Pornography was created by men for men; women were only tools for their pleasure. Nowadays, there are even women who have adapted to this all-male view on sex, and that needs to be changed. And I'm happy it is changing right now! You can feel enormous fear if you read anonymous men commenting online on feminism and women commenting on pornography. There is part of men who are deeply afraid of dealing with female pleasure but there's no need to be afraid. Men and women think a lot about sex, that's a fact, and I think we should talk about it. I don't think it's healthy for an individual nor for society to suppress it or let mainstream-porn and advertising tell us how we have to do it. So let's put real sex back into film and enjoy it! (Pictured, above; leads Jana Sue Zuckerberg, as Emmi, and Felix Anderson, as Felix)

Watch the trailer here (NSFW Warning - Explicit Sexual Content)

Wednesday
Sep162015

ONE FROM THE HEART: THE GASPAR NOE INTERVIEW

‘Sentimental’ is not a word often bandied about when discussing the films of Gaspar Noe, but the director of such envelope-pushers as I Stand Alone, Irreversible and Enter the Void is out to change a few minds with his latest film, Love. “This is a movie that has made a lot of people cry,” he tells SCREEN-SPACE from his home in Paris, as the Sydney Underground Film Festival organisers brace themselves for reaction to the Opening Night screening of the latest from the ‘enfant terrible’ of international cinema...

I wanted to do a melodrama,” explains the 51 year-old Argentinian-born, French-based filmmaker, who premiered the long-in-development drama at Cannes 2015. “I envisioned the movie as both very arousing and also very sad, with the hope that people would cry at the end. It became much more melancholic than what I thought because image is so much more powerful than text. The movie is best described as being made up of my desires and fears.”

Drawing upon his days as a film school student cutting a swathe through the bars and bedrooms of 1980s Paris, the auteur’s narrative follows brash American expat Murphy (Karl Glusman) as he recalls the passionate details of a doomed love affair with the sexually energized Electra (Aomi Muyock; pictured, with Glusman), while coping with the corrosive resentment he has for his young wife, Omi (Klara Kristin). “‘Murphy’ is a mix of me and my film school mates, who I would hang out with and party with. And I know certain characters who [populate] the movie, people from the party scene in Paris and the art world,” explains Noe. “I wanted this guy to be cool but also a bit stupid; he’s not a ‘winner’ at all. He’s just a normal film student, sometimes driven by his brain cells and sometimes driven by his dick.”

Over a decade ago, the project was pitched to then husband-and-wife stars Monica Bellucci and Vincent Cassel when the pair worked with Noe on Irreversible, the 2002 revenge drama famous for Noe’s notorious single-shot rape scene. But the international stars baulked at the director’s intention to shoot full penetration intercourse. By 2015, Noe’s creative impulses were sated, with Glusman and first-time actors Muyock and Kristin portraying graphic, reportedly unchoreographed sexual acts (in 3D, no less). The film opens with an extended single-take scene of oral sex and mutual masturbation, from beginning to end.

“Erotic cinema has disappeared, and with it the erotic malady,” observes Noe. “The point of this movie, the reason it exists, was to portray the passion between two willful young people. I could not see how you could film that nowadays, after the sexual revolution and after the past 40 or so years of our western world, without portraying exactly how it is in real life. I decided that now is the time to film scenes with a truthfulness that the subject of my movie deserves. I’m surprised there are not more movies dealing with the subject like my film does”

It is the search for the blunt truths of existence that have driven Noe’s works to date; in his last film, Enter the Void, his first-person camera examined a body’s demise and the re-emergence of its soul. Love represents a similar pathway from the dual perspective of emotion and sensation. “These natural desires that we have, to have the faith to give our lives and share our journey with someone else, produce very human, powerful emotions,” says Noe. “Most people recognise much about themselves in the characters in the film and about the experience of being in love.”

Noe achieves his thematic goals by expanding upon the reverse-storytelling device that he employed in Irreversible (pictured, right; star, Monica Bellucci). Initially, Murphy’s present-day inner thoughts narrate small recollections; ultimately, the entire film is given over to his indulgences in the past. “The whole way [Love] was structured was to try to reproduce a memory. When you think about your own past, you do not do it in a linear way,” Noe explains. “In Irreversible, the backwards storytelling was very mechanical, in a clockwork way; in Enter The Void, the journey was very linear. In Love, it gets as close as I’ve gotten to that ‘stream of memory’ framework.”

As confronting as Gaspar Noe’s visions have been, each has represented a yearning to explore and further understand base elements inherent to the human experience. As shocking as scenes of frank sexuality may be to many, it is what the images represent that matters most to the director. “I wanted to make a sentimental film about what love is, how hard love is, to show that, even with the best intentions in the world, love can fail and ultimately destroy your mind,” he says. “To be addicted to passion means that you can suffer through passion and your life is over. I needed to find a way to portray this power, a power that can consume and destroy your life. What is the truest aim of our existence? I think it is to find love and to share the strongest physical love with someone, and my film explores that.”

LOVE screens as the Opening Night presentation of the 2015 Sydney Underground Film Festival. Full venue and session information can be found at the official website.