martes, mayo 27, 2008

Linda Williams: "Hard-Core Art Film: The Contemporary Realm of the Senses", en la web del MACBA

El MACBA acaba de colgar, en su sección Quadern portátil, la edición nº 13 de las publicaciones que viene realizando con notable acierto. En esta oportunidad es un texto de Linda Williams, titulado "Hard-Core Art Film: The Contemporary Realm of the Senses", y que puede ser leído y descargado gratuitamente en pdf (para armar el cuaderno portátil) desde este link.
Copio además algunos párrafos iniciales del texto.

Hard-Core Art Film: The Contemporary Realm of the Senses
Linda Williams

Since the nineties, critics who discuss the performance of sex in movies have often distinguished between simulated sex, in which great care is taken to avoid the display of sexual organs, and unsimulated sex, in which male and female sexual organs are aggressively on display. When shown on American screens, simulated sex usually receives R-ratings; unsimulated sex either gets NC-17 or no rating at all, consequently reaching very small audiences. In this talk I propose we call this emerging class of films hard-core art and recognize their ambition to be something like—but also more than—pornography. I also propose that we eliminated the awkward term unsimulated sex entirely.

Hard-core art films do not single-mindedly display sexual organs in the manner of hard-core pornography, but neither do they artfully hide sex organs the way simulated R-rated films do. These films are the bold inheritors of Oshima Nagisa's In the Realm of the Senses even if they no longer share the politics of revolutionary transgression that marked that "benchmark" film. The films of hard-core art may be aggressive, violent, humiliating, desperate, alienating, tender, loving, playful, joyous and, of course, boring, but they are art films that, like Realm, embrace explicit sexual content.

It is something of a critical truism that works about sex that "leave nothing to the imagination" are inferior because of pornographic expectations that seem to come with the territory. George Steiner once famously accused pornographers of subverting the "last, vital privacy" of sex by doing "our imagining for us."[1]

But rather than complain that movies increasingly leave nothing to the imagination, I argue that we might do better to approach the imagination as a faculty that perpetually plays with the limits of what is given. Christian Metz has described the cinema as a kind of "permanent strip-tease" whose "wandering framings (wandering like the look, like the caress)" can even take back what it has already given us to see.[2] This talk offers a few recent examples of the ways the imagination has been invited to respond to hard-core sex beyond pornography.

It is an unfortunate fact that most of the films I want to discuss below, with one important exception are not American. This fact is partly the result of what I have described in the full version of this book[3] as the artificially "long adolescence of American movies," occasioned first by the Production Code and then later the MPAA ratings system of the late sixties, neither of which really allowed American cinema to "grow up." This more system of assigning presumably age-appropriate labels avoids the outright prohibitions of the Code but has undoubtedly contributed to the continued arrested development of American movies, and American audiences, with regard to genuinely adult sexual content. While short duration female nudity is tolerated, male nudity is not, and an acute double-standard, brilliantly illustrated in Kirby Dick's 2006 documentary, This Film Is Not Yet Rated, prevails in the simulated representations of gay and straight sex.[4] My aim is not to rail against these systems, however, but to begin to organize a typology of the hard-core art film chosen from a range of possibilities. I have four to offer.

Lyrical Sex

When the acclaimed British art film director, Michael Winterbottom, decided to tell the story of a love affair by concentrating almost exclusively on its sexual content, his Nine Songs (2004) immediately became the most sexually explicit film in the entire history of British cinema.[5] In this film Winterbottom stages a very slight story about a man and woman who meet at a London concert, have sex and begin a relationship. The rest of the film portrays their attendance at subsequent concerts inter-cut with further sex and small fragments of meals, holidays, pillow-talk and mornings-after. All of this is framed by the man's sparse voice-over recollection of the affair as he does climate research in the icy regions of Antarctica.

All of the songs contribute to a lyrical portrayal of sex. Literally so, for each sex act behaves like a song, with something akin to a song's effusion of emotion and economy of presentation. But despite this superficial resemblance to what I call the "musical sexual interlude of Hollywood tradition," and to the regular sexual "numbers" of hard-core pornography, none of the lyrical sex moments are matched up to, or accompanied by, the music of the songs. Instead of adding music to sex, which would have amounted to a sort of hard-core MTV, Winterbottom seeks to discover the lyricism within the sex, most of which is presented unaccompanied by the concert music, or with just a small bit of piano.

To appreciate Nine Songs—and not everyone does!—one must abandon the expectation that the sex scenes will become part of a larger plot and character development. Winterbottom's gamble—which only partly pays off—is that the sensual substance of a love affair can just as well be captured through sexual and musical lyricism as through dramatic event or extended dialogue. The sex scenes, like the music scenes, offer moments that are set apart from everyday life. Yet Winterbottom also keeps them remarkably separate, one from the other, respecting the different spaces of noisy public concert and quiet private sexual encounter.

Like many sexually explicit filmmakers of his generation, Winterbottom has claimed that Oshima's In the Realm of the Senses was his "benchmark." Yet he does not reproduce the "mad love" and sexual excess of that earlier film. Rather, he chronicles the male lover's recollections of the arc of a love affair that reaches its peak at about the fifth concert and that afterwards fades, apparently more quickly for the woman than for the man. After the third song, while on a brief holiday, the man, Matt, declares his love after plunging into the frigid sea, yelling to the woman, Lisa, "I love you!" She does not answer. Later, we see the couple in the bathtub. Lisa casually caresses Matt's erection with first one and then both of her feet. The gesture speaks volumes about the casual intimacy and playfulness of this "middle phase" of their affair, but also, through the feet, about Lisa's slightly more cavalier attitude. Following upon Matt's profession of love, this scene suggests that while Lisa is seriously engaged in their lovemaking, she is not also equally in love with Matt, even though the passion of their affair is still on its upward arc.

On the one hand, we can see that Lisa is the perfect sexual partner: adventurous, aroused, playful and willing to ask for what she wants. On the other, we know that Matt is recalling the affair, apparently trying to comprehend a relation that we already suspect did not end happily. In keeping with his determination to show a relationship through its sex acts, Winterbottom next shows Lisa confessing that sometimes when they kiss she wants to bite him hard enough to make him bleed. We see the couple next at a sex club, not their usual concert. The rock concerts are Matt's passion and Lisa will tellingly opt out of the next one. The sex club, however, seems to be her passion. During this brief scene, we hear a woman in a recording sing the blues. Though it is only a snippet of sound, it forces the realization that all the other music in the live concerts has been by male rockers. Whatever Lisa's song may be, it may not be any of the other songs we hear in this film.

Soon after we see Lisa alone in bed with a vibrator as Matt forlornly looks on. We can only surmise that she no longer seems to find Matt fulfilling as a lover. After Lisa appears to orgasm she weeps, perhaps mourning what she now anticipates to be the end of the affair. We may recall at this point that in most of their sexual encounters it has been Lisa, not Matt, who has been the first to pull apart. Now, Lisa clings to Matt, but it is the clinging of the partner who best knows that the end is near and is mourning the relationship's loss.

If we accept Nine Songs' premise that what we learn about the couple must come from the substance of the sexual relationship itself, then we should not look for a narrative explanation for why Lisa leaves but to the story told by the sex. What we learn from its performance is that Lisa is more "out there"—both more sexually frank and more sexually demanding: she reads pornography out loud and speaks her sexual fantasies. Matt does neither. We also suspect, from hints about female friends, that she may be inclined toward women. When Lisa demonstrates that she can satisfy herself through masturbation with a vibrator, the point is not the inherent alienation of technologically-aided masturbation, but a way of showing the disconnect occurring between the once-passionate couple. We have been witness to a highly nuanced chronicle of an affair presented and understood primarily through its many and varied acts of sex. And we are given to understand that sometimes the "hottest" sex in a relationship can occur after the potential for mutual love has been foreclosed, when a certain desperation has entered the proceedings.

Though the film does leave one hungry for more story, especially Lisa's, the development, mood and execution of each sexual scene creates a coherent arc of relationship that is discernible through the "sex itself." The way Lisa masturbates alone with a vibrator while Matt sits apart has the same emotional resonance as a scene that might show Lisa eating alone. Sex, like food, is a bodily function with its own automatic pleasure and satisfaction. Indeed, Winterbottom is on record saying, "If you film actors eating a meal, the food is real; the audience know that. But when it comes to sex they know it's pretend. You'd never do that with food and so I started thinking we should make sex real."[6]

The director cites the age-old realist imperative: if one part of a film is real then the rest shall be too. His example of food prompts us to ask if all the drugs and alcohol consumed in Nine Songs are real as well. My guess is that some are and some aren't and that much the same thing can be said about the sex. Not every thrust that we see Matt make into Lisa is that of a certifiably erect penis, but we see enough of that penis to believe more in the authenticity of the rest. Nor does every moan that Lisa emits as Matt performs cunnilingus correspond directly to the moments that his lips touch her genitals, but we believe in them nevertheless. There is often a very fine line between the real and the performed in screened sex acts, just as there is with food that could easily be spit out before swallowed, bourbon that is really iced tea, or cocaine that is powdered sugar. Nevertheless, Winterbottom's (documentary) portrayal of the sex of his (fictional) couple represents a significant assault upon the heretofore fairly rigid division between pornographic hard-core sex and simulated art sex in feature cinema.

Most critics have been quite careful to distinguish Nine Songs from pornography. [7] Nevertheless, if pornography can be defined simply as a string of sexual numbers hung onto a plot that exists primarily as an excuse for the sex, then, this structurally comes close to conventional pornography. Since pornography's closest genre affiliation is the musical in which the lyrical choreography of song and dance "numbers" resemble the rhythms of bodies in the sex act. The film thus merges the lyrical structure of the musical—in this case "nine songs" by popular bands—with the sex acts performed by Matt and Lisa. If the film were pornography then it would be possible to say that it is the very first work in the genre to possess even half-decent music—not the sort of careless afterthought of most pornography. However, Nine Songs is not pornography, if we mean by that a genre with the primary intent to arouse by capturing the exact moments of the hard-core involuntary display of the convulsive body. It is graphic, we might say, without being pornographic. It is one possible, lyrical, direction for a new kind of hard-core art cinema.

3 comentarios:

Anónimo dijo...

Nose como fomentan, con un artículo para el pasado, la crítica -actitud- del arte contemporáneo en los blogs si publican un extenso y agotador artículo en inglés!
No se supone que trabajarían ustedes como cuestionadores de ideas este artículo, o si proponen una mayor llegada hacia un tipo de público menos especializado que los críticos, artistas, etc. no deberían de tratar de explicar en sus propias palabras y traducir un poco para los que no saben ingles?
Creo que esta es una floja actitud y un poco egoista el solo reproducir algo que muchos no leerán. Sé que no está dirigido al público en general pero deberían ser un poco más atentos si de querer fomentar la actitud crítica se le ocurre.
Lamentable post, sin alma de crítico, mejor me rasco las pelotas.

De que vale firmar...

Anónimo dijo...

ou yeah

Miguel López dijo...

hola! pues lamento que te haya molestado el post. En verdad mi idea era presentar un fragmento como diciendo "esto existe para quien le interese el tema", ya que sobre estos aspectos lamentablemente en lima no hay ningún tipo de discusión. la verdad no puedo traducir el texto por distintos motivos, tiempo sobre todo. y sí que estamos trabajando sobre ideas pero en este caso específico mi intención no era 'poner en cuestión' el texto sino señalar su existencia. además era mi plan colgar uno y luego otro. ahora cuelgo el que sigue esta vez sí en español. gracias por tus comentarios!! y claro, definitivamente nos interesa fomentar una actitud crítica, lo cual implica también distribuir información que consideramos pertinente. esto era lo que intentaba en esta ocasión (aun y todo con las limitaciones del idioma). saludos.