July 31, 2014

Sex & Cinema: The History of (Cinematic) Penetration

Blue is the Warmest ColorCinema has had a complicated, on-again, off-again relationship with portrayals of sex and nudity up on the silver screen. And if you're thinking, "Oh yes, movies have gotten pretty raunchy in the last few decades," you're right, but the erotic history of cinema dates all the way back to the first films ever made over a century ago. Fandor has put together an infographic that highlights the pivotal, transgressive films that challenged cinema, penetrated the moral blockade, and changed the rules again, and again, and again.

When it comes to the proliferation of sex in cinema, there are quite a lot of perspectives to consider; cultural, political, and societal changes throughout history have changed the way movies are made. For instance, in order to keep the film industry self-regulatory, the Production Code  (the Hays Code), which was adopted in 1930 by the MPAA, and managed to keep violent, "immoral", and sexually explicit content free from the final cut of most films by refusing to grant filmmakers the coveted seal of approval if they didn't adhere to strict moral guidelines. (For more on the political history of sex and violence in cinema, check out our write-up here.)

However, there have been many depictions of sex and nudity much earlier than the 1930s, and of course, later. Edison's The Kiss, aroused audiences in 1896, and almost a hundred years later, Harmony Korine and Larry Clark's film Kids was shocking viewers with its realistic, brutal illustration of promiscuous teen sex during the HIV era. In 1972, theater patrons saw Marlon Brando like they'd never seen him before thanks to the infamous "butter" scene in Last Tango in Paris, and in 1933, moviegoers saw Hedy Lamarr's character, Eva, have the very first on-screen orgasm in the Czech romantic drama Ecstasy

Check out The Kiss, the Kids trailer, and Lamarr's famous scene below, which is obviously NSFW, but in a "silent film from the 1930s" kind of way. (And I'll just go ahead and spare you the scene from Last Tango, okay? Cool.)

https://vimeo.com/62124101

And here's Fandor's infographic that examines sex in cinema. Take note of how each film listed pushed the boundaries, set precedents, and opened the door for more daring sexual content.

Sex and Cinema

There will always be filmmakers who are going to push the boundaries of sex in cinema, just as there will always be others pushing on the other side to keep things within them. Films like Brokeback Mountain (2005) and Blue is the Warmest Color (2013), both films about homosexual couples, became quite controversial upon their release, though Brokeback more for its straightforward focus on a gay male relationship, and Blue for its extremely graphic sex scenes. In fact, the film's director Abdellatif Kechiche came under fire (many times for many different reasons) for the "unrealistic" depictions of lesbian sex, which adds another dimension to the complexity of sex in cinema.

And what can we expect will be the next moral blockade sex will cinematically penetrate? My guess? Four letters: BDSM. (Thanks, 50 Shades of Grey -- and the big name stars of Secretary, Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader, whose character was also named Mr. Grey, by the way.)

Do you think depictions of sex and nudity are important in cinematic storytelling? How have depictions of sex and nudity changed the way we make films?

Links: Fandor’s Newest Infographic: Let’s Talk About Sex (and the Cinema), Baby -- Fandor

[via Fast Co.]

Your Comment

23 Comments

I think the bigger question is, how is it changing us?

August 1, 2014 at 12:39AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Cory

John Douglas, who Jack Crawford on Hannibal is based upon, has been pretty clear that BDSM and Porn act as an accelerant in the development of a serial killer's psyche. So, it does have an effect. I've spoken with FBI agents and read all of Douglas's books - and many serial killers have an obsession with pornography. Ted Bundy had a huge obsession with BDSM pornography.

A great video (John Douglas - Profiler):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OFX8_Il6SUU

August 1, 2014 at 4:38AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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RidingtheDragon

This video still gives me chills.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9LYL1PTrtXo

August 1, 2014 at 4:42AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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RidingtheDragon

One more good video from Tedx.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gRJ_QfP2mhU

August 1, 2014 at 4:50AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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RidingtheDragon

I know the list isn't intended to be exhaustive, but some that I certainly would have argued to add if I were able to are:

Shohei Imamura, The Pornographers. He actually has a lot that could qualify. But that one is my favorite.

Masaru Konuma, Wife to be Sacrficed. This a good litmus test for me on whether a person has taste that might gel with mine.

Pasolini, Salo. Uhhmm, yeah.

Divorce Italian Style. Sending up machismo.

Lolita, not mentioned because of Baby Doll?

La Dolce Vita. Fellini has a bunch of stuff, surprised he didn't make any on here.

Preston Sturges, Miracle of Morgans Creek. He raped the censors on this movie. Love how subversive it is. Head knock=knocked up.

Jules and Jim

Wahlbergs schlong? I mean sex in the cinema. I mean Boogie Nights. How did that not make the cut? Its about the cinema of sex. hmmmmm.

I guess I like stories more than explicit sex scenes blocked out. If it doesn't propel the story, it seems gratuitous to me. Oh well.

August 1, 2014 at 1:09AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Abersouth

Oh shit! And Verhoeven! Spetters and Showgirls!!!!! How could I overlook him. And Basic Instinct!!! My bad.

August 1, 2014 at 1:11AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Abersouth

No Sternberg and Dietrich? Come now. How can you have a history of sex in cinema minus them? Geeze.

August 1, 2014 at 1:24AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Abersouth

I hate nights like tonight. Here I was, about to go to sleep and then I check NoFilmSchool and read an interesting article and then feel obligated to add to a list. Last ones till mañana, promise.

Peckinpah-Straw Dogs- where it is hinted that a woman begins to enjoy a rape. Can't really get more controversial than that. Peckinpah's Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia also has a not exactly simple rape scene.

August 1, 2014 at 2:33AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Abersouth

"Do you think depictions of sex and nudity are important in cinematic storytelling?"

I hear some individuals state that "sex is natural" and "we shouldn't be ashamed." Filicide, Coprophagia, Incest, and Cannibalism span across many various species in nature. So, I guess violence is natural as well and we shouldn't be ashamed. That doesn't mean I want to see it on the screen.

I would say it depends upon the story. It's hard to convey the horror of D-Day without violence. It's hard to depict the depravity of Rome without nudity. Having said that, age limits, etc. in society are completely arbitrary. You can't drink until 21. But, you can vote, go to war, and trade stocks by the age of 18 in the U.S. There is a lot of moaning about the MPAA. There are certain cases that I feel they've been wrong. But, generally speaking, they've done a decent job.

August 1, 2014 at 4:30AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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RidingtheDragon

As we are on the subject some of you might like to check this

http://vimeo.com/69430809

, It s a full CGI short film I co directed couple of years ago on women eroticism.

I hope some of you guys will enjoy it .

August 1, 2014 at 4:39AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Sombre, lourde mais bien fait ...

August 7, 2014 at 8:06PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Skeptikal

I'm shocked. Shocked!

How could you forget William Shatner's nude scene in Big Bad Mama ?

August 1, 2014 at 9:23AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Saied

There is definitely an imbalance between violence and sex taboos in our film culture. Growing up, most of my peers and I were allowed to watch all sorts of violent films, but anything with a hint of nudity? No way. That bothers me.

I think that our culture's weird relationship with sex- it is salaciously everywhere, yet no one HONESTLY talks about it- is represented in our films. We don't necessarily need MORE sex in films, but we need better sex. We need to see more female pleasure, which is rated more harshly than male pleasure by the MPAA (see: This Film is Not Yet Rated by Kirby Dick)

And a note about 50 Shades. No matter what people say, that is NOT real BDSM. It's abuse. (see: http://health.usnews.com/health-news/health-wellness/articles/2013/08/12...)

August 1, 2014 at 9:29AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Hiding and censoring of nudity, breasts,... is something that is very popular in the US only. Kind of uptight folk.

August 1, 2014 at 12:57PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Lars

Boy you got that right Lars. How Laughable. It seems they have gone back to Pixelating almost anything again. Yes ,this group of people called the US of A have enormous Hang ups over almost everything.

August 7, 2014 at 6:44PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Dheep'

I'm fine with penetration being an arbitrary dividing line between porn and cinema/soft core. I don't know how seeing the physical act exhibited graphically is necessary for advancing a story, but I'm open minded enough to consider a thoughtful explanation. I heard about some Euro porno guy performed a scene in a French art house film with very little doubt that penetration occurred. I don't know if it was ever released in US theaters.

"brutal illustration of promiscuous teen sex during the HIV era".

More like the era of HIV paranoia. Is HIV/AIDS really any more or less prevalent now than it was in the 1990's?

August 1, 2014 at 1:54PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Marc B

That was Rocco Siffredi in Breillat's "Romance".
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It's funny to see a Soviet film listed. The 1920's were different ideologically before Stalin returned the mass murder as the official state policy. Last night I was reading about the Soviet post-war theatrical showings of the stolen Nazi era film "Die Frau meiner Träume" (aka "The Woman of my Dreams") made in 1944 and "expropriated" after the war. The Soviet sensors ended up cutting a bunch of shots of its female star, a Austro-Hungarian singer/dancer Marika Rökk. That in turn led to rumors of nudity in those missing shots and made Rökk even more popular than she would have been otherwise. Her post war musical "Die Czardasfürstin" was a huge hit in the USSR partly due to the fascination with her alleged on-screen sexuality.
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Of course, there were no such shots in either of the films, both directed by her husband Georg Jacoby.

August 2, 2014 at 1:09AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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DLD

I think the film that had most impact was Antichrist. The explicitness of the first scene hits you right between the eyes and because it's intercut with something very tragic the nature of the explicitness becomes something else. The emotional sense becomes very conficting and reduces the eroticism to another level. If the sex scene had been just by itself then it would have been just that, another sex scene.

August 1, 2014 at 4:09PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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JPS

It showed some morally disgusting side of things and very real too. Basically, who cares about the kid, let's fuck. I know about certain couples already with kids in the house, being immature and still caring only about themselves, sometimes with tragic repercussions. If it's not the ultimate form of irresponsibility, I don't know what else. Nature as always only wants to please itself, no higher concept behind it.

August 1, 2014 at 8:28PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Natt

Yeah, how did this entire article, as well almost the whole comments section, go by without any reference to Lars von Trier's work. I mean. he is a huge contributor to unsimulated sex scenes in cinema.

August 1, 2014 at 9:22PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Wait a minute! Your comment "Cinema has had a complicated, on-again, off-again relationship with portrayals of sex and nudity up on the silver screen." really applies to the USA. European cinema has never had an issue with sex and nudity!

On the other hand American censors never seemed to have the same dysfunctional aversion when it came to graphic portrayal of physical violence and the glorification of guns...even for young viewers. Sad fucked up society...

August 7, 2014 at 7:49PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Skeptikal

No mention of 9 SONGS which, I believe is the first mainstream film to include penetration, a blowjob from arousal to ejaculation and other sexual acts loosely hung together by a story of a couple who meet at 9 different music gigs.

August 8, 2014 at 5:59AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Rojer Weightman

...the final shot in North by Northwest...when the train "penetrates" the tunnel. As explicit as was needed!

August 9, 2014 at 1:07PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Ralf