Thursday, September 27, 2012

Brief History of Sexual Controversy in Mainstream Film courtesy of ZIMBIO

Shia LaBeouf, 'Nymphomaniac,' and a Brief History of Sexual Controversy in Mainstream Film

By Darrick Thomas on September 27, 2012

 Getty Images | Columbia Pictures | Paramount | Zentropa Entertainment
Main image: Nymphomaniac director Lars von Trier, and star Shia LaBeouf, by Getty Images. | Upper left: Brooke Shields in The Blue Lagoon, framegrab from Columbia Pictures. | Center left: Framegrab from Team America: World Police, by Paramount Pictures. | Bottom left: Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe in Antichrist, framegrab from Zentropa Entertainment.Lars von Trier's Nymphomaniac hasn't even finished filming, but it's already known for racy scenes no one's seen yet. Once Shia LaBeouf proudly explained the sex in the film would be "for real," Nymphomaniac became less about the director's artistic vision and more about the prospect of seeing Hollywood actors have actual sex on camera. Whether by accident or design, von Trier LaBeouf's risqué new project is just the latest in a long line of movies hyped for pushing the sexual envelope.

1969: Midnight Cowboy

Controversial for: Gay prostitution
Fallout: MPAA revised its rating system
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%

A fringe-jacketed young Jon Voight arrives in New York City with gigolo dreams of easy money filling his naive little mind at the beginning of Midnight Cowboy. The movie's ensuing matter-of-fact approach to gay prostitution led the MPAA to rate the movie X, dealing a blow to its box office prospects. The harsh rating couldn't keep Midnight Cowboy from winning Best Picture, and ultimately the MPAA revised its rating system because of the movie. In 1994 Cowboy joined the ranks of "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" films preserved by the Library of Congress. Ratso would be proud.

1972: Last Tango In Paris

Controversial for:
 Food play, S&M
Fallout: Backlash from the film's lead actress (as well as audiences)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 80%

Director Bernardo Bertolucci's tale of a distraught widower (Marlon Brando) dealing with his wife's suicide by burying himself in an impersonal sadomasochistic affair with a young Parisian ingénue was meant to depict the opposite of the traditional romantic relationships typically portrayed on screen. The film is filled with explicit content, but it was the infamous "butter scene" that really made audiences uncomfortable, and 19-year-old lead actress Maria Schneider hostile. "That scene wasn't in the original script. They only told me about it before we had to film the scene and I was so angry," she told the Daily Mail in 2007. "During the scene, even though what Marlon was doing wasn't real, I was crying real tears. I felt humiliated and to be honest ... After the scene, Marlon didn't console me or apologize. Thankfully, there was just one take."

1972: Pink Flamingos

Controversial for:
 Too many to list
Fallout: Banned in multiple countries
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 81%

Pink Flamingos is in a league of its own when it comes to the outright provocative. This over-the-top smorgasbord of shock and schlock included everything from incest to bestiality to coprophagia and beyond, leading to the film's ban in countries like Australia, Canada, and Norway. The bans and outrage didn't seem to trouble John Waters, who wore his new nicknames — King of Bad Taste, Sultan of Sleaze, Pope of Trash — with pride.

1980: The Blue Lagoon

Controversial for:
 Underage actors
Fallout: Protest from parental  groups, Congressional inquiry
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 12%

In 1980, Brooke Shields was famous for her sexually charged Calvin Klein jeans commercials in which she seductively cooed things like, "If [my jeans] could talk, I'd be ruined" and "Wanna know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing." So when Blue Lagoon hit theaters that same year with word that Shields would appear nude, it piqued the curiosity of just about anyone who wondered what was under Brooke's Calvins. The only issue was that in 1980 Shields was 14. Moral outcries from various watchdog groups led to Shields testifying before Congress that an of-age body double was used for the nude scenes (which explains the strategically placed hair whenever Shields was on screen). And to think, all this for a movie that couldn't even crack 20 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.

1986: Blue Velvet 

Controversial for:
 Fetish sex acts
Fallout: Demand to ban the film by various parent and religious groups
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%

David Lynch's strange foray into the mysterious psychosexual goings-on of small town USA left audiences with a lot to process, but the whole controversy boiled down to Dennis Hopper's creepy portrayal of Frank Booth. Booth was an amalgam of sexual repressions unleashed in violent and bizarre ways. In the most provocative scene, he uses a breathing apparatus to increase his erotic excitement for co-starIsabella Rossellini. Blue Velvet is widely considered a masterpiece by critics, and that's thanks in no small part to Hopper's approach to the strange fetish material, which remains the most popular topic of discussion about the movie.

1988: Last Temptation of Christ

Controversial for:
 Jesus has sex
Fallout: Dropped by studio, religious protests, official decry by Vatican
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 83%

Sex and religion don't exactly exist in a harmonious relationship. Christians don't usually like to think of their Lord and savior as a party guy looking to hook-up, which is why Martin Scorsese's Last Temptation riled up so many religious fundamentalists. In addition to portraying Jesus as a conflicted son of God, unsure of his sacrifice, the film also took liberties with his relationship with Mary Magdalene. Let's just say in this version, J.C. got to know Mary in the biblical sense. Outraged, Christian groups picketed Paramount, forcing the studio to back out of production. When Universal picked up the project four years later, the Vatican issued a public condemnation, and one religious group offered to reimburse the studio's production cost in full if they pulled the film.

1992: Basic Instinct

Controversial for:
 Sharon Stone's lady parts
Fallout: Feminist boycott
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 64%

Just how many movie tickets Sharon Stone's privates sold in 1992 is up for debate, but there's no denying the driving force behind Basic Instinct's word-of-mouth hype was Stone's myriad nude scenes — including the classic one in which she flashes her vagina to a room full of cops. The overt sexuality of one of Hollywood's biggest actresses made up for the movie's subpar plot and led to a $350 million take at the box office. But the film's success was not without backlash. Multiple feminist organizations issued public decries that took issue with the film's insistence that "sex is a woman's true weapon." Well, sex and and an icepick to be exact.

1995: Kids

Controversial for:
 Minors doing very adult things
Fallout: Outrage caused the film's release to be delayed
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 49%

When a movie opens with the line, "Virgins. I love 'em," you know you're in for 90 minutes of squirm-worthy footage. Kids was basically a  collection of made-for-controversy storylines acted out by barely post-pubescent teenagers. But it wasn't the drugs, violence, alcohol abuse, and HIV diagnosis that led to the most backlash, it was the casual sex. It didn't help that director Larry Clark filmed in a cinéma vérité fashion or that most of the unknown actors looked young enough to be in junior high, leaving the audience questioning just how real the content was. Calls of exploitation and child pornography came hard and fast from various parental organizations and child advocacy groups, and Kids was shelved by Disney-owned Miramax as a result. The film was finally released after the Weinsteins bought it in 1995.

1996: Crash

Controversial for:
 Making cars sexy, literally
Fallout: A U.K. movement to ban the film
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 57%

Sometimes tackling the strange and unfamiliar is all a film needs to do to inspire public outrage. Often provocative surrealist David Cronenberg hit a nerve with Crashby suggesting there was a sect of people whose greatest sexual thrills involved car accidents. Despite limited nudity, the unusual concept drew famously impassioned condemnations from British newspapers the Daily Mail, and the Evening Standard, where two film critics led a movement to ban the film. (Someone even wrote a book about it.) That said, one country's trash is another's treasure, as Crashwent on to win the Special Jury Prize at Cannes. Today, the controversy surrounding Crashseems as silly as the film's premise, especially given that this a TV show now.

2003: Brown Bunny

Controversial for:
 Unsimulated oral sex
Fallout: Chloe Sevigny's firing, NC-17 rating
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 44%

They say some people will do anything for love. In Chloe Sevigny's case, that "anything" meant getting very intimate with her boyfriend for the entire world to see. The poorly received Brown Bunny, from controversial indie director Vincent Gallo, would have likely disappeared into the minimalist film ether had he not convinced then-girlfriend Sevigny to perform an unsimulated sex act at the climax of the film. The infamous scene generated both buzz and backlash, many considering it no better than pornography, including Sevigny's agency which promptly released the actress upon the film's release. When asked why they dropped Sevigny, famed talent agency William Morris didn't pull any punches, stating, "[We] feel that her career is tainted and may never recover."

Seven years after its Cannes premiere, Sevigny had her own take on the scene, tellingPlayboy, "What's happened with that is all very complicated. There are a lot of emotions. I'll probably have to go to therapy at some point."

2004: Team America: World Police

Controversial for:
 Puppet sex
Fallout: Re-cut to avoid NC-17 rating
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 76%

Just how much puppet sex is too much puppet sex? That was the question facing the MPAA when the guys from South Park deliveredTeam America. The ratings board didn't quite agree with co-directorsTrey Parker and Matt Stone that the more outrageous a sex scene was between two inanimate pieces of plastic, the more hilarious it was. As a result, the two were forced to cut much of their puppets' intimate time to get a wide release. Apparently, the line between R and NC-17 is a marionette's golden shower.

2009: Antichrist

Controversial for:
 Showing "real" sex (among other unsavory things)
Fallout: Calls of misogyny from feminist groups, outrage from film festival audiences, edits to avoid censorship
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 76%

And here we come full circle to a man who is no stranger to controversy: Lars von Trier. Though Shia LaBeouf may think he's breaking new ground shooting a von Trier film with "real" sex, he's not. Antichrist caused an uproar when audiences thought they saw Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg getting down and dirty onscreen. In fact, the racier scenes (scenes the MPAA and various watchdog organizations deemed pornographic) were filmed with actual adult film stars as stand-ins for Dafoe and Gainsbourg's, um, private areas. The graphic sex scenes were just the tip of the iceberg though. At the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, audiences and critics openly derided and walked out of the film during its famously stomach-turning climax. (Read Wikipedia if you reallywant to know the details.) Von Trier was forced to re-cut Antichrist to meet MPAA guidelines, but the finished product was still enough to make most people queasy.

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