Ridley Scott's Alien (1979); David Lynch's Dune (1984)
Hollywood's sexuality is arrested and twisted. The sexual imagery it regularly serves up is so lacking in sophistication it can hardly be called adolescent. But unfortunately the majority of what squeezes past the studio gatekeepers and censors is a guiltier and far sadder brand of weirdness than any adolescent could possibly dream up. At one end of the scale are the horrifically sexualized rape monsters of the Alien films, at the other are twee winks served up with an embarrassed titter - George Cloony and Chris O'Donnell's turn as Batman and Robin comes to mind. The already tortured and repressed sexuality of the dynamic duo was expressed in the most lame-brained of terms: Bat-nipples and latex butt-cracks.
Joel Schumacher's Batman and Robin (1997); Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland (2010)
The anxiety against being clear runs deep in Hollywood - when studio executives saw early rushes of Star Wars they asked Lucas to put pants on Chewbacca. Even films that intended for an entirely adult audience seem to come to a screeching halt around sexual imagery. The infamous glimpse of Sharon Stone’s “beaver” (jabberwocky) in Basic Instinct made it through the studio machine almost as a frieze - the characters seemed to actually be collectively holding their breath. I'm a Verhoeven fan, but have never been sure what the shot was suposed to mean. Was Stone supposed to be communicating confidence? Challenge? The only times I have been flashed by women I didn't know the circumstances were playful and the act was clearly invitational. (A better example of a woman challenging and disarming a man was Peggy Olsen's show down with her belligerent "nudist" co-worker in Mad Man. With all the visual coyness of broadcast TV, Peggy was still able to called the guys bluff, and put him in his place - by pointing out how small his erection was.) I can't remember any instance of a vagina being shown to me or any of my friends (male or female) in anger. The same is cannot be said for penises.
Paul Verhoeven's Basic Instinct (1992); Mike Nichols' Wolf (1994)
A few years later an equally brief and motionless glimpse of Ewan McGregor's cock in Peter Greenaway's film The Pillow Book caused another small stir. Greenaway is not a Hollywood director and his films in no way suffer from it's visual culture of self-loathing and nervous giggling that dominates American film. McGregor says that he had not agreed to appear nude in the film, but when he saw how small his body double's cock was he decided he would rather show his own. As Jared Diamond makes clear, we are a strange brand of primate, while our species' large penis size may not serve any biological necessity, it is a spectacle at the core of what makes us human. (It is interesting to note that unlike all other apes, humans - the approaching male or even the female in question - cannot tell when a female is in estrus. Additionally, human pre-pregnancy breasts are as as hilariously out of scale compared to other apes as our penises are in comparison to our primate cousins. Even if they in no way signal monthly cycles of fertility, their value for attracting males is pretty obvious (at least to me). Having dated a few woman with very large breasts I have been struck by the ways breast size is a display among woman very similar to the way that Diamond believes that penis size is a display among men - I have definitely seen boobs used to communicate confidence and even as a challenge.) We are animals of spectacle - these vulgar excessive biological displays aren't the least authentic thing we do, they are central to being human. (Continue readin Part 4)
Neil Jordan's The Crying Game (1992); Peter Greenaway's The Pillow Book (1996)