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STUDIO: IFC Films
RATED: Not Rated
RUNNING TIME: 199 minutes
• Director’s Cut of Taboos
• Extended Stag Film
“A look at how tits and ass scare Hollywood.”
Dita Von Teese, John Waters, Piper Perabo, Tatum O’ Neal, Peter Sarsgaard, Rosanna Arquette and John Cameron Mitchell
IFC Films examines the history of censorship in American film. Specifically, they break down how it applies to the North American independent cinema. You get film clips from the usual suspects, but that’s nothing new. What is important is that you get to hear fascinating anecdotes from such people as John Waters and John Cameron Mitchell. Both men have quite the stories to tell about trying to get the MPAA and American audiences to warm up to new sexuality on the silver screen.
He drank Ebert’s milkshake.
Indie Sex is a three-part documentary broken down into the following: Censored, Teens and Extremes. We’re shown how American entertainment has taken sexuality in the cinema from the inception of film to the present day. The Hayes Office is shown at its humble beginnings and we get to see how the U.S. Government has always had something to say about what we see and hear. Outside of that, the documentary succeeds on the interesting mix of artists that come together to share their creative and personal experiences. Hell, listening to all the grief behind getting Shortbus proper theatrical distribution makes you wonder about our priorities.
You’re young they said. Nobody’s going to remember that you participated in an orgy filmed by the founder of Penthouse. It won’t fuck you out of an Oscar until you’re in your 60s, they said.
The second part of the documentary focuses on teenage sexuality. Indie Sex drifts in and out of talking about young people having sex and ventures into the realm of pedophilia onscreen. Most of this segment is spent focusing on Adrian Lyne’s 1997 remake of Lolita. Framing the argument about recent legislation being used to manipulate national decency standards, the filmmakers and cast talk about the constant stalling and the film’s eventual dump to Home Video and the Showtime premium cable channel. I had major problems with this section, as they couldn’t keep focus and examine what makes North America so put off by honest depictions of young love. Whenever the subject defers to people under the legal age, it goes into the realm of Badlands or Happiness.
If Dennis Kucinich couldn’t win the nomination in the present, he’d fired up the flux capaciator and become Supreme Overlord of the Arizona Territory.
Extremes is the final segment and where the documentary finds its legs. The issue of what will separate the shortening difference between cinematic sexuality and outright porn is an issue that is coming to the forefront. Taking a look at the independent film history of Porn, we see as how both forms of cinema gained financial significance and the eventual respect of their major league rivals. Shortbus gets pushed to the forefront, as John Cameron Mitchell talks about the film as a mission statement. Sometimes, boundaries need to be pushed and it takes the right touch to get people to open their minds. Unfortunately, the film struggled to find distribution and got its lead actress fired from her Canadian Television job.
Straight out of the Johnson Administration, came a motherfucker named J-Val.
All three sections of the documentary deal with the consequences of trying to break the bonds of censorship. There’s a lot of focus on how the nature of show business has bred the sort of controls to ensure product profitability. We get the usual face-time with Jack Valenti, as we see him at the MPAA’s inception and follow him to the bitter end. The documentary brutally takes a look at how a history of control has damned artistic expression. Anything that tries to break the norm, no matter if it succeeds or doesn’t is watered down. Time and time again were shown a timeline where little is gained, as the final product doesn’t accurately reflect the mood of the times. It’s a faint attempt at showing human sexuality at the big screen, so that there can be some sort of money to be made.
Did I turn a burgeoning artform into nothing more than another paycheck for oil and cola companies? Awesome. I can die now.
One of the things that might ruin this for viewers is the lack of major clips. You do get to hear a lot of good discussion about racy films from the last 40 years, but they barely get any screentime. The documentary irked me at the start because they show the first nude scene in a mainstream American film. It was a pretty big deal, as it was an African American actress going topless for prestige film The Pawnbroker. Does the documentary touch on the importance of the scene or what it changed for films that followed? No, it steamrolls onto getting a word from Tatum O’ Neal.
Indie Sex shouldn’t be considered a film history primer, but it marks a well-made conversation piece. You can take a look at the interactive timeline on the second disc to see that there are huge gaps of time that aren’t covered by the documentary. We don’t see where the bawdry antics of the Burlesque found profitability on film. Then, there’s a lack of talk about how the major studios worked together to make a decency standard even before the Hayes Office was forced upon them. If you do watch this and want to know more, there are a plethora of books out there for your research.
This will apparently turn you into a raving lunatic who suddenly votes Democrat and wonders if waterboarding is wrong.
Indie Sex was shot in 1.33:1 for the present day interviews. The archival clips range in size, but manage to look just as well as the recent video. The Dolby 2.0 tracks are clean and crisp, but all you really need is for clear separation in the front channels. It’s a dialogue driven documentary, there’s no need to blow the subwoofers apart.
The extras are basically outtakes and cut material from the proper documentary. You get to hear John Waters talking about directing sex scenes while Dita von Teese remembers the first sex scene that she ever saw. Throw on an early 20th Century stag film, plus some cut material about sexuality and you’re done. It’s an interesting release that I wish to see more of from IFC. It’s just that the I Love the Fill-in-the-Decade style of interviewing people for the documentary came across rather amateur towards the end of the film. If you can get past that, then it’s worth a blind buy.
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